Friday, March 18, 2011

On the subject of the 1911 and "Clinical Unreliabilitry"....

I have to throw the BS flag. There's often a lot of talk about the 1911 being unreliable, finicky, requiring gunsmith attention before it's ever fired, or needing an abundance of user end maintenance.

Some of this is true, some of it isn't, and some of it's just flat out regurgitation without comprehension. Too many times I see people quoting bits and pieces of quotes and snippets from sources that are in the know and either try to pass it off as their own point of view or don't give any additional information on what's formed their viewpoint. I don't mind if someone quotes a "Somebody" provided that they give accreditation to the source in it's entirety

Getting back to the topic:

"So, I know this is going to start a firestorm...but frankly in my 31 years if there's one thing I've learned about 1911's is that they are without question the most beautifull class of handgun, but are tempermental by nature to the point of extreem annoyance. I've owned 3 1911's in my lifetime and now I am a die hard fan of my Sig p220 SAO. It does every thing the 1911 does but better except the pretty thing. I like to think of my sig as my more even tempered cute brunette. Like red heads I've sworn off 1911's. To trust one to run with your life, you better have spent the better part of 2 grand. The worst of the 3 was a SA "loaded model." What a load of crap...I spent $900 on a beautiful 1911, get it home and take it apart only to discover it's full of tool marks, then I notice it's an embel frame made in brazil! A $900 sig would never let you down. You know what they say, 1911's have been keeping gunsmiths in business since...1911. thoughts?"

Now I'm no old time gunsmith of famed repute, I'm 31 myself but I've had  sixteen 1911s ranging from Llama to Nighthawk and have spend a heck of a lot of time researching the genre after living my own horror stories of unreliable 1911s from a certain manufacturer. I asked the original poster What the end result with the Springfield was, and he never replied, nor did he answer any of my other questions regarding his background with 2K guns, his experiences with his other two pistols or anything else for that matter.

I'm sorry, but if you buy a car with a flat tire and then complain about the shoddy ride, don't waste your time complaining to me, as for the gun it's clearly marked Fi Brazil on the frame....every time I hear this complaint my blood pressure rises. I know Springfield has a really good marketing campaign with their "Oldest Name in America" line but seriously, it's on the gun, granted you'd have to do something silly like look at the underside of the gun to look for any defects before buying it, but hey who would do such a thing?

Now regarding the Sig comment, if you've read this blog for any amount of time you've probably read about my P238 issues, if not you can click on the P238 link on the sidebar and read about my Sig's three trips to New Hampshire. The bottom line on this is that all makers have lemons, some more than others. I've had issues with Sig, Smith & Wesson, and GLOCK, no maker is free of trouble guns. You can hedge your bets by going with some makers over others and that includes makers of 1911s.

As for "Keeping gunsmiths in business since 1911" that's kind of like blaming cars for the creation of mechanics. No kidding something that's been around for 100 years is going to need some work every now and then. Now I am fully aware that he meant something totally different and I'll talk about that too.

Back in the day if you wanted a 1911 with high profile sights, no sharp edges, a custom finish, beavertail grip safety and elongated safety, you had to take it to a custom smith and have the work done. You took your Government profile gun to the smith, came back in "X" weeks and had your blaster all decked out the way you wanted it, or rather the way the big names in IPSC had them. The only problem with that is that not all smiths are created equal and instead of having an Armand Swenson, ROBAR, Pachmayr, etc is that you have Joe Bob, Billy Bob, and Bo Bob working on guns. They used to take 1911s and squeeze the slide in a vise to tighten slide to frame aint' like that these days. Back then you had a choice of Colt or contract gun from WWI & WWII, now you've got well over two dozen named manufacturers making 1911s and who knows how many individual shops & smiths out there. A lot of that old time "take it to the smith first" mentality still exists in two formats, the old timers working at hole in the wall gun shops and those that go the route of buying a GI format pistol such as the Springfield GI or Rock Island GI and then have it built up over the years.

I've seen a number of guns that have been worked on by pros, I've seen even more guns worked on by idiots. I will say that most of the guns I've seen fail have either been in the hands of a novice, a Kimber, Taurus, or something else smithed by who knows. The guns I've seen run like champs have been from what I consider to be reputable makers, have been left mostly if not all stock where it counts, and have been well maintained.

Now take into account the 30+ makers of 1911s, the number of smiths out there and the number of people that try to fix guns themselves with a Dremmel, haven't even fired the gun and take it somewhere to get "fixed." These are usually the same people that will obsess over which gun has "the best trigger." 
Is it any wonder that some may have problems? And this is even before we get into the actual maintenance portion of the equation...

So here's where some of the 1911 myth is true. To be done right, most of the parts should be hand fit, mostly because of all the different makers doing their own thing. If you have a GI Spec pistol, your can get away with doing more yourself. Yes maintenance is a little more labor intensive as the gun is a little harder to take apart, but other than that the average maintenance required is simple spring changes and cleaning. Unless you're shooting a huge number of rounds per year, think minimum 5K a year over constantly you probably won't have to worry about replacing that many parts, if you buy smart and buy a gun with a lifetime warranty, you don't have to worry about replacing the parts at all as they'll do it for you.

When the pros talk about 1911s from a maintenance stand point, they're mostly talking about Military/LEO serviceability and support, for the average gun owner/carrier all you have to do is replace your springs and keep an eye out for any defects...just like any other gun. If you find something wrong, send it back to get fixed and carry something else. I don't think I've ever met a gun carrying individual that only had a 1911 and no other guns. Yes there are some maintenance issues one should probably be aware of, such as how to check extractor tension etc. and no the manufacturers don't do a very good job telling you about these things, but what gun maker does? What most gun makers expect is for you to shoot the gun till it breaks and then call them to fix it. Why should the 1911 be any different?

My biggest gripe about the 1911 genre is magazines, but again this isn't the 1911s fault, it's the people making them. For the most part the mags that come with a 1911 are worthless. It's been getting better of late as I've been seeing a lot of ACT Mags in new guns hitting the market but it's something to keep in mind.

A 1911 pattern pistol, when built right should run like any other gun. If a 1911 doesn't run right there's something wrong with it and you should send it back to the manufacturer.

For a more elaborate users guide to the 1911, check out the 10-8 Articles and look for the 1911 Users' Guide, if you'd like to have something in print, check out Stephen Camp's website for the 1911 Shooter's Guide


  1. What caught my eye in your post are the complaints about the SA 1911 Loaded. Based on a sample of one (ok it's a thin sample :) ), I find it one of the most reliable weapons I own. I'm a bit older than you x2, been punching holes since 1968 and was taught the 1911 by a Chineese security guard using an original WWII 1911 he carried - always wrapped in plastic - never found out why.

    I'm not a big "serial dater" and the SA 1911 is my one and only, yet I have fired in excess of 2,000 rounds through it and I can count the number of malfunctions on my hands and some of those were solid primer strikes yet the round didn't go off. I like the "Loaded".

    As for the rest of your post, honestly I get a little tired of those that know everything too. Like you, some of my other handguns have had failures, though none of a serious nature. I have always wondered how these folks that know absolutly everything ever learned anything??

    I enjoy your posts. I live just east in Vinton and drove by your range the other day. One of these days we need to have a cup of coffee or something. My son is excited about your IDPA match this coming weekend, it will be his first and he's really looking forward to it.

    Have a great day!

  2. Excellent! The weather's going to be cold, but if you're going to carry in Iowa you better be able to shoot cold. I go by JD @ the matches, have him track me down.

  3. And thanks for reading and giving some feedback. Hope to see both you guys at a match!