According to the good folks over at Wilson Combat, here are ten factors you should consider when shopping for a high-end (i.e., expensive) 1911. The check list is biased towards their own products (d’uh). But it’s not a bad guide for those of us who like to settle for the best . . .

1) Overall parts quality. Is the frame or slide a casting or machined from a forging or billet? Is the slide stop injection molded, a casting or machined from billet?  Are any of the internal action parts Metal injection molded (MIM) or castings instead of properly machined from billet steel? Are all of the parts made in the USA? Are quality magazines supplied with the pistol?

2) Clean machining and cosmetic details. Is your checkering straight without overruns?  Are your slide serrations clean and straight? Are logos properly applied and machine cuts free of chatter? Is the finish applied evenly and smoothly?

3) Quality Control and Inspection. Was your new pistol test-fired? Does it have a target verifying point of aim?

4) Trigger Action. Is the trigger fitted with a minimum of up and down play and overtravel. Does the sear break crisply without excessive creep or perceptible sear movement?

5) Feedramp. Does the pistol have a smooth, deep frame feedramp that measures a minimum of .350” deep from the top of the frame rails. This is essential for reliable feeding of hollowpoint ammunition.

6) Bowtie cut. Does the frame have the bowtie cut? Where the barrel lugs impact the frame there should be a round cut to allow the top of the barrel feet to impact the frame “bowtie”. This is essential for a 1911 that will last many thousands of rounds.

7) Barrel/frame gap. Your barrel feedramp should sit off the frame ramp with a slight gap present. This allows the round to feed smoothly and is essential for feeding hollowpoint ammunition.

8) Snug slide to frame fit. A little play is essential for high-round count reliability, but your slide/frame fit should be smooth and snug yet easy to retract. Smooth is the key.

9) Crisp operation of the safety parts. Your thumb safety should snap on and off crisply-not mushy or too soft or stiff. Your grip safety should be easy to disengage in a high-hold firing grip.

10) Seamless blending of all parts. Is there enough carry bevel performed so you new pistol won’t tear up your holster or hands at the range? Pay special attention to the front of the magwell, hammer, mainspring housing and front/rear of slide.

21 Responses to Wilson Combat: How to Shop for a Custom 1911

  1. Thanks for that. While I’m glad to see the start of serious price competition bringing up quality, this list is an excellent resource. Far too many casually state they’d “never pay” such and such for quality-manufacturing.

    Price/quality, industry-wide, has a ways to go. An informed public is our best weapon. Thanks.

  2. I’ve been wanting a Wilson ever since I saw RF’s beauty, but I’m having a tough time picking out the right one for me. Robert’s old beauty would do nicely, but there are so many to chose from that I’ll most likely end up with a few of these bad boys. I’m also willing to take any suggestions from anyone out there who has tried any of the Wilsons.

  3. Larry Vickers….Wilson Combat……kinda like a Playboy Playmate….nice if you can afford her, but not necessary. I’ve carried as a (cop-shhhh) Colt series ’80 Enhanced government and commander pistols for 20 years. They work just fine with all hollowpoints ( I prefer Winchester Ranger 230 JHP). And they cost a hell-of-a-lot less than the ‘custom’ jobs. Yeah, I’ve used them in ‘real’ shootings…they work…sorry Larry. I’ll keep my 5K.

  4. “machined from billet…”

    Feh.

    I wish people would learn what a steel “billet” actually *is*. Here’s a picture of several sources of steel billets:

    http://www.tradekorea.com/product-detail/P00066092/Billets.html

    No one is whittling down a bar that size for gun parts, OK? The steel in billets is rolled (hot or cold) into more suitable sizes for market use.

    http://www.stemcor.com/steeltradingproductstraded.aspx

    Same comment applies to aluminum, except aluminum billets are round logs, about 6 to 18″ in diameter, and up to 300 inches long. Don’t believe me. Go ask Alcola about their billet products. They’ll be happy to sell you some – by the truckload. Don’t go to Alcola asking for a little block of aluminum just a tad over the size of a 1911 frame or AR-15 lower. They’re going to laugh at you and point you to an outfit that makes aluminum plate or bar – from billet.

    Next, I don’t understand their implication that MIM parts are somehow inferior to parts machined from solid stock. I’d like to see some numbers to prove that MIM parts are inferior, because I know that MIM is used as a manufacturing process in a lot of areas where the consequences of failure are higher than a parts failure in firearms. Think about the consequences of a jet turbine engine doing a flawless imitation of a artillery round and you start to understand that MIM is used in some very high-stakes applications. MIM and powdered metal are very well proven technologies. The carbide inserts I use on mills and lathes were made from powdered metal. I have high speed tool steel bits I use that are also made from powdered metal injection. They take a lot more abuse than most any gun part ever will, and they work quite well.

    What is somewhat ironic is that Wilson is almost certainly using carbide insert tooling on their production lines. I’ve yet to see any gun maker using CNC machines for production of steel products that doesn’t use at least some insertable carbide tooling. They’re making noises that powdered metal is inferior… while probably using powdered metal to make their product…

    • This.The common usage being that it was milled from a stock piece of steel/aluminum and not sheet metal/cast/MIM. That is not accurate.

    • I have personally seen MIM parts break on several handguns. They were not clean breaks, and there was evidence of voids inside the metal…You could see by the texture that there were air pockets.

      Keep in mind, too, that those tool bits are made because there isn’t another tool bit that can mill them out. So they HAVE to be done that way. And they are for very special applications, and are quite expensive.

      MIM in the firearms industry isn’t used to produce super hard bits that can not be made any other way…Its made to save money, so they can make more profit.

      And it all depends on how you define billet.

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/billet

      Now, when you CNC machine a chunk of metal, its easy to tell if its good to go, or if it isn’t. It either fits in there and works, or it doesn’t. And assuming that some one didn’t really screw up the heat treating process or something else, thats that.

      However, MIM needs a MUCH higher level of quality control and inspection to determine absoluteness if their parts are free of defect. And its expensive to do, even if you test very infrequently. And anyone whos using MIM is trying to save money, anyway, so why would you trust their quality control?

      • I use the definition of the people who actually make, sell and deliver steel and aluminum. It helps avoid confusion when I’m placing an order. If I get on the horn to one of my metal suppliers and say “I’d like billet of XYZ metal…” I’m going to have a a logistics issue when the 18 wheeler shows up, asking where the 10K pound capacity forklift is and then presenting me with a much larger bill than I anticipated.

        BTW, I have personally seen metal “machined from billet” break. It’s easy. All you have to do is put a sharp inside corner at a point where the piece receives a shear-type load. eg, someone who turns down the back lugs of a bolt from a rifle and makes a sharp inside corner. Big no-no. It should be a fillet corner. Another cause is poor heat treating, or choosing the wrong type of steel.

        Lots of stuff breaks inside guns. A goodly percentage of what breaks is because someone ham-fisted something along the way.

        The bigger question, MIM or “billet” aside is this: What is the source of the steel? Is it certificated? Did the manufacture using said steel do any QC on the steel? Did they verify the source? Did they perform any testing to verify content? Was it heat treated prior to delivery? Did someone verify the efficacy and consistency of the heat treatment?

        Same questions apply to MIM.

        In today’s manufacturing environment, one has to verify everything. Thanks to our idiotic obsession with “free trade,” no one in manufacturing can accept any claim about any material without verification. Ask anyone who has had to deal with counterfeit bolts (and I mean the little bits of steel with a hex head, a threaded shank that accepts a nut – not a rifle bolt). It’s a BIG deal. It’s just as big a deal for sourcing steel.

        BTW, as good as US steel might be, for certain weapons applications, the Germans still make better.

        • “In today’s manufacturing environment, one has to verify everything. Thanks to our idiotic obsession with “free trade,” no one in manufacturing can accept any claim about any material without verification. ”

          This…mostly.

          I would add “process, place of origin, etc.” I’m sorry, but nearly everything about manufacturing can be done on the cheap. Which is why you see forged wrenches at harbor freight.

          And when it comes to manufacturing firearms in quantity, nearly everything written on the box is marketing overstatement or outright BS.

          I’d never pay for a Wilson Combat 1911, but I know if I did that I’d be paying for the reputation that someone “did it right” and took their time building me a top tier firearm. The minute they lose that, they’re out of business.

          WC, along with everyone who makes anything of any real quality, is fighting the “marketingization” of manufacturing…where anyone can machine a crappy piece of steel with dull end mills and call it “billet”. Or where someone can use the crappiest possible stainless and still claim invincibility to the elements. Or where any fancy paint becomes a “coating”. It goes on and on. And don’t get me started about the overuse of the term “mil-spec”.

          In the end it comes down to us as consumers. When the geezers talk about how guns “used to be made”, they’re right. We as consumers (and a civilization) have allowed companies to make everything with less quality so we can get anything in quantity.

  5. I dunno, Ruger has a lot of cast parts. I have worked in the casting industry for years and castings can be good if procedures are done correctly. Internal shrinks are the really big problems with cast steel parts, but if gated and risered correctly, they can be OK. There are several ways to check a casting for voids as well. Depends how much faith you have of the manufacturer.

    • You need to find that happy medium between “My weapon was made by the lowest bidder” and “I carry a gun that costs more than most used cars”.

      When I buy a handgun, I want to make sure its built the right way. Sure, who cares about a MIM safety. If it breaks off, the gun will still shoot. But when you start go get into parts that are seriously important to the functionality of the firearm, are you going to trust a company that produces them as cheaply as possible?

      • There’s a big difference (process wise) between MIM and investment casting, FWIW.

        And all companies produce firearms as cheaply as possible (for their price range and category). That’s why they’re called gun companies and not gun charities.

    • For the same reason you don’t just buy a Hyundai. Because you are willing to pay for diminishing returns. Because you want that extra little peace of mind. Because it looks better. Because it will hold its value better. Because you want to show off.

      I don’t have any high-end 1911s. I find Dan Wesson is about as good as I want, at about as high of a price as I want. But if you want it, and can afford it, go with God. A good gun that holds its value is free to own: you can buy it, own it, shoot it your whole life, and then you or your heirs can sell it for as much as a newer version – or possibly more, if it’s collectible. Net cost for a lifetime of owning a fine weapon: nothing. If you make a profit, they paid you.

      That never happens with cheap guns. In the long term, it’s actually cheaper to buy expensive guns.

        • I can see the scotch, but spending $3,000 on a single pistol is just silly. For that much money, I could get two of the rifles I’ve been lusting after and maybe enough money left over to buy another handgun.

          $1,000 is the top of the price range I’d consider spending on a handgun. Anything above that just seems excessive.

  6. My Ruger SR1911 (finally) arrived last month and I couldn’t be happier with it. And at $700 my savings account couldn’t be happier, either. 🙂

  7. I might buy a 1911 some day, but there’s no chance that I’ll spend more $1,000 for one. If I’m spending $2,000 or $3,000 on a gun, it’s going to be a rifle of some sort.

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