Through my years of buying used gun show and dealer used 1911 platform handguns, I have come across remarkable deals as well as utter junk concocted by a neighborhood garage “gunsmith” whose work was a Frankensteinian attempt at “improving” a 100 yr old proven design or pseudo “customizing”.
The best deals may be found by the ballistic equivalent of “driven by a little old lady on Sunday”. These guns come from people who realize that the .45 acp is too much for them or they simply find it difficult to carry & conceal a 7” brick.
Lets’ look at contemporary 1911s’. Every major & minor manufacturer makes a 1911 clone. From thde low end like the Korean Rock Island Armory to 1st rate Wilson, Reeder, or (ahem) Canton Custom StreetFighters. Your best investigative tool is your powers of observation. Ask the vendor or dealer to remove the slide. Using a magnifying glass, look at the finish, original with expected wear, or perfect? Remove the barrel and look for any marks besides factory machine marks. Carefully examine the male & female .locking lugs. They should not show any sign of peening, indicating soft, cheap metal especially on the barrel. If all is well there, the land & groves should be clean & sharp. Examine the barrel exterior for unusual wear marks which indicate poor fitting as well as any bulges. Has the feed ramp been polished, and if so has the top portion been rounded?. Not good. There should only be minor factory machine marks. Check the plunger tube for a tight fit and free travel of the slide lock & safety detents.
Now, most of the imperfections you may spot are an easy fix. Point them out to the vendor and get the price down. The major sticking points & things to avoid are:
- On alloy frames, check for a minute crack at the slide lock.
- Poorly stoned or polished bed.
- Loose or distorted disconnector. Travel must be firm ut held solid.
- Hammer fall or follow when the slide is racked. This is usually due to a worn or defective sear spring which controls the pressure in the disconnector, beavertail, & trigger.
- You’ll want to refresh all the springs, install a carbon steel F/P fresh disconnector & sear anyway, no matter the condition unless NIB.
- Sights tight and fall on target when drawn from low carry?
- Many Colts have come with plastic mainspring housings. Call Brownell’s & change-over to metal.
- Ask for 2 factory or high-quality mags that fall free.and check function of the mag release button & slide lock/follower.
- Forget S/S extractors even if the frame/slide are S/S. Remember that the extractor is a spring and therefore must be made of spring steel.
- Carfully examine the bbl bushing for firm, but not impossible to remove fit. Also look over the wear marks on the bbl where it contacts the bushing during retraction.
- Watch for any bbl buldging which indicates an overload or doubling.
- Check F/P protrusion, then pull the pin & check for peening. While the extractor is out, look for wear and broken corners. As mentioned, if the F/P or extractor is S/S, you’ll want and need to replace with carbon steel.
You will want to install a fresh 18 lb recoil spring. Go with Wolf or Springco progressive springs. I strongly suggest a quality full length recoil spring guide, reverse plug, and “Shok-Buff”.
Most importantly, make certain the shop or vendor is available to you and that you have a 30 day return warranty. Get to the range and run a couple of hundred rounds of various ammo through your new gun. Any problems encountered besides the normal easy fix kink &, have a competent ‘smith give it the once-over. If a serious problem pops’ up ether have repairs made, or return it and try again. Your most important tool is keen observation and the knowledge of when something is simply not right. If you’re not intimately familiar with Browning’s SA design, get a revolver or dbl action auto…and train with a pro if you are a newbie. Get to the range at least once-a-month and burn a couple of hundred rounds at situation targets. Memorize my mantra…”Carrying a firearm does not make you an “unstoppable pistolaro”. Handguns are relatively feeble weapons in most hands and are meant to allow you to get to your shotgun. No one argues with a .73 rifle.
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