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Building A 1911 – Part VI

By Mike Watkins

After several months of work, we’re almost finished building our 1911, and now we’ll begin fitting the Beavertail Grip Safety.

There are a number of good ones on the market and it just comes down to which one you like the best and which will work the best for your particular project. If you have a Springfield Armory frame, then I would recommend one that has the .220-inch radius on it. This has a smaller tang on the back of the frame and the .220 radius will blend in better for a nicer look without a gap at the top of the radius.

I’ve chosen an Ed Brown Memory Groove grip safety to install in my STI 2011 Limited class pistol in .40 S&W. It’s the full dust cover frame with a heavy bull barrel, and Tungsten guide rod to help reduce recoil.


Whichever beavertail you choose, be sure to get the fitting jig too. It will be a great help when you’re ready to file the radius on the tang ears of the frame. First, I install the jig on the stripped down frame and scribe a line on both sides. Remove the jig, and the lines will give a reference point as to how far you can grind down the tangs. Stop when are about .010 to .015 thousands above the lines. Now, reinstall the jig and with a Mill file, complete filing the tangs down against the jig. Again, remove the jig and file the burrs that are left on the inside of the frame.

Trial fit the beavertail into the frame and check to see if the pin on the thumb safety will go through with the beavertail in place. If it won’t, remove it and with a black marker, coat the frame radius of the tang. Take the beavertail and install it in the frame and move it up and down through its travel. This will leave a bright spot where material will need to be removed for the beavertail to fit correctly. Carefully file down the high spots and check the fit again. Be sure to go slow removing only a little metal at a time. When the thumb safety pin will go through the frame easily with the beavertail installed, and will move freely through its travel, this part is done.

Next, fit the frame radius to the grip safety. This is the part of the frame that sits on the web of your hand. You’ll have to file the frame so it will blend the concave radius into the grip safety. I use a fine cut round chainsaw file to blend them together and I do that with the beavertail grip safety pushed down into the frame. This way none of the edges on the frame will be higher than the grip safety. I stop filing when I’m close to having them blended together, and finish up with a piece of fine Emery cloth, wrapped around a file. This will remove the file marks and leave a nice, smooth finish on both parts.

Now, you’ll want to blend the top of the frame tangs into the top of the beavertail. Some blend that top radius with the grip safety pushed up in its released position, and others will blend it in the depressed position, as it is when you are holding or firing the pistol. This all depends on the look you want once you’re finished.

After you have those fitted and blended in, remove the grip safety and file out any burrs from the safety and frame. The tang on the grip safety will have to be fitted to the trigger bow so I install the trigger, sear, and hammer components back into the frame. Then, slide the mainspring housing into the frame to hold the sear spring in place. The tang of the grip safety blocks the travel of the trigger by contacting the trigger bow and preventing it from moving rearward. They are usually made a little long so you can fit it to your pistol. Install the grip safety into the frame and hold it in place with a punch that just fits the thumb safety hole in the frame. With the hammer in the cocked position, and the grip safety pushed in, the trigger should be free to move and release the hammer. And of course, with it released outward, it should block the trigger and prevent the trigger from moving. If it doesn’t go down far enough to block the trigger and fit behind the trigger bow, you’ll have to carefully file the end of the tang until it will go down behind the trigger bow and block its movement. The key here is to go slow, and check often so you don’t file it down to much and make the whole works inoperable. Sometimes you will also have to remove metal from the bottom edge of the tang if it drags on the trigger bow in the depressed position.

With the beavertail grip safety fitted and functioning perfectly, we can fit the ejector in the frame.

Trial fit the ejector into the frame and file down the two posts on the bottom of the ejector if necessary so it will go down into the frame. Then use a 1/16-inch pin punch through the side of the frame, where the retaining pin goes to mark the front post groove for the retaining pin. A gentle tap of the punch with a hammer will leave a mark on the post. Then I use a 1/8-inch Needle file to file in a groove so the retainer pin can hold the ejector in place.

Remove the grip safety, but leave the other components installed. With the hammer in the cocked position, you can trial fit the thumb safety to see if it will go into the frame and the lug on the thumb safety will fit behind the sear. It should be too long to fit, and a little metal will have to be removed from the lug. Put the safety in until it’s contacting the side of the sear. With a long leather-sewing needle scribe a line on the lug of the thumb safety to show approximately how far to file the lug down.

This is generally a lot of trial and error so go slow, and check your progress often. It should just fit with slight contact on the sear to prevent it from moving. Check it by pulling the trigger with the hammer cocked and the safety on, there should be NO movement of the hammer. Now, push the thumb safety down to release it. Again, there should be no movement of the hammer. If there is some movement, something is wrong. Double check to see if too much metal has been removed from the thumb safety lug. If so, you’ll have to get another thumb safety and start over, No errors allowed here! If it does function correctly, deburr and radius all the edges and install all of these components into the frame.

Now you can fit the firing pin stop to the slide if required, and install the firing pin and spring. Check the firing pin by depressing it fully a few times to be sure it moves freely without sticking. These can be left out for now as we still have to fit the extractor.

The next step is to assemble the magazine release with the spring and catch lock installed into the frame. Some minor fitting may be required if it sticks during operation, but most will generally fit right in.

Fitting the extractor into the slide is the next step. Most should have a little tension or drag on them when you’re inserting it into the slide hole. If not, bend them a little so they will have a slight drag. The tension on the extractor should be just enough to hold a loaded round flat against the breech face without the round drooping down. Weigand Combat makes an excellent gauge for determining extractor tension, the Extractor Tension Gauge Set and a tool to bend the extractors also, the 1911 Auto Extractor Tensioning Tool . Brownells also has a neat tool to remove firing pin stops to remove the firing pin and the other end helps in removing extractors from the slide during fitting or cleaning. Most match extractors have a bevel on the bottom of the hook that the case rim fits into, if yours doesn’t use a 1/8 inch Needle file to file that bevel on the extractor. This helps feeding of the rounds up into the extractor during cycling.

Now we can assemble the pistol completely and function test it with Dummy rounds for feeding and to double-check all of the safeties. With everything assembled, double checked, and checked again, it’s finally time to head out to the range for the real test. I always load only two rounds in the magazine at first just to be safe. If everything works out and is safe, you’re in business!

Congratulations on building your first 1911 Pistol, hopefully you brought along a couple of hundred rounds to shoot!!

Building A 1911 - Part V