In our first installment of Garage Gunsmithing we had just finished the break down of our project Springfield 1911 and had installed our first few parts. To quickly recap events, the Ed Brown mainspring housing dropped right into the 1911 frame with no modification. The Slide stop on the other had required a bit of fitting and measuring. It was a small issue that was quickly overcome with some patience and sanding.
Dehorning the frame was the easiest part of Phase II on this project and with a few swipes of a nice Nicholson file and some 400 grit sand paper I was quickly in the business of taking down the sharp edges on the pistol. I found the edge on the underside of the slide and around the ejection port to be a lot sharper than I had assumed. These were areas I was sure to blend and smooth slowly in order to not over do it. Once the obvious sharp areas where done I turned my attention to the backside of the frame and other often overlooked areas. My overall goal was to make all edges look uniformly smooth and rounded. Once I was certain I was done I made sure to run my hands over all the edges feeling for snags or rough spots. This is the part of the process where the smallest snag or imperfection is felt immediately.
Once I was satisfied with the first pass of smoothing the edges I switched from files to 800 grit sand paper and repeated the process. I started at the muzzle end of the slide and worked all the corners and edges deliberately. You can’t rush this a project like this, you have to go slow and just accept it takes time. This is something I had to fight, also taking breaks gives your hands and eyes a break. Once the slide was completed I turned to the frame. Here I made sure to prep the area of the frame I would be working on soon enough, namely the area near where the new beavertail safety would be installed.
When I ordered the new Ed Brown Memory Groove Safety (Part # 867) I knew that I was going to have to machine the rear of the frame down. The suggested and easiest was to achieve this correctly is using the Ed Brown Jig (Part # 886). Using the suggested jig allows you to scribe a line on your frame for the required .250″ radius from the center of the thumb safety hole. Setting up the jig was easy and is shown in the photo at the top of this article. What came next was the most nerve racking thing I could do to a firearm. I had zero hesitation with the project up till this point, It was just swapping parts that If I ruined I could replace. Even working on the slide if I ruined it I could go to 1911parts.com and get a new one, no problem. Modifying a frame is a very permanent thing.
There is a weird terrifying feeling when you drag a file across a perfectly good frame for the first time. It feels like setting your wallet on fire and sucker punching yourself all at the same time. I knew I had zero emotional attachment to this pistol still the fear of the unknown was strong. Almost instantly I heard the voice in my brain say “well now you’re really screwed”, and I was at that moment 100% committed to the build. Several things became obvious at this point, #1. Springfield Armory uses good steel for their frames and #2, quality files make a world of difference. Don’t skimp on tools, take that as gospel.
File, file, clean the file, file more, then clean some more. That was the process for what seemed like hours. Using the jig as a guide for the files was easy and natural, what was not natural was keeping the file straight then having to angle it to follow the contours. The key to this process is removing just enough material to allow the new Memory Groove Beavertail to pass over the tangs on the frame. Easier said than done though. The beavertail safety comes oversized and I knew this, they key is finding how to make oversized parts fit tight, but not too tight. All while filing minute amounts of metal.
The other nightmare about the beavertail is that you are filing down two tangs as we have previously mentioned, but you also have to do them evenly or the beavertail won’t fit correctly. Take off too little and it doesn’t fit, act like a lumberjack with a file and take too much you will have something that looks like it was made by a stoned monkey with a mill and a hacksaw. This is the part of the project where I had to take a lot of breaks, and kept asking myself what I had gotten into and questioning my own mental faculties.
Don’t let this segment of the build scare you, I took my time and did this part over two days on and off, I wanted to go slow and make sure I took plenty of pictures to document it. If I had more patience I could have knocked it all out much faster. While working on this project I was told by several machinists and gunsmiths to invest in Sharpie markers and sometimes lay out dye or Dykem as its known. This chemical is used to check fitment of parts and shows friction spots. It really is a clever tool, but the process can be done with any number of marking agents or materials.
In the above picture you can see the flat spots where I had been sanding. When I was getting close to checking the final fit of the beavertail I would install it and check to see if it cleared the now smaller tangs on the frame. To figure out where the high spots are and where the impingement was I would apply Dykem or Sharpie marker. When it was dry I would move the beavertail into position and the spot that was highest or causing the problem would be scraped free of the Dykem or marker from the friction. Once you grasp the concept, the whole thing becomes less scary and your confidence will grow.
After many attempts and fitting the parts and applications of marking agent I was able to fit the Memory Groove beavertail into the frame and cleared the rear tangs of the 1911. The feeling of joy and pride was pretty amazing even for a guy like me who for 24 years has made a living out of constructing and deconstructing almost everything under the sun. I basked in the glory of my temporary victory and even called my wife to come see my project. She didn’t seem amused. Once I was sure the safety fit and swung freely I had to face the next obstacle that was going to be in my way. Cleaning up the file marks and blending the backstrap. Next step was using my notebook to come up with a plan and a list of parts I would need to perform finish level sanding of the frame.
This was a longer article than I anticipated and I hope you enjoy the journey I am on in the name of Gun Science for the site. Next up for me in Part III is final sanding and blending of the slide to frame and installing a new Hammer Strut, Hammer, Sear, Disconnect, Thumb Safety, and Trigger. If you have any questions or suggestions about the build or anything we are covering be sure to drop us a line. ALSO starting Friday September 16th, I will be hosting a Facebook Live event at 7PM Eastern Time (3 PM Alaska Time). We encourage you to tune in and ask all the questions you want. It’s part of our attempt to give back to you our readers and interact with you more often .