The 1911: Then and Now

There are two basic problems with the 1911 pistol.

One is that it’s been around for so long, a lot has been lost in the translation. I hear the pundits speak of it being “finicky” or “picky about ammo” and that it requires constant attention to keep it running. One of my favorites is that it requires X number of rounds for break-in before it can be trusted. Can you imagine the line of semis returning 1911A1 pistols to the various contractors if the US Army Ordnance Board had been told to shoot each one 500 times before they started griping about malfunctions?

The other is that everybody and his convict uncle is producing them…and they seem to be playing the specs by ear. Many features are either omitted or ignored outright. Whether this is due to cost reduction or because somebody doesn’t understand exactly why something was put there is still undecided…but I suspect maybe a little of both. A third possibility is that they really think they know more about the gun than the man who designed it.

I’ll cover a few of the little things. Things that go unnoticed by most, but things that are important to the overall function of the gun…to its utility…and to its role and its suitability for hard service far from the help of an armorer.

Understand first that there is nothing…nothing…about the pistol that is incidental. Everything serves a purpose.

Ive heard complaints over the hammer and sear pins not being flush with the frame. Well…They’re not supposed to be. By holding the thumb safety about .003 inch off the frame, they provide two surfaces for it to rid on, and prevent marring the finish and the steel…and prevent the start of rust.

The same applies to the slidestop. Made to spec, it should have a small fillet at the junction of the crosspin and the arm so it doesn’t directly ride the frame.

The plunger assembly spring should have a small kink in it to prevent launching the whole assembly should the thumb safety require removal.

The small, semi-circular punch cut on the recoil spring plug…so it can be threaded onto the open end of the recoil spring to keep from launching it into parts unknown…and the option to use a fired case as a field expedient plug in the event that the plug is lost anyway.

The recoil spring’s closed end is crimped to a press-fit onto the spring guide rod…so that if the plug slips, the whole system stays in the gun.

The uni-directional firing pin spring that is pressed onto the firing pin…for the same reasons. It may get away from you, but if it does, at least you don’t have to look for two separate parts. If you find one, you’ve found the other.

It’s been said that the slidestop should never be used to release the slide during a reload…but stands out from the frame, and is checkered or serrated specifically so that it can be used to do that. If all it was meant to be used for is a slide stop/slide lock…it could have been much cheaper and easier to machine by making it flat.

Speaking of the slidestop and Browning’s habit of designing a single part to perform multiple functions…the slidestop is a pretty slick piece of engineering. It has five functions.

It’s a slidestop.

It’s a slide lock.

It’s a slide release.

It’s a camming surface that works in conjunction with the lower barrel lug to get the barrel into the slide.

It’s an anchor for the link…to get the barrel out of the slide.

Not too shabby, no?

And the hammer should never be manually cocked or lowered…but it was checkered specifically for that purpose. The original, wide hammer spur also provided a square, non-slip places for using the thumb and finger “pinch” method of lowering it. It was not, as many believe, to add mass and insure reliable ignition. The narrow hammer and full-power mainspring are fully up to the task. The wide spur was removed simply because it was more expensive to make than narrow spurred hammers…especially after “blanking” became the accepted method of production.

The “Bad Old” thumb safety with its tiny pad. There’s a reason for that, too…and it has nothing to do with fast draws. The small pad provides a flat striking surface directly over the crosspin, so the safety can be used to punch the mainspring housing pin out…the only pin that requires force to remove during a detail strip. In its original guise, the 1911 pistol can be detail stripped with nothing other than its parts.
The 1911 is its own tool box, and the thumb safety is the key that opens it.

Even the grip screw slots were sized to match the thickness of a case rim, and the slots were dished to match the radius of the rim in order to give it more purchase when using one to remove the grip screws.

The bent portion on the left sear spring leaf is a screwdriver for turning the magazine catch lock.

The hammer strut is sized to use as a slave pin for aligning the sear and disconnect when reinstalling them after a detail strip. It can also be used to depress the firing pin and spring, then used to pry the extractor out.

Things that can be done. Whether these things are by intent or by coincidence is unknown…but I have to at least suspect intent.

To wit:

The original magazine baseplates were drilled and pinned with hardened drill rod, making it possible to disassemble the magazine and heat the baseplate for cauterizing a wound without compromising the magazine’s integrity or function.

The toe of the magazine baseplate can be sharpened on a rock to use as a crude cutting tool. Should the pistol become damaged and no longer functional, the front edges of the recoil spring tunnel could be likewise sharpened to create a fearsome hand-to-hand weapon. The slide…with its sharp-cornered rear sight…becomes a wicked skull pommel.

The oiled, walnut stocks could be removed and used…along with powder from a cartridge…for flammable tinder to start a survival fire without compromising the gun’s function. Again, I have to wonder why oiled hardwood instead of the typical molded hard rubber of the day…which would have been both cheaper and faster to produce.

The lanyard loop…solidly affixed and angled instead of being mounted on a swivel…functions as a bottle-opener.

The extractor was specified as 1090 steel, of austenitic grain size 7 or smaller hardened and drawn to a spring temper…so that the pistol could be single-loaded in the event of a lost or damaged magazine. The extractor was simply its own spring, and it functioned like a spring.

The extractor claw can be used to clean mud and gunk out of the slide and frame rails …assuming that it’s of proper dimension.

The “Yankee Fist” is not only a powerful, reliable sidearm under harsh conditions…easily serviced in the field…it’s also an excellent survival tool, or at least it was in its glory days.

3 thoughts on “The 1911: Then and Now”
  1. Awesome read, as always. I especially enjoyed the ‘toolbox’ section. I never heard of a few of those, but will be trying them this evening when I get home. Thank you sir.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *