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Learning the 1911 – Checkering

Well the next step after stippling was no doubt, checkering.  We begin with the vertical lines.

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The beginning of the vertical lines.  It helps to have the wire stop to prevent going too far.

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Vertical lines complete.

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Horizontal lines roughed in, to be followed by a triangular file.

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All finished up!  Not too bad for a first effort if I do say so myself.

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Learning the 1911 – Stippling

Long time no post.  Yeah, I know.  Between the summer activities with the family and the job transition thing, I have been right busy but once again I hope to be able to blog a little more often.  So I thought I would share a few things that I’ve been working on.  Below is the frame of a Para Expert that I did a little custom work on, specifically the stippling of the front strap.  Check out the sequence below.

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Here’s the frame set up in the vice with the fixture holding it tight, safe and secure.

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The outlines cut neatly with a file.

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Stippling begins.  It’s a long process.

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A bit blurry but the stippling is complete.  I roll it back on the frame so it disappears nicely under the grips.

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The finished product.  In addition to the stippling I relieved metal from under the trigger guard, installed a short trigger, installed new grip escutcheons, polished the grip screws, performed a complete action job, fit a stainless beavertail grip safety, as well as a stainless ambi-safety, and rounded the butt of the grip.

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Memorial Day

A very special and heartfelt thanks to those who served our country and preserved our freedom. Many suffer the horror of war, the pain of remebering fallen friends; to all, the survivors and the fallen, thank you. Your sacrifice makes this country free and great. God bless you all and your families.

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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!

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I am Still Here.

Well after a near 4 month absence it may seem as if I have abandoned my beloved blog but alas I have not. A new job has simply kept me under wraps and very busy and it doesn’t appear it will let up anytime soon. I haven’t been completely inactive however as I have been diligently working on 1911s and gunsmithing as often as time allows.  I just haven’t been able to blog about any of it.

Please stay tuned as the posts will hopefully begin to flow a little more regularly and we will soon rejoin the journey north with our band of wayward survivors whose only new joy is plugging Zs in the noggin.

Wheelgun

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Welcoming a new 1911 to the family – The MAC Classic!

Here it is. After seeing this pistol on-line and loving the look, I hoped to find one in a store so I could see it up close and personal. Unfortunately, while some shops claimed to be dealers for the gun they did not have any in stock. I remanded the idea to the “back of the mind” shelf and tried to forget about it. I usually won’t buy a firearm or related product without being able to personally handle a sample and assess it’s quality for myself firsthand. A few weeks later, on a routine trip into a LGS, I discovered several samples of Metro Arms 1911s. I was excited! I asked the sales person to see each of them and I poured over them carefully. All models represented were of the blued finish variety, but there was a MAC Classic, an Amigo, a Bobtail, and an American Classic. Each model differed slightly in features but all appeared to be well finished and very well priced. These guns are made in the Philippines and it seems the 1911s coming out of there are increasingly impressive. See all the available models here:

http://www.metroarms.com

My attention, however was continually drawn to the beautiful MAC Classic, which is a high end 1911 set up as a competition style pistol. I was really amazed at the features provided for the comparativley low price point offered. So, upon returning home I sifted through the safe found a couple of candidates for sale and away they went. Now I had the money for a MAC Classic! A quick internet search revealed that Davidson’s carried the gun and to my surprise, the chrome, steel version was on sale! This was the version I had seen on-line originally and the one I wanted. For some reason I like the 1911 in a stainless or rather metallic finish as opposed to blued, except of course with regards to a classic Colt which always had exceptional bluing. I chose a LGS I was unfamiliar with because they had a much lower price than the previous one mentioned above. So, I called them on the phone and did a little research (they had some positive reviews on-line) and determined they seemed legitimate so I continued with my purchase and bought the gun using the Gun Genie service (the first time for me), and had the gun shipped to them and voila! A couple of days later, here ’tis!

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A quick look at the exterior of the gun reveals some obvious enhanced features. Adjustable Bo-mar style sights, fiber optic front sight, a wide, flared mag well, front and rear slide serrations, Bull Barrel, front grip serrations that are sharp, but not too sharp (not the blood drawing kind), an extended ambi safety, match trigger, match style hammer, beavertail grip safety and a flared and lowered ejection port. The grips are well made, good looking, wood grips but they are not coated with a sealant of any kind and I wonder if they will be durable as a result.

Thankfully, the gun is a series 70 style 1911 and does not have any type of firing pin blocking mechanism, which I abhor.

The provided case is hard plastic with very positive latches and enclosed therein is the owner’s manual, a single magazine, the obligatory fired casing, a trigger lock, (which I left at the LGS) and of course, the gun. Not much else. I was a bit surprised that MA did not provide at least one more magazine but they didn’t. It was not wrapped in paper or plastic but it was well oiled. In fact, I could definitely say it was heavily oiled.

The magazine is an 8 rounder made in Italy. I am unfamiliar with this brand but will test it thoroughly to see if it is reliable and worth using. Thus far my magazine preferences are confined to Wilson Combat followed by Chip McCormick. I have never had issues with either of these brands but Wilson stands out as a truly reliable magazine and I trust nothing else.

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After learning how to ‘smith and tune 1911s I now scrutinize the fit and finish and overall condition of all the parts to see how well they are made and polished. Basically I evaluate the gun for these qualities and juxtapose that against the cost of the gun. So after some work, here it is all disassembled and ready for my eval.

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Initially in both samples of the MAC Classic I handled I was very impressed with the finish and overall polish of the gun. The trigger was truly impressive in both guns, it is obviously tuned from the factory. There was no creep and it broke very clean in the 3.5-4.25 lb range. Upon disassembly I did find an odd issue with the trigger though, specifically it was very rough on the sides of the bow. (See below)

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Originally I thought it was the metal itself but when I began polishing the bow this came off quickly and so I believe it was some kind of paint or finish applied to the part and not the metal. The bow was also bent slightly outward on one side causing some drag on the frame. So, I flattened it out and afterwards the trigger would fall free from the frame when tested.

The frame is well polished but there is some roughness here and there. The rails have some tool marks on them which is visible but more importantly can be felt if you draw your finger over them. It’s not bad, but it is present. Having said that the slide to frame fit is absolutely the best I have seen yet. The fit is extremely tight, with zero, and I mean zero, movement or slop of any kind. The flat spring is a thinner, match style unit and it is perfectly tuned.

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Tool marks can be seen elsewhere but unlike some other 1911 manufacturers there are obvious efforts by the MAC factory to polish some of these areas.

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The recoil guide rod is of the two piece solid rod variety which is essential to keeping the gun tight but not my favorite type. However, it is well done, very smooth and if you know how to take it apart it’s not too big of a deal. I will say that they claim to include a pin that is used disassemble this part but I could not find it. Perhaps it fell out when the LGS opened the box or maybe it wasn’t included. Not a big deal, but it would have been nice. I had to cannibalize a spare allen wrench to get the job done.

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The barrel really catches your attention. It’s a heavy, match grade, bull barrel with an elongated, polished feed ramp. The barrel is fitted very well and very tight to the slide which is likely going to provide great accuracy. Removing and replacing it in the slide is a careful process as there is no room for it to move around. (Check out the fiber optic front sight as well!)

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The hammer and sear are obviously match quality items. In the photo, the arrow points to the hooks on the hammer which are obviously already cut down to the ideal .20 or .18 height that eliminates creep in the trigger pull and it is a nice 90 degree angle. They were a little sharp on their side edges but some light stoning softened those and removed some high spots. After microscope inspection I lightly stoned the sear edge angle with a few strokes of a fine ceramic stone to idealize the sear/hammer contact and followed that with some jewelers rouge to give it that super smooth, bright finish.

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Overall, I think this gun is an AMAZING value for the money. Manufactured in the Philippines (ironic, I know, if you know the history of the 1911) MAC has done a great job of bringing a very high quality, well finished 1911 competition level pistol to market for an amazing price point around $800! I haven’t shot it yet, and of course, I will. A range report post will subsequently follow discussing the gun’s performance. I am ecstatic about finding such a great quality gun, well finished and polished, for a great price. Their other guns look to be well made also but I’m out of money so I can’t buy another one to get inside it and look around! Maybe another day. But for now, my family of 1911s is fairly complete. This gun filled the niche of an adjustable sight competition style gun unlike the other combat style 1911s I currently own. Glad to have it around! Time to see how it shoots!

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Happy Anniversary!

Bond

Today, my blog is two years old! I started this blog October 1st of 2012. I hope the few who read it for one reason or another enjoy it, I enjoy writing it. From the gun stuff to the Zombie story, all of it provides me a personal outlet of expression that I really enjoy. I hope you guys will continue to visit, as I intend to continue to write. Thanks for a great two years!

Wheelgun

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Disappointment thy name is Red Label!

Well, after a recent shotgun side event at a Cowboy Wild bunch match I decided this shotgun thing is pretty darn fun! My Dad has a membership to a local gun club that has trap, skeet and 5 stand fields and so all I needed now, was a good over and under shotgun. Now I didn’t have the money to get what I thought I wanted but I had a couple of guns I could let go of in trade, so I headed up to my favorite LGS to see what I could find. I found a new, shiny, Ruger Red Label with 30″ barrels, so I traded two for one (with a cash kicker on my end) and I stepped away from the counter with a nice new Ruger Red Label 12 ga. O/U. This is one of the new production guns not an original model that was discontinued a few years ago due to excessive production cost.  The cheek pad in the picture below was something I added myself, it’s a sorbothane cheek-eeze product.

DSCN1761 OK, so let’s start with the good stuff. On the positive side, Ruger provides a nice semi-hard padded case with 5 chokes (IC, MOD, Full and 2 Skeet, installed in the gun) and a nice choke tube wrench. They also provide a nice lock and a strange locking mechanism, which I promptly discarded as I always do. The lock, I kept, they are great for the fence gates out back. The receiver, now a single cast part, is reasonably well done. Additionally, the gun comes set up to have the safety automatically activated when the gun is opened up, in the field this would be an asset, in competition, not so much. I don’t really care for this feature because during competition it’s really in the way and could cost you a bird, however Ruger smartly provides an alternate slot where the rear of the spring strut responsible for activating the safety can be placed. In this new slot it travels above the other slot where it activates the safety thus bypassing this feature. However, here is where the positive part of the story ends.

DSCN1752 DSCN1753 DSCN1754 Now for the negative, and get ready, as far as I’m concerned, it’s ugly. Needless to say, I was disappointed as the title of the post clearly states. Having said that, the receiver, while well cast (as mentioned above) was far from well finished. The internal portion was left rough and where holes were drilled and metal was cut the flash was left with no regard for removing it at all.  The below image shows the inside of the receiver after I have removed some flash but some still remains.

DSCN1760 The lever that opens the action was also not finished well and it was scratching the the top of the receiver tang just below the serial number. I had to polish the underside of the lever to eliminate this issue.

DSCN1757 I realize that cost is a factor and the human labor required to do such a task is expensive but then again so was the shotgun. The ticket price for this long gun was $1129.00 So while I can understand their need to keep costs low I feel taken advantage of here. My wife owns an Italian made O/U made by Fausti with a retail cost of around $450.00 and my dad owns a Turkish made Yldiz ($500 at Academy Sports) and both have better fit and finish by comparison. The ejector cam on one side was not properly sized and required me to remove metal to get it to properly slide back and forth against the inside of the frame. Ruger put really tight springs in the ejectors and this massive force simply overcame the resistance but it was apparent it was rubbing because you could see the marks on the side of the ejector cam from when the shotgun was opened.

DSCN1758 Next, the forend iron was leaving marks on the underside of the bottom barrel and I had to polish and remove some metal there to get a better fit to prevent further wear.

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Both the ejector sear plungers were rough and did not slide in and out of their recess holes smoothly and I had to remove them and polish them to achieve smooth operation. The ejector sears also needed some deburring and polishing to achieve ideal movement. The forend iron head is not well fitted to the wood of the forend at all.

DSCN1759 Comparing it to the fit of the other aforementioned shotguns they are done better, which is troubling because apparently they were able to provide a better fit and still charge much less. Now make no mistake I like Ruger, always have probably always will but this gun has been a disappointment. Will I keep the gun? Most likely. Will it all be ok? Probably. But is it disappointing to pay that much for a O/U shotgun, or any gun, and have to bring it home, tear it down and file and polish parts to get them to function properly and prevent what would certainly be damaged parts after even minimal use? Yes, yes it is. But this is just how it is I guess. I was used to it when we paid $350 for Uberti revolvers for Cowboy action, you expected to have to do the work on it.  But almost $1200 for a shotgun from a reputable company here in the US?  Nope, I expected better, just didn’t get it. Ruger will soldier on, and post modifications so will I. I expect it will run well now and serve me well on the skeet field. After the work I did the gun is much smoother.  Maybe some more aftermarket accessories will be called for, perhaps not, but they could be necessary on any shotgun I would buy for clay shooting. We’ll see. Let’s just hope there are no more surprises, I think I paid enough to avoid any more.

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Paragon Shooting School Experience

broken-clay Well Friday was my wife’s birthday. (Happy Birthday, Sweetie!) 8 years ago for her birthday I bought her a 20 gauge over and under shotgun and an introductory lesson so we could take up the shotgun sports together. Well, my lack of interest at the time in the shotgun sports coupled with a few other issues led us to not taking up the activity after all. In retrospect I wish I had tried a bit harder but nevertheless I thought maybe the time had come to revisit the idea. I have recently established my own interest in shotgunning and approached her about the subject again. She was ok with it but I knew, at least for her, she wouldn’t feel comfortable unless she had lessons again. So after some mods to her shotgun to reduce recoil and a call to Paragon we were back in business. Eight years ago, along with her shotgun, I also got her a lesson from a Paragon instructor, a very nice lady named, Wallie. She was patient and very knowledgeable and we both had a great time and my wife learned a lot. Well fast forward to this Saturday and her lesson was scheduled with the man himself, Dan Schindler, the founder of the Paragon School. Now, not to take anything away from Wallie but Dan certified her so needless to say he was truly an exceptional instructor as you would certainly expect. He has been doing this so long that he has distilled the training program down to a very simple process. If you choose to take the course you will not be unhappy and while it was a bit pricey it was well worth it. What he teaches is not simply how to break clays.  Unlike others who mostly talk about leading targets, or this technique or that, he teaches from a whole different perspective and it’s not only worth it, it’s simple in its revolution. I think my wife is off to a great start and I think we will enjoy shooting together. What was the most remarkable part of the day was watching my wife come out of her shell so to speak, really enjoy herself and feel confident about performing well in something that only a few hours ago was unfamiliar to her. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Dan is a very soft spoken man who is confident and obviously very knowledgeable. He is very organized and structured and if you arrive with an open mind and answer all of his questions and listen to his advice you will have a very positive experience. He leads you where you need to go to succeed and after you get there you will realize the simplicity. He takes his time, works patiently and most importantly positively. You will really feel better about your skill when you leave. He takes extra time if needed and let’s you learn at your pace as you go through the training. He is very conscientious of women and children making sure that what might be their first experience shooting or at least learning to shoot is a positive one. I was thankful that he did not use any negativity in his training as this really makes a big difference. Ultimately perhaps the best endorsement was that my wife has expressed an interest in going back to take another class to learn more! So I suppose we’ll see you in the spring Dan!

Find him here: http://www.paragonschool.com

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Update to the Tiger-ized 1911s

Well, impatience got the better of me and after investing in the tools necessary to do action jobs on 1911s as instructed by my good pal, Surly Dave, I went to work on my Commander 1911. I installed an Ed Brown bobtail mainspring housing and cut and polished the frame myself. I then worked the action over but had to replace the short trigger with the original modified match trigger. This worked much better in the long run and I now have a very nice trigger breaking at 3 lbs. with no creep. It’s not the best looking thing in the world right now but it will be. Once I can get back to Surly’s place I’m hoping to be able to get a lesson on bead blasting and bead blast the slide and frame to one uniform appearance. Stay tuned for more pics!

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