RIA 9mm Project Begins

The grips weren’t my idea, I swear.

My background check was approved today and I trotted my butt straight over to Rain City to pick up this RIA 9mm 1911. A buddy of mine offered it in trade for a custom knife and that was a deal we were both happy with.

It’s a pretty GI-looking thing but that’s not entirely accurate. The first thing that might jump out at you is the flat mainspring housing, which you would not have on a GI 1911A1. Then when you get into the innards you find a ramped barrel with a full-support chamber. That’s all to the good of course, and saves me from putting in a flat mainspring housing and cutting the frame for a ramped barrel. Thank you RIA!

I suspect they may have tweaked the geometry of the grip-safety and hammer a bit too; this is the first GI-style set-up I’ve fired where the hammer didn’t chew a hole in the web between my thumb and fore-finger. Not going to complain about that!

The gun is well made. I mean, it’s a base-model RIA with the standard Parkerized finish; it’s nicely done but it’s not an exemplar of the gunsmith’s art. It’s smooth, no conspicuous tool-marks inside or out. Fitting is better than you might expect; it’s all decently tight. Trigger is good for a stock service-type pistol, breaking decently cleanly at around 4 to 4-1/2 pounds. Sights are authentically awful.

How’s It Shoot?

It’s fine. The original owner told me it’s reliable and shoots a little low and left. I tested this, and it was reliable and shoots consistently a little low and left.

7-yards, one shot/second. Not too shabby.
5 Rounds at ten yards, deliberate fire. That’s alright, especially considering the sights.

1911’s in 9mm are cheat-mode in the recoil department; every one I’ve fired has been a pussycat and this one is no exception. It’s very pleasant and entirely met my expectations.

So then, Ditch the Tasteless Grips and Leave it As-Is?


Have you met me? Of course I’m not going to leave it alone! What a silly thought. I mean, the gun has been in my possession for hours. You can’t expect it to stay pristine forever!

First things first. I detail-stripped the gun, pulled the firing pin etc from the slide and flat-topped it using my 2×72 belt grinder initially, then moving to my big Diamond-Hone sharpening stone to get it really, really flat.

That came out nice!

Naturally I’ll have to cut dovetails for the sights, but that’s a job for another day. Next I moved on to the frame. I undercut the trigger-guard, then got started on the checkering. I cut deep enough to get it well-established, but stopped before fatigue set in. 20 LPI on the front of the grip-frame and under the trigger guard.

Mind you this is just roughed-in; I’ll need to come back to it later to sharpen it up.

Checkering is tiring and I’m not as young as I used to be so I stopped when my shoulders start tightening up too much. I like to use an engraving ball-vice to hold the gun. This lets me turn it and tilt the work-piece any way I need to, but the trade-off is that I have to hold the vice in position while I am cutting. Like I said, fatiguing.

When I’d done about as much as was prudent I moved on to the flat-mainspring housing. It’s flat and has vertical serrations already, but that’s not good enough. I ran a scribe down the edges, then went back to the belt sander to start blending the edges to the frame. After a little grinding I moved on to files, then hand-sanding until is was nicely blended.

Much better. A little Oxpho Blue to keep it until I get back to it.

This isn’t just for looks; with the mainspring housing blended I can cut nice, aggressive checkering without having a saw-like edge at either side. This is something Tim Bacus showed me many, many years ago and I’ve always liked it. Anyway, I was already done checkering for the night, so I left off there.

Anyway, it’s a start on what is likely to be a long process of converting this into the gun I want it to be.

Where to From here, Tinker?

Well you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you? Trust me. I, Tinker, have a Cunning Plan. Stay tuned for further developments.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 10 May 2023

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