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Latest 1911 project

I finally got to the range on Friday to test fire the pistol. The barrel fit is still so tight that I have to let the slide drop at least half way for it to go in to battery. I was a bit concerned about this, as I feared that the gun might not cycle reliably. There was nothing to worry about. The gun ran like a Swiss watch. I had one failure to go in to battery and after running several tests with different magazines (using the same round that had first stopped the gun), I was able to determine that an out of spec cartridge was the culprit. When I got home, I tried the plunk test (dropping the round in the chamber) and it passed without an issue.

This is a BarSto match barrel. That means it has a TIGHT chamber. I am going to drop a chamber reamer in it and open it up to SAAMI spec dimensions. It is also about .0008 short on minimum headspace (no, I didn't add an extra zero to that), so I will open that up at the same time.

It runs. It shoots like a Les Baer which makes perfect sense, as Baer builds their guns so tight that when new, you can't cycle them by hand. You have to shove the muzzle against the bench to get them to unlock.

I put a sanding drum in my drill press and using a block of wood to raise the frame and keep everything square, blended the beavertail and slide to frame interface. This is as simple as it gets. Sand it till it all matches.

This morning, I tore it down (including removing the plunger tube), grabbed a 32 lpi checkering file and serrated the back of the slide. I also match serrated my three extractors so when I need to replace one, it will drop in and match.
How I did this:
I pulled the slide from the frame and stripped it except for the extractor and firing pin stop (to keep the extractor where it belongs). I sat the slide on a hardened bench block and laid the checkering file on the block as well, so when I started my cuts, the lines would be parallel with the bottom of the slide and perpendicular to the centerline of the gun.

This job was harder than it looks and easier than I had feared. It is a NICE custom touch. I have shot a 1911 with this treatment and there is no flash or glare from the back of the slide.
Once I had my first "file width" of lines about half way cut, I moved the slide to a bench vise with soft jaws and finished the job, pulling and changing extractors till all three were match cut.

Next, was to put the slide back on the frame with the barrel in place and using the serrations I had already cut in the slide, finish the corresponding part of the frame to match. This is a crummy picture, but it serves the purpose.

Back to the range trip:

The gun shot about 4" low at 20 yards, so when I got home, I took the necessary measurements, did the math, and ordered a new fiber optic front sight from Dawson Precision of the correct height to put the gun on target. While ordering the sight, I noticed that they had a front sight calculator, so I plugged in my measurements and their calculator came up with the same answer I had. Made me feel good.

There is a gunsmith at the range and he went over my pistol. It looks like he** because of all the aluminum marks on it from me using aluminum drifts. When he racked the slide and tried the trigger, his eyes got big. Absolutely no creep, crisp as breaking glass, and no perceptible overtravel. Oh yes, it also breaks at 2.75 pounds, consistently. I have a LOT of hours in just the trigger. The range master grabbed it and did the same thing, handing it back to me and in front of the smith, said "Best trigger of any handgun I have ever tried". I thanked them and we left.

Today, I go to Double Eagle Pawn Shop to pick up my new AK47. It's an underfolder built on the Polish design. While I'm there, I'll drop the 1911 frame off to have the serial number moved (under the right grip panel). Once that is done, it will be time to start work on the refinish job. Strip parkerizing, hand polish (after lapping all flat surfaces to keep them FLAT), and hot blue. Polishing a 1911 is way tougher than it looks. Edges must stay sharp, curves must stay uniform and smooth, and most importantly, flat surfaces must be as close to an optical flat as possible. Nothing screams 'amateur' as much as a gouged or wavy flat and smeared lettering.

I'm beginning to think I might actually finish this thing.


Edit: Yes, I am doing this just for the fun of it. I took a $500 gun, put another $500 (probably more) worth of new parts in it, and untold hours of labor. I'll have something really nice when it's finished.
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The Men Who Sniff at Goats
Your knowledge of the workings of a 1911 is absolutely fascinating to read and makes my head hurt at the same time. :)

You have probably forgotten more about the 1911 then I will ever Learn.
Your knowledge of the workings of a 1911 is absolutely fascinating to read and makes my head hurt at the same time. :)

You have probably forgotten more about the 1911 then I will ever Learn.
I don't deserve that, but thank you.
I love these pistols. So much so that I have spent a lot of money learning how they work and how to work on them. I only wish I could shoot well. I'm terrible with a handgun. Always have been, regardless of how much I have practiced.

Shotguns are also a weakness of mine. There are four Italian O/U shotguns resting in my safe. What gauges? 16, 20, 28, and .410 (which is a bore, not a gauge). I don't know how many tens of thousands of shells I have fired through shotguns over the years and I still feel like a flagrant incompetent when blasting away at clay pigeons. I don't know how the people around me can keep from laughing. Perhaps my hearing protection saves me some small embarrassment in that regard.

The bottom line; I love to shoot. I'm no good at it, but that doesn't seem to detract from my enjoyment.

I spent my career as an engineer in aerospace. 43 years to be exact. I am currently learning how to work on mechanical watches and have already fixed one antique clock of ours and have two more that need attention. I don't know how to take a day off which is sad, because I am retired.

There is an old saw about engineers being naturally fascinated with guns, clocks, and locks. Yes.

I'm seriously considering leaving the serial number where it is, just to be different from the first BBQ gun.
More to come on the pistol. I'll be out and about today and will pick up what I need to strip the parkerizing.

Fellows, I apologize. I never thought of doing a step by step and now, all the internal work is finished. I will be more than glad to report on the initial firing, sight regulation, and do a series on surface prep and bluing.
Anyone who wants the home recipe for hot bluing, please send me a PM with your email address and I'll send it to you. You need a 'grill' propane tank, turkey fryer burner, and a glazed steel pot from somplace like WalMart. I think I paid eight dollars for mine. The chemicals are Sodium Hydroxide (lye), Sodium Nitrate fertilizer (NOT Ammonium nitrate), both sourced from Amazon, and two gallons of distilled water. CHEAP, and outstanding results. You will also need some iron wire like you tie rebar together with (hardware store), and a couple sticks of steel rod (same hardware store). I bought a four foot chunk of 1/4 inch and cut it in two. The rods are for stirring and hanging parts.
Paying a gunsmith to hot blue it the first time is what drove me to learn how to do it myself. His price was reasonable, but the finish wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted a black mirror finish. Blind Hogg's recipe gives just such a finish and at a somewhat lower temperature than commercially available salts from gun parts suppliers.

Note: Don't put anything that isn't iron based in hot bluing salts. It can kill the salts or it will simply dissolve (zinc and aluminum come to mind). This process isn't gradual.

Yes, I learned how to hot blue pistols and small parts in my garage with a turkey fryer, lye, and sodium nitrate fertilizer. You can't imagine how handy this is. Idiot scratch? Blend it out, fire up the tank, and all is like new after 20 minutes in the salts. Want to polish out your rifle's bolt handle and re-blue it? Easy. A buddy polished out a single action Ruger revolver and an old, beat up PPK and ran both through my tank. They looked better than they had when new.

One last thought; I didn't give credit where credit is due. Photographs do not and cannot do those grips justice. They are gaboon ebony inlaid with cocobolo and they are flawless. Absolutely stunning. I was blown away when I opened the package. They weren't cheap (close to $150), but if you saw them in person, you would agree that they justify their asking price. They are made to order by a company called WoodCaliber. You will wait a couple of weeks for them (maybe more), but when they arrive, you will have some of the finest 1911 grips on the market.

Let me know if you want the "how to" for hot bluing in the garage and I'll send it to you in a PDF file.

I can post a parts list if anyone wants one.

Please by all means send me the file on how to do the hot blue, to [email protected]

I tried to find a way to send a pm but that feature does not seem to show.
New front sight installed and fiber optic removed from both sights. Bluing stripped from blued parts.
The parkerizing is being very stubborn, so I am now waiting on the arrival of this:

I will upload photographs once everything is stripped and prepped for polishing.



The Lather Maestro

I'm a 1911 nut, but don't do any work. I had an old Springfield Armory gun done by John Harrison in Georgia and he educated me on that square FP stop, you explained it pretty much the same way. I agree it makes a difference you can feel.

And about EGW, they only make parts now, but company founder, George Smith, used to hand-build all of Doug Koenig's competition guns, he and his guys are amazing smiths. He's about a half hour from my house, and before he stopped working on guns, I had him work on my carry gun. It started as a Kimber Compact CDP, but the hollow points were scraping the feedramp in the aluminum frame.

George milled out the feed ramp dropped a piece of steel in there (I think he called it a dutchman?), epoxied it in place and screwed from the triggerguard side, then he remilled the feed ramp. I now have an aluminum frame with a steel feed ramp. Genius.

Anyway, I'm loving this so much, thanks for sharing. Can't wait to see the end product.
Back again.

The Iosso stripper did a creditable job of stripping the parkerizing. I wasn't too keen on having bare metal (I'll explain why), so I used 0000 steel wool to help things along and when I had the frame and slide where I wanted them, flushed them with hot water and flooded them with oil.

With that finally out of the way, the re-finishing began. I always start with the small parts and sand to a very fine finish, finally polishing with chromium oxide (CR2O3, the green stuff you can buy in a stick). I want a little color left on the parts, as all parts will have irregularities in them from the factory and while doing the initial sanding, the low spots show up like stains. So, I keep sanding till all the stains are gone. This way, I don't have wavy or irregular surfaces in the parts after they are blued.

Sanding grit progression: 220, 500, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000
Note that while it is very tempting to scrimp on the 220 grit while thinking "I have a long way to go and this last little spot should work out along the way", don't do it. I have had to go back to 220 and start again more than once. Experience says that the easiest and fastest way to do any job is to do it right the first time.

Anyway, the small parts are finished.

Of note: The small parts were a real bear to sand to a uniform finish. The grip safety because it is a casting and had grinding marks all over it that were hidden by the parkerizing (this was expected). The thumb safety, slide stop, mainspring housing, and barrel bushing were made of very hard material. Ed Brown for the slide stop, Wilson Combat for the thumb safety, and EGW for the barrel bushing and mainspring housing. They polished out like chrome, but it was a JOB. The mainspring housing took a full day by itself.

One of the issues with a 1911 is the sides and edges of the slide. This thing is a billboard and if you don't keep it perfectly flat, it will show badly and make your refinish job look like an amateur did it. Same for the edges. I am convinced that is why highly polished 1911s are so rare. So, this means lapping the thing flat. After looking in Ponca City Ok, Arkansas City Ks, Winfield Ks, and the surrounding area, I was unable to find anyone who could or would cut glass in the 1/4 inch thickness range. Out of frustration, I finally gave up and ordered a 9"X12" granite surface plate from Amazon and it's supposed to be here in a couple of days. In the mean time, I have begun work on the frame.


You can see by the 'stains' that it isn't flat. Fortunately, very little of the 'flat' of the frame is exposed, so I can do the sanding with a small block. I just have to stay away from the rails and that is easy.

When the granite plate gets here, I'll shoot a picture or two of how I lap the slide.

Just before bluing, I do a final polish with .5 micron diamond paste. If I have missed any micro scratches or anything else, it will show up like a neon sign so I can fix it. Once everything passes inspection with a loupe, I will mix up the bluing salts and blue this beast.

Yes, my work bench is filthy and junked up. It will stay that way until the polishing is complete.

If you're interested, stay tuned.

Something I forgot to mention.

In the first picture, you see two ball end burrs. These are used for chamfering the little holes in the frame where the plunger tube mounts. The plunger tube has two little legs on it that go through the holes in the frame and are flared (crimped) to secure the tube to the frame. From the factory, these holes are straight through, leaving the force of crimping as the only thing holding the tube in place. By chamfering those two holes on the INSIDE of the frame, the legs of the plunger tube are flared in to these tiny countersinks, insuring that the tube will not work loose. It is an easy modification that works amazingly well.

Just a simple tip if you are starting to work on your 1911.

An update.
As you can see in the first picture below, my 9X12 granite plate came in and I began to lap the sides of the slide flat. In all honesty, they weren't all that far out to begin with. They showed a wavy surface with localized deviations of less than .001 on both sides. The waviness wasn't symmetrical, so I know I don't have a warped slide.
While, the first 90% of the flattening process goes fairly quickly, that last 10% is a PITA. Why? Because the first 90% is where one is sanding down the high spots. That last 10% is where the whole surface is sanded to get down to the low spot. There is three days in sanding and polishing the slide. No, it isn't perfect, but it is what I wanted it to be. In the right light, you can see near microscopic surface imperfections. While it might be possible to alleviate them (.5 micron diamond paste on leather), I really don't see the point. It looks like chrome now and I could use it as a mirror to shave.

I have moved on to the frame. The original finish (Parkerizing) was uniform, durable, and attractive. It also allowed the manufacturer to ignore a lot of surface imperfections, as they wouldn't be visible in the finished gun. Well, I removed the parkerizing and as expected, I found a lot of tool marks. Some were fairly deep. Fortunately, a 1911 doesn't have much of the sides of the frame exposed, so I concentrated on removing the marks in those areas, then flattening them. At the moment, I am close to polishing. I figure about eight more hours and it should be ready to blue.



As you can see, I have stayed away from the serial number. When I finish with the sanding on the rest of the pistol and move to the right side, I will use a thin piece of stainless steel (cut from an automotive hose clamp) as a mask and clamp it over the serial number and work around it. This is extremely difficult to do, but is different from how the first BBQ gun was done, where I had a licensed gunsmith move the serial (yes, this is legal). I do admit that having the serial number in a contrasting cartouche will make for an interesting and attractive accent.

I also have to install a new plunger tube, but I have several in the bin, the tools to do the staking, and I've done it before. No big deal.

Hopefully, I will be posting pictures of the hot bluing process and finished/assembled pistol on Monday. Mixing the solution takes about 30 minutes, the bluing about an hour, and re-assembly all of ten minutes, so at least I am on the home stretch.

Ok, I made myself sit down and finish the prep work on the frame. First, I worked the area under the plunger tube, then installed a new plunger tube. This is a bit fiddly, but went without a hitch and the plunger tube legs flared in to my 'countersinks' as intended, locking the tube in place. I worked my way through the sanding progression, having to back up occasionally (when finding a flaw I hadn't seen before) to finally get the frame as good as it was going to get. Some things are out of sight, or so deep that removing that much metal just isn't feasible and while I could have done a 'weld up', why? It's an Armscor gun for which I paid approximately $500. This is a project 'for fun', not an attempt to make the gun in to something it is not.

Anyway, the slide and frame. They have grease on them from the polishing compound. By the way, it is nearly impossible to photograph a highly polished flat surface without it appearing black. The curved front of the slide looks good in this picture. It isn't as nice as the flats are. The frame looks dull from the residue (grease) of the .5 micron diamond compound I ran over it.

The small parts are now on soft iron wire, ready for the bluing salts.


It was far too windy today to mix the salts up and do the bluing. Maybe I'll get lucky this coming weekend.
I'll take pics of the setup.

This pistol isn't going to be perfect, not like Turnbull had done it, but it is going to be NICE and the innards are absolutely top drawer.

It's finished!!

I set up the stuff to do the bluing this morning and lit the fire;


The small parts went quickly. What you see here is the frame and slide, hanging on black iron wire on a metal rod across the top of the stock pot. It was boiling and as it boiled the water away, the temperature climbed.


Once the bluing was complete, the parts are 'dunked' in that plastic bucket of water. This blows the salts from the surfaces and out of other places, and cools the part(s).

Then, it gets simple. Clean the parts of any residual salts and soot, flood with oil, rub again, and put them together.


I couldn't be more pleased. Especially with the serrations I did on the back of the slide. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to photograph.


It's heavily oiled at the moment, so the surface finish looks matte. I couldn't be more pleased with my Philippine pistol.

It has been a fun project and I'm happy with it.

Figured out how to photograph the serrations.
The finish looks uneven. It is not. That is a compound surface, curving top to bottom (convex) and also left to right (slightly convex), so reflections are a product of light sources and reflection vectors. Anyway, This at least gives you a good look at how they came out.


A very nice custom touch. I'm happy.

Thank you Gentlemen.
I appreciate your kind words.

The serrations on the back of the slide do an amazing job of eliminating reflections. That is why they are so difficult to photograph. I had to get the light and camera angle just right to take the last photograph.

It's in two WalMart bags, sitting in a DelFatti holster at the moment. The holster is way too tight and since Matt D. recommends using plastic bags to stretch the holster (as opposed to wetting it), that is what I'm doing. I'll let it sit that way for a few days and see how it fits then. If it's still too tight, I'll add another bag. I had to do this with my other Del Fatti holsters and it's easy to get them exactly the way I want them.

Now, which do I actually carry? The .45 BBQ or the3 38 Super BBQ?

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