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Thread: Maintenance of a 1911 pistol

  1. #21
    Maybe everything I think I know is just make-believe.....

    After all these people in a firearms forum looked at my photos, and told me how bad my gun was (parts worn, being battered, etc.), I decided I would take it to a gunsmith before ordering a new barrel and maybe a few other parts. In my mind, if the front of the barrel has all this "slop", it could move in any direction. If I've got a certain amount of "slop" at 4 inches, I can mathematically equate that to a known distance at say, ten yards. Armed with a head full of questions and few answers, I went to the range today, mostly to talk to the gunsmith who works there, and also to do some shooting. I expected to be told how bad my Colt was, and why did I ever allow it to get so bad without correcting the issues.

    Didn't work out that way.

    First, there was no gunsmith on duty, just four or five gun enthusiasts behind the counter, who were still curious as to what was going on. One said he knew a good bit about Colt 1911's, as he owned ten of them. So, out came my gun, and instead of telling me how bad it was, he's telling me how much he likes it. When I said how much clearance the gun had, he says that's typical for a Colt, and to not worry about it. Everything he looked at, he liked - but he never did what I wanted him to do, take the gun apart and look at the things I had been told indicated excessive wear.

    After hearing what a wonderful gun he thought it to be, my head was spinning. If the gun is so great, why don't I shoot better with it? The natural answer is that I'm not that good, but if so, why do I shoot so well with the Wilson? If I'm good enough to shoot the Wilson as well as I did, why can't I shoot the Colt the same way? The answer was that the Colt isn't machined to the same tight tolerances as the Wilson, which is back to where I started - why not get the tolerances tightened up, so I can still have a Colt, but one that can shoot as well as the Wilson (actually, all I want is something that is better than my ability to shoot it, so with practice I can continue to improve.

    Not knowing what else to do, I suggested I give the fellow some of my ammo, and he try out my gun. He gladly accepted, grabbed a small piece of paper to act as a target, and vanished behind the double doors that lead to the range. He re-appeared just a few minutes later, with a lovely grouping (from 7 yards), and the message that the gun was perfect just the way it is, and to stop thinking about doing anything to it.

    I shot almost 50 rounds later, at 7 yards, just as he had, and I was pleased with the results. I guess I should stop thinking about this..............


    ........I've read where a good 1911 should put all the bullets into a grouping not much more than an inch at 25 yards, or something close to that, and I'm a long, long ways from being able to do that. I think years ago this was expected from a quality gun. I've got two thoughts - first, with a "match bushing" and a "trigger job", and maybe a few other changes, I think my gun can become every bit as good as what I'm after. Second thought is that there's no point in doing any of this to the gun until I can shoot with the same accuracy as the fellow I met today. I'm the part of the equation that needs to get better first, and only after that perhaps the gun will too.

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    Oh yeah, in the jokes department, while I had been out of town a few weeks before, I didn't save my targets. Instead I took photos of them, like the one below, which I printed on ordinary copy paper. I brought them with me to the range today, to show how much better I shot with the Wilson than the Colt. The targets were a big hit at the gun store - mostly a big laugh! First, everyone is telling me that I've got to be kidding, those holes were made by a '22, not a '45!! They pointed out the holes, and there was no doubt about it - until they realized these were only prints of photographs, not the full-size targets!

  2. #22
    Like I was saying about the Brownings we were issued - the 1911 is a service pistol - mass-produced and designed to operate in a wide variety of temperatures and climates.
    Take the German '08 parabellum (Luger) beautiful pistol, but it sucked as a combat firearm because it was too well-made and jammed if it got too dirty - cue the Walther P-38 which started out beautifully made, but with sloppier tolerances to account for dirt and fouling encountered in use as well as cheaper materials to speed up manufacturing - sometime to the detriment of the weapon itself - as the war progressed they got progressively shittier and shitter as more and more corners were cut during production to the point where if you can find a mid-1944 P-38, like as not it'll be a rusty pile of shit compared to a 1939 model which would still be in pretty good nick (unless it was schlepped around Russia for too long...).

    Your 1911 sounds well-used but mechanically sound. The only reason I can see to swap barrels is excessive wear on the grooves and lands: since fairly tight groups are achievable, the barrel seems to be OK - other than that just replace parts that get broken or worn - a new recoil spring might make it feel 'tighter'...and you already found a new magazine helped matters with feed reliability.

  3. #23
    I know in my heart that you are right - if I want a gun to compete in target shooting (and had enough ability to do so), I should just buy a gun made for that purpose. My Colt for the most part does what the Colt company designed it to do.

    At the same time, there's a reason why these 1911 manufacturers provide a "match barrel". Since it's quite affordable, I start thinking "why not"?

    I guess this is sort of like taking a very inexpensive 35mm camera, and replacing the basic lens with one made by Leica (assuming they both had the same lens mount). The Leica lens wouldn't immediately cause the camera to create great photos, but I was careful with the way I used it, the camera with new lens should produce better photos than with the old cheapie lens.

    (...and your analogy would still apply. If the old camera had a 50mm collapsible lens on it, as was quite common, and I enjoyed how compact the camera was for traveling, installing an f/1 Nokton lens might allow me to photograph a black cat at midnight, but my nice, light, portable camera would now be anything but!)

    Despite what the guy at the gun store told me, I really do think I need to find a proper gunsmith and get his advice. I believe what the guys at the other website are telling me about the photos I posted, and that the gun may benefit by getting those issues corrected. Who knows, that alone might help in the accuracy of the gun.

    ..........and yes, I am very, VERY well aware that the biggest single factor here, bigger than everything else together, is to learn how to get "me* to shoot better.

  4. #24
    A quick update - since the above was written, I've talked to lots of people, read as many relevant forum posts as possible, and ordered some new parts.

    • I now have a new barrel bushing, which has removed most of the play.
    • I have a new "tuning kit" of recoil springs on the way from Wolff Manufacturing.
    • I've been practicing how to hold the gun, and dry-firing, and I think I can now hold it better.
    • I've watched the full Wilson Combat DVD three times (very informative).
    • The gun is now better lubricated than ever before, since I have a better idea of what to do.
    • I've signed up at the Colt Forums,, and am learning a lot more about my particular gun (and also debating the purchase of a Colt Gold Cup National Match, that's a great gun, but the one I found has been really neglected...)

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    Next, to go back to the range and see how much of a difference all this made.

  5. #25
    I went to the range today; I found that changing the barrel bushing made a world of difference. The weak point is back to being "me", not all the slop in the gun. If I was able to hold the sights on the target when I pulled the trigger, the bullets were grouped twice as well as before.

    The weak point now is the trigger, as compared to the better guns I've tried, mine feels all "mushy". I figure that with practice I can shoot well anyway, but I'm not sure how to overcome the problem other than a whole lot more dry-firing and practice.

    Here's the target - I used the back side and made six crosses, then added a couple of dots in the middle to shoot at.

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  6. #26
    I think you got him (remembering my contention that a combat pistol is just designed to kill the enemy)...anything better than this is just gravy.

    Told you the barrel was probably
    Barrel bushing was something I didn't think of, as that's a component particular to 1911's which didn't migrate to Browning's later designs or all the derivatives thereafter...

  7. #27
    Yep, you were right - the barrel apparently is fine, which makes sense - bushings (less expensive) are supposed to get the wear and tear, as they're more easily replaced, and cost less than the parts they're placed between. Same thing for bearings - replacing bearings costs less than the components on either side of the bearing. That issue is now solved, I think.

    Apparently there's a big difference between a combat pistol and one designed for target shooting. The combat one might be used in rain, dropped in mud, dirt, sand, whatever, and still must work properly. The design leaves enough clearance between parts that a spot of dirt somewhere will be un-noticed, but a pistol with the extremely tight tolerances for target shooting might lock up.

    If you're shooting at a target 50 yards away, apparently half an inch may make the difference between winning a competition or finishing down in the pack. It's like the World Championships in R/C racing, where 0.01 seconds per lap change in performance will separate winners from "down in the pack", but for 99% of us mere mortals, we're dealing with seconds, not tenths, or hundredths.

    Target Shooting is just like R/C Racing. You start, and you're absolutely terrible. If you keep at it, the performance continues to improve, but as it does so, so do your goals. With R/C cars, I keep track of my lap times. With target shooting I keep track of how tightly the shots are grouped together, in inches, for the distance to the target. (My math says that if I move twice as far away, the groupings will be twice as large).

    (Arkady, which guns are you most familiar with? I assume that with use, the barrel or the part surrounding it (slide?) will eventually start to wear. If so, doesn't that make for a much more costly repair, or am I missing something?)

  8. #28
    My personal experience is limted to the pistols I was issued in the military:
    Browning Hi-Power (GP-35) 9mm and the Sig-Sauer P226. Almost identical in design (apart from some ergonomic tweaks and safety features) and operation

    Also some personallly-owned (before they were made illegal) weapons handed down to me by my Grandfather:
    Mauser '98 Broomhandle in 7.92mm (I never fired it as I couldn't find a reliable ammunition supply - that gun was later destroyed in a range accident by the friend I sold it to in the RCMP when a Korean-made round exploded in the chamber and blinded him in the right eye).
    Beretta 1935 9mm-short (war-booty: taken from an Italian navy officer)
    Luger P-08 9mm (war-booty: taken from a German navy officer)
    Walther P-38 (war-booty: This pistol was in mint condition, my all-time favourite and was carried illegally by me on Ops until it was 'lost' in a place I shouldn't have been in...

    Repairs to service pistols are an irrelevancy to service personnel: if it breaks they give you a new one (assuming you survive not having a working weapon to hand).
    I never fired my personal weapons enough to find out about wear and tear: the Luger was too precious to put too many rounds through and it sold for the highest amount too.
    The Beretta was in OK-ish condition but again, availability of 9mm-short in the UK back then precluded putting large numbers of rounds through it: spares would have to have been made as it was well out of production.
    The P-38 was and is still made, so spares would never have been a problem. I wasn't 'precious' enough about that weapon to keep it totally 'mint' and swapped the original bakolite grips for some nice rosewood grips which I preferred back then: tactical grips weren't as widely available as they are now...
    Damn good pistol that - my Grandad was thrilled that I actually found 'proper' use for it...

  9. #29
    I've got so many questions from reading what you wrote....

    If your grandfather handed down some fascinating weapons as he did, with a history like they did, and the country you live in made those weapons illegal, what were you supposed to do with the weapons? Were they "grandfathered in", so you could legally keep them? I see where you wrote about the Luger ".... it sold for the highest amount too", so maybe that answers my question?

    I guess I should separate firearms by these categories:

    • "issue weapons" which are used as defensive/offensive tools
    • "personal weapons" which one takes pride in, and treats very nicely
    • "historic weapons" which do nothing other than sit in a display case
    • "precision weapons" maintained to exacting standards for the utmost accuracy

    Just curious - which guns do you still have, and do you still use them at all? ....and related to the topic of this thread, if you have guns you no longer shoot, there's a wonderful product I just learned about - Renaissance Wax - which works very well at maintaining old guns and lots of other things. It works better than just a coat of oil, as I've been doing.

    (I have another question about something you wrote - will start up a new thread about it.... done. See

  10. #30
    No: all pistols had to be handed in to the local police station where they were destroyed unless they were of major historic significance. Apart from the Luger and the Beretta, I sold all of my weapons (including a mint Kar-98 and a PPSh-41 that I 'aquired' in Bosnia) to a friend over in Canada who was a tactical firearms officer with the RCMP until the accident mentioned above - now he works in the RCMP version of the ATF, whatever that's called... That Shpagin was absolutely cherry and had all the ancillaries in the original cleaning-case along with the 75-rd drum mag and loading tools...cost me a case of good scotch to get that back to the UK stripped-down and hidden in the engine-compartment of our Scimitar light recce tank...along with a few other bits and pieces that Customs would have been very happy to get thier hands on...

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