Monday, August 14, 2006

Field Strip The 1911 Colt 45 - and other stuff

This is a cogent set of instructions on how to clean the 1911 pistol, and its magazine.

I wish this had been plainly available when I first started pistol shooting. Instead, I had to learn it the hard way.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usIf you're a tyro, a word of caution: the instructions say NOTHING about cleaning parts other than the breech face and the extractor. (Note: every part needs to be cleaned with a solvent such as Hoppe's #9 Powder Solvent, and lightly oiled. If you're not sure what "lightly oiled" means, just oil the heck out of everything you can see, and wipe it with a clean, dry cloth. And if you forgoe the "wipe with a clean, dry cloth" part, you won't hurt a thing except the pistol may tend to make your hand oily, and make it hard to hold onto the gun when firing it. Use your best judgement.) Also, the instructions don't show all of the parts (noticably missing: barrel bushing, firing pin, there are lots more), they don't make it clear when you change from disassembly to reassembly.

About reassembling the firing pin: there's a spring around it. One end of the spring is loose, the other end is tight. The way to know how to reassemble the spring around the firing pin is to check whether the spring comes off easy or tends to hang on to the firing pin. You want to reassemble them so the spring tends to hang on to the firing pin. You'll probably want some kind of pointy pin-pusher (a 1/8" punch works best) when removing the "Firing Pin Retaining Device" (also known as the "Firing Pin Stop", and "that darned flat piece of steel that comes out easy but goes back together after I've let the firing pin fly out of the gun and under the sofa a couple of times").

Come to think of it, it's probably a good idea to check out The Sight's 1911 .45ACP Use and Care Page. The link to Tuley's page is there, along with links to several other websites which help you understand how to disassemble, clean, and reassemble the 1911.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usOne helpful link is The Sight 1911 Cut-Aways. Here you can see all the parts in correct relative positioning, along with pictures of each part and the correct name for them. If you're a 1911 owner, I highly recommend that you study this 'phantom view' schematic and learn the names of the parts. It makes it a lot easier to talk to your gunsmith if you use the same language as he does. This will come in handy when, after disassembling and cleaning your 1911, you discover you have either (a) failed to understand how to put them back together, (b) discovered that you're missing a part ... which may or may not be found under the sofa ... or (c) ended up with parts still on the coffee table.

Some pointers, taken from personal experience, would include:

When re-installing the Slide Stop, make sure you align the aft end with the SMALL notch on the slide, and push the slide stop all the way in until it goes *click*. You can halfway install it, and the gun will work. That is, it will work until the slide stop works it way out again, and sometime when it is least convenient the slide stop will fall on the ground. Immediately after that, the slide assembly .. including the barrel, and the loaded round in the barrel ... will also fall on the ground. You can find the slide assembly easily enough, but (trust me on this) it doesn't do you a bit of good without the slide stop holding it together with the part that has the trigger and the hammer.

Just thought I would mention that.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usAnother thing is Tuley's caution that it takes a competent and experienced gunsmith to 'tune' an extractor. Not so. Any bozo can tune an extractor. You don't even need any tools, just three rocks.

Here's how you do it.

First, using a high-powered magnifying glass, carefully examine the 'hook' on the muzzle-end of the extractor. If is badly worn or ... more likely ... one corner of the 'hook' has chipped off, the extractor is worthless and must be replaced. The replacement hook, however, may need to be tuned. That is, if you can FIND a replacement extractor. This is a part which should be considered a "consumible", so you should always carry an extra one in your range bag. You don't have a range bag? You don't have a replacement extractor?

You're screwed. Have a nice day.

No, I'm just kidding. Let's assume the extractor isn't broken; it has just lost it's 'tune'.

Remove the extractor from the pistol, and find three rocks. Two of them can be as small as 3/4" in diameter, the third should be at least 2" diameter. That's the "hammer".

(Note: if you actually have a brass hammer and a vice with you, you don't need the following instructions. In fact, if you are that prepared, you probably have a replacement extractor which has been pre-tuned to your gun, and everything that follows is not necessary. Good On You, Cobber!)

Put the first two rocks on a flat surface, no more than 2-1/2" apart. Bridge them with the extractor, with the point of the hook facing up. (If you don't know what the hook is, the "point of the hook" is, or what the "extractor" is, this operation is not for you. Go home and start boxing up your 1911 to send to your favorite gunsmith.)

(Actually, that should be your first and best choice, but shooters are ever optimists despite repeated experiences which invariably come to "Bad Ends".)

Take the third rock ... "The Hammer" and pound the unsupported center of the extractor a couple of times until you're pretty sure you have bowed it a little bit.

Note: if the extractor and at least one of the rocks has bounced off the table and you can't find it, never mind. That's just John Moses Browning's cure little way of telling you that you're hitting it too hard. Also, you'er a dork and should leave the gunsmithing to someone who has at least replied to a "Be A Gunsmith" advertisement he has seen in a magazine.

If you can find your extractor, re-install it and put an EMPTY cartridge case in the slide, under the hooks of the extractor. If it stays in place, it MAY work for you. In that case, reassemble your 1911 and go back to the match.

If it doesn't stay in place, start over and do all the steps until that requrement is satisfied.

Chances are, even if you do correctly tune your extractor, it won't last long. That is a good indication that it has lost its temper. (No, that doesn't mean it has become cranky and intractable; that means that the metal is too soft to retain the "springiness" necessary for it to do its job of extracting brass out of the chamber.) It may never have been tempered correctly, so you're reduced to the point of having to (assuming you're an IPSC competitor) re-tune your extractor between every stage.

I realize that is an unlikely event, but this actually happened to me in the 2001 Dundee Croc Match, and I made a public laughing stock of myself by going down to the safety table between every stage, finding three rocks (I actually kept them in my pocket after the first time the gun didn't eject the brass; I still have them in my gun safe!) and re-tuning my extractor. However, I did manage to finish the match.

This is probably the best time to mention a few useful habits I have developed in my [mumble mumble] years of IPSC competition.

  • Keep spare small parts in your range bag
  • Learn how to install them
  • If appropriate (eg: extractor, firing pin stop, slide stop) learn how to fit them to your gun
  • The moment one of them fails, replace it
  • ... then, as soon as practicle, replace the spare
  • Know and suck up to a good local gunsmith who competes in the same shooting sports you do. (This is probably not always possible, but strive, STRIVE~!)
  • If the part may possibly require fitting to your gun (extractor, firing pin block, etc.), do so and try it out in practice. Make sure it works. Then put it back in your bag and replace it with the original part. That way you'll always know that the replacement part will work.
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usNOTE: much of this is satire. Much of this is good advice. If you can't tell the difference between satire and good advice, err on the conservative side.

The point of the exercise is, there are some details about small-arms maintenance which may be referrenced on The Internet. Unfortunately, it doesn't always tell you "The Rest Of The Story".

If you're handy with machinery, you may be able to translate the usually stunted procedural descriptions to your advantage. But if you're just another Bozo (as am I), you will probably find that you have caused more problems than you have fixed.

You know yourself best. And the best advice is to find a competent gunsmith who can make SURE you are using a safe, reliable firearm.

Or, you can do this (5mb download)

UPDATE: 8/30/2006

I've received comments from the owner of the website which was the source of the original article and owner of the first photo displayed above. He notes that I have misspelled his name, which I have corrected. He also notes that I have used his photo without permission, for which I humbly apologise. Finally he tells me that a "casino site" will "pop up" on this webpage. I have no idea how, why or where that happens, as I cannot get it to popup at all. If you have had that experience, please email me (see the email address at the very bottom of this page) with enough information so that I can find it and remove it. It is not my policy to allow commercial messages here, let alone deliberately insert the dispicable popup code.
(H/T Michael Bane Blog)

Thanks to Lucky Video and, we have a live-action video (animation, y'know) of what goes where, when, when assembling a 1911-type pistol.

I love this stuff!

(No, I don't have permission from them to link to the demonstration. Since it can only provide more traffic to the website, I doubt they will mind.)

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