Know Your Smith

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Occasionally, I will receive a job or view pictures of work that needs to be gone over or "fixed."  There are many choices for smiths to work on 1911's and any other firearm, but doing your homework and becoming familiar with the work of the gunsmith that you choose will pay dividends in the end.  Make sure you have seen either documented pictures of your gunsmiths work or actual physically held something they have worked on.  Experience in the business is important, but not as much as being able to judge their talent by seeing or handling their work.  Talk with your smith, ask questions, make sure you are confident that you explained your expectations thoroughly and that your smith understands exactly what you want.  Show your smith pictures of your ideas or what you are wanting in the long run.  If your smith doesn't do specific options, he will most likely know somebody that does.

Recently, a customer approached me with a Springfield 1911 that another smith had installed a Dawson Fiber Optic sight and a Novak rear sight on.  The job was to install the sights in a low mount profile with the design of the Novak sight.  Though the smith is in fact well known, and builds some very nice pistols for a specific style of shooting, he either was not familiar with this type of sight or was not familiar with the expectations of the customer.  I won't answer any questions regarding the name of the smith, location, or any information on what type of guns he builds. 

Here is pictures of the initial job supplied by the customer


 You can see the work from the smith was unsatisfactory and performed similar to the old Hardball style of pistol.  Older generation shooters might remember the installation of the Bomar style sights on the top of the slide using the GI style sight cut to mount the sight.  You can see the dovetail on this sight was cut by hand as well as the front sight was installed backwards.

Here are some close ups of the sight pockets

You can see the smith didn't deburr or finish the front sight pocket.  There is a bit of material left on the forward corner leaving a sharp spot which would easily cut a finger or snag some clothing.  The rear sight pocket has a small cut on it where I removed some material prior to welding.  This was to ensure I have good penetration.

Here are some shots of the sight pockets after welding

You can see I've already done some welding and a little cleanup of the welds.  The beads you can see are just to touch up the low parts and again make sure there is good penetration.  The welding isn't the prettiest welds in the world, but they are complete and there are not pits.  You can also see on the nose of the slide where the dovetail was too close to the forward edge, and created a "dish" when the welding was complete.  I had to rebuild the font of the slide to fill that dish and blend it back again.


After welding, it's a good idea to heat the area up again and relax the material.  Do this by heating it up and annealing the area with Kitty Liter.  This is a good trick to eliminate hot spots and high carbon areas.  This is key to make sure there is no weld marks or "watermarks" that show up in finishing.

Here are some pictures of the draw filing and polishing

 You can see where I draw filed the top of the slide to make sure it is nice and straight.  It also gives me a chance to view the surface for imperfections, warping, and pin holes in my welds.  Notice the nose of the slide is now fixed?  I also left some material off where the new sight cut would be.  I don't like welding too much and it gives the cutters less work to do in the long run.

Here is is in the vice on the mill

You can see the progression of the sight cut and how it cleans up.  Unfortunately, the focus was off on the front sight pictures so I can't load them on this page.


Here are some shots of the slide with the sights installed correctly

As you can see, the sight on the front is too tall and needs to be trimmed down.  I shoot the gun in the Ransom Rest and mark the height it needs to be trimmed down to.  This particular sight will be blended with the top of slide and drilled out for a Fiber Optic Rod.  After the sights are trimmed and tuned, the gun will be bead blasted an a few other parts fit to it.

Here are some shots of the slide finished with sights installed

There are many styles and unique differences between smiths, and some specialize in certain areas of their work such as Bulls eye pistols or Bedding of DCM Match type rifles.  One thing is for certain, not every smith that works on a rifle, pistol, or shotgun may be competent to do work that is satisfactory on all types of firearms.  I personally work on Military style rifles and of course, the 1911s are my specialty.  I do work on other types of pistols and long guns, but I do turn away work that I don't feel comfortable with completing.  There are many styles of firearms and I simply haven't had the experience to work on everything the market has available.  Make sure your smith is willing to discuss their competence and understanding of the job before committing to the work.  Also, ask questions.  Make sure that you and your smith are in complete understanding of the work to be performed so there is no discrepancy and possibility for your needs and expectations to not be met.

I have another pistol in the shop that needs to be reworked, and I will try to document a few other aspects of work that did not meet the criteria of a customers wishes.  Remember to be confident in your smiths abilities, but also be convinced by proof of those abilities as well.

Thank you,