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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Special Edition- Which 1911 for a duty gun?

I visit several internet firearms discussion boards, and one of the participants recently inquired which 1911 would be suitable for a duty gun with "minimal mods." He added that he had carried Sigs and Glocks previously. He also related that he wished to keep his investment around a thousand dollars, he wanted a lightweight frame, and that he was looking for "reliability, ruggedness and some longevity." He went on to thank everyone for answering, in advance.

This is a very good question, and one that needs answering. My reply to him follows:

This comes from one old cop to another, although you may not be old. It is almost certainly going to piss some people off. Sorry. I put my first 1911, an issued Series 70 Colt, in a duty holster in 1982. Several of them have come and gone since then. I also spent about 11 years as a firearms instructor, for two departments that had liberal firearms policies. What I am about to say is based on experience, and a genuine desire that you do not get into a fight with a gun that won't work. It comes from seeing dozens and dozens of 1911-pattern guns either work or fail, during qualifications.

Get a steel gun, and learn to live with the weight. Do not buy anything smaller than an honest-to-Colt Commander, meaning a 4 ¼” barrel and conventional bushing- and without a full-length guide rod. Given the poor quality control evident in 1911's made today, by EVERY manufacturer, you are going to have to shoot the heck out of it, with the ammo you are going to carry in it, before you even remotely consider it reliable. The alloy-framed guns are not amenable to this kind of treatment.

This isn't Sigs and Glocks we're talking about here, where you can count on them to at least work when they leave the factory. Current manufacturers of 1911's are making them to SELL, not fight wars with. All of them are guilty of this. In addition, there is no Army Ordnance Department to hold them to strict manufacturing specifications, check what they are shoving out the doors, and give them hell when they send out a bad batch- along with a returned shipment. These are the conditions that resulted in the 1911's reputation for superb reliability under adverse circumstances. Unfortunately they do not exist anymore, and you have to be your own "Ordnance Department." This will require that you have a sound working knowledge of what you are paying for, before you buy it. Get a copy of Kuhnhausen’s “The Colt .45 Automatic-A Shop Manual”- Volume One. Study it like your life depended on it. It does.

Be prepared to purchase copious amounts of ammunition to prove your new gun. While you are doing this, zero your sights precisely for 50 yards, with your duty ammunition. You will also probably have to buy a duty rig to accommodate your new cornsheller, and of course it will have to meet the requirements of your department’s firearms policy. This is getting expensive already, isn’t it? -and we haven’t even bought a gun yet. Buy yourself a half-dozen blue Metalform 7-shot mags with the rounded follower, and welded baseplate. They will stay together if you drop them on the street and they are as reliable as anything on the market. I won’t carry anything else with a 1911 duty gun.

Which gun? You can buy it, build or rebuild it, or have it built. Brand won’t matter as long as the frame and slide are in-spec. Aside from the frame, and the grip safety and other incidental parts, you want nothing but forged or barstock parts. This is particularly critical with the sear, hammer and strut, disconnector, extractor, ejector, firing pin and stop, etc. These are parts that are stressed under firing. MIM sucks. Think of “particle board” metal, and you get the picture. You do not want it in a gun you are betting your life on, and unfortunately practically everyone is using it- remember, they are making them to sell.

Avoid any gun with the “Schwartz” safety like the plague. This includes any S&W or Kimber Series “II” 1911 pistol. There is a reason why elite military units have specified that their guns do not have it. There is a reason why Kimber’s “Warrior” series does not have it. They are prone to breakage and problems during re-assembly. If you must have a firing-pin-block safety, get a Colt Series 80. They are much more dependable in operation, and are well proven over the past 25 years. If you learn the manual of arms for the 1911 and commit it to memory- until it becomes second nature- you will not need any of them. Safety rests between the ears of the person operating the gun.

As the QC evident in mass-produced 1911’s goes down the toilet, I am becoming more prone to build my own, checking every part along the way, and double-checking it’s proper installation and function. At least when I’m done, I know that its reliable, how it was built, and what it is capable of. I am right now, horror of horrors, about to pronounce a totally-rebuilt Auto Ordnance WWII model as “duty worthy.” The frame and slide are perfectly in spec, and the junk parts are nearly all gone. It is becoming exactly what those Ordnance Inspected 1911-A1's once were. It could have been a Colt, Springfield, Essex or Caspian, or anyone else's basic GI 1911. As I mentioned before, brand doesn’t matter. What matters is that the gun follows the original blueprint specifications as closely as possible. It can be relatively loose, and still shoot very well. It cannot be extremely tight, and be reliable under adverse conditions.

If I were going out to buy a new 1911 to stick in my holster, I would do one of two things. I’d go find a good clean Colt 1991A1, and look it over like the wares of a used-watch salesman. You will at least be getting mostly forged parts. Buy it as cheap as you can, and shoot the devil out of it until you are confident that it is reliable. It may be perfect right from the box- I have seen several that were, including Commanders. If questions or problems arise, send it to someone who understands the workings of the 1911, and ask them if it need anything- particularly cast or MIM parts that need replacing. When you get it back, shoot it some more. It has to be proven once again. Option Two is to just pony-up and spend the money for an Ed Brown, or similar example from one of the other “custom houses”. I mention Ed because I know that he makes an exceptional gun. He also makes and markets the best parts in the industry, if you are building a gun.

There is another option, and one you should consider. Keep carrying your current duty gun, and go out and get yourself a basic 1911 by a major manufacturer, to try out for awhile. As long as it has a quality, in-spec frame and slide, you can always use it build a gun ON.Good luck, and God bless you for standing in the gap. Don’t try it with a weapon that hasn’t been proven, regardless of the manufacturer or design.


Blogger OD said...

Good Job, Sarge!

Sunday, April 09, 2006 9:50:00 PM  
Blogger Reg said...

Good post. You might check out the new line of Dan Wesson 1911's as they are moving to all non-MIM internal parts....


Thursday, September 07, 2006 12:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarge is right about Colt's. Colt is building some really nice 1911's again and use the least amount MIM out of all of the production 1911's. My 6 Colts from every vintage are all flawless in function. Springfield Armory's low end 1911's are filled with lowest bidder junk parts and the high end models are way over priced for an 'import' from Brazil (but boy can SA market a gun). Kimbers small part MIM QC is an issue and the tight tolerances and chambers can be an issue; my kimbers all gum up at 180 round mark. Semi Customs: Ed Brown still makes (IMO) the best semi custom at the best price with the best parts period and end of story.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009 8:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Sarge! I have owned Kimber TLE II and Springfield TRP and both were far less relaible than any of my Glocks, SIGs, Beretta 92. Frankly they were both a mess before the first 500 rounds. I currently have a Colt series 80 that has had a good deal of work. It runs. I still would not carry it on duty, but I have not had any malfuctions of any kind. I got it used from a dead gunsmith's estate. I'm approaching 1000 rounds. These things are very popular with posers but the truth is if it was reliable at one time, they are not now. It requires a good deal of Love. I know alot of cops carrying them off duty and during "Off duty" qualification they go down like Bankok hookers. (I'm also ex-Army). Important to get out the fact that if you go this route you really need to put some rounds down range.

Friday, July 17, 2009 1:00:00 AM  
Blogger Sarge said...

Thank you's great to see that people are still reading this and getting some good out of it. Feel free to repost it and spread the word.

Reg, if you're still stopping in here- you are right. My opinion of the Dan Wessons improves every time I get ahold of one- or inside it.

Take care.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 8:56:00 PM  
Blogger M said...

Your comments about 1911-A1s, and their manufacturers, are offensive and I believe them to be wrong-headed.
I know you wrote this years ago. I remember training on 1911s in the Army in the 1960s. They were reliable. I could hit stuff, at close range, but never, on second or third taps, anywhere near the same spot. Not that anyone would EVER want to be touched ANYWHERE by a .45 ACP round.
I now own a Springfield 1911. Out of the box it has been both reliable and accurate. I have no reason to believe any other 1911 would be less.
In fact, my warrior son is so impressed that he wants me to get him a Springfield 1911 to take to Afghanistan. He is willing to give up the magazine capacity of the Beretta to have the power and reliability of a 100-year-old design. I aim to fill his need.

Sunday, June 06, 2010 2:51:00 PM  
Blogger Sarge said...

Dear 'M',

Springfield's OEM 'rubber' extractor tends to go flat in the first 1000 rounds. They like to glue ejectors in instead of pin them, as well.

Have somebody who knows what they're doing rebuild that gun before you send it to your son- or just send him a Glock 21. Whether you find that 'offensive' or not, the lad deserves a pistol that WORKS.

Please send him our sincere thanks for his service. God bless him and keep him safe.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 5:36:00 AM  
Blogger M said...

Dear Sarge,
Sir: I should clarify. What I found offensive was your contention that the 1911A1 is not a fit, reliable weapon for combat. My direct experience, from today and back to nearly 40 years ago, suggests otherwise. I appreciate your recommendation for an alternative.
While I have put only a few hundred rounds through my 1911, Patrick Sweeney has put thousands of rounds through the same model Springfield and reports zero malfunctions of the weapon, including its extractor. Indeed, he put it into his shoot-off as an alternate and then brought it up to the line, where it performed well, when the need arose.
Still, I am interested to know more about the 'rubber' extractors, what should be done about them and who can do the work. My 1911 is a self-defense gun. You do not want to walk into my house unanounced of an evening.
Anyhow. The 1911 magazine capacity is a concern to me as I contemplate a firearm gift to my Afghanistan-bound son. I've come to believe the Springfield XD(M) in either .40sw or .45acp would be better choices. They offer greater ammo capacity and way better ambidexterous features. My son is a southpaw. I would not want him fumbling for a control when he needs to pull the damn trigger.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 9:21:00 PM  
Blogger Sarge said...


The rubber extractor is simply a poorly heat-treated part that does not hold its set like a proper part should.

This is not a figment of my imagination and while I'm glad Sweeny's gun has worked well, I have corresponded with other writers-whose names you'd recognize-that ran into exactly the same problem with them. 800-1200 rounds, and you need an extractor.

Springfield may of course have changed their ways. FWIW I reworked a 'Black Stainless Loaded Fullsize' for a cop buddy last year, and ran into the same thing.

Springfield doesn't make bad guns. They just don't make good small parts.

Saturday, July 03, 2010 12:34:00 AM  
Anonymous sully v said...

Like your opinion--have posted your remarks on a 1911 web-site for LEO's to consider. LEO's need to think it through before they spend allot on cosmetic “junk”.

Friday, January 21, 2011 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Sarge said...

Thanks, Sully. Folks get bombarded with the latest & greatest from the glossy gun rags and after a while, they lose sight of just how good the basic 1911 can be.

I'll be interested to hear how the article is received there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 12:29:00 AM  

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