T. Wrangler on gunsmithing your 1911

This came in as a comment but the advice is so good I decided to post it where everybody can see it instead of hiding it in the comments.

Before starting any work I suggest you perform safety and function checks to see what may need improvement.
You can familiarize yourself with procedures that may come into play by checking commonly available videos or gunsmithing DVDs. I shouldn’t have to remind you not to trust everything you see on yowtube…

You NEED the Kuhnhausen books.
You will also want a decent bench vise, maybe some jaw pads too.
Bench block, punches, and a small hammer. SMALL HAMMER. If you need a big hammer, you’re doing it wrong. Note pins on a 1911 as well as sight dovetails are directional.
Files of various shapes. I prefer Nicholson files. A copper penny applied crosswise across the teeth will remove loading.
A couple of stones of various shapes, both India and Arkansas.
A Dremel tool will come in handy for polishing, but can be tricky when used for metal removal. As with files you will want some practice.
If you are going to do trigger work, buy the hammer and sear jigs from Brownells, some feeler gages and some frame fitting pins.
This might be a good time to install a set of springs- cheap insurance, and the old ones as spares may come in handy.
Later you may want to acquire specialty tools such as sight pushers etc.
If you have an experienced helper the first time out you may avoid costly or dangerous fuckups, and gain confidence in your work.
Read and understand the books before you begin. Go slow, follow the instructions carefully. Pay particular attention to reassembly. And for God’s sake do diligent safety checks as prescribed.
This is not difficult work but requires attention to detail, so avoid distraction. Do your homework.

I do not recommend amateur attempts at frame rail fitting, Barrel/bushing/hood/link fitting will pay bigger dividends.
Don’t weld your gun unless you’re damn sure you know what you’re doing.

Be aware that “drop-in” parts may require fitting and WILL require safety/function checks.


Outstanding advice.
I want to throw in my two cents worth too.

Buy the right tools. I was fortunate that I was working in a machine shop when I started working on my own guns, so I either already had the tools, had access to them or could make the motherfuckers.
Not only can you fuck something up quick with the wrong tools, but the right tools make a job so much easier.
Something else to keep in mind, especially when removing metal, if you fuck up the frame you’ve fucked up the pistol. That’s the part with the serial number, something to be concerned about if you live in a registration state.

Youtube can be your friend here but like the man says, don’t trust everything you see there. I’ve used youtube several times, but I always use reputable sources. For instance, I put a Geissele trigger in my AR. Before I even started a job as easy as that, I went to youtube for a quick tutorial – it’s a $225 trigger and I didn’t want to inadvertently fuck it up. There were 3 or 4 videos to choose from, one by Gary Geissele himself and the rest from amateur gunsmiths. Guess which one I watched.

If something is happening with your firearm that you don’t understand, go to a forum. It’s a tool that’s available, so use it. Ask somebody. If you don’t get a solid answer, you’ll get enough leads to put you on the right track.

And take your time. Go slowly. You don’t fuck shit up as much when you’re taking your sweet ass time and double checking every step and measurement.

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12 Responses to T. Wrangler on gunsmithing your 1911

  1. Dale says:

    I use chalk to help with file loading removal, and a soft/wire brush.
    My first build was in gunsmith school, & my Caspian turned out nice.

    Pencil & paper are the best tool for a build…keep notes.
    I still have my handwritten notes from years ago from school, they are priceless.

    If ya’ll need some specs. sometime, let me know, be glad to post them.

  2. Ben C says:

    New Jovian Thunderbolt (T-bolt) has been posting his experiences at “Gun School” where he is building up a 1911 from scratch. It is interesting to read his take on it as he goes through step by step.


    And to second (3rd?) something you both mentioned in this post: It’s hugely faster and easier to SLOW DOWN and do it right instead of doing it wrong in a hurry, like many things in life.

  3. Dale says:

    One of the biggest problems of fitting a slide to receiver is people tend to get in a hurry, and try to drive the slide with a mallet. Big mistake. I saw some bad scoring before, end results were awful. We were taught that 15% of accuracy is in the slide/receiver mating..the rest is in the barrel bushing, barrel hood, contact of lugs, proper link, and proper trigger work.

    • Wirecutter says:

      I decided I didn’t want to try it. I am strictly a self taught amateur smith and have no formal training. I would rather have somebody else fuck it up for me. Minor fitting I can deal with, removing metal down to 001″ with a milling machine is beyond me.
      That’s the reason I ran a stock recoil system in my Officer’s Model for as long as I did – I couldn’t find a drop in guide rod. They all required some milling off the lower.

  4. Tsquared says:

    Then you have Bubba. He has Grandpa’s old 1911 and has been shooting it for 25 years. He shot factory loads for the the first 15 and then got into reloading. He only loaded one powder and it was a slow burning powder that worked well – he shot more. He never bothered to try anything else.

    His only powder became unavailable 5 years ago and he ran out. He finds some TiteGroup and through the internet gets load data. It takes less than half the powder to get similar results that he had before. He also got with a group that was casting. Reloading suddenly got real cheap – Bubba is an expert on cheap. He cuts the powder load more to start producing mouse fart loads that do cycle well but drops the spent shells right at his feet.

    Bubba then gets the idea of replacing his springs in his well worn 1911 because somebody mentioned that his brass was not ejecting correctly for a 1911. After replacing his springs he goes back to the range and every round is a FTE with his TG fart loads. He gets me involved in figuring out his problem with his gun. After screwing around with it for an hour I put in some of my ammo and it cycles fine – his will not eject. Then he tells me he replaced his springs and how he is loading 3.5gr of TG for his loads – there’s your problem, bump up the load a few tenths of a grain and it works again.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Excellent example, thank you.
      I’ve gotten to the point that if I start experiencing problems (and it’s rare nowadays) the first 2 things I suspect are the ammo and the magazines.
      I’ve got a couple magazines painted orange that are ‘drill only’. The springs are weak and rather than replace them I use those mags to keep my jam clearing drills up to speed. They work fine 90% of the time but will throw a jam in there occasionally when you least expect it.

    • =T. Wrangler= says:

      Good point.
      Matching the components is important, similar to when building a car or truck. Tire diameter, axle ratio, trans gears, cam, induction and exhaust must be selected with care for best results.

      We kept this in mind when developing our recent 200 gr RNFP .45 ACP loads. We figured a flatpoint bullet should be as effective as a hollow point that fails to expand, and will disrupt soft tissue more effectively than round nose.
      After some effort we have a load that functions in all of our 1911s, and an XD. Recoil is the same as factory hardball and hits the same POI.
      A pleasant project that kept us occupied for a while, successfully concluded.

      I see this from Speer:
      .45 ACP +P 200 gr jacketed RNFP at 975 FPS for $17/box


      Looks like a killer deal to me.
      Has anybody here tried this yet?

  5. =T. Wrangler= says:

    Maybe less than 15% for average shooters.

    Tightly fitted slides are overrated in my opinion.
    When in battery on a properly fitted slide, the barrel, bushing and sights are essentially a single unit. Consequently, slide to receiver fit is a less important contributor to accuracy. (I am speaking of hand held accuracy, not machine rested.)
    However, reliability can be improved by paying attention to the entire assembly. This will include lockup, cycling repeatability, timing, spring rate etc.
    Regarding lockup at barrel link: I have had some luck with the Wilson Group Gripper. It can be used as a simple, reversible diagnostic tool if you suspect link issues. This device exerts spring pressure at the link, to increase engagement at locking lugs. It may also minimize vertical clearance at rails.
    Instead of altering the rails it may be better to simply deburr, smooth and lap them instead.
    This is easily accomplished with some fine stones, and a bit of polishing compound.

    A zero-clearance fit is unnecessary, and if poorly executed may reduce reliability and service life. I prefer a slightly loose fit here rather than a maimed weapon. Note there is a difference between “clearance” and “slop.” As a machinist, I abhor sloppy workmanship.
    I once had a 1915 vintage Colt M1911, AA ’42 mix ‘n match refurb. At some point in its long and no doubt interesting life, some hacker attempted to peen the rails and did more harm than good. I was able to correct the damage to some extent but was never completely satisfied with the results. Ended up selling it to finance an AR…


    The 1911 is an engineering masterpiece. In stock form it is functional and reliable, requiring little care. It is still the yardstick by which defensive handguns are judged. It can be customized from mild to wild.
    After the war the need arose for repair and refinement of these pistols. The need was filled by ‘smiths such as Frank Pachmayr and Armand Swenson, and later by Jim Clark and Bill Wilson among others. And let us not forget Col. Cooper.
    Their efforts are reflected in the current crop of semi-custom offerings by Kimber, Springfield, STI. CZ/Dan Wesson etc. Even Colt. This is a great time for fans of the 1911.

    A happy .45 is a joy to own.

    • Wirecutter says:

      A tight slide to frame match-up is over-rated. As you said, it’s everything working in conjunction that makes that 45 shoot.
      I have never had a problem with my link, even after I swapped out my recoil system. Matter of fact, I think the barrel and link are about the only stock parts left on the pistol.

      Folks, watch some competition shooting sometime with race guns – they’re so tight they get a jam every other magazine. They’re every bit unreliable as they are accurate.

      Hey T, I appreciate your input here. If you ever want to write a guest post, holler.

      • =T. Wrangler= says:

        Thanks for the hat tip. I value your judgment, as well as the opinions of some of the grizzled veterans who comment here.
        I am not a gunsmith- my background is in machining, with a lifelong interest in firearms.
        I appreciate military and vintage weapons. Over the years I have managed to accumulate some of the Classics. And for some reason I even have a bayo collection.
        But my favorite is the 1911.
        Comments I post help me to organize my thoughts, and take considerable time to compose. I hope they are of some value to your readers as well.
        I look forward to any replies or discussion.

        A quick check for link: press down on the barrel hood w/ slide in battery. If it can be depressed more than a few thousandths, a longer link MIGHT help.
        After the first 500 rds thru my new Para Elite Commander I notice some deflection here that I have not diagnosed yet.
        This pistol has had no failures of any kind, and is as accurate as any 1911 I have ever owned.

        Carry on Kenny!

        • Wirecutter says:

          Hey, you may not have the book learning for that specific trade but you know what the fuck you’re talking about.
          Besides, you can be a machinist that doesn’t manufacture firearms, but you can’t manufacture firearms without being a machinist, modern CNCs or not.

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