It's all in the Details

December 23

Time to get moving again....I have decided to build a custom carry piece out of an 80% frame casting and a used commander length slide. As with everything I do, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. This project will be a bit more difficult than the last one because this time I am not starting out with a working pistol.....instead I am starting out with a hunk of metal and a pile of parts. We're gonna need to do a lot more fitting and adjusting this time, but hey......should be fun huh?

hhhmmmm, where should we start? How about at the beginning? I started out by purchasing an 80% Stainless Steel GI frame casting from the Tannery shop. If you don't already know what a frame casting is then you should start by reading the notebook section to see what it is. Here are a few pictures of the casting as it looked when I received it. Picture1, Picture2, Picture3, Picture4, Picture5My first impression of the quality was a bit disappointing. I had to wait 4 months to get it, and then it isn't as nice as I had hoped. The front dust cover area on the right side is radiused wrong and doesn't look quite right. There are a lot of tool marks and burrs, and the magwell has a small area that the metal didn't all fill into (leaving a small divit). I had thought about sending it back, but instead decided to take on the challenge and see if I can fix all the imperfections myself. Besides, I didn't want to wait another 4 months to get a replacement. 

As you probably already know, the biggest challenge when building a 1911 out of a casting is cutting the slide rails.....I have gone back and forth several times on just exactly "How" to best accomplish this. I had originally thought about using an endmill to cut the groove (because I'm comfortable using them), but couldn't figure out a way to "hold" the frame for the cut. Another disadvantage of using an endmill, is that I would have to cut one side at a time, and flip the frame over to the other side for the next cut. The logistics of getting the setup exactly right twice in a row are less than if I could find a way to just do 1 setup and cut both sides with the frame still in the vise. Ok....so how about using some sort of "side cutting" tool? That's what I finally decided on, but then I ran into another snag........

One of the limitations I face when using a mini-mill, is that everything (and I do mean everything) is on a smaller scale than with a full sized floor standing milling machine. The vise is no exception. I have a wonderful milling vise that opens to 4 inches, but the height of the jaws is only 2 inches.....hmmmm so why does any of this matter? Because the frame is cut at an angle along the bottom edge of the magwell opening. If you put the frame into a vise with only 2 inch high jaws, it isn't very stable. Not even if you clamp the crap out of it (not a good idea). You would have to close down so hard that you risk crushing the frame. I needed to find a way to hold the frame in my vise, level it perfectly and support the free end all at the same time. After much thought I came up with an idea that uses my vise, a 1-2-3 setup block, and a few odds and ends from my clamping kit. The end result is a fantastic little jig like thingee that works GREAT !!. Here is a picture of the way I mounted the frame for milling the rail slots. In the picture you can see a 1-2-3 block with 3 threaded rods sticking out of it. The center rod rests directly under the front of the dust cover and by turning the adjusting nut, I can raise or lower the nose of the frame. The other two rods (one on each side of the dust cover) press downward and keep pressure on the adjusting rod. I put the frame into the vise and barely snugged it down. Just enough to where it wouldn't move easily, but it would still move. Then I put a dial indicator on the top edge of the frame and ran it from one end to the far end. In order to get everything perfectly level, all I had to do was move the adjusting nut up to tilt the nose up, or tighten the clamping bar down to press the nose down. When leveling your work using a dial indicator.....you should start by taking a reading at one end (say it reads 20) and then run the table to the opposite end...(say it reads 10) now move the piece up or down till you read 15. remember that moving one end by half...will in essence level the piece. Now run the indicator the whole length once more to check it. The dial shouldn't budge. I then "torqued" all the nuts down, tightened the vise jaws and watched the dial needle as I did it to ensure that nothing moves. When everything was setup and tightened it looked like this.

I used a 1/16" keyway cutter to cut the rail ways. 1/16th is a little more than half of the correct width, so I will have to make 2 passes to widen the slot enough to get where I want to go. Here is a picture of how it looked after the first pass was taken to depth. And this picture shows the slot after the second pass was taken to depth. I want the fit to be slightly undersized, so that I can hand fit the slide to the frame. I will leave about .0015 so I can deburr with a file and then lap the final fit with lapping compound. The end result will be a Nation Match type fit without any peening of the rails. I made the top of the cut exactly .105 below the top edge and then opened it up to a width of .119 (by making the second pass) I made the grooves .050 deep. This gives me rails that are to min-max specs. What does that mean? Well.....if you look at a detailed mechanical drawing of the 1911, you will usually see a measurement expressed in one of 2 ways. Either  .105 -5  or .105 +3 something like that....what the 2 numbers mean are the maximum or minimum tolerances for that piece. The first number shows a max. That means that anything between .100 and .105 is acceptable. The second number shows a minimum, anything between .105 and .108 is fine. I used "absolute" min/max measurements so that I could get the best possible fit with the least amount of work. It also means that a normal mil-spec slide will NOT fit on the frame without custom fitting. It would "almost" start onto the rails but it would be too tight. So I'll need to use a file to open things up, and then go the last little bit with lapping compound.

the way I mounted the frame in my vise allows me to move the cutter to the other side and cut the second rail way without moving anything. I just crank the table forward until the cutter runs along the back side of the frame. This picture shows the back side being cut. All the same measurements and depths apply to the back side also. Two passes to depth and all finished.

Here is a picture of how it looked when I cleaned off all the clud and fluid. And here is a picture of the rails as seen from the back.

 

What did I learn?

This was a pretty darn precise set-up today. I had to double and triple check all my gauges and dials to make sure I had it right. Then I re-did all the math one last time before making any cuts. I'd rate this as "high" on the precision scale. Just go slow and be sure to check everything twice and you should be ok.

I also noticed that the stainless steel is pretty mild on these castings. About the same as the Sistemas (maybe a tiny bit harder). I had to keep everything sprayed real well with cutting fluid to avoid heat buildup. I used a HSS keyway cutter and was able to do the whole job without destroying it. The carbide ones cost 35 bucks each but the HSS one I used was only 3.50 so I bought 2 of em just in case. Since this was the first time I had tried cutting the casting I really wasn't sure how hard the steel was going to be, but I gambled on the HSS and it turned out fine.

I used a magazine well filler (from Brownells) to keep the magwell opening from being crushed in the vise, and just for added safety I installed an old MSH (leftover from the Sistemas) to keep the rear rails from being crushed inward. Don't know if I needed either one since I didn't need to crank down hard on the vise jaws, but better safe than sorry........

I'll be filing and lapping the slide to the frame next. Tons of stuff yet to do, but until then..........


December 27

Time to finish the slide fitting that I started a few days ago. So far I have the rail slots cut (rough cut) and I left them a bit undersized on purpose. I want a National Match type fit instead of having to peen the rails to get a tight fit. I figured, heck if I'm cutting them myself, I may as well do em right. So today I'll be picking up where I left off by hand fitting the slide to the newly cut frame rails. This will entail a little filing, a little hammering, a little lapping and a little cussing.....hahaha but should be fun anyway. Lets go.........

I ordered a few items from Brownell's to get me going with the fitting. Here is a picture of the tools that I'll use for today's exploits.

I started out by making a very slight "angle cut" on the front tip of each rail on the frame. The idea was to make it easier to get the slide to "start" onto the rails. This picture shows the angle that I held the file at when I made these first small cuts. I didn't go deep at all on these cuts.....just a couple thousandths to get the tip of the slide to start easier. After I had the cuts made, I stopped and rechecked all the measurements on the slide and on the frame (just so I'd know where I was going with all this). I was pleased to find out that my original plan to leave everything .003 undersized, was dead on the mark. At this point of course I couldn't get the slide to even start onto the frame....still a few thous away from that.

By leaving myself .003 to play with, it allows me to "deburr" the slide and make sure it's straight and true before I start doing the actual fitting. If I had cut it any closer I ran the risk of having the slide and frame too loose by just doing the straightening thing.....so I took the rail file and dressed the upper and lower contact surfaces on each side of the side as well as the bottom of the groove and the outer face of the slide rail itself. Basically I wasn't trying to take any metal off, just making sure it was all straight and true. I did this by only filing (lightly) until I had a solid silver band running the length of each of the above mentioned surfaces. This picture shows the deburring process. And here is a close-up of how it looked when I got everything straightened up. I know that this step is probably not all that necessary, but I'm a bit of a stickler for the details, and I just wanted to do the best possible job. I got the slide used from Gunny6 off of another forum and so I wasn't sure if it was dressed on not......doesn't hurt to be careful. ** Note ** I wouldn't recommend this unless you KNOW that the rail slot on the frame is undersized, you may end up having the small amount that you remove from the slide come back to haunt you and cause a loose fit if you don't leave the extra room. It also makes it so you don't have to remove quite as much from the frame. Which in turn means that you "may" be able to fit a different slide to the same frame later on down the road if you want to and it'll still be a tight custom fit. (maybe).

Alright....so the slide is now ready and I can move on to the real fitting with full knowledge that the rails are straight and have no high spots to steal away my tight custom fit.......I knew from my measurements that I was still a few thousandths under sized on both the depth of the rail way and the width (from the top to the start of the cut). So I took the rail file and hit it with about 50 strokes on each side to go slightlty deeper and slightly higher. After that, I could just "barely" get the slide to start onto the frame (with the aid of my angle cuts acting as a tiny ramp section on each side). Here is a side view so you can see about how far it would side on when I started lapping.

Now the fun part......I could have gone ahead and used the file until the slide fit onto the frame, but then I would have had a much looser fit. Instead I decided to lap the slide onto the rails using an abrasive paste substance. The paste is applied to the 2 parts and it acts like a liquid sandpaper to remove tiny bits of metal by rubbing the parts together. You are in essence using the contours of one part to form the other part.....so a perfect fit can be achieved. I started by using a 600 grit garnet lapping compound. I put a small amount on the inside surfaces of the slide and a dab on the outside surfaces of the frame.

Next I attached the lapping tool to the slide by pushing it in a twisting it. It uses the same groove as a bushing would....well basically it's just a solid bushing with a long rod and a round ball handle on the end. This picture shows how the lapping tool goes on.

By starting with the lapping compound at this point, I'm a pretty good ways away from the slide actually going all the way onto the frame (about .0017). Only the front edge will fit but the front edge acts as a ramp and allows the slide to bite deeper and deeper into the frame rails each time I move it back and forth. I had to fix the frame tightly into my vise at first and use the ball of my hand to "bang" the slide on a fraction of an inch, then tap it back off with my soft-faced hammer. This went on for about 30 minutes before I got the slide to the half way point. Here is the slide at about half way. Bang and tap, bang and tap, bang and tap.

Once I got the slide on to the point that it was just past the half way mark, I no longer needed to bang it with my palm any more (good 'cause I'm getting sore). Now I switched to more of a push (hard) and pull motion by gripping the lapping tool handle. Here is a picture where I'm almost to the end of the slide travel. The breech face was about even with the back of the mag well opening, and that's when I stopped, removed the slide, wiped off all the lapping compound and switched over to an 800 grit compound for the last little bit. This picture shows the slide all the way to the rear as far as she'll go.......whew.

I cleaned up the frame and the slide with some brake cleaner (to remove the bulk of it) then boiling degreaser for the rest. Here is a picture of the frame rails after clean-up. If you look closely you can see that the rail has taken on the exact shape (including imperfections) of the slide that I used for the lapping process. This baby has been custom fit to that exact slide. (and no other). After a thin coat of gun oil, the slide will fall all the way to the rear under only its own weight, but has ZERO movement inside the rail ways. No rattle and no play. It feels almost like a mill table the way it moves. Really solid feeling, but it glides with no effort.

What did I learn?

I've spoken to several people that warned me about doing a very thorough clean-up job on the lapping compound. They told me that the compound can actually get "embedded" in the metal and continue right on sanding long after you want it to stop, so it's very important to completely remove the lapping compound after you are done. Well it scared me so badly that I bought the Non-embedding "garnet" type of compound so I wouldn't have to worry so much about it. I think the garnet works great, but it doesn't "cut" as quickly as the other stuff (oxide I think). So it took me about 3 hours to get the whole thing done. Also, I think that next time I'll wait until I get the slide ALL the way to the rear before I switch over to the 800 grit compound. Even after you reach the end of the travel, it's still really tight and requires a bunch of repetitions until it slides back smooth. I'll just switch over to the 800 at the end and do all the final strokes with it.......oh well live and learn huh?

Tons and tons more to do on this project, but..........until then........


January 9

After reading and re-reading the section in my Kuhnhausen book about barrel fitting I came away with the exact same questions that I had when I started. Yeah sure, he says to "dress this" or "remove metal here", or "fit that" but it doesn't say HOW !! (like everyone should already know how to do it).....anyways. I at least knew basically what I was looking for, so I decided to just wing-it and see what happened. So armed with a firm understanding that I know absolutely nothing.........off we go........

The barrel I have came with the slide that I bought from Gunny6 a while back. The barrel is marked on the chamber with NM .45 AUTO so I took this to mean that it is a National Match barrel....(sweet !). The slide and all the slide guts (except the recoil spring and plug) came with the deal, so I think I made out like a bandit for only 80 bucks, and that included shipping. I assume that the barrel was at one point in time fitted into the slide....don't know this for certain, but it seems logical to me. If that's true then it shouldn't require a whole lot of fitting. Of course any time you change the slide to frame fit, it will probably impact the barrel fit unless everything is real loosey-goosey.....but that's not the case here. I started out by installing the barrel into the slide using nothing but the link (my new group gripper one) the bushing and the slide stop. This allows me to see what I'm up against......

After installing the barrel I found out that the fit was pretty good but that it drags real bad when going back forward into battery. I could rack the slide to the rear without any problems and I could get the slide back forward "almost" to the lock-up position but I had to really push to get the last fraction of an inch. So.....I broke out the magic marker and blackened the top of the barrel and the lugs.......sure enough it was dragging on the lugs. This picture shows where it was dragging. Ok.....so the old frame to slide fit was pretty close (must have been a National Match) but the new slide to frame fit is a little tighter.....(come on who's da man? just kidding). I want to use the group gripper in my new pistol so I didn't like the "smaller barrel link" idea, (besides that would make it looser in lock-up).....I want to use this one, so I started thinking about what needs to be done.....hmmm well it seems logical to me that if something is dragging I should probably use that as a starting point. (made sense at the time hahaha). I can remove a tiny bit of metal from the top of each lug on the barrel to eliminate the drag problem.....but as I already stated, Jerry doesn't say how to do this....he just says to do it. Well I went through all the options in my head, sanding paper, dremmel tool, bench grinder (kidding), cutting torch, file....hmm no I want it to be smooth and perfectly shaped when I'm done. Then it hit me, dummy, you have a new lathe sitting over there, why not fire it up and try it?

OK, I'm gonna try turning the lugs down just a "whisker" with the lathe, but I'll need a way to hold the barrel in the jaws. I don't want to just clamp down on my new NM barrel, so I need to build some sort of holding jig. I remembered seeing one in the Brownells catalog, but I didn't want to order it and wait (and the money too), so I thought that building my own jig would be faster, cheaper and at the same time it would give me a chance to actually use the darn lathe at least ONCE before I start cutting into my NM barrel hahaha.

OFF ON A TANGENT:
(if you get bored easy skip this)

I have never used a lathe before so this is all new to me, it will probably be funny to those of you that actually know what you are doing, but I'm just having fun so I'll stumble through. As long as I end the day with the same number of fingers that I start with.....it's been a good day.....

Here is a picture of what I am starting with. I chopped off about a 6 inch piece of 3/4" round aluminum stock that I bought a few weeks ago for "practice material". The design I have in my head calls for a thick end (to secure in the jaws) then a stepped down section to support the chamber, then another step down to the size of the barrel inside diameter. This piece could then be "notched" near the thick end so that the barrel hood (the flat square part at the back) could slide into the notch and keep the thing from spinning inside the barrel. The choice to use aluminum was easy.....it's all I had, but also It will not scratch the rifling inside the barrel. I need it to be a nice snug fit so I'll turn down the last little bit and then measure, test fit, repeat....until I get the fit I want.

I got a whole handful of various tool bits donated to me by a friend in Clearwater that had some old ones lying around and took pity on me. He gave me all sorts of different shapes and sizes and said to just see what each one does. He gave me only one piece of advise for tool bit selection. He handed me one out of the bunch and said this is a general purpose "workhorse". "When in doubt, whip this one out." So I took his advise and used that bit for my first adventure in lathe work. I started by dressing up both ends of the rod so they would be smooth and flat. I think this is what they call "facing". Here is a picture of the facing process. Next it's time to turn down the diameter here is a picture of the progress after I had made a couple thin passes using the power feed at about .020 **NOTE TO SELF** a round piece will be reduced by exactly twice the amount of the dial reading. 

I kept on going until I had made a big pile of shavings and a lot of passes. Here are a couple more pictures of the turning process. Picture1 Picture2 After I got the diameter I was looking for I beveled the end lightly while the piece was spinning slowly. I used a file for this, just to take off the sharp edge left by the facing.

At this point I stopped for a sip of coffee and a smoke break, and while I was sitting there I decided to make a quick modification to the design to accommodate a future use for the mandrel (more on that later) so while it was still chucked up and centered I drilled a spotting hole, and then changed over to a #25 drill bit to allow me to tap a 10-24 threaded hole in the end of the rod. Here are a couple more pictures of the hole I added. Picture1 Picture2.

Next I used some layout fluid to make it easy for me to scribe the lines for my "notch" to be cut for the barrel hood. And this picture shows the lines I'll use as a guide. I used a 7/16 endmill to cut out the notch. It wasn't until later when I was going through the tons of pictures for this writeup that I realized I hadn't gotten any pictures of the notch being cut....sorry.

I always figured that if it's worth doing then it's worth doing your best, so I dressed up the new mandrel by bead blasting the end and chamber section. Then to make it look nice (no functionality advantage at all) I filled the back side of the notch with hot glue just so it would be square. The endmill makes a rounded notch at the back and I wanted it to look nice. So after the glue dried I just used an exacto knife to trim it off flush with the top. This mandrel is made for the commander length barrel so I painted a blue band around the end for easy identification. (I may make others later). Here is a picture of the completed mandrel ready for use.

As I said earlier, I wanted to modify the design so I can use the mandrel for other things (that's why I drilled the hole) so while I was at it I made a small tappered bushing to act as a "self centering end cap". Here are a couple pictures of the bushing being made. I just used a tool bit that was ground at a 45 degree angle to put the bevel on it. Picture1 Picture2 Picture3

One last picture of the fully assembled mandrel, in it's "modified" version. Can anyone guess why I added the bushing to the end? (I'll reveal it in a later write-up)

TANGENT ENDS HERE:
(did you get bored?)

Now that I have my new barrel turning mandrel (and a bit more confidence in the lathe idea) I mounted the barrel on the mandrel and "chucked it up" for a quick shave. This picture shows the barrel mounted and ready for turning. The "live center" in the tailstock of the lathe ensures that the free end is perfectly centered and supported. This will eliminate any chance of the barrel flexing away from the cutter and it will keep her turning straight and true.

I wasn't sure what shape tool bit to use for this so I checked the picture in the Kuhnhausen book and on page 126 it shows him using a perfectly straight squared end bit (not for cutting lugs but it looks ok to me).....well I didn't have one, so I pulled out one of the "blanks" that my buddy had given me. He told me that if I needed a special shape or size bit that I could use my bench grinder to create the shape from one of the 6 blanks he gave me. ** NOTE TO SELF ** 6 blanks will actually make 12 different bits, you can grind both ends.

Here is a picture of what I used to grind my own tool bit. And here is a close-up of the end once I was done grinding.

I turned the barrel at about 200 RPM (pretty slow) and just took off a tiny amount to help with the drag problem. It also made the top surface of the lugs smooth as glass. Here is a picture of the barrel being turned. And this shows the "dust" that I removed. Not big ole' chips of metal, or even shavings......this was just like powder.

The end result is a beautiful finish that removes all the nicks and gouges....I only did the lugs, not the front of the chamber. I read in Jerry's book that you need to leave that area alone, so I did. It now fits PERFECTLY. No drag or binding. Smooth cycling from front to rear and back again. And ZERO movement if you press down on the top of the barrel while it is in lock-up. Solid as a rock baby !

What did I learn?

As you can probably imagine, today was a big day for learning. I did so many new things today, stuff I have never done before. But there are a few noteworthy observations that I can make.

The first of which is about the method I used to remove the metal from the top of the barrel lug surfaces......I think that you could use a a slightly modified version of the mandrel I made for today's project and turn down the end of it to about 3/8" instead of leaving it at the full 3/4" diameter of the original round rod. I left the full diameter so that I could chuck it up in my lathe jaws and have a nice "beefy" holding surface. If you turned it down though, you could chuck it up in a drill press or a mill and turn the thing vertically. You could probably get away with a strip of emory cloth in a "shoe shine"  fashion to lightly remove the metal from the top of the lugs. Of course, the shoe shine method would also be removing tiny bits of metal from the bottom of the chamber too. If you look at a barrel you'll notice that right there at the lugs, the barrel is NOT round. the lugs are.....but the chamber tapers slightly. When I turned it in the lathe it only removed metal from the lugs since they are the "highest points" and the chamber never even got touched.

I don't know for sure, but I think a steady hand and a fine toothed file would also work, but I don't think that I'm good enough with a file to get the same results as a lathe. But then again....I really don't know if it's a big deal or not. Maybe it doesn't need to be perfectly round, and I'm just being silly worrying about stuff like that. It would be interesting to hear how others do it in their shop.??? Anyways, it gave me an excuse to play with the lathe, and at the same time I was able to make a very useful jig for many other projects. The end result is a near perfect fit....so I can't complain. I had fun, built a new jig, played with the lathe AND got the barrel fitted......oh yeah almost forgot...same number of fingers I started with. It was a good day.

Oh well.....much more exciting things to do. But ...........until then.......... (the other jig shown in the picture will come into play later) stick around.


January 10

If you have been following along in "real time" then you know that I got a couple things out of sequence. I posted the write-up about my new finish before posting the details of the beaver tail fitting....sorry gang. I was planning to do the ejector as the next step, but I learned some valuable lessons about the proper order for doing things. I had to fit and blend the beaver tail before I could do the brushed finish on the frame. If I had done the frame first, then I would have destroyed the finish when it came time to blend the new high hold beaver tail.....that would have been ugly, and I almost did it.....DOH !

I ordered a new Kings high hold beaver tail grip safety for this project. I got the stainless steel one with a palm swell and checkering at 20 LPI so it will match the checkering on the front strap. I really think I am going to like this one.....it seems to be even higher than the Ed Brown and McCormick ones. I had to remove a lot more metal in order to get it to blend, but it sits real nice in my hand now. I will not be posting quite the level of detail that I did when I blended the grip safety on the Sistemas because it's pretty much the same steps, but here are a few of the pictures I took during this part. Also....a couple things I learned.....I guess we all get better the more times we do the same thing......

I Used the same button jig that I used last time. Here is a picture of the initial filing to get the radius set. I used my 6" bastard cut file for all the filing except the last little bit, then I switched over to the Swiss cut file for the final few strokes. I think the Swiss cut leaves a little nicer finish but the bastard cut makes quick work of removing the bulk. (live and learn huh?)....Here is a picture of the frame after the radius was cut and before I did the final fitting. 

I used the Blindhogg tap-n-file method for final fitting (just like last time) and it turned out real well. Here is a picture of the frame and grip safety after final fitting.....

One thing I noticed right away is that this safety sits higher than the other ones I've used. I will need to remove a lot more metal this time to get everything to blend nicely. Here are a few pictures to show you what I mean. Picture1  Picture2  Picture3 

You may remember from the last project, that I used a series of sandpaper rolls on the RTX to do the blending then I switched to the cratex polishing bit to smooth out the sanding marks.....This time I tried something different and I think I like this better. The sandpaper rolls wear out pretty fast when blending, I think I used about 3 or 4 rolls of each grit last time. I started with a 120 grit then switched to a 230 then to the cratex last time.

This time however.....I decided to try using the long thin grinding stone that I got as part of the ejector port stone kit. As you may recall, I didn't use the long thin ones for cutting the roll over notch (learned that lesson the hard way) so I just have them sitting around. I figured I'd try one and see if I can get some use out of it. I'm really glad I did too. The angle of the stone matched the angle of the blending very well. I also found that I could do the whole job with just one stone and still have plenty of wear left in it to do several more. Another benefit is that I go straight from the stone to the cratex bit. The stone cuts as well as the 120 grit sandpaper.....but it leaves a nice smooth finish like the 240 grit. Here is a picture to help illustrate. Notice the angle of the stone in relation to the blending....it's a near perfect match. And here is a picture of the frame with the safety installed after the blending is complete.

The last step is to polish everything up and get it ready for bead blasting. This is just to remove any marks and scratches left by the stone. Here are a few pictures of the frame after everything is polished up. Picture1  Picture2

(For a more detailed explanation you can visit the Sistema project pages and read about the full process of installing a beaver tail grip safety.)

 

 


 

January 11

If you have been following along from the beginning then you may remember that my first impression of the 80% casting was....well a little bit disappointed. The finish was really bad "as received" and I knew I was going to have a lot of work ahead if I wanted the finished pistol to look nice. As far as functioning, it was just fine, so if the goal was just to build a functioning 1911 then all would be fine and good. But I always "try" to do the best I can and so the outer surfaces of the casting needed some serious attention before they would be presentable. There are a LOT of tooling marks and casting lines left on the frame and all that will need to be cleaned up before it'll look good........so time to deburr and smooth the frame........

I own a custom Stainless 1991-A1 that I bought used at a gun show and I love the finish on it. It has bead blasted "Rounds" and "Brushed" flats.....it's a very attractive finish for a stainless gun so that's what I wanted to do with this one too. The brushed flats are not really all that shiny but they make the whole gun really look nice. Let me see if I can make this ugly duckling look as cool as the custom 1991........

I have noticed that bead/sand blasting will cover a lot of imperfections and make them less obvious upon first glance. But the plan here is not to "hide" the imperfections but to correct them. So I started out by running some course grit sandpaper lightly over the frame to help amplify the imperfections and make them more easily seen......wow !! talk about a hornets nest.......this is a picture of the front strap after a hit it with about 3 light strokes with some 180 grit sandpaper. Oh boy....it's worse than I thought......look carefully at the picture. All the dark spots are low spots on the frame. You can also see some raised ridges and even some raised dots....all this will need to be smoothed out and blended with the contours of the frame. Here is another picture that shows the underside of the dust cover, it was also a bad area that needs some work. It was like this all over the frame, but these were the two worst areas......

I decided to try using my RTX with a fine cratex bit and see if I could smooth everything up a bit. This worked great....the cratex only takes off tiny powder particles and makes for a very smooth finish. I think sand paper would have been too rough and it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would with the cratex.... Here are a few pictures of the worst areas after I smoothed em out with the RTX. Frontstrap    Dust cover. 

I finished off the rest of the rounds by hitting them lightly with the cratex bit just to make the whole radius smooth and uniform. The rest of the casting was in ok to fair shape but the two spots mentioned above were the worst. After I finished with the cratex....I took the whole thing over to the blast cabinet to give it a nice "frosted" look. I used 60-100 grit glass beads in the cabinet and cranked the air pressure up full throttle (about 135 PSI). Here is a picture of how the rounds looked after the blasting. It now has a nice matte finish and all evidence of the tooling marks have been erased. Looks pretty good so far.....

Next I need to give the flats that brushed look. I used a piece of 1/4" plexi-glass and placed a full sheet of course grit emory paper on it (about 180 grit). I moved the frame back and forth over the emory paper always moving in a straight line. It took quite a while until the surfaces were finally flat and all of the surface area of the flats were in contact with the paper. After I had full contact and no high spots remained, I switched over to a 240 grit paper for about 10 more strokes. Just to make the "brushed look" more uniform. I was going for a brushed look not a scratched look hahaha. I finally got the look I was going for......here are a couple pictures of the frame after the sanding. Picture1  Picture2

Then for no other reason than the fact that I'm really anal about the details. I went ahead and did the plunger tube and the beavertail that I intend to install on the frame. I want those two parts to have the same finish and look like they "blend" with the rest of the gun. It's hard to hold that little plunger tube without sanding the tips of your fingers off.....but I managed. Here are some pictures of the beavertail and the plunger tube being sanded. Plunger Tube   Beaver Tail ....... And here a few closeup shots of the plunger and BT after the brushed finish. Picture1  Picture2

 

What did I learn?

Hmmm, well it's been a real learning experience the past few days. I had originally planned to install the ejector as the next step, but then I realized that this gunsmithing stuff has a certain logical order and I need to stick to the right sequence if I want everything to go smoothly. I have never found a book or article that explains the correct series of events so I'm just flying blind here.....I already had the ejector ready to go in when I realized that with the ejector in place (an extended one) that I couldn't get the plunger tube staking tool in the right position to stake it.....and with the plunger tube installed, I couldn't get the finish that I wanted to put on the gun and I couldn't put the finish on until I fitted the beavertail......so I had to do the beavertail / re-finishing as the first step. Live and learn huh? So that's where we are right now.

I have also read somewhere, that the experts say not to use the same batch of glass beads for blasting Stainless steel that you previously used for blasting Carbon steel. The idea is that tiny particles of carbon can get embedded into the surface of the Stainless and then rust.......hmmm makes sense. So I started the day with a fresh batch of beads in the cabinet, and I did all the Stainless parts at once. I can now use the same beads for blasting the slide later on but I can not go back to stainless after I do.

Many more cool things to do, hope you'll follow along. (there is no until then photo today because I'm an idiot and I deleted the photo by accident....sorry)


January 16

I think I understand the correct sequence now (learned the hard way). So it looks like now would be a good time to install the plunger tube.......

I found out about this whole "logical order" thing purely by accident the other day and the string of events all lead back to this little plunger tube.(more on that later).

I looked into several different tools for staking the plunger tube and I decided after all my research, that the best tool (at least for me) is the plain old anvil/staker combo. Simple effective easy to use and cheap. Here is a picture of the tool I bought. The concept is quite simple. Place the frame into a padded vise. Support the tube with the supplied anvil, and then "whack it" with the staker to expand the plunger tube feet. The staking tool has a sharp pointed bit on the end of it. Here is a picture of the tip. If you look closely at the "feet" on the plunger tube, you will notice that they are actually hollow (like little tubes). The tip of the staker sits inside the end of the little tube. Once you get everything positioned the way you want it, then you whack the staker and it "bells" the end of the plunger tube feet.....thus creating a nice tight fit.

The directions say to support the frame in a vise (padded to protect the finish) and use the small anvil block to support the plunger tube during the operation. I also wanted to add something to support the tube from the inside to keep it from crushing.....so I dug around in my drill set and came up with the right sized bits. I stuck the shank end (the non-twisty end) into the plunger tube to support it during this part. The correct drill sizes are. #36 and #42.... *** Note to self ***  - there is a FRONT and a BACK to the plunger tube, you can't just stick it on there any ole' way. The large hole should point toward the rear of the frame. Here is a picture of the plunger tube with the drill bits inserted for support.

Next I clamped the frame into the vise per the directions. You can't see it in the picture but I put a couple strips of 100 mile an hour tape on the frame to protect it. This picture shows the frame and tube ready for "whackin"....I held the bottom of the staker with my left hand (as seen in the photo) and then smacked it with my 2oz gunsmithing hammer. It took 6 hits of about medium force to get the fit I was looking for. This close-up picture shows the way the feet bell out after being staked. It's in there good and tight baby !! So now the plunger tube is installed, ready to move on to the ejector.....but until then...........


January 17

Here we are....finally able to install the ejector. I had planned to do this step a while back, but I got a quick education in "proper order" of events. It all started when I was test fitting the parts.

I had installed the ejector (just set it in place) and then was checking the plunger tube (just set in place) when it hit me....DOH ! I can't get the staking tool in the right position to whack the inside pin if I have the extended ejector installed. The ejectors "tip" sticks out and overhangs the magwell opening just far enough to make it impossible to reach the inner most pin of the plunger tube. So I said to myself  "Self,... you need to do the plunger tube first.".....but then I realized that before I could install the plunger tube, I would need to re-finish the frames sides. I would not be able to do the little "sandpaper trick" if the plunger tube was installed. So again I decided...."Ok self,....you need to do the brushed finish first..." OOPS, I can't do the brushed finish until after I blend the new grip safety.....so the bottom line is this.

Step 1. Blend the grip safety
Step 2. Re-finish the frame
Step 3. Install the plunger tube
Step 4. Install the ejector (finally)

Now you are all caught up on what was happening in the garage the past few nights.....and that brings us to the ejector. I'm gonna warn you now, I'll be going off on another of my wild tangents again as I make another home made jig for today. So if you get bored easy you better get some coffee hahaha. So hang on here we go........

I decided on an Ed Brown SS extended ejector for this project. I've heard some stories about how the commander length pistols loose a little bit of rearward travel, and that makes the timing do strange things. The pistol has less time to eject the spent round and pick up the next one before it slams shut. I think this is because it doesn't come back quite as far. There are a number of things I can do to help this, but I'll see what I have before I start doing any additional milling. If everything appears to operate normally, then I'll wait until after a range test to see what (if anything) needs to be changed. With this in mind......I chose a really long ejector that didn't have any bevel or angle on it. The tip is just flat and long. This will allow me to file, grind, shorten or do whatever else needs done later.....later meaning after I figure out exactly what it is that I need to do to it......So I'm just going to install it, but leave it alone as far as angles and length (at least for now).

Hhmmm...the ejector I bought doesn't seem to have a little notch cut in it....what's up with that? So I read the instructions and it says that I need to cut my own notch in order to get a very tight and precise fit.....ok sounds like fun. The directions say to use a drill bit and just drill the hole through the edge of the ejector leg while it is installed in the frame. Ok I pulled out the right sized bit, took one look at the drill bit and said......yyyeeaaahh riiiiiiighttt like that would ever work.....that tiny little twig of a drill bit will snap like a piece of straw if I tried doing something like that. (how dumb do these parts manufacturers think we are?)

Plan B......got an idea that might work. I need some sort of a simple jig to hold the frame flat on it's side while I grip it in the vise. I looked around the shop and found out........I have no such jig, so time to make one......

Off on another Tangent....
(got that cup of coffee?)

I started out with a piece of 1 inch square aluminum bar stock and placed my frame on top of the bar with the slide rail cuts aligned with the top edge of the bar. Then I grabbed a couple of my trusty transfer punches and marked the location of 3 strategic holes on the frame. This picture shows the hole locations being marked. Then it's over to the mill to drill the holes with a #25 bit. After the holes are drilled (Drill all the way through to the other side). Then I tapped the holes with a 10-24 tap. I tapped about half way through, then flipped the bar over and tapped the other side half way through. This allows me to mount the frame with either side pointing up. Next I cleaned it up and made the new jig look all nice and professional by dressing the surface with my trusty plexiglass/sandpaper rig.

Here is a picture of what the jig looked like when I finished.......

Tangent over....
(see that wasn't bad)

Now I have my jig, so time to test out Plan B.......

As most of you probably know, if you try to drill a hole is a round rod using a round tipped drill bit.....the bit is going to want to "walk" off the edge at an angle and not cut straight down. This would cause the bit to get lodged between the ejector leg and the side of the hole.....with a broken bit being the most likely outcome. So being the clueless guy I am, I figured "Hey, why not try using a square tipped bit to cut the hole?" At least a square tip would have a tendency to stay flat against the leg and cut downward.....(Stop laughing......it seemed logical at the time). So I took the tiny drill bit over to the grinder and ground the tip of it flat (like an endmill).

Here is a picture of the way the frame is held in the jig. And this picture shows the frame ready to get clamped into the vise.

I mounted the jig and the frame in the vise and centered the drill bit over the hole to be drilled. Next I sloooooowly lowered the bit into the hole and let it "nibble" at the ejector leg. The bit was only spinning at about 200 RPM's. Here is a picture of the drilling process. I got about half way through the leg and SNAP.....the bit broke.

Plan C........

Ok, so the whole drilling idea is just a bad one right from the start.(why the heck is that what they put in the directions?) Here is what I have to work with after snapping the bit. As you can see from the picture, I made it about half way through before it broke. I blame myself for the broken bit....I started out by just letting the bit barely touch the leg and nibble it's way through. That was working fine, but then I decided to try a little more pressure to see if it would cut faster....that's what broke the bit. The flat tip worked out pretty good but you have to stay really slow with the down feed. What the heck.....live and learn...........

Plan C was to......wait, I don't have a plan C.....now what? Blindhogg to the rescue. If you haven't already done so, you need to hop over to the Blindhogg Custom website. That's where I always go when I get stumped and I always get the answers I need. Here is a link hop over and bookmark the site....I'll wait right here til you get back.....<tick tock> <tick tock>........

I already have a mark where the notch needs to be, so I just need to take the notch through to the other side. I used a small round file to do that. Here is a picture of the file I used, and this picture shows the notch after filing.

I got the little roll pin out of a new Wilson pin set. Applied a drop of locktite to the legs and the pin and then used a punch to tap it into place.

Here is a picture of the new ejector installed and pinned in......

What did I learn?

Sometimes the simplest way is the best way. All I really needed to do was to tap the ejector in place. Stick a pin-punch into the hole and whack the crap out of it. That would have made a nice easy to see mark and then I could just go straight to the round file from there.....but noooooooo, I had to be a rocket scientist and try to develop a new method of reshaping drill bits and creating jigs. The easy way is just mark the spot then file it out....simple, easy, quick.......

I said in the very beginning that I would post successes and failures alike....so chalk up another one for the failures column. It doesn't matter really, I had fun, got to learn some new stuff and I even made a cool jig for future use (maybe?)..... All in all it was a good day, and the ejector is installed and secure. Mission accomplished (but in a round about way hahahaha).

Much more to come.....but until then.........


January 28    

Well, I got the other video camera I was waiting for, so I guess it's time to lower the ejection port on the slide. I already did this to the Sistemas a while ago, so I won't bore you with the details of the same ole' thing......I did however do a few things differently this time and I thought I'd share that with you. I guess it's true what they say about practice makes perfect, and being more familiar with my machines I decided to put an inner bevel on the ejection port this time.....I really like the way it turned out.

This project is a Commander length pistol, and I've heard it said that the shorter the barrel, the less time the gun has to cycle. This makes it critical that the ejected round be able to exit the gun as soon as possible. We don't have that nice long stroke like you do on a full length Government model, so every little bit helps. As you may recall, I installed a very long ejector on this one, and in fact I left the ejector at full length (until I see what needs to be done). I also want to get the ejection port wall low enough to where the spent case can start it's exit "right away"......basically straight out to the side without having to come too far back first.......I decided to use a height of just .475 as the new ejector wall height. I arrived at this number after reading in the Kuhnhausen manual that .475 was the nominal height of a Gold cup wall.....figured it was as good a starting point as any.......I can always go lower, but it ain't easy to put metal back on.......475 should be fine.

I started out the day with what you see in this picture. I measured the existing ejector wall height from the bottom of the slide to the bottom of the ejector port. The initial reading is .595 (pretty standard).....this means that in order to reach my new height of .475 I will need to remove .120 of metal. (no problem). Here is a picture of the initial reading.

I installed the slide on my Yavapai slide jig and milled the new opening the same way I did it on the Sistema project. The only difference is that this time I used my new DRO's instead of the dial indicators.....** Note to Self ** Worth every penny baby. If you want to see the full details check out the Sistema project using this link. I'll wait here til you get back..........

After I got the new .475 height I tried cutting the roll-over bevel on the inside lip of the port opening. As it turns out, the jig is designed to make a bunch of different operations easy, one of which is this bevel. I didn't try it on the Sistemas, instead I just used a rotary tool and a stone to create a nice rolled edge. This time, I want it to look like the big-boys do it..... So I re-positioned the jig in my vise and re-leveled everything. This picture shows the jig in the right position for cutting the bevel. I'm using the same 3/8" carbide endmill that I just used to lower the port height. This picture shows us all set up and ready to cut.

I couldn't find any exact measurements so I just decided to "eyeball it" and take just a whisker of metal off to see what it looked like. I left a small ridge of straight metal along the top edge of the port wall and I think it looks just about right. I used the bevel on my Gold cup as a visual guide and just made this one look the same. Here are a couple pictures of the completed ejection port. Picture 1  Picture 2 Picture 3 Picture 4

The last step was to hit it lightly with some fine Cratex to polish everything up nice......I think it turned out great. We aren't even half way yet, so stay with me......but until then......


February 5 (a)

We're getting closer now to the real challenging stuff.....I wanted to finish up a few details so that I'll be ready to move forward with the porting this week, so today I finished the roll-over notch in the slide. This step is covered in great detail (long winded as usual) in the Sistema project so I won't bore you with the same write-up again. You can read the full details of the roll-over notch by clicking here.

But here are a few pictures of the Commander just for good measure. The first picture shows the slide set up and ready to start grinding. And here are a couple more that show the notch after grinding. Picture1 Picture2

I realize that this isn't a very good write-up today.....but it only took about 5 minutes to grind the notch.......what can I really say hahahaha.......but just so you don't feel jipped, I'll be posting a real good write-up about the front sight today also.....2 updates in one day......now feel better?

What did I learn?

I think I'll try using a 3/4" ball endmill next time to machine the notch instead of using a stone and the RTX. I don't know if it's any better or worse, but at least it will give me a chance to try it and see which I like better. The Yavapai slide jig has slots cut in it that allow the slide to be held at the right angle for milling the roll-over notch......I just haven't tried doing it that way yet. I need to buy a 3/4" endmill holder (collets don't go that high for a Griz) and I didn't feel like spending the money or the time to do this notch......but I'll pick up the parts and try it on the next one I do.


February 5 (b)

You may remember that on the last project I used a dovetailed front sight, but this time I will need to use a staked on front sight. I plan to cut ports (slots) into the top portion of the slide, and I need the staked on type of sight to avoid cutting into the "wings" of a dovetailed style. I don't know if there would be any functional problem with using a dovetailed sight.....but it would look pretty cheesy. You know me, I gotta make it look as good as I can, so it's time to learn about staked on front sights.......hold on here we go.............

I picked up an Ed Brown wide tenon white-dot post style front sight (that's a mouthful). Here is a picture of what I'm starting with. I could probably put the whole write-up for today under the "what did I learn" section and just stop the commentary right here hahahaha.....what a nightmare. Everything I'm doing is all new to me, I have no idea what I'm doing and if that weren't enough.....I am performing this on a used slide that already had a soldered in front sight......that translates into NO TENON HOLE !!! uuugggghhhh. Here is a picture of the slide where the new sight needs to go. And this picture shows the under side of the slide where the old sight was staked in. So now you know where I am starting from.......it ain't pretty folks.......let's see if we can figure this out.

At this point all I'm concerned with is figuring out what the dimensions are of the parts I'm working with....I'll figure out the mechanics of mounting everything later, so I started out by recording a few measurements. First I measured the tenon on the new site (the post thingee). This picture shows the measurement. And this picture shows the slide measurement. The tenon is .127 and is perfectly square, so it's the same measurement on either axis (wide/long). Thank goodness for small favors huh?. The slide measures .906 wide right at the point where the sight will go. I measured it at that point due to possible variations in the slides width along the length of it. (don't know if that matters). So the dead center of the slide would be .453 (.906 divided by 2). Ok so the center of the hole needs to be right there at the .453 mark........and the center of the front sight is .0635 ( .127 divided by 2).....Depth doesn't matter since the tenon will go all the way through the slide and come out the bottom. I just need to be sure that everything is dead center of the top of the slide.

Next.....how far back from the front of the slide face does the hole need to be? Well....I measured from the front edge of the new sight to the front edge of where the tenon starts and I came up with .182 I want to hold the front sight back about .090 from the slide face (because that's how my gold cup is) so I added .090 to the .182 and came up with .272 now I added exactly half of the tenon width (.0635) and came up with .3355 as the point where the center of the hole needs to be (front to back) on the top of the slide.......ouch, now my head hurts. So here's a quick recap.....the hole needs to be at exactly  .3355 back from the front edge of the slide and at .453 from either side of the slide. This would put my hole right where I need it......cool huh?....time for some Advil, I'll be right back......

Now that the academics are out of the way, it's time to roll up my sleeves and cut that square hole. Remember, my slide has no hole in it, it is used and the old sight was soldered in place....thus, no existing hole. Time to head down to Home Depot and buy a .127 square hole cutter.....huh? what do you mean there's no such thing?

I have a lathe, a mill and a rotary tool, but they all use rotating cutters.....everything I own makes round holes and I need a square one that is exactly .127 x .127 Take pity on me guys.....I ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Here is what I decided to do (thanks to Blindhogg for the idea). I drilled a .120 hole using a #31 drill bit (a 1/8" is .125 but that's not enough buffer for me hahaha) The hole will be slightly under sized, and it will be round, but it'll give me something to work with at least.

I mounted the slide in the vise, leveled everything up, and ran the drill to the dead center spot on the slide where I want my hole. Here is a picture of the slide ready to drill. I used the DRO's to set the starting point but you could do the same thing with dial indicators. Just don't forget to add half the diameter of the drill bit. I moved the bit until it just kissed the side of the slide....at that point I was .060 away from the slide (half the diameter of my #31 bit.....120 divided by 2 = .060) so I needed to move the table back by .513 to get centered in the slide (.453 + .060 = .513).....anyways, to make a long story short I used the DRO's to get set up for the drilling. Here is a picture of the DRO's when I was set.

Point of no return folks.......down I go. Here is a picture of the hole in my slide. (boy I hope my math was right....hee hee)

Round hole....square tenon.....hmmmm time to break out the needle files. I used a small square needle file to square up the hole, and I kept stopping to check the fit of the tenon. Just a tiny bit at a time until it could just barely get the tenon started into the new hole. I want it to be really tight. Here is a picture of the hole when I stopped filing. My hole is dead center. (the old one as seen in the outline, was off center by 2 thous)

A couple drops of 266 red locktite and then I tapped the new sight in place with my smithing hammer. Here is a picture of the new sight sitting down flush against the top of the slide. And here is a picture of the tenon sticking out the bottom, all ready to be staked in place.

Now it's time to try out my new jig. I just built this baby a few days ago and I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out. I won't go off on a tangent today (it would be a long one) but I'll post the details on how to make the jig in the notebook section later in case you want to make one for yourself.) The jig has a couple different uses, one of which is for staking the front sight in. Here are a few pictures of how the jig works. Picture1 Picture2 Picture3 The whole thing clamps in the bench vise and allows a solid platform for "whacking" the site in tight.

Here is a picture of the staking tools I used. And this picture shows the staking process. Just hit the tool like you are hammering in a nail. You don't want to try to stake it with one massive blow....it's more like driving a nail in, several smaller hits until you mash the tenon down pretty flat. These pictures shows the tenon staked in tight. Picture1 Picture2

All that's left now is to debur and smooth up the inside of the slide so the bushing will fit nice. I just used the RTX with a cone shaped smooth stone to dress everything up and make it flush. Here is a picture of the finished job. That puppy is in there......it ain't going anywhere baby!

It turned out better than I thought, I learned a bunch of new skills and we are now ready to progress to the next (and most challenging) step. Lots of fun stuff ahead.........but until then............


February 6

 

Time for my most ambitious modification yet. Today I'm going to try to port the commander slide and barrel to create a V-10 style compensator.(like you see on the Springfield guns). This will entail cutting into my slide, bushing and barrel, so I run the risk of messing up some major components. I realize that it's only a matter of time before I bite off more than I can chew, and this just might be the day hahaha.....

If you are serious about pushing the limits of garage smithing, I think you pretty much have to resign yourself to the inevitable fact that you WILL destroy some parts. Not if, but when.....that's the question. If I'm not ready to accept that fact then I should just stop right where I am and quit pushing.....but, I have already accepted the fact and so it's a calculated risk.....I approached today's adventure with the full knowledge that I may very well end up having to buy a whole new slide, barrel and bushing......in fact, when I told my buddy Dave what I was going to try (you may remember him from the workshop section, he helped me a lot)  he told me to wait...he said : "I want to be there for this part, wait until I come over after work before you start." I think he wanted to be here in person so he could laugh his ass off when I destroyed my first 1911...hahahahaha. Dave came over last night after dinner and here is the account of our adventure in the garage........

I really like the idea of a compensator on the shorter length barrels. I already own a Colt Defender and I love it....but boy does that thing flip...The barrel rise on the shorter barrel is quite noticeable so I'll try the V-10 style compenstor on this project and see if it helps with that. I also like the fact that this type of compensator doesn't change the holster options for the gun. I can still use any old commander length carry holster and not worry about whether it will work with the comp or not.....well anyways, now you know what was going through my mind when I decided to try this........let's roll..........

I started out by coating the top of the slide with some layout fluid so that I could scribe a few very light lines to use as guides. This picture shows the slide before I got too heavy into the days tasks. I plan to use the lines just as a sort of "reassurance" to add validity to my DRO readings. I will be relying heavily on the DRO's this time and I just wanted to have a visual check before I start cutting. The lines are not to be used as the actual cutting lines, but just as a back-up for my sanity...hahahaha. I put lines at .200 from the front of the slide face, and at 1.200 and at .075 from the base of the front sight post......these lines represent a basic area that I need to stay within. So if I'm cutting along and start to zone out or daydream, I'll see the lines coming up ahead and start paying attention. It's a good thing I did this too (I'll explain more on that later).

Ok, the slide is now coated with layout fluid and I have some nice clear guide lines marked on it. Now my attention turns to the mill. I set the vise jaws sideways this time and had to make sure that they are level and true to the axis of the cutter. I used a test dial indicator attached to a quill mount to set the jaws straight. This picture shows the set-up for today's cuts. After everything was set up and ready, it was time for a cup of coffee and one last re-read of Blindhoggs instructions (I used them like a bible for today's project)......nothing to do now except wait for Dave.......tick, tock, tick, tock....

Dave showed up (with a big grin on his face hahaha) and I went over the plan with him so he could be a second set of eyes to keep me from doing something stupid. I used a barrel holder that I bought from Brownells to keep the barrel locked into the lugs during the machining process. The barrel holder is made for a gvt length slide and I had to modify it slightly so that it would work on the commander. I used the lathe to turn down the shoulder and move it back about an inch. This picture shows the modified barrel holder and a line shows where the shoulder used to be. The holder can still be used on a gvt length slide but now it's a dual purpose tool for either length....makes you wonder why they didn't just make it like this in the first place??

I need to install an old junk barrel for cutting the slide. The barrel is needed so that it will hold the bushing in it's proper position. I need to notch the bushing at the same time that I cut the slots in the slide so that the two will line up correctly when they are assembled. If it weren't for the need to notch the bushing, then I wouldn't need anything other than the slide. The reason I use a "junk" barrel is because I will need to plunge the cutter so deep into the slide (due to the angle of the head) that the cutter will actually be digging into the barrel. You don't want to do this with your "real" barrel or it would be destroyed.

With the junk barrel, bushing and barrel holder in place, it's time to get ready to cut. This picture shows the slide in the vise ready to go. I used my machinists level to get the slide top level with the table. A couple strips of 3x5 index card are used to pad the slide and keep them from getting scratched up.

MATH TIME!!! Well it's that time folks. I now have to get the cutter set for the starting point of the cut. I am using a 4 flute 1/4" solid carbide endmill to make the slot. I want the cut to start .200 from the front edge of the slide face and extend back exactly 1 inch. The top of the cutout should be .075 away from the front sight post and the head of the mill is tilted at 25 degrees. The way I set up was to move the cutter until it just kissed the face of the slide. Then move in .450 to begin the cut.....what? I thought you said .200 from the front.......yep you have to account for the fact that the cutter is .250 in diameter (1/4") and the FRONT edge is in contact with the slide face. I had to move the cutter so that the BACK edge was exactly .200 away from the face of the slide....so add .200 + .250 and you have to actually move the cutter .450 in order to get to the starting point (zero point). After I got all set and had the cutter poised over the slide where I wanted it. I locked the X axis of the table and I zeroed out all the DRO's. This picture shows us ready to destroy the slide....and here is another angle so you can see everything better.

Fingers crossed....down goes the head of the mill. the cutter will do a plunge (like a drill bit) but I had to feed it very slowly as I went deeper into the slide. The side to side cutting was like butter, but the down feeding I had to go slow. I spun the cutter at 1100 RPMs for this cut and took about .020 with each pass. This picture shows the cutting process on an early pass. And here is a close-up so you can get a better idea. I moved the table until the DRO was reading .750 and then ran it back to .000 then back to .750 and so on until I broke through to the other side. ** Note to self ** When you align the BACK end of the cutter as your starting point, you need to allow for the full diameter of the cutter. So when the back of the cutter has traveled .750 and you are using a 1/4" cutter then the front leading edge has reached the 1.00 mark.

Here are couple pictures of the slot when I finished (and let out a big sigh). Picture1 Picture2 Next I just tilted the head 25 degrees to the other side and repeated the same process to cut the second slot. This picture shows what it looked like after both slots were finished.

So far so good....I didn't destroy the slide or the bushing, so maybe I'll get off the hook and only have to buy a new barrel huh? hahahaha.

Now it's time to cut the holes in the barrel. With Blindhoggs permission I am including his diagram of the hole placement measurements. This diagram was my salvation for this part. Take a good look and study this thing if you ever decide to try this at home. Here is Blindhoggs diagram.

According to the diagram, as long as I get the placement of the first hole right.....I can index off of it for all the rest. I used a 4 flute solid carbide 1/8" ball end endmill to cut the holes. I will be spinning the cutter at "full tilt boogie" high gear full speed (about 2500 on my mill). If I feed really slow on the way down, I should be able to turn the metal into "dust" instead of getting shavings, slivers or twists.....this is very important, since I don't want any burrs on the inside of the barrel when I break through. My buddy Dave was manning the coolant spray and he kept it totally saturated for me during the cuts. (like flood coolant). The tiny bits of metal dust kinda "float" up and out of the hole. This picture shows the way I set-up for the index hole. I used the 1/4" endmill to get everything lined up, and then without moving anything, I changed over to the 1/8" by switching the collets. This picture shows the small cutter doing it's thing. Here is a picture I took after the holes were cut.

Off to the bead blaster for a quick cleanup and tada.....Picture1 Picture2 Picture3 Picture 4 (pictures 1 and 3 special thanks to Dave for being my "hairy armed assistant" hahaha)

Whheeeww...deep breath. I made it through without destroying any parts, didn't loose any fingers and had a great time..........still more fun ahead............but until then..........

(*** Special thanks to Dave for all his help on this one...thanks buddy ***)

What did I learn?

This was a lot of fun today. I learned a lot of new things about the mini-mill and the DRO's particularly. This is the first time I have used the new DRO's for any real precision cuts, and I was a bit nervous at first about trusting them.....I shouldn't have worried, they worked fantastic. I'm still trying to get the hang of all the math involved. It's not that the math is hard (it's very easy stuff in fact)....but I need to always remember to stop and just think about it for a few minutes....I need to go over it in my head to make sure that I didn't forget to account for something.

You may recall that when I did the front sight, I needed to use a calculation of HALF the diameter of the drill bit when I was setting zero.....that's because I was trying to get the cut set up for the CENTER of a hole....today I made the mistake of using the same logic. Luckily I caught the mistake before I did any cutting and Dave and I got a chuckle out of how close I came to messing it up. I needed to add the FULL diameter of the cutter in today's exercise because I wasn't trying to get the center line as a starting point, today I wanted to start from an edge and move from there. None of this stuff is hard, and I'm sure it will all become second nature after I do it a few times......but for now, I've noticed that I really need to concentrate and pay attention before I start cutting. I think if you do that you'll be ok (at least I have been so far).

I also learned that if I spin a carbide endmill really fast, it cuts completely differently than if I spin it slow. Slow RPM's translate into metal "chips" and fast RPM's translate into metal "dust"....I think I'll file that away in the back of my brain, it may come in handy later on.


February 8

Well this is something new I'm gonna try. Today I want to see if I can jewel the barrel hood. I'm not really sure if this is something that most people would think to do to a .45.....but hey, nobody ever said I was normal hahaha. I have a visual picture of what this might look like and I think if I do it right it will make the pistol really "jump out" at you. I have always admired the detailed beauty of a jeweled rifle bolt, but I haven't seen it done on a .45 yet. Now I know what you are thinking.....but before you start making that face (you know the one I'm talking about)...please reserve your judgements until AFTER you see the until then photo for today......you just might be surprised how nice it looks.......and no it doesn't make it look "pimpy"

I got the idea while browsing through my safe and looking at the bolt on my Marlin MR-7 rifle. It has a beautiful jeweling job on it and the thing really "makes" the rifle if you know what I mean.....well as I was looking through the Brownell's catalog I found a jeweling kit listed and that started me to thinking......hmmmm wonder if I could do that on a .45 barrel. I found a jig listed on the next page, but it is made for doing bolts (of course) and there is no jig for .45 barrels (how strange is that? hahahaha) So I decided to make my own. I designed the jig that used in my front sight staking write-up as a dual purpose jig....so that I could use it for jeweling and for staking. Now I just need to see if the jig works or not.

I started the day with the tools seen in this picture. The kit comes complete with everything you need to start jeweling. I like the way the brush holder is designed....it is spring loaded so your downfeed pressure is not critical. The kit came with very good instructions (for a change) and it seems pretty simple.

The directions say that the finished product will look best if you start with a nice smooth polished surface, so I hit the barrel hood and chamber area with my RTX and a fine cratex bit....that didn't get it quite as smooth as I wanted so I hit it a second time with a polishing pad from my trusty Black and Decker polishing kit (the best 15 bucks I ever spent hahaha). This picture shows the hood and chamber area after I polished it in preparation for the day's project.

Next I mounted the barrel in my special jig and adjusted it to the first index mark. The jig is made so that it will hold any barrel from a full length Gvt model down to a defender length.....I just put in a spring for the size I am using. Here are a couple pictures to show you how the jig works. Picture1 Picture2. I'll post a full write-up with instructions on how to make your own jig in the notebook section in a few days if you are interested. If you look closely at the pictures you can see the index marks on the left side of the jig, and you can see the knurled handle on the right side. The spring tension keeps everything nice and tight.

Ok...so the barrel is mounted in the jig and everything is set. I mixed the carbide jeweling compound in a small glass bowl with about 3 eyedroppers full of Do-Drill cutting fluid and mixed it into a thin paste (like runny tooth paste). This picture shows you what I'm talking about. Next I used a Q-tip to smear the paste onto the barrel hood area....I just sorta heaped it on there pretty thick. Here this should help you visualize.

All set.....I practiced a few times on my junk barrel before hand so I could get an idea of how big the swirls should be, how far I need to space them, how much pressure to apply and how long to stay in one spot. The formula I came up with will produce a very small tight pattern and should look nice on the barrel hood. I read somewhere that the higher the quality, the smaller the jeweling pattern (probably because it takes much longer to do a tight pattern). The formula I used was:

800 RPM's turning speed
15 seconds per swirl
.125 spacing between swirls
.375 spacing between rows
.010 downward pressure
2- rubber o-rings on the brush

This picture shows the way it looked after indexing to the 3rd row of swirls. And here is a close-up that shows it up close and personal (pretty good picture huh?). I used a 3x5 card to write down my spacing index and used the DRO's to move the table right and left to the next mark. I think most people just eye-ball it but you know me....here are the index marks I used.

 .000 -  .125  - .250  - .375  - .500   - .625   - .750 - .875
    .0625 - .1875- .3125 - .4375 - .5625 - .6875 - .8125

I wrote them on the 3x5 card just like you see them above. The idea is to stagger each row. If you look at a brick wall you will see what I mean. The bricks don't all line up on top of each other straight up and down....they are staggered, that's the same thing I did with the jeweling pattern. I moved in a "snaking" pattern from the top left to the bottom right.....until I reached the bottom of the chamber. Look at this picture and you can see the pattern by looking at the smeared goo marks...hahaha. The brush holder that I bought is spring loaded so after the brush touches the metal....I went down another .010 and let the spring apply the pressure. This keeps the marks uniform in clarity by always applying the same amount of pressure each time. I also timed it so that each time the brush was in contact with the metal for exactly 15 seconds (also to help improve consistency)

Ok....so how did it turn out....you be the judge. Picture1 Picture2 Picture3

I really like it ! It set off the rest of the pistol with a touch of class and a nice little custom look. I think it will really look nice once I refinish the slide. The contrast should make it jump right out at you.

We are nearing the end soon, but I still have some more fun stuff to do.....but until then........

What did I learn?

This was a fun modification for me.....I have always liked the look of jeweling, but never knew how they did that stuff. I don't know if you are the kind of person that likes this type of custom touch, but if you are then there is no reason not to try it. It's a very simple modification to make and all you need is a drill press and a cross slide vise to do it. I'm pretty sure that just eye-ballin it you could get great results, but I used the DRO's because....well, quite frankly because I have em, why not use em.

I think I may try jeweling a few of my rifle bolts later....I'll need to practice and come up with a different formula. One that creates slightly larger swirls....maybe only use 1 O-ring or put more downward pressure....I'll just have to play around and see what looks the best. The good news is.....if I screw up the pattern I can always go back and polish it off with a cratex bit and start over again.

I also noticed that after the jeweling....the barrel hood is smooth (no wait smoother) than glass....like almost greasy smooth. It also seems to "hold" the lubricating oils better than a non-jeweled surface.....all-in-all I like this custom touch. It may seem kinda pimpy at first....but if you could see it, or hold it in your hand I think you might like it......sure does dress up a .45........

There are a few additional thoughts on the subject of Jeweling available in the notebook section if you are interested.



February 11

I received my final order of parts from Brownell's this past weekend and now I have everything I need to push forward and finish this project. It's amazing to me how all of the sudden everything begins to fall into place and it starts to look and act like a real 1911......today I'm installing the rear sight and then I can go ahead and refinish the slide. After those two parts are finished, it's going to start looking pretty good (I hope hahaha). 

I've gone back and forth in my mind trying to decide on just the right rear sight to use on this project. This one is supposed to be a concealed carry piece, so I want rounded, low mounted snag free sights for it. I also need to be mindful of the front sight that I installed earlier, and make sure that whatever rear I get, it will be a good match for height.....all that means is that the front sight needs to be at least as high as the recommended height for the rear sight I choose. I can always mill the front sight down, but I can't add height. With this in mind I chose the Ed Brown .200 front sight post, just so I'd be sure to have enough height.....it allows me to pick "nearly" any rear sight I want due to the extended height of the front blade. (good going Ed). So it was off to the catalog for some comparison shopping........

I decided on the Novaks "Carry" rear 3-dot sight. I chose this one for a number of reasons. First off, I like the Novaks sight I have on my Springfield Chapion. SEcond, it requires a .165 to .185 front sight height (well within the range of my front sight). Third, because it requires only minor fitting of the existing mil-spec rear sight dovetail and sits VERY low and flush against the back of the slide. All the other options I looked at would require additional milling to get the sight as low as this one sits. Now don't get me wrong.....I ain't afraid to do additional milling, but sometimes I like to leave options available for future mods. EXAMPLE: if I go ahead and mill the slide for a Novaks style low mount....then I'm locked into that style of sight from now on. Same thing applies to a Bomar style....once I cut a Bomar into my slide, I can never choose a different style. This one only requires minor fitting and so for all practical purposes I still retain an original mil-spec rear cut. This means that I could go to a different style any time I want to in the future.......it's easy to remove metal, but it's a bear to put it back on.

Here is a picture of what I am starting with for the rear sight installation. I began by taking a bunch of measurements to see how much fitting I was going to have to do. First I measured the rear sight dovetail to see how wide it is. It measured out at .333 (really close to the width of the existing rear cut). Next I checked the depth of the sight. Then the depth of the rear cut on the slide. The pictures are pretty cheesy because I had to hold the caliper in one hand and hold the camera in the other....but you should be able to get the idea. I used the little sliding tip that comes out the back end of the caliper to see how deep things were.

I want the rear sight to come all the way down and contact the slide, so I'll need to deepen the cut on the slide just a little bit. (about .015) to get them the same. I guess you don't technically "Have" to do this....I mean the sight would still work, but there would be a gap between the bottom of the sight and the slide....we can't have that now can we. The slide I bought from Gunny6 was used and it had already been relieved or "flattened" along the top of the slide. (another reason I chose the sight I did) so I didn't need to flatten it. This gives the rear sight a nice flat little surface to mate up to......but you have to make sure the rear dovetail is deep enough to allow the sight to sit down flush.

I debated whether to use the mill to deepen the cut, but decided against it since it was only a tiny bit. Besides, this way will allow me to stop and check my depth every few minutes until I get a perfect fit. If I use the mill, it would require me to re-set the cutter each time I wanted to check......so I just used a 65 degree #2 dovetail file instead. It worked out great too. I stopped and checked every couple of minutes until I got the exact tight flush fit I was looking for. This picture shows the rear sight installed for the first time after I tapped it into place. It's a nice tight fit and everything sits down flush in contact with the slide....so off it comes, and now I'm ready to apply the finish to the slide.

I started by taking a trip over to the bead blaster for a good thorough cleaning. Then I set up my new and improved temporary paint booth. (just some trash bags taped to the wall behind my bench). This picture shows the slide cleaned and ready to spray. I now use a couple of fans to pull the fumes away, and I wear a dust mask, safty glasses and rubber surgical gloves during the spraying.....(I've come a long way since the first time hahaha). This picture shows the new set-up I use for airbrushing the baking lacquer. You can see the slide hanging on a piece of wire suspended from under the  work light on my cabinets. I put the wire through the firing pin hole and suspend it there so it's easy to spray without messing up the finish. Here is a picture of the slide after applying a couple coats.

After waiting about 2 hours for the paint to dry, I went in a baked it at 325 degrees in Mrs. Ryans' oven for about 30 minutes....the result......well, lets just say I'm starting to get the hang of this.

I waited until it had cooled and then reassembled the whole pistol. This time while I was at it I went ahead and did a preliminary "test fitting" of all the rest of the parts. All the pins and springs and everything, so for the very first time, my 80% Commander was fully assembled into a complete 1911....cool huh? I still have to do a bunch of fitting before she'll be ready for the range........but until then...........

What did I learn?

I guess the more you do something the more you learn about it. I've learned a lot about applying the bake on finish, so I'll share a couple of my silly observations with you.....

First off, I have a little trick that works pretty well when I'm painting a sight that has a white dot in it. I wanted to come up with a simple way to preserve the dot and not paint over it and make it black. I found that if you take a child's crayon (I use a white one) and sharpen the tip of it with an exacto knife to a very sharp point.....you can press the tip into the dot hole and then sharply "snap" your wrist to the right or left and create a tight little crayon "plug" that perfectly fills the dot hole. Then just spray the paint and don't worry about the dot. After the paint has dried (but before the oven) use a dental pick or the tip of an exacto knife to pop the plug out. Crayons are mostly wax so the paint doesn't stick to it....it also makes it easy to pop it out in one whole piece. Just be sure that you don't forget to remove the plug before you put it in the oven or the crayon will "run" as it melts......I've never done it, but I assume it would ruin the finish if it runs onto it during the baking.....so just don't forget. You end up with a perfect factory white dot.

I also found out that when painting the slide (or frame for that matter) that it's a good idea to apply the paint in multiple coats. I use 8 coats and always apply a "heavy coat" as the 4th one. The heavy coat is really shiny and makes it easy to tell where I'm spraying. This ensures that everything gets good coverage. I don't make it heavy enough to run....but heavy enough to be able to see it going on "shiny".....I once put a heavy shiny coat on at the end and hated it. The paint was still really shiny after it was baked and it looked terrible (to me) I don't want it to be all shiny and wet looking....it looks too fake. Instead I put a couple more coats on after the heavy one and I hold the airbrush much further away from the piece and release very little paint.. (mostly just air)....this leaves a really nice smooth dull finish and it looks a lot like parkerizing (except that it's smooth to the touch). It's hard to tell the difference between my baking lacquer and parkerizing if it's done right. Look closely at the until then picture and you'll see what I mean. It's very smooth and even, but it doesn't look like paint. (it looks even better in person of course, but you can see in the picture what I'm talking about).


February 13

I think front strap checkering is just about my favorite custom touch for a 1911....it sure does make a difference in the way it looks and feels and I have it on most of my other guns. I had originally planned to checker this one too, but I started to have second thoughts after I read an e-mail from a visitor that pointed out some very interesting things I had never thought about.....

He basically warned me about trying to do any checkering because of the risk of running into "casting flaws" or "voids" in the metal. The way I understand it is, that in some cases, you can get little air filled pockets under the surface of the metal. Sort of like a piece of wood that looks just fine on the outside.....but when you cut it in half you see little worm holes all through it. This would all but ruin the appearance of my nice shiny new Commander frame if I ran into such a situation, so I went back-and-forth debating whether or not to do the checkering on this one. I didn't like the thought of having put all this work into it and fitting the slide and everything else...just to destroy it in the final few days over something like checkering.......but in the end.........(you know me)........I ain't the smartest guy you'll ever meet, but I ain't timid either....hahahaha......so onward and upward we go..........

As you may recall, I already performed front strap checkering on the two Sistemas a while ago, so I won't bore you with the same exact stuff over again. However, like anything else, we tend to get better at things the more we do them and I'll share with you the stuff I did differently this time. (it's getting easier and much better results each time). If you want to read over the full details of the Sistema project checkering here is a link.

I started out with what you see in this picture. I'm using the same jig as I used last time and the same 20 LPI checkering file, but this time I decided to try a different file for doing the depth cuts (pointing up the checkers). In the picture you see the 60 degree bent checkering files that used last time. I thought I was going to use them again, but decided at the last minute to try a "3 square" needle file instead.....boy am I glad I did too. (more about that later).

I mounted the frame in the jig and set it up for the relief cut. This picture shows the frame mounted in the jig. I used a 1/4" round needle file to make the horizontal relief cut that will act as the upper border for the checkering pattern. This picture shows the relief cut. It's about .025 deep and it allows the tip of the file to overhang just a tad bit when I get up close to the top of the pattern....otherwise, I'd be gouging the metal with each stroke of the file.......

Since this is a stainless steel frame and it has no bluing or any other finish on it, I decided to coat the surface with some Dykem blue layout fluid to make it easier to see the lines between my cuts. This also helps to let you know when you have reached full depth. Basically......you just keep going deeper until there is no blue showing. That means that you have reduced the "tops" down to a point.( wait I'm getting ahead of myself)...here is a picture of the frame coated and ready to go.

I laid out all the vertical lines with the 20 LPI checkering file and then went back over them with my 3-sqaure file to bring them to depth. I just kept going until I had removed all the blue from in between the verticals. This picture shows the verticals all laid out but not yet brought to depth.

Next I laid out the horizontals and then brought them to depth.....Ok, I know what you are thinking....so that means you are done right?

That's what I thought too "Last Time"....but I wasn't happy with the final look of them and I ended up having to go back over everything one more time when I did the Sistemas. This time I got smart.....I went back over ALL the lines again after laying out the horizontals and bringing them to depth. At this point, I'm not looking for any blue Dykem lines (they are long since gone) this time I'm looking at each diamond to ensure that it looks the same as all the rest. Here is a picture of the process as I go over them again. Then when I finally decided that they looked just right......I went over everything one more time for good luck hahahaha. It looked like this when I finally decided to stop.

Next I used a 1/2 round needle file to smooth out the area above the checkering and then blended it into the rest of the front strap and trigger guard using a fine cratex bit in my RTX. This picture shows the area after smoothing. (notice I went over the rest of the "rounds" one last time while I was at it).

I have to bead blast the rounds again and I don't want to mess up my nice brushed finish on the flats, so I used a trick I read about in Jerry K's book number 1. He used tape and then cut around the tape using an exacto knife....looked pretty slick in the picture, so I did the same thing. Only different is that I used clean packing tape instead of masking tape. Here is a picture of the taped up frame before trimming.

After a quick trip to the blaster and then removal of the tape....I sat down and relaxed....thank goodness I hadn't found any casting flaws. This had the potencial to be one of those DOH ! moments. but instead it turned out as my best checkering yet. (that's not saying much hahaha)

We still have a few more nights together in the garage before the end of this project so please don't go away.............but until then..................

 

What did I learn?

Hhmmm...well, I learned one thing immediately. It hit me square in the face, so I'll start with the very first thing I learned today. Stainless steel is much harder than carbon steel.....yep, found that out right away hahahaha. I remember thinking that this was harder metal back when I cut the slide rails....I could "feel" it in the mill. The Griz had no trouble cutting it, but it just felt a little different. I remember that at the time I estimated it was a "little" harder but not much. Well let me tell you.....if you can feel it in a milling machine, then you can REALLY feel it in a file...hahaha.

I also learned that from now on I won't waste my money on those fancy "bent checkering files".....I'll keep the ones I have, but not for checkering. Maybe I can find another use for them later on. No sir....from now on I'm going with a plain old fashioned 3-square tapered needle file for all my future checkering. Works MUCH better and is much easier to keep it in the "grooves". The bent files act like the bow of a boat and they tend to "jump" the groove and go into the next row (potentially ruining your lines). The 3-square stays right where it is and doesn't want to wander nearly as much. I also like the sharp pointed tip of the 3-square much better. It is so much easier to get the sharp edges on the top border without "over running" the border and cutting into the trigger guard. For what I paid for those special bent files, I could have gotten a dozen regular 3-sqaures (ok I'm exaggerating a little)

I also used some tapping fluid on the files this time around, and I like it. It makes the cuts very smooth and it seems to help with the wear and tear on the file. The only downside is that I had to stop and clean the file every couple of minutes to keep it from building up dust particles (they stick to the fluid). It was worth it though. I just kept a wire bristled tooth brush close by and used it after every row or two.

One last observation....Over the past few months I've come to realize that good "quality" files are the only way to go. I used to try to save money by buying the least expensive files I could find....as it turns out, I've had to replace all the el cheapo ones and now I have a nice set of Nicholson (USA made) files and they are much better than the imported ones I was using. In the long run I'm actually saving money, since they last so much longer and they cut so much better. I used to think that since I am only using them for personal use, then I don't need any kind of high demand production quality files......but it doesn't work that way hahahaha.

(Special thanks to Pistolwrench for recommending the 3-square files.)


February 15

We are nearing the end of the project soon, so today I decided to do a few odd jobs I've been putting off. I still have some tuning and tweaking to do, but I can get a couple things wrapped up before I go to the range. The main thing is the ejector leg.....as you may recall, I installed the ejector a while ago but I left it at full length. I wanted to get the rest of the pistol to a stage that I could test the ejection characteristics before I went and made any changes to the ejector leg. I now have everything assembled to the point that I basically have a functional pistol, so I popped a magazine in and started hand cycling the rounds.......well as you might expect, the ejector is too long and the nose of the loaded round catches and will not eject.....of course a spent cartridge will eject just fine, but I want to be able to eject a loaded one too (in case of a jam or misfire etc...) So that's where we are today, come on into the garage and I'll show you what I did.........

After doing some reading and chatting with some folks on the forum, I realized that a Commander length pistol has a slightly reduced cycle stroke, and as such, they are a bit more picky about proper loading. I want to give the commander as much of an advantage as I can, so it only made sense to try to get the rounds to eject as soon as feasible. This will get the old round out of the way as soon as possible and leave the rest of the time for all the other things that have to happen each time it cycles. (like picking up the next round out of the magazine). That's why I left the ejector leg uncut until now. I didn't know how much I could leave and still have it work properly.

After hand cycling the slide a few times with a magazine in the well (using 230 grn ball ammo) I determined that I need to shorten the leg just a "smidge" (scientific term for you there)....I used the side plates off of my Marvel checkering jig and a magwell filler to mount the frame in my vise without scratching anything. Just for good measure I put some duct tape around the inside and top area where I'll be filing so that I don't scratch anything up with my file. Here is a picture of the frame all taped up and mounted in the vise.

Using the recommendations from Blindhoggs site, I decided to put a slight front-to-back angle on the leg. This picture shows the angle I held the file at when I did this. I used a 6" 3-square single cut taper file for the whole job (because it fit nicely in the tight space I was working with). After I got the length and the "back angle" the way I wanted it, I put a slight left-to-right angle on the end so the case will contact the left side of the leg first. This picture shows the "side angle" being filed.

While I was at it and have the frame disassembled, I figured now would be a good time to polish up the feed ramp and barrel throat too. I started by checking to see that I have the right gap by installing the slide stop pin and holding the barrel in place with my thumb. This picture shows the gap, and it looks about right to me. I only did this check to see if I needed to move the feed ramp top edge forward first. No sense polishing it up if the ramp is wrong.....but it looked ok so I just polished it using some fine cratex and then a felt polishing tip with some flitz compound. This picture shows the ramp area after polishing. (sorry about the finger print in the picture hahaha I didn't see it until to late) And here is a picture of the barrel throat all polished up and shiny. The next picture is a little dark, but I was trying to get a shot of the feed area after it was re-assembled. It's nice and smooth and slick baby....should feed like a champ. (I hope).

After it was reassembled, I ran a couple full mags through it by hand cycling and it fed every one of em without any problems....so it appears as though it all worked out. Here is a picture that shows the hand cycling and it even locks open on the last round, so at least I have a good solid starting point.

I was about to stop for the day, when I noticed how scratched the barrel is. Well it ain't bad, it just looks "used" (which of course it is)....that will not do. I'm kinda anal some times about little details like that. I just want to do the BEST I can. If I do that then no matter how it turns out I can hold my head high knowing I gave it my very best shot. If I leave the scratches, then I took a shortcut, and I promised myself not to do that. So here's what I did.

I want the barrel to look like brand spankin new.(at least in the beginning). So I had an idea....I used the barrel turning jig that I made a while back and I chucked up the barrel in my mini-lathe. Then using some 00 steel wool hosed down with WD-40 I spun the barrel at about 200 RPM's and used the steel wool between my fingers to lightly brush the barrel.( I wouldn't recommend using any sort of sandpaper.... because you might run the risk of loosening the barrel/bushing fit. The idea is to NOT remove metal, just clean it up) Here are a couple pictures of the polishing. Picture1 Picture2 Yeah....I know what you're thinking. You're right it probably is silly to worry about a little detail like that, but it only took about 5 minutes and it made a world of difference in the way it looked. (particularly when the barrel is exposed with the slide locked back). Here is a close-up of the barrel after it was all finished......see it looks much better. Looks like brand new huh?

There is no "until then" picture today, since all the details are inside and would not be seen anyways......so the picture would look exactly the same as last time. But it's shaping up real nicely. At this point I have a functional 1911 and I think I'll go to the range before I make the final adjustments. Don't worry I didn't forget the write-up about the small parts fitting......I just need to make a few changes before I do that section (you'll understand when you read it).

What did I learn?

Today was a fairly easy day in the garage. I'm mainly just savoring the final few hours of the project and trying to get all the pleasure I can out of it. But, none the less.....as always, I try to look for tidbits I can pass along. I ALWAYS learn something. Sometimes it's a big revelation, and other times just a few minor observations. Today I just sort of reflected on a few over riding philosophies that I've been using to guide me.....not really anything that has to do with ejector tuning or ramp polishing, but more along the lines of doing quality work......here is what I was thinking about as I worked on today's stuff.....

I decided in the very beginning that I wanted to do all my garage smithing under a set of guidelines that I determined up-front. The main points were simple.....take my time. Don't get rushed. If it ever stops being fun...then don't do it. Don't be afraid to try something because of fear of screwing up (that WILL happen, so don't harp on it). and finally.....do the absolute VERY BEST I can do. (personally). If I can just stay true to these original guidelines, then I can hold my head high at the end of the day.

 Well, while I was in the garage today all this stuff started coming back to me and I stopped and thought about it for a few minutes. I wanted to determine if I had done what I set out to do or not.....after some careful reflection I think I have (at least in my mind). I'm having a great time doing this stuff and I'm getting some nice results too.

I think what I learned today was that it is important to have your own set of "rules". Your rules or guidelines will certainly be different than mine.....we are different people after all, but give it some thought....and then take the time to stop every once in a while and see if you are still going in the right direction. If you do that.....you may get a lot more than just a couple nice shooters and some tools and an education....if you follow your own rules and NEVER take shortcuts, you get something else......PRIDE !!


February 26

Today's project is to do all the final fitting of my small parts, pins and springs. I want to get everything tuned up and ready for the range. You may have noticed that I already installed most of the parts earlier, and although everything went into it's hole, I still need to fine tune a few things before I'll "trust" it so that's what we are doing today......

I learned a hard lesson a while back (while I was working on an old colt). The lesson I learned was to not even bother with trying to fit "sub-standard" parts (aka: Cheap stuff) on any of my babies. This seems to be a lesson that everyone needs to learn for themselves.....sort of like a right of passage into home smithing....we all do it at one time or another. You know what I'm talking about....you buy that cheap parts kit that has all the stuff you want and it costs half of what the name brand stuff costs. Figure you'll save some money right? WRONG !! In every case, I have ended up having to buy all the stuff over again, and I end up with a pile of un-usable crap.....I have no intentions of naming any names, but just use common sense and stick with the top parts manufacturers, these guys know their stuff and it only costs a few dollars more to get the good parts....remember, that some day your baby may have to save your life or the lives of your family......no sense relying on cheap parts....(just my 2 cents).

OK.....so if I buy the name brand stuff and I pay a couple bucks more....what do I really get? How close to being "drop-in" are these things? I think it depends on your frame to some degree, but an in spec frame should be pretty darn close to true drop in compatibility.....here is how my experience went......

I bought a Wilson Pins set that included all the pins needed to build a complete 1911. Every pin popped right in place with no fitting required. I also bought an Ed Brown sear, a Knowlin disconnector, and a Chip McCormick hammer and strut. Without stoning or filing anything, I used a 19Lb main spring and made all adjustments using ONLY the sear spring (an Ed Brown).....result......5.5 lb crisp trigger pull measured with my RCBS gauge.....for a carry gun, that's about perfect, so I am leaving the trigger pull alone.

The only part that I needed to fit was the thumb safety. It would not engage without some fitting. The safety would lock in the down position, but I could not get it to move up into the lock position for "safety on" mode. I knew I was going to have to figure out what was blocking it, but first I wanted to re-shape the thumb pad to my taste.

I bought a Wilson Wide thumb safety and after I got it I instantly realized that I had made a mistake. The pad section is really wide (doh!) so wide that it dug into my side when carried in a holster. I need to slim it down a bit to make it more comfortable. Here is a picture of the safety before I reshaped it. I used the fine wheel on my bench grinder to get the basic shape I was looking for. Here are a couple pictures of the rough shape after grinding it down thinner and beveling the back end. Picture1 Picture2 After I got the shape I wanted, I used a file to knock the sharp edges left by the grinding off, and then cleaned it all up with a small wire wheel on my RTX. Next I added the same "brushed" look to the safety as I have on the rest of the gun (yes I know, I'm pretty weird about that stuff). I used a piece of medium grit emory cloth on a plexi-glass sheet as seen in this picture. Here is a picture of the reshaped safety ready for fitting.

To find out what was happening I assembled the sear, disconnector, hammer and thumb safety so I could look inside and see what was keeping it from engaging. The problem was immediately evident. This picture shows there the thumb safety was catching on the sear. Look closely at where the line is pointing and you will see that the thumb safety can not rotate up because it hits the bottom edge of the sear. Here is another picture of the thumb safety before I did any filing. And the shiny area in this picture shows the place I filed in order to get the clearance I needed. I used a small round file and went really slow. Just taking off a tiny bit of metal and then re-assembling to see if it would clear. I ended up with a really tight fit that will just barely clear the sear without dragging. This will ensure that after the thumb safety is rotated up to block the sear, there is ZERO play/slop.....the key here is to not take off too much metal, otherwise the sear would move and drop the hammer even with the safety engaged (that would be bad huh?).....This picture shows the area after fitting the parts.

Next I re-assembled the whole pistol and gave it a full blown test of all the safeties....everything functions properly now, so I guess it's time to head for the range and see how she shoots......

What did I learn ?

Fun stuff today.....I learned a good bit about the inner working of the 1911, such as exactly "How" the thumb safety does it's job. Up until now, I just kinda figured.....well it does something inside that does something else that keeps the thing from firing.....but I never truly understood what it did......a little bit of the mystery has been removed now (at least for me).

I also learned that for the most part, when a reputable manufacturer says drop in....they pretty much mean it. Of course there are always going to be little oddities here and there, no 2 1911's are ever going to be totally identical but quality parts will go a long way towards relieving stress hahaha....

This was also my first real attempt at modifying parts to suit my personal taste. In the past, I probably would have sent the wide thumb safety back to Brownell's for a refund and bought a thinner one to replace it with.....not so any more. I think I must be growing and changing in some small way, because my attitude today was......"ah heck....I can fix that"......of course at the time that thought seemed quite natural, but now as I'm reflecting on the days adventure, I recognize it as a change in mindset.