Why does it take so long, custom 1911 work? Well…. it doesn’t always have to, but sometimes I go about things in such a way that it just…. does. Certain tasks in 1911 smithing, I am liable to do it one way one time and another way another time. I’m always trying to improve my methods… to do things better, and yes, faster, but better always takes precedence. Sometimes honestly I just enjoy seeing how close I can come to getting something as good as I can make it. The barrel in this pic came with a great finish on the outer diameter—many look great, all silver and shiny, but what you really have is a pretty-looking grooved barrel where each groove has a great finish but it’s a series of grooves nonetheless. Most barrels I see are this way. It’s hard to see the grooves, they are tiny, the result of the tool bit being fed along the axis of the barrel. I counted the grooves on one recently and from it you can deduce the feederate used—in that case it was .004 per revolution. That’s neither here nor there and it’s a fine enough feederate but it means the surface is only maybe 50% there. You can illustrate this by running your nail along such a barrel, back and forth and hearing “zeet-zeet-zeet!” Doesn’t make it a bad barrel at all, just one that probably won’t maintain a certain level of fit for as long as it would with a smoother finish. Same on the inside (and outside) of the bushing. The smoother the surfaces are, the longer they’ll wear. The grooves are maybe .001 deep but that still takes some time to set it up and get to the bottom of them either by precision grinding the diameter or spinning it with grits down to 600. The grinding process sounds a lot more precise and proper but….. spinning with silicon carbine paper works fine.
My bushing process is boring it to fit the barrel and then angling it one degree and boring it again, allowing the barrel to angle up at the rear for a no-slop lockup. In other words the barrel would not have any “wobble” side-to-side. The final step is usually to lap the angled parts of the bushing’s bore to get them nice and smooth—again so there’s lots of contact, not just contact on a few high spots that will soon wear down. It just helps things last longer. The double-ended bronze rod in the first pic is my lap for this.
Why else does a custom gun “take so long”? Because sometimes the little knob on your gas furnace breaks and you can’t find a replacement, but without it you can’t start the thing when the overnight cold wind has blown it out. Somebody…. somebody
has to fix it by making a thin ring of brass to salvage it. Now, who do you suppose that “somebody” is, hmm? Well it got delegated to the same guy who sweeps the floor, oils the machines, keeps the wood fire going, answers the phone (sometimes), orders parts, feeds the shop cat and oh yeah, works on the 1911’s.
I rely on the surface grinder for a lot of things. One is, sometimes, to get a good slide to frame fit. This kind of fit is one of those things that is not of the utmost necessity but it’s “nice to have” for a couple reasons. Accuracy is one but in my experience it’s only a minor contributor. Perception is a biggie—customers expect it on a spendy custom gun and that ain’t wrong. Done right there’s no down side, no reliability penalty that I’ve seen. Here again the idea is to get smooth surfaces but more than that, lots of surface area—no rounded-off surfaces or heavily chamfered edges that reduce bearing area, shortening the life of the fit. First order of biz is to carefully measure what I’m starting with. Often enough I have to re-cut the slide’s rails as they will be out of parallel, wavy, one ramping upward, one ramping downward. You can’t get a good fit until they’re straight. That necessitates welding up the frame. Measuring a slide below: rods are kept in the rail cuts by the little piece of plastic on the back end and a U-shaped piece of rubber sheet at the front. The one man shop has only two hands, not enough to hold things in place and measure at the same time! I measure by putting gage blocks between the rods. This slide was as perfect as any I’ve seen, this dimension was perfectly parallel front to rear and concentric to the narrower dimension.
Grinding the slide…. Lots of sparks but that’s under .001 I’m taking off (total of about .002 / side).
Grinding the rail width on the frame. The top was also ground but I didn't grab a pic.
In the above pic note that I have reduced the rail width in the middle by .001.
I always “try” to just take everything to the numbers, but that rarely works. I go conservative because…. you can always take more off. This one, once the grinding was done, burrs knocked off, edges broken and demagnetized and greased, went together perfectly. Actually I think that’s a first.