A working gun must be reliable and suited to the user's hands. Toward this end, the first priority is reworking or replacing existing parts to maximize reliability. Next is to improve the user friendliness with good sights and a crisp trigger pull. The next level is to refine the overall feel of the gun in the hand, to include making adjustments to the controls and a thorough dehorn of sharp edges. Dehorning the gun is best accomplished by hand to preserve the lines and improve control over the contours that are broken or rounded. There are many areas that can be dehorned that are typically overlooked yet dramatically improve the comfort of using the weapon. The highest level of refinement includes fitting for match accuracy and adding cosmetic flourish and other luxuries.
Below is a detailed treatise on the parts and modifications that I personally use and recommend. Though I am obviously biased toward 10-8 Performance components, much thought went into the design and selection of each of them, and the explanations are clearly stated below.
A match barrel is not a necessity for a duty gun, and a well fit stock barrel can do very well. The factory barrels from Colt, Kimber, and Springfield (the one piece stainless units on the TRP grade guns) tend to shoot very well. A match fit barrel is analogous to "blueprinting" the engine on a race car – it maximizes your performance and enhances the feel of the pistol. Some stock barrels fit very loosely and can have a tendency to slop around during the firing cycle, producing a clunky feel as all the parts slap around. A properly fit barrel not only optimizes the gun's fit for accuracy, but it creates a very smooth, soft sensation during the recoil impulse. In addition to the 10-8 Performance 416 stainless match barrel (not currently available for retail sale), I like match barrels from Kart, Ed Brown, or Barsto.
This only contributes about 5% to accuracy, but it changes the feel and longevity of the gun. The slide/frame fit gives the final 15-20% of the smoothness to a gun fit with a match barrel. A properly fit gun will shoot very smoothly, and does not have the sloppy feel in recoil of guns that rattle from an excessively loose slide to frame fit. Some play between the slide and frame is not the end of the world, and can be helpful in a gun that will be around a lot of grit and dirt. A duty grade gun does fine with a smooth, but only moderately tight slide to frame fit.
Serrated flat top slide:
Many reasons are offered for this modification, such as reduced glare off the top of the slide and visual tracking down the plane of the flat top, but the most useful and quantifiable reason is that it increases the apparent height of the front sight. When the top of the slide is lowered by flattening, the top of the front sight must remain at the same height above the boreline, thus necessitating the use of a taller front sight than on a round top slide. I like the cosmetic of a flat topped slide, as well as the benefit of the taller front sight.
Serrations on the rear of slide:
This modification is strictly cosmetic, and looks best with rear sights that already have serrations. Some offer that it reduces glare off the back of the slide, but if you're looking at that part of the slide when you shoot, you're doing something wrong.
I prefer them to be finger tight, to allow field stripping without tools. For a working gun, it is neither necessary nor prudent to have a bushing fit so tight that you must beat it out of the gun with a steel bushing wrench and hammer.
I of course prefer my own 10-8 Performance rear sight, but there are many other excellent choices available on the market and it will be up to your personal preference to select the sight system that works for you. Adjustable sights on a service pistol can be a bit of a headache, as most of the currently offered designs are not optimized for service use and may have numerous sharp edges, have pins that walk out or break. If the dovetail format permits, I generally prefer that front sights be dovetailed AND roll pinned in place for maximum durability. I prefer a plain black rear sight with a front insert to draw the eye to the front sight. Gold/brass bead, fiber optic, and tritium inserts are my top choices. If night sights are desired, I recommend that the end user send the completed slide to Trijicon for inserts after test firing and confirming zero. Tooltech Gunsight, www.ToolTechGunsight.com, will be able to quote prices, options and turnaround time. Their phone number is (248) 628-1811, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless you are a lefty, you can probably get by with only a strong side safety. The stock Colt safety is actually fine, unless it just doesn't fit under your thumb. If using gloves, and extended safety will probably be helpful for more positive manipulations. For concealed carry in certain open top holsters, an ambidextrous safety can sometimes be accidentally swiped off. If this is a problem for you, a strong side only safety may be necessary. Despite those limitations, I generally put ambidextrous safeties on most of my guns because I am accustomed to doing manipulations, searches, etc. using the gun in either hand. I prefer and use ambidextrous safeties from Wilson Combat. For strong side only safeties, I prefer the EGW, which is machined from barstock. Be aware that ambidextrous safeties are generally not as durable as single side safeties, as they all use a fairly fragile tongue-in-groove attachment in the middle of the shaft to connect the two sides. This connection can loosen up fairly quickly on any brand of ambi safety, and the tabs at the junction in the middle of the shaft can sometimes snap.
The Chip McCormick grip safety is hands down the most consistently sized and cleanly executed grip safety, and is now available in blue and stainless.
The best units are the machined parts from Cylinder & Slide and EGW. STI and SVI also offer excellent hammers and sears.
The units from EGW and Cylinder & Slide are my favorites, though the original Colt tool steel units are also very good.
Many stock units are of questionable quality, and are sometimes brittle, too short, or rub the sear spring. The Cylinder & Slide parts are tool steel and of the optimum dimensions and geometry.
Grip screws & mag catch lock:
I use flat head screws only, and went to great efforts to ensure that we were able to offer a quality set of them made to the GI print. The flashy looking hex, Torx, etc. heads aren't on your Leatherman tool for field repairs. With the original style flat head screws, it is possible to take down the 1911 only with the internal parts – the leftmost leg of the sear spring was designed to fit into the mag catch lock.
I like S&A mag wells as they double the area for reloads and generally make life easier when performing manipulations at speed. Their additional weight (about 2 ounces) and effect on concealability are factors for each user to consider. It is possible to extensively recontour the S&A wells for cosmetic appeal and to reduce bulk, and I personally consider their added mass of negligible consequence to concealability and portability. Ensure that your choice of magazine well allows the magazine to be manually stripped out and also provides a positive stop for the front of the magazine base plate.
Mainspring housing (MSH):
If not using a mag well, the Brown mainspring housing is the best choice – smooth spring tunnel, clean checkering cut on a radius. The original Colt units are good too. A plastic mainspring housing works fine and can reduce weight (about an ounce) in a carry gun, though it lacks some cosmetic appeal. The new manufacture Colt synthetic mainspring housings are quite good, as plastic goes. For a lanyard loop mainspring housing, Guncrafter Industries makes an excellent unit which is readily available.
For a working gun, I prefer sharply textured grip panels for maximum purchase. The grips should be cut to clear the MSH pin in case you need to detail strip the gun in the field with minimal fuss. I find smooth grips fairly useless, as the point of having grips is to allow you to control the gun in recoil for better shot to shot recovery. Proficient technical shooters are very dialed in to the concept of shot to shot recovery, and you will never see one of them with a completely smooth grip. I dislike most rubber grips for carry guns, as the rubber tends to snag clothing. They can work ok for some users, but beware of wraparound grips that enlarge the grip. The best rubber grips are actually the checkered hard rubber panels that come on Kimbers and Colt 1991A1's. They are hard, tacky, but not too sticky to snag clothing. Be aware of the limitations and characteristics of the material of which your grip panels are made. If you carry exposed as most uniform LE and tactical teams will do, you will want panels that will withstand impact, constant abrasion, and weather. Our 10-8 grip panels are cut from G10 glass/epoxy compositve and address all of the design constraints listed above.
The purpose of frame texturing is to allow you to maintain control of the gun in less than ideal situations (wet, oily, etc.) and improve shot to shot recovery by controlling the gun. Smooth front straps can get slippery when wet, and lack any real traction. If using a smooth front strap, it's a good idea to have aggressive grip texturing on the grip panels and MSH. Serrations offer a classic look, but don't always supply enough grip for very slippery conditions. Stippling works ok when it's new, but wears down quickly. I personally do not find stippling very attractive on a 1911.
The most affordable and expedient solution is to use skateboard tape or non-skid flooring tape. Grip tape can also be removed and cheaply replaced when it wears out. The main downside to grip tape is that it is not very classy looking.
I personally prefer 20lpi checkering, as it provides the most aggressive grip and is not as fragile as finer checkering. I find 30lpi entirely too smooth, and of negligibly greater traction than skateboard tape. A good compromise for most folks is 25lpi checkering. The Springfield Custom Shop and Innovative Custom Guns both provide high quality checkering services at affordable prices.
Bottom bordering, where the checkering ends before the bottom of the front strap, keeps the checkering from abrading your hand during magazine manipulations. It also allows the front strap to maintain full thickness down at the mag well, so that the mag well bevel can extend around the inside of the front strap as well.
A small pad of 40 lpi checkering or grip tape underneath the trigger guard can really help lock in the offhand grip by providing a point of traction upon which to torque the grip. The disadvantage to this modification is that it can tear up certain holsters.
Remember that your hands will become accustomed to an aggressive grip texture, so do not become intimidated by it at first. Aggressive texturing will certainly wear your hands out during an extended class of 3-5 days length, but so will numerous other sharp spots on your gun. Frame texturing can also wear on clothing and car seats, and I find that suit jacket linings are the most sensitive. It is important to determine what the perceived application of the pistol will be when planning on what type of texturing to use.
No full-length guide rods. Period. They add nothing to function, make takedown more difficult, add useless weight, and reduce options for one handed cycling. For stock format guide rods, the stock Colt is the best, with the Ed Brown units being a very good choice for kit guns.
Extended magazine catches can be of great benefit on a working 1911, especially if the user has small hands or wears gloves. It is important that the magazine catch does not bind the magazine when it is depressed, as this is a common fault of the available designs. Try it with your magazine catch - hold the magazine in place while depressing the magazine catch as far in as it will go. Let go of the magazine, and you will likely find that the catch is now pinning the magazine tube in place. Release the catch and now the magazine will start to fall free. With a little bit of effort, any of the extended designs can be suitably modified to prevent trapping of the magazines. The 10-8 Performance magazine catch provides a curved surface for positive thumb purchase and is internally relieved to prevent trapping of magazines.
I run Wolff standard rate 17lb recoil, standard extra power firing pin, and 19lb mainspring. Another excellent setup is a Wolff 18.5 lb recoil, standard extra power firing pin, and 23 lb mainspring. Keep them fresh and replace the recoil and FP springs every 3-4000 rounds, it will prolong frame life.
If nothing else, these change the recoil impulse of the gun, making it shoot softer. Buffs can reduce frame cracking problems in your gun as well. Guns shorter than a 5" Govt model will probably not run with buffs in place, as these guns already suffer from a shortened recoil stroke and a commensurate loss of reliability. The best buffs are from CP Specialties, available through Brownells. Be aware that they do not allow the "slingshot" slide release technique on most guns. Replace them when they appear cut through. On a carry gun, replace them every 300-500 rounds or after every practice session so that your gun always wears a fresh buff.
Please refer to our Articles page for a detailed article on 1911 magazines.
The 10-8 Performance trigger design is based on the original Videcki solid trigger with full width bow, oversized shoe, and fixed overtravel stop. In choosing a trigger, be sure that the length of pull is correct for your hand size. Oversized triggers should be installed and set up by a competent gunsmith, and it is essential that the overtravel stop be properly set and fixed in place so that it does not loosen during firing.
I prefer steel firing pins with a Wolff extra power firing pin spring. The stock units in Colts typically work very well, and Caspian and EGW make excellent units for use in kit guns. Many manufacturers use smaller 9mm diameter firing pins in their .45, and end users should consider this an improvement rather than a violation of the design principle. The smaller firing pin hole reduces drag on the surface of the breech face by reducing the likelihood that a case will catch on the edge of the hole during feeding. The titanium firing pins that come in Springfield Armory and Smith & Wesson 1911s are not a cause for concern, and will work with both the factory super extra power firing pin spring or a standard Wolff extra power unit.
Extractor/Firing pin stop:
The extractor is the SINGLE most critical component for the reliability of your gun – it controls feeding, extraction, and ejection. The Caspian 4340 or Wilson Bulletproof units are good time tested choices, and should be used in conjunction with a fitted oversized firing pin stop to control excessive movement of the extractor. The Wilson Bulletproof firing pin stop works well and fits easily in conjunction with their extractor. The killer setup is the EGW HD extractor and square bottom firing pin stop. Properly fitted, this setup cures issues that a lot of folks don't even understand that their gun may have. Please note that the extractor is NOT a drop in part for the home gunsmith to throw in. It requires proper fitting and adjustment for optimum function and service life.
I use EGW and Caspian ejectors. Be sure that your ejector will allow proper ejection of a live round. Extended ejectors of excessive length are not necessary, and can prevent ejection of a live round. Make sure that your ejector does not come in contact with the top round or feed lips of your magazine.
Vintage forged GI and Colt slide stops work very well, but they can also bring certain flaws and limitations. Some vintages of Colt slide stops were very fragile and frequently broke off at the lobe. Many factory slide stops feature small diameter pins which do not sufficiently engage the lower lugs of the barrel. These should be replaced with larger diameter pin slide stops to maximize the barrel lug fit. Some slide stop lobes are too short and offer only minimal engagement with the magazine follower. Avoid extended slide stops, as their added mass can cause the slide stop to bounce during recoil, locking the gun open prematurely. When selecting a slide stop, remember that its lever needs to be easy to depress for slide lock reloads. The slide stop is not just an administrative hold open device for the slide, so choose your parts accordingly. The 10-8 Performance slide stop is machined from bar stock and features geometry optimized for every aspect of the part's function.
I prefer bar stock units that are staked and permanently attached with Loctite. The 10-8 Performance plunger tube or the Caspian are both suitable choices.
The sear and hammer pins need to fit properly in their frame holes without excessive play. Excessive play can yield a poor trigger job or ultimately lead to excessive frame wear. Roughness on other pins can lead to rough functioning. Be aware that not all pins are created equal, and you may find excessively soft pins in some factory guns. These pins can bend with wear, degrading your trigger job.