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Building and repairing 1911s

Deacon KC

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Okay, @Garrison Joe was helping another shooter out and I thought maybe I could add a few points to those new to the 1911. I have built and repaired many 1911s over the decades and learned a lot of things to use and to avoid, I hope this will be helpful.

#1 1911s demand good magazines. Cheap ones will fail you, spend a couple more bucks and get good ones. Genuine Colt, Kimpro, Wilson, MecGar, McCormick and Actmag are all good and reliable. Don't expect the regular Kimber magazines to be reliable and surplus ones can run well IF you put fresh Wolff springs in them.

#2 On the subject of springs, just go ahead and buy a Wolff spring pack when you get a used 1911. They are easy to swap out and well worth the effort in caring for Old Slabsides.

#3 1911s need good lubrication. I'm a dinosaur but have had great success with Miltec grease on the rails and barrel lugs and good old Remoil on the rest of the moving parts. Don't forget to put a drop inside the barrel bushing where the barrel rides.

#4 When you have to replace parts, get good stuff. Wilson, Novak and Ed Brown are the best you can get and will give you excellent service.

#5 Grip bushings can come loose if you are not aware and put too much torque on them. If you replace grips regularly this can happen, so if they start to loosen give the threads a drop of blue loctite.

#6 1911s are heavy, so get holsters made of thick, strong leather or they will flop around on you.

#7 Milspec 1911s have lousy sights. [Hey, they were designed at the turn of the last century] If you decide to swap sights, just go ahead and have a dovetail cut for the front sight, it will save you a ton of headaches in the future.

#8 Get a bushing wrench, sooner or later, you will get a 1911 with a really tight bushing. Oh, BTW, there are 3 types of 1911 shooters; those who are so new to 1911s they haven't launched a recoil plug yet, those who admit to it, and liars. You will eventually launch one...

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I will agree with Deacon on mostly things, the only one I will comment on is magazines.  They have changed a lot in recent years. McCormick was bought by Wilson and by far the most widely used by pro shooters and best magazines currently available for 1911s are the cobra mags from Tripp Research. Don't get me wrong I have had good results from Wilson, McCormick, real Colt, and Actmag,  but I only shoot cobra mags anymore.

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Not wanting to open a can of worms about springs - picking springs seems to be…a can of worms. Wolff lists recoil springs from 7# to 16#, then above that for “extra power”.  Then there’s firing pin, trigger, etc, etc. 

What is a reliable starting point for shooting WB ammo consistently?  For point of reference, I shoot a Tisas 5”, modern category, and not recoil sensitive. 

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I've written before about the things I've learned from Wilson and other 1911 builders, and my own experience shooting 1911s for 50 years, but here's a short discussion for Wild Bunch.  Power factor we shoot in the .45 auto is about 160.  Which compares to a factory .45 auto load that makes about 195 PF.   So we shoot a light but not bullseye- target-light load.  That is what "drives" your need for a 1911 recoil and main spring set.   Several builders understand that the recoil spring and mainspring need to work as a balanced pair for best function and reliability.  Both are fully active during the operation of the slide.  The mainspring is not just "a hammer spring," it assists in taming part of the recoil of the slide.  Keep them balanced with the mainspring three to five pounds heavier than the recoil spring.

The 1911s coming from most makers today are sprung to handle that factory load 195 PF all day long, and run for 100 years (just about).  And even shoot +P level loads.  Colt uses (and has used) these spring weights with a simple single coil recoil and mainspring spring in a 5" 1911 in .45 auto for years:      16 pound recoil spring and a 23 pound mainspring.  That gives long life and excellent function.  But the slide can be a bear for some folks to retract, and to drop the slide release.

The springs that I find are "strong enough" to let our lighter loads at 160 PF run reliably and without damage occurring to the gun and with easier racking and dropping of the slide, are: 14 to 15 pound recoil spring and 19 pound mainspring.   With a broken-in smooth running gun, and a mainspring housing honed to remove any internal roughness.

The Wilson guideline for checking that you have a proper weight of recoil and mainspring in the gun that I also follow is:

Fire a magazine of the loads you will normally run.  Mark where you were standing and where the center of the group of ejected brass fell.   Measure that distance.  If the distance the brass was tossed is less than about 5 feet, you have stronger springs than you need for that load.  5 to 10 feet - nice springs.   More than 10 feet - weak springs that can be allowing damage to occur to the frame.    Then check that well-manufactured rounds always fully feed from full magazines.  Other problem areas (including ammo and mags) can affect that second check, but if the rest of the gun is running well, proper springs will never cause any problems feeding or ejecting.

Trigger is driven by one leaf of the 3-legged sear spring.  Try to just use a factory spring from a good maker - no bending or thinning.  Then, when you replace THAT spring after 20,000 rounds or so, you can put a replacement in and be pretty certain it will still work.   Firing pin spring is something I never tinker with by installing a non-factory weight spring.   The 1911 hits a FP hard, no need to go to a light FP spring.  And the factory spring seems to protect from unwanted firing of a dropped, off-thumb-safety gun.  My advise - don't drop loaded 1911s! 

A spring that IS useful to swap with a lighter than factory part is the magazine release button spring.   As often as we drop mags on the clock, you need to be 100% certain you get both good mag retention when shooting and fast reliable drops of mags when empty.

Hope this helps.  Just because a maker has specialty springs for special uses, you don't need to be buying them UNLESS YOU HAVE A WELL THOUGHT OUT REASON!

good luck, GJ

Edited by Garrison Joe
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On 5/16/2023 at 5:50 PM, Deacon KC said:

Oh, BTW, there are 3 types of 1911 shooters; those who are so new to 1911s they haven't launched a recoil plug yet, those who admit to it, and liars. You will eventually launch one...

Yup, there is a brand new Wilson plug somewhere behind my dresser, headboard or nightstand... I don't know where it went, if I ever rearrange my room, I'll probably find it...

Edited by Boomstick Bruce
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