By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
How is it that people shell out more than $2,000 for a 100-year-old gun? A custom 1911 seems, on paper, to be a silly thing to spend that much money on especially since the factory guns these days are pretty darn good.
So, what sets the two apart? What on earth could possibly make one worth a $1,000+ premium?
A number of things, which actually add up to quite a bit overall. This isn’t to say a custom 1911 is going to be $1,000 better in every dimension, but more that the devil is in the details.
Bear in mind, however, that not every maker of custom guns does things the exact same way. What you get depends a whole lot on who you get it from.
Where a lot of custom gunmakers start is with frames and slides made by a third party producer, often enough Caspian. Others manufacture their own. Metal parts can be made by metal injection molding – a process where a liquid feedstock (a metal and plastic amalgam) is injected into a mold and all nonmetals sintered out (basically boiled off) and then cooled – or are machined out of bar stock.
The latter is typically more expensive. Some people poo-poo MIM, but the reality is that the quality of MIM parts has to do with the mold and the feedstock more than the method. Poor-quality metal and a mold that isn’t as precise as it could be will make bad parts. The issue for manufacturers, of course, is that getting the mold right takes time and also money because tool and die work isn’t cheap.
After the frame, where a custom shop gun leaves others behind is in assembly.
Factory 1911 pistols are made so that any slide, any barrel, any bushing and so on in the place will work with any frame of the same size. You get the parts for the model that you’re producing, put it together and that’s it.
A custom gun gets hand-fitted. The frame and slide don’t fit at first; the gunsmith has to find the areas on the frame and slide rails that have too much metal on them, then file and polish until the slide glides along the frame rails. The difference is no other slide will work on the frame, and no other frame will work with that slide.
The barrel and bushing are likewise hand-fitted in a similar way. The smith finds the areas where there’s too much material and hand-files it away until the bushing and barrel fit. The same goes for the grip safety, thumb safety and trigger.
A big difference here? You need a bushing wrench to take the gun down, period. Now, some factory guns are as tight as Dick’s hatband, and you’ll all but need one to turn the trick, but it isn’t an option with most of the custom guns.
The only parts that aren’t custom-fit to the pistol are the sights and the grip panels. If you were to, say, pick up two Wilson Combat pistols of the same product model and measure every little nook and cranny, there would be far more variances than if you measured two, say, Remington R1 1911 pistols in the same way.
Additionally, the gun will be tuned for function before leaving the factory. You’ll get a slick action, a smooth, crisp trigger and so on because you’re paying for quality. Series 70 firing systems are more common than Series 80 as the folks who want a custom gun don’t want the creep of most factory triggers. Granted, a lot of people get a smith to smooth them out but a custom gun has all the improvements made before it goes to the buyer.
Then there’s the cosmetics.
Put it this way: you can go buy a Mercedes-Benz S-Class from a dealership right now. Find the dealer, find one with the options you like and there you go. If – and there aren’t many – you find a Rolls Royce dealership, they’ve only got a few floor models. Most people, you see, get their Rolls made to order.
Grips, sights, color options, checkering, etc.; you get to choose, but then again you better given the price tag.
These are just some of the differences; the minutiae could fill volumes. Is the price tag necessarily worth it? Well, that’s quite subjective. The truth is today’s factory 1911 pistols are a lot better than they were in previous decades; you can get a $500 to $700 factory gun that’s accurate and reliable out of the box. At worst, you need only replace the recoil spring and maybe get some good magazines for it.
Then again, there are Mercedes and BMWs and Audis everywhere. There’s something special about owning a Rolls.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.