Few can deny the timeless lines of a classic 1911. Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers screw up Old Slabsides by treating all that real estate like billboards. Not Dan Wesson. The Valor, like most of the DW line, is one of the cleanest looking pistols out there and is a true testament to exceptional quality materials, workmanship, and finish. You can spend a heck of a lot more on a custom 1911, but a gun like the Valor makes that additional money a lot harder to justify . . .
While our G.I.s allegedly used to select an ideal fighting forty-five by giving ’em a shake and choosing the one that rattled the most — loose fit suggesting reliability, especially when dirty — that isn’t really what most buyers are looking for these days. A high quality 1911 is expected to be precisely fit. A truly top-of-the-line 1911 will see almost every last part hand-fitted, often locking up tighter than a bank vault — no play whatsoever, parts fit gaps measured in ten thousandths of an inch, and sometimes slides that you can’t even get out of battery without pressing the muzzle down on a hard surface. Break-in periods of 500++ rounds before they’ll begin to run properly are often par for the course.
The primary goal of this sort of fit is accuracy (and aesthetics), but you pay for it. Literally pay in dollars, as hand-fitting takes many hours of skilled labor and/or the newest, best CNC or EDM machines cost a fortune. You also pay with those lengthy break-in periods and pistols that can’t be disassembled without tools or even racked without mechanical assistance. Oh, and backlogs can be measured in years from the time you place your order.
Now, somewhere between box-of-rocks loose and space station airlock tight must be a happy medium; a gun that’s essentially like a full-on custom after it has fired a few thousand rounds, which is when many say they begin to hit their stride. My apologies for the long intro, but I think this is precisely the niche that Dan Wesson has nailed.
Through the use of modern CNC equipment, tooling, and processes which DW began implementing in 2000, the company is able to maintain extremely precise tolerances. When dimensions are spot-on, less hand fitting is required to achieve the precision demanded by the high-end 1911 market. Considering the absolute top quality materials and parts that comprise a DW 1911, the lower MSRP ($1,701 for the stainless Valor) compared to most of the 1911 custom shops is likely due in large part to this savings on man-hours.
Just to be clear, every single piece on the Valor is hand-fitted, polished, and blended. Rather than purposely making oversized parts and filing them down, though, I believe DW comes much closer to the mark in the first place, finding time savings there.
Unlike many custom shops, it’s my opinion that Dan Wesson chooses more appropriate clearances. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m not the biggest fan of being forced to finish the fitting process on my $3,000+ pistol by shooting 500, 1,000, 1,500 or more $0.50 rounds of .45 ACP through it — often with frustrating reliability issues and painfully stiff moving parts — just to get a reliable handgun. This may not be the general perception, but if the slide needs to cycle a thousand times before the necessary minimum clearances are worn in, then I think it was too tight coming from the factory.
I’d prefer to receive a pistol that already has the proper minimum clearances to function, and this is where Dan Wesson lives. To be clear, they’re still tight guns.
Slide-to-frame fit on my Valor leaves absolutely no wiggle room that I can feel, up-and-down or side-to-side, whether in battery or with the slide locked back. Despite this, it cycles smooth as glass and as easily as the recoil spring allows.
Please note that this Valor is a “BLEM” version, so designated for a slight mistake with the ejector pin hole. Well within proper spec for most companies, DW is obviously extremely picky and checks out every pistol very closely, and a non-blem may have nicer ejector fit than my example. Honestly, if it hadn’t shipped with a QA diagram circling and describing the blemish, I would have never found it, probably assuming they accidently put a perfect gun in a “BLEM”-labeled case.
Bushing fit is more precise than I’m capable of seeing or measuring. No light is visible between bushing and barrel, and I’m apparently not skilled enough with a caliper to reliably measure whatever tolerance is here (e.g. if the bushing ID is 0.00x” larger than the barrel OD).
Bushing-to-slide fit is also extremely precise, without being ridiculous. I feel like it’s just barely tighter than I’m capable of turning by hand, and the Valor does ship with a polymer bushing wrench in the box. There is zero play between bushing and slide.
Barrel lockup is the same story. When in battery it proves to be the rare pistol that gives no play at all in the barrel-to-slide fit. Wiggling a dowel in the muzzle or pressing on the barrel hood in various ways does nothing. Bank vault, while at the same time absolutely not being that custom piece that literally requires you to place the muzzle on a hard surface and push down on the grip to break it free. Again, I consider this ideal — as tight as I’m capable of detecting without requiring $500 in ammo to fire fit.
Parts fit is excellent. In this category not everything is blended as perfectly as on some custom guns, but the Valor still leaves very little to be desired. Gaps are consistent and very tight, with no misalignment of things like the grip safety and mainspring housing and pins fitting perfectly in pin holes. The largest parts fit gap anywhere on the gun is probably on either side of the grip safety.
Another possible source of the low-for-this-level-of-quality MSRP is the fact that Dan Wesson doesn’t manufacture every part on its 1911s. Grip safeties, mainspring housings, slide stops, barrel bushings, grips, sights, and springs typically come from a combination of other companies such as Ed Brown, EGW, Grieder, Wolff, VZ, Heine, etc. All of these parts are carefully sourced and are best-of-breed and, again, they are all hand-fit. I’ve heard that Jarvis makes DW’s barrels but I’m not sure if that’s the case or if DW makes or partially makes (i.e., everything but the rifling) them in-house. You may be happy to know that there are precisely zero MIM parts in a Dan Wesson.
Whoever makes the slide stop, I do appreciate the bevel. It helps idiots like me avoid the dreaded “idiot mark.”
The parts that DW makes come from bar stock tool steel. That would include the sear, hammer, disconnector, thumb safety, mag release, and maybe the GI style guide rod but I’m not sure on that one.
Slide and frame are forged stainless steel, machined by Dan Wesson and then hand-lapped for that smooth, precise fit.
The frame sports very clean, 25 LPI checkering front and back and an undercut trigger guard.
The magazine well has some more-or-less standard beveling on the sides and back.
The Valor is a “Series 70” style 1911, meaning it has no firing pin block. Safeties include the grip safety and thumb safety. Plus a half cock notch if you consider that a safety. While the Valor is not an ambidextrous gun, its tactical-railed brother, the Specialist, sports an ambi safety (in addition to some other features like a flared mag well).
Circling back to the beginning of the review, one of the things I love about Dan Wesson’s 1911s is how incredibly clean they are. The Valor has classic looks with no front cocking serrations or accessory rail and combines that with a slide and frame devoid of superfluous markings, logos or adornments.
The Valor is available in matte stainless or, like this one, Dan Wesson’s black Duty finish. Apparently a form of ferritic nitrocarburizing, it’s flawless and uniform and tough as nails and black. Really black. The blackness. Granted, I really don’t know what I’m doing behind a camera, but trying to photograph the Valor was more frustrating than usual. The only other pistol that gave me such a hard time was my Springfield Professional, which was an older Nowlin-barreled example with the black hole of black finishes (a couple of collectors told me it was different from the current Black T finish). Auto focus doesn’t even work reliably on the black parts of these guns.
Awesome as it is, the Duty Black is a ~$300 option so it doesn’t exactly come cheap.
Like a few other pistols in the DW line, the Valor wears a set of Heinie LEDGE Straight Eight Night Sights. The front post has a white outline around the green tritium vial and the serrated rear sight has an amber colored tritium dot. These are defensive/tactical sights, with the rear sight employing a flat front to allow for single-handed racking of the slide along with a wide notch to facilitate rapid front sight acquisition.
The trigger on this Valor breaks at 4.25 lbs every time. There’s a couple millimeters of slack (there’s no pretravel adjustment) before a dead stop against the sear. At this point it’s rock-solid — zero creep — until you get to 4.25 lbs of pull and you’re rewarded with a crisp, clean break. A set screw in the trigger face adjusts for overtravel, and I didn’t have to tinker with mine. It felt perfect out of the box and stopped solidly with no extra travel.
I’ve pulled a decent number of exceptional triggers, including custom 1911 triggers, and this one is right up near the top. For a production gun, it’s spectacular.
Two Metalform mags were in my case, although I understand that DW uses Checkmate mags as well. Stainless steel including the follower. 8-round flavor.
Function has been flawless for me and the 8th round goes in without too terribly much trouble. However, when fully loaded there isn’t much additional room for the follower to go farther down. With the slide forward, I was not able to lock a mag with 8 rounds in it in place (the bottom of the slide has to push the top round down, and it just can’t go down far enough). Basically, despite having 8-round mags, my Valor was a 7+1 affair. Zero issues with 7 rounds in the mag and, with the slide locked back, fully loaded mags snick into place smoothly.
While quick to acquire, the sights aren’t ideal for ultimate precision. The rear notch is just too wide for me to align exactly the same every time. At least that’s how I felt. Five-shot accuracy groups from a sandbag at 15 yards looked pretty good, though.
On The Range
The white target ring around the front tritium dot is a nice touch, and I found it easy to pick up. Again, the wide rear notch makes finding the front sight fast and this all works very well for shooting steel on the range. I even drilled my FBI Q target from 50 yards offhand a few times. I think I’d be even more accurate with a narrower rear notch, but I obviously wasn’t suffering here.
Certainly, the stellar trigger is a big help. It’s so clean and consistent with a nice reset and short overall travel that doing my part and pressing it smoothly was second nature.
Control wasn’t an issue with that great 25-LPI checkering. It’s sharp and precise but feels good in the hand. A definite contrast from my Springfield Pro, which had razor sharp 20-LPI checkering ostensibly designed for use by gloved operators. Yes, it was grippy as hell but it was also downright painful for extended range sessions. On my first day out with the Valor I put 200 rounds through it and felt great. Grippy, controllable, and comfortable. If .45 cost less I could shoot the thing from dawn to dusk.
It isn’t entirely fair of me to say that no Dan Wesson is going to require a break-in period, as there will be instances when that’s necessary and your gun will likely ship with cleaning and break-in suggestions in the owner’s manual. DW suggests firing 300-500 rounds with regular field stripping, cleaning, and re-oiling before one of their 1911s should be considered “competition/combat ready.”
When my brand new pistol arrived I field stripped it, oiled it, and then went shooting. Reliability has been completely flawless through hundreds of rounds and it has yet to come apart again for cleaning. A couple boxes of factory loads from American Eagle, Magtech, and Tula (yes, steel cased) and a whole bunch of reloads and the pistol is getting dirty but has fed, fired, and ejected every single round.
The thumb safety is an excellent size and shape for me and has a very positive detent. Not difficult, but a really nice “snick” on and off.
Dan Wesson’s Valor is a sweet shooter. It’s a blast on the range. It’s smooth, reliable, consistent, tight, accurate. It’s what should result when you use top quality materials and parts and fit them together with skill and care. Interested to see how it stacks up to some of the big names in premium 1911s? Check out this shootout done by Dave Severns, comparing detailed build quality, clearances, accuracy, and more.
The fact that you can buy this pistol off the shelf and get [at least] the quality of a custom gun that can easily cost twice as much and take over a year to build is practically mind blowing. I really liked my Springfield Pro a heck of a lot. It’s a dream gun for many 1911 enthusiasts and it’s awesome. But I like the Valor more. I think it’s a better gun for less money. It also actually functions properly right out of the box.
Specifications: Dan Wesson Valor
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel Length: 5.00″
Overall Length: 8.75″
Weight: 38 oz
Sights: Heinie Ledge Straight Eight Night Sights
Grips: VZ Slimline G-10
Weight: 38 oz
MSRP: $2,012 in Duty Black, $1,701 in Matte Stainless
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
Ergonomics: * * * *
About as good as a 1911 gets. The beavertail, curved thumb safety, slightly extended mag release, and checkering all work great for me.
Reliability: * * * * *
Works out of the box and the parts quality will keep it ticking for a long, long time to come.
Trigger: * * * * *
Customization: * * * * 1/2
It’s a traditional 1911, so you’ve got that going for you. I’ll knock off half a star since there’s no accessory rail on it. If you need to adorn the front of your pistol, check out the DW Specialist.
Overall: * * * * *
I’d consider a fully custom 1911 for the ability to truly have it made just for me. You know, spec out exactly what I want for checkering and slide serrations and trigger, hammer, slide profile, etc etc. Short of that, there may be brands with more caché and much higher price tags, but I’m not sure anyone does a better 1911.