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Weapons UnderGround >> 1911s ... the good, the bad, and the ugly

8/21/12 12:30 PM
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Dark Knight
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I grabbed this off the Rugerforum.net. It was written by a gunsmith, I thought it was pretty good.

1911s ... the good, the bad, and the ugly


Since Ruger introduced their SR-1911, there have been quite a few threads and posts here on the forum about 1911s in general and SR-1911s in particular. I thought I would take some time to explain some of the nuts and bolts and maybe dispel some of the myths. After many years in the gunsmith business, I have repaired, modified, and built hundreds of 1911s so here's some things I learned.

1911s have quite a history. The John M Browning design was an improvement on his previous 1905 design that was chambered for 38 Auto. Browning and Colt jointly designed the 45 ACP cartridge that remains one of the best self defense cartridges on the market. This was one of the very first cartridges designed to use a jacketed bullet and smokeless powder so its case capacity is near perfect for modern smokeless powder. When the 1911 was first designed, it was not intended to be a military sidearm, rather a civilian self defense gun. Colt and Browning jointly entered into the military market in 1911, when the pistol became an official sidearm for the U.S. military. Later in 1924, a few changes were made and the model was changed to 1911A1. To this day, the basic platform has not changed. Yes, there have been many improvements and enhancements but the 1911A1 basic design has remained the same.

Fast forward to today where a host of different companies make 1911s in different configurations. This is where it get confusing, especially for those people not intimately familiar with 1911 features, accuracy potential, ergonomics, quality of workmanship, etc. I've seen several posts where members ask "which is the best" or "which is the worst" ... I hate those two words because what might be the best for one person may be the worst for another.

There are three basic 1911 configurations. The most basic is the "service" configuration, much like a GI 1911A1. These models have low profile fixed sights (more holster friendly but present a poor sight picture), standard grip and thumb safeties, standard slide lock, short trigger, spur hammer, and service grade barrels. Their intended use is a "no frills" carry gun that functions reliably in most any environment. With most manufactures, this is the cheapest model ... not because they are cheaply made but because they have very few, if any enhancements.

Next is the "combat" configuration, which is the most robust because it is a truly multipurpose gun ... an excellent choice for a range gun, self defense, and even gaming. Typical combat configurations have mid-profile fixed sights that present a good sight picture, yet are holster friendly. Most combat models have several enhancements to include a beavertail grip safety, extended thumb safety, long trigger, skeletonized hammer, beveled magazine wells, and have a much tighter barrel and bushing fit, which makes them more accurate than a service model.

Last is a "target" configuration. This configuration is intended strictly for target or bullseye competition. Target models typically come with match grade barrels and bushings, high profile adjustable sights, and many other enhancements. Target models make poor carry guns, primarily because the front sight is so high that it will not holster well and because the tolerances are so tight that reliability suffers. Most target models are made to exacting specifications so you end up paying a lot more for precision.

So the primary differences in the three configurations are sights, barrel/bushing, and enhanced parts. If you plan to buy a 1911, try to find the configuration that best meets your needs, which will save you from having to buy expensive aftermarket parts. Many people think they need a match grade target model and later find they make poor carry guns due to reliability and holster issues. Some people buy a service grade 1911 and find by the time they buy all the enhanced aftermarket parts to meet their needs, they could have bought a more expensive combat model and saved money.

One of the fantastic features of 1911s is the aftermarket support for parts. Most parts need little or no fitting and will literally "drop in". Some of the more popular aftermarket enhanced parts are an extended slide lock, different length triggers (available in long, medium and short), different mainspring housings (available in arched, semi-arched, and straight). Just about all companies that make grips offer several different options to best fit your hands. Different sights are also available but a big caution here ... changing sights can get very expensive because it may require a gunsmith to machine dovetails in the slide. The same goes for match grade barrels and bushings ... expensive to buy plus they require considerable gunsmithing to get them fitted.

Quality, brands, and costs: The cost of materials is pretty much the same for all parts ... it's the labor cost to get these parts in spec so they will fit and function. All but custom gun makers now use MIM parts for hammers, sears, disconnectors, slide locks, mainspring housings, grip safeties, thumb safeties, and magazine latches. Major gun myth here ... MIM parts are way less labor intensive to make so they cost way less. MIM parts are just fine for 1911 applications and are held to very tight tolerances. Machined parts, made from a billet of steel, are much harder to control tolerances and cost way more because of intense labor. So don't get hung up on MIM versus machined or you will end up paying way more plus machined parts almost always have to be hand fitted versus "drop-in" for MIM.

I think everyone knows ... you can pay way more for a name brand gun like a Colt or Kimber, than you will for "not so name brand" guns. Fact is, more money doesn't always buy better quality. That said, you can get lucky and buy a cheap import 1911 and end up with a good shooter or you may pay megabucks and end up with a jam-o-matic. You don't always get what you pay for. Good example ... I bought a Les Baer 1911 target model for $1600. It is very accurate but of all my 1911s, it has the worst reliability record. I also own a stainless Kimber target model. It was $1000 and is almost as accurate as the Baer but it functions flawless. Except for adjusting the trigger pull, this gun is still in factory condition with all the original parts. My cheapest 1911 is a AMT Hardballer that I bought for $400. The fully adjustable Millett target sights are fantastic, nice frame and slide but that about where it stops. The barrel and bushing were trash, as were the disconnector, sear, and hammer. By the time I got this gun up to par with a Kart NM barrel and bushing and high quality internal parts, I could have bought a Kimber Tar
8/21/12 12:30 PM
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Dark Knight
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I guess that brings us up to the Ruger SR-1911. Currently, this gun is only available in a full sized stainless steel model, in the "combat" configuration. I paid $700 plus tax ... $749 OTD for mine, and I really think I got my money's worth. Ruger follows the 1911 Series 70 Colt design to a T with parts being totally Series 70 compatible. There are two exceptions and both are a big plus. Instead of a separate plunger tube, Ruger cast the tube in with the frame. This eliminates one of the 1911s trouble spots where plunger tubes can get loose and cause several problems. The other departure is the sights. Ruger uses Novak sights with Novak dovetails. This means you can buy any Novak cut sights (high viz, fiber, adjustable target, etc) and mount them with no further modification to the slide. The frame on SR-1911s is cast. Another gun myth ... some people think cast frames are inferior but this is totally false. In fact, Colt used to make the Commander with an aluminum alloy frame that held up very well. Also some companies make polymer frames for their 1911s and they last forever too. So, not to worry, Ruger's cast frame will last a long, long time. Rugers also come with many enhancements to include: extended trigger, skeletonized hammer, beavertail grip safety, extended thumb safety, extended magazine release, beveled magazine well, nice three-dot medium profile sights, titanium firing pin, a 7 round and an 8 round magazine, and probably some more stuff that I forgot. The barrel and bushing fit is almost match grade so I don't have a problem keeping the holes in the black. The throated chamber allows easy feeding of hollowpoints and SWCs. In all, a lot of gun for the money. All I've done to my SR-1911 is change the flat mainspring housing to an arched one so it fits my hand better, replace the factory 18 lb recoil spring with a 16 lb, and do a little trigger work. My SR is very accurate and functions flawless.

When people buy a 1911, especially a used one, they seldom know what things are important and what things aren't. Besides looks, most people judge a 1911 by how tight the slide fits the frame and the trigger pull. These are pure gun myths ... nothing more. Because the sights are mounted on the slide and the barrel locks into the slide, the top end works like a solid unit. In other words, there can be a lot of slide-to-frame slack and it still won't affect accuracy because the slide moves with the sights. I've never seen a 1911 where the trigger pull couldn't be set at 3.5~4 lbs, which is optimum. Sometimes you have to change the sear, hammer, or disconnector but in the overall scheme of things, this is very minor. In general, all but custom made 1911s come out of the box with heavy and creepy triggers ... nothing that can't be changed very easily.
10/2/12 8:44 PM
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Great info. I bought an SR1911 about 1 1/2 years ago. No regrets, except I don't play with it as much as I should.

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