1911 Thread...Ten Helpful Tips for 1st time Buyers (Posted on 4/5/13 at 11:03 am)
I ran across a good reference for anyone looking to jump into the 1911 world. And since it was proven that the .40 cal is a worthless self-defense round yesterday, I thought a tribute to the venerable .45 was due....
Ten helpful tips for the first-time 1911 buyer
If you are a first-time 1911 buyer, the number of choices out there is overwhelming, to say the least. For example, take a look at this thread. It shows there are over 100 current and former manufacturers of 1911-type pistols, with perhaps a third of those still in business. Therefore it's no wonder why we keep having "Brand X vs. Y, help me decide" threads with monotonous regularity on this forum. I think its safe to say that the 1911 is easily the single most copied handgun in existence, and probably the most copied firearm period, with the possible exception of the AK-47. As a result, trying to educate anyone on which brand is "best" is a total waste of time. There are cheap ones and there are expensive ones. There are ones with quality issues and ones that are exemplary samples of the gunmaker's art. Funny enough, price doesn't always determine this, and you can easily have a cheap gun that works great or an expensive one that doesn't. But in general, when shopping for a 1911 use this for a guideline:
1.) Decide on your budget ceiling. Keeping what I already said in mind, generally speaking more money will buy you a better 1911.
2.) Stick with forged components for the barrel, slide, and frame. While good guns using cast parts do exist, a pistol with the major components made from forged steel will be the better gun all else being equal.
3.) Watch out for cheap small parts. This is where a lot of manufacturers keep their costs down by using investment cast or MIM (metal injection molding) components. If you're going to have the pistol gutted and built up by a gunsmith anyway it may not be a big deal, but try to stay with something using as many forged or barstock parts as possible.
4.) Pay attention to the fit and finish. Watch for heavy tooling marks, poor fitting and blending of the parts, uneven edges, off-center machining cuts, and rough assembly such as stiff thumb safeties, hammers that don't smoothly snick to half and full cock, and heavy, gritty trigger pulls.
5.) The importance of slide to frame fit is overrated by most people, as it has only a minimal effect on intrinsic accuracy. The fit of the barrel to the slide is far more important. As a matter of fact the original design drawings for the 1911 called for at least a small amount of play in the fit of components to keep the pistol from being sensitive to dirt and lack of lube. However on a $1500 or higher pistol I would expect the slide to be reasonably snug as a matter of pride, and also since I'd expect a pistol in the upper price ranges to be a tack driver. I do think it's unreasonable however to expect a $700 mil-spec pistol to be fitted like a custom gun. One thing to consider is that the 1911 was originally designed as a combat pistol, not a target weapon. The current trend towards tightly-fitted pistols is in the interest of better accuracy, but it takes a competent gunsmith or assembler to make the parts fit well and still guarantee reliable function. That is why the more expensive pistols cost more, in addition to using better-grade parts overall and showing greater "detail" in the fitting of components. Often you get lucky and find a pistol in the lower-end price bracket that is both accurate and dependable, but in general when looking for cheap, accurate, and reliable, you must pick two out of three.
6.) Pay attention to the features. Basically 1911 pistols fall into two categories: "Mil-Spec", meaning they are based on the appearance and features of the old USGI pistols, and "Custom", which these days can mean anything but usually refers to pistols with modern features previously only available installed by a gunsmith. These include high-profile sights, beavertail grip safeties, front strap checkering, and so forth. Your best bet is to find a pistol that already has the features you like, as it'll save you money on gunsmith fees in the long run. However if you're not sure what you really want, I would suggest starting out with a quality mil-spec pistol (like a Colt 1991 or Springfield GI) then later having it built up as you please once you know what you really want to have done. The advantage of a mil-spec is that you can make whatever changes you want later, while a pistol already set up as a "custom" may have features you don't care for but cannot be changed to something else (for example, proprietary sight dovetails). It should also be noted that 1911-type pistols come in many different barrel lengths. Generally speaking the original 5" (aka "Government") length is the most trouble-free, all else being equal.
7.) Don't cheap out on magazines. Why some folks think it's okay to feed their pistols using $10 mags bought at the gun show and still expect reliable functioning is completely beyond me. Magazines are at the heart of a semi-auto pistol's reliability, and a cheap one will cause problems in short order. A quality 1911 magazine will usually cost $30 or more, so when you see some priced at half that you should understand that shortcuts were made to enable those mags to be priced so cheap. Unfortunately some 1911 manufacturers actually ship their pistols with sub-standard mags to save money, which is why some owners run into problems right out of the box. The only recourse is to buy some high-quality aftermarket mags to go along with your pistol.
8. Don't forget to clean and lubricate your new pistol before use. New pistols only ship with preservative oil inside them, which often has gone dry anyway by the time you bring your new pistol home. Be sure to do a proper field-strip and lubrication prior to your first range trip. Running a tight new pistol that's bone-dry is just asking for a malfunction to happen.
9. For your first range visit, use only new factory-loaded FMJ ammunition. Test your new pistol using proper SAAMI-spec ammo at first, so that if you run into any problems you can't blame the ammunition. Using factory-loaded ammo also preserves your warranty. You can always go try out JHP's or your pet reloads in it later once you know the pistol is working right. And if it doesn't work right, for goodness sake don't try fixing it yourself. That's why manufacturers have warranty departments, so make them do it. It's their responsibility to sell you a new gun that actually works in the first place.
10.) Lastly, only consider factory-new pistols with a manufacturer's warranty. Used guns can often be a great value, but they can also be trouble if they were modified by a previous owner who wanted to try his hand at home gunsmithing but didn't know what he was doing. Trust me, there are a lot of those out there, and if you don't know how to spot a kitchen-table gunsmith's work you'd better stay clear of the used gun case altogether.
There you go. Good luck.