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1911Pro.com • View topic - How to Get Started Working On Your Own 1911s

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It is currently Wed Sep 26, 2018 1:24 pm

Board index » 1911s » Tutorials, "How To's" and FAQ's


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Joined: Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:30 pm
Posts: 615
Location: Alabama

Post Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 2:20 pm 
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If you’re new to tinkering with 1911s, here are some thoughts that I hope may help you get started the right way – safely and with as little wasted expense as possible.

Four Things to Always Keep In Mind

1. Before installing, changing or altering any part, or even a single dimension of a part inside a 1911, you must know how the guts of the pistol work. Given all that must happen inside a 1911 for it to chamber, fire, eject and for its safety systems to work, the gun has surprisingly few internal parts. That means that each part has to be set up correctly in two respects: both as an individual and in relation to other internal parts that depend on it to do their jobs). Also, these relationships will differ from gun to gun, since there's a wide variation of tolerances of available parts. Given all that, you can see how critical it is to not do anything inside the gun until you completely understand everything each part is expected to accomplish, how it's expected to do it, and how it affects all the other parts with which it must interact.

2. Altering one internal part can have negative to downright dire downstream effects, potentially rendering the gun immediately inoperable, or worse: all a ticking time bomb of failure up to and including unexpected, uncontrolled fire sometime after the gun has been worked on. Nothing on the inside of a 1911 is a guaranteed to drop in, function, and function safely. Before you start work, you must know not only enough to swap parts but also enough to anticipate what the downstream function and safety effects might be inside the gun, how to test for those effects, and if those tests indicate a need, what else you need to alter and how.

3. Metal is easy to remove and hard to add back. Just trust me on this one. I learned it the hard way.

4. Don’t rely on internet advice until you’re sure of the giver’s credentials AND you think through the answers you receive. Otherwise, you run a substantial risk that relying on it will result in an unsafe or boogered gun. Here's just one example of internet advice given as an absolute that later turned out to be, putting it lightly, premature: . Don't be satisfied when you get an answer to a question. Go deeper: study the question, study the answer, and then figure out for yourself whether or not the answer makes sense. If you do that, something amazing will eventually happen - you may find that some of the customary ways folks do things, and even some of the manufacturer's instructions that come with certain tools, are backwards, at least in theory. (And that's when studying REALLY gets fun!)

Step-By-Step Learning

Again, before you do anything else, learn the basics of how the gun functions – what the parts do, individually and together. Here are some links that can give you some (but not all!) of the basic info you might need:

Detail Strip:
Detail Strip:
Schematic, and How the Parts Go Together:
Video of Parts and Their Operation:

Decision Time: Do you teach yourself, or take a course? Trying to learn on your own may be the more reasonable approach if you're just trying to do one job, and if that job does not involve modifying the fire-control system. [COLOR="Red"]*[/COLOR] If you are just going to fit up a new barrel bushing, change from standard to thin grips, etc., then it makes more sense to do some research and tackle it yourself. The course route is also an excellent way to learn those tasks correctly - the first time, and IMO is a far superior way to learn how to do heavier tasks or build an entire pistol. The courses I know of tell you such things as what start-up tools you’ll need and what parts are preferred.

* IMO, modifying the fire-control system in any way – even “dropping in” a new trigger is uniquely worrisome for the average new do-it-yourselfer to tackle because that's the one area I can think of where even the most diligent, safety-conscious self-learner may think he knows enough to get it right, but be incorrect and get himself or someone else hurt. Additional Information: [URLhttp://forums.1911forum.com/showthread.php?t=276094[/URL].)[/I] A telling trend is that at least several times every month on many 1911 boards, a newbie posts a thread on the gunsmithing forum saying that they modified something in the fire-control system, and the gun now doesn’t operate or, worse, is doubling.

Here are a few advice threads to take to heart:







Option A - Taking a Course: Make sure that course is offered by a company or instructor who is qualified, whose credentials are impeccable, and whose excellent reputation is enerally known. These are the course offerers I know or have heard of; there are likely others:

Bob Rodgers:
Bill Zollo (On-Line 1911 Patriot C.O.P Course):
Jim Garthwaite:
Cylinder & Slide:
Larry Vickers:
Local Trade Schools: and .

I went through the Patriot on-line course in 2007 and the Bob Rodgers’ class in 2009. Both courses provided a wealth of information, and I finished both courses having built pistols I believe are far better than a factory offering. My opinions: The on-line course is a good option if you can’t travel and would like to take your time. You’ll learn more in the latter. The Rodgers course requires that you travel and show up with the stamina and drive required to absorb massive amounts of lectured and demonstrated information while simultaneously building a high quality pistol from ground zero in an incredibly short 6 day period. In my opinion, there are some things that one cannot be taught to do correctly and safely without the instructor in the same room.

Option B – Learning On Your Own: Learning on your own can be done if you accept two truths: (1) It will likely be much more expensive in the long run than taking a course because of the unnecessary tools you'll buy, the parts you'll booger, and the repair fees you'll pay pros to dig out of the holes you create. (2) An unavoidable danger in teaching yourself, even if you're the most diligent, safety-conscious learner out there, is that you may end up trying to do work you think you're ready to tackle safely even though you aren't. As I mentioned earlier, fire-control work is a classic example. Here are my thoughts on what sorts of jobs the self-learner should start with, and those that he should not.

Start-Up Projects: fitting a gunsmith-fit bushing, an Ed Brown drop-in barrel or a Wilson drop-in grip safety. None is truly drop-in – each requires a bit of fitting in most cases. The work not physically or conceptually hard, but it must be done right, and doing it will give you additional insight into the inner workings of the pistol.

Intermediate-level Projects: installing a Kart EZ Fit barrel and bushing, and fitting a new thumb safety. The physical work is no harder than the start-up tasks I mentioned, but more understanding is required to do these correctly and safely.

Advanced-Level Projects: fitting a full gunsmith-fit barrel, and anything involving the trigger, hammer, sear or disconnector. These require comprehensive knowledge of the guts of the gun because the work is complex, the interacting parts areas are so tiny, and doing them incorrectly can wreck the gun or a person, and there is no room for error.

Selecting Your First Victim: If you elect to teach yourself, you'll need a guinea pig gun - something to work on. That can be either a functioning pistol or a bare frame and slide. In my opinion, the better option is to use a properly working gun as your guinea pig. There are two reasons: (1) a working gun gives you a standard; because the gun functioned before you changed parts, worked on it, etc., you can compare differences and see why it isn’t working with the replacement parts. (2) Also, a working gun lets you remove the thumb safety and grip safety and study how the ignition parts on a working gun operate with each other. Starting out with a bare frame and slide offers you neither luxury. Also, IMO it's a better idea to buy a new gun for your guinea pig, since a used gun may have been boogered by the previous owner and dumped at a gun show.

(Continued in Post #2)

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Joined: Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:30 pm
Posts: 615
Location: Alabama

Post Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 2:24 pm 
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Some Learn-On-Your-Own Resources (Basic and Beyond)::

Kuhnhausen Manuals:
“Pistol, Automatic, Cal. .45, M1911A1: Diagrams and Pictures” and Accurizing the Service Pistol:
Brownell’s Atricle Showing Order of Build Steps:
Ed Brown Bench Reference:
Building a Low-Buck Shooter:
10-8’s User’s Guide:
“Gunsmithing Pistols and Revolvers” (book with two 1911-specific chapters) by Patrick Sweeny
All Four Wilson Combat Videos
Vol. I and II of the AGI 1911 Videos with Gene Shuey, (skip Volume III unless you are planning on building high-cap pistols in the near future)
Blindhogg’s Site:
American Pistolsmith’s Guild’s Checksheet:
Both Kunhausen manuals (Brownell’s 924-200-045, and II 924-800-245).

Then if you’re really serious, go to the archives of 1911forum.com, and write down the screen names of every for-absolutely-sure guru who posted there up until about 2009. Then, go back to the very last page of the Gunsmithing Board, and start reading thread-by-thread going forward, compiling a notebook by chapters as you go. Yes, it takes a ridiculously long time, but I'm telling you - there are nuggets of pure GOLD back in the old threads. As you read, start creating documents on general topics, and add information from the posts as you read. Be sure before you commit to a post's information that you know who wrote it and that he's a top-flight pro. And while you’re at it, save photos of pistols you run across that appeal to your tastes, and save them too. They will prove to be a HUGE help in guiding you as you create your own “style.” It is time-consuming, but when you're through, you'll have an absolutely incredible wealth of information. Again, don't do this until you first learn how the pistol works, and what the general build steps are. (Otherwise, how will you know what to put in your notebook?)

Parts Selection: I don’t know who said it first, but it’s true: “Buy cheap, buy twice”. IMO, it’s a good idea to avoid the cheap surplus stuff when you’re starting to learn. It’s a dice roll whether the parts you get will even be in spec, which can raise issues that you're not ready to deal with yet.

Examples: and

A Caspain or Fusion "kit" may have good quality parts, but the parts you get may not even be in spec, so you have to know what you’re doing. Also, either company will help you with advice, at least to a degree, as you build, but don't expect a full 'smithing course for free. Some EXCELLENT information about parts, compatability, etc. is provided for us free on Pistolsmith John Harrison’s site: . And that reminds me: when you're ready to start buying parts, buy them from the pros who help us out with advice on this forum. It's a great way to say "thank you".

Tool Selection: Most of us start out exclusively with hand tools (powered and unpowered). Most folks who do use mills also continue to use hand tools as well. While a mill is a great way to get things going faster and very precisely, but in the end it's the hard, detailed hand work with files and sandpaper that make pistols works of art:

Example: .

As I mentioned, if you take a course, you’ll have a list to go by (both Bob Rodgers' course and the Patriot Course did, it's my understanding that the C&S course does, and I’d bet all the others do to). If you don’t go the course route, then you’ll need to start out with at least some basics. Before you buy anything else you "think" you need, use the search function here first! Check two things - for information on the specific job you want to do, and then also for the specific tool you're considering. With the latter, it can help sometimes to go to Brownell's, find the part number, and search that number here. Here are some links to tool lists, some basic and others not so basic:







Tool Use: When you’re ready to start really cutting and shaping existing parts and guns, even just doing a carry bevel, things will (or should if you’re smart) really start to slow down. It will take a lot of study and a lot of practice, both to teach yourself the order in which to do things, and developing technique and the muscle memory that goes along with it. It will be time to start learning what different files do, how to use them, and to simultaneously start to develop an understanding of techniques and the muscle memory to employ them. I can only say that I have RUINED some things – even some whole frames! You will too. In return, though, I have learned so incredibly much about this . . . and I have just scratched the surface. So again, when you’re about to start work, make sure the project is laid out before you start cutting. Then, go slowly and check often. And if you feel yourself getting tired, STOP, and get back on it tomorrow. (After all, the work is the FUN part, so why rush it?) Here are some examples of sites with good, general information on files: ) and (You’ll have to sign up for the latter, but it’s worth it.)

Then, when you're ready to dive in and start shaving, go back to your folder of pro-pistol photos, and study the heck out of them. Study the lines. Try to figure out in your mind how a particular cut was accomplished. Then, before you start cutting, carefully measure, and then lay the work out with a scribe, dychem, etc. Then, GO SLOWLY, and check often. I have found that when I do that, I can catch boo boos much earlier, often while they're still correctable.

Final Thoughts: About asking questions here, I’m certainly neither an owner nor a mod, but I have a suggestion that I think helps get folks the information they’re looking for. First, try the search function. If you get “no joy” there, then post not just your question but also the background facts so that responders won't have to ask you for them. And again, if you find an answer or advice on the net to a question you have, be sure you know who’s answering it. It could be a pro, or it could be someone who, like me, sometimes finds out the hard way that he didn’t know as much as he thought!

Finally, if the gun gods POUR out their favor on you, one of the real gurus here (I am not one of these) might offer you advice. If he does, for goodness sakes LISTEN, and don’t argue with him, tell him how you do it, try to convince him that your way is better, and post the same question all over the net until you get an answer that you "like." Sure, one should always evaluate answers with a critical eye because some answers on the net are bull. However, the answers by the top-flight professional smiths who are generally known to us here aren't, they only post "how to" information here because they like to see people learn, and if we do in return is make them post to defend their answers, they won't help us for long.

Best,
Jon

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Post Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 4:54 am 
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There also is a 1911 course at Montgomery Community College at Troy NC. Great course. I have taken it three times, twice under Jerry and one under Bob Marvel Bob is now teaching two 2-week courses a summer. At $175 plus $60 activity fee, this is a heck of a deal. Shop is well equipped. Bob will have some special tools, but you will have to wait to share. You need to bring your own cutters for the lathes and mills. http://www.montgomery.edu/nra-courses.html. They also have (or used to have) a machine shop course. Same deal two-weeks and $175/60. These courses fill up very fast. They post at the above site on the first Monday in Feb and will be full by Wed.

The Inn at Eagle Springs is a great place to stay. Bob will be staying there so the gun talk goes on as long as you like.

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Joined: Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:30 pm
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Location: Alabama

Post Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 1:05 pm 
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Thanks for contributing your first-hand info, Tom.

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Post Posted: Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:29 am 
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jj

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Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:55 am
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Location: Idaho

Post Posted: Thu Feb 06, 2014 5:47 am 
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BigJon, I just wanted to say thank you for the above thread. Most of us here are serious about learning this craft the correct way and post's like yours only helps us learn. I just want you and the 'Smith's here know that we appreciate all of the help and information. After reading some of the links of the horror stories, I really do understand why you are hesitant to give advice at times. It's like the old Harley saying "If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand!" Thanks a lot for your advice on making up a Notebook of sage advice for future reference. Great idea! Well thanks again to all of you who help to educate us with your experience and for free too!

Dennis in Idaho
"Those who talk, don't do. Those who do, don't Talk!"

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Post Posted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 3:45 pm 
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This post is right on the money. When ever i tackle any project that requires new skills i research the heck out of it. I do my own work on my harley. I researched. Bought books. And am not afraid to buy tools. I rebuild my tranny on my trans am. Same thing, research, books, tools. The 1911, research, books, tools. I got the drawings for the 1911 and spent much time studying them. I put the pistol together the first time in one hr. I was slow. Looking over the fitting and working and i actually had to refer to the drawings once. I had studied enough to know about the safety checks wereupon i determined my action was faulty. Thats when i found this forum. I am very grateful for the information freely given here. I all to often go to various forums were the experts tell you to buy the 700 dollar shop manual as if they are afraid they will lose money because you wil do it yourself. That or all you get is opinions from well meaning amateurs.

I am at present transfering all my drawings to cad. I am able to rotate items to observe relationships. When i was reading the sears and hammer topic, i was comparing my drawings with what chuck warner was doing. Nice job chuck. You encouraged me.

I am 56 years old an still learning. I hope you guys dont mind if i obsess a while in your forum.

Ps. My wife asked me if i was ever going to be done with the gun. :lol:

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Post Posted: Wed Jul 27, 2016 1:20 am 
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Thanks

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