View Full Version : Building a 1911

August 30, 2009, 06:19 PM
I am giving serious consideration to custom building a 1911 (.45ACP). I have obtained a few books on the subject and have the very latest Brownell catalog. What I don't have is an abundance of tools which I would have to acquire. I know there has to be some people out there that have done this and would like to get some feedback. Was it worth the time and effort? Would you do it again? I can well figure the cons but wonder what you can tell me about the positive side of the experience. I am a 1911 enthusiast and think this would be the ultimate feather in my gun cap. My wife thinks I'm nuts so tell me something new, please.

August 30, 2009, 06:42 PM
You of course know that you won't save money over a factory gun, but this is:

A. Fun.
B. A good way to really get to know the 1911.
C. An object you can take pride in having built.

My advice, is to make sure you have at least Volume One of Jerry Kuhnhausen's book "The Colt .45 Automatic: A Shop Manual".

Next, for your first build, don't get "cute".
Stick with building a more or less stock Government Model.
After you learn how to build the gun and learn all the problems involved, then you can either modify it, or build another one with all the custom features.
Its hard enough to figure things out the first time without adding the confusion of trying to do major modifications or install custom features.

For the first time, buy ONLY top quality, brand name parts.
Stay away from the gun show and internet "no name" generic parts.
These are almost always cast, low quality parts that are always out of spec in at least some areas.
This greatly complicates assembly when you're trying to assemble parts that are out of spec and don't fit correctly.
Since each part is incorrect, the tolerances "stack" and make getting an assembly of parts to fit and function correctly very difficult.
Name brand, high quality parts have less variation and go together much easier.

For the first job, stay away from Match parts. These require more fitting, whereas standard parts usually go tighter with little or no fitting.
Once you know your way around the 1911, then you can install Match parts.

If you want a slide and frame tightly fitted, buy them as a set, preferable one that's been pre-mated by the manufacturer. Using a slide from one maker and a frame from another is often troublesome.
Again, buy a quality frame and slide to prevent problems with fitting barrels and other parts that are made to Colt-GI specifications.
Less expensive frames often have holes that are mis-located or even not drilled straight.

August 30, 2009, 07:34 PM
Years ago building your own was supposed to save you lots of money. I think that aspect is long gone. So it would only be for the experience and having a totally custom built personal gun to show and shoot. Like the man said, perhaps start with a basic platform and get it to work right, then go fancy if you must. This will cost you but you should spend more for the best quality frame and slide and barrel you can muster. And don't try to feed it with cheap junk magazines. At the very least get the best frame you can afford, that is made to Colt specs, like nothing out of tolerance for holes and sizes, as an out of tolerance frame will just lead to more problems. It is the heart of the project.

James K
August 30, 2009, 08:08 PM
Dfariswheel gives great advice. Take heed.

BYW, "troublesome" is a polite term for "royal pain in the a$$."


August 31, 2009, 08:21 AM
Guys, Thanks for the advice.

No doubt, this will cost way more than buying a gun from a manufacturer but the point is to:
1. have fun,
2. get to really know the 1911,
3. give myself a vehicle to learn patience and precision.

I am grateful for your input....Thanks.

September 2, 2009, 10:04 PM
You left off #4: You get a nice set of expensive tools.

They are expensive the first time around, but just like automotive tools, the next time you need them, you have them, and they don't cost any more money so the cost of the build is a heck of a lot less.

September 3, 2009, 06:22 AM
Dfariswheel sure hit it right. Buy quality parts, never never cheap out with parts.
I built my .45 using Caspian frame & slide that they fitted, Then sent the frame & slide to Bar-Sto for fitting their most excellent barrel. All the rest was assembled and fitted by me. I used an Austin Behlert hammer & sear (RIP) Bomar sight Wolf Springs etc.
Its now over 20 years since I built it and it still shoots Xs with total reliability. Was it cheap? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
A note on having Caspian fit the slide to the frame and Bar-Sto fitting the barrel to the gun. There are some operations on a 1911 that MUST be done CORRECTLY. Those are the two of them that I believe are critical. Those are the operations that also demand knowledge, skill and experience to do them correctly. They are also the two functions that if done incorrectly will result in a scrapped frame, slide or barrel. Expensive and frustrating.
If you are meticulous and follow the directions in Kuhnhausens book, you can do those operations yourself but you are risking a lot. Other small parts if you make a mistake, are readily replaced, not the frame slide or barrel.

Have fun and by all means go ahead and do it!


September 3, 2009, 07:55 AM
Sink your money into a Mil-Spec 1911. If you itch to perform upgrades, get a best quality tool kit for your intended purpose. Price, in the absence of value, is not a consideration.

September 4, 2009, 08:14 AM
Again, guys, thanks for all the tips. While my wife is not looking over my shoulder, I can say cost is not at issue. Looking for the best build I can do. Tools certainly figure into it and once purchased, I will have them for a life-time and can pass them onto my son. I have been scanning over the Brownell catalog and I think I will heed most all of the advice offered in this thread. First step is to get the Kuhnhausen's book(s). I am getting very excited about this project. Even purchased a "cheap" 1911 just for the purpose of taking it completely apart and putting it back together again to get a better handle on the innards. May even do some customization on existing 1911's in my collection before I go for the real deal. This feels like the first time I built a model airplane that actually flew, oh so many years ago.

September 4, 2009, 10:28 AM
You can get quality mated slides and frames through Fusion Firearms. They sell entire kits as well.