Monday, January 28, 2013

40 Ounces of History - The Springfield Armory 1911

We were the good guys. We had a plan.  It was a complicated plan, one that needed to be followed exactly.  You know how on CSI type shows they'll be out in the field where they can come up with a way to match DNA with a can of Aquanet and a long tube? (Wait, that's a potato gun.)  Real life is not like that. Coming up with a way to conduct a complicated experiment involving materials technology with what's on hand is usually a bit more detailed. In this case, the plan would come to fruition with the implementation of a design, one that was thought out and laid on paper, to the last microscopic detail. Of course that means someone usually decides to "improve on it".

So in this mission, essentially that happened and the original design was "tweaked",  without consultation, which meant it wouldn't work, at all.  The plan had to be re-written, not only to solve the problem, which was growing uglier as one waited, but  to also the fix the new problem that the freelance "improvement" to the design made.

The Second Design came with it a Mil Spec no one else would recognize.


There were a few eyebrows raised. Finally someone had to ask.  "What does that mean?".

"Make It Like the Friggin Design Four Ones." (for once)

A design proven by history.

There are many 1911 style weapons out there, from “plain vanilla” straight 1911s to full adjustable sights, underlug accessory-rail equipped weapons designed for special ops, both military and civilian LEO type.  Many of you have one somewhere in that range, in your home or in your holster and for many a good reason.

This is a firearm  that is essentially unchanged in 100 years.

Some things you just can't improve on. Like a firearm that's proven itself over a century. The gun that sits on my table, that rides on my hip, is, but for the smallest accommodations in a few external parts, a few cosmetic updates (and likely better steel), is the same fundamental firearm John Moses Browning developed and Colt produced a little over 100 years ago. 

The first 1911 was born in the Colt Factory the year Roy Rogers was born.  If you are now saying "who is  Roy Rogers?" please go play a video game and come back later with a note from your Mom. It was the same year that Ginger Rogers was born, when John Rigby designed his .416 caliber rifle on original Mauser action for African big game and the same year the Ottawa Senators won the Stanley Cup. (Go Sens!)

When Gavrilo Pincip shot the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 with a  32 caliber FN Model 1910, much of the world realized that war was imminent and firearms would play a part in it. There were numerous firearms manufactured at that time, but it was John Moses Browning's .45 that was provided to the soldiers, with some two and a half million or more of  them manufactured to fight the war. To get that many firearms in service, contracts went out to other manufacturers besides Colt and Springfield Armory to make them, including a couple companies up in our neighbor to the North, Canada.

Twenty-One MILLION people died in that war, soldier and civilian alike. The losses continued through WWII, Korea and onward.   I am sure many lives were defended because of that firearm.  Something else that has not changed over time.

I'd toyed with the idea  of getting one, I already have more than one .45 to shoot, but I've heard so much about the 1911, all positive.  So it was no surprise that when I picked this one up, a Loaded 1911-A1, for the first time, I said.  "Oh, Yes."

"Loaded" 1911 does not mean it has a round in the magazine or chamber.  Consider it loaded, like your sub sandwich  or burger would be.  It has ALL the goodies, full length guide rod, polished feed ramp, enlarged ejection port, extended ambidextrous safety selectors, custom trigger and beavertail grip safety.

Concealed Carry - For carry, there are a variety of holsters.  I'm a big fan of  Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks holsters and his Talon  holster fits this firearm well and distributes the weight evenly.  But holsters notwithstanding, there are three basic ways to carry this firearm concealed.

Door #1 - The hammer is down and the chamber is empty.  This means you have to manually cycle the slide before you fire it.  Then, to return the firearm to its previous carry position you have to drop the magazine, empty the chamber, drop the hammer, and reload and reinsert the magazine, all without doing something stupid that's going to put a hole in anyone, including you.  You might as well carry a two and a half  pound hammer as a self defense tool.  It's likely quicker.  Carrying for quick self defense with an empty chamber poses more of a hazard to you than the criminal who is coming right at you.

Door #2 - The chamber hs loaded with a round but you must you cock the hammer with your thumb prior to firing.  If you've fired a single action revolver with a large hammer whose purpose IS be cocked by your thumb, you're familiar with the concept and it doesn't feel odd.  Still, this requires that you pull the trigger carefully and lower the hammer over a loaded chamber prior to re-holstering the firearm. Again, that's an extra step between the bad guy and the defense of your life. Personal choice here.

Door #3 - The one that makes liberals, old ladies and poodle dogs shudder in their shadow and that, my friends,  is cocked and locked.  This means the hammer is cocked, the chamber is loaded with a live round and the thumb safely is ON.  This means that the weapon is ready to fire NOW. All you have to do is click the safety down, pull the trigger while maintaining your grip and click it back up after the threat has the prerequisite hole in it. That's something that Barkley could even manage had he opposable thumbs.

But remember, when  the gun is cocked and locked, the sear is blocked from releasing the hammer. Further, unless a firing grip is on the pistol, the thumb safety swept off, and the trigger is pulled, the gun will not go off.  In my opinion, that's safer than the carry condition of some firearms.

Again, it's a personal choice, but I prefer Door #3.  Instant readiness.  If that door opens and a bad guy rushes in, intent on harming or killing, you can react in an instant.  That is why I carry a .45 for self defense in this manner.  Not to to be considered cool in the tactical sense, nor to balance my somewhat forward center of gravity, but to get the firearm in action when my life may depend on it, NOW, with the fewest opportunities for mistakes.

Some armchair gun enthusiasts like to say that you shouldn't carry a 1911 cocked and locked "because it requires more training than other guns".  I humbly disagree, at least for this particular model.
I'm no expert.  The gun manufacturer's don't pay me or give me freebies to write reviews and I doubt any of them will read them. I'm a better shot than much of the population, I'm a worse shot than a lot of my readership, I'm sure.  I simply know the basics.  I keep practicing the basics.  As such, I can say that I found the operation of this particular 1911 cocked and locked IS instinctual and functional. And I SO did NOT miss that very long and dreaded trigger pull on some double action autos that is like waiting at the doctors for that "you'll just feel a little pinch".

Again, my opinion, and as I tell anyone that reads here, for any new firearm, find a friend that's actively owned and shot one for years to offer guidance.  Even better, for a new firearm OR new to shooting, get an experienced NRA instructor like my friends Lynne F. Keads and Bill at Eastern Iowa Firearms Training  and get some "dual" on it as  we pilots would say.

Size and Weight - the barrel is 5 inches. That's a nice long sight radius for you to peer down for accuracy. Stainless steel, the height is  5.5 " and the weight 40 ounces (with empty magazine). This is a heavy firearm and for some folks, size and weight tend to go against the grain for the concealed concept, as they want light and small.  There are many folks that can and do carry "duty" size pistols and with the right holster and clothing, they conceal them well.  Weight, for me is not an issue as I'm not going to be carrying it all day long, nor size, as I'm 5 foot 8 in bare feet and curvy.  I also like it for recoil. Go fire a tiny lightweight gun with a largish round and then fire the 1911. You'll notice a huge difference in both recoil and comfort. I'd as soon be tied to chair and forced to watch "The Bachelor" than fire 100 rounds through my Kahr 40. The 1911, I can easily shoot for a morning at the Range and although my grouping gets a little looser as I get tired, it's still quite manageable.

First day with the 1911 target.
Trigger - Not just Roy Rogers trusty stead any more.  The 1911 A-1 trigger is nice.  It seemed like my finger just traveled about one nano-millimeter before it encountered resistance, and then just traveled another short distance until releasing with no discernible over travel.  It breaks as crisp and easy as that piece of Grandma's china after someone had too much eggnog.

With that, let's go to the thumb safety on the 1911.  If you've ever operated the bass-ackwards thumb safeties on some double actions, you will fall in love with the simple up/safe down/fire function of the 1911.

But remember, the primary safety is between your ears. Never rely on a gun’s “safety” to protect you from unsafe gun handling. A safety is only a mechanical device, not a substitute for using some common sense.

Grip - I can't count the number of  people I've talked to that try out a new handgun and immediately compare the grip to that of their 1911.  For that "new" firearm they're trying, it's like being the second wife after the first wife died after winning Miss Universe, curing cancer, and waking you up every morning with. . . bacon.  You will ALWAYS be compared to that first, impossible to replace love.  The 1911 is like that for some people.

The feel of the grip is unique, but not in a "she has a unique personality" way, but comfortable, like something you've felt before.  It just fits like it was built for YOUR hand.  The grips, as well, are beautiful.  Sure you could replace with a set of Crimson Trace laser grips, but would you want to? Springfield Armory, as well, seems to have somehow tweaked the original grip safety (an ornery afterthought designed by a committee who have never handled a weapon while under fire) so it works well even when gripping the firearm riding the thumb safety high, for use at any moment. I'm not sure as to what was done, or if it was just my perception, but it did perform well and it's infinitely better than some modern firearms that are lawyered up with a wealth of safeties that only a six year old could operate under duress. 

Accenting the grip area is a nicely cross set of wood panels that contain the double-diamond pattern, along with the Springfield Armory logo. It's not just nice looking, the texture of the surface provides for a positive hold.
The magazine release button  is easy to push in with either the thumb of the right hand, or the middle finger of the left hand (the "how am I driving" finger).  The magazines slide in well, and drop freely when you push the release button. The magazine is 7 + 1, and the firearm typically comes with two when purchased.

Accuracy - You don't necessarily need the "FBI crouch" of old movies and you most certainly do NOT want the "gangsta style" stance unless you want to make  sure the threat gets a chance to get a round off at you first.  Shooting "from the hip" works if you are being attacked by a hippopotamus on Ambien, but in most cases it's going to result in your getting your ass kicked, probably with your own weapon that is grabbed out of your hand.

Learn to use your sights.  Unsighted fire may work at powder burn range, but sights weren't put on a firearm so you could hit a zombie woodchuck in the eye at 200 yards. Sights were made so you can hit a target that's coming at you when you are not going to get a second shot. Using your sights takes practice and concentration.  I don't have a single handgun with laser anything though I have AR15s equipped with holographic technology and some night toys.  Iron sights are my friend and the ones on the 1911 here were very easy to adapt to, even in quick draw.

Stripping and Cleaning- First, make sure the pistol is clear of any round.  Then check it again.  Once that's done a little allen wrench can help loosen and remove the guide rod.  Outside of that, stripping and cleaning is pretty much standard for any of the 1911's. When the rod is out, the recoil spring plug can be depressed and the barrel bushing can be rotated (wear your safety glasses, even if you have good control of the recoil spring and aim it away from your face.) After removing the recoil spring, simply move the slide back to align the dis-assembly notch on the slide with slide stop. Push and pull the slide stop out of the frame. The slide can now slide off the frame and the bushing  and the barrel and spring guide can be removed from the slide.

Then, clean, lube lightly and reassemble. That's it, SO much easier and so many less pieces than the take down of the Ruger Mark III. (below)

Would I recommend the "Loaded" 1911 A-1?  Absolutely.  It's got a grip you will always feel comfortable with.  It's manufactured with the best in American Made quality, to one of the highest standards there is.  It's not an inexpensive firearm, but it's one you will own for a lifetime, and then likely pass on to your child or a niece, a nephew.  It's one you'll let your best friend shoot. This is a firearm that will retain its history, over time.

Springfield Armory has nailed the exemplary character of a distinguished sidearm and I'm proud to have one in the home and by my side.

 - Brigid


  1. Yet another good post. My own 1911 is also a Springfield in stainless, the GI model, which is similar to the ones I learned to shoot in the US Navy. Only changes I've made to it is a straight (and non-locking) mainspring housing, new grips (the ones provided by Springfield had crap checkering) and hex-head grip screws. I might yet get some better sights for it, the GI-style sights are hard for my 51-year-old eyes to pick up.

  2. Beautiful weapon Ms. B - I have the Loaded - Parkerized. It's a dream to shoot, little recoil and a very accurate shooter.

    And, a final benefit of a 40oz weapon . . . . should year a final "click" from your last mag, you can always beat your opponent to death in a punch!

  3. Good Old MIL-TFD-41S. Ammo types say Drawing instead of Design though. Great post.

  4. Very interesting. I've been looking at these for a while as a possible replacement for my Ruger KP345. I looked specifically at the Auto Ordnance Milspec, partly because of the price. It seemed really nice when I played with it at the gun shop.

    FYI, under Option 3 you note that the hammer is down, but I know you meant cocked.

  5. B:
    I think there is at least 1 extra piece in the last photo.

  6. You have chosen well, grasshopper. Good job staying away from all of the near, quasi, sort-of, imitation 1911 imposters out there.

    After 20 years of constant use (and two worn out hammers and sears), my Colt is getting a well-deserved facelift. All the pretty bells and whistles that I couldn't afford originally. I fully expect my grandchildren to enjoy it.

  7. I looked very closely at the Springfield and came very close to buying one just like yours. As you know, I chose the Sig 1911 for my Warhammer. Even though there is a noticeable difference between 1911s from various manufacturers, it is hard to go wrong with one of any price point.

  8. Very nice review! I LOVE the 1911 platform. Yes as you point out running around "cocked and locked" puts some people on edge. I get called out on it at the range. My response is "yes and?" .

    Although my current carry is the M&P, I cannot wait to get a holster for my Colt Defender. After 2 plus decades of running a 1911 I miss that old familiar feel and I still sweep my thumb down on any pistol I am presenting from holster! Yes I have the CT toys and Trijicon sights on mine now, but I rarely light the laser.

    VERY nice review! I am glad you have it.

  9. Just my 2 cents - been a long day, I read that as "balls and whistles".

    Actually that fits.

    Off to bed, I'll comment back more tomorrow.

  10. Nice!

    I've been very happy with my Smith E series, but that's a real sharp looking 1911.

  11. 1911s, you either love them or hate them, there isn't much in between. I like them as collectibles, but not so much for defensive shooting as they have a statistically high failure rate. But, if you are going to carry a 1911, Cocked and Locked...

    Nice history here, great post as always!

  12. The only time my daily carry, a Kimber Gold match, malfed was in front of about 10 shooters at GBR. I was made small right then. After I cleared and finished the round someone handed me a can of CLP spray and a rag.
    Never since has TLC not been applied to all of my arms, including the safe queens.
    Like a woman or a child, they need a little love.
    Good post Doc, but the spool of thread is....

  13. Amen, Miss B.

    I currently own four 1911s; a Colt CCO, Taurus 5" LW, RIA 2011 9mm double-stack, and a GSG 1911-22. Oh, yes, and a SIG P-238. I do love my 1911s.

    Scattered all over the house and every one condition one.

    John Bernard Books

  14. Carrying in condition 2 is VERY unsafe. Hammer down on a chambered round can lead to an unexpected discharge if the firearm is dropped or struck on the rear of the slide/hammer.

    Slightly less-unsafe is carrying the hammer at half cock. Still not as safe as chamber empty or cocked and locked, but less unsafe.

    IIRC the grip safety was the original design, the thumb safety was added by JMB at the request of the War Department.

  15. My first sweetheart was a 1911....

  16. I love 1911s and have had way too many.

    One gripe I have with new ones are forward cocking serrations. Hell on an holster if they're sharp and not easy on the eyes either.

    My favorite is a Colt Commander- plain Jane and 100% on the money.

  17. Cocked and Locked is as JMB (pbuh) intended by design.
    I lurvs my 1911!


  18. ...all my gov't models condition one, that's what i was taught, that's what i CZ's are able to do the same DA/SA, but i don't carry them, bug is a k40

  19. Yeah, I have two, a S&W and Sig Sauer. Being a history buff, I had to have one. . . or two!

  20. Whare's the kitchen sink in the last photo?....or Waldo, evun?

  21. Ive been very happy with my Sig 220 but you make me want the 1911....hrrrm.

  22. Even though I have been wooed over to the dark side (love my Glocks) I have had a love affair with the ol' 1911 for about 4 decades. Always carried in condition 3, cocked and locked.

    As I seem to have an eclectic taste in books and music, I reckon that I also do with firearms.

    As I have told folks for a long time, I you can count and name all of your firearms, you do NOT have too many.



  23. There are four 1911s in the house, the most notorious being my grandfather's 1911 from the South Pacific. While manufactured circa 1917 it swaps parts with the other notorious 1911 which a Series 70-unsafe-at-any-speed Seecamp DA conversion.

    I am guilty of comparing all grips and triggers to my Colts. Old habit as I was eight when I shot my first 1911 and your right on, it is like comparing others to the Miss Universe ex-wife.

    But the best line in there was the trigger breaking crisp as grandma's fine china... *giggle*

  24. As Suerte noted, there is at least one, or three extra pieces in that last image. The pot(iometer), the alligater clips, extra screws and so on suggest the application of 100-proof "oil" while dissasembling!? ;>)

    I've cussed/discussed my Ruger 22/45 too many times to not laugh out loud at that last image.

    Keep 'em coming and be safe!

    God Bless Ya'll
    Gene (Aggie, Class of '70) WA5AC

  25. Everything you said and then some. As you know, my Champion has been my go-to and daily carry for a few years. It was my first real purchase and it was what I wanted, period. (I had a very kind friend who loaned me his for a month. It had me at Hello.)

    Door #3 for me, too. I don't care who gets all twitchy about it. (And it is surprising how many supposedly experienced shooters DO get twitchy about it and demand you justify the carry.)

    I don't want to carry IWB but...I have a feeling I should give it a try for the summer because though I love the Kirkpatrick TSS holster, it can be hard to hide without looking like you've got something to hide.

  26. OK, at two points today I burst out laughing reading this, one was the "That's something that Barkley could even manage had he opposable thumbs." line and the other was seeing the blender piece in with all the Mark III parts.
    Thanks once again for making me smile on an otherwise dreary January day.
    I have a SA 1911 Milspec and while I don't fire it often (my Sig 229 might get jealous after all) it is a well built gun and I admire its engineering design. JMB certainly knew what he was doing.

  27. Nice testimony for one of JMB's many long-lived designs. I know that I treasure mine. Properly set-up, they are a joy to shoot, from wadcutters to hardball.

  28. If you're one of those who don't want to Frighten the White People™ by carrying cocked-n-locked, I can strongly recommend Cylinder & Slide's Safety-Fast hammer kit. The (literally!) drop-in kit consists of a two-part hammer, an ambidexterous safety, and a couple of other small parts. To carry cocked-n-locked, load the pistol normally, put a round in the chamber, and press forward on the hammer. The hammer will travel forward until it comes to rest near the back of the slide, whereupon the thumb safety will snap into the UP (safe) position. The gun is cocked, and the safety is on. To fire, press down on the thumb safety and the hammer will spring back, ready to fire. Operation of the grip safety is unaffected - don't grab the gun hard enough, the grip safety won't disengage.

    I sometimes open carry a Kimber Classic Stainless with one of these installed. I put it in myself. I also shoot that same pistol in bowling pin and USPSA matches. I've had it for years and put thousands of rounds through it. Love it.

  29. Miss Brigid,

    I agree with most everything you said, but I do favor my Kimber ultra cdp at 25oz for extended carry. Also, the little 3" barrel is amazingly accurate with the excellent balance inherent in the pistol.


  30. WantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWantWant(etc)

  31. I carried a Glock 36 for over 10 years, until I figured I could afford a good 1911. I tried a few Springfields and Kimbers, but when I picked up my Sig Stainless Carry, it was a match made in heaven, it just felt like it was made for me. I haven't yet started carrying Cocked and Locked, but your post will get me going on it, THANKS. I plan to carry it C&L on an empty chamber for a week or so, to prove (to myself) that it won't shoot me in the butt, then make the change over. A bit of retraining to remember it's not Israeli carry, and I should be good again.

  32. I still have my Colt Series 70, Mark IV that was my duty weapon for years.

    I've used hard ball all along but recently discovered Federal Guard Dog ammunition. Expansion is impressive;

  33. So much good information here ladies and gentlemen! Thanks.

    I'm pulling some long shifts for a big longer. I'm enjoying the comments, just not much time to respond. I'll have a short post up tomorrow. Til then, thanks for all the positive feedback and ideas for some other firearms I want now. :-)

  34. Um... got an extra part or three in there for the Ruger??? :-) And yes, the 1911 cocked and locked IS the way to go!

  35. Just recently acquired my first 1911. I am happy :)

  36. I took my Ruger MK I apart once but I didn't find an egg beater in there :)

    Great post.

  37. sigh... in my next life I want bigger hands and longer fingers

  38. Congratulations! That is truly a great gun. :)

    And my .22/45 MKII is shy one or two parts apparently. :)

  39. I'm saving up as fast as I can... Dang...Should have got it before the stuff hit the fan.
    Great post!

  40. I love my Rock Island Armory 1911-A1. It usually either that or my S&W Model 10 for my OWB carry piece.

  41. Regarding condition 2. I would have to strip one to check this, but I believe that the inertial design of the firing pin makes the pin too short to strike the primer if the hammer is fully lowered. For that reason, having the hammer on the safety notch is actually less safe. There are too many variations to make that a universal statement, but check for yourselves to make sure. Of course the big risk there is the act of lowering the hammer in the first place!

    Also, most 1911s will AD if dropped hard onto the muzzle, precisely because the fireing pin uses inertia. But if it strikes on the muzzle, the chances are good that the bullet just goes into the ground. Springfield Armory uses a reduced weight pin so that you must drop the pistol from a much greater height (taller than me at least) before this happens.

  42. Brigid,

    This gentleman is one of the best around for information (historical or otherwise) on the Model 1911.



  43. > the GI-style sights are hard for
    > my 51-year-old eyes to pick up.

    I learned this wonderful machine in a civilian context, including modern sights, and have always thought the sights on the original or even -A1 GI versions were only a slight improvement over just sighting along the top of the barrel as with a shotgun. And I used to have exceptional close-up vision.

    (Not any more. My idea for the proverbial better mousetrap: restaurant water glasses with a magnifying lens built in, so those of us who keep forgetting our eyeglasses can read the menu. But I digress.)

    >Regarding condition 2 {...} Of
    >course the big risk there is the
    >act of lowering the hammer in the
    >first place!

    Overheard from the car window, as a couple of employees from the outside parts of the local Costco stood around the parking lot and discussed a recent experience...

    "So I pull the trigger and ease the hammer forward to get it into Condition Two, and BAM!" (w/ directional gesture indicating that one hopes he lives on the ground floor).

    I wished traffic had allowed me to butt in and explain why Condition Two (hammer down on a live round) is largely of theoretical interest. At least that is what I have always been taught (some would differ): the condition is not recommended because the design does not intentionally provide a safe way to get there.

    (That's what it takes to satisfy the engineering mind, right? -- intentionality and verifiability in the design. Safety through happenstance, or extraordinary care and technique, is a poor relation to safety intentionally built in.)

    At least he was (we may hope) pointing it in a safe direction.
    The Big Rules must be followed no matter what the design. Several years ago there was an incident, in Arizona if I recall, when a cop decided to make things safer while covering a more or less surrendered suspect by using the decocking lever on one of the DA/SA 9mm's. Bang. Oops.

    > Also, most 1911s will AD if
    > dropped hard onto the muzzle,
    >precisely because the firing
    > pin uses inertia.

    If memory serves (my copy is not close to hand) Kuhnhausen's book (beneath the pistol in one of the pictures) has a theory on the cause of this problem and how to check for it.

    Further fuzzy recollections suggest that Barry Sadler, of "Ballad of the Green Berets" fame, got killed by the AD of a fumbled 1911. Though this happened during a banana-republic adventure in his civilian life and I honestly have no idea of the accuracy of news descriptions of the incident, never mind an analysis at that level of detail; but it does come to mind.

    I think Kuhnhausen also describes how to (safely) perform a routine test to verify that either the thumb or the grip safety alone should prevent hammer fall. This web page goes into some additional nuances:

  44. You are s woman after my own heart, ma'am.

    Condition one, ask the way!

  45. You are a woman after my own heart, ma'am.

    And Col. Cooper was right: Condition One all the way!

  46. Great review, I have had my A-1 loaded Ss for about a year. Into the 2500 round stage and still no slop in my slide. I have been shooting for quite awhile and this is my favorite gun for the range.


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