Advice for the first time 1911 buyer

Discussion in 'General Firearm Discussion' started by wichaka, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. wichaka

    Wa State
    Well-Known Member

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    This is a post found over on, by an acquaintance of mine. Very helpful for the first time buyer, and may answer many questions before you feel the need to post yours;

    If you are a first-time 1911 buyer, the number of choices out there is overwhelming, to say the least. For example, take a look at this thread. It shows there are over 100 current and former manufacturers of 1911-type pistols, with perhaps a third of those still in business. Therefore it's no wonder why we keep having "Brand X vs. Y, help me decide" threads with monotonous regularity on this forum. I think its safe to say that the 1911 is easily the single most copied handgun in existence, and probably the most copied firearm period, with the possible exception of the AK-47. As a result, trying to educate anyone on which brand is "best" is a total waste of time. There are cheap ones and there are expensive ones. There are ones with quality issues and ones that are exemplary samples of the gunmaker's art. Funny enough, price doesn't always determine this, and you can easily have a cheap gun that works great or an expensive one that doesn't. But in general, when shopping for a 1911 use this for a guideline:

    1.) Decide on your budget ceiling. Keeping what I already said in mind, generally speaking more money will buy you a better 1911.

    2.) Stick with forged components for the barrel, slide, and frame. While good guns using cast parts do exist, a pistol with the major components made from forged steel will be the better gun all else being equal.

    3.) Watch out for cheap small parts. This is where a lot of manufacturers keep their costs down by using investment cast or MIM (metal injection molding) components. If you're going to have the pistol gutted and built up by a gunsmith anyway it may not be a big deal, but try to stay with something using as many forged or barstock parts as possible.

    4.) Pay attention to the fit and finish. Watch for heavy tooling marks, poor fitting and blending of the parts, uneven edges, off-center machining cuts, and rough assembly such as stiff thumb safeties, hammers that don't smoothly snick to half and full cock, and heavy, gritty trigger pulls.

    5.) The importance of slide to frame fit is overrated by most people, as it has only a minimal effect on intrinsic accuracy. The fit of the barrel to the slide is far more important. As a matter of fact the original design drawings for the 1911 called for at least a small amount of play in the fit of components to keep the pistol from being sensitive to dirt and lack of lube. However on a $1500 or higher pistol I would expect the slide to be reasonably snug as a matter of pride, and also since I'd expect a pistol in the upper price ranges to be a tack driver. I do think it's unreasonable however to expect a $700 mil-spec pistol to be fitted like a custom gun. One thing to consider is that the 1911 was originally designed as a combat pistol, not a target weapon. The current trend towards tightly-fitted pistols is in the interest of better accuracy, but it takes a competent gunsmith or assembler to make the parts fit well and still guarantee reliable function. That is why the more expensive pistols cost more, in addition to using better-grade parts overall and showing greater "detail" in the fitting of components. Often you get lucky and find a pistol in the lower-end price bracket that is both accurate and dependable, but in general when looking for cheap, accurate, and reliable, you must pick two out of three.

    6.) Pay attention to the features. Basically 1911 pistols fall into two categories: "Mil-Spec", meaning they are based on the appearance and features of the old USGI pistols, and "Custom", which these days can mean anything but usually refers to pistols with modern features previously only available installed by a gunsmith. These include high-profile sights, beavertail grip safeties, front strap checkering, and so forth. Your best bet is to find a pistol that already has the features you like, as it'll save you money on gunsmith fees in the long run. However if you're not sure what you really want, I would suggest starting out with a quality mil-spec pistol (like a Colt 1991 or Springfield GI) then later having it built up as you please once you know what you really want to have done. The advantage of a mil-spec is that you can make whatever changes you want later, while a pistol already set up as a "custom" may have features you don't care for but cannot be changed to something else (for example, proprietary sight dovetails).

    7.) Don't cheap out on magazines. Why some folks think it's okay to feed their pistols using $15 aftermarket mags and still expect reliable functioning is completely beyond me. Magazines are at the heart of a semi-auto pistol's reliability, and a cheap one will cause problems in short order. A quality 1911 magazine will usually cost $30 or more, so when you see some priced at half that you should understand that shortcuts were made to enable those mags to be priced so cheap. Unfortunately some 1911 manufacturers actually ship their pistols with sub-standard mags to save money, which is why some owners run into problems right out of the box. The only recourse is to buy some high-quality aftermarket mags to go along with your pistol.

    8. Don't forget to clean and lubricate your new pistol before use. New pistols only ship with preservative oil inside them, which often has gone dry anyway by the time you bring your new pistol home. Be sure to do a proper field-strip and lubrication prior to your first range trip. Running a tight new pistol that's bone-dry is just asking for a malfunction to happen.

    9. For your first range visit, use only new factory-loaded FMJ ammunition. Test your new pistol using proper SAAMI-spec ammo at first, so that if you run into any problems you can't blame the ammunition. Using factory-loaded ammo also preserves your warranty. You can always go try out JHP's or your pet reloads in it later once you know the pistol is working right. And if it doesn't work right, for goodness sake don't try fixing it yourself. That's why manufacturers have warranty departments, so make them do it. It's their responsibility to sell you a new gun that actually works in the first place.

    10.) Lastly, only consider factory-new pistols with a manufacturer's warranty. Used guns can often be a great value, but they can also be trouble if they were modified by a previous owner who wanted to try his hand at home gunsmithing but didn't know what he was doing. Trust me, there are a lot of those out there, and if you don't know how to spot a kitchen-table gunsmith's work you'd better stay clear of the used gun case altogether.
    ATCclears, EMP9596, safetyman and 5 others like this.
  2. DeanfromOregon

    Amateur Ascended Master Platinum Supporter

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    11. For your first one, handle many of them and make sure you find one that you like. Do not buy the first one you see.

    12. Yes they can be modified. Put 1000 rounds through it before you do anything to it. This includes grip and trigger work. I have some sweet ones that are tweeked to fit me, and great little shooters that are bone stock. You don't have to put an extra $500 into a gun just because a group of guys said so on the internet.
    kumabear17 and (deleted member) like this.
  3. Phrank

    Forest Grove
    Active Member

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    Nicely written and timely for me, looking to buy my first 1911. Nothing terribly surprising here but very refreshing to see good solid advice clearly presented with no ego. Thanks
  4. Cougfan2

    Hillsboro, OR
    Well-Known Member

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    Once again, wichaka spouts 1911 wisdom for the uninitiated, or even for those that have already gone the 1911 route and said "WTF, why did I do this?". . As a 1911 addict myself, I appreciate the sage advice.

    Great thread!
  5. MountainBear

    Sweet Home, OR
    Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    Also, be prepared. One 1911 is rarely enough. They have a habit of multiplying...
    solv3nt, BAMCIS, Oklahomie and 4 others like this.
  6. Skang

    Well-Known Member

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    Simple way to put "You get what you pay for" :)
  7. spookshack

    Forest Grove, OR
    Life Member Lifetime Supporter 2016 Volunteer

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  8. One-Eyed Ross

    One-Eyed Ross
    Winlock, WA
    Well-Known Member

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    13) Buy lots of bullets, because you'll be having fun shooting it
  9. hawmanai

    SW OR

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    Uh oh. Looks like I found another guns for sale forum to haunt. Another member and soon to be a 1911 addict.
  10. safetyman

    Clark County, WA
    Active Member

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    This kind of information is awesome! Potential 1911 buyers like myself appreciate having this much knowledge in one post which practically sums up all the "which 1911 should I buy" threads in the search function.

  11. wichaka

    Wa State
    Well-Known Member

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    I have made many a offer in the past. My small and humble shop is open to anyone who wants to learn about the clockwork of a 1911. No charge...
    Oklahomie and (deleted member) like this.
  12. MinnesotaORnewbie

    Active Member

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    I have some advice I wish I would have thought about before my first 1911. Since it is the buyers first 1911, money is probably a concern. This obviously does not pertain to someone that can spend $1000 to $2000 grand as if it was daily spending cash. I did my homework and a lot of research. I also rented a few guns, tried other peoples guns to help make the best choice. Here's the problem. I bought a brand new 1911, shot it, cleaned it, and absolutely loved it. At that time in my life I did not have a lot of extra spending money. This 1911 was actually the only pistol that I owned at the time. I had planned on using it as a field weapon, carry and conceal, truck gun, and every other possible use. Once I owned it, my plans on using it for everything quickly failed simply because I was too concerned about scratching, or dinging it because of my love for it and the cost. It was not that I planned on selling it but it was so dang nice and only having one pistol, I could not bear to see it showing signs of use. I know this is weird or funny but I soon realized I wish I would have saved my money and bought a good quality gun yet one that I would not mind if it showed signs of use and purchased the show piece at a later time in life. If you don’t care about scratches or holster wear, go for it. But if you are like me and take pride in the condition of things you own, buy one that you will use because soon after your first, you will want another or maybe even build one like many do with AR’s.
  13. fxdc

    Da Valley

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    Good write up! 30yr IPSC/STEEL guy here and tool/die experiance.

    I just rack and push down on barrel to ck lock up, if it don't move at all this includes slide movement. It GTG for me as I will gut it and build wiyt Ed brown and Wilson parts !
  14. Medic!

    East side Portland
    Pain in the neck. Gold Supporter

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    I think a 43-45 GI 1911 is a good option. No MIM parts. A $1000 can get you good to like new base 1911 with no MIM parts with good parts fit leaning towards relibility. Just add features and finish to your liking. Problem today is that with all the builders of 1911's most dont have the parts quality of a shooter GI 1911. How much to bring a new Colt up to 1945 military quality? I'm talking all machined parts? Strange a expensive collector WWII gun is now a cheep source for a no MIM 1911. Show me another $800-$1000 non MIM 1911 option?
    I allso like Dan Wesson 1911's. Good parts and fit. Basicly your questions 1,2,3,4,5,6,= my Dan Wesson CCO. Others may do as good or better for under$1400? Value means diferent things to people. I started with small parts quality.[No MIM]. Forged slide/frame. Then it needed to be put together well. Finaly for me was features. Price needed to be as low as posible but give me the parts and build quality I required. Thats right. I was very flexible on features. I am a less is more guy, so as long as there were not a lot of things on the gun I wouldn't use, or be able to make use of, I was happy. I don't buy a gun with features thinking they will make me a better shooter. Just like buying a lambo wouldn't make me a race car driver. I am basic. So I wanted a basic solid well fit gun at a good price for the quality. With my usage,I would probibly be fine with a cheep MIM 1911. But it is an old world gun. So I wanted one true to the 1911's spirit. Built with machined parts. I allready have a glock.
    ZigZagZeke and (deleted member) like this.
  15. teflon97239

    Portland, OR
    Well-Known Member

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    14) If you buy one with wooden grip panels, shoot frequently and carry it holstered, it's just a matter of time until the grips get dinged up a little. Certainly not the end of the world unless you're investing in a pretty-looking safe-queen. Hogue, Pachmayr and a number of others sell cheapo hard rubber grips that take a beating gracefully while your nice wood ones rest safely in a box in your gunroom. I find I prefer the feel of $16-18 rubber grips anyway, and I put them on any 1911 I shoot.

    If you're inclined to share, we'll all be interested to see what you decide to get.

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