RIA 1911 Project: It’s What You Do. But Should You?

New textured grips with the maker’s Mark I put on knives. Made from Goncalo Alves wood.

So last week I laid hands on a bog-standard RIA 1911A1 GI in 9mm. I test fired it and it worked fine. It shot a little low and left as I had been told it would, but it wasn’t bad. Other than that it did everything you’d expect about the way you’d expect from a full-size 1911A1 in 9mm. Accurate and soft-shooting. Respectable performance right out of the box.

OK, I like shooting Action Shooting International matches. It’s a combat pistol competition organization with stages like pretty much any combat pistol league. Except there are to shooter class ratings, no prizes or any of that. They don’t even post rankings at the match; if you wonder you have to go to the website later and see. Frankly I’ve never bothered; I know how I did and where I need work. It’s all about fun and personal improvement.

They do have different classes for different pistols, but people largely ignore them. They have caliber restrictions, which are also ignored; I’ve seen people shooting tricked-out Ruger .22s. I think if your gun or caliber is outside the classifications you don’t get ranked. No one cares.

In the spirit of fun I have shot matches with guns like my Detonics Combat Master .45 and Webley Mk.1 .45 revolver. But last year I decided to build a Race Gun to compete with, and it works very well. Mind you with one thing and another I haven’t gotten back to actually shooting matches since COVID, but I intend to. The .45 is really good, but I found myself thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be better in 9mm?’ So when the chance to swap for a stock RIA 9mm came up I leapt upon it with glad cries. Within hours of test-firing the gun I went to work. You can read about the start of the project here: https://tinkertalksguns.com/2023/05/11/ria-9mm-project-begins/

There are things we do when we set up a 1911A1 for Practical Pistol matches. Commander hammer, beavertail grip safety, trigger with an overtravel stop, full-length guide rod and maybe a fancy recoil spring, adjustable or high-visibility combat sights, an ambidextrous safety, a trigger job and any number of other bells and whistles. Many modern guns, even budget 1911s, come with a lot of these features these days but this one was GI, with the spur hammer and milspec grip safety. I immediately assembled a must-have parts list and realized I didn’t know how I was going to budget for it. OK, start with what I can do myself and piece the rest together as budget allows.

First thing the grips had to go. Not only were they tacky but they did not provide the level of grip I desired. I grabbed some Goncalo Alves wood and made replacements with the sort of texture I like and the Maker’s Mark I use for my handmade knives on one side.

Lots of texture courtesy of my Foredom tool and a 2.5mm carbide ball burr.

I had already radically flat-topped the slide, undercut the trigger-guard and did hand-cut 20 LPI checkering under the trigger-guard and front of the grip-frame. I had also blended the flat mainspring housing to the frame, and since the first post it has also received 20 LPI checkering. On to the new stuff…

This was meant to be temporary, but I am not sure I see a need to replace it. It’s fast and the bullets hit where I’m aiming. This picture also shows the bobbed hammer off nicely.

Someone gave me an H&K adjustable rear site and I planned to put it on this gun, but it just wasn’t suitable. The GI sight now stuck up much further because of the flat-top so I enlarged the notch, flattened the back and cut 30 LPI serrations. Came out to be surprisingly effective. I fabricated a front sight from aircraft aluminum and cut a new dovetail for it. My match ammo will be cheap 115gr range ammo, and to my shock it shoots precisely to point of aim with both Fiocchi and Magtech at seven yards. OK then!

7-yard double-taps and a triple-tap. Nothing wrong with that! Slow-fire had already demonstrated that the gun shoots to POA, so this is centered right because of me.

OK, about that hammer and grip safety. The grip safety was not as comfortable as it could be, so until I decide whether to get a beavertail I cut it higher and reshaped it a tad. It’s a lot more comfortable now and allows a higher grip on the gun. I also bobbed the hammer and cut 30 LPI checkering across the top. This not only lightens the hammer and fractionally reduces the lock-time, it will keep the spur from chewing a hole in my hand (which it would sooner or later.) This is the only GI-style 1911A1 that didn’t do that to me, but I don’t trust that to continue.

Top is the modified hammer and grip safety, bottom is stock.

I had a long aluminum trigger lying around so I fitted that. I have long fingers and it’s just better for me. The magazine well was only technically beveled and I had a Klonimus mag-well funnel in the bin so I fitted that and reshaped the back to my preference.

Much better.
Top of the slide, crew-cut with new sites and a ported barrel.

Oh yeah, I also cut a port in the slide, solid bushing and barrel. I cut this well back from the muzzle to increase venting duration. Rifling continues past the port so there is plenty of time to vent gasses before the bullet stops plugging the barrel. This was all done with files and hand-tools. The front sight is mounted behind the post so it doesn’t get blasted and lose the orange paint every time I fire. Yes, this shortens the sight radius to about Commander length. This might matter shooting at 100 meters or in Bullseye competition but since I don’t intend to do either of those things I don’t care.

The port works good. In the photo you can see a ghost-image of the gun halfway through recoil. This gun shoots seriously flat, which is very good for split-times between shots. A full-size 1911A1 in 9mm shoots pretty flat to begin with, but this is on a whole ‘nuther level.

Damn! I mean, Damn!
Third shot of a triple-tap. Note the position of the brass from the previous two shots.

The trigger-pull is 4.5 lbs, which might be OK for a carry pistol but it’s way too much for a competition pistol. My 1911 race-gun has a 1-3/4 LB. trigger. As a first step I installed an EGW sear spring, which instantly dropped the trigger-pull to 3 lbs. It also instantly made the hammer start sporadically falling when the slide slammed home. Usually this means you have to manually cock the gun between shots. Occasionally it means the gun goes into ‘Giggle Mode’ for a couple of shots while you are test-firing it. Yeah, no. I put the stock sear spring back and that solved the problem.

I also did something I’ve never done before and frankly question the value of in an action-shooting pistol: I tightened the slide to frame fit. I did this by the simple expedient of very carefully squishing the slide at the bottom side-to-side in a vice. Ever-so-slightly. This reduced the ‘rattle,’ which was not excessive to begin with, by about 50%. I question the value of this because what matters most is that the barrel maintains a consistent relationship to the sights, which is mostly dependent on the barrel-to-slide fit, and unless a gun is alarmingly loose it won’t have much effect. It also tends to make guns more sensitive to dirt, but this isn’t a service pistol so I decided to give it a go. I suspect that if it makes any difference I am not a good enough shooter to benefit from it.

Here’s The ‘So Should You?’ Part

OK, the conventional wisdom says a race-gun has a beavertail grip safety, a full-length guide-rod, commander hammer etc. Long experience has shown this to be true for a reason, especially in .45 ACP. But with this gun I find myself questioning that.

Yes, the ambidextrous grip-safety is a must. Sometimes you need it on a stage, and while you can do without it it’s a game of 1/10s of seconds and it’s significantly slower without it.

But despite the stock trigger the gun already shoots so well I question whether there is any real benefit to be gained with a beavertail grip safety with this particular gun in my hands, and right now saving money is a priority. Likewise a Commander hammer is a necessity because GI spur-hammers don’t work with a beavertail. I’ve already significantly lightened this hammer and shortened it enough that if I do opt for a beavertail it will work. Besides, I rather like the look of it, so more savings there.

I am also questioning the need for a guide-rod. Normally these add a bit of weight at the muzzle and keep everything running smoothly but with the porting and the way it shoots already I don’t seem to need more weight at the muzzle, and the stock set-up seems to be doing just fine. Perhaps this is another place to save money.

Despite the Patreon contributions from my wonderful supporters and other channel benefactors my budget is very tight right now, so saving money is definitely a thing. Some things like the trigger with an overtravel stop and take-up adjustment and the ambidextrous safety need to happen and will just have to wait for some disposable income. But other things? If they don’t seem genuinely necessary I’m just not going to do them. This pistol is about performance, not having the bells and whistles that bring the boys to the yard. If I get the performance I desire without bending the budget it’s all good.

That trigger though, that definitely needs work but I am going to wait for the permanent trigger before I mess about with it.

So that’s the state of the gun as I write this. I’m pretty happy with where it’s at so far, but there is still a way to go. There’s probably at least one more post before it’s finished.

Stay safe and take care,

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 May 2023

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