The 1911 Project


At some point I decided it would be a good idea to build a 1911. I wanted a gun suitable for lugging around the wilderness, but can't hit squat with a double-action revolver. More importantly, though, it sounded like fun. (I'll pause while those of you who have built a 1911 finish laughing.)

Given that this gun would be seeing potentially inclement conditions and, worse yet, unskilled assembly, choosing precision parts seemed inadvisable. After all, "top of the line" is close friends with "top dollar," and I didn't want too many of my top dollars resting under the surface of a file--especially not one held in untrained yet enthusiastic hands. I decided to go with a Sarco parts kit, which is about as inexpensive as it gets. This would be paired with an Essex frame. The Essex frame is not the cheapest frame one can buy, but they have a good reputation. More importantly, they come with the ejecter, plunger tube, and grip screw bushings already installed. I didn't anticipate having to touch the frame, so splurging a few extra dollars there wouldn't be too risky. The rest of the gun, though, would come from Sarco's grab-bag of no-name or USGI surplus parts.

The problem with going cheap is that one runs an elevated risk of parts being out of spec. Potentially, I was looking at a lot of headaches and hand-fitting. This didn't bother me: Part of the appeal of building the gun was the process itself. If everything fell together as if I had just detail-stripped a factory gun, there wouldn't be much process at all. On the other hand, I didn't want to find myself up a creek without a lathe.

So it was that with equal parts trepidation and enthusiasm I filled out the Sarco order forms and dropped them in the mail. It would be several weeks before I would discover what the future (and UPS) would bring.

You, however, can just click any of the links on the left to find out right now.

Obligatory Disclaimer

Before moving on to the gory details, I have to mention that I'm not a gunsmith, nor do I play one on TV. In one conversation about the finished gun at the range where I was testing it, the fellow with whom I was talking asked me what I did for a living that gave me the skills necessary to build a 1911. I had to tell him, "nothing." I'm a computer programmer by trade with next to no metalworking experience. Prior to building this gun, I'd never even taken a 1911 down beyond field-stripping. This entire project has been a learning experience, and the only way you learn is by making mistakes. Where possible, I've identified the mistakes I made in the hopes that others might avoid them, but it's almost certain that there are quite a few errors that haven't been caught. (If you spot any, please let me know.)

Even where I didn't get things wrong, the techniques, tools, and materials used are usually far from ideal. This account is neither a primer nor instructional materials, except to the extent that it illustrates what not to do. I put these web pages together because building a 1911 was very enjoyable and I wanted to share the experience with others. Also, I goofed up with sufficient regularity to provide at least some amusement to those who know what they're doing.