View Full Version : DIY 1911 work

February 26, 2009, 11:09 PM
I have an American Classic II that I bought a few months ago that I'd like some work done to. I paid $400 for it brand new. I knew at the time that this was outrageously inexpensive for a 1911. But it didn't feel cheap so I went with it.

It has been totally reliable. No worries there.

However, I would like to improve it a little. I'd like to get the trigger action smoothed and lightened. I'd like a different trigger because the grooved face of the current one sort of bites into my finger. And I'd like to put some target sights (preferably adjustable) on it or at least some sights that are a bit more precise. A scope mount would be nice too, but that's probably beyond this post.

I talked to a guy at a gun show recently who does 1911 work. He seemed pretty reasonable but I think he was of the opinion that to really get anywhere with the pistol he'd have to replace a bunch of parts. I guess that would be OK, but I sort of don't have the funds right now for all of that. Also, I began to think that putting $200 to $300 more in parts and labor into a $400 pistol is foolish. I'd be better off just messing with it myself, as long as I could be safe.

So here I am. I am pretty handy with a screwdriver, file, sandpaper, Dremel, jeweler's rouge, etc. I can follow directions and be safe. Any advice on doing my own trigger and sight work on this pistol? Both front and rear sights are drifted in.

And for the hell of it, how about that scope mount? I have a red dot on a .22 and I think one would be awesome on this .45. I know they exist but is installation by a non-gunsmith totally out of the question? Just dreaming I guess.

Thanks in advance.


February 27, 2009, 10:56 AM
Good trigger work is best left to someone trained to do it. There are a lot of pratfalls in trigger work on the 1911. I think I chewed through three hammers and two sears before I got it right, and that was under the supervision of an expert former military match team armorer. Yes, you can learn, but no, you can't save money doing it for one gun because the learning process and the necessary tools have cost. Unless you are going to do at least half a dozen guns you won't save money on it. You'll have lots of fun and a great hobby, but you won't save money.

One thing you can do is remove the trigger and put a buffing wheel or a Craytex rubber abrasive wheel on a Dremel tool and smooth the sharp edges off the grooves in it. That won't affect functionality and may feel a good bit better.

As to the sight, that's the simplest fix. There are frame mounts for optical sights. These are a casting that replaces one grip panel on the gun and are simply screwed on. However, you will likely need a gunsmith to fit the slide and frame and barrel lockup to get good accuracy from an optical sight that is mounted to the frame. A loose gun does not usually lock up with the barrel aligned exactly the same way with respect to the frame each time it cycles. For iron sights that doesn't matter as much as lock up consistency between the slide and barrel, since the sights are on the slide. But with the frame as the sight mount you need all three in registration. That means getting an accuracy job done.

If you are bound and determined to mess with it on your own, check out the 1911 organization (http://forum.m1911.org/) forum stickies. There is a lot of how-to stuff tucked in there. It will give you some idea of what you would be getting yourself into. I also recommend getting a copy of Jerry Kuhnhausen's 1911 Shop Manual as a reference. I notice he now has a DVD you can get at Midway if you like video learning?

February 27, 2009, 11:40 AM
Back in the early '70s, I got into 1911s and couldn't afford to have the work done that I wanted. So I learned to do it myself. I've done good work on dozens of 1911s, BHPs and various wheelguns. BUT!! I didn't do anything until I had educated myself and knew what the hell I was doing!!

Understand that you can really screw up a good gun if you get into something you think you know how to do, but don't.

For instance, I've have a few 1911 frames come into the shop that have been ruined by people trying to contour the feed ramps. They field strip the gun, drop the barrel in place and slip the slide stop through the link. Then they push the barrel all the way to the rear and notice the feed ramp portion of the frame doesn't line up with the barrel. They grind down the frame so there's a perfect fit. It looks great! They're so proud!

And the gun won't feed any ammo in the world!

That's because the barrel doesn't fit that way when the slide is installed. Suprise!

Go for it. If you wreck a gun, it'll be your own.

Start with George Nonte's book, Pistolsmithing. There are usually a few copies on eBay.

February 27, 2009, 01:39 PM
Pay attention to Unclenicks advice he knows what he's talking about. there is an Animation of the 45 auto on the site he gave you that is awsome for trigger understanding. Dan

February 27, 2009, 02:23 PM
Trigger work is not a DIY project. If you do want to do it yourself, there are a number of books with good illustrations to follow, and Brownells sells the jigs and test blocks.

As for mounting a scope on the 1911, I have a scope mount for a 1911 I would like to sell. It is the type that replaces the left grip panel with a rail on top that accepts Weaver rings or Picatinny rail rings.

February 27, 2009, 03:25 PM
I recommend Hallock's .45 Auto Handbook, and Jerry Kuhnhausen's shop manuals, if you want to work on the gun. That's where I started, and I now do any and all 'smithing on my guns that doesn't require a machine shop.
You definitely don't want to do a $200 trigger job on a $400 gun, but you can probably get a decent pull using the stock parts without having to do much surgery. Check this out:
Those are just samples of the DIY info at Brownells website.

March 1, 2009, 01:15 AM
Thanks for the advice, guys.

Scorch, what brand/model is that scope mount and how much do you want for it? Also, I am a fan of the $40 red-dot scopes from BSA. That's what I have on my .22 pistol and it works well. But will that cheap scope self-destruct under recoil from a .45?

As far as changing sights goes, as I mentioned mine are drift-in. How do I measure the width of the dovetail for each sight, so I can get sights that will fit? I see references to "Bo-mar cut" sights and "Novak cut" sights and "Kimber cut" sights...how do I tell which variety my gun is, or might it be something different?

Bill DeShivs
March 1, 2009, 02:32 AM
Unless you can out-shoot your gun, there is no real reason to change the sights or do any modifications. Do you shoot that well?

March 1, 2009, 05:33 PM
Bill, give me a break :rolleyes: I suppose all your pistols are bone stock? And even if yours are, I don't think it matters, at least for purposes of this discussion. If someone wants to mod a pistol, it could be for a variety of reasons, one of which could be that they outshoot the gun. Although that happens to NOT be one of my reasons. I mean, I appreciate your comment, but I think it is has the ring of intolerance.

I think people mod weapons for one or a combination of four reasons:

1. They want to make the weapon shoot more consistently in and of itself (e.g. from a Ransom rest, etc.).
2. They want to make the weapon shoot more consistently for the way they shoot (taking into account grip, eyesight, shooting experience, etc.).
3. They want to enhance the weapon's appearance.
4. They like to tinker.

I fall into categories 2 and 4. I think category 2 should be approached with care. One needs always work towards mastery of the basics, and I believe one can work towards such mastery using even a weapon of very poor quality. However, depending on the quality of the weapon, this work can, no, WILL be hindered by the weapon to one degree or another. Basically the weapon needs to not get in the way of the quest for good marksmanship. For folks starting out, almost any weapon will do, as long as progress is possible and perceptible to the shooter. For folks who have been shooting for a while (maybe not a long while) though, they can start to notice qualities of a weapon which, if improved, can improve their proficiency with the weapon, or at lease allow such to improve on its own more readily.

As an example, lets consider iron sights. A very wide front sight does not lend itself as much to precision training as a narrow one - at least when the narrow front sight is paired with a rear sight with a correspondingly narrow notch. My Beretta Neos is a good example. At 15 yds with a smallish paper target (3" diameter colored area, .75" diameter "10 ring"), cheap ammo, and my eyesight, holding groups inside that colored area freehanded and with the factory iron sights is tough. Tough for me, that is. You, maybe not. But put a cheap red dot on the thing and I can hold a group that tight all day long. I can even occasionally keep groups inside the 10 ring. Add to that the fact that the rear adjustable sight backs out (for windage and elevation) on recoil. A sight upgrade for the Neos would be great, but I don't know how to do it or where to get the parts. I guess I need to contact Beretta. Anyway, I understand that this is not anything like a superb group for 15 yds. But the point is I shoot more poorly with the factory sights on that gun than I do with the red dot. I could improve my marksmanship with the iron sights, but I can improve faster (or at least start closer to the "finish line") with an upgrade. So I choose to upgrade.

As another example, consider trigger weight and feel. A smoother, lighter trigger always helps with marksmanship. You can work (e.g. improve your marksmanship) with what you have, but it is less work to work with something of higher quality.

I think category 4 needs no explanation.

So anyway, I'm just looking for advice on how I myself can perform some mods I want made to my 1911. Or advice on why I should not make the mods myself. Not advice on whether the mods should be made at all. Those kinds of questions do get asked, yes. But that's not what I asked.

Thanks for all the responses so far.


Bill DeShivs
March 1, 2009, 06:16 PM
Most of my guns have been modded in one way or another.
I understand the need for improvements, tinkering, and personalization.
Unfortunately, I have also seen a lot of amateur gunsmithing really screw up otherwise good guns. That is why I generally caution against it. If you know what you are doing, then I have no problem with it. There are quite a few posts daily about "I just bought a nice 1911. It works great. Now, how many aftermarket parts can I use to completely screw it up?" I only feel that modification should be approached with great caution.

March 1, 2009, 07:13 PM
Eloquently stated, cls!


March 1, 2009, 07:44 PM
Thanks for the clarification, Bill. I agree about the "great caution" thing. And I am trying to approach this with said caution. I am not too close to doing these mods at the moment; at this point I am asking for information only and will (try to, at least) heed what is said. And if I screw it up, then straight to the gunsmith I will go. But I'm really trying not to screw it up. This was a cheap gun, but it's my only 1911 and I really like it. Also it's my only gun I am set up for on my reloading bench.

Here's another question...I appreciate the responses indicating books to read, and I am about to look at the indicated stuff on Brownells's site, but what about videos? I notice in the Midway catalog there are some DVD's on gunsmithing. Not that these can make anyone an expert, but does anyone here know if they contain decent info? I am specifically referring to the AGI DVD's - "Technical Manual and Armorer's Course, Colt 1911 .45 Auto" and "The Ultimate 1911 DVD, Vols. 1-3".


March 5, 2009, 01:36 AM
Regarding the sharp groove of the trigger face - I installed an after-market aluminum trigger that had very sharp grooves in the trigger face. I mixed some epoxy and added a drop or 2 of aluminum paint to the mix. Dabbed the mixture into the grooves. After the epoxy dried I used some sandpaper to remove the excess epoxy. This left a very smooth trigger face and you can't even tell the grooves were ever there. Even if your trigger is blued/black, you could do the same thing with a drop or 2 of black paint.

March 5, 2009, 05:02 PM
Use stones sparingly. Too much stoning on the sear surfaces, and you will have a full-auto 1911 sure to raise a few eyebrows at the range.

Also, save the Dremel for cosmetic stuff ONLY.

Gunsmithing: Pistols and Revolvers by Patrick Sweeny is a pretty good book too.