Building the 1911 From Scratch

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After half a year of reloading, I’ve came to realize a few things that probably all novice shooters eventually learn:

  • accuracy is a potential, without the right ammo, a great gun still shoots like crap
  • accuracy is the consistency of the barrel’s position and tension in relation to all its surrounding parts whenever the gun is in battery
  • the only way to achieve great consistency is to ensure that every moving part has tolerances that would not allow any slack
With that understanding, it soon became a fact that, even though polymer guns can be accurate, they can never be as accurate as a finely tuned metal framed gun.

It’s not that I NEED the most accurate gun, but the pursuit of one is where the adventure is. 🙂

I got a taste of what a great shooting gun can be like when I got the PM9, and I was set to buy the Les Baer Premier II with the 1.5″ guarantee as my next step up, but the road to accuracy shouldn’t be this this quick and easy now, should it? 🙂

For two months I’ve been learning everything there is to know about the 1911, and the time had finally came for me to put one together, with an 80% frame.

Why an 80% frame?  Because I live in California, and there’s no such thing as buying a handgun lower in this neck of the woods.

First, a bit of financial breakdown on building your own 1911, the cost is actually quite attractive:

80% frame – $140
Slide – $120
Barrel – $140

Other parts – $300 (don’t want to skimp on some parts such as the slide stop)

If I can build a gun that rivals a $1800 gun for $680, then that would be fantastic.  Although all the gun smithing parts come to more than a thousand dollars already, and let’s not factor in the cost of my CNC mill and lathe… at the end, none of the cost analysis matters because I just want to get my hands greasy. 🙂

Putting together a 1911 is actually very straight forward.  The difficulty all lies in getting the parts to fit *just right*.

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First was cutting the slide – It’s easy to cut to the right dimensions, but after that comes hours of hand-fitting to get everything just right.

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Second most time consuming part was fitting the barrel.  I thought 90% of the work was fitting the barrel hood, but turns out the lock grooves were not fitting perfectly (of course) and that took more hours to discover and fine tune.

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Reaming the barrel was not difficult but quite scary as one little mistake and the barrel is toast.  I found that mounting a caliper on the tailstock helped a lot.

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After that, the rest was a cake walk.  Polishing the hammer and sear were a joy, while smoothing out the trigger is kind of a pain just because how hard it is to reach inside the receiver at times.

IMG_8834 (finding imperfections is part of the fun)

All in all, the experience taught me a lot, and the results were quite rewarding.

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Two guns were built – one with the slide from my RIA 9mm TACT2, and the other is a 45 caliber with a slide from Blackthrone Products.

Admittedly I messed up on the barrel to slide fit on the 9mm build, so I don’t expect great accuracy with that gun, while my second gun, the 45ACP, holds less mistakes and a tight barrel fit.

Range report – day 1

I couldn’t wait to shoot my 45ACP 1911.  It was late in the day when I finished so I rushed to the indoor range to see what it can do:

range report

The left are the groups by the 45, right are from the 1911.  These are shot standing, with factory ammo, so I was pretty excited with the promise that the 45 caliber 1911 holds.

Range report – day 2

Hand loaded 50 rounds with N320 and Nosler 185gr bullets.  Though it was raining, the range was still open, so I went and did some bench shooting.

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The big disappointment today was that all my hand load sucked.  The recommended load on the Nosler website didn’t work for me at all!  I thought the day was over, but then I remembered the good results I have with the Magtech factory ammo…

On a bench with a 6x scope, I could get groups as tight as 0.7″.  That’s a relief!

The 9mm cycles perfectly (probably because the barrel is ramped) but the 45ACP would jam 10% of the time, but that can be troubleshot and fixed.  Hoping that one day I’ll get even better results with hand loads!

Where to buy 1911 80% frames?

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14 thoughts on “Building the 1911 From Scratch

  1. Where did you get your 80% lower. I want to do a build but tactical machines have been sold out of lowers for over a month.

    • There had been a surge of demand since their supplier had a Christmas break. Check with their Facebook page often, and every Friday morning. Good luck!

  2. TDS offers a kit made of 416r stainless steel that is match grade so the barrel is already fit. Do you think that would have removed some of the difficulty in the build? What did you use to build your 9mm?

    • Match grade is a marketing term now days and I don’t believe that one should spend that much money to buy a 1911 kit. There’s no mentioning of them fitting the barrel to the slide, so there is no time saving on top of overpaying for parts. Spending the least amount of money ($160) for a barrel and you’ll still get a match grade Kart barrel that 80% of bullseye competitors use. The rest of the parts play very little in affecting the accuracy of the pistol. Almost all of it comes from the fit and finish, and that simply comes from experience, or a lot of luck. 🙂 I started off with Technical Machining and will play around with other venders later this year.

  3. How did you deal with the whole California SSE/handgun roster bs? Still trying to figure out whether it’s legal to build an “unsafe” handgun for personal use only or whether I still need to make it a single shot break/bolt action first.

  4. Do you have an email? I have a few questions regarding barrel seat cuts. My kit came with an Non-Ramped 45acp barrel. The 80% frame I want to use is a steal railed BUT it’s been cut for a Para-Clark Ramped barrel. How do you cut a 80% for a non-ramped barrel? I’m trying to decide if I should sell this new match barrel and bushing and get a Para-Clark ramped barrel so I can use the steel railed 80% frame.

    Thanks for the info.

  5. For 45ACP you wouldn’t really need a ramped barrel, so you should have no problem. Now for mounting the barrel, all you need is the 18mm ball end mill to make the seat for the barrel. Your frame will end up having a cavity that’s originally made for a ramped barrel, but that wouldn’t matter. If I were you I would just go ahead and keep the barrel and keep working at it. Have fun!

    (if you need my email just leave me yours and I’ll keep that comment private)

  6. With the new laws that came out last year here in California, does this continue to be legal? Stupid laws can be so confusing…

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