Tips for the Care & Feeding of John Browning’s Icon

The 1940’s USGI M1911A1 variant in all of its glory. (Graphic: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

John Browning’s Model 1911 pistol and its offspring have been around for over a century and the secrets to maintaining them are pretty easy to master.

Safety First

First– starting with a cleared and unloaded pistol, with no brass, ammunition or loaded magazines in the room– you need to field strip the gun. Almost all M1911 variants takedown in virtually the same way, ranging from Great War-era guns through today’s Commander and Officer carry variants.

Below is Team Colt shooter Mark Redl’s simple tutorial on how to field strip one of these venerable handguns. Pay close attention to avoid an unsightly “idiot’s mark” on the slide. Also, be careful with that recoil spring, as it has a nasty habit of trying to launch itself across the room.

Two M1911 style handguns, barrel-on, in the well-muscled hand of a handsome man, with a disassembly tool above them

One thing to keep in mind, however, on M1911 models is that some with a one-piece guide rod, such as the gun to the right, instead of the more traditional guide rod assembly, such as in the gun on the left, may need a tool, above, to help take them down. (Photo: Chris Eger/

Getting the gunk out

Once stripped, clean the carbon, fouling and grime away with products made specifically for maintaining firearms.

Do not over lubricate

Then be sure to lightly lubricate the pistol. When we say “lightly” just a few drops of lubricant in the right places can work wonders. Justin Baldini, Product Director for Colt, covers where and how much in greater detail, below. Tip: do not over-lubricate and shy away from heavy grease.

Putting it all back together again

After you have the M1911 variant stripped, cleaned and lubed, reassembly is easy. Be sure to function check the pistol without ammunition immediately after to make sure all is according to plan.

Scratch patrol

Should you find that you have earned an aforementioned “idiot mark” or have a scratch on your stainless slide, in many cases they can be fixed at home with the aid of a green pad and some elbow grease.

What about 1911s not made by Colt?

The good news is, as the basic layout of a Model 1911-style pistol is the same, cleaning and maintenance of a dirty pistol is largely the same no matter if it is a $300 Rock Island Arms or a $2,000 Wilson Combat series gun.


What about the mags?

Finally, be sure to keep your magazines cleaned and maintained. With any semi-auto pistol and the M1911 platform, in particular, jams and feeding issues encountered are often attributed to bad, worn or poor magazines.

Some of the best 1911-style magazines on the market are from Chip McCormick and Wilson Combat.

Want to know more?

Colt has downloadable manuals for their standard M1911A1s including their WWI and WWII reproduction runs as well as their newer Series 80 and 90 pistols available online for free.

For those wanting to go more old-school, there are the vintage U.S. Army technical manuals (TM 9-1005-211-35) and field manuals (FM 23-35) on the subject out there as well.

Have fun and happy shooting!



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