Question - External or Internal 1911 Extractors?

Hi There,
A few years back, various manufacturers were switching to external extractors on their 1911's - like found today on Glocks, XDs, M&Ps, etc.
Now when I look at their recent 1911 models, they've gone back to the original internal design. Why is that? I thought the external was better.
The original design was for the internal extractor. The problem came when makers messed with how the extractor was made, and what it was made of.

The original was made from a mixture of carbon and spring steel.

Fast forward almost 100 years, and they started making them from cast or MIM steel...and they hence forth had problems. Makers thought they could get away from the "problem" extractors by going to an external. Problem is, they didn't make the hook to the specs of the original, and it too was a disaster.

The original designed extractor is fine, as long as the hook is properly made and prepped, and it's made from either the original mix, or solid bar stock steel.
Thank you for that info. It now makes sense. I thought the manufacturers were making a mistake going back to the original design. I guess Ol' John Browning knew what he was doing!
1 In the beginning was the 1911, and the 1911 was THE pistol, and it was good. And behold the Lord said, "Thou shalt not muck with my disciple John's design for it is good and it workith. For John made the 1911, and lo all of his weapons, from the designs which I, the Lord, gave him upon the mountain."

2 "And shouldst thou muck with it, and hang all manner of foul implements upon it, and profane its internal parts, thou shalt surely have malfunctions, and in the midst of battle thou shalt surely come to harm."

3 And as the ages passed men in their ignorance and arrogance didst forget the word of the Lord and began to profane the 1911. The tribe of the gamesman did place recoil spring guides and extended slide releases upon the 1911 and their metal smiths didst tighten the tolerances and alter parts to their liking, their clearness of mind being clouded by lust.

4 Their artisans did hang all manner of foul implements upon the 1911 and did so alter it that it became impractical to purchase. For lo, the artisans didst charge a great tax upon the purchasers of the 1911 so that the lowly field worker could not afford one. And the profaning of the internal parts didst render it unworkable when the dust of the land fell upon it.

5 And lo, they didst install adjustable sights, which are an abomination unto the Lord. For they doth break and lose their zero when thou dost need true aim. And those who have done so will be slain in great numbers by their enemies in the great battle. a

6 And it came to pass that the Lord didst see the abomination wrought by man and didst cause, as he had warned, fearful malfunctions to come upon the abominations and upon the artisans who thought they could do no wrong.

7 Seeing the malfunctions and the confusion of men, the lord of the underworld did see an opportunity to further ensnare man and didst bring forth pistols made of plastic, whose form was such that they looked and felt like a brick, yet the eyes of man being clouded, they were consumed by the plastic pistol and did buy vast quantities of them.

8 And being a deceitful spirit the lord of the underworld did make these plastic pistols unamenable to the artisans of earth and they were unable to muck much with the design, and lo these pistols did appear to function.

9 And the evil one also brought forth pistols in which the trigger didst both cock and fire them and which require a "dingus" to make them appear safe.

10 But man being stupid did not understand these new pistols and didst proceed to shoot themselves with the plastic pistol and with the trigger cocking pistols for lo their manual of arms required great intelligence which man had long since forsaken. Yet man continue to gloat over these new pistols blaming evil forces for the negligent discharges which they themselves had committed.

11 And when man had been totally ensnared with the plastic pistol, the lord of the underworld didst cause a plague of the terrible Ka-Boom to descend upon man and the plastic pistols delivered their retribution upon men. And there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land.

12 Then seeing that the eyes of man were slowly being opened and that man was truly sorrowful for his sinful misdeeds, the Lord did send his messengers in the form of artisans who did hear and obey the teachings of the prophet and who didst restore the profaned 1911s to their proper configuration, and lo, to the amazement of men they didst begin to work as the prophet had intended.

13 And the men of the land didst drive out the charlatans and profaners from the land, and there was joy and peace in the land, except for the evil sprits which tried occasionally to prey on the men and women of the land and who were sent to the place of eternal damnation by the followers of John.
An article by John Schaefer, that sums up the above.

"While the above was intended to be (slightly) humorous it really is the truth. Old John Browning really knew his stuff and his tolerances and his selection of various alloys for specific parts were well thought out. Nowadays, the use of a plethora of itsy-bitsy pins and springs in the design, and use of metal injection molding (MIM) parts is rampant. While they can be very rugged, the quality of MIM parts depends on how much care is utilized in their manufacture, something that is not often up to snuff, and their hardness is usually just on the surface. Smoothing the parts can frequently cut through the surface hardness. In addition many "modern" designs can not be completely stripped down to their component parts except by a gunsmith with special tools or training.

In the name of "super accuracy," many of the modern variations and custom pistols are made way too tight especially in the slide to frame and bushing to frame fit and many custom barrels have very tight chambers. (One big name 'smith is notorious for guns so tight that on new pistols the slides stick when manually cycled until they have worn in.) A tight slide to frame fit really isn't needed for accuracy. As long as the barrel to slide lock-up is consistent the pistol will shoot where it is pointed and shoot small groups. However, if tested in a Ransom rest which mechanically holds the pistol by the frame, they don't appear to group well since the slide is not held consistently in the same place on the frame. However, when held in the hand and sighted they group just fine.

Speaking of grouping, unless you are a national championship level bullseye shooter trying to eke out the very last decimal point in group size you don't need a tight chamber and overly tight tolerances. The same goes for the barrel bushing. Having it fitted to the slide so tightly that it requires a major effort and special tools to remove accomplishes nothing that can't be done with a fit that can be removed by hand or in the worst case by using a magazine base plate for leverage.

Even a "rack" grade GI pistol will out shoot all but the best marksmen. As a case in point back in the mid-70s Tom Campbell, then of S&W, came to my club and shot an IPSC match using a non-selected, loose, GI 1911 (not an A1) with issue sights. He easily won the match by about 15 points shooting against folks with expensive custom pistols. It's the shooter, not the gun!

Two bad trends, IMHO, are the current fad of using Allen screws or Torx head screws on the 1911, and the use of square profiled hammer struts. With original spec'd parts no tools are needed to detail strip the 1911. The shaft of the safety can be used to push out the mainspring housing pin, the hammer strut can be used to drift out all remaining cross pins, and the lips on the sear spring can be used to remove the grip screws and magazine catch latch. While you shouldn't need one, if you are enamored with full length guide rods be sure you use one that does not require any tools to disassemble the pistol.

If the extractor is properly shaped and tension is properly set, if someone hasn't mucked with the internals, if there are no burrs or razor edges internally, and the magazines aren't crap, they'll work every time. When I was active in competition I had a 1911 that went close to 150,000 rounds (Yes that is correct--it was used by several people all the time.) without a single malfunction using both ball and semi-wadcutter ammo), at which point I stopped keeping track of things. The only thing ever done to it was to replace the recoil spring once a year, and keep it cleaned and properly lubed. The extractor was replace at around 80,000 rounds when a small nick was discovered. I sold it to a friend and as far as I know it is still running."
Smith and Wesson is still building 1911's with external extractors. I'm SEVERAL thousand rounds into mine with all kinds of ammo (all brass, none of that steel wolf crap) without a failure of any kind, related to the extractor or otherwise.

So while I would generally agree to not stray too far from old JMB's design, I would argue that if he were still alive today, he'd have taken it about where Ed Brown has. Improvement of an over 100 year old design is not belittling the designer, rather its a testament to the strength of the design. 100 years later and people are still using it as a basis for carry guns, duty guns, race guns, and competition guns. But there's always room for improvement. The only perfect guy I know of (that would be God), never designed guns during his physical time on earth.


Cerberus Training Group - Skill Builder - Pistol/Rifle Combo
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Arms Collectors of SW Washington Gun Show
Battleground Community Center
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Millican, OR 97701, USA


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