The 1911 .45 ACP combat pistol, invented by John Moses Browning, set the groundwork for most modern pistols. It’s a trusted combat handgun that has been used in more theaters of combat than any other weapon. The 1911 is still a popular choice as a self-defense/carry gun to this day, especially for concealed carry due to its slim profile.
So why does the pistol have a reputation for reliability issues? Despite its distinguished pedigree and extensive military service, the 1911s that you can buy from Wilson Combat, Kimber, STI or even Ruger, and Springfield Armory aren’t the same 1911 that was originally manufactured by Colt.
Small variations in manufacturing and assembly can cause some issues, but there are ways to minimize or completely eliminate problems you may be having with your 1911. Here are three ways to easily improve the reliability of your 1911 pistol…if it needs it.
Magazines are a very big deal for the 1911. Many malfunctions can be caused and remedied with this seemingly simple piece of equipment. If you look at how a 1911 feeds ammunition, you’ll notice that the cartridge does a lot of work in the process.
The cartridge makes a sharp turn up in order to get in line with the barrel. Compare this to something like a GLOCK or other modern pistol. GLOCKs have the cartridge more in line with the barrel from the get-go, so the slide pushes it mostly straight in. The cartridge does less work so it’s less prone to getting hung up.
If the magazine’s lips let go of the cartridge too early, hold on too long, or the mag spring is too stiff or weak, this whole process can get hung up.
Then there’s magazine life. Some mags may work initially, but due to poor design/materials/manufacture, can wear out quickly. Wilson Combat, Tripps Research, and Chip McCormick are three magazine manufacturers that are known for their reliability. If you are having feeding malfunctions with your 1911, pick up one of those magazines and see if that doesn’t solve the problem.
The extractor is probably the BIGGEST culprit for most 1911 feeding malfunctions. It’s also one of the easiest things to fix since it doesn’t require any power tools.
Extractor tension is the first thing to look at. This is the amount of force the extractor uses to grab a case. If the extractor has too much tension, the cartridge will have trouble getting under it, causing a stoppage.
Adjusting the tension is all about feel. If you pass a case through the extractor it should feel “magnetic,” not hard like a physical speed bump, but like moving a piece of metal past a magnet.
Another way to test for proper tension, and the way I prefer, is to place a cartridge under the extractor and give the slide a few good shakes. The cartridge should fall out after 2-3 good shakes. This also requires some “feel” on your end since a “good shake” can’t really be measured. As long as the case doesn’t fall free from gravity alone, or require real effort to remove, you should be okay.
You can adjust the tension of your extractor by bending it. I like using the slide, though there are plenty of other ways to do it.
Stick the hook end in and bend. Bend towards the hook for more grab and away for less. This is a light touch kinda thing. It doesn’t take much effort to adjust the tension, so make small adjustments. You may end up going back and forth between too much and too little a few times before finding the sweet spot. Be patient and gentle.
Here’s a good video from Wilson Combat that illustrates this.
Another thing to adjust on the extractor is the hook contours. You want the bottom edges to be rounded and smooth so the case is easily guided under the extractor. If the edges are sharp or square they can snag the brass.
Shaping the hook with a small needle file and sanding with high grit like 600 or higher will do it. If you can, polish it. Most modern extractors SHOULDN’T need this if the tension is set properly. But it won’t hurt. If I’m messing with the extractor, I’ll usually contour and polish the underside.
All of this pertains to feeding issues. If you’re having extraction/ejection issues, make sure the rake on the extractor hook is correct. It should be neutral or slightly positive. A negative rake may allow the case to slip off the extractor before it is extracted or ejected. If the extractor has a negative rake, squaring it may solve the problem, but it also may require a new extractor.
This step requires some gunsmithing, so a Dremel or rotary tool of some sort is kinda required. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, have a good gunsmith do the work for you.
First, you want to properly throat the barrel. I recommend using a needle file or metal scraper for this step unless you are VERY confident in your Dremel skills. Most 1911 barrels have limited throats. This creates hard corners and edges that are good at snagging case mouths and bullets (see the right barrel in the above photo).
Match the existing angle and carry it up both sides so that edge is removed. Be VERY careful that you stay away from the opposing chamber wall. Don’t scratch that.
Before sanding and polishing, check the barrel throat to feed ramp gap. There should be a gap between where the feed ramp ends and the throat starts. This gap should be roughly .031″.
This can be tricky to measure, so don’t worry too much about whether you have “enough” gap and just make sure you have “some” gap. What you DON’T want to see is the throat line up perfectly with the feed ramp on the frame. That can create a snag point for incoming cartridges as well as make it harder for cartridges to get up and in.
Fix this by maintaining the existing angle on the throat and pushing it back a little. A “little” is the keyword here. Too far and you can have unsupported brass.
Once fully throated and the gap is set, polish the ramp to a mirror finish. This includes the feed ramp on the frame. Be sure to maintain the angles.
A great test to see if you were successful in your reliability improvement job is to feed an empty case. If your 1911 can feed an empty case, then feeding wadcutters, hollow points, and ball ammunition should be no problem.
Bonus tip: replace your recoil spring every 5000 rounds.
I want to point out that some of what I described — especially the throat work — is best left to a competent gunsmith. Even better, a gunsmith who specializes in 1911s. Messing with an extractor isn’t a big deal. It’s a cheap part that’s easily replaced. The barrel, on the other hand, is not so cheap or easy Outside of giving it a good polish, I don’t recommend hacking away at your barrel unless you’re prepared to buy a new one and have a gunsmith fit it.
While these are the main things I would look at for improving your 1911’s reliability, everything else plays a part in the end result, too. If the bushing and barrel fit is off, it won’t run right or be accurate. If the trigger job is botched, you’ll get hammer follow or just have a horrendous trigger pull.
The thumb safety needs to be properly fit otherwise it will put unnecessary pressure on the sear or allow the gun to fire even when the safety is engaged. The grip safety should be tuned so it disengages with minimum movement. You can drastically change the feel of the gun by playing with the mainspring weight, recoil spring weight and the angle of the firing pin stop plate.
That being said, if you have a gun built by a good gunsmith or a good manufacturer from good parts, you will have a handgun that’s as reliable as any other and SIGNIFICANTLY more accurate. I’ve gotten 1.5-inch groups at 50 yards from a ransom rest. I’ve heard about 1911s doing 1-inch or better, though I have yet to see it myself. If you don’t think that level of accuracy matters, then you’ve never been held responsible for every bullet you’ve fired.
The 1911 platform is still the king in the competitive world and a go-to weapon system for many professional gunfighters for a lot of very good reasons.
Dude, they say they are, but I don’t like the way they look on a 1911. That shouldn’t matter, but it is my money.
Please Turn the heat up on EXTRA HIGH on the GOP & Trump to STOP Gun Control!
Contact Congress 202-225-3121
Its sad we have to do this but, liberty requires eternal vigilance! Make sure u tell them everyone u know will not vote for them & stop the millions in donations u have been giving them….that will get their attention!
When I hear of “red flag” laws, this is all I can think of.
3 other ways. SIG
Four by my count…
What the 1911 aspires to be 😉
Funny, you never see an article on 3 ways to make your S&W M&P more reliable
What are professional gunfighters in today’s world? I may be wrong to assume the term gunfighter doesn’t refer to competition matches.
Professional gunfighters in today’s world? I have the same question. Maybe mercenaries? Maybe ganbangers?
That’s a hard question to answer, and in the same way that it existed during the mid and late 19th century, (and maybe a little longer in Texas and the Southwest) I’m not sure it exists at all anymore in this country.
I guess it depends on what you mean by the term. if we go by what it generally meant in the 19th century, when it was coined, we’re not talking about soldiers, marshals, sheriffs and policemen. Although many of the men that were referred to as “gunfighters” in those days were usually one those things at one point, they were all hired “man killers”. That was the term that Bat Masterson, and many others of his time preferred. “Gun killer” was a popular term at the time as well.
These were men that were hired to protect specific areas or cargo by force, were hired by the government (city, state, or federal) to rid an area of gangs or natives, or were hired by agencies to track down specific men “dead or alive.” (By the way, some organizations, like the Texas Bankers Association, paid nothing for the capture of live bank robbers. They only paid for dead ones.)
Many of these men would have been made “Special Rangers”, or some other kind of temporary position, but they were not often regular law enforcement.
Using that old definition, I don’t think that profession exists inside this country anymore.
Seems like the only thing comparable to that these days would be overseas private security like blackwater ect…
On the “Bonus Tip”, 5,000 rounds is more than most companies recommend for their factory springs. 2k to 3k is more common. However, for not much more money, you can purchase quality springs from a few different manufacturers that will easily last 10-15k without any issue, sometimes much more.
Recoil spring weight, design, material and replacement is a common question, and worth a detailed article on its own.
I just change out all the springs with the best quality I can find every year in any of the pistols I regularly shoot. This is probably a bit too late on a couple, way too often on some others. I end up with a bunch of extra springs, and that’s a feature, not a bug.
I used a spare gun spring to fix the gas hatch door on my 4runner. Works a charm.
Had to check the date. I thought I had been teleported back to 1985.
I may still have some magazines that have been fluffed and buffed.
Any suggestions on how to create that gap between the feed ramp and the throat of the barrel on platforms where the barrel is rigidly attached to the frame and feed ramp?
My father has a handgun with that exact problem — and cartridges do snag on that tiny boundary between feed ramp and barrel throat. The only solution, as far as I can tell, is to remove the barrel and then remove about 0.02 inches of material and reshape the barrel throat. Only problem is that removing the barrel appears to be next to impossible.
Bersa Thunder .380 Plus
I believe those are “direct blowback” and the barrel is rigidly attached to the frame.
I researched “how to” videos for how to remove the barrel. It looks like it is quite the difficult procedure. I am pretty ambitious when it comes to kitchen-table gunsmithing. Based on what I saw in a good video, I am lacking confidence in my ability to remove the barrel without ruining the gun.
I have one. I’ll take a look at it tonight and see if there’s an easier way, but first I’d try a new mag if I were in your shoes.
Thanks Mr. Taylor.
I don’t think a different magazine will help because the bullet literally digs into the sharp exposed edge of the barrel throat when it jams, which happens about every third or fourth cartridge. If the barrel was set forward about an additional 0.010 inches, it would run like a champ.
I tried polishing the feed ramp and the barrel throat as a unit as best I could with a rotary tool and polishing compound and it did not help. (I could not find a good angle to polish the ramp and throat so as to remove that ever-so-slight sharp edge on the throat.)
My Makarov has the barrel fixed to the frame. If i remember correctly it requires a special tool to change the barrel. Maybe hit the web and see if Bersa has such a tool?
I believe the Bersa is the exact same construction technique as a Makarov. I will investigate and see if Bersa has such a tool.
Yep. My daughter has a Bersa. There ain’t much difference in the Mak, the Bersa or the PP-PPK types from Walther. Least ways not in the insides.
I think I can easily make my own barrel removal tool with some threaded steel rod, a couple washers, a couple nuts, and a tube that is just wider than the barrel’s outer diameter but smaller than the outer diameter of the rounded part of the frame that holds the barrel. I also wonder if it would help to gently heat the frame that surrounds and holds the barrel.
Thank you for the suggestion.
Of course, if all else fails, I can simply clamp the frame in a vice and tap (beat) the barrel backwards.
It’s a pretty known issue with the Bersa (Just the Fire, not the Thunder if I recall) and you are dead right on it being near impossible to get the right angle to file at. Mine would FtF on the 2nd or 3rd to last round in any magazine likely due to lack of spring tension at that point to push it over the known flaw, known flaw being a poor casting on the frames feed ramp leaving many (me included) with a bur looking imperfection that woukd snag brass causing it to tumble. When sanded down/polished, mine anyways, ended up almost melding the frame feed ramp to the barrel feed ramp. After that gun runs great on any brass or bullets I use. I still truthfully don’t trust it but that’s 100% mental as I have had no issues since.
I purchased it many years ago because I always wanted a PPK as a James Bond fan but Stupid Cali Roster wouldn’t let me have one. Packing up my Family and Moving to Texas fixed that amongst other things.
What part of the cartridge is getting hung up?
The Star BM has this issue with certain JHP rounds. The simple fix is to go with ammo that has a smaller diameter hollow point hole and/or has a polymer cap in the HP.
If it’s happening with FMJ then obviously this is not your fix.
Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately, even ball ammunition hits that sharp edge and will not feed into the chamber.
Another way to say it is that Bersa removed too much material when they machined the feed ramp in the pistol frame. Thus I have to make a more aggressive feed angle on the throat of the barrel to compensate and introduce a gap (however small) between the point where the feed ramp ends and the barrel throat begins.
This is the same symptom but almost exactly the opposite cause as compared to the BM. Yours is much more of a PITA.
Personally I’d attack the issue you describe from an entirely different angle by adding metal to the gun and reshaping the whole thing but that’s probably not a road to go down for most people that don’t have a strong TIG background.
The sad part: I would only need to add about 0.010 inches of material to the feed ramp which is integral to the frame. Unfortunately, I have no experience TIG welding. (I have scant experience with MIG welding of steel.)
My father also has an inexpensive 1911 where the front site fell off the slide. It looks to me like I will have to epoxy it, solder it, braze it, or weld it. I am reluctant to use epoxy because I just don’t trust it to maintain hold with huge forces and heat that accompany a slide. I am reluctant to weld it because it will be really hard to avoid adding too much additional material AND it could easily end up changing the properties of the steel from the extreme heat and cooling. And I am concerned that brazing it could also change the steel properties. So I am thinking of soldering it. However, will even soldering it be strong enough? (I have top-notch soldering skills by the way.) If a quality soldering job will not be strong enough, I think I am left with brazing (which I have observed before but never done myself).
What do you think? Epoxy? Brazing? Soldering?
For reference this is a “utility” firearm and appearance is super low priority. Reliable function is the highest priority. (And so far it is supremely reliable, functioning flawlessly on all ammunition thus far.)
I’m not a 1911 fan myself but I see the attraction people have for these guns. Rather than dremel a barrel i would replace it with a barrel designed that way. Cutting or grinding on the metal may fatigue it or if done wrong ruin a barrel.
It’s usually much more work to fit a barrel than to shape and polish a feed ramp.
Oh my God yes.
Jewelers rouge and a bajillion rackings combined with more aggressive polishing or stoning.
Yeah…I polish 10 feed ramps before fitting a new barrel.
I guess i really dont miss all that.
Everything’s fun until it’s work.
When it’s a new project, it is fun. I guess building a 1911 then is like building an AR now.
The first one is great. The second never goes exactly like the first.
Then you buy one thas HAS to be done,…..and the honeymoon is over.
But it does make a slick and tight 1911.
I also remember the first Beretta 92 I shot. The action made me think of a honed and tightened 1911. Glass on glass.
Chamber it in 6.5 Creedmoor
Use Glock mags
Upgrade to a government approved 10 round mag.
PARA USA Expert in stainless. Was a $299 Black Friday deal some time back, maybe five years? At Sportsman’s Warehouse. When did PARA move into Remington’s new plant, it was made just before that.
Anyway, darn thing has worked fine with everything I’ve put into it. All this stuff abou 1911 problems I’d been hearing for so many years, I finally buy one and all it does is work.
I’ll keep trying to break it I guess …… or wear it out.
Similar experience with my Para Elite Commander- hasn’t choked yet!
I bought the same gun in black from the same place at the same time for slightly less money and I have had the same results, it just eats everything I put in it and it’s accurate too. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I went back the next day to buy a couple more, all gone.
I wanted it in black too but by the time I got mine it was the very last one left. That store set no limit and I’m watching people rolling shopping carts out of there with six each of a pistol or a rifle, etc. I only got mine because the guy in front of me failed his background check and I had my concealed permit in hand, so no NICS required!
I thought the 1911 was the greatest thing ever made?
I’m confused as to why we need to make it more reliable.
We will not tolerate blasphemy against the M2. Choke yourself.
Not with your hands, with my hands!
The only time I’ve seen recurring reliability problems with 1911s was when someone either home gunsmithed it or reloaded ammo incorrectly. I have replaced magazines because they didn’t feed properly, but that was easy to diagnose and fix.
I have a factory Kimber Stainless II that will only feed FMJ ammo – it hates hollowpoints. I’ve changed mags, tried different ammo, nothing works. Yet the inexpensive low-grade Remington 1911 that I also own eats everything I throw at it.
This is why 1911s are strictly range toys for me.
Have you tried sending it back to Kimber (I’m avoiding the obvious slam on Kimber)? But you just said your Remington is reliable, so why is it a “range toy”??
I’ve personally seen a couple of Glocks malfunction to the point of needing repair, does that make all Glock-like guns “range toys”?
I’ve had an M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, AR-15 and lever actions malfunction, yet I’d rely on any of them for serious purposes.
“This also requires some “feel” on your end since a “good shake” can’t really be measured.”
You could just by an Ed Brown.
My 1911s in all calibers are reliable. Just get Wilson Combat magazines and your 1911 will be as reliable as any other pistol. The other thing you should do is clean lube every so often.
Just about all 1911 malfunctions are a badly tuned extractor. Many are way too tight from the factory.
Easy, buy a Glock! Carries more ammo and weighs less…
A lot of people just don’t like striker fireds.
There are many options other than a 1911 or glock that offer hammer-fired reliability. As do some 1911s, I’m sure. But if I’m looking at a carry piece and not a range shooter, I want something I don’t need to mess with to make it reliable.
Some 1911s you have to mess with to make relaible. Particularly the low end ones. Although there’s high priced ones that aren’t much better. That’s what happens though when nearly every single gun company out there makes their own version. But there are plenty of 1911s that work out of the box with no tinkering.
Something must be wrong with my 1911 because it’s never malfunctioned.
Sell it and buy a glock
I picked up a R1 Enhanced LW Commander on a whim. It hasn’t given me any issues but I still prefer strike fired guns for some reason.
Sure Remington sucks, but it is a sexy pistol, and I guess I got lucky when I got a good one. The features for the price were kind of a steal. I think I got it on sale for $450 or so. Now they are back up to $600.
4) Buy a plastic striker fired gun.
I must be lucky!!
I’ve got 10, 1911 pistols that range in price from $550 to over $2k!
The one and only 1911 to give me any troubles at all is a Browning 1911-380. And that is ONLY when I feed it crap ammo. Most people that shoot it, love it, as do I.
The brands cover the already mentioned Browning, Colt, Kimber, STI, Les Baer, Springfield Armory and S&W. Are they all 100%? No, but neither are any of my Sig DA/SA, Glock or SA striker fired pistols. Nor are any of my revolvers 100%
But for sure, the 1911s that I have, and have shot that belong to others, have been nearly 90%-95% reliable.
And that, is good enough for me.
I think this article was well written and all the information was well organized. I believe everyone needs to remember that this is the opinion of one individual who is knowledgeable in this subject. Nothing he says or writes is the law. You don’t like it then disregard the information and move on with your life. Matt is the best gunsmith I have ever met and can out shoot every single one of you. #ChangeMyMind #FullSendSandy