Most 1911s are built using what gunsmiths semi-affectionately call “bucket manufacturing.” All the pistol’s various parts—frame, grips, barrel, trigger assembly, etc.—are identical. Pull any part out of the proverbial bucket and it will fit with its associated part as well as any other similar part. And that’s how a 1911 assembler does his work. Any additional filing is merely correcting unexpected or undesirable manufacturing variations. There are advantages to this methodology . . .

The military likes/needs bucket firearms. When something breaks on a gun, they need to replace the part without laborious hand fitting. The same applies for police armorers. Bucket manufacturing is relatively cheap and efficient, both at the beginning of a gun’s life and during the course of its active service.

Contrary to some the opinions expressed by some of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia, bucket manufacturing does not produce a highly accurate firearm. It is simply not possible to make parts interchangeable and expect a high level of performance.

I just finished a week custom building a 1911 with Master 1911 gunsmith Jim Garthwaite. We started with a barebones, Springfield Armory pistol. We threw away everything except the firing pin, magazine catch and springs. We rebuilt it with hand-fitted oversize parts.

Beside a quality barrel, two characteristics account for a firearm’s mechanical accuracy: a consistent lock-up of the barrel to the slide and proper slide to frame fit. The only way to eliminate all extraneous movement in the barrel and slide: create a perfect fit. This is only possible with hand-filing and lapping. Machine processes, such as computer-aided milling, are not [yet] accurate or consistent enough to deliver the necessary fine tolerances.

When fitting the barrel to the slide, I saw various dimensions on the hood of the barrel, as well as on the portion of the accompanying slide. When we were done every part was a perfect fit—to the pistol we were working on. The parts were NOT interchangeable with any other pistol. This is how and why custom 1911 builders’ guns sell for $3-$5000.

Accurate yes. Four-hundred yard range? Well . . .

According to my ballistic calculator, a 185gr bullet (Corbon DPX) with a ballistic coefficient of 0.167 at a muzzle velocity of  1075fps, ½ inch sight above the bore line will drop 330 inches. That means that the pistol has to be aimed at a point 330 inches above the target. The bullet’s energy will drop from 475 ftlbs at the muzzle to 228ftlbs. As a comparison, 32ACP DPX has 147ftlbs at the muzzle.

Given that the .45 has very little stopping power at its strongest level of energy (as do all handguns), how much stopping power is offered at half its energy? In practical terms, a man-sized target will be covered up my any iron sighting system at 400 yards—if a man-sized target can be seen at all with iron sights at that distance.

Still, like building your own 1911, it’s worth a try.

15 Responses to The Truth About Building an Accurate 1911

  1. Rabbi, was that his week long class? I have heard very good things about it when it came up on forum threads that followed people’s home builds. These are very interesting. Building a 1911 is definitely on my bucket list (hopefully accomplished sooner rather than later).

  2. I don’t understand why they keep bringing up the “400 yard” shot, you have to be nuts to try and shoot anything 400 yards away with any handgun. How could you ever explain to the DA that you were in fear for your life? I live in RI, and we have to qualify at 25 yards to get a permit. We all know that a real gun fight is going to be less than 20 feet and will be over in seconds.

    • Just as a rub against those that say their handgun can do it 🙂

      The gunmaker that claims it, states that is for offensive military use, not private citizens.

      • 27.5 ft of holdover, no problem! (j/k) I’ve had visions of a 1911 sporting grenade launcher sights since I read that 400 yd claim in the review on his pistol. His website makes the same claims.

        Congrats on the build. I am jealous. Do you have any completed pictures? I’ve always wanted to build a 6″ 1911.

    • So then, does that mean us civilians won’t be allowed to own one of these magic 400 yard guns? Serious question seeing how prohibition is the flavor of the week these days.

  3. There will be an article in the upcoming “The Complete Book of the Model 1911” (which is really a magazine) Not sure of the publish date yet.

  4. I will not be caught using the despised term “b***et list”, but I will admit that building a fine gun for myself, just like building myself a wooden sailboat, is something I hope to do some day. Even if it’s not some day in the next five years…

  5. I would also love to take a class like that. They say 1911 shooters need to be their own armorers. One lesson you didn’t learn in the class from your comments on stopping power is that the .45 acp round will literally lift a man off his feet and throw him back.

    • Oh, no, that was the first lesson on the class! 🙂 Being that James Garthwaite is a defensive shooter and skilled tactician, those words never crossed his lips!

  6. So bucket manufacturing doesn’t work? So High Standard Victors, Sig P210s, Hammerli 208s are all inaccurate pistols? I bet all bullseye shooters wish they knew that.

  7. I realize my comment is two years after your post and the last reply to it, but after reading your comment, “Given that the .45 has very little stopping power at its strongest level of energy…” I simply had to address it.

    It’s true, I wouldn’t be caught dead armed with only a .45 cal 1911 pistol standing in the path of an oncoming Mac Truck or charging elephant, (at least that would soon be my condition if I remained so). I would though, armed with a .45 cal 1911 pistol loaded with just a single cartridge, be confident in the path of deranged assailant. I haven’t any doubt of the outcome after firing a single .45 cal round into center-mass of that assailant.

  8. I have been machining in the aerospace industry for the last 16 years and can assure the author that the geometric tolerance we are able to hold along with the precision finishes on CNC machines are far beyond anything thate i have seen in the firearm industry.

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