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1911 "Commander" build/mods


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#1 milq

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 02:13 AM

I've mentioned that I plan to do a bob-tail 1911 commander length gun soon and a couple of folks had asked about it, so I figured I'd post some pics and background about it. I've done some mods to my Springfields in the past but never a bobtail, so much of this is old hat for me.

My son is 15 and loves shooting, especially 1911 pattern pistols. The good Lord willing (and Jr. behaves) he'll graduate in 2014 and I thought a 1911 of his own would be a great gift for that. I have wanted a bobtail commander for a "working gun" for some time and Jr. now has the opportunity to show a preference for full size vs commander.

As money is always tight, I did a lot of research into commander length 1911 pistols. I had a couple of requirements that narrowed things down a lot:
1. must be 4.25" barrel (rather than 4")
2. Must use a bushing rather than a bull/cone shaped barrel
3. Series 70 style safety (no firing pin blocks)
These requirements knocked Springfield, Kimber, Colt,Para, Rock Island and others out of the running. Rock Island seems to be a big favorite for the budget crowd but they use bull barrels on their short models.

So that left me with a complete custom build (which would put me in the $800+ range) or purchase one of the two remaining factory models (both made in Philippine Islands)and modify it for around $600 total cost. Since this is a working gun that I will bang around in a holster (one day in IL too!), I went with an ATI import for $420 out the door. I have to admit that buying an import 1911 makes me feel odd...but anyway.

I cleaned it up (it was sealed in a bag and drowning in oil) and started putting rounds through it to see if there were any issues before I really go to work on it. Jr. and I ran about 300 rounds of mixed ammo types through it (he is totally clueless as to what I'm up to for grad, btw) with only 2 failures to feed and I blame both on the magazine and ammo type (semi-wadcutters). I have a Springfield that couldn't do 300 FMJ out of the box, so I'm off to a good start.

Last week I ordered some parts to make do the bobtail and to cure a couple of personal preference issues. Parts purchase are:
1. Bobtail mainspring housing (Ed Brown)
2. Bobtail fitting jig (I'm not including this in the cost of the build as I will use it again)
3. Wilson combat thumb safety
4. 10-8 Performance national match rear sight (yeah, it's not low profile for carry but the sight picture is great for me)
5. Novaks white dot front sight (.185 height)
6. Long aluminum trigger (I had a couple on hand but I will include this in price)
7. Allen head grip screws
8. New grips
Total cost for the above (minus the jig) is $175 which puts me at $5 over my original cost goal. (I should mention that I get dealer pricing on all of these parts)

List of work to be done:
1. Drill hole for bobtail mainspring housing
2. Fit housing to slide into frame
3. Take a basically new pistol to the belt sander to remove all the excess frame around the bobtail. (insert maniacal laugh here)
4. Fit thumb safety
5. Fit new aluminum trigger
6. Stone new angles on hammer and sear for a better trigger (I'm borrowing a stoning fixture for this)
7. Cut dovetail for new front sight (oddly this is the part that makes me pucker, soooo easy to screw up)
8. Optional: Stipple front strap and new mainspring housing, still undecided on this
9. Break sharp edges at muzzle end of slide (never seen one this sharp edged)and any other edges I find that need it
10. Blend grip safety a bit better than it came from the factory
11. Bead blast and reblue entire gun (again, borrowing the stuff to do this)
12. Whatever I have forgotten to list.....

Anyway, how about some pics?
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#2 milq

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 02:26 AM

Straight out of the box and dripping
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Area that needs blended a bit better
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Stripped and ready for the chop shop
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Drilling new hole for bobtail MSH (Ed Brown jig works great by the way...I can mail it to someone if they'd like to borrow)
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New thumb safety fitted, bobtail MSH fitted and majority of frame area ground away
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It will be a few days before I start blending the frame, so no updates for a bit.
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#3 Vaden

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 02:28 AM

You mention ATI Import, this wouldnt be an American Classic Commander would it?
"A citizen may not be required to offer a good and substantial reason why he should be permitted to exercise his rights. The right's existence is all the reason he needs."

#4 milq

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 02:31 AM

You mention ATI Import, this wouldnt be an American Classic Commander would it?


No, that was actually the other choice. I went with the ATI based on availability and the reputation of both this model and the GSG .22lr that they import.
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#5 Vaden

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 02:36 AM

That sweetheart is going to rock. I cant wait to see pics of the finished product, but I think we all love to see pics of the work in progress. Keep us updated!
"A citizen may not be required to offer a good and substantial reason why he should be permitted to exercise his rights. The right's existence is all the reason he needs."

#6 Stevepk

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 03:54 AM

For this ignorant one, please define "bobtail" when applied to a 1911?
MSGT - USAF Retired - Command & Control Tech. (Command Post)

#7 Buzzard

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 04:04 AM

While I don't share your taste for bob-tailed guns, I do like a Commander 1911. I've been looking at Commanders myself and I'm "clinging bitterly" to my beloved Colts. Unfortunately, the only way to get a Series 70 firing system in a Colt is to buy the TALO "Wiley Clapp Commander" limited edition. I don't care for this pistols color scheme as delivered so that choice is out.

I'll be watching your Commander build with great interest. I think you're off to a great start to building a great gun! And I must thank you for reducing your pictures to a sensible size before posting! I've got this thread bookmarked as a favorite to watch.
"The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes,
but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda,
they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles." — Jeff Cooper, The Art of the Rifle

#8 Yas

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 12:06 PM

Look bottom right. Where you would have the heel of you hand.

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#9 Vaden

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 12:14 PM

I've been handling 1911s for so long that when I grab one with a bobtail my brain screams WTH!!!!
"A citizen may not be required to offer a good and substantial reason why he should be permitted to exercise his rights. The right's existence is all the reason he needs."

#10 milq

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Posted 10 March 2012 - 12:51 PM

Vaden, I agree it is odd to grab one at first, but a standard length 1911 main spring housing typically digs into the meat of my palm at just the wrong place to me. I can cure it 3 ways:
1. Put a heavy chamfer on the edge of the MSH, which I have done on my stainless Springer
2. Add a mag well/longer MSH, which I have done on my Springer Operator
3. Bobtail which also cuts down profile for carrying the gun

Buzzard, I remember reading a post recently about you being on dial up...I figured if there's one, there are bound to be more folks with the same issues loading pics.

I forgot to mention that the kiddo has already decided that he likes commander length better than full size, so I'm heading in that direction for his build later on. My intent is to buy either a completely blank slide and have our last name laser etched into it or to get a Caspian frame and have "last name-2014" as a custom serial number. Great option from Caspian in my opinion.
Either way, it will be a complete build rather than a modified gun like this one.
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#11 milq

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 08:26 PM

I've been busy and haven't done much...but the budget went up. I really didn't like the way the grip safety was inset into the frame and to fix the look of it was going to require removing more material from the frame itself. I checked the safety against a couple of samples in my buddy's shop and found that the factory one was somewhat thinner than the ones he had on hand.

So another $33 went to a Smith & Alexander .220 radius grip safety, same one typically used for Springfield guns based on how the folks in Geneseo leave the frame ears. I used hardened steel buttons as a guide to get the frame close and will then polish/fit until it's right. You can see some silver marks on the ears where the grip safety is rubbing just a bit, just a little more hand work and that part will be done.
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Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#12 milq

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 11:02 PM

Bobtail is blended!



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Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#13 milq

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 04:21 PM

New grip safety is fitted and rough shaped, it required a LOT of blending due to the heavy chamfers that they put on the tangs at the factory. Now I'm going to clean the grit out of it and reassemble, function test, adjust as needed and wait for bluing.

I had trouble resizing this image any smaller, sorry for those that have trouble with it.

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Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#14 papa

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 05:04 PM

Looking good so far . Are you going to blue the gun or Duracoat it when finished?

#15 milq

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 08:37 PM

My plan is to go with a sandblast and then blue it, basically the same finish it came with.
Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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#16 milq

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 11:32 PM

Made a last minute decision to bead blast the gun and parkerize instead of bluing it. So, it's still non-glare but the finish should hold up longer under holster use...the slide is very close to being black but the frame is a bit lighter in color. Function and safety checks are all 100% and I just have to fit the sights and wait for the grips to arrive.

I was going to pre-fit the sights, then remove and refinish the gun but the parkerizing tanks were hot today and he won't fire them back up for another month or more. If I really screw up the finish I can re-do it next month I suppose, the finish is smoother than I expected so if I do refinish I will blast it with aluminum oxide to rough it up a bit more before the re-park.

Hopefully this is the resized pic, photobucket is giving me fits.

Oh yeah...ignore those grips, they are a set that was warped and I tried to see if I could make them fit, got a little happy on the belt sander.

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Edited by milq, 24 April 2012 - 11:34 PM.

Good night Chesty, wherever you are.

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