From Sow’s Ear To Silk Purse

The first 1911 I ever bought was an officer's model, a High Standard Crusader. A guy had them at the gun show for $400, new. After consulting my 1911 experts, one of whom answered me immediately and another who answered six months later, when she got around to checking her email, I decided to buy it.

It was to be my gateway 1911, my introduction to the church of John Moses Browning. Kimber's quality control was already a coin flip by then, and I didn't have the budget for a high-end 1911, so this one seemed like a good pistol to start with. I figured one day, I'd have the dosh to spring for a nice custom pistol.

It shot great; accurate and reliable. Other than a couple of stovepipes and a couple of instances where the slide didn't lock open in the first couple of hundred rounds through the pistol, it digested whatever I fed it. This is what the pistol looked like back then:

Then, one day at Blogorado a couple of years ago, my groups started to wander all over the place. After first checking to see that it wasn't the loose nut behind the trigger – me – I discovered that the front sight wobbled loosely around in its dovetail. While showing the problem to my gunsmith student buddy, Joe Speer, it fell right the hell off.

"I can fix that for you, no problem," he assured me, "but not here. I didn't bring my tools with me."

"Well, if you have to take it home, go ahead and replace the whole sight," I told him. "Maybe something in tritium, and widen that rear sight notch so I can see a little more daylight."

That was the last time I saw my pistol for two years.

After a couple of months, Joe called and said, "I think I found a sight you'll like, but I gotta do some milling, because this thing doesn't have standard dovetail cuts. I gotta either modify the sight, or put a Novak cut in the slide."

I told him that wasn't a problem. After all, he wasn't charging me for the labor.

Joe called back fifteen minutes later. This is how the conversation went:

"Hey, you ever considered bobtailing your pistol?"

"How do you bobtail a compact? I thought the way you did that was round off the grip frame on a full-size, and then install a mainspring housing from a Commander-length model."

"Well, not a real bobtail," he told me. "A baby bobtail."

"Sure, do that."

*fifteen minutes later*

"Want me to do an action job on it?"

"Sure, why not?"

*fifteen minutes later*

"How about a trigger job?"

"Well, I thought it had a decent trigger already."

"Sure, compared to a Glock. But I think I can make it better."

"Why do I get the feeling you're going through 1911 class right now?"

"Well, now that you mention it…"

"And you need a project pistol?"

"Um, yeah. Would you mind?"

"And what'll it cost me?"

"Nothing, if I use existing parts. If I have to drop in aftermarket parts, whatever they cost me with my discount."


"Sure, bro. Knock yourself out."

In the months to follow, I got back my Hi Standard .22 and my 1873 Winchester, both of which I had sent to Joe for refurbish and repair. Both guns worked and looked great, but still no 1911.

Joe wanted to build a nickeling tank, but being a starving college student, didn't have the cash. So, his friends chipped in $50 each to the cause, with the promise of free refinishing jobs until the end of the time. Wisely, I chipped in my $50. Metal refinishing ain't cheap.

Eventually, Joe graduated and got a gunsmithing job in Alabama, whereupon his new employer chained him to a bench and set him to work like a little Indonesian kid sewing Nikes together. Occasionally I'd call him and tell him to kiss my pistol for me, and tell it Daddy misses it and hopes to see it again one day, and would Uncle Joe look in on it occasionally, you know, in between all the jobs he's actually getting paid for?

And he'd sigh, and apologize, and swear that as soon as he didn't have forty gozillion Remingtons and Tikkas and Rugers needing scopes and boresighting and trigger jobs and glass bedding and bluing and stock refinishing and fixing Bubba's home Dremel work… well, you get the picture.

And then, last week, the man driving the Big Brown Truck of Happiness handed me a package. Inside it was this:

She shoots every bit as sweet as she looks. She digested my range-fodder 230 grain ball ammo and Hornady TAP 200-grain +P JHP with equal aplomb. The trigger breaks like glass, and she shoots nice, very tight little groups.

Seven rounds, slow-fire, unsupported, at thirty feet


Final tally of all the work done:

  • Trijicon tritium front sight, slide milled to fit
  • Rear sight notch widened
  • Trigger job on existing parts
  • Action job with existing parts
  • Frame Cerakoted in satin gray
  • Slide and remaining parts Cerakoted in satin black
  • Schweet custom Star of Life paduak grips courtesy of Mark White at Rimfire Designs

For a total investment of $450 dollars, it was worth the wait. I'll gladly send a gun to Joe again, and this time, happily pay him what he's worth. After all, he's no longer a student, and a guy's gotta eat.

Well, except for the metal refinishing. I already made my investment in that. 😉

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