Greetings! Before we get started with this article, I wanted to write a few words to introduce myself. My name is Joe Chambers. I own a custom 1911 pistol shop in Nebraska called Chambers Custom LLc. (CCP). I’ve been building 1911 style pistols for a decade now, which really isn’t long if you love what you do, and I certainly do love building guns! I’ve been very blessed to have had my guns in a couple of publications. Over the years I have worked hard to keep my builds unique and interesting. Hopefully you enjoy the articles put forth and will find them helpful if not humorous.
So, let’s talk about the bits and pieces of 1911 pistols.
One of the most popular questions I see asked on internet forums and social media groups that center around the 1911 style pistol is, “What parts should I replace on the new XXXX brand 1911 pistol I just bought?”.
This is a very subjective question that has thousands of answers. My simple answer to that one question is usually, “Buy ammo, shoot it until something breaks, and then replace what breaks”. Unfortunately many of us live in a mindset that if it can be improved upon immediately then it should. There is nothing wrong with that mindset!
The problem sets in when you realize that most standard 1911 pistol types have at least 52 parts. This doesn’t include the pistols with series 80 or Swartz system parts in them or the magazine. So where DO you start?
And here we go down a rabbit hole.
One of the typical answers you will see is people advising to replace any part that is MIM, or metal injection molded. While it is true that many of these parts can and do break, I’ve also seen many of them go tens of thousands of rounds with zero issues. Nonetheless, I don’t know a single custom builder that will use MIM parts in a true custom 1911.
MIM parts are typically the smaller bits and pieces like the hammer, sear, disconnector, grip safety, thumb safety, mainspring housing, mag catch, ejector and slide stop. These are all parts that can be easily replaced with limited knowledge and tools if a person so desires.
Quality barstock small parts are available from many sources. Most are actually made by just a few manufacturers in the industry. We sell many replacement parts on our own store site for those who want the satisfaction of doing it themselves. They can be found here: http://www.store.chamberscustom.com/
When people are really serious about the replacement of these small bits and pieces I usually recommend they start with ignition parts and a slide stop. These are the parts I have seen fail most often on factory guns. They are also parts that can make the biggest immediate difference to the shooter.
Many sellers, CCP included, offer quality sets that include a hammer, sear, disconnector, strut and sear spring. These parts can practically be dropped in the gun with decent results. With a proper sear fixture like the Marvel Precision Ultimate 1911 Sear Jig and some Norton stones a novice smith can create an amazing trigger pull with these same parts.
Another part that people are anxious to replace is the trigger itself. Most production guns have a loose fitting trigger that is dropped in the gun. This is likely done for expedience of the build. A loose fitting trigger can cause a trigger pull that feels mushy, gritty, rough, heavy, etc. It is one of the easiest parts to correctly fit with a little instruction.
Replacing the trigger also gives you an opportunity to choose a style that fits your hands best. There is everything from long flat and curved to short curved. We even offer the CCP Super Short Flat Trigger, the shortest trigger on the market for those with small hands or short fingers.
The slide stop in a 1911 pistol is caliber specific. This is very important to note if you want the gun to operate properly and lock back after the last shot. A .45 Auto slide stop has a shorter nose than one used in a 9mm/.38super/.40S&W/10mm. When ordering one be sure to specify which one you need.
When replacing the slide stop it is also important to remember that it may require some refitting of the barrel legs or link. This is not always the case, but in those instances where it is, the installer should be careful and have some knowledge of the workings of the gun. If you don’t have this knowledge you may end up needing a new barrel.
Speaking of barrels, in 10 years of working on 1911 pistols on a daily basis I have yet to see a single production gun, and very few semi-custom guns, with the barrel chamber finish reamed. Now, you might think this is no big deal. But if the chamber is not finish reamed it can cause a litany of malfunctions that 1911 pistol owners pass off to other parts.
Chamber reaming should, in my opinion, be left to someone with experience in the operation. Reaming too deeply can cause serious headspace problems. Reaming too shallow can cause more malfunction issues. Once properly cut you would be amazed at how smoothly the gun can function.
Another option in barrels for those of you that are more adventuresome and have some mechanical ability is the Kart E-Z Fit barrel. All of the custom guns built here at CCP have Kart Precision Match barrels hand fit to exacting tolerances. However, Fred Kart, the owner of Kart barrels, created an ingenious system, that when employed properly, allows a relative novice to fit a new match grade barrel to their 1911 of choice with relative precision and minimal tooling.
These E-Z Fit Kart barrels have been used by everyone from plinkers and home smiths to some custom 1911 smiths with excellent results. They are one of the more expensive upgrades a person can make to the bits and pieces, but when properly fit, can make a huge improvement to the accuracy and reliability of your 1911. They come with a pre-fit bushing and link. The chamber does still need to be finish reamed after the hood is fit. But if you are at this point in your mechanical abilities it shouldn’t be a problem.
Finally, lets talk cosmetic upgrades. The 1911 pistol world is literally flush with options. Some of them are really nice, others make you feel cool. Some actually add functionality, others are simply gimmicks like so many fishing lures.
Grips are a popular upgrade that are easy for the end user to upgrade. Whether you want simple or extreme the market likely has what you are after. Gentlemen like Brian Challis of Challis Grips (who I use for all my high end builds) create some of the most beautiful sets of grips out of wood and mammoth tooth that your eyes will ever see. No, they are not cheap, but quality seldom is these days. Others like Chris Lynch of AlumaGrips focus on making a sharp looking product meant to last a lifetime of tough use.
Another popular upgrade is nitre blue pins and screws. There are few shops that offer these outside of custom builds. I’m proud that we do offer them. It is a simple upgrade that can really change the way certain guns look. They also compliment a good looking set of wood grips!
In recent years one of the more…interesting…upgrades I’ve seen guys use is the bushing comp. Having built many real comp guns over the years this is my opinion. A comp on a .45 Auto produces no appreciable improvement in recoil. In fact, adjusting your spring rates properly for the load you are using will do far more to enhance your shooting experience. However, it if you like the look and it makes you feel good about your gun then by all means get one and properly fit it up to your pistol!
If you are running a hot 9mm or other “minor” caliber then a properly designed and fit comp can make a difference. Just remember that the flame has to go somewhere, and with a comp that somewhere is out the ports. Don’t be like one fellow I heard of who was being carjacked. He pulled his comped 1911 pistol out, shot the criminal and in doing so set the headliner of his car of fire! He saved his car, sort of…
In closing, it is important to remember that no matter what bits and pieces you choose to upgrade, in the end what matters is does it make the weapon more reliable and accurate and do you like it yourself. Try not to buy into the gimmicks, there are many out there, that claim this is the only, or finally the best, or end all be all. The 1911 pistol has been around for 105 years. There are very few original ideas.
Over the coming weeks and months I will go into more depth on some of the parts mentioned as well as others. I’ll show you how they can make a difference and also how to properly fit them should you decide to upgrade. I hope you enjoy the tips and opinions shared. Perhaps something you pick up here will help enhance your shooting experience.