Springfield M1911A1 Overhaul

Updated 3/10/2007

This is a pictorial history of my 2006 overhaul of a Springfield M1911A1 pistol -- a work in progress. The purpose of the overhaul is to create a well-tuned combat weapon that is optimized for my personal use and well-suited for concealed carry. It will also be used competitively for IDPA matches. Competition will ensure that the gun gets a workout and that I maintain my skills with it. It is my goal to do all of the pistolsmithing myself.

Starting configuration
The starting point: Click for a larger photo.
Finished product
The finished product: Click for a larger photo.

Note: The old grips are shown because the new ones aren't in yet.

I bought the gun new in the early 1990's and made only minor drop-in modifications to it in that time. These include:

  • Replace factory checkered walnut grips with Pachmayr wrap-around rubber grips.
  • Replace GI-style grip safety with a drop-in beavertail safety.
  • Replace GI-style spur hammer with a commander-style hammer.
  • Replace original short trigger with a Chip McCormick adjustable carbon fiber long trigger.
  • Replace original slide stop lever with Wilson extended slide stop.
  • Polished the feed ramp
  • At one time, I also had a Wilson extended thumb safety lever installed. That was removed because I believe that extended thumb safeties are actually a safety hazard for carry under concealment. The larger surface area of the lever increases the chance of accidental deactivation. Since the M1911 family of pistols is intended to be carred "condition 1" (live round in the chamber, hammer cocked, safety on), it doesn't make sense to take a chance. As it is, the factory safety lever is perfect for my use and presents no problems.

    Also, the extended slide stop lever will be removed and the original reinstalled for this project. This was a hard decision because the extended lever makes it much easier to manually lock the slide back. Purists shun the extended slide stop as a useless device that can contribute to premature slide locking. But in 15 years, I've never had that problem. The motivation to change back is driven mainly by the desire to keep the gun compliant with IDPA competition rules and to foster good gun handling habits.

    In the above photo, the gun is equipped with a stainless steel Wilson 2-piece guide rod with a Dwyer Group Gripper. I've had that part installed in the gun from time to time, but it normally is not. Normally, the gun will be configured with the original factory plug setup.

    My intention is to take a pragmatic approach. The configuration will have no superfluous junk and will be a practical and IDPA-legal one. In keeping with the combat/tactical role, it will have no shiny garbage on it, but aesthetics are a consideration.

    The current Springfield Armory "Loaded Operator" model is close to what I was aiming for. Below is a comparison between the Operator and my finished gun:

    Springfield Loaded Operator
    Springfield Operator: Click for a larger photo.
    Finished product
    My interpretation: Click for a larger photo.

    Note: The old grips are shown because the new ones aren't in yet.

    Finished product
    Update, Dec 2006: The factory plunger tube loosened up, so
    I replaced it with a new Wilson one. I still haven't settled on
    the right grips, but for now, it wears cast metal ones and a
    separate rubber finger groove insert.

    So here are the modifications. This list may change as the project progresses.

    Modification Parts Rationale Gunsmithing
    Grips VZ Grips custom grips. "Operator" texture, made from green/black "canvas" micarta. Specially cut to fit the magwell contours. VZ Operator grips offer excellent traction along with thermal stability and good looks. No gunsmithing necessary. I'm dragging my feet on making the final decision on the grips.
    Grip Screws SLEX -- slotted / hex head I like the appearance of a hex head screw, but in an emergency situation, a hex screw could be impossible to remove without the appropriate wrench. The SLEX screws add a conventional screwdriver slot to the hex hole.

    At this time, it wears hex screws, so they will be swapped with SLEX screws when the final grips are installed.
    No gunsmithing.
    Grip Safety Wilson High Ride beavertail The high beavertail allows the gun to sit lower in the hand. That brings the bore centerline lower to the grip axis and can reduce muzzle flip. Better control allows faster follow-up shots. The old drop-in style beavertail that I installed is ugly and its contours are more likely to snag when the gun is drawn from a concealed position. Radius frame tang to fit safety and blend contours. Adjust safety lug to properly engage the trigger bow.
    Magwell Smith & Alexander arched mainspring housing with integral magwell Although a magwell adds some length to the grip (and therefore makes the gun slighly bulkier), it allows faster reloads. This is a tradeoff I'm willing to accept. I opted for a magwell that is integrated with a mainspring housing for durability reasons. Although flat mainspring housings are in vogue right now, the arched style fits my hand better. At this time, Smith & Alexander is the only manufacturer of this setup with and arched housing. Fit magwell, blend edges into the frame.
    Extractor Wilson Bullet Proof Series 70 extractor To ensure the risk of extractor-related problems are minimized, I decided to fit a premium extractor and to tune it according to the recommendations of professional gunsmiths. Although the factory extractor could be tuned, it seems prudent to use the highest quality unit available that is manufactured according to the most recent developments in M1911 technology. Fit extractor and adjust tension as necessary.
    Ejection Port None. When I started the project, I intended to enlarge the port slightly to current production standards and mill a rollover notch. However, there is a factory rollmark just behind the port, so cutting the notch would cause interference. I decided to forego any port modifications. Cut the ejection down to 0.4" above the slide rail from its current height of 0.515".
    Re-bevel the side wall 45.
    Cut an angular rollover notch with a 1/2" carbide mill.

    None.   :-(
    Sights Novak Lo-Mount rear sight

    Novak dovetail front sight
    Low profile sights with smooth contours can greatly reduce the risk of fouling clothing or snagging during a draw from concealment. I went with normal white-dot sights (but I changed the front to red). Eventually, I'll probably swap them for tritium night sights. Machine the compound Novak cuts and dovetails into the slide. Fit the sights with a 65 file.
    Frame Contours None. Smoothing out sharp edges and corners well lessen the risk of snags on clothing during a draw from concealment. It will also make the gun more pleasant to handle. Slightly radius (with emery paper) all sharp edges and sand machine marks smooth. Includes barrel bushing, dust cover, rear face of slide, front edges of slide & trigger guard.
    Springs Wolff tune-up spring kit Since the gun is over 15 years old, I think it's a good idea to replace the springs so there will be no question whether they are up to the job. All springs will be replaced with the same weights as the gun was equipped from the factory. There is no compelling reason to alter the spring rates. Detail strip. Replace springs. Reassemble.
    Slide Serrations None. This is primarily for aesthetics and to add a custom touch. I have not yet decided whether to flatten the slide and mill longitudinal grooves or to be different and cut horizontal serrations. Mill a flat surface tangent to the slide's top curvature with a chord width of no greater than 0.325". Cut serrations with a carbide bit.
    Front Strap Checkering None. The Pachmayr wrap-around grips give a very comfortable and tactile surface. With the VZ Grips panels, I'll lose the traction on the front strap. I am very interested in checkering the front strap to make up the difference. The main consideration is the cost of the jig. I'd rather buy a jig and do it myself than pay someone else more to do it for me.

    At this time, I don't have a checkering jig and the bare (smooth) frame is a little slick for my taste, so I'm using a rubber finger groove insert with traditional grips.
    Install the frame into a checkering jig and cut the grooves.
    Trigger Tuning Not known at this time. As one of the final steps, I intend to do a trigger job. The intent is to minimize creep, eliminate overtravel and to set the pull weight at slightly over 4 pounds. This may or may not include replacement of the sear, hammer and/or disconnector. Depends on jig selection and parts selection.
    Finish Stage 1 - Zinc phosphate parkerizing over an aluminum-oxide blasted surface prep

    Stage 2 - Norrell's Molyresin thermoset coating. Olive drab on the frame with flat black on the top end and frame parts
    Both coatings are extremely tough. The thermoset resin provides a very thin, but durable layer of protection as well as an attractive appearance. The parkerizing underneath adds substantial secondary corrosion resistance and serves as a backup to the coating in areas of high wear. Debur edges and blast the surface with 80-grit aluminum oxide. Clean, degrease and dip in hot parkerizing solution. Spray thermoset coating and oven cure.

    A Word About What I Will Not Do

  • I will not leave any surface of the gun with a reflective finish of any kind. Tactical guns should not attract attention.
  • I will not add front cocking serrations to the slide. I find them useless and they are hard on holsters.
  • I will not run a full length guide rod for carry or competition. An FLGR complicates field stripping and serves no meaningful purpose.
  • I will not weight the gun for recoil compensation. It should run well without weights and adding weights will disqualify it from IDPA competition.
  • I will not install a match grade barrel. The stock barrel is far more accurate than is necessary.
  • I will not tune the gun for a particular ammunition. It should perform well with all ammo supplies.
  • I will not add decorative engraving. Never liked it.
  • I will not add an accessory rail. For night illumination with a handgun, I prefer a handheld light over a weapon-mounted one. I have no desire to increase the weight, either.
  • I will not change parts for the sake of changing parts. There should be a reason for everything.

  • Photos Of The Overhaul Progress

    Click photos for a larger view.

    Grips & Grip Screws

    Before During After
    Left side overview
    Left grip panel
    Have not made final grip decision yet.

    Grip Safety

    Before During After
    Old drop-in beavertail
    Radius side view Side view showing the radius cut into the frame tang.
    Radius bottom view Bottom of the radius cut.
    Radius top view Top view showing the radius cut.
    Fitted beavertail, top view Top view of the fitted beavertail, ready for contour blending.
    Fitted beavertail, bottom view Bottom view of the fitted beavertail, ready for contour blending. Layout marks are visible.
    New beavertail

    Magwell & Mainspring Housing

    Before During After
    Stock magazine well bevel
    Fitted magwell Magwell fitted. Ready for machining and blending. Since the frame had a factory bevel in the magazine opening, the magwell edges had to be re-angled and cut back about 0.0675". That meant a lot of machine work, filing and polishing, but it resulted in a much wider opening.
    In the milling machine The frame is in the milling machine and the magwell is ready to be opened up with a countersink bit.
    Blended magwell After a great deal of filing and polishing with Cratex bits, the magwell is mostly blended to the frame, but still needs some work.
    Need to add pictures.


    Before During After
    Work done, but need pictures.
    Need to add pictures.

    Ejection Port

    Before During After
    Ejection port Decided against port modifications (see above).

    Front & Rear Sights

    Before During After
    Rear sight
    Rear sight
    Front sight
    Test fitting the front sight Here is the front sight temporarily installed. I'm very pleased with the machine work. The sight aligns perfectly and registers flawlessly with the front of the slide, the flattened top and the first serration groove.
    Close up of the front sight Another view of the front sight. Pretty good if I do say so myself! After sand blasting and refinishing, that scratch will be a distant memory.
    Test fitting the rear sight And the rear sight temporarily installed. After some very minor blending with the rear of the slide using a Cratex wheel, it will be perfect.
    Close up view of the rear sight The metal is still unfinished (in the "white"), but the spacing of the serrations couldn't have been more perfect.
    Close up of the finished front sight
    Rear sight

    Slide Serrations

    Before During After
    Top of slide
    Test serrations using 3/4" schedule 40 pipe (similar dimensions as the slide)
    Test serrations at 32 lpi 32 lines per inch "V" groove
    I'm very happy with this pattern. It seems to be just about perfect and the tool marks are minimal. Still, this may not work out because it's a 90 groove and most metal checkering files are 60, so it might be impossible to properly chase the grooves and clean up the tool marks.
    Milling test 32 lpi serrations This is the setup for cutting the 32 lpi serrations.
    Milling final 32 lpi serrations Now it's time to cut the actual serrations. The curved top of the slide was cut flat to a depth of 0.014" from the apex. The grooves are cut at a 45 angle with a carbide bit to a depth of 0.016" and spaced 0.03125" apart. 138 individual notches are cut in two setups.
    The finished serrations Now the machine work is done on the slide and it's time to test fit everything together. The metal is bare at this point. Everything will be blasted and parkerized, then coated with Norrell's Molyresin. This picture shows the correct slide stop.
    Close up of the finished front sight
    The finished serrations

    Note: The serial number was edited out of applicable photos for privacy reasons.