Rock Island – Reborn!

Ok, here we go! This project has been months in the making. Let me begin with a little background context first. Over the last year or more, I have been traveling to see a Gunsmith friend of mine to learn how to perform various gunsmithing operations from someone who is a seasoned professional. Thus far it has included action work on 1911s, and double action revolvers, trigger jobs on AR rifles and various other general functions. By no means do I consider myself an expert or a professional gunsmith, I’m just a guy who loves guns and the mechanics of how they work who wants to be a gunsmith someday. After these lessons, it seems I have gravitated to the 1911 pistol and have really begun to focus my efforts there. I have performed action jobs on several now and decided I wanted to try my hand at a customization project. I made the decision up front that this would be an educational experience for me, something that would be a possible sacrifice if it didn’t work out. With that premise in mind, I chose to try several different modifications on this one gun so I could maximize the learning opportunity for the money expended. Having said that, I do not own any serious machining tools such as a lathes or a mill, nor do I have the requisite experience to operate said equipment. I am equipped only with files and hand tools and of course the obligatory Dremel. So with that, I set out to try and find a project worthy gun. I began looking for a used 1911 in not so good condition with the hope that it would be acquired at a reasonably low price. In the event I screwed it up and it gets ruined in the process I will not have lost a lot in the process. So, in October, I bought a sort of beat up, used Rock Island Armory 1911 from my favorite LGS. This was a standard GI Mil-Spec model, nothing special. It was in decent shape but had a few things about it that were sort of messed up. I will let the “before” pictures demonstrate some of those issues. See below. DSCF0091 DSCF0092 DSCF0094 DSCF0095 DSCF0096 So, as you can see, the pictures above show a few of the issues such as the rear sight, some finish blemishes and so on. Internally, there were a few things that could not be seen. The frame feed ramp was not cut even and generally the inside of the gun was rough. The trigger was of poor quality and I believe the hole for the thumb safety was drilled slightly off center. Overall, the parts appeared to be made from old machinery or cast from old moulds as they were not very even, square or well finished. After six months of off and on work I have finally completed the project.

DSC_0017 DSC_0018 In the above two pictures you can see the left and right sides of the pistol.  I replaced the rear sights with a National Match style sight.  I had a dovetail cut in the front of the slide to accommodate a Novak front sight.  I tried twice to cut the dovetail by hand but cut it too large.  I had the aforementioned gunsmith weld it back up and we cut it on his mill.  Worked out much better.  The gun was Duracoated by a local shop in Black and Flat Dark Earth.  An Ed Brown trigger and hammer replaced the lackluster originals.  I cut grooves in to the top of the slide on both sides I came to call “Dragon’s Teeth.”  I also followed those down into the slide serrations and did some stippling there to improve the grip on the slide.  Internally, the gun received an action job and the mis-cut feed ramp of the frame was properly trued.  All the rough edges left from poor manufacturing were filed as needed.  I also filed and tapered the magazine well a little to facilitate easier magazine changes.

DSC_0016 In this image you can see where I stippled the underside of the trigger guard for a little extra retention and I gave it a few file lines to help set it off a bit.  I also relieved the area at the top of the grip behind the trigger guard to help facilitate a higher grip.

DSC_0015 This picture is a view of the blending of the slide, frame and beavertail grip safety.

DSC_0014 Here can be seen the work done to the ejection port.  I opened it up in the front to aid in live round ejection. Below can be seen the recess work done to the slide release lever.

DSC_0012 I melted the slide all around and tapered the edges so they disappeared into the frame.

DSC_0011 I cleaned up the edges and shape of the thumb safety and added a little stippling to the contact surface to give it a little extra grip.

DSC_0010 At the base of the grip I used a file to round it off and customized the mainspring housing to match.

DSC_0009 Here is a close up of the stippling done on the frontstrap. I delineated the two types of stippling (heavy and standard, I much prefer the standard and it’s more than adequate) with a file line and again added a groove above it to give it a little better look.

DSC_0008 This is an angled shot of the recessed hole and cut off pin on the other side of the frame from the slide release lever.

DSC_0007 This is a slightly better view of the Ed Brown Beavertail style grip safety I installed using his jig.

DSC_0006 In this picture you can see the work I did to flush the barrel, recoil spring plug and bushing.  I also re-crowned the barrel, tapering it lightly after I brought it flush.  Also you can see some more of the melting process.

DSC_0005 Here’s another view of the barrel, plug and bushing.  Again the melting can be seen as well.

A lot of work was done to this gun! I really enjoyed this project and while I realize it is not professional quality work I do believe I gave it about the best shot an amateur could! Look it over and let me know what you think. Thanks!

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Rock Island – Reborn!

  1. grg

    Looks great! How does the gun shoot compared to before? I am wanting to do a rat grade 45 and keep swaying towards a Rock Island.

  2. wheelieg

    So far so good! Thanks for checking in on the blog. I appreciate it.


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