Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My 1911

I have always loved John Moses Browning's 1911 design ever since I was a kid and when I first received my LTC-A in Massachusetts, my first purchase was a Para-Ord LTC in stainless steel which is a commander length barrel 1911 with Para's proprietary extractor. A lot of people bash Para but I never had a problem with it, the pistol shot tight groups and never suffered the failure that many experience with Para's overly complex extractor. The pistol was sold to my brother Luke and we have since converted it to a series 70 set up with a shim from Brownells and it shoots even tighter groups now that the trigger doesn't drag on so many parts. The reason why I chose the Para LTC was because of a lack of choice at the time that I bought it since Massachusetts restricts what pistols can be purchased. The pistols must go through a vetting process where the manufacturer is expected to ship three of the model that they wish to submit to be reviewed and it must pass muster between the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety (Mass EEOPs) and the Attorney General's office.

I mentioned that it was sold as I wanted to fund another project, a custom 1911 build. Since my first pistol purchase I have shot various pistols and owned a range of them and I came back to the 1911 but wanting a full size this time around and I wanted the classic as it should exist; Series 70 style workings and minimalist setup. Everywhere I looked all I saw were Series 80's and decided that building one is the only way to get what I wanted without spending thousands on a custom or an old Colt which fetch a premium in Massachusetts as there are no new Colts available since Colt does not want to navigate this state's many gray areas of the laws for manufacturers and distributors nor wish to participate in the pistol vetting process. For those of you that are wondering what the difference between Series 70 and Series 80 are, it is 1911 nomenclature that distinguished Colt 1911 models that were differentiated as Series 70 and Series 80 based on if it had a firing pin safety or not; the 70 did not and the 80 did. The addition of a firing pin safety added parts to both frame and slide and it forced the shooter to have to depress the trigger all the way and follow through for the firing pin safety to be moved out of the way and allow the firing pin to travel and strike the primer. The other benefit to the firing pin safety is that it minimized the possibility of an inertial discharge: in case the gun is dropped and risk the firing pin travelling forward from the fall's inertia, creating an unintentional discharge.

An illustration of how the Series 80 parts engage with one another

The pieces laid bare

The downside of a firing pin safety is that the parts that move the safety is manipulated by the trigger's bow and it functionally made a heavier and grittier trigger as a result of the additional parts that either directly (Lower sear lever) or indirectly (Upper sear lever, firing pin safety) touch the trigger.

Trigger bow is the part that passes back to the sear spring and is shaped to allow the magazine to pass through it.

I wasn't planning on dropping my 1911 but accidents do happen and I was concerned with the possibility of an inertial discharge when I came across an article on how a gunsmith during the evolution of the action shooting days figured out that if you use a lighter firing pin, say that of a 38 super/9mm firing pin for a .45 that the weight reduction was enough to prevent an inertial discharge (I unfortunately do not recall who the gunsmith was, I want to say it was perhaps Armand Swenson).

The .38 super firing pin (bottom) tapers to a finer point than that of a .45 firing pin (top)

I contacted John Lawlor over at Remsport for frame and slide and I dig their stuff, the overruns are fairly priced without compromising the quality of the components. John had some barrels on hand as well and decided to grab one while there. I went with a carbon steel frame and slide since I planned on a classic black oxide 1911 and most of the small parts are form Wilson Combat. The hammer is a commander hammer simply because I like the appearance of it and the trigger is a plain Jane 1911 trigger, nothing super special. the .38 super size firing pin is the Wilson Bullet Proof Firing Pin which is a really high quality firing pin that I should see years of service from. The front sight is a Trijicon tritium sight and the rear sight is an adjustable sight by Kensight. The grips are the slim line grips from MIL-TAC Knives & Tools which I absolutely love and plan to use in future builds. The grips provide a positive surface and hasn't slipped on me yet no matter how much sweat and dirt I had on my hands. I use a flat mainspring housing for the same reason I have the slim line grips: I have small hands. The flat mainspring housing reduces the radius my hand has to wrap around to grip and is easier to handle for my hand size. The mag release is an over-sized release which never catches on any holster I use and has been simply awesome.

Since the initial build, I have made some changes to my 1911 as well as plans for future changes. The front sight now has fluorescent orange tape sealed with nail polish to aid in a faster sight picture acquisition as I found when shooting pins at my range, the front sight was easily lost. The idea for the fluorescent tape is not my own but one I found from Pistol-Training.com's article on the DIY Hi-Vis sight. I placed some skate board grip tape above the trigger on the support hand side (That would be the left hand for me) to give traction to where my support hand thumb sits on the frame and to train my thumb to hit the grip tape and away from the slide for a true thumbs forward hand position. The barrel has been trimmed down on a lathe so that it sits flush with the barrel bushing and this was purely an aesthetic decision. I decided that I want to change out the sights to Trijicon's HD Night Sight set in yellow since the human eye has more green 'cones' and can see the green to yellow spectrum better than the only other option which is orange. The set also comes with a fixed rear sight that is a ledge type design that allows one hand weapon manipulation for cycling the slide using the sight and the U shaped notch is over-sized compared to typical rear sights to allow faster sight acquisition as well.

1911 atop a couple of Wilson Combat 8rd magazines, those magazines are reliable and feed very well.

View from the other side

Muzzle detail, you can see how the fit looks with the barrel cut to fit the bushing. The process is really simple, with the pistol assembled, mark with a sharpie where the barrel protrudes past the bushing than chuck it up on a lathe and trim down than re-crown the barrel, some light sanding and buffing and it is now fitted exactly to length.

The orange on the front site blade plus shot of the top serrations which break up reflected light on top of the slide. This is the second application of the orange tape as it eventually came off, which is why on the second time around I liberally applied the clear nail polish.

Sight picture to see what the orange looks like.

Sight picture with focus on the rear sight

View of the front strap checkering and the undercut.

Close up of the grip tape I applied.

Rear of the pistol where you can see fit and finish of the beaver tail safety and the flat MSH.

View of the breach face

How the barrel and frame meet to provide a ramp for the next round to load

Without the slide to see how the barrel interacts during the cycling operation, first picture would be when the slide is back to engage the barrel to the frame to reload and the next where the barrel lifts to lock against the slide.

Barrel properly throated to aid in reliable feeding no matter the ammunition type.

The ejection port which is lowered and flared.

A lightly flared magazine well.

Grip detail

In the locked back position

Magazine inserted to show how far the Wilson mag sticks out of the bottom.

All of the components were hand fitted piece of piece to ensure the best fit to this particular pistol. The starting point is the slide to frame fit. Depending on machining tolerances, the process can be an arduous one or a relatively fast task. The frame and slide fit decently enough to about 3/4 of the way on before lapping to fit. The barrel is then fitted where you have to fit the pivot's size than the barrel hood to ensure a tight lock up when the pistol is in battery. The barrel's needs to be throated as the original dimension was designed for military ball ammunition and is inadequate for feeding other types of ammunition and can contribute a failure to feed (FTF) as a result. The throating shouldn't be so aggressive as to make the rounds slide out of battery and shouldn't so tight that shorter hollow point ammunition doesn't get stuck where the barrel and frame meet.

The trigger is fitted to the frame next and first see how the trigger rides within the frame and figure out if it is riding true. If it is not, the trigger bow is bent out of true and ideally use a stirrup die which makes truing a snap. Once trued, see if the trigger fits and start noting where there is interruption in travel and that will be where to use a fine grit stone to file and smooth the surface for a well fitting trigger that travels true. Most smiths will use a combination of Arkansas and India stones to accomplish this task, I use Boride which is an engineered abrasive company and specifically the ones designed to remove EDM scaling seems to work particularly well for gunsmithing, they even have a gunsmithing specific kit which is an assortment of stones and is a great deal. The engineered abrasives I find lasts linger, are fraction of the cost of Arkansas or India stones, and are consistent when replaced.

Once the trigger is fitted, the grip safety can be fitted to the frame. See if the grip safety even fits the frame in my case, the grip safety from Wilson seemed over sized and I believe was meant to be fitted. Once filed down enough to fit to frame, I cut down a punch I didn't need to create a pin to hold the grip safety to the frame and went to work on it with a dremel to rough fit to frame. With the rough fitting done, I cut about a foot long length of 2" wide sand paper off of a roll that I bought at Harbor Freight and hand sanded until smoothly fitted to frame. The trigger to grip safety fit will be done later as I need to wait for the rest of the trigger group to be fitted.

The sear engagement I felt was easier than what most described, years of fabrication experience certainly helped. Idea is to true the sear engagement to make the trigger pull as smooth possible, which means to file the metal to a flat and true to one another's surfaces between sear and hammer. There are various jigs available to accomplish this task which I do not have available to me but do have various sized vices, various magnification eye loupes, and various files and engineered abrasives plus a really steady hand (ten plus years of tattooing also helped). If you find that you do not have a jig, just take your time as you are performing subtractive work in that you are removing material and can not add any back on, and check the engagement regularly as you go. A simple jig to check sear engagement is to use a transfer punch through the hammer and sear pin hole on your frame to a block of wood, I went through and found crap punches I no linger user and cut them down and drill a hole partially through the wood block and friction fit the punches in place to mount the hammer and sear to check the surface engagement.

With the critical parts fitted, time to fit the rest of the small parts and the final fit of the grip safety. The safety will need to be fitted and it's a trial and error process and take your time, no reason to screw the pooch by rushing through the safety fitting. The safety needs to positively stop the hammer from falling as well as move in and out of the safe/fire positions. The mainspring housing will need to be fitted, see how far it fits and mark with a sharpie and slowly file until the MSH fits smoothly without binding. Get the rest of the trigger group and trigger installed, time to see how much you will have to file the grip safety's engagement against the trigger bow. Take your time as it is really easy to over file here and if you do, all that time spent fitting the grip safety will be for naught as it will not effectively stop the trigger travel when in the safe position. File a little bit, try, repeat.

With the rest of the pieces fitted, sand to smooth and polish before oxidizing. The buff/polish is really important as the outcome of the oxidization process is only as good as what you put in to begin with. Oxidization can be done at home, mine was sent out along with all small parts to be done to have a uniform look. If trying the home method, there are various resources available on the web and I personally want to try the bone pack method for bluing and the hot oil method for oxide.

All of these steps ensure properly fitted parts which contribute and accuracy and a build to last a life time or longer. I went with a slightly looser slide to frame fit as I wanted something that would function no matter what, unlike race guns with extremely close tolerances that has the potential for malfunction from binding if to much foreign material is introduced to the slide rails. Yes the old girl shows wear and tear but I personally like it, the more shet's used the more character she acquires.

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