A couple of weeks ago RF called me to say Cabot Guns wanted me to test their Black Diamond 1911. Again. “Cabot wants you to come up to Pennsylvania, see their facility and shoot the gun.” My initial reaction was not positive. “You should just let them know it’s probably not going to go well,” I told him. “Three bad reviews in a row won’t be helpful.” According to RF, Cabot insisted. They said their job wasn’t finished until a customer was completely satisfied. Well, I’m not a customer . . .
I wanted to be one. But based on my previous experience with the firearm’s reliability, I couldn’t see myself paying the freight. Still, I respected the attitude. Cabot had a gun that didn’t run right. The company was going to work on it until I was happy. And they were risking yet another bad review. Performance over publicity. A very rare thing.
So I called Robert Bianchin who fronts Cabot Guns and laid it out for him. I would go, but if the gun didn’t run exceptionally well, my third (and final) review would tell the truth about Cabot guns. Three strikes looks a whole lot worse than two. I also let him know I had an ulterior motive.
One of the guys I deployed with during my first tour in Afghanistan lived about two hours away from Cabot’s HQ. I haven’t seen the Old Infidel in years. So if he was willing to pay for me to come up and see my friend and shoot a gun, I’m on board. To be clear, they paid most of the travel expenses ($25 a bag is robbery, US Airways) but they did not pay me in any way.
So RF and I showed up in PA on Sunday night. I tried to ignore the fact that there was some kind of frozen white stuff all over the ground. I hear New England is having an infrastructure crisis, but really, you people should do something about that stuff. It’s everywhere. And it puts me in a foul mood.
Come Monday morning the white stuff was still on the ground (the horror!) and it was still cold. Something about my appearance must have given away my mood; Robert looked at my empty hand and put a coffee cup into it. I’ve killed a lot of men but never with a coffee cup in my hand; he was just keeping everyone safe. Wise choice my friend, wise indeed.
Mr. Bianchin met us at the door of Cabot’s PA HQ. The first thing I noticed when I walked in wasn’t the gleaming 1911s in gorgeous cases. It was the the wood. I’m a bit of a collector of fine stringed instruments (I don’t have a problem, I can quit any time I want…really). So I always notice interesting wood. Mr. Bianchin scours the earth for quality scale material; he has some truly outstanding pieces in his office. After another cup of caffeine, we went into a smaller office to look at samples of Cabot’s 1911s.
I’ve said it in two previous pieces, and I’ll say it again. These guns are gorgeous. Their photos do not do them justice. Not even close. The burled ironwood grips are better than any I have seen. Mammoth tooth ivory, amber (yes, amber) and any wood you can think of, and the best versions of them all, adorn their sides.
The finishing is amazing. Mr. Bianchin brought out a set of custom 5″ compensated guns that were spectacular, with a glacial blue finish. I’ve never seen a blue like that, or a finish executed so perfectly. The guns’ polish reminded me of the flat glassy water of a limestone-bottomed pond. Only something so perfectly flat can have that kind of depth. Oh, but you have a hard-chromed 1911 done by Mr. Supersmith that’s the best finish ever? No. Shut up. Your finish is stupid.
More coffee, more talk, more gorgeousness. We spent an hour or so talking about their manufacturing process, which is really very impressive. But I finally had to say it: “I don’t really care what goes into your guns. I just care what comes out of them.” I explained, as politely as I can (RF says I need to work on my tact). That none of what I saw really matters. “If you just want to make art,” I said, “don’t put a firing pin in it.”
Bianchin explained that the Black Diamond’s failures to feed were exclusive to my experience. The company’s best ‘smiths had examined the gun in great detail, made some changes and made it right. I would have ample opportunity to test the gun again. I made it clear: “that gun, not just any gun.” I knew the serial number, and I wanted that gun again. And I didn’t want to take it home. Either it shot like a champ that day, or not at all. After all, I’d spent enough time on this gun already.
Challenge made. And to Bianchin’s credit, challenge accepted. He even added that the Black Diamond – like all his guns – should shoot any ammunition within SAAMI spec. Right answer.
First, I ran the gauntlet of a facility tour. And I’m glad I did. I love a machine shop. They feel like infinite possibility. And man oh man does Cabot have a machine shop. They make their guns with machines that are both old and new: a blank grinder that was over 60 years old, as well as wire and sink EDM, and even the CMM. These guys could build a spaceship in their shop. That’s not an exaggeration.
At the end of the tour, Rob and his crew took me to the assembly and test room to show me what they’d done to the review gun. Ray Rozic and the rest of the team are exceptional engineers and armorers. They walked me through, in detail, what they had tested, what was wrong and what was fixed.
They polished the Black Diamond’s breach face again. They radiused the feed ramp on the frame. And they loosened the extractor to 14 lbs. Which, oddly enough, is exactly what I said needed to be done in the first place. (Dyspeptic Gunsmith nailed it without touching the gun. Much respect sir, much respect.) Those two things – a round entering the breach incorrectly combined with a tight extractor – will cause all sorts things to go wrong with a 1911. And they had.
So, enough chit chat. To the range!
To the ice cold, freezing-my-butt-off, Jesus-I-am-not-prepared-for-this range. Cabot provided the gun I’d shot before. They also surrendered two others: one of their Bullseye guns and Jones model in Black Nitride instead of the high polish. (By the way, Cabot will black nitride the entire gun, then remove the black nitride from the outside, ensuring a high polish outside and a completely coated interior, if you like).
Cabot’s staff also brought tubs of ammo. Every kind of ammo you can think off. Boxes of the same CorBon and Winchester white box that had failed before, the cheap stuff like TulAmmo, and every kind of hollow-point imaginable.
I shot hundreds of rounds out of the gun I’d shot before. RF shot even more. I shot at least 400 rounds myself. I had one weird failure – a round stove-piped high into the action. It had never even entered the chamber. It was one of the Winchester PDX1 rounds I carry daily. In fact, I’d pulled the magazine out of my daily carry on my hip right there and chambered it in the Black Diamond. The last round in the magazine stove-piped. It was also dented to hell. I’ll be honest: I don’t know if it was dented before or after.
We ran two more boxes of PDX1 with that magazine without a failure of any type. We tried it with different grip types, with the magazine pushed down against the table and without. We tried to induce the failure, but couldn’t.
Then we shot another 100 rounds of all sorts of rounds. I used different types of magazines and different types of rounds. I mixed-up rounds inside the magazine. Different brands, different weights, different round types, in the same mag. I limp-wristed two magazines on purpose. I even shot rounds not looking at the target, just squeezing the trigger as fast as I could, reloading, and doing it again. That one stove pipe was it.
Ok. TTAG readers who have laced into the $6k Black Diamond for its failures-to-feed can stand down. They were right then. The gun is reliable, now. By any reasonable standard, the Cabot Black Diamond is very reliable. And so I turned to the question of accuracy.
I was getting cold. By this time, my hands were so cold I was having trouble loading a magazine. Now, I’m not real smart when it’s warm, but I’m not bright at all when it’s cold. So with my hands shaking to hell, it was time to shoot 50 yard groups. Previously I’d shot 15 yards from the kneel with my arm, but not the gun, resting on the table. Seven of the eight rounds touched, with one (called) flyer. That’s the best shooting I can do. It’s not as good as the gun can do.
Standing unsupported firing at 50 yards with open sights, I shot one five-shot group. It had an eight-inch spread. I shot one five-shot group at 50 yards seated off a front rest. Four of the shots were within four inches, and the last one about eight inches from that. Folks, that’s about as good as I can shoot at all. And it’s not that bad, but I’m sure others can do better. Either way, we solved the accuracy question. This is what a quality 1911 can do.
So, are other 1911s more accurate than this gun? I don’t think so. I think this is about as good as you get there. It’s certainly as good as I get. Are there more reliable 1911s out there? I doubt it. Not more than the factory-tweaked and tested Black Diamond. It’s not just that it ran a lot of rounds, it’s that it ran so many different kinds of rounds, from a guy trying to cause a failure, and still be fair about it. The Black Diamond 3.0 ran like a champ, as advertised.
I spent another night in Pittsburgh and thought about it. After passing on this gun twice before, would I want it now? Yes. Absolutely. Here’s the big one [ED: from a combat vet]: would I trust my life with it? Yup. Any day of the week. Would I carry it? Every day of the week.
I appreciate the trip and the opportunity to see an old friend. But I also appreciate this level of customer service. Did Cabot just send me another gun, which most people would think was good enough? No, they fixed the original gun, changed their manufacturing process to incorporate the input, and invited me to test it again. They treated my critique as a challenge. Instead of just ignoring me, they rose to it. That is service at a level very rarely seen. In fact, I don’t know that I ever have.
A Cabot Black Diamond with tritium sights and ironwood grips is now on the shopping list. If we meet, you can put a few rounds through it before you order your own.