The Top 10 1911 Gun Mods
An aspect of the 1911 pistol that some people really appreciate is that you can take a gun that’s basically average and – with a few 1911 upgrades – make it a tack-driving machine with surgical-grade accuracy that would stop the Incredible Hulk in his tracks.
The ability to customize a 1911 easily given the availability of upgrade parts has long been a virtue of the platform. You can really do almost anything to one. What, though, are the most common of the 1911 upgrades? Here are the top ten. Most people who modify their 1911 have one of the following, if not multiple or all of them.
One of the most common 1911 upgrades is the barrel. The typical 1911 barrel in years past would run hardball just fine, but due to the feed ramp design would not feed hollowpoints worth a darn. That’s changed for the most part as very few, if any, 1911s are sold anymore without a feed ramp that’s capable of feeding JHP.
What most people want to upgrade their barrels for these days is for greater accuracy, as the tighter clearances of a match-grade barrel – or at least a better quality one – lead to a more consistent spin and flatter trajectory. Some fitment is usually required, so you better know your way around a file or else you should have a qualified gunsmith do it.
The next item that’s one of the first things to get the upgrade treatment are 1911 sights. Here’s where things can get a little dicey, as – just like with a barrel – some fitment is required. If you aren’t comfortable filing away at the sights to fit the sight cuts, have a gunsmith do it. In some cases, the slide may even need to be machined. Generally speaking, if your gun has adjustable sights then you can easily upgrade them.
That said, the world is really your oyster. The options are almost endless. Fiber optics, night sights, adjustable target sights, low-profile combat sights, whatever you want. Novak sights are very popular, as are Heinie and XS sights. The ease of installation depends on your gun and how the sights are attached (dovetail or staked) but the aftermarket support is stupendous if you want to upgrade your 1911 pistol sights.
You can change the grips in seconds with a screwdriver. Your friend that even mentions Glocks when talking about breakfast cereal (you know; that guy who insists he “needs” a plate carrier even though he works in insurance) can’t do that.
Nice thing about the old-school handguns is the grips are easy to change and there are a ton of aftermarket grips out there. Wrap-around Hogue grips are popular, as are the line of 1911 grips made by VZ. You can also dress your gun up in walnut, cocobolo or any other wood you desire. Or, you can get Crimson Trace grips and get in on the fun people have with lasers.
The range of choice will astound you. You can drop as little as $20 or shell out ten times that amount on exotic woods; it’s all up to you.
One of the most common 1911 upgrades – either aftermarket or as a factory option – is an upgraded grip safety, with the beavertail type being the most popular. Some shooters find the standard 1911 grip safety doesn’t let them grip as high and tight as they like without giving the shooter a bit of slide or hammer bite.
A whole lot of firms make them, but the procedure is almost always the same. Some fitment will be required, as the beavertail will need to be filed for a flush fit. Don’t believe the labels that say “drop in;” they aren’t. If you don’t trust yourself with a rat file, then take your gun to a smith for installation.
There is a slight catch. Beavertail safeties aren’t compatible with spur hammers, so getting the safety will require a new hammer to be installed as well, which brings us to
1911 Hammer Upgrades
A skeletonized hammer is another common 1911 modification, as it reduces a bit of weight and also streamlines the pistol to reduce the chances of snags. An upgraded hammer can also result in a better trigger pull as well, so there are multiple benefits. It’s practical and tactical.
Some fitment may be required, but bobbed hammers (a.k.a. Commander-style hammers) are popular for this purpose. The good news here is that even good ones (such as those made by Wilson Combat and other known quality producers) are usually cheap.
Trigger Upgrades And Trigger Group Upgrades
Some people drop in an upgraded trigger, and some people upgrade the entire trigger group – including the trigger, all trigger springs, the sear and the hammer – to get a better trigger pull. Good news is the parts and springs come pretty cheap, so you can get close to a competition-grade trigger for less than $100.
Some fitment, again, may be required, but it may also depend on your gun.
Full Length Guide Rod
Another common 1911 upgrade is to install a full-length guide rod. The standard 1911 guide rod doesn’t extend the full length of the recoil spring. This upgrade is somewhat contentious. Some people insist it’s a must-have and others have found that it doesn’t make a darn bit of difference.
Your mileage, of course, may vary.
You have to toss the recoil spring plunger, but the touted benefits of a full-length guide rod are a tighter barrel-to-slide fit and smoother cycling. Again, some shooters report the action cycles smoother and accuracy improves…but others have found no tangible benefit.
Some people insist on installing an upgraded spring kit in every 1911 regardless of who they get it from. If it isn’t from a custom shop, it gets new springs in the trigger group and the recoil spring as a matter of course.
The benefit is that the pistol cycles better. The other benefit is that springs are dirt cheap. Plenty of people have spent a few bucks on a spring kit, dropped them into a budget import and gotten a budget 1911 to run as well as models costing two to three times as much. That makes a spring kit the 1911 upgrade to give you the most bang for the buck.
Those annoying so-and-sos that rave about their plastic pistols love to point out how they can change out the backstraps…but the joke’s on them, because mainspring housings are another common example of 1911 upgrades. You can change the texturing or stipling, add an arched mainspring housing like that on the M1911A1, whatever you want.
Some fitment may be required (again, you may have to go to a gunsmith) but there are a great deal of choices out there. If you need something a little different, you can totally get it.
And your gun is going to look better than some hunk of plastic.
Another common 1911 upgrade – and also one not without a bit of controversy – are ambidextrous safeties. The typical version has the longer prongs than the simple metal tab common to GI-spec models.
Like other parts on this list, they’re cheap and easy to install. However, some find they don’t like them and have no real use for ambidextrous safeties. Entirely up to you.
Extractor And Ejector
The 1911 has a few parts that are more or less it’s Achilles heel. Magazines, feed ramps, recoil springs and the extractors/ejectors. For smoother cycling, one of the most common upgrades is an improved ejector and extractor. This gets empties out more quickly, preventing stove pipes and failures to return to battery.
Replacing these parts may require a trip to the smith, but can guarantee a butter-smooth function for years to come.
You Might Also Consider Upgrading 1911 Magazines
Arguably not an upgrade to the pistol as 1911 magazines are (again, arguably) consumables like ammunition…but this is something that any and all 1911 guys agree on. Factory magazines range from useless to merely adequate.
Don’t junk the factory magazines; instead, upgrade the springs (Wolff and Wilson make good ones) and followers. Get yourself some good aftermarket magazines. MecGar are widely held to be the best quality magazines for the budget-minded. Who makes the best magazines is a matter of some debate, but common consensus is that you’ll never go wrong with Wilson Combat or Chip McCormick magazines.
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