Planning to Buy a Used 1911? Read this first…

Brownells expert troubleshoots issues you may encounter

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Editor’s Note: The venerable 1911 is one of my favorites. Like a lot of people I’ve purchased them online, usually with good results. Sometimes not. Recently I purchased a classic Colt that had issues. I realized I was in over my head, but of course, it was a bit late in the game. Without getting into the sordid details, with a little help from my friends, eventually things got sorted out. However, in the interim, it was a hassle. I realized that it would have been helpful to know more about potential issues that one might encounter before I purchased it. Hindsight is always 20-20 but in an effort to turn my experience into a “learning moment” I had a conversation with Mike Watkins, a  Sr. Tech Support Gun Tech over at Brownells. Mike is an accomplished 1911 builder and a member of the American Pistol Smith Guild. I think you’ll find his comments enlightening. In the meantime, stay tuned. I plan to do a write up on how we resurrected that old Colt.

M1911A1Q: What are the common issues/problems that one might encounter in a used 1911?


A: It might be damaged from abuse or modified by someone who didn’t have good Gunsmithing skills. It would be correct to ask the seller for permission to exam it. In the Firearms industry 99% percent honestly represent the condition of a used gun, just watch out for the other 1%. It is also possible they  inherited the firearm and they don’t really know anything about it.


Q:  Is a stock 1911 inherently more dependable than one that is accurized?

A: Not necessarily, there  can be functioning issues with a new 1911, that’s why there are Pistolsmith’s.  One that is properly Accurized for competition shooting has to function on every shot fired, competition today is so demanding that a 1911 that does not function correctly has no hope of the shooter winning the match he is shooting in. The same holds true for a duty weapon it has to work every time, they both need to be tested and any problems corrected and properly maintained by the owner.

Q: I’ve had friends complain that their high end guns don’t like certain brands of ammo. Is it common that a tricked out 1911 (vs. stock) is going to be more finicky about the kinds of ammo that it will consume? 

A: That’s possible, but the same can be true for stock 1911 production guns. I built my 1911’s to feed SWC and hardball ammo and they have to be properly ramped and throated to do that. Most production guns are set up to feed 230 grain FMJ ammo and won’t always feed SWC ammo, That’s where a good Pistolsmith comes in.

Q: Is it even a good idea for someone who doesn’t reload to purchase a competition-style 1911?

A: It depends on caliber I think and what the gun was built for. If it was a light load SWC Bullseye 1911, it will need a heavier 16.5 lb.  recoil spring to shoot full factory ammo. A IPSC gun in 9mm,.40 S&W, and .45 ACP caliber should work with factory ammo. If it is a IPSC open class 1911 in .38 Super, they are tuned for one specific load range generally and won’t function with lighter loaded factory ammo. Then you need to be a reloader.

The object of my interest. One Colt Gold Cup National Match 38 Special Mid Range.

Q: Is it inviting trouble to buy a used (accurized) 1911 online without being able to inspect it?

A: Could be, you have to trust the seller and how the 1911 is represented. A 100% return policy is always good, no matter what you are buying online. If they don’t offer a return policy I would stay away from that one.

Q: What’s the #1 cause of failure to eject or stove piping?  Ammo? Bad extractor? Bad ejector? Bad magazine?

A: Limp wristing the pistol when firing, barring a mechanical problem. Light loaded ammo, or poor quality reloads in a 1911 with a full power recoil spring. Broken extractor hook or one with not enough tension on it to hold on to the rim of the case. Damaged ejector. Never saw a magazine cause ejection problems.

Q: What about failure to feed?

A: The magazine is the first suspect, then extractor tension and the shape of the extractor hook. If it still doesn’t feed the it will need a throat and ramp job done by a competent Pistolsmith.





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