Lots

I love a machine shop, I love guns, and I love me some Texas. So it was a lot of fun for me to visit STI, the manufacturer of exceptional 1911 and 2011 pistols in Georgetown, Texas. I’ve reviewed STI’s guns quite a bit here, although not formally. My recent post on everyday carry reliability was written after firing 2,000 rounds without lube and without cleaning through my daily carry pistol, an STI Duty One 4.0. It didn’t hiccup a bit, and still shot better groups than I could. STI prides themselves on making guns that run right, right out of the box. That has certainly been my experience, and why I carry one . . .

STI has long been a staple of the competitive shooting circuit. For years they defined the term “race gun”, and still make great race guns today, although the sports that cater to that type of shooting seem to be losing popularity to other kinds of competition these days.

Racegun

Today they sell, as a percentage, fewer race guns and more guns that are appropriate for 3-Gun competition, IDPA, and home defense. STI’s “The Edge” is currently their top-selling gun, but Jens Krogh, director of sales and marketing for STI, believes that may soon move to the Hex Tac series.

Hextac

STI, an employee-owned company, has been in business for 39 years and has about 75 employees, about 50 of them directly involved in gun making. This is the company that invented the 2011 platform, as well as EDM hammers. STI has an internal series of production checks where each employee tests the last employee’s work. Since they are an ESOP, that means that you check your coworker’s product, because if that worker screws up, they are taking money out of your pocket. Quality is a team effort.

Any time I talk to a manufacturer, which was a big part of my job in economic development, I always ask about the number of employees that actually use the company’s product. That question is especially important for firearms manufacturers. For STI, Krogh told me that 75% of their employees purchased their guns during their last employee sale, and about 20% are “hard-core shooters” in their words.

Machinemeasure

Currently, STI makes about 10,000 guns per year. They hope to double that over the next year, and the market certainly can handle it. Demand is still strong for handguns, but to achieve that kind of increase, a lot has to change. First off, they have changed their marketing pretty drastically. A new website and a new catalog is out, and their booth at SHOT Show was entirely different.

Their older material included some pretty awesome art, much of it done in-house by Rabbit Boyett. But that advertising was focused on the top of the market, higher end competitors. Their new focus is on home defense and daily carry, as well as 3-Gun and law enforcement.

Another change is that they have reduced the number of models they offer by about 30%. Right now STI claims that if you order a gun from one of their dealers such as Dawson Precision, you should be able to pick it up within four days, as long as your state and federal overlords approve.

19112011

As far as making the guns, there’s nothing too shocking in the process itself. The stock metal for the parts, frame and slides comes in and is flattened then machined down. Mostly HAAS machines take the guns down, bit by bit, to within about 1,000th of an inch larger than they need to be.

With the exception of the grips, all of the small parts are done in-house by wire EDM. There’s no MIM here. Although I think it’s come a long way, especially the MIM parts that Ruger is turning out, MIM’s still not up to the quality of EDM. 2011 double stack magazines are made and tested completely by hand. Again, that ESOP team quality really shows here. Especially if you screw something up once it’s a serialized firearm. An error after that scraps the gun, and everyone loses.

Magdrop

Once frame and slide are machined down, the magic happens. Parts are then hand-fit to feel. Mr. Krogh told me there is about eight hours of hand-fitting that goes into every gun. Someone sits there with parts and lapping compound and works them until they feel right. That’s takes patience and experience.

Since STI says they don’t intend to hire a lot more people in their ramp up, it’s hard to see how this much hand fitting is going to continue, but they insist it will. The plan is to consider outsourcing some small parts to qualified manufacturers if necessary, and to re-prioritize some machines for efficiency. They’ve been at this almost as long as I’ve been alive, so I’ll trust them to get that right until proven otherwise.

Finally, every single gun is shot in-house. Krogh says that each gun gets at least two magazines shot through it, and they run a mix of budget ammo. They take the attitude that “if it will run this ammo, it will run anything.” So far, that’s been my experience with their guns. They also have a full-on smith shop here where they can customize any finish or add-on you can think of. Although it will add cost and time, if you can dream it, they can build it.

23 Responses to Deep in the Heart of Texas: TTAG Tours STI

  1. STI guns look really cool, but they are far out of my price range. It’ll be another decade before I buy anything of theirs, most likely.

    I will admit I really, really like the idea of a 10mm pistol that holds 22 rounds though.

  2. Hey Where are the reviews for RIA? Ya know Rock Island Armory? Just did a search and found not one for the GI .45? I know,I know they are cheap, offshore made copies of the Hail,Hail Colt 1911. But I’ve had one for about 8 years and it works great. Just wondering?

    • Fun and reliable based on my experiences with their 1911s. A bit of a PITA to get the slide stops back in during reassembly is the only complaint I’ve had (that and the UGLY grips on the mid level full size with upgraded sights, I replaced those). But I’ve shot 4-5 of theirs and liked them.

      • yep, the spring loaded keeper pin sticks out too far. That’s when the green tip .223 come in handy. 🙂

  3. I’m jonesing for an Apiero in 9mm for 3 gun. That Schuemann island barrel looks like the sh!t.

    Baring that the DVC limited in 9mm would be my next choice.

    I’m a few years out though, I need to wear out my XDm 5.25 first.

  4. Man, those things look awesome. Funny how I’ve really come to appreciate a beautiful 1911.

    Speaking of that, I can attest to this sentence: “….especially the MIM parts that Ruger is turning out”

    I just picked up the new Ruger Lightweight Commander over the weekend and man, this thing is a damn piece of art. I think Ruger really created a (yes, stock, relatively cheap, factory-made) masterpiece with this model. It’s light, tight, and absolutely beautiful. Fits your hand like a glove with the thin grips. Once I break it in, it’s probably going to be my new EDC. It’s just so damn thin, light and well balanced, it feels like it’s part of your hip.

    Sure, it aint no $3000 Ed Brown, STI, Les Baer, Wilson Combat – but it sure looks and feels like one! I can’t wait to break it in.

    • I’d be curious to know how the trigger is after break in. The examples I’ve handled have had OK at best triggers (being objective, comparing to the awesomeness a 1911 trigger is capable of, not just at that price range).

      • I should be able to get 250 rounds through it this weekend, but thinking break-in is probably more like 500. It feels pretty nice (to me) right out of the box, but is a wee bit crunchy on the reset. I expect it might shed an oz or two off the pull weight after 500 rounds or so. Other than that, it has zero overtravel and is very crisp.
        But I am definitely not the definitive ‘1911 guy’ to be able to speak to the full level of potential awesomeoness one might see with say a WC, STI, EB, LB, etc…
        It is a series 70 though, so has some potential (with no firing pin block)… A good smith could probably make it a real winner pretty easily.

        • Note: I am planning to use this for CCW, so will not be having the trigger smithed. Only breaking it in. I paid $774 for this at my LGS. That price range for this piece is a pretty awesome value. The slide is as tight on the frame as the one Les Baer I’ve had an opportunity to rack. Not sure if that will change after i break it in. (I’ve heard some others say that their stainless SR1911’s wobble a bit, not my SR lightweight though). Again, I am not an 1911 guy. This will be replacing the G19 that I’ve worn OWB for many years. My friends are kinda laughing, because I’ve never been a 1911 guy (nor against them though). I think I must be getting old now 😉 This 1911 seems like a more mature, classy way to CC. My G19 now feels like ‘a block of plastic carved by a child with a butter knife’ after having this in my hand for a few days…. (yeah, I still love Glock though)

  5. I almost hate to say this but I bought an STI Trojan in 9 mm and it makes my Kimber. 45 feel like a cheap stepchild! I plan to thin the herd and buy an Eagle in .40 next. I am torn on either keeping the Kimber single stack in .45 and get it worked on or sell it and buy an STI Trojan in .45, And no I’m not rich, I sell to buy, I’ve been a Para fan since the mid 90’s but after the STI 9 came to live with me I’m planning to clean house!
    STI ( Strictly Texas Incentive!)

  6. I flat out love me some STI 1911’s, a Spartan V 9mm is on the shortlist of guns I want to buy in the near future.

    • I own the Spartan IV in 9mm and I love it. It was the first pistol I bought and I have no complaints. I shot it with the guys that run the range I use and they were all shocked how great the trigger is on that “cheap” of a 9mm 1911. Replaced the stock grips with Magpul and slapped on Dawson Precision sights (fiber optic front and fully adjustable rear). Total tack-driver

  7. I love that Hex serration.

    I’m in Austin, so if any STI employee wants to let me get in on their next Employee sale let me know (shssssh!)

  8. I just bought a chromed Edge in 45. This is a high quality gun! I’ll have to save up for another sometime soon!

  9. The tan hex pattern gun is a 2011 based On the Marauder and is a 9mm, they are apparently only making 250 in that configuration. Mine should be here in a few weeks.

  10. NEW HEX TAC 5 inch 9mm coming into my FFL and I will pick it up this Monday August 31, 2015 and I hope it will be a day to remember and I am very excited to get it. I am probably the only on in Birmingham or the whole state of Alabama to have the privilege to own one. However I am still a little leary of the purchase since I have only seen a picture of one and never held one. So I don’t know what the grip even feels like even though I am looking forward to getting it Monday.

    I have had two Glock 34’s and sold 1. I love them and still have a two month old G34 Gen 4 MOS. I went out to Fresno, Ca to see some friends and I took my G 34.I missed a still target at 30 yards or a little farther 2 times and hit it two times.

    Then I was handed a gun I had never heard of a STI Eagle 5 inch 40. i shot at the first distant target and hit to left and missed. However, after that one miss I hit every target and did not miss again. I looked at the Eagle and could not believe it. This was the first time I had even shot a 1911 or in this case a 2011I believe. I think the gun made up for some of my bad habits.
    I finally found a Eagle 5 9mm and called to purchase it immediately. Then for what I was using it for the salesman said you need a new HEX TAC but it does cost more . The thing is desert tan and I never thought i would own a gun that was Desert Tan. Since it was a STI and then it was a limited production gun I went from the Eagle to the 2011 Hex Tac. I have never seen or held a 1911 except the Eagle back in June. Since this is a Limited Edition Hex Tac I hope they have got it right since it is a new model. I also wonder if it will hold it’s value. I really wanted a DVC but could find one. Then I took a look at a Night Hawk AAC that I could get but the one I wanted I would have to sell my truck to pay for it.
    I have a Blade Tech Holster and Mag pouches. Blade Tech will need a picture of the gun and I will have to wait over a month to get it. Where can I get a good Quality Holster and Mag pouches? Wonder if is the Holster and Mag Pouches are the same for another STI.
    I hope I worrying for no real reason and nervous for spending $2700.00 for the gun including two mags!

  11. I remember when the STI 2011 platform was being designed in my garage with Virgil being the mad scientist and Sandy being the engineer/computer whisperer back when the company was still called Tripp Research. As an FYI, “STI, an employee-owned company, has been in business for 39 years” I’m 36 years old, so that number is way off. As far as the rest of the info it seems pretty accurate.

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