Friday, November 16, 2007

1911 Project Gun

Some months ago I picked up a Sistema Model 1927, one of the Argentine 1911A1 pistols. This one had the usual badly worn bore and finish, and had one other 'feature': the numbers on the frame and slide did not match. The shop where I bought it had received a bunch(probably one of the last lots we'll ever see) and, of course, there were some with problems. So he'd taken the good slides and frames and put them together. They were checked thoroughly- I trust the people on this- for fit and operation. And, since it's mismatched, which kind of ruins any collector value, I'm using it for a project gun.

First thing was to detail-strip it and check everything. I will be replacing all the springs, for now just the sear/safety spring as I had one available. Next, strip off the old finish. Such as it was. That was done with 220-grit wet/dry paper, used wet with a backing piece. Cleaned and smoothed things out considerably. I'm going to leave it at this until everything is done, then I'll either blue it or parkerize it. Although, as it seems to be holding up quite well on my Kimber, I could use the moly-resin.

Down the road I'll probably have a dovetail cut in the slide for a new front sight, for now I decided to try making a new front using the original hole(gee, thanks for that idea, Og). If you're not familiar with this, in the original 1911 design there's a slot cut lengthwise in the top of the slide, deep enough for the base of the sight to sit in. Then there's a hole cut through the bottom of the slide. The sight fits into this and the tenon on the bottom sticks through the hole into the inside of the slide. The sight is braced, and a special chisel is used to spread out the tenon, riveting the sight into place. I needed a thicker front sight(getting old sucks), so, after taking off the original front and the annoyance and frustration ofmaking of a new one that fit(someday, I really want a small mill) and making a chisel to rivet it, I got it fitted. A little too tall, which is no problem, as I'd rather file it down a touch to adjust the point of impact than have it too short.

The rear sight was easy: widen the slot a touch with a file to match the wider front, and- since the corners were pretty beat up(what the hell did the Argentines do with these?!?) they were rounded. Again, later on I'll get a front & rear set and mount them.

Speaking of things in the slide, I'll be getting one of the EGW oversize firing pin stops and fitting it. I was holding off an order to Midway for some things hoping to get it from them, but they're ALWAYS out of stock on the damn things, so I'll probably go ahead and get it from Brownell's.

While back a friend had picked up a GI-spec barrel for me, and it dropped in. Seems to fit and function properly, though it won’t give the same accuracy as one fitted to the frame & slide. Down the road, I'll pick up a suitable replacement. Probably one that comes with a bushing.

Last weekend there was a small gun show in town and one of the dealers had 1911 parts. I picked up an STI extended thumb safety, a grip safety and a long trigger(with the overtravel adjustment screw). First time I’ve ever tried fitting any of these pieces.

The trigger was no problem; tweak the bow just a touch and it slid right in. I may need to do a touch of polishing on the outsides, but that's it. The grip safety seems to need no work. The thumb safety, on the other hand...

As I say, I've never fitted one of these before, and it did need fitting. So I pulled up some 'how-to's from, studied things, and began, very carefully, to work. Took a while, but finally had it fitting nicely and working as it should. With me sweating over every stroke of file or stone.

Then I fitted everything together and shazam! It works! Except for one thing... cock the hammer and pull the trigger and ease the hammer down, and it caught at the half-cock position. Disassemble, examine, try, no change. Finally, after a while of trying, and some language practice, I had a thought. When I'd put the screw into the trigger so I wouldn't lose it I'd run it quite a ways in. Did you know if you have the thing too far in it messes with things? If it's WAY too far in you can't pull the trigger back enough to trip the sear. If it's not quite that far in, it can cause this problem, not letting the trigger move the sear all the way out of the way of the hammer notches. Backed it out a bit extra and no more problem. I'm going to loctite the damn thing in place.

Got everything cleaned and assembled and tested multiple times, and all's well. I'd fired this pistol with ball and it worked well. So, just to check, I stuck a Gold Dot hollowpoint in the magazine and cycled the slide, and it jammed solid.

Not in the barrel throat*, the edge of the hollow was hanging on the feed ramp. Tried again, then tried with two other magazines with the same result. A close look with a good light and magnifier showed why: machine marks left in the ramp. Not horrible deep ones, but just deep enough.

So, I needed to polish the ramp. VERY carefully. Take a look here and here at High Road and Tuner will demonstrate why he tends to cringe when he reads "Get your dremel". I'd read that before, so I knew the risks of getting careless or a bit too enthusiastic; you can screw up the feed ramp to the point that the only fix is to have a ramped barrel fitted. Or the frame machined to accept a new ramp. So I started off with a suitable dowel wrapped with 1000-grit wet/dry paper**. Colored the ramp with marker, then started with light strokes. As the marker rubs off it shows exactly where you're cutting so you can keep the angle correct: you don't want to change the angle or cut too deep. So I took that only far enough to remove the lighter marks completely. Once that was done, I took a dremel with a felt polishing bob loaded with fine polishing compound and polished the surface smooth. With steel it's hard to cut too much unless you're using a coarser cutting compound, BUT it can be done. Especially if enthusiasm gets the best of you and you use high speed and a lot of pressure. Polishing is actually cutting away some of the surface, same as a grinding compound but on a much finer level, so I used the marker again, recoloring the ramp several times. I stopped when the ramp was nice and shiny and slick; the deepest marks were still there but were now smaller and had smoothed edges. Cleaned off all the abrasive and polish traces, reassembled and tried it, and now the bullet slides perfectly up the ramp. Final proof will be shooting it next time I can get to the range.

So far, so good. The slide/frame fit is a little loose, down the road may try my hand at tightening it up. Definitely to come is a better barrel fitted to the slide and frame. And new sights, maybe something with a fiber-optic front. I think I'll wind up with a very good shooter,and a lot more understanding of how this thing works.

I just realized I have no pictures of this, I'll take a couple and add them in soon as I can.

*A lot of standard barrels will not feed hollowpoints reliably, some not at all. The barrel can be often be ‘throated’ to take care of that, or the original can be replaced with a suitable one. My Kimber has happily eaten everything I’ve fed it with one exception: semi-wadcutters. Almost all 1911’s have to be throated for them, or have a target barrel installed, to feed them reliably.

**1000-grit was the finest I had, the next coarser was 220. I decided I'd rather use the very fine stuff and cut very slowly. I will say that with that fine a paper, 'very slowly' is the only way you can cut by hand. Which was just fine with me.

On the original barrel, I did find that, even with the worn bore, it shot very well with jacketed bullets, though lead bullets fouled the bore badly.

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