Friday, July 20, 2012

Read This Before Buying a Used 1911... (Part 2)

Here is Part 2... Testing a Used M-1911 by Jack Fuselie
Another contributor to inconsistent and erratic ignition is off-center firing pin strikes. Unless you can fire the gun yourself or the seller has fired cases to show his is not easy to determine. If the gun has had a lot of work on the rails the strike may be considerably off center.

While we have the the gun assembled without the recoil spring check the fitting of the slide to the frame IN BATTERY. Looseness when the action is open is not particularly important, it is in firing position that matters. Check for side to side and up and down motion while in battery. National Match standards call for only a very few thousandths clearance. This check should be made with ALL GREASE wiped from the rails, because even a small amount of grease will hide a poorly fitting slide. Now reassemble the gun with the recoil spring installed.

Cock the hammer and pull the trigger without depressing the grip safety. Try holding a pressure on the trigger and then depressing the grip safety. The grip safety blocks the trigger when it is adjusted right. The hammer should only fall when both are depressed. Cock the hammer again and push up the thumb safety. The sear should be locked and the hammer should not fall no matter how hard you pull the trigger. Release the trigger. Flip the thumb safety off and the hammer should not fall until the trigger is pulled again. Pull the slide back and let it go while holding a steady pull on the trigger. The hammer should not fall. Release the trigger slowly and listen and feel for the click as the disconnector re-engages the sear. Pull the trigger now and the hammer should fall. Cock the hammer again and pull the slide back about one eighth(1/8)of an inch. Hold it there and pull the trigger. The hammer should not drop. Hold pressure on the trigger and let the slide go back into battery. While listening and feeling for the click of the disconnector, let the trigger out slowly. Pulling the trigger now should drop the hammer.

Finally, cock the hammer and pull the slide back all the way. Hold the trigger down and let the slide slam shut violently. Do this more than once. The hammer should not follow the slide down. Try to push the hammer to make it fall. It should not fall even with a very hard push. If this happens with either of these tests you may be looking at a dangerous gun that could take off when fired and unload in full auto mode. This DOES happen and such an exciting experience could result in an embarassing personal unload.

Cock the hammer again and pull the trigger slowly, feeling for take-up slack before exerting pressure on the sear. Carefully feel for sear "creep" before the release. Note overtravel after the sear is released. Overtravel may be even worse than excess takeup and "creep". It can cause wild shots by movement after the sear release. Check for trigger drag with a magazine installed. Any of these problems will make the gun very difficult to shoot accurately. A good "trigger job" can fix these problems but the additional cost must be considered in the price.

Trigger and sight work is the most productive in terms of human accuracy. Ergonomics of the grip, weight and balance contribute to the human accuracy. Slide/barrel/frame/lockup work is productive of better accuracy in the pistol itself. All three of these factors developed to maximum advantage make an unbeatable team.

To recap, let's go through the steps again:

First, check the barrel to frame fit on the fully assembled pistol.
Second, check the barrel and frame measurements on the dismantled gun.
Third, check the barrel fit in the gun assembled WITHOUT the recoil spring.
Fourth, check for the proper barrel stop in opened position.
Fifth, check for barrel end play in closed position.
Sixth, check firing pin center strike, if possible examine fired cases.
Seventh, check the slide to frame fit at battery, then replace the recoil spring.
Eighth, check all the safeties and the disconnector action.
Ninth, check trigger for excess takeup, creep and overtravel with a magazine installed.
Tenth, check that the empty magazine hold the slide open and drops freely when released.

Be familiar with the problems and the cost to fix them. 
After you go through this procedure on several guns you will be familiar with most of the common problems. Do not rule out any particular brand or manufacture, they've all made some fine guns and all have made some not so good, including Colt. Some Spanish and Brazilian guns are very good, every bit as good as Colts although not completely compatible partswise. Some of the Chinese copies are quite good and are completely compatible with Colt. There are some "Made in USA" brands that are fully compatible with Colt. This makes them easier to accurize. If you learn to recognize quality in any make you will be able to select a superior pistol at a bargain price. You will probably not find a perfect pistol and will have to compromise but know what the additional costs will be to correct the problems. Acquaint yourself beforehand with the costs to install a Match barrel and bushing, tighten the slide rails or do a good trigger job. These are major costs and must be added to the initial price if you want an good target pistol.
Above all, do not let a seller scoff at your examination. Remember that it's your money and it's portable. Don't waste your time on an ego problem. Most sellers are friendly and helpful, we are all gun enthusiasts together.
This list does not cover everything that could be wrong with a 1911 type pistol but these are the most common problems you will find. You will find many pistols less than optimum in some or even all of these checks. They may be completely adequate and reliable for just "shooting" but THESE ARE THE BASIC PROBLEMS AND IF YOU WANT REAL ACCURACY YOU MUST CONSIDER THEM. A pistol with optimum fitting on every point described here will likely be a very good shooter and capable of truly astonishing accuracy. For example, "Bullseye" competition shooters expect hits within a 3 inch circle at 50 yards. Can you imagine trying this with "just any old .45"?

Now for my disclaimer, these suggestions are developed from my very own experience and interpretation of the design and intent of John M. Browning and are not necessarily the opinions of anyone else.

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