Brownells 75th Anniversary - A Shooting Heritage

Building A 1911 - Part I

by Mike Watkins

So, you have bought a 1911 frame and slide and you are going to build your own 1911 .45 automatic. Great, but now you are wondering which parts you will need and how to go about getting the pistol finished. As one of Brownells professional Gunsmith Techs – and a member of the Pistolsmithing Guild – I get a lot of questions about the 1911. Over the next couple of issues, I’ll be putting together a series on building a 1911 to help you complete your project.

First, you will need to decide what purpose do you intend to use the pistol you are building. This by itself can be a learning experience. Do you want it to be a stock government model, a target pistol, or a concealed carry gun? I would suggest looking at a schematic of a 1911 so that you can see exactly what parts are needed and how they go together. You will be able to see how the parts work together.

On the Brownells web site, you can find schematics for Colt 1911 pistols that will show you the different configurations of pistol types. From here you can build a complete parts list for the type pistol you want to build.

If you do not yet have a Brownells catalog, be sure to order one. Brownells carries a wide variety of 1911 parts, from stock components to match grade parts. This will allow you to take a look at all your options and determine how much you want to spend and how custom you want your pistol to be.

There are also several books and videos available also you can refer to for information about the 1911 that will help in your project. Jerry Kuhnhausen’s book, The Colt .45 Automatic, Ed Brown’s 1911 Bench Reference CD-ROM, Wilson Combat’s Combat Customizing The 1911 Video Series, and AGI’s Video Armorer’s Course are several good sources of information.

That may sound like a sales pitch, but these items are meant to inform and help you with your project. Hopefully, these resources will help you avoid costly mistakes, provide you with the information you need, and the Technical Support gang here at Brownells will give you any further advice and assistance you may need.

Here is a checklist I used in my shop when talking to a customer about building a custom 1911.

  1. Decide on the components that will be needed for the purpose of the pistol. Write them down – DON’T rely on your memory!

Now that was simple, wasn’t it? The point is, plan ahead and review your choices to make sure they will be compatible with the type of pistol you want to build.

In my shop, I followed a procedure that I have listed below that helped me assemble a pistol.

  1. Decide on the components needed for the purpose of the pistol. Research what is available and any information needed to assemble.
  2. Fit slide to frame.
  3. Fit barrel and bushing.
  4. Machine sight cuts if required and install sights.
  5. Fit trigger, hammer and components.
  6. Fit grip safety and radius frame if required for a beavertail safety.
  7. Fit ejector to frame.
  8. Fit thumb safety.
  9. Fit firing pin, stop and magazine release.
  10. Fit extractor.
  11. Function test with dummy rounds.
  12. Test fire at range.

This list set out the steps I used to complete a pistol. By following these steps, I made sure that I didn’t overlook anything or leave anything out. (And, I’ll be following these steps in the upcoming articles.)

I have used a Colt schematic from the Brownells website and have chosen the basic parts needed to build a Government 70 series type 1911. In the table below, a variety of stock parts are listed, but I did choose a Storm Lake barrel and bushing, various Ed Brown and Wilson Combat Factory Plus parts, and a Wilson 3-hole match trigger. I will be using these parts in this series. I have long fingers and I like the look of a 3-hole trigger. No sights were chosen as everyone likes something different for the intended application. As mentioned before, the assumption is that you already have your choice of slide and frame. I should mention that if you do not have a quality dial caliper, you should purchase one as this is an invaluable tool.

Barrel Bushing
Barrel Link
Barrel Link Pin
Ejector Pin
Firing Pin
Firing Pin Spring
Firing Pin Stop
Grip Bushings
Grip Safety
Grip Screws
Guide Rod
Guide Rod Plug
Hammer Link Pin
Hammer Pin
Hammer Strut
Magazine Catch Lock
Magazine Catch Spring
Magazine Catch/Release
Mainspring Cap
Mainspring Cap Pin
Mainspring Housing
Mainspring Housing Pin
Mainspring Plunger Detent
Plunger Spring
Plunger Tube
Recoil Spring
Sear Pin
Sear Spring
Slide Stop
Thumb Safety

Next month we tackle slide-to-frame fitting. See you then!

Building A 1911 - Part II