December 13, 2008
Everyone who has read my blog knows how much I love Rock Island Armory 1911’s. As I have said before they are the best buy bar none in a 1911. The newer “Rock” Match version is just another example of a company that listens to the customer base and produces a fine pistol at an unbelieveable price!
I was at our police department range a week or so ago and ran into a friend who had just purchased a Rock Island Armory Match grade pistol. Yep, I was drooling to get my hands on this one. I’ve been looking for one for a month or so without much luck but at least I got to shoot one.
I told him I would let him shoot my Sig if he would let me play with his new toy:-) He had already fired about 200 rounds through it with no problems at all. I happened to have 150 rounds of 45 ball so off I went to give this fine looking pistol a workout.
This pistol has the fiber optic front sight which I find very useful and easy to pickup as well as being fast. The rear sight is the Millett type that adjust for both windage and elevation and is very precise in it’s adjustment. The perfect setup if you compete in stock class competition. The pistol felt the same as the Rock Tactical I’m so fond of so it was a no brainer getting used to. The controls were very smooth. The action was something I noticed right off as being smoother than the Tactical was when it was new. There was definately some hand fitting with this pistol.
Shooting held no surprises. It was very accurate and produced a ragged hole at 10 yards and at 15 was more accurate than my Tactical again giving excellent results. At 25 yards the pistol really shined and once again produced a group measuring roughly 3 inches with 4 magazines fired. Again, very obvious a bit of extra work went into this pistol. I completely enjoyed shooting this pistol and it just renewed my desire to find one of my own. The way it is equiped is very similar to the S&W Doug Koenig but at a far lower price. It’s every bit as good a pistol as the S&W even if it is a bit more utilitarian in looks. That is not to say it’s an ugly gun by any means. I find the fit and finish of these pistols to be very appealing.
Steve Clark is a man I’m glad to call a friend wrote a fine review for the M1911.org website and graciously allowed me to publish his review of the Rock Island Armory Match 1911. A thorough job as always and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his contributed review.
Recently, I tested a target-style pistol from STI, called the Spartan. This pistol was unique in that STI International chose to use major components (frame, slide, and barrel) manufactured by Arms Corporation of the Philippines (better known as Armscor). During the time I was waiting for the STI Spartan to arrive for testing, I learned that Rock Island Armory was planning to release a target grade pistol too. My imagination began to run wild!
I fully expected the Rock Island Armory Match pistol to be at least a fraternal twin of the STI gun. Initial inspection of the RIA Match revealed a great many similarities, such as a fully adjustable rear sight, orange fiber-optic front sight, parkerized finish, etc. However, closer inspection disclosed some features that instantly got my attention. These not-so-subtle additions had me “itching” to inspect the pistol further, take some photographs, and give it a thorough work-out on my personal firing range. I live in a rural part of Texas, where such facilities are normal.
The Rock Island Armory Match (per the label FS Match) comes packaged in RIA’s black plastic clam-shell case. The interior of the case is lined in egg crate foam, and the pistol was double wrapped in a plastic bag and bubble-wrap bag. Two black 8-round Novak magazines were included in my package (although the pistol will ship with one 8-round magazine). Under the foam lining, one will find a fired cartridge casing, the owner’s manual, a warranty card, a firearms safety pamphlet, and a card entitling the pistol’s owner to buy Armscor ammunition at a 10% discount, if he or she joins (or is already a member of) M1911.ORG. I would also like to stress that this is the first review of the RIA FS Match. No other printed or electronic publication has reviewed this pistol, so this is another first for M1911.ORG.
The RIA Match is a full size (5-inch barrel) 1911, chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Inspection of the left side of the manganese phosphate treated slide reveals the company’s logo and Rock Island Armory, roll marked in block letters. The right side of the slide lacks any markings. The ejection port is lowered and flared for improved ejection of spent cartridge casings. There are no front cocking serrations on the slide of the RIA Match. The rear cocking serrations consist of nineteen straight lines, such as those found on G.I. type 1911s. The slide fits snugly on the frame, which has a Parkerized finish applied to its surface. The exterior finish on both the slide and the frame create quite a pleasing visual. There is no movement laterally between these two major components. I was informed that the Rock Island Armory Match is not part of a regular production run at the Armscor factory, but rather the slide and frame are hand-fitted in the Armscor Custom Shop. This extra attention to detail is evident when holding the pistol, as there is no rattle when the gun is shaken. In addition, the entire RIA Match pistol has been moderately de-horned, and the effect of this treatment should be apparent in the photographs. It most assuredly is noticeable when handling the pistol. Hand cycling of the action is effortless, in part aided by the excellent cocking serrations, but mostly because of the fine fitting of the slide to the frame.
The LPA rear sight of the RIA Match is mounted on the top of the slide, and is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. This sight blends in well with the rear of the slide, and its rear face is horizontally serrated to reduce glare. The front sight is dovetailed nicely into the top of the slide, and its edges are rounded into the slide’s contour. This sight features a bright orange fiber-optic tube.
The slide stop/release is checkered, as is the magazine release button. The trigger has a serrated face with two elongated cutouts. There is no externally adjustable over-travel screw on the RIA Match. Trigger pull was characterized by a very small amount of take-up, with a crisp release of 4.25 pounds, from the box. This was a consistent measurement, meaning the sear released at 4.25 pounds, every time that the trigger was squeezed, or activated by the RCBS Trigger Pull Gauge.
The hammer has a true half-cock notch, and is an elongated Commander-style unit. Mated to the hammer is a beaver-tail grip safety utilizing an extended palm swell. The ambidextrous safety has a serrated shelf on both the left and right controls. These shelves are extended, and the right side is secured by a small cut in the sear pin, which corresponds to a small shelf on the bottom of the safety. Operation of all safety devices is positive and reliable. The magazine well is slightly beveled for easier insertion of the magazines. The pistol is easily loaded, as fully charged 8-round magazines slide into place with an authoritative click. When released, empty magazines fall free with no resistance. The flat mainspring housing is serrated, and fitted nicely to the frame of the RIA Match.
The stocks provided with the Rock Island Armory Match pistol are finely grained wood, and compliment the business-like looks of the gun. Sadly, my example had a small crack from the top of the left side grip screw to the top of the stock. This was the only cosmetic problem that I encountered in my inspection of the pistol. This minor defect is covered under Armscor’s Limited Lifetime Warranty.
The field stripping procedure to be followed with the RIA Match .45 ACP is different than for other, full length guide rod equipped full size 1911 type pistols. Field stripping the RIA Match proved to be much easier than was the case with either the previously tested RIA Tactical or the STI Spartan. Make certain that the pistol is unloaded and the magazine has been removed. A non-marring bushing wrench easily depresses the recoil spring plug so that the barrel bushing may be turned clockwise. Carefully allow the plug to exit the muzzle area, relieving all recoil spring tension. The slide can then be moved to align the take-down notch with the slide stop. After the slide stop is removed from the frame, the slide and frame can be separated. After that, it is a simple procedure to remove the recoil spring and full length guide rod. Turning the barrel bushing counter-clockwise will line up the bushing for removal from the slide, and the barrel can be taken out toward the muzzle. There is no firing pin safety on the Match pistol, so firing pin and extractor removal is accomplished following standard procedure.
Reassembly is in reverse order.
While I am admittedly no big fan of full length guide rods, the ability to use a bushing wrench is preferable to lining up the take-down notch with the slide stop while the pistol is still under the tension of the recoil spring. I applaud Rock Island and Armscor for this improvement.
Shooting the RIA Match Pistol
My normal shooting protocol with any new pistol consists of firing enough rounds to determine functional reliability before accuracy and chronograph readings are taken. This initial test was conducted using the two supplied 8-round Novak magazines, and 100 rounds of Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ ammunition. The pistol was discharged from a distance of 10 yards, using a modified Weaver stance.
The Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C 8″ target shows that most of the shots fired were slightly left of dead center. As I tend to sometimes pull my shots to the left, I decided to forego any sight adjustments until accuracy testing commenced. Ejected casings consistently landed four to five feet to the right of my firing position. All 100 rounds fed and ejected without incident. The RIA Match handles recoil admirably, and is easily brought back on target during rapid fire.
During this phase of the test, I decided to try some Hornady 200gr. TAP FPD +P ammunition was kindly provided to M1911.ORG for use in conducting pistol tests. This is a relatively new type of jacketed hollow point, and I felt that if a problem with feeding JHP rounds was to appear, this would provide a good test.
Twenty rounds into the Shoot-N-C target provided ample proof that the RIA Match will reliably feed this type of JHP ammunition. Subsequent accuracy tests with a variety of factory FMJ and JHP ammo produced no malfunctions. I moved my shooting position to take advantage of a natural tree wind-break, but this forced me to shorten my range to 20 yards. All of the above readings and accuracy tests were made at 25 yards, except the Armscor results. From that point to the end of my shooting session, all firing was done from 20 yards.
The NRA target pictured above was engaged with 5 rounds of Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ at a distance of 20 yards. This group represented my best of the day, although later groups were centered on the target much better. A one click adjustment on the LPA rear sight brought everything in line. Memorizing the most ideal setting, I made several adjustments to the rear sight to determine how far a click would affect the impact on the target. Considering the windy conditions, I estimated that one click would account for one inch of impact difference at 60 feet. That is on a par with my previous encounters with adjustable sights on 1911 type pistols.
Total round count for the test exceeded 500. More of the full metal jacket ammunition was expended than the jacketed hollow point loads, but that is more a factor of cost per box than what the pistol prefers to digest. The donated ammunition from Armscor and Hornady is greatly appreciated. In addition to the ammunition mentioned in the accuracy and velocity table, I fired the following brands: Winchester SilverTip 185 gr., Speer Gold Dot Hollow Points 185 & 230 gr., Federal Hydra-Shok 165 & 230 gr., Taurus Copper Hollow Points 185 gr., and Remington Golden Saber 230 gr. Twenty rounds of each brand were fired through the RIA Match, with no failures of any kind.
The Rock Island Armory FS Match .45 ACP pistol is assembled and fitted in the Custom Shop at Armscor, in the Philippines. As stated earlier in this review, the slide and frame are hand fitted, and the rest of the components of the gun consist of parts that are made by Armscor. These parts are primarily Metal Injected Moldings, as told to me by Ivan Walcott. The M1911.ORG Forum is full of positive and negative comments concerning the use of MIM in handguns. Correctly manufactured parts that are covered by a Limited Lifetime Warranty should cause no denigration of the quality found in a Rock Island pistol. A manufacturing fact of life is represented by the use of MIM parts. They do not require labor intensive fitting, and allow the manufacturer to pass cost savings on to the consumer. I have thus far tested three guns that are either solely a Rock Island product, or that contained major components from Armscor. I have found nothing wrong with the quality of any of those three examples. I might add that I normally put more ammunition through a test pistol in the course of a review, than a majority of handgun owners would fire in a span of months. I have experienced zero failures in my test samples.
The Parkerized finish held up to several hundred rounds of various types of ammunition being discharged. In fact, the finish on the RIA Match is superior, in my estimation, to those of the previous test pistols, and the aforementioned guns had a dandy finish! I don’t keep a test pistol long enough to measure the effects of holster wear on the finish.
From the time the pistol was removed from its box until I cleaned it and re-packaged it, the trigger pull was excellent. The sear released at a consistent 4.25 pounds of pressure. This exceptional trigger pull, coupled with the adjustable sights and the hand fitting of the slide and frame, make for a wonderfully accurate handgun. Although windy conditions forced me to shorten my testing distance to 20 yards, I feel certain that the RIA Match would have delivered the same degree of accuracy at my normal distance of 25 yards. The bright fiber-optic orange front sight is easily picked up through the LPA adjustable rear sight.
Although I had some issues with earlier test guns and their stocks, I find that I grip these pistols in a different manner than my personal 1911s. That different grip allows me to keep my hand stationary throughout my range sessions, which ultimately yields better results on the target. Perhaps too, it is the type of beaver-tail grip safety that is standard on these target models. In either case, the “feel” of the pistols is growing on me, and I cannot find reason to complain.
I am yet to encounter a Rock Island pistol that refuses to eat hollow point ammunition. While the RIA owner’s manual specifically states that the guns are not warranted to reliably feed this type of ammo, it is gratifying to know that these guns are built to shoot a variety of factory loads and configurations.
My déjà vu reference in the opening of this test/review had to do with the similarities between the Rock Island Match pistol and the STI Spartan that was previously tested. Each of these guns is accurate, a pleasure to shoot, and an economical way to buy a target-grade pistol. However, I must be fair and state that I prefer the Rock Island Match because of the ease of disassembly. While my carpel tunneled and arthritic 57 year old hands can still manage quite a bit, anything that provides easier use is appreciated. I also favor the use of straight rear cocking serrations on my personal guns, and the RIA Match delivers on this option. The Rock Island handgun does not have front cocking serrations, a positive omission in my book. Finally, there is the absence of any type of firing pin safety on this weapon. That non-feature alone gets an A+.
Ivan Walcott (Sales Manager for Advanced Tactical Firearms, the importers of RIA pistols to the United States) states that the suggested retail price of the Rock Island Armory FS Match pistol will be in the plus or minus range of 650.00 U.S. dollars. Considering the quality and accuracy of this gun, I would rate this handgun as a “best buy.”
I would like to thank President Martin Tuason and Sales Manager Ivan Walcott of Advanced Tactical Firearms International Corporation, for providing the Rock Island Armory Match .45 ACP pistol used in this test. As soon as the handgun was available to them, it was sent to me for testing. We strive to provide the readers of the M1911.ORG E-zine with the most up-to-date information. In addition, these fine gentlemen also provided me with several boxes of Armscor Precision .45 ACP ammunition. This was my first exposure to this highly accurate, clean burning ammo. I was quite pleased with its performance, and I recommend it to anyone looking for quality in affordable ammunition.
My thanks go out to Hornady Mfg. Company for their donation of several boxes of their new 200 gr. TAP FPD +P .45 ACP ammunition. I have been pleased with the results in my shooting tests with this ammo, and I look forward to conducting some personal ballistic tests with this brand in the future.
As always, my Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium chronograph performed above and beyond my expectations. Frankly, the chronograph put up with the wind better than I did!
Finally, I am indebted to Bill Lamb at GREAT GUNS in Burleson, Texas. He consistently stays on top of the test pistol situation, as well as providing a variety of factory ammunition, accessories, and gun expertise. I couldn’t do it without you, Bill, and I am obliged. Many thanks are expressed to your daughter, as well, for her assistance last week.
You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:
November 9, 2008
Smith & Wesson Model 642
“The Snubnose Files”
It was the best selling firearm offered by Smith & Wesson in 2006. Tradition holds that the original design emerged from the creative mind of Col. Rex Applegate. Among the small revolvers, it has been called a personal favorite by Walt Rausch, Massad Ayoob, Jim Wilson, Stephen Camp, Ken Hackathorn and many others. Jim Supica, author of The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, said that it was possibly the finest pocket revolver ever made. It is the Smith & Wesson Model 642 Airweight Centennial.
There are three basic form factors for the J-frame Smith & Wesson snubnoses. First, there is the standard exposed hammer Chiefs Special such as the Model 36. Second, there is the Bodyguard which has a shrouded hammer, but it can still be thumb cocked and fired single action. Third, there is the Centennial which is often called hammerless a misnomer because it actually has a hammer which is completely enclosed in the frame. Since the hammer is completely enclosed in the frame, the Centennial is double action only.
The Model 642 is the stainless Airweight version of the Centennial. In the early 1950s, Centennial models were originally introduced as the Model 40, a blued steel hammerless .38 Special, and the Model 42, a blued aluminum alloy framed version of the Model 40. The Models 40 and 42 had grip safeties. (For more on the history and development of the Centennial series, click here.) The modern Airweights are produced in both blued and stainless steel finishes, but the stainless version is far more popular. They have aluminum alloy frames with stainless steel cylinders and barrels. Unloaded, the Airweight revolvers weigh about 15 ounces. The Airweights are still chambered in .38 Special rather than .357 Magnum, and they are rated for +p ammunition. The original model 42 was not rated for +p and +p is not recommended for them, although I have heard of a number of people using +p in the Model 42 without negative effects. The Airweight Models 442 (blued) and 642 (stainless) were brought to market in 1990, discontinued in 1993 and reintroduced in 1996 as the 642-1. As noted earlier, the Model 642 has been enormously successful.
So, what do people like about the 642?
Its light, compact, easy to carry, snag-free and enjoys an excellent power to weight ratio. Its easy to operate and renowned for reliability. That about sums it up, but I want to expand on these ideas.
Carry-ability The characteristic that first endeared me to the Airweight snubnose is a factor I had to make up a word for, carry-ability. Carry-ability is a matrix of weight, shape, size and power that when stirred together gives me a rating of ease and versatility of carry balanced against the level of security and confidence the gun gives me. The Airweights really hit the sweet spot for me on carry-ability. A Kel-Tec P32 is great on weight, size and shape, but suffers with an underpowered cartridge. The M1911 is a tremendous shooter with a powerful cartridge, and its even fairly flat for surprisingly good concealment, but it is large and heavy. Glocks are lighter, but they are thick and angular and I find them fairly difficult to conceal, especially in warm weather clothing. The Kel-Tec and the 1911 both rate highly in some parts of the matrix, but fall down badly in others. The small size and light weight of the 642 means that you can carry it for many hours in all kinds of clothing, and in a wide variety of carry modes belt holster, ankle holster, belly band, pocket, purse, etc.. It has tremendous versatility for carry while still loading a fairly powerful cartridge. The 642 rates very highly in carry-ability.
Snag-free Double Action Only Smith & Wesson builds a whole gaggle of Centennial variants, but they are distinguished primarily by their metals; the shape and action are the same. Taurus and Charter Arms also build their own versions of the Centennial closely patterned off of the original. These all share the enclosed hammer double action only design. There is little or no reason to have single action capability on a self-defense revolver, so why have a hammer sticking out to snag on things? The smooth hammerless contour of the gun makes it ideal for pocket or purse, and it can even be fired from inside a pocket without the problem of getting snagged in the fabric.
Easy Operation The manual of arms on a snubnose revolver, and especially the 642, is extremely easy to master. If you can pull the trigger, you can make it work. There are three controls: the trigger, the cylinder latch and the ejector rod. You can learn to use it in about a minute (maybe not well, but the manual of arms is not hard). There are more than a few folks who don’t like or cant work an auto pistol. The mechanical simplicity of the revolver can be a tactical advantage under certain circumstances. See Why Carry a Revolver? Folks with physical impairments often find that the revolver will work for them where an auto will not. See Age and the Snubnose
Value The Model 642 and its brethren, the Models 637 and 638, remain among the best values in personal defense firearms available today. Retail prices of the 642 remain under $400 in many places. With the entry point for new autos hovering around $600, the Airweights are looking better all the time. I also believe that the Airweights are a far better value than the scandium/titanium versions of these guns. The scandium Centennial, the 340, retails for twice the money of the 642. Now, I think the scandium guns are way cool, but their prices leave me breathless. For this additional money, you shave off about 3 ounces of weight from an already super light gun, and this also means you get a gun with an even more unpleasant recoil than the Airweight. The scandium models are also chambered not for .38 Special but for .357 Magnum. To me, firing .357 Magnum in a 12 ounce revolver is a physical absurdity. In a 26 oz. all-steel Model 60-15, .357 Magnum is tolerable; in a 12 oz. scandium Model 340, it is self-abuse. Bang-for-the-buck, the 642 is a terrific value.
An Effective Yet Manageable Cartridge I wish I had a nickel for every kilobyte and gallon of ink that has been spilled arguing about the effectiveness of the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special was introduced in 1899. The reason the case is so long is that it was originally a black powder cartridge and the black powder needed that much space. The first .38 Special cartridge was composed of a 158 grain lead bullet in front of 21 grains of black powder. Despite the arguments about stopping power and such, the .38 Special has continued to do the job for 108 years. I find it hard to believe that people would have continued to use it for that long if it didn’t work. Certainly, the .45, the .357, the 10mm, and the .40 S&W are more powerful cartridges, but interestingly, the .38 Special remains at or near the top of the lethality statistics, often rating higher than these more powerful cartridges. Part of that has to do with the fact that the .38 has been around for ages and more people use it than most other cartridges, although the 9mm is closing fast, but the other part of the cartridges effectiveness has to do with the fact that it is manageable in terms of recoil, but still powerful enough to stop an aggressor. There are a lot of folks who don’t want to use or cant manage .45s and .357s, and these powerful cartridges are painful to shoot and unmanageable in compact pocket guns. Again, the .38 Special in the Airweight revolver hits the sweet spot in terms of power and carry-ability. Stoked with modern .38 Special +p hollowpoints, these little revolvers are highly effective and potent tools of self defense. I continue to search for a gun shop commando to take a couple of .38 Special +p rounds to the chest and then tell me it doesn’t work. So far, I haven’t found any volunteers. Too many highly experienced gun fighters who have seen the balloons go up have relied upon .38 Special snubbies for backup and deep concealment for me to believe anything but that they work, and they work very consistently.
Ergonomics Autoloader fans are fond of pointing out the fact that revolvers are wide at their cylinders, and this is true, although the difference in width between autos and revolvers is often exaggerated by those wanting to make the case for the auto. A Springfield 😄 is 1 1/16 wide. The 642 is 1 3/16 wide at the cylinder. That’s a 1/8 difference. A 1911 is narrower at 7/8. Everywhere else on the 642, it is considerable thinner and smaller than most autos. I cant put the 😄 in my pocket; the 642 will disappear into my pocket because of its natural, rounded shapes. The rounded, organic shapes of the 642 (and its cousins) make it very comfortable to carry and very easy to conceal because it blends into the natural curves of the body better than an angular autoloader with lots of sharp corners.
Safe and Reliable Safe is a strange word to use about a handgun. After all, they are by definition dangerous. If it weren’t dangerous, I wouldn’t carry it, goes the famous quip from a Texas Ranger. In this context, what I mean by safe is that the gun has inherent characteristics that help to prevent accidental discharges. The 642, like all Smith & Wesson revolvers, has a fairly heavy double action trigger. Accidental activation of the trigger is very rare with double action revolvers. We don’t tend to hear those, The gun just went off [not] stories about revolvers. (The gun never just goes off by itself, but irresponsible people continue to try to claim this piece of science fiction.) On the 642 there is no manual safety or de-cocking lever, nothing to forget to put on or off in an emergency or otherwise. The revolver tends to reinforce safe gun handling since there are no mechanisms providing a false sense of security. I believe also that the double action only (DAO) operation of the 642 contributes to its overall safety and avoids certain legal liabilities. See Double Action Only (DAO) versus Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) for more on this issue.
Highly controversial to this day is the integral lock which has been included on S&W revolvers since Saf-T-Hammer bought S&W. The lock is activated with a key through a socket just above the cylinder latch. The locks have been criticized for a variety of reasons including the addition of needless complexity, caving into the demands of some states for locks on guns, and the possibility of unintentional engagement of the lock during firing. This last concern has been documented in a few of the early scandium/titanium models, but to the best of my knowledge it has not been documented on the Airweights. It has been reported to me that the problem has been resolved on the scandium/titanium guns, and we are not hearing new reports of unintentional engagement of the locks. I have tested three revolvers with the lock and it has never malfunctioned in my testing.
I had small children at home once upon a time, and when they were still little doodles whose judgment I couldn’t completely trust, I used trigger locks on my pistols long before they were fashionable in some circles or mandated. I carried the key on my key ring so it would always be close by. The integral lock on the Model 642 could be useful in a number of situations, such as times when you might have to take the gun off and leave it in a locker or athletic bag.
While I can see the possible uses for the integral lock, I wish S&W would give us the choice to buy revolvers with or without the lock. I resent being forced to buy a Clinton-era “answer in search of a question.”
Whats Not to Like?
Capacity The 642, like all J-frame snubs, only carries five rounds, and that’s not a lot. It is generally more than enough for most self-defense situations, but Murphy is alive and well, and it pays the prudent martial artist to carry a reload or two, or consider carrying a second gun for that one-in-a-million situation in which five rounds is inadequate.
Shoot-ability These little guns are not the easiest firearms in the world to shoot well, and their light weight and small grips make the perceived recoil sharp. This makes them less than comfortable to shoot for extended range sessions. A pair of shooting gloves might be a good idea for someone who is just getting to know their new Airweight. You will often hear it said that snubbies are not accurate, but that just isn’t true. Quality snubnoses are surprisingly accurate, and they will hit their targets, even at distance, when we learn to use them. The short sight radius, heavy trigger and small grip tend to work against highly accurate fire. These guns do require practice to compensate for the aiming issues. Don’t buy a snubnose and throw it in a drawer and expect it to work for you when the chips are down. Practice and practice a lot with it. Practice reloading quickly. With practice and familiarity, you will be surprised at how well the snubnose will perform for you.
Double Action Only (DAO) operation I include this feature in both the positives and the negatives because some folks just don’t like DAO. They want the option to thumb cock and fire single action. See Double Action Only (DAO) versus Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) for more on this issue.
Two thumbs up! Its a great little revolver. The 642 is a time-proven design, endorsed by experts in the field, and an excellent value in a concealable handgun. Jim Wilson calls it the always gun because its one you can always have on you.
Caliber: .38 Special +p rated
Capacity: 5 Rounds
Barrel Length: 1 7/8″
Front Sight: Integral Front
Rear Sight: Fixed
Grip: Rubber Grips
Frame: Small – Centennial Style
Overall Length: 6 3/8″
Material: Alloy/Stainless Steel
Weight Empty: 15 oz.
August 24, 2008
Iowegan’s Book of Knowledge for the Ruger GP-100 revolver
Written by Iowegan
This material is copyrighted by the author.
Please visit the Ruger Forum for additional IBOK’s on various Ruger models.
Introduction: The Ruger GP-100 is a six shot double action revolver chambered in 38 Special or 357 Magnum. Its robust design evolved from the older Security-Six series. The GP-100 has a larger frame, thicker cylinder, improved grip mounting system, trigger return spring, front sight, internal cylinder retainer, and trigger guard latch. Other than these minor changes, both the Security-Six and GP-100 internal designs are nearly identical, as are the Ruger SP-101 and Ruger Super Redhawk.
Design: Ruger engineers did an excellent job designing the GP-100. Most of the parts are contained by push-out pins or spring-loaded plungers and a mere 3 screws. The design is a modular concept with three main assemblies. The barrel and frame are the host assembly. The trigger guard assembly and cylinder assembly make up the rest of the gun. The GP-100 has been manufactured in several configurations but the internal parts are all interchangeable. Primarily, the different variations have to do with barrel length, barrel shroud, sights, and grips. GP-100s have been produced in both blued and stainless steel models. The only other parts that are unique to a certain model are the cylinders when chambered for a 38 Special or 357 Magnum or hammers in DAO models (bobbed).
Grips: GP-100s with fixed sights are equipped with compact rubber grips with inserts. The adjustable sight models come with full sized rubber grips with inserts. Grips are interchangeable between all models and are also the same as Ruger Super Redhawk grips. The grip inserts for the compact grips are the same size as SP-101 inserts.
Sights: GP-100s equipped with adjustable sights also have a “plug-in” front sight. This unique system allows the front sight to be changed in seconds by pushing in the front sight plunger and lifting the sight out of the channel. The standard front sight is black. Super Redhawk front sights are interchangeable with the GP-100 and have a red insert. There are several Ruger and aftermarket plug-in front sights available in different colors or styles. The adjustable rear sights are the same as most other Ruger revolvers and are click-adjustable for both windage and elevation. Some rear sights have a white outline blade while others are black or V-notch. Fixed sight models are available in 3 and 4 inch barrels. Adjustable sight models are available in 4 and 6 inch barrels.
Base metal and finish: GP-100s are made in two basic configurations. The blued models are investment cast from high strength steel and are finished with a hot blue process. Bluing only affects the surface of the metal so it will wear off, especially from using holsters. The surface is resistant to corrosion but it will rust easily if moisture is allowed to contact the gun. This could be from the climate or from fingerprints. Normally, a light coat of rust preventative oil will protect the surface from rusting. The worst thing you can do with any blued gun is to store them in a leather holster. Stainless steel investment cast GP-100s are much more resistant to corrosion. In extreme cases, even a stainless gun will rust. All Ruger stainless guns also have stainless steel internal parts. The exceptions are the springs where stainless is inferior. Besides the springs, the only non-stainless parts are the grips and sights. GP-100s have been made in the standard “brushed” finish and a small quantity in the high polish finish.
Initial inspection: Though many “specs” are nothing more than “braggin’ rights”, some things do have an effect on how well the GP-100 will perform. Many times, specs are borrowed from another firearm brand and are meaningless due to different designs. The GP-100 was designed to operate with fairly loose tolerances so don’t get alarmed if your gun doesn’t measure as tight as another brand. Refer to the schematic when part numbers are referenced.
Fit and Finish: Examine the overall fit and finish. Likely you will find scratches, machine marks and other cosmetic issues that have no affect on function. Rugers are intended to be a strong durable gun but seldom do you find one with a perfect finish or where the cosmetic fit is up to the standards of more expensive manufacturers.
B/C gap and endshake: We will start by measuring the barrel-to-cylinder (B/C) gap and cylinder endshake. You will need an automotive type gap gauge set (looks like a pocket knife with multiple blades of different thickness, AKA feeler gauge). With the gun in a static condition, hold the cylinder to the rear and slide the thickest gap gauge blade that will fit between the rear barrel surface and the front face of the cylinder. This will be the “true” B/C gap and should be between .004” and .008” with .006” being optimum. If the gap is too tight, the cylinder will drag on the barrel when it gets fouled from shooting. If the gap is too wide, you will loose a little velocity but accuracy will not be affected. Repeat the same test only this time hold the cylinder forward and insert the thickest blade that fits with minimal friction. Subtract the last measurement from the first one. This will be “cylinder endshake”. Endshake should be .002 to .005”. If endshake is too tight, the gun may bind up when you shoot it. If endshake is too loose, it could affect other functions of the gun such as cylinder timing, light primer hits, and cylinder lock-up.
Headspace: This test requires a “virgin” empty case. Insert the case in a chamber and locate it directly in line with the firing pin hole. While holding the cylinder firmly to the rear, slide the thickest blade of a gap gauge that will fit with friction between the case head and recoil shield (frame). This should measure .008-.012” with .010” as optimum. If headspace is too tight, the case heads may drag on the recoil shield and hamper cylinder movement. If headspace is excessive, you can get misfires and/or expanded case heads.
Cylinder-to-bore alignment: This requires using a Range Rod and a calibrated cartridge case. Insert the Range Rod into the bore and push it in slowly until the tip of the Range Rod moves through the cylinder and contacts the frame. You may have to help it a little by wiggling the cylinder. Pull the Range Rod out until the tip is past the face of the cylinder and observe the collar in reference to the muzzle. This will give an indication on how deep the Range Rod has been inserted when testing. Turn the Range Rod handle so the reference post is in the 12 o’clock position. Listen and feel for the feeler tip of the Range Rod to contact the cylinder face as you move the Range Rod in and out. Repeat the test with the reference post in the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock position. Ideally, the Range Rod will enter the chamber throat without “ticking” on the cylinder face in all positions. If all chambers pass this test, the gun is within specifications.
Timing sequence: Timing is the series of events that happen from the moment you begin to squeeze the trigger in DA or begin to cock the hammer in SA and ends when the trigger finally resets for the next shot.
Single Action Cycle:
As the hammer is being cocked:
1. Trigger begins to move to the rear.
2. Cylinder latch is pulled down, releasing the cylinder.
3. The pawl engages the extractor ratchet and begins to rotate the cylinder CCW.
4. Cylinder latch is released and snaps up to ride on the cylinder.
5. Cylinder latch engages the cylinder notch.
6. Transfer bar is lifted into position.
7. Pawl cams off of the extractor ratchet.
8. Hammer reaches the cocking point and is held to the rear by the SA sear.
As the trigger is pulled:
9. Trigger moves to the rear raising the transfer bar slightly.
10. SA sear releases the hammer.
11. Hammer moves forward under tension of the hammer spring.
12. Hammer strikes the transfer bar.
13. Transfer bar strikes the firing pin.
14. Firing pin strikes the primer causing the gun to fire.
15. Firing pin retracts under spring tension.
As the trigger is released:
16. Trigger begins to move forward.
17. Transfer bar is pulled down.
18. Trigger plunger resets on cylinder latch.
19. Pawl is pulled down to reset position.
20. Trigger is fully forward and at rest.
Double Action Cycle:
As the trigger is pulled
1. Trigger cams the hammer back.
2. Cylinder latch is pulled down, releasing the cylinder.
3. Pawl moves up and begins to rotate the cylinder CCW.
4. Cylinder latch is released and pops up to ride on the cylinder.
5. Trigger and hammer continue to move to the rear raising the transfer bar.
6. Cylinder stop engages the cylinder notch and locks.
7. Hammer dog releases the hammer allowing it to transfer to the DA sear.
8. DA sear releases hammer allowing it to spring forward.
9. Hammer strikes the transfer bar.
10. Transfer bar strikes the firing pin.
11. Firing pin strikes the primer causing the gun to fire.
12. Firing pin retracts under spring tension.
As the trigger is released:
13. Trigger begins to move forward.
14. Transfer bar is pulled down.
15. Trigger plunger resets on cylinder latch.
16. Pawl is pulled down to reset position.
17. Trigger is fully forward and at rest.
Initial timing: Swing the cylinder open and look for the cylinder latch that is located on the bottom flat area of the frame, just above the trigger. Now close the cylinder and rotate it slightly until the cylinder locks up. Watch the cylinder latch from the right side as you begin cocking the hammer. The cylinder latch should drop and free the cylinder before the cylinder actually begins to rotate. Do the same test in DA by pulling the trigger and watching the cylinder latch. Again, the latch should drop before the cylinder begins to rotate. If initial timing is slow, the cylinder will try to rotate before it is released. This will cause a bind in DA trigger pull or a hard start cocking for SA. A worn or out of spec trigger plunger (part #48) or cylinder latch (part #6) will cause late initial timing.
Carry-up timing: Carry-up is a condition where the cylinder is supposed to lock up near the end of a hammer stroke. To test, watch the cylinder latch and slowly cock the hammer. The latch should drop then pop back up and drag on the cylinder. The cylinder latch should engage a cylinder lock notch and lock the cylinder in place before the hammer is fully cocked in all six positions. Again in the DA mode, slowly pull the trigger and make sure the cylinder locks up in each of the six positions before the hammer releases. An excessively premature carry-up can cause a trigger pull gag near the end of the trigger stroke. Late carry-up could allow the gun to fire before the cylinder is locked. Normally, GP-100s tend to carry-up a bit early. A pawl that is too long causes premature carry-up. Late lockup is caused by a worn or out of spec pawl or extractor ratchets.
Trigger pull: Use a trigger pull test scale to measure SA and DA trigger pull weight. This will be a good reference point for a “before and after” scenario You can also use a string and can then start filling the can with shot or sand until the hammer trips. Even a “fish scale” will work for measuring trigger pull. Normal out-of-the-box SA trigger pull is 6 lbs. DA trigger pull is normally 14 lbs.
Firing pin protrusion: The firing pin in a GP-100 is an “inertia” device. This means it is spring loaded so the firing pin will retract after being struck. When the hammer strikes the transfer bar and in turn the transfer bar strikes the firing pin, the firing pin will be driven considerably farther than one would think. If you examine the firing pin protrusion with the trigger pulled and the hammer pushing the transfer bar forward, you will get a false indication of protrusion. Note: a longer firing pin than the standard factory firing pin will not apply any more energy to the primer. If you get light primer hits, it’s very rarely the firing pin but rather the hammer energy. The protrusion test is best conducted after the hammer has been removed and is detailed later in the text.
Push off: The sear is designed to hold the hammer cocked in the SA mode. If the sear is altered or defective, the sear could release by pushing on the hammer. To test, cock the hammer and apply considerable forward pressure to the top of the hammer. Do not overdo it or you will break the sear. If the hammer pushes off, you will need to repair the sear or replace the hammer (part #64) or trigger (part #68). Note: both the hammer and trigger are factory fitted parts and are not sold by Ruger or Brownell’s as spare parts.
Cylinder lock-up: To test, dry fire the gun and hold the trigger all the way back to simulate the condition of the gun when fired. Rock the cylinder from side to side. A few thousandths play is normal. If side play is excessive, a new cylinder latch (part # 6) may be needed.
Parts function, disassembly, tuning, and reassembly
As each of the subassemblies and individual parts are discussed, a “*” will indicate a potential problem that may need attention. A schematic has been included for part number reference on page 16. Clean each part with solvent before inspecting or dressing. Remove all grease, oil, powder residue, and bullet residue as you go.
Grips: To remove the grips, unscrew the grip screw (part #19) most of the way out then push on the head of the screw to dislodge the left grip panel (part #17). Once the left panel is pushed out, a small disassembly pin (part # 9) will drop out. Remove the grip screw. Push in on the grip panel locator (part #18) from the left side until the right grip panel pops out. Pull the grip panel locater out of the right side. Slide the grip (part #14) down and off the grip frame.
* Hammer strut subassembly: The purpose of the hammer strut assembly is to contain the mainspring and provide a means to push the hammer forward. It is made up of a hammer strut, mainspring, and the mainspring seat. To remove the hammer strut assembly, cock the hammer then place the disassembly pin (part #9) in the hole near the end of the hammer strut (part #22). If you don’t have the disassembly pin, a paper clip will do. Ease the hammer down until it stops. Grab the strut assembly and pull it out of the gun. Note the “offset” in the strut. When you reassemble, the strut must be installed the same exact way it came out. Tighten the tip of the strut in a vise. Use a kitchen fork and place the tines of the fork in the spring coils near the seat. Push down to tension the spring enough to remove the disassembly pin. Note the way the mainspring seat (part #28) is installed. It must be reinstalled exactly the same way it came off. Ease the spring and seat off the strut. Be careful with this step because if you slip off, the spring and seat will launch under considerable force. The hammer strut is a stamped part that typically has very sharp edges. These edges and the ball tip need to be dressed down so the strut does not bind or drag on the mainspring or fulcrum seat in the hammer. Use a file or Dremmel Tool to round all four edges of the strut.
* Mainspring (hammer spring) considerations: The mainspring develops the energy needed to propel the hammer hard enough to detonate a primer. It also affects “lock time”, which is the time it takes for the hammer to hit the primer once the sear releases. Ruger typically installs a stronger mainspring than is necessary. A stronger mainspring will make both DA and SA trigger pull harder but it also reduces lock time. For best accuracy, you want to keep lock time as short as possible yet reduce trigger pull to a more comfortable level. The factory mainspring is rated at 14 lbs. A good compromise is a 12 lb mainspring. A spring kit is available from http://www.Brownells.com that includes a 9, 10, and 12 lb hammer spring (Brownell’s P/N 080-665-103). If you choose a mainspring lighter than 12 lbs, you may experience light primer hits (misfires) and will have a much longer lock time. Install the spring of your choice by placing the strut back in the vise. Slide the spring in place then use the kitchen fork to compress the spring. Place the mainspring seat on the strut and secure it with the disassembly pin. Remove the fork and set the strut assembly aside for now.
Hammer assembly: The purpose of the hammer is to apply a striking force to the primer when the SA or DA sear is tripped. The hammer has a small notch on the extension. This notch mates with the extension on the trigger to form the SA sear. When the hammer is cocked, the trigger extension is held by the hammer’s notch until the trigger is pulled. You can look in the frame slot just in front of the hammer and see the relationship of the SA sear. The spring loaded hammer dog (part #65) is picked up by the trigger cam extension in DA. As the trigger is pulled, the trigger extension cams the hammer back until the hammer dog slips off the trigger extension and is picked up by the DA sear. When the DA sear releases, it causes the hammer to thrust forward and fire. To remove the hammer (part # 64), pull the trigger all the way back and hold it there then use the round end of the hammer strut (part # 22) to push the left end of the hammer pivot pin (part #21) out. Grab the right flange on the hammer pivot pin and pull it completely out. Lift the hammer out of the frame. Release the trigger. See photos on pages 17 &18.
* Inspect the hammer’s sear notch for rough spots. Dress with a fine stone if necessary. Do not change the sear angle and don’t remove any more metal than absolutely necessary to clean up the sear notch.
To remove the hammer dog, use a paper clip or small pin punch to push the hammer dog pin (part #20) out of the hammer. The hammer dog plunger (part #5) and spring (part #4) will fall out.
* The lower inside area of the hammer dog is the mating surface for the DA sear. It must be smooth or DA trigger pull will feel raspy. Use a Dremmel Tool with a buffing wheel and fine grit compound to dress the lower rear surface of the hammer dog. Inspect the sides of the hammer for smoothness. Dress as necessary to remove sharp edges, rough spots, or residue. See photo on page 18.
Replace the hammer dog spring and plunger. Hold the hammer dog in position and install the hammer dog pivot pin. Test the hammer dog for free movement and spring return.
Trigger guard assembly: The assembly contains the trigger, cylinder latch, transfer bar, pawl, and their associated springs, plungers and pins. The assembly is held in the frame by a spring-loaded plunger (part #43). The tip of the plunger snaps into a hole in the frame, just behind the trigger guard and inside the grip frame. Locate the plunger tip and push it forward with a screwdriver or other tool while pulling downward lightly on the trigger guard. The complete assembly will pop out. Set the rest of the gun aside for now. Pull the trigger back slightly then remove the transfer bar (part #42). Hold the trigger back with your left forefinger and position your left thumb over the rear of the pawl (part #29). With your right hand, pull the pawl to the right to remove. The pawl spring (part #8) and pawl plunger (part #5) will try to pop out and launch unless you contain them with your thumb. Remove the pawl spring and plunger. Place your left index finger in the trigger guard behind the trigger. Use your left thumb to push the trigger guard latch in (part #43). Use a paper clip or stiff wire and push the latch retaining pin (part #20) completely out. Release the trigger guard latch (part #43) and pull it out. Pull the trigger guard latch spring (part #44), and the trigger link plunger (part #47) out of the hole in the trigger guard (part #69).
* Before removing the rest of the trigger parts, test the trigger for free movement. You should be able to move the trigger from stop to stop with no binding or dragging. If you detect a bind, try to isolate it by watching the trigger move inside the struts. Once the trigger is out, you can dress the high spots on the sides of the trigger or the inside of the struts. A fine file will work well to remove burrs or high spots.
Use a paperclip or small pin punch to push the trigger pin (part #70) all the way out. The trigger (part #68) and trigger plunger (part #48) will fall out. Position your left thumb over the cylinder latch (part #6) and slide the latch to the right to remove. The spring-loaded plunger may launch so keep you thumb in position until the latch is all the way out. Remove the latch plunger (part #30) and the spring (part #8) from the trigger guard assembly.
* The trigger plunger (part #48) is a stamped part, typically with sharp edges on one side. The nose (looks like ½ an arrowhead) activates the cylinder latch. If it isn’t perfectly smooth, the trigger doesn’t want to reset when released. If the nose of the trigger plunger is too short, you will get late initial timing. Place the rough side down on a piece of 400 grit sandpaper and burnish the side smooth. Buff the ramp of the ½ arrowhead until it is polished like chrome. Buff the little notch under the front of the arrowhead, especially the tip. This is the surface that pulls the cylinder latch down. If it is rough, you will feel a gag in the DA stroke.
* The cylinder latch (part #6) is a cast part with a machined surface on the bottom. Buff the top of the latch (the rounded part that locks into the cylinder) until it looks like chrome. Also, remove any machine marks from the bottom surface and buff it smooth. Remove any rough casting marks or sharp edges from the sides of the cylinder latch.
* The trigger (part #68) is cast and typically has sharp edges or rough surfaces. The cam surface at the top end of the trigger is the area used to cam back the hammer in DA and mates with the back edge of the hammer dog. It must be very smooth. The machined end of the cam is the SA sear. It too must be very smooth. Use a buffer to make these surfaces look like chrome. See photo on page 17.
* The pawl (part #29) is also a cast part and may have sharp edges or a rough surface. The top left tip of the pawl mates with the cylinder’s ratchets to rotate the cylinder. The top left side of the pawl should be polished like chrome.
* The transfer bar (part #42) is a cast part that almost always has sharp edges or casting marks. Dress the transfer bar with a 400-grit sandpaper to smooth it up.
* The cast trigger guard frame (part #69) should be “unpopulated” at this point. Inspect it carefully and remove any burrs from the lock lip in the front. Do not mess with the sharp side edges because they mate with the frame for cosmetics. Insert the trigger guard in the frame. Note the fit. Often the factory leaves the back surface (the flat area around the trigger guard latch hole) longer than it should be. This makes trigger guard removal very difficult. If the trigger guard has to be forced into the frame to fit, you can file down the rear flat surface until the trigger guard inserts into the frame with minimal friction.
* The hole in the trigger guard where the trigger/latch spring goes (part # 44) is often very rough from drill marks and is sometimes undersized. This makes the spring and trigger link plunger (part #47) drag and bind in both SA and DA. Use a 13/64” drill bit and “hand turn” it to clean up the hole. Do not try to drill any deeper, just get the hole smooth. Insert the trigger link plunger after you clean up the hole. It should move freely all the way through the hole. If the plunger does not move freely, dress the hole some more. Remove the trigger link plunger.
Reassembly of the trigger guard assembly: Insert the cylinder latch spring and plunger (parts #8 & 30) into the hole at the top front of the trigger guard frame, just under the horizontal shaft. Note: there are two spring and plunger sets. You want the longer one. With the cylinder latch (part #6) rounded area up, start the cylinder latch on the trigger guard frame shaft (top front). It will go on about half way before it contacts the plunger. Carefully use a tool to push the plunger down while pushing the cylinder latch fully on the shaft. If you slip off the plunger it will launch so be careful. Once the cylinder latch is on the shaft, check for free spring-loaded movement.
Set the trigger plunger (part #48) in the slot in the top of the trigger. The ½ arrowhead should be up and to the front. It is easiest to install by placing the arrowhead end in first while holding the back up at an angle. Once the trigger plunger is in position, insert the trigger into the trigger guard frame making sure the spring strut is in the trigger spring hole. Use a paper clip or wire as a follower and insert it into the trigger pivot pin hole. Insert the trigger pivot pin while pulling the follower out. This keeps the parts aligned. Once the trigger pivot pin is installed, make sure it is flush on both ends. As you rock the trigger guard back and forth, the trigger should move freely from stop to stop. Insert the trigger link plunger (part #47) in the hole dimple end first. Apply a drop of oil in the hole.
* Now is a good time to decide on a trigger return/trigger guard latch spring. The factory spring is a little heavy (11 lbs). The above referenced spring kit comes with an 8 lb and 10 lb spring. You may be able to use either one, however the 10 lb spring will have a more positive trigger reset. The stronger the spring, the heavier both SA and DA trigger pull will be. Insert the trigger return/trigger guard latch spring (part #44) of your choice. Insert the trigger guard latch (part #43) with the flat surface up. Hold the latch in with your left thumb against spring tension while inserting the latch-retaining pin (part #20) in the hole with your right hand. Make sure the retaining pin is flush on both sides. Hold the trigger all the way back with your left hand and middle finger. Insert the pawl spring and plunger (parts #8 & 5) in the hole of the trigger, just under the cam surface. Apply a drop of oil to the plunger. Start the pawl shaft into the hole with the pawl leaning forward. Push the plunger down while sliding the pawl in. Note: the plunger and spring are notorious for launching. This step is best done inside a clear plastic bag to prevent loosing the plunger & spring. Once the pawl is in all the way, position it vertically and allow the trigger to move forward. Pull the trigger back slightly, apply a drop of oil to the transfer bar lug then insert the transfer bar (part #42) into the hole opposite the pawl. Allow the trigger to spring forward to retain both the transfer bar and pawl. Set the trigger guard assembly aside for now.
Cylinder assembly removal: Press the cylinder release button (part #52) and swing the cylinder out. Pull the crane and cylinder forward to remove it from the frame. Note: taking the cylinder assembly apart and putting it back together is tricky. There really aren’t any parts that need dressed inside the cylinder so you may not want to take it apart, however powder residue does accumulate inside the cylinder so you may need to clean and lubricate it. If the endshake test at the beginning was out of spec (more than .005”), you will need to take the cylinder apart to install endshake bearings.
* You can get to the ejector (part #58) without taking the cylinder assembly apart. Push the ejector rod in all the way. Place your thumb and fingers between the bottom of the ejector (star wheel) and the top of the cylinder to hold the ejector up. Inspect all six tips of the ejector by dragging your fingernail across the tips. Typically, the tips have a line of galling on the top outer edge. These raised lines will not allow the cartridges to seat properly and will cause them to drag on the recoil shield. Use a fine file to dress the tips.
* Closely inspect the edges of the ratchets. Hold the cylinder as before so you are looking down at the ejector. The tip of the pawl catches the right leading edge of the ratchets to rotate the cylinder. The inside edge of each ratchet (the side with the angle cut) must be smooth and free of burrs. You can remove any burrs on the outside diameter of the ratchet and the inner slots with a fine jeweler’s file. Any rough spot will cause the pawl to dig in, make DA trigger pull raspy, and will wear the tip of the pawl. See photo on page 19. If you decide not to disassemble the cylinder, move on to the Frame topic.
Cylinder disassembly: Locate the hole drilled on the flat surface of the crane (part #51). Use a paper clip or small pin punch inserted in the hole and push down. You should feel the spring-loaded plunger (parts # 22 & 23) move down. While pressing the plunger down, push the latch pivot pin (part #25) out from the inside of the crane. The front latch (part #13), latch plunger (part #26), and latch plunger spring (part #4) will fall out. Pull the ejector rod (part #11) out of the cylinder. Pull the crane (part #51) out of the cylinder. You can accomplish a good cleaning without taking the internal cylinder parts out. Flood the inside of the cylinder hole with a good cleaner and blow it out with compressed air.
This next step is not recommended unless you have the proper tool. Use a hollow shaft flat tip screwdriver and unscrew (left hand thread) the ejector retainer (part #60). Note: the ejector retainer is secured with thread lock. Pull the center pin rod (part #2) and center pin spring (part #3) out from the front and the ejector (part #58) out from the rear. After the parts have been cleaned, insert the ejector from the rear and the spring and center pin rod from the front. Thread the ejector retainer back on being careful not to get it cross-threaded or tightening it too much.
Note: Now is the time to install cylinder endshake bearings if needed. The endshake bearings are nothing more than washers .002” thick. (Brownell’s P/N 713-200-002) You can stack them if necessary. Example: if your endshake was .006”, you could install one bearing to bring the endshake back in spec (.002-.005”) or two bearings leaving .002” of endshake. Never set endshake to less than .002”. To install endshake bearings, put a drop of oil on the end of the crane tube and another drop on the front tube flange. Place endshake bearing(s) on the crane tube and insert the crane into the cylinder. Do not force the crane into the hole or you will ruin the endshake bearings.
Cylinder reassembly: Put a drop of gun oil on the end of the crane tube and another drop on each ball bearing. Do not over lubricate or powder residue will form a gritty paste and bind up the cylinder. Insert the crane into the cylinder hole until it fully seats. Put a drop of oil on the short slotted end of the ejector rod (part #11). Hold the crane so the flat surface is up. Insert the slotted end of the ejector rod with the short slot up, into the crane and cylinder hole. Look in the slot at the front of the crane. You should see a hole drilled to accommodate the plunger spring. Insert the front latch spring and plunger (parts #4 & 26) in the slot and move the spring until it falls in the hole. Insert the end of the front latch (part #13) with the squared step into the lower long slot of the ejector rod. The curved nose should capture the plunger tip. Insert a wire in the top hole of the flat surface of the crane and push down against spring tension. Insert the latch pivot pin (part #25). Maneuver the pivot pin until it goes through the hole in the front latch. You may have to press and release the spring loaded plunger with the wire a few times to get the pivot pin to seat all the way. When the pivot pin is fully seated, the pin will be flush with the inside surface of the crane. Test the ejector rod by pushing it in and allowing it to spring back. If there is a bind, you will have to disassemble and find out why. Hold the crane vertical with the ejector rod down. Spin the cylinder. It should spin freely with no binds. Set the cylinder assembly aside for now.
* Frame inspection and deburring: Inspect the inside of the frame. Look for galls or splinters of metal, especially where the nose of the trigger guard assembly hooks into the frame and the inner sides of the frame where the hammer fits. Remove any galls and clean the channels inside the frame.
* Firing pin: Use a tool to push the firing pin all the way forward. You should feel the spring tension of the firing pin spring. Firing pin travel should be smooth. If not, force solvent into the firing pin hole and push the firing pin in multiple times to help clean out the firing pin and hole. Blow it out with compressed air. When pushed in all the way, the firing pin should protrude .055-.065”. This can be measured by laying gap gauge blades on the recoil shield and matching protrusion to thickness. The firing pin is secured by a recoil plate (part #31) and held in place by a recoil plate cross pin (part #66). Removing the firing pin is not recommended because it will damage the finish. The firing pin is a factory fitted part. To remove the firing pin, you must first drive the cross pin out then push the recoil plate (AKA firing pin bushing) from the rear. A coil spring (part #12) is installed between the collar on the firing pin and the recoil plate.
Barrel inspection: Clean the bore and forcing cone thoroughly before inspecting. Look for chatter marks in the bore where the rifling is interrupted. Look for a restriction at the area where the barrel screws into the frame. If the bore is damaged, the gun must be returned to the factory for a barrel replacement. Minor rough spots are not an issue. Closely inspect the forcing cone. If you see machine marks, low spots, or any corruption, the forcing cone should be chamfered with a reamer. An 11 degree reamer provides a smoother transition from throat to bore and is recommended. A corrupted forcing cone will affect accuracy and will increase bullet fouling.
Crane latch inspection: When the cylinder is closed and latched, the rear of the cylinder is secured by the center pin rod in the hole of the frame under tension of the ejector spring. The crane’s front latch is pushed into a slot in the frame. When the cylinder is opened, the crane latch (AKA cylinder release button, part #52) will spring in. The center pin rod is pushed forward and releases from the frame hole. The center pin rod releases the front cylinder latch.
* Push on the front edge of the crane latch to check for free movement against spring tension. Inspect the recoil shield center pin hole. The tip of the crane latch should be flush with the recoil shield surface (+or- a few thousandths). If the pin is flush and the latch operates smoothly, there is no need to remove the latch. If the crane latch pin protrudes past flush, you will have to file a little off the end. If it is too short, a new one will have to be fitted and installed at the Ruger factory. A long crane latch pin will prevent the front latch from securing the front of the cylinder assembly. A short pin will make it very difficult to release the cylinder. If the latch binds, you will have to locate the bind and dress the frame or crane latch. To remove the crane latch, use a small hollow ground flat tip screwdriver and unscrew the crane latch pivot screw (part #53), hidden under the crane latch. Once the screw is out, manipulate the latch until it falls out. Note: the spring and plunger (parts #4&5) will also fall out. The screw has thread lock. Dress the crane latch and partially insert it in the frame. Insert the spring and plunger into the latch and position the latch so the crane latch pivot screw will enter the hole in the latch. Tighten the screw until it stops but do not over tighten.
Front sight inspection: If the barrel is threaded into the frame improperly, the front sight will tilt to one side or the other. Check vertical alignment by making sure the barrel rib is aligned with the front top strap. On adjustable sight models, the front sight can be easily removed and replaced with a different type sight. Use a small punch or screwdriver and push in on the front sight plunger (part #38). Lift the rear of the sight to unlatch. Remove the front sight (part #32). The sight plunger (part #38) and spring (part #39) can be removed if necessary by pushing the plunger forward with a stiff wire from inside the sight channel. After cleaning, insert the spring then insert the plunger with the slot up. Place the front dovetail of the sight in the channel. Push the sight plunger in while holding the sight down until the sight drops in place. Note: there are a host of different front sights available from Ruger or aftermarket sources. All Super Redhawk sights will fit a GP-100.
Rear sight inspection: On adjustable sight models, insert a proper fitting flat blade screwdriver in the windage screw (part #35). Turn the screw in and out. The rear sight should click at each of the 8 positions and the rear sight should move up when rotating counter-clockwise or down if rotated clockwise. Each click moving the rear sight up will raise the bullet’s point of impact. Insert a small flat blade screwdriver in the windage screw (part #40). Each of the six positions should click. Turning the screw clockwise will move the sight blade to the left and will move the point of impact to the left as well. To remove the rear sight, hold the rear sight blade down with your thumb and unscrew the elevation screw all the way. Ease the sight up to release spring tension. Push the sight pivot pin (part #37) out with a stiff wire or pin punch. Lift the sight off. There will be two springs (part #36) under the sight. To reinstall, place the springs in the pre-drilled holes.
Lay the sight in position and push the sight pivot pin into the hole and through the sight until it is flush on both sides. Insert the elevation screw. Hold the rear of the sight down and tighten the screw to the desired position. Note: Black, white outline, and V notch rear sight blades are available from Ruger. Several other styles are available from aftermarket sources. To remove the rear sight blade, turn the windage screw counter-clockwise until the right edge of the sight blade is flush with the sight base. Put your thumbnail in the sight notch and pull the sight blade to the left against spring tension until the right side pops up and releases from the captive windage screw. Pull the sight blade up and out of the channel. To install a new sight blade, insert the left lower corner into the coil spring. Pull the blade to the left with your thumbnail until the right side of the blade drops in. Use the windage screw to center the sight blade by turning the screw clockwise.
Installing the subassemblies: Put a drop of gun oil on the shaft of the crane. Insert the crane shaft into the frame hole while holding the cylinder in the open position. Once seated, swing the cylinder into the latched position.
Apply a drop of oil to the trigger pivot pin and trigger plunger. Hold the gun with the muzzle down and insert the front tab of the trigger guard assembly into the frame notch. Snap the trigger guard assembly into position. Note: if the trigger guard assembly doesn’t snap in, don’t force it. Chances are the transfer bar or the pawl is not positioned properly. You may be able to position the parts by inserting a wire through the hammer slot. Once the trigger guard assembly is snapped in, make sure it is fully latched and the surfaces of the frame mate with the surfaces of the trigger guard assembly.
Pull the trigger all the way back and hold it there. Drop the hammer into the slot. Turn the gun sideways with the serial number side up. Align the hammer’s frame hole with the hammer hole. Apply a drop of oil on the hammer pivot pin then insert it into the frame. Release the trigger.
With the hammer fully forward, insert the hammer strut assembly in the grip frame. The straight edge of the strut goes up. The notched end of the strut seat goes down with the flat surface to the front. Cock the hammer and remove the disassembly pin. Apply a few drops of oil along the hammer spring. Pull the trigger and ease the hammer down.
Slip the rubber grip over the grip frame until the big hole in the grip aligns with the hole in the grip frame. Slide the grip panel locator into position with an equal amount of pin extending from both sides. Lay the disassembly pin in the slot at the bottom of the left side. Snap the left grip insert into position. Snap the right grip insert into position. Insert the grip screw from the right side and tighten it with a screwdriver.
Dry fire the gun several times to make sure everything works properly.
Advanced Action Work
There are a number of things you can do with a GP-100 that require machining or skills beyond a hobbyist. The hammer cannot be purchased from Ruger or Brownell’s so if you ruin it, you’re out of luck. You may find a used one from Numrich or E-bay.
Trigger shimming: Remove the trigger guard assembly and measure the side play between the one side of the trigger and the strut. Normally, there will be about .008” trigger side play, yours may vary. Subtract .002” and divide the remainder by 2. In the case of .008” gap, .008-.002=.006”; .006/2=.003” Make shim washers .003” thick and install them on both sides of the trigger between the struts. This will serve as a boss or bearing surface and will keep the trigger from moving sideways when pulled. It will reduce friction from the struts and will force the trigger to make a more uniform contact with the hammer. Shim specs: OD=.3”; ID=.1” After installing the shims, make sure the trigger moves freely in the struts.
Hammer shimming: With the gun fully assembled, measure the gap between one side of the hammer and the frame. Much like the trigger, you will usually see about .008” of slack. This slack allows the hammer to wander a bit horizontally. Look at the sides of the hammer. If you see arc like scratches, it means the hammer has been dragging on the frame. This reduces hammer thrust and prevents the hammer from seating with the trigger exactly the same for each shot. This is evidenced by measuring the SA trigger pull 10 times and getting different pull weights. Use the same formula as with the trigger. Assuming a .008” gap, install .003” shim washers on both sides of the hammer. This creates a “boss” at the hammer’s pivot point and not only controls side drift, it acts like a bearing to reduce friction and prevents the hammer from rubbing on the frame. Installing the shims is a trick. The best way is to insert the hammer then slide the shim down the side of the hammer. Use a gap gauge blade to push it into position. Do the serial number side of the gun first then start the hammer pivot pin and do the other side. Shim specs: OD=.5”; ID=.2” When both shims are in and the hammer pivot pin is seated, check the hammer for free movement.
Transfer bar, hammer and firing pin relationship: When the hammer strikes the transfer bar and in turn the firing pin, much of the energy is dissipated by the top step on the hammer hitting the frame. Instead of energy being efficiently transferred to the firing pin, much of the energy is wasted. This becomes very important when light hammer springs are used. You need all the energy you can get to prevent light primer hits. The solution is to remove some metal from the top step of the hammer so less energy is wasted. If you remove too much metal from the top step, the hammer will “capture” the transfer bar and not allow it to retract. This would cause a failure to reset condition for the trigger (won’t spring back). You can safely take .020” off the top hammer step. If the transfer bar captures, you can remove a few thousandths at a time from the rear surface of the transfer bar until it resets properly.
Skeletonizing the hammer: Energy is derived from velocity squared times mass. As you can see, velocity has more influence than mass. With spring-powered devices such as a hammer, you can reduce mass in non-critical areas and increase hammer velocity considerably. This has two major advantages. The lock time will be greatly reduced and the amount of energy on the firing pin will be increased. You can then install very light hammer springs and still get lock times just as fast as a factory spring with a factory hammer while having plenty of energy on the firing pin for reliable primer detonation. There are a number of patterns and techniques you can use. The critical mass portion of the hammer is the spur and above. This mass functions much like a hammer used to drive nails. The “handle” of the hammer is the area below the spur and above the fulcrum (pivot pin). You don’t want to remove any metal within ¼” of the center of the pivot pin hole, or the hammer will develop too much side play. So, any metal between that point and the spur is fair game. Ruger made the hammer very massive so you can easily reduce the weight by 25% without compromising strength. You can drill holes through the sides of the hammer or machine the hammer sides to give an “hour glass” figure when viewed from the rear. When a factory hammer is installed, you can trace the contour of the frame and remove all metal from just below the spur to the back edge. Installing hammer shims also improves this technique.
Chamfering the chambers: When GP-100s are used for competition, speed loaders will also be used. Cartridges don’t like being poked into a sharp hole, especially lead bullets. You can chamfer the mouth of the chambers with an 8 degree reamer. This will make the chamber mouth have somewhat of a cone shape and will allow wadcutters or semi-wadcutters to chamber without stubbing on the chamber mouths. Chamfering the mouths will not restrict using full power loads nor will it have any other adverse affect. Use a forcing cone reamer and cut just enough to see a cone develop. Remove the cylinder assembly from the frame and insert 5 spent cases in the chambers. Ream the empty chamber then switch cases to expose another chamber until all are chamfered.
Optimizing for lead bullets: GP-100s come from the factory optimized for jacketed bullets. The bore diameter is typically very uniform at .357~.3575”. Cylinder throats are typically .3575”. This is a bit tight for lead bullets. You can open the throats to .3585” with a throat reamer from Brownell’s. This will make all throats the same size. It allows lead bullets to “bump-up” in diameter then get sized to bore diameter by the forcing cone. Chamfering the forcing cone to 11 degrees is also recommended. Optimizing for lead bullets will improve accuracy and reduce lead fouling. You can still shoot jacketed bullets with near-equal performance to the factory set up. Accuracy will probably not change but fouling will be reduced. You will lose a token amount of velocity, typically 25-50 fps for a magnum load.
Bore lapping: Fire lapping products are not recommended. They create excessive wear to the edges of the rifling and have the same effect as firing thousands of rounds of ammunition. Using valve grinding compound and a cloth patch hand powered on a cleaning rod works best. Working from the muzzle and taking about 100 back and forth strokes will smooth the striation marks quite well yet leave the sharp rifling in tact. Lapping will help reduce fouling but does very little for accuracy or velocity.
Due to copyright issues the schematic had to be removed. Please refer to the following link at Brownells for the schematic.
Note: Part numbers in RED are available from Ruger or Brownell’s. Part numbers in BLACK are factory fitted parts and are not sold without sending the gun to Ruger.
Check the Ruger forum for additional work by Iowegan on various Ruger firearms at http://www.rugerforum.net
May 31, 2008
Selecting a concealed carry gun is a very challenging task especially during the summer months. I offer this insight from Syd at “The Sight 1911”.
Selecting a Pistol for Concealed Carry
If you are reading this, perhaps you haven’t made up your mind or have questions about your selection of a personal defense handgun. There have been many articles written on this subject, most of which boil down to a discussion of calibers and actions. While the caliber and action discussion is important, I find it incomplete and lacking in some important considerations for a person who carries a concealed handgun for self defense. Hence, my point of departure is what it means to live with a pistol every day.
The paradox of the concealed personal defense weapon is that it is something you hope you will never have to use for its intended purpose, but with which you must achieve a level of mastery and familiarity comparable to the other tools you use to survive and get through your day. You wouldn’t drive to work in a car that you didn’t know how to operate. You wouldn’t wear a coat that was three sizes too small or use a carpenter’s saw to slice up a pot roast. No, you use the tools appropriate to the job and you learn how to work with them competently. The same holds true with a self defense pistol. You should know how to operate it and have the level of skill necessary to use it safely and effectively. It should fit your hand and your lifestyle because you will be spending a lot of time with it. It should be comfortable to shoot and hopefully to carry, although when asked if a carry gun should be comfortable to wear, master trainer Clint Smith said, “Your carry gun should be comforting, not comfortable.” Your pistol should be powerful enough to do the job and accurate enough to hit the target. It should be completely reliable, and its operation should be as familiar to you as riding a bicycle or brushing your teeth. You must also have a clear understanding of the legal issues surrounding the use of deadly force — when you can and when you can’t — and the methods and techniques of using a gun in a self defense situation. Sounds like a lot? You’re right; it is, and if you are unwilling to master the skills and concepts of lethal force, do yourself a favor and just don’t carry a gun. (See also The Psychology of Self Defense and the Force Continuum)
Skill and Familiarity
Handguns are not easy to shoot well. The ability to consistently put bullets into a target quickly and in the places which will stop an attacker is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Too many people have the notion that a pistol is a kind of magical talisman and the user need only take it out and wave it around and the problem will magically disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. A gun brandished at the wrong time and without the fighting skills necessary to employ it effectively will make a whole bunch of new problems, including getting you killed or arrested and charged with some very serious crimes. Hence, making the decision to carry a gun should be made only with the commitment to practice and learn. This may take the shape of attending classes or participating in a practical shooting sport like IDPA. At the very least, a regular practice schedule should be part of the package. This means that you will be spending a lot of time with your pistol. The gun should be comfortable in your hand, have manageable recoil, and be sturdy enough to stand up to heavy use in practice sessions, matches, and classes. The gun should also have reasonable accuracy. You should be able to consistently put all of your shots in an area the size of a saucer at ten yards quickly.
Types and Sizes: Pros and Cons
When many folks think of a concealed carry gun, they think of little-bitty pocket pistols that will easily disappear into a pocket or purse. While these may be light and convenient, that’s all they are. Aside from that, they’re pretty useless. They lack the power to put down a determined attacker and they lack the accuracy to hit anything at more than spitting distance. But even more importantly, most little guns are unpleasant to shoot. Being very light and having small handles, their muzzle flip is very bad. After a few rounds your hand may begin to hurt. Shoot a match or take a class at Gunsite with one of these pocket guns? Forget it. If you don’t learn to use it, how much good is it going to do you when the chips are down? In this group, I would include the small Berettas, Airweight snubnose revolvers, Seecamp .32’s, Kel-Tek .32’s and derringers. There may be a place for these pistols, but they all suffer from serious inadequacies. (I am particularly fond of the Airweight snubnose .38 Special revolver, but it can be an unpleasant gun to fire.)
Medium Frame Revolvers
Even though they have been around for 165 years, revolvers remain an excellent solution. These pistols are simple to use and accurate. They can handle hot loads and larger bullets making them effective personal defense weapons. Examples of this class of pistol are the Ruger GP Series and the S&W Model 66. The ideal revolver would have a 3″ to 4″ barrel, a six-round cylinder, and a grip that fills your hand. The biggest drawback of these pistols is the speed of reloading, but with practice, a revolver can be reloaded as quickly as an autoloader.
Medium Frame Auto Pistols
The overwhelming majority of professional trainers, operators, law enforcement and military people prefer medium to large framed autoloading pistols. These pistols have the best combination of speed, firepower, accuracy, and power. These pistols will generally load 8-10 rounds in their magazines (or more if you can find the magazines), have full-length grips, and 3.5″ or longer barrels. These guns tend to have adequate accuracy and power, and large enough grips to be comfortable. Examples of this type of pistol would be the Glock 17, 19, 21 and 22, the S&W 39xx, 59xx, and 69xx series, the SIG 22x series, the H&K USP and P7, the Kimber ProCarry and Compact, the Springfield Champion, Para-Ordnance P12, and many others.
Large Frame Pistols and Revolvers
I like big pistols. They shoot more accurately, absorb more recoil, and develop greater muzzle velocity due to their longer barrels. I would include in this group the Beretta 92, the Colt Government Model M1911 (and clones), The N Frame S&W revolvers, Colt Python, Anaconda and their copies. Characteristically, these guns have 5″ barrels and weigh 36 oz. or more. The biggest drawback of these pistols is their weight. They get heavy and small framed people may have difficulty concealing them.
Autoloader Action Types
There are four types of actions around which semi-auto pistols are built. It’s important to understand the differences:
Single Action – M1911 Colt .45 ACP and Browning Hi-Power 9mm
This is the oldest autoloader design still in service, designed by John Browning (with the help of the Army Ordnance Board) during the period between 1905 and 1911. The hammer must be cocked, generally by racking the slide, for the gun to fire. This design in .45 ACP, .40 S&W and .38 Super is favored by competitive shooters, FBI SWAT, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and many special forces units because it has the best trigger, outstanding accuracy and is very fast. For the gun to be carried in a state of readiness, the hammer must be cocked and the manual safety applied, “cocked and locked” (see “The Conditions of Readiness”). This looks scary and is not recommended for novices or those suffering from attention deficit disorder.
Double Action/Single Action – Beretta 92F (Armed Forces M9), most Smith & Wesson autos, SIG, Walther, and some Rugers.
This has been the standard design for most autos for the last 50 years. These pistols are cocked by the first trigger pull, but subsequent shots are cocked by the action of the slide cycling back. Consequently, the first trigger pull is long and harder (Double Action) since it is also cocking the hammer. Subsequent trigger pulls are easy (Single Action) since the hammer is already cocked. These guns have an external safety lever which puts the gun on safe and de-cocks the hammer. This is generally thought to be the safest design since the long, heavy first trigger pull and the external safety which blocks the firing pin tend to prevent the gun from going off by accident. The criticism of this design is that it forces the shooter to learn two different trigger pulls and accuracy often suffers on the first double action shot. Most accidental discharges with these sorts of pistols are the result of the shooter forgetting to de-cock the hammer.
Double Action/Single Action with De-Cocker Only – Ruger and SIG
This is a variant of the DA/SA which is used by Ruger and SIG. It functions just like a DA/SA except the “safety” lever is not a safety. It only de-cocks the hammer, but the gun will still fire when the de-cocker is applied and the trigger is pulled. I personally do not like this design since the de-cocker looks just like a safety lever but does not put the gun on safe.
Double Action Only – Glock, Smith & Wesson Sigma, some Berettas, some Rugers, Kahr, Kel-Tec, and others.
This is the newest action design made popular by Glock. With these pistols every trigger pull is the same and they have no external safety or decocking levers. The hammers are not cocked by the cycling of the slide (except for the Glocks which are pre-cocked by the slide cycle, and are not true double action). DAO pistols depend on the long double action trigger pull to prevent accidental discharges. In a sense these are autoloaders which fire like revolvers. Triggers vary from model to model. Some, like the Glocks, have very light triggers. Other DAO triggers can be quite heavy and long, and can be very unpleasant to shoot. The advantage of this action is its simplicity and the fact that every trigger pull is the same.
Calibers and Power
Here we get into mysticism and voodoo, and I will just give you my personal opinion and you can take it for what it’s worth. I like the .45 ACP and the .357 Magnum the best. Just under them in effectiveness are the .40 S&W, the .44 Special and the 9mm. Below them are the .38 Special and the .380 ACP. There are other cartridges, but these are the most common for personal defense weapons and the ammunition is readily available.
I wouldn’t be comfortable with anything smaller than a .380 (actually, I wouldn�t be comfortable with anything smaller than a .45 ACP, but that�s a different argument. See also Jim Higginbotham’s “Case for the .45 ACP”). My personal favorite handgun cartridge is the .45 ACP because of its power and accuracy, but smaller cartridges will do the job if you do your part. Like the selection of the gun, the selection of a cartridge should be based on your ability to shoot it well. A good hit with a .380 is better than a miss with a .45. So, as a general rule, your self defense cartridge should be the largest and most powerful load that you shoot well.
The Selection Process
Don’t be in a rush to buy the first gun you see. Give it a lot of thought. Ideally, shoot as many pistols as you can before you make a decision. Most gun ranges have pistols you can rent to see how they feel. If you have friends who own pistols, go shooting with them. Most will be happy to let you shoot their guns and share with you their experiences with them.
Be careful about the advice of clerks at gun stores. Some are very knowledgeable but many others are total idiots. Just because someone works at a gun store doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is an expert on personal defense pistols. They will all offer an opinion, whether they actually know anything about the matter or not.
I would also maintain a healthy degree of skepticism toward articles in popular gun magazines. They don�t make money by trashing the offerings of their advertisers.
Consider how you dress and your lifestyle. How will you carry the pistol? Can you adjust your wardrobe to accommodate your pistol? Particular body shapes may present special problems. Your physical strength and conditioning may also be a factor, i.e., powerful auto pistols tend to function better for people with strong arms and hands. How much time do you have to devote to practice? As a rule of thumb, autos require more training than revolvers, so don’t pick a single-action .45 auto if you’re not willing to learn to use it.
As important as any other single factor is the size and geometry of your hand. Hand size varies greatly between people and it is very important to handle a gun and note carefully the comfort of the grip and the position of the controls on the pistol. If you can’t easily manipulate every control on the gun with either hand, then find a different gun. People with short thumbs may have trouble with the safety of an M1911. People with short palms may have difficulty with the thick handles of the double-stack 9mm and .40 pistols. People with meaty hands may be “bitten” by the slide of a small auto when it cycles.
Does the gun feel good in your hand? Is the trigger smooth or is it rough and heavy? Is the frame fairly narrow so that it will conceal well? Does the gun have the right balance of power, weight and size? (Remember, bigger is better for shooting and power, but can you carry it for 8 hours if you have to?)
You will notice that I have said nothing about price. I really hate to hear people making a decision on a handgun based on price. No one wants to pay more than we have to or what is fair, but price should be the last consideration. You won�t remember a hundred or so dollars extra you paid for the right pistol, but you will remember the ill-fitting bargain pistol that doesn�t shoot right or feel good.
To summarize, hold it, feel it, fire it if you can, and recognize that you’re going to spend a lot of time with the pistol. Remember also, that it may be called upon someday to defend your life. No, it isn’t easy, and you may end up buying two or three pistols before you find the one with just the right balance of weight, power and comfort.
The selection of a holster which fits the gun you intend to carry is critically important. For a detailed discussion on this matter, click here.
Most of the tactical gurus recommend the carry of at least one reload. If you observe police officers, they often carry 2-4 extra magazines or speed-loaders. If your gun is an autoloader, the second magazine is a good idea for two reasons: (1) you may need the extra rounds (and it’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them), and (2) magazines sometimes fail and having a backup will ensure that you won’t get caught with a non-functioning gun. Hopefully, very few of us will ever need twenty one or more rounds, but the carry of a spare magazine or speed-loader is just a wise practice. One of the reasons I prefer an autoloader to a wheel gun in this role is that the flat shape of a magazine is easier to carry on your belt than the rounded and somewhat bulky shape of the speed-loader used for revolvers.
Summary of Selection Criteria
1. Your personal defense weapon should be as large and as powerful as you can shoot accurately and carry with a reasonable degree of comfort and concealment.
2. Your personal defense weapon should fit your hand perfectly.
3. You should be able to manipulate the controls of your weapon with either hand alone.
4. Your personal defense weapon should be of sturdy construction and be able to withstand heavy use and rough handling.
5. Your personal defense weapon should be accurate enough to consistently hit a target the size of a saucer at 10 yards quickly.
6. Select the largest caliber you can shoot well, and a caliber for which ammunition is readily available.
7. A good quality holster must be available for the model of pistol you intend to carry.
May 11, 2008
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I took the SA Mil-Spec to the range today for the first time. I stepped into a lane next to two guys who were trying to train on a .40 S&W Glock. They were all over the paper. I put on my shooting gloves slowly, and with a certain degree of ceremony, loaded a magazine, ran the target out to about 10 yards, and proceeded to shoot a ragged hole in the x-ring, and then, to ice the cake, loaded a second magazine and shot a second ragged hole into the ocular cavity zone. The boys with the .40 packed their gear and went home.
This particular gun is Springfield Armory’s rendering of the Mil-Spec M1911A1. It’s as close as they want to get to the original configuration that was issued to the troops. It varies from the true mil-spec M1911A1 on some small details: the ejection port is larger and lowered; the magazine well is slightly beveled; the manual safety is a bit larger; the front sight leaf is larger and thicker; the barrel is throated for modern hollow-point ammo, and it has a black parkerized finish rather than the greenish gray of the WWII guns. It is milled from better steel with the benefit of contemporary tool technology, so, in a way, you could say it is “better” than the original Colt Government Model, while maintaining the look and feel of the original. It lacks, of course, the cache of those wonderful old pieces that fought their way across Europe and the Pacific, but those guns are museum pieces now, and I wouldn’t take one out to play with it.
I have read so much about people “tricking out” these guns, essentially rebuilding them into custom pieces, that I expected to immediately launch into a series of mods. But now I find myself debating if I should do anything with this one. I don’t get slide and hammer bite, so I really don’t need to change the beaver tail and hammer. I don’t like super-light triggers, and the trigger on the Springfield is fine – it “breaks like a glass rod.” Being a true M1911A1, it doesn’t have the magazine safety like the Hi-Power, the firing pin block of the Series 80 Colts, or the firing pin block and mag safety of the S&W DA/SA’s, so the trigger is already light and smooth to my touch. I really like the Parkerized finished. I’m the kind who grieves a lifetime over rust spots in blued steel. I added a full length guide rod from Wilson Combat and a set of Pachmyar grips. I will probably change out the hammer and sear because I want to put an extended beavertail on it, and I’ll probably have Novak combat sights installed on it. I’ll do stuff to it because that’s part of the reason I wanted it – the 1911 is the hot rod frame of pistols like the Model A Ford and the `57 Chevy are with cars. But it’s nice to feel like I don’t need to do a damned thing to it for it to be a very enjoyable shoot.
My first real shakedown cruise with the big .45 was an IDPA match, and I was delighted with it. There were no stoppages or malfunctions and the accuracy was impressive. The shots went where I wanted them to go. I can definitely see why a lot of people view the M1911A1 as the greatest fighting hand gun ever built.
It’s not easy to find things to criticize about the gun. With 2500 rounds downrange, it has proven itself to be highly reliable. Although not “match grade,” the accuracy is excellent and more than adequate for tactical action shooting like IDPA. It is capable of 3″ groups at 25 yards. It did experience a half dozen failures to feed within the first 300 rounds. However, after adding the Wilson full-length guide rod and completing the 500-round break-in period, it has experienced no further malfunctions. It has never experienced other types of failures such as double feeds or extraction failures. The front sight blade is square on the back and can snag on a holster if the holster isn’t perfectly fitted for a Government Model 1911. The gun is also large and heavy, a little too big for comfortable extended concealed carry. I know people who do it, but at 39 ounces empty, the Government Model is a load.
There are some things about the 1911 that you have to experience to appreciate, particularly the way it feels in your hand, the accuracy, and the surprisingly mild recoil it creates in launching that big old bullet. Some of it is emotional and aesthetic. It is, after all, the handgun carried and fought with by American forces through four terrible wars. It was affirmed and proven in those trials by fire by those who had to use it. That counts for something.
To me, the thing that sets the 1911 apart is the way that it shoots. In my hand, a Government Model 1911 is just more accurate and faster than any other autoloader I have used. Some of this is the trigger; some of it is the inherent accuracy of the .45 ACP cartridge, and some of it is in the design of the gun. In terms of accuracy and power, I find myself comparing the 1911 not to other autoloaders but to long-barreled wheel guns. There are other good combat guns, but if I knew I had to take one pistol to a fight it would be a 1911.
As to what empirical data might be drawn upon to substantiate the superiority of the 1911, perhaps it is that so many old gunfighters seem to like them. This follows the logic of Hagar the Horrible when asked if you had to be smart to be a Viking. He answered, “No, you just have to be smart to be an old Viking.” For more on this issue, see “Why the 1911?”
The main thing is that they’re just so much fun. They shoot great, look great, and feel great.
Five Years Later
This gun has served well. I shot it in a lot of matches, and then, when in my fickle way, I moved on to other models, my son adopted it for his match gun and he has come to love it more than I do. In five years of heavy service the only problem I have had with the gun was that the front sight post worked loose and I had to have it re-staked. I replaced the factory 17 lb. recoil spring with an 18.5 lb. spring from Wolff. I did a bit of polishing on the feed ramp, throat and chamber, but nothing extensive. I never did add a beavertail, Commander hammer, or custom sights. I decided that I just liked the gun the way that it was, and if I wanted to do extensive modifications on a gun, I would do it to another and let this pistol maintain the classic form it has.
While these guns have gone up in price a little, they remain an excellent value. I paid $400 for mine NIB in late 1997. I’m still seeing them in the $475-$550 range. Whether you want a pistol that is a close, if slightly enhanced, reproduction of the G.I. gun, or if you want a solid platform upon which do build up a custom gun, it’s hard to do better than the Springfield Armory Mil-Spec.
Nine Years Later
This is the pistol I bought in 1997 to start shooting IDPA. It’s the pistol that inspired The Sight M1911. It’s the one that, when I fired the first magazine, I said, “Wow!” It’s the one that my son, Alex, prefers over his $1K Kimber for matches, and he never ceases to try to get me to give it to him, and calls it “my pistol,” but I won’t give it to him, at least not yet, not until I’m too old and feeble to shoot it. I haven’t shot it in several years, in part because Alex is always shooting it, and in part because I have come to prefer the Combat Commander for matches. The Government Models are a little slow for me in terms of getting onto the target. Yet, I love this gun like few others. It’s in that rarified rank with the Winchester Model 94 with which I took my first deer. I have other pistols, but none of them have the psychic power that this one does.
My dad was a tremendous repository of bullshit about the Government Model .45. Most of those tales like, “If you hit a man in the thumb with one it will spin him around,” and, “A normal person couldn’t hit a door at 20 feet with one,” I heard first from him. The irony was that he had carried one during his brief stint in law enforcement before I was born. He was Navy and I don’t know if he actually got any training on the gun during the war. But, nevertheless, one of the first tasks I had with the gun was to work through the lore and stories, and separate fact from fiction.
The SA Mil-Spec was a game gun for me from the start. I wanted to check out the sport of IDPA which was new at that time. That’s why I bought a big, heavy gun. I think I only actually carried it for personal defense once. It’s just a bit too heavy to be comfortable for me for carry. Big guns like this are more pleasant to shoot for matches and such. The follow-up is excellent; accuracy is inspiring, and abuse to hands is kept at a minimum. It never was about the calibers. It was about “shoot-ability.” I just noticed immediately that I got better hits faster with the SA/45 ACP combo than with the other handguns I had tried. The inherent accuracy of the pistol, its excellent trigger, and the .45 ACP cartridge make it a rewarding handgun to fire. However, I didn’t get rid of my lightweight snubs and compact 9mm’s that served for personal defense. The rest, as they say, is getting to be history at an alarming rate. The Sight M1911 will celebrate its first decade in January of 07.
The main frame home page of The Sight M1911 has had 1,112,731 hits. That’s over a million hits on one page of that web site, and the site has well over 300 pages at this point. That’s an honest number. I started the counter at 0 in ‘97 and I have never messed with it. I won’t say that The Sight is the “best” thing I have ever done, but it has definitely had the most impact of any piece of writing I have done, and this pistol was the impetus for it.
Unconsciously, this particular pistol has influenced a million people. I find that statistic staggering – the miracle of the internet, I guess. It has never “fired a shot in anger.” It didn’t have to. It’s an icon. I started my e-mail newsletter in 1999 just to alert people on what was going on in gun rights, and on my mind at the time was defending my right to keep and bear this pistol. This pistol is “mythical” in the sense that it is a symbol that points to a reality that is beyond it, and for the most part, inexpressible. How do you describe freedom and heroism? This gun points to that level of meaning. It demands that you search out the stories of heroes and villains who have fought with the M1911, like York, Basilone, Dillinger and Barrow. That’s where this gun takes you – to some of the darkest moments of the 20th Century. There is perhaps one other handgun that has this kind of effect, and that would be the Colt Single Action Army revolver. The old six-gun is an antique, obsolete for anything except cowboy action shooting. The 1911, old as it is, is not at all obsolete, and is probably more popular and more in use today than at any time in its illustrious history.
I do consider the M1911A1 to be the greatest fighting handgun, but that’s just my opinion and you know what they say about opinions. There are other fine pistols that will do the job, but none to my knowledge have seen the moments of greatness that Old Slabsides has. There are none that feel quite as “right” in my hand, or burn up the stages quite as well for me. Most of all, no other firearm has fired my imagination and sustained a decade-long effort to understand and describe it that this one has.
The Mil-Spec is really nothing special when viewed objectively, just a 95% true reproduction of the G.I. M1911A1 of World War II. But to me, it’s something more like a magic carpet.
Tags: SpringfieldMil Spec
April 28, 2008
My Personal Carry Hi Power
I am frequently asked by other Hi Power fans, “What is your personal carry Hi Power?” Variations on this theme often include, “What modifications have you made?” Finally, ammunition choice is requested.
First, let me assure you that I do not claim to know all things and would not presume to try and “tell” anyone what is “right.” This can vary with the individual and their personal needs, be they real or perceived.
The one thing that I do feel most adamantly about is reliability. With a defense handgun, be it a Hi Power or any other pistol, I put this quality at the head of the list and by a wide margin. Fortunately, the Hi Power is almost always reliable out of the box. Will it be with JHP ammunition? If it is a Mk II or Mk III, probably so. If it is an older classic Hi Power, it might balk with some JHP ammunition. This is due to a difference in the feed ramps. While the Hi Power uses a one-piece ramp, the newer guns do not have the “humped” ramp common to the older ones. The humped ramp works fine with ball and some JHP’s having more rounded bullet profiles. (The older ramps can be made to mimic the newer ones by a competent gunsmith and not all of the older guns will require it; some work just fine.)
Next, I prefer a trigger pull that’s neither below about 4 1/2-lbs nor more than a pound more. Speaking only for myself, I find no difference in group size nor the ability to make quicker (accurate) shots with either if the trigger breaks cleanly. Unfortunately, many Hi Powers come with triggers that are considerably heavier and gritty, a sad and needless situation in my opinion. It is my observation that most detractors of the Hi Power address both the trigger pull (out of the box) as well as hammer bite.
A competent pistolsmith or trigger specialist who understands and is familiar with the Hi Power design can correct the trigger pull and very serviceable trigger pulls can be had with or without the magazine disconnect in place.
Here is a link to my views on the magazine “safety” issue for those who might be interested in that aspect of the defensive Hi Power:
With regard to the hammer bite problem experienced by more than few Hi Power fans, here is a link to what has worked for me:
There is also a general discussion on the defensive Hi Power here:
The Hi Power that I carry the most is a Mk III 9mm that I bought used. I believe that the magazine disconnect may have already been removed…which save me from doing it. The gun had not been shot very much and the bluing on the breech face was barely scuffed. The gun locked up tight and while it had a small ding or two, it was overall sound and the price was very right.
This is the 9mm Hi Power I am most apt to carry for self-protection. Here are the changes that have been made: The hammer spur was bobbed and reshaped at home. The factory trigger is in the gun. The right-side factory extended thumb safety was removed and the shaft reshaped. There is no magazine disconnect in this pistol and the trigger was good when I got the gun, right at 5-lbs. I have a Wolff conventional 18.5-lb recoil spring in this gun and it works just fine with standard pressure rounds as well as +P. The barrel is stock and the mainspring was left at 32-lbs. The finish is the factory “matte” and the grips are from Altamont. This pistol has proven itself reliable with every conventional JHP I’ve tried that weighed 100 to 147-gr.
This Hi Power is no different than many, many others in the hands of Hi Power fans and I’ve been pleased with the “wearability” of the factory matte finish. The Altamont stocks didn’t seem comfortable to me at first, but sort of “grew” to fit my hand and I like them on this pistol. FWIW…if anything, I also have an extreme fondness for grips from both Craig Spegel and Hakan Pek.
My primary carry Hi Power uses the factory fixed Mk III sights. They are dead bang “on” for me with this gun and I’ve found no good reason to change them. A couple of my Mk III pistols have had Novak fixed sights installed. They are elegant sights to be sure and offer a good sight picture for my eye, but I find no advantage to them over the factory sights in group size, be they fired slow and precisely or at speed. This may or may not hold true for others and is one more decision that is best made by the individual user.
Some folks have asked why I routinely remove the right-side ambidextrous thumb safety lever. The reason is that it gets in my way. With my hand and my grip on the pistol, I have accidentally engaged the ambidextrous thumb safety and have decades of practice in reaching around the rear of the gun with my off-hand thumb and engaging the left-side lever. (When I first started shooting Hi Powers and 1911’s, ambidextrous safeties were practically non-existent.) They just don’t work for me; they might work fine for you.
I use only Mec-Gar magazines for serious purposes be they sold under Mec-Gar’s name or as Browning “factory” magazines. I have found none better in the long run. Though I own and have had no problem with the Mec-Gar 15-shot 9mm magazines, I usually just use the standard 13-shot version.
I have less money in this Hi Power than any of the others and were I to use it in a legal shooting, I am well aware that it will be gone into the evidence locker at least until I am no-billed by the grand jury. I can tolerate this easier than I could were it another having more financial or sentimental worth to me.
Pictured are two guns that rode with me many a night before retiring from police service. I call the Mk III my “Duty Hi Power.” It has Novak fixed sights and the same modifications as the somewhat plainer Mk III shown previously, but this one has Spegel black checkered delrin stocks and the Cylinder & Slide Type I ring hammer and sear. It was reblued after I retired from police work. I do not shoot it any better than the Mk III having the factory sights and I don’t carry this one for sentimental reasons more than any others. (The S&W Model 042 was carried as a BUG in conjunction with the Hi Power.)
As this is written (September 2006), my favored load in the Mk III 9mm is Corbon 115-gr. DPX. More related information is here for those interested:
For my personal opinions on ammunition for the 9mm Hi Power, here is a link:
I hope that the preceding has been of use and that no one is disappointed in the sort of “vanilla” Hi Powers I find to work well for me. If you are new to Hi Powers or are considering using one for protection, I respectfully submit shooting the gun quite a bit before deciding what changes might be in order. Please keep in mind that what “works” for me might or might not be the best choice(s) for you.
April 23, 2008
Stephens Personal Hi Power
As much I as I like these handsome pistols for informal target work, small game hunting, or just knocking around in the woods, their original purpose was for “serious” matters in one area of the self-defense arena, military service. Like its Browning-born predecessor, the 1911, the single-action Hi Power’s initial reason for existence was as a military sidearm and not individual civilian self-protection. It is nice that both readily lend themselves to this, however.
In most cases, the military requirements for a sidearm differ from that of the private citizen’s. With the soldier, the pistol is usually a secondary weapon if he has one at all. The private citizen will be using it as the primary and possibly only weapon at his disposal in “the dark place.” While both the soldier and the private citizen might be attacked without any warning, the citizen will usually be at arm’s length or so from his aggressor while the soldier’s enemy might be a hundred yards distant. To me, this suggests that in most cases, the citizen’s response must be quicker and at least initially without taking cover if unexpectedly subject to violent attack.
The military pistol need only feed ball or FMJ rounds (unless one is being used by certain SOG’s in situations against people not deemed “soldiers”) while the citizen’s pistol will be expected to work reliably with about any kind of ammo the guy can buy. The soldier’s sidearm need not be concealed in most cases while exactly the opposite remains true for the civilian carrier. Again, we’re fortunate that the Hi Power can be pretty easily concealed for the size handgun it is.
Neither needs to be capable of formal competition accuracy, but both do need to be “accurate enough for their intended mission” as has often been stated. I’m glad that in good examples, the Hi Power is usually capable of better accuracy than most shooters can wring out of it. Both must be reliable and the Hi Power is…with one caveat.
The older “classic” Hi Powers were intended to work with FMJ ammunition as used by their first “employers,” the military. These pistols are the ones made prior to the FN Mk II pistols and have the “humped” feed ramps that worked great with ball, but so-so with some JHP’s and no-no with others!
Hi Powers made from the Mk II forward work fine with most JHP ammunition that I’ve tried that weighs from 115 to 124 grains and while my testing is limited with the heavier bullets, the guns have worked just fine with the 147-gr. slugs. If your Hi Power is pre-Mk II, you may have feeding problems with some of the blunter, shorter JHP ammo used today. You can either use ammunition having a rounded bullet profile as exhibited by Federal’s 115-grain JHP, both standard and +P version, or Remington’s 115-grain JHP, also available in standard pressure and +P. If you want to use something else, but the reliability is just not there, you can have a competent gunsmith “throat” the feed ramp on your Hi Power. This is not difficult, but must be done right.
This is the Browning Mk II 9mm pistol. It is the first commercially available Hi Power to be sold having extended ambidextrous thumb safety levers and is quickly identified by its narrow “rib” running the full length of the slide. The front sight is not serrated from the factory and is integral to the rib. Though still somewhat small, the fixed sights on this version are more usable at speed than those on earlier Hi Powers.
These guns are the first I’m aware of that came with the non-humped feed ramps straight from the factory.
As has been the case with the Mk III Hi Power, these pistols have proven extremely reliable with a very wide array of JHP ammunition.
Taken from Browning’s site, this is the Mk III pistol and there are differences between it and the classic Hi Power and the Mk II. Note that the fixed sights are larger and that both are dovetailed to the slide. The ejection port has been enlarged, but is actually beefed up a bit at the lower rear to prevent slides cracking when used heavily. Like the Mk II and the classics made in the ’70’s, it has the spur hammer. The Mk III pistols sold in the US have internal firing pin safeties not present on the classics or the early Mk II pistols.
For lots of shooting or defensive use, the Mk III is my first choice.
Even though my eyes are not what they used to be, I find that the sights on the Mk II or Mk III pistols work fine and I have no trouble with them when practicing quick, defensive types of shooting. I do find the older Hi Power’s fixed sights to be a bit lacking although OK for slow deliberate fire. I find that I do no better or worse with the very popular Novak fixed sights when compared to the factory Mk III sights in slow or rapid fire work. While the defensive Hi Power does require “good” sights in my opinion, I find that the factory sights are plenty “good” enough. On the other hand, there is utterly nothing wrong with having a set of Novak or Heine sights installed on your Hi Power. Just be sure that they are “on” for you. Though I’ve not yet tried them, Novak’s new adjustable rear sight looks to be a very viable option for the Hi Power shooter preferring to be able to change his sights to exactly match various loads. Of the adjustable sights I’ve tried, those from MMC are likely the strongest, but I’ve seen Bomars used on a couple of 1911s under other than range conditions and they held up fine. In general though, fixed sights are the most popular for defense guns, including the Hi Power.
What I’m getting at is that the defensive Hi Power requires sights that can be seen at speed. I do not care for the “express” sights that have some following these days. I personally found them no faster than conventional high-visibility sights and more difficult to get precise hits with. This might be of no import if on a derringer or even a small snub where most expectations are only for close, coarse accuracy, but the Hi Power is capable of so much more that I do not recommend the use of “express” sights. I have been asked about rear sights having the large “ghost ring” aperture, but have not tried it so I cannot comment. If you opt for night sights, you’ll get no argument from me. I still prefer plain black on black sights, but if shooting in extremely dim light, the night sights do make getting good hits easier. If you opt to use them, understand that their life span is about 12 years or so.
This Mk III 9mm has Novak fixed sights. They are visible at speed and these are plain black sights. They are available in night sight versions, as are those from other makers. This pistol has had other modifications as well. I do no better with these sights than with the fixed sights that came on it. If you have a Mk III, you decide what is right for you. If you have an older Hi Power, a change to higher visibility fixed sights is a necessary upgrade in my opinion.
I find the extended thumb safety necessary on the Hi Power, but do not on the 1911. The small classic thumb safety lever is just too small for best work at speed in my experience and some are pretty stiff as well. I prefer the FN factory extended thumb safety to the others I’ve tried, but don’t care for ambidextrous safeties on the Hi Power. The reason is simple. I have large hands and have on occasion accidentally engaged the safety in the middle of a rapid-fire string! Other folks report no such problems, but be aware that it can happen and determine if you’re prone to it or not. I remove the right-side thumb safety lever and reshape the shaft it was mounted on. Cylinder & Slide does offer extended ambidextrous and single-side safeties for folks not liking the factory version. Any should fit any version of the Hi Power as well as the clones, but it will probably need to be fitted by a gunsmith.
Probably the most controversial issue in the defensive Hi Power modifications is removal of the magazine disconnect. Sometimes called “magazine safety,” this device prevents the firing of a chambered round if the magazine is removed. In short, the pistol cannot be fired with the magazine removed. (Actually, it can if you apply pressure to the trigger sufficient to keep the lifter firmly against the sear lever before dropping the magazine, but this is too risky to recommend under the stress of a life or death situation.) The magazine disconnect is pushed into a hole in the rear of the trigger when the magazine is inserted and the pad area of the “safety” actually moves upward against the front of the magazine when the trigger’s being pressed. It contributes to a poor trigger in most cases and one that’s heavier than the same pistol without it.
I routinely remove the magazine disconnect from all of my Hi Power pistols not only to help get a good trigger pull, but also to allow the magazine to drop free when released and to be able to fire the weapon without a magazine in place if necessary. This makes the pistol no more “unsafe” than the slew of 1911’s on the market, HK’s, Glocks, SIG-Sauers, and so forth. Opponents caution that such a removal of a safety device might be used against you in the inevitable civil suit that follows any shooting, justified or not. So far, I have not seen one documented case of this where the complainant prevailed if the shooting itself was intended and the trigger purposely pressed. I do think it could cost the owner of such a pistol if the shooting was unintentional. An example would be kids getting hold of the pistol and thinking it was safe because they’d removed the magazine and then negligently shooting themselves or another. In any event, there are gunsmiths who can put good trigger pulls on the Hi Power with or without the magazine “safety.”
You decide what’s best for your own unique situation.
While speaking of trigger pulls, I’d suggest that you stay in the 4.5 to even 5.5-lb. range. A good gunsmith can provide this and I’ve found that “crisp” and clean breaking is more important than “light” for the defensive handgun and this includes the Hi Power. Like all single-action semiautos, the Hi Power does not “tolerate” improper gun handling and under stress, the errant finger on the trigger might be pressing just a little too hard. You get the idea. My “carry Hi Powers” have triggers of about 4.5-lbs. or so.
The gun should be comfortable and if you have the free choice to choose the Hi Power, you probably already feel that it is. I cannot stand the factory checkered nylon grips with thumbrests that come from the factory on the Mk III pistols. The stocks themselves are fine and provide a secure grip, but I don’t find them comfortable. If you do, they’re fine. Most people seem to prefer aftermarket grips for their Hi Powers. I cannot tell you which is best for you, as this must be decided by you. I can say that I prefer Craig Spegel’s checkered grips to any that I’ve tried. I also like the much less costly black checkered rubber copies offered by Butler Creek. They are thicker. Having had my Hi Power (and other handguns) out in rain or in extreme heat, I do find that the checkered grips provide a more secure grip when the hand is wet. Pachmayr offers checkered rubber grips for the Hi Power that also provide checkered covering of both the front and rear grip straps and Hogue offers a version that has finger grooves in the front strap area. Probably the thinnest grip on the market is from Navridex, but I’ve not personally tried them and some people speak highly of grips made by Ahrends. Pick the one that works best for you.
The Mk III on top is wearing Spegel checkered black delrin grips while the lower has the Butler Creek rubber grips. The front strap has also been covered with skateboard tape as an inexpensive way to provide a firm grip under all conditions. Stippling from a gunsmith is a nicer way, but also more expensive.
Also in the area of comfort is the problem of hammer bite. Many of us are smacked by rear of the spur hammer or the bottom rear of the factory ring hammer when firing the Hi Power, especially if we’ve drawn the gun with a high grip. In the picture above, you can see two solutions that have worked equally well for me. I bobbed the hammer spur of the top pistol at the second lateral serration and fitted the Cylinder & Slide Type I ring hammer on the bottom gun. This solved the problem for me and does for others as well. Other options such as dishing out the shank of the hammer at the back or welding on a tang will probably require the services of a gunsmith. C & S does offer a “no bite” version of the Type I hammer that has the rear of the shank contoured inward to avoid pinching.
I routinely use and recommend 18.5-lb. conventional recoil springs in the Hi Power rather than the 17-lb. factory standard. For me, the heavier spring works just fine with both standard and +P 9mm loads. If you do not have a strong hold for whatever reason, your defensive 9mm Hi Power might be better with the standard 17-lb. spring. The reason is that the heavier the recoil spring, the more firm the grip must be to avoid the gun malfunctioning. There is a minimal level of force required to hold the frame in place so that the recoil spring can be compressed against it. It is possible that one’s shooting hand or arm be injured before the need to return fire ceases. I continue to use the 18.5-lb. springs, but this is something you might consider.
Extended slide releases are not needed on the Hi Power in my opinion. It’s been my experience that they’re prone to be accidentally engaged by the shooting hand, prematurely locking the slide back with rounds left to fire. The consequences in an actual gunfight or deadly force scenario are obvious. If right-handed or inserting the magazine with the left hand the left thumb can disengage the standard slide release lever or the slide itself can be pulled back and released.
Unless your pistol just flat won’t group, I do not find the fitting of a match barrel to be necessary, but don’t argue against it so long as reliability is retained. Most of these will be more tightly chambered than factory barrels so be sure that the Hi Power works reliably with the match barrel before counting on it.
I have no strong opinions on finishes for the defensive Hi Power and normally use plain matte blue, at least for the frame.
I also use recoil buffers in my Hi Powers and have had absolutely no problem with them with any ammunition use. Some folks are concerned that the thing might come apart in their pistol at the most inopportune times. They will if not replaced when heavily used, but an inspection during cleaning will tell you if it is time to change them out or not. On the other hand, a simple solution is to use the buffer at the range and simply remove it when you get home and clean the Hi Power before carrying it for self-protection.
What has been postulated here is that the defensive Hi Power must be reliable, safe, easy to get into action, have sights you can quickly see, and have a decent trigger pull. All of this is for naught if you don’t use quality magazines. For carry, I recommend the factory Browning magazines or those by Mec-Gar, who make the factory Browning magazines. Second choice would be good condition Inglis surplus magazines and finally, the KRD 15 and 17 round magazines. I would use the Post-Ban 10-round magazines before I’d use some of the second rate aftermarket Pre-Ban magazines that may or may not be reliable. Even if using high quality magazines, test each and every one in your pistol with the ammunition that you intend to use. If you change ammunition, retest.
The groups shown were fired from a Mk III with standard barrel, Butler Creek grips, and a trigger job. The top two targets were fired slow fire while the larger target consists of 5 sets of controlled pairs. This Hi Power has had minimal custom work done and is plenty capable of handling self-protection needs.
This Mk III has had Novak fixed sights added and the target shown consists of 5 sets of controlled pairs at 10 yards. I see no difference between this and the Mk III using standard sights. On the other hand, there’s really nothing “wrong” with having such sights simply if you prefer them for looks or some other reason. Neither pistol has a match barrel. Both shoot tighter groups than most of us are capable of attaining, particularly under the stress of a deadly force scenario.
It remains my opinion that the Hi Power, though now “dated”, remains a most viable and world class pistol for not only self-protection, but also just plain fun.