|The first thing that you begin to notice about Bill is his down-to-earth personality which is reflected in his approach to building reliable, self-defense pistols. My goal with this interview was to gain some personal insight into Bill’s early years as a pistolsmith, as opposed to his ability as a handgun competitor. The other thing I really wanted to know was what criteria he demands in a well made handgun. Hopefully, all of our readers can apply his thoughts and ideas to their pistolsmithing projects.
I hope this interview brings Bill and his philosophy on defensive handguns, competition and business practices a little closer to home. I’d like to personally thank Bill for taking the time to talk with me.
When did you begin pistolsmithing?
I started tinkering with doing revolver action jobs as far back as 1972 and first began working on my own 1911 style pistols in 1974. The first 1911 I worked on for a customer was in 1977 and the customer was Frank Triplett of Licking, MO.
What was the very first pistol or handgun that you built?
A series 70 Colt .45 with the following modification: King-Tappan high visibility fixed sights, trigger job with long aluminum trigger, polish feed ramp and throat barrel, lower ejection port, polish and adjust extractor, bevel magazine well, bob hammer spur, Swenson ambidextrous thumb safety and Pachmayr grips.
Is your pistolsmithing training formal or informal?
Informal, I would say. My formal training is as a watchmaker/jewelry maker, and many of these skills, especially making clock parts and jewelry, were easy to apply to guns. I obtained my working knowledge of guns from study of how they worked, books and advice from other experienced gunsmiths such as Armand Swenson, Jim Clark Sr., and an excellent local gunsmith, Terrance Clark. I was always a serious shooter and exposed to serious shooters all the time, so it was very easy for me to find out what really worked and what didn’t. I initially became a pistolsmith to build my own competition guns.
Where was the location of your first shop or pistolsmithing job?
My first shop was the 10 ft. by 15 ft. back portion of my father’s jewelry store. I had hand tools, a Dremel, Craftsman drill press with rotary table vise, bench grinder and a small Atlas lathe. In the early days things were pretty primitive.
Is the 1911 Auto your favorite handgun?
Yes, I would have to say so; no other pistol is as dependable and durable as a 1911. If limited to ONLY one gun, I’d have one of our #130D Defensive Pistols or our Service Grade equivalent of the Protector. However, personally I like the following handguns real well: Beretta 92F, Glock 19, S&W 640/629/19/3919, Browning HP and Ruger Redhawk. No one gun will fill all needs.
What is your favorite modification to the 1911 Auto?
Is this a trick question? I wouldn’t say that I have a “favorite” single modification. However, I certainly have favorite modifications, ones that I feel should be done to every serious use 1911.
Your goal is to make sure the pistol fires EVERY time you pull the trigger with the ammunition you plan to use. This is done by making the following modifications: Polish the feed ramp, properly throat the barrel, properly fit and adjust the extractor, and use the correct recoil spring for your load. Also, I like a safe, crisp trigger pull with an aluminum trigger. I prefer 3½ lb.trigger pull weight, but many people like a 4 lb. with our #190 trigger. To shoot well, you also need high visibility sights, and an extended thumb safety. Personally, I prefer our #6BN single side safety but others like an ambi, instead. I consider all these NECESSITIES on any 1911, but I also like a beavertail grip safety and beveled magazine well, too. If the pistol won’t shoot my pet load within 2” at 25 yds, accuracy needs addressing, too.
Which sighting system is your favorite for combat or carry use?
I prefer our #367T Wilson Combat Nite-Eyes fixed tritium night sights with bright green front insert and subdued yellow rear. I have these on all my serious use pistols. However, shooters who do primarily target shooting will be impressed with the quality of our new fully CNC-machined #428 series adjustable sights; they are hands down the BEST adjustable sight on the market.
Do you consider IDPA to be the future of competitive pistol shooting?
I don’t know if you can call it the “future” of competitive shooting, but I will share with you the following thoughts: We MUST bring more people into the shooting sports, IDPA’s stock service pistol and revolver divisions are doing this (I’d say at least 7 out of 10 IDPA members had never been involved in organized competitive shooting prior to joining). The more specialized any sport becomes, the less attractive it becomes to the masses. People want to become more proficient with their self-defense guns and IDPA offers them a place to do so. I support all types of shooting (even those that I don’t personally enjoy) from plinking tin cans to olympic free pistol and everything in between.
What do you see as the future of pistolsmithing, hard gunsmithing or drop-in products?
I feel there will always be a demand for high quality, true, custom work. However, drop-in parts are very popular with the consumer. Quality work, like the master pistolsmiths here at Wilson Combat, Richard Heinie, Larry Vickers, Jim Garthwate and others do can never be mass produced. But, quality of work is only one piece of the puzzle. How a pistolsmith treats their customer is equally important. Always quote the customer as accurate a delivery time as possible, do what you tell them you will do, stand behind your work and pay your suppliers on time; these are all things that add up to success. Darla and I began what is now Wilson Combat in November of 1977 (we were married in October of ’77) with virtually nothing but the following business principles: treat the customer the way you would like to be treated, do quality work at a fair price, make sure the product is right and fully tested before you ship it, promote your products and services, work closely with your suppliers and look upon them as lifelong business partners, pay your bills on time, don’t go in debt by trying to grow too fast. It’s worked well for us anyway.
|Nine Steps To A Reliable 1911 Auto
From an Interview With Pistolsmith, Bill Wilson
For your convenience we’ve included the Brownells stock numbers with hyperlinks following the Wilson item number that Bill refers to.
Bill, let’s say I’m a typical customer that wants a reliable 1911 Auto. I’ve got some money to spend, what would you recommend for alterations to my stock pistol?
Using Wilson Combat Parts to build a good, Series 80,.45 ACP, 1911 Auto carry gun, I recommend the following items and modifications, in order of importance:
1.) Match grade extractor (#101 965-101-080 or #415 965-415-080 series) properly fit and adjusted.
2.) Polish the feed ramp and throat the barrel (remember a 1/32" step MUST be maintained between the top edge of the feed ramp and the lower edge of the barrel throat).
3.) Select the proper recoil spring for YOUR load I recommend using a 17 lb. or 18.5 lb. spring in a full size 1911 .45 if you are shooting IDPA or IPSC loads, hardball or JHP self-defense loads. I ALWAYS use a SHOK-BUFF 965-002-004 in my pistols, buffs and springs are cheap, slides and frames are not.
4.) Trigger job with a crisp/safe pull of around 3½ lb. - 4 lb. using an aluminum match trigger and commander style hammer (#190 965-190-045 and #337 965-337-002). If your pistol is a Colt with MIM (metal injected molded) sear it would be wise to replace the sear too with a #314 Match Sear 965-314-000.
5.) Install high visibility sights, I prefer our #367 965-367-001 Black on Black or #367 965-367-004 T with Tritium Inserts.
6.) Install a beavertail grip safety, I prefer our #298B 965-298-001 on my pistols. Bevel the magazine well and/or install an oversize magazine well. (#188B 965-170-113 or #188S 965-170-213).
7.) Install a checkered mainspring housing (#92B 965-092-001 or #92S 965-092-101).
8.) Install a full length guide rod and plug (#25G 965-025-001 or #64G 965-064-045).
9.) Install a match grade barrel and bushing (#33D 965-033-645).