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The Difference Between A Custom 1911 vs A Factory 1911

So…how does a custom 1911 made?

There are a number of companies out there making custom 1911 pistols, or at least making handmade 1911 pistols. Chances are you know a few names already. Les Baer. Ed Brown. Nighthawk. Wilson Combat. And so on. There are, of course, differences in how each company specifically handles production, but they all more or less make guns the same way in the broad strokes.

I actually had the chance to visit the booth of Roberts Defense, a custom 1911 shop out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at 2019 SHOT Show and their head gunsmith explained the difference to me. Unfortunately his business card has gone missing and I forget the gentleman’s name, but you can check out their products on the Roberts Defense website. Having seen them in person, I can assure you of their impeccable quality.

I want one SO VERY BADLY. But one digresses.

A custom-shop 1911 starts as oversized blanks. Some firms mill slides and frames from bar stock, but others have pre-cut frames and slides made off-site from specifically selected types of steel or alloys. The blanks are solid metal and are milled, lathed and otherwise cut down to set tolerances. All the appropriate pin holes and other bits are drilled into the frame.

At this point, the frame and slide go to the gunsmith. The frame rails and slide rails are hand-lapped just until the slide can move on the frame rails.

The front of the grip is checkered, along with the mainspring housing. Custom guns often come with 25 lines-per-inch checkering, which is quite grippy.

Barrel bushings and barrels are both made by CNC machine. When they come off the machine, they don’t fit in the gun. The bushing must be hand-polished and fit to the slide. Likewise the barrel must be hand-fit both to the slide and the bushing to ensure tight lock-up. The clearances between barrel, bushing and slide on a custom gun are usually only a few ten-thousands of an inch; the clearances are imperceptible to the human eye.

Sight cuts are milled into the slide, and sights installed.

Custom 1911 pistol makers usually make their own parts in house, instead of buying triggers, safety levers, grip safeties, hammers, sear levers and so on. These parts are made oversized by a few ten-thousands of an inch, just big enough to require a gunsmith to file away enough material for it to fit. The parts are polished and, once they can fit and operate, are fully installed.

You look at the back of the slide, and you’ll notice the hammer, the extractor, the frame rails and the slide have no gaps between them.

The trigger is polished, removing material on the top, bottom and sides of the trigger blade and on the trigger bar where it has friction against the interior of the grip frame. This lets the trigger slide back perfectly, as if on rails.

Springs are installed except for the mainspring and it’s housing, which must be polished to fit the frame prior to installation. After these parts are all installed, the grips are installed, which is actually the easiest part since you just screw them on. Some sanding may be involved if the grips have to be altered to fit a magwell, but that’s still pretty easy.

In all, a typical handmade 1911 pistol usually takes 8 to 10 hours to assemble for a seasoned, experienced pistolsmith absent any customization, and each gun is made by one smith. Small shops like Roberts Defense can only turn out maybe a dozen guns per week, depending on circumstances. After assembly, some test firing, cleaning and they box and ship to the customer’s FFL.

Source: Alien Gear Holsters

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