Pistol Smith Forum banner
1 - 20 of 78 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
248 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This has always been a very hot topic. There are pretty guns and there are working guns. Ask yourself what qualities am I looking for, are you going to have a 1911 made by a custom maker as a show piece or do you want a working pistol or both. I am making another damascus slice 1911 for a very good customer, and the first thing he told me he wanted a show piece. That is fine with me but it still will be made flawless in operation. I asked him whether he wanted my usual baked on moly barrel and the other things I coat to cut down the friction of the moving parts. I also asked him what poundage on the trigger pull he wanted plus I went over every part I would recommend in detail. Any good plater can make a pistol look beautiful, but its the work internally that separates the smiths. I recently got in a custom 1911 from one of my customers and he paid 2500 dollars for it. It is a nice looking pistol but it did not work. He had sent it back to the shop who made it and it came back to him the same way. When I got into it I could see all the flaws and mistakes, first when you plate moving parts and its not done right the plating peels and flakes off causing things to bind and it becomes a mess. I spent 16 hours on it. We all must decide and understand a carry 1911 must work and work every time. I am not going into to much detail about this particular pistol. You understand every one has priorities and certainly a different set of standards and values, that only you can decide. I of course want a nice looking 1911 pistol I get sick if it gets scratched, BUT I WANT A WORKING GUN THAT IS FLAWLESS ON THE INSIDE, IWANT EVERYTHING TO FIT LIKE A SWISS WATCH, I WANT ALL MY ENGAGEMENTS CUT ON A JIG AND CHECKED ON A MICROSCOPE. This is basically how I would define a quality custom 1911 pistol. Of course my selection of a barrel would be KART or BRILEY. I have definate reasons I buy certain products, its all from experience, I would only use a caspian extractor, etc. etc. Hope you will appreciate the time I struggled to type this as I use the hunt and peck method.

Teddy Jacobson / pistolsmith
http://www.actionsbyt.com
281 277 4008
[email protected]
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
170 Posts
Pretty guns are nice, but my priorities lie on the functional side.

Words are a bit imperfect, but here goes:

1) Reliability & precision fit.

2) Durability

3) Accuracy

4) Appearance

There is also something about a well worn gun, rather like a Bible when it is all beat-up, you know the person actually means it.

I will not tolerate sloppy metalwork. By appearance I mean more along the lines of fancy finishes, damascus, nice grips, doo-dads, &c. None of those are bad (I love fine wood!), just not top.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: telackey on 2001-06-02 19:40 ]</font>
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
555 Posts
My rule when it comes to custom guns has simply been this.

The cosmetics of the gun: the finish, metalwork and fit must be 100 percent. Right behind reliability and accuracy.

There are a lot of builders out there. A few can make a gun run reliably, a few can make a gun beautiful. Fewer can combine the two.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,831 Posts
Let's set some definitions for CUSTOM 1911s. How about "quality" and "best grade"?

Quality from a custom maker these days would assume the best in parts and put together with 100% reliability and match grade accuracy.

That might mean a Wilson, a Brown, SVI or many other custom makers guns. It isn't limited to hand built guns IMO.

I don't consider a Kimber or a Springfield TRP a "quality" 1911. I consider them "high end" base guns.

You'll get some arguement on parts quality. Baer wouldn't be on the top of my list because of the lack of heat treat and durability in the frame and slide.

But that is just personal preference.

"Best grade" on the other hand from my limited point of view means cosmetic perfection. That CAN BE Heinie, Krebs and others but the players are REALLY limited in that ball game. Best grade guns are a limited production piece from any maker.

I am talking in the same sense of English BEST GRADE guns that can be carried over to American rifle makers who are currently the recognised masters of today. I'll readdress that conection and give some perspective on the quality and investment later.

Here is a partial list of what I look for in a "best grade" gun which is where the current prices start at $3000 from my research of the guys capable of that kind of work.

Reliability and accuracy are a given on best grade firearms. The gun is clearly NOT best grade other wise. But there has to be a LOT more added to be in that realm of best grade.

On a 1911, if you haven't addressed all of these issues and several dozen more you aren't in the ball game IMO.

Custom barrel crown. Frame, ejector, extractor and slide perfectly flush fit when the gun is in battery. Perfect checkering, machine cut, hand finished with either a distinct boarder or boarderless. Machine work, like serrations, again, perfectly matched with the exsisting work or recut all to match. No hole showing at the frame when the thumb safety is engaged. No sharp edges on the gun. Sear and hammer pin quailfied either perfectly flush or rounded and to spec. Machine marks removed from the gun. Frame to slide fit should be hand lapped from OVERSIZE parts to begin with. That would mean NO frame or slide tightening and a life long frame to slide fit if done correctly. If you start with a production gun the frame and slide the frame should not show radical rail tightening when done. If so the best grade gun simply can't be built from that frame and slide set.

There as been a number of comments comparing best grade shot guns and rifles to the best custom 1911s.

POPPYCOCK!!!!!! I say

I have owned a Rigby, G&H and a Westley Richards and have several very nice rifles and shot guns. I have admired David Miller's, Darwin Hensley's, and Darcy Echols' work in person. These are some of the best grade rifle makers currently working in the US and the world. Purdy and Westly Richards are current British best grade gun makers. David Miller is looked upon as the dean of American Rifle makers, much as Heinie is as a pistolsmith. There are only a couple of pistolsmiths with the machinist's ability and expertise to just carve out a Miller scope mount, let alone true, lap and barrel an action. Add to that the inletting and finish of a fine stock blank worth from $1K to $10K alone for the wood. Compare the amount of work in a $4K Dakota and any quality 1911.

The 1911 has some 50 parts. Any quality rifle maker would look at a 1911 and laugh at the simplisity of the design. The best 1911 barrel fit can be done on a mill if the builder knows what he is doing and has the experiece and knowledge of how a 1911 works. Yes, there is much hand fitting and finish work. Much of what I listed as mandatory requirements on a best grade 1911 comes directly from the fit and finish of a best grade DGR rifle. That is an easy comparison. But the degree of skill and hand work to get a perfect rifle crown on a 416 Rigby is slightly more difficult that a 9x23 for example. And the quality of the work will have greater effect on the results while shooting.

Is a custom Miller DGR worth twice as much as Dakota African? It is for me because one fits and the other doesn't but I don't own either currently. Is a Heinie worth 5 times a Kimber, in reality no and I own both. As a piece of working art, the Heinie is worth it to me. So is a Randall over a Cold Steel to me.

Guys like Doug Turnbull (Doug Turnbull Restoration) will take your 1911 (even your 1912, 1911 POS or your old Winchester for that matter) and do all the finishing touches like surface grind the flats, flat and clean up the tool marks and re-roll mark to ACTUAL PERFECTION for you and do a perfect rust blue finish when done for $600. Blue covers more finish blemishes than chrome. Parkerising and polymer finishes cover more than either.

No best grade gun would never be parkerised or painted with polymer. That said, Ken Hackathorn has a best grade gun on order that is in fact going to be parkerised. You would never really know what the actual metal prep was...because the finish will cover the majority of the metal details.

So lets stop kidding each other on the value of custom 1911s.

Here is what a 5" gun is worth, $1700 in best grade parts, (if you spend that) 40 to 80 hours of labor. At my rates that is $8000 in labor and another $1700 in parts.....

Damn, Cameron is right we do deserve $10K for these guns! We'll $9700. anyway :roll:

Truth is the guns may indeed be worth $9700 in labor to some of the artisians but the facts are you can buy one for under $4000.

Check out the custom rifle market and see what $4000 will buy you! Then take the next step mentioned and see what SIX grand will buy. Then put that kind of labor costs into perspective on a 1911.

As you'll quickly see the numbers just don't add up.




<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Dane Burns on 2001-06-03 16:48 ]</font>
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
248 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
EER said it best in his last sentence. If DANE is referring to the same cameron I know he uses a beat up old Sig 226 that I did for him many years ago. I have had all my crown tools specially made out of nylon in a machine shop. I am not a machinist I am a trigger specialist that is what I do and when you pull one of my triggers you will always remember it.

Teddy Jacobson
http://www.actionsbyt.com
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
170 Posts
As one who did recently compare 'Best Grade' handguns to long guns; I want to reply simply that their is a just (IMO) comparison, when one takes into account degree. A 'Best Grade' boxlock SxS is going to start at $30,000, sidelock more like $65,000. For a bolt-action gun you may get by around starting $15,000 (sans scope and mount obviously). And they are worth every penny to the discrimnating buyer.

By comparison, a 'Best Grade' 1911 starts closer to $3,000-4,000, though I think one would reasonably expect to pay more like $5,000. It is not that the work is inherently inferior to that on the long guns, but, as you mentioned, it is much more simple to start with. And, not insignificantly, physically much smaller.

Incidently, when one factors in the time spent and the materials, 'Best Grade' long guns may easily be the superior value.

All that said, I have never seen a best grade semi-automatic. I think I read somewhere that Heinie had done one (maybe more..I only heard of the one). And Krebs' Steel Serpant might count.

Seems SA revolvers are what may be found in 'Best Grade'. Wrought from hands like Hamilton Bowen, and then finished by Doug Turnbull, with stocks of the same Circassian Walnut which might be found on a Westley Richards (albeit in 100 times the quantity).

All THAT said, I think of handguns more as tools than display pieces. I would not pay the extra for the appearance and finishing of a 'Best Gun' just to scratch it to bits in my holster. I can, however, see building a gun which may be ~$1500 in parts. One could easily figure ~$2000 in labour for a total of ~$3500.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: telackey on 2001-06-02 21:51 ]</font>
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
934 Posts
Dane really nailed it about the differences between a best grade 1911 and a best grade long gun. Can't even compare the two.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,831 Posts
Hey guys, I wasn't picking on anyone in particular...just my opinion having been involved in best grade rifles and pistols for some time and knowing what it takes to build either to some degree.

No question there is no limit on what people will pay for a "custom" anything. I have custom saddles, spurs, boots, clothes, packs, knives, watches and guns. My only intention on this forum is to educate in my own way those that look for value in their handguns.

I know what it takes me to build a flawless gun time wise. I use a combination of power tools and hand work. Someone else may use different combinations of tools but the finished product is what is the "value". Doesn't matter if that is done in 40 hours or 80 it makes it no less or more valuable IMO. Quality is what should define the price.

If you want to compare box lock and side lock guns, I know I would rather have the majority of parts CNC milled on either rather than hand made and not interchangeable or easily replaceable parts.

The rifle maker that I am currently working with is one of the very FEW guys in the US who has on a regular basis cut big bore dbl rifles actions from a block of 4140.

I will still call BS on any 5" 1911 past the $4000 range.....the value and the labor just isn't there, from any maker, sorry.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Dane Burns on 2001-06-03 04:23 ]</font>
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
136 Posts
Telacky wrote:
"There is also something about a well worn gun, rather like a Bible when it is all beat-up, you know the person actually means it."

Wow. What a GREAT line! Got me shakin' my head up and down....
 
G

·
I believe Dane is on point and $4k should actually be high for a custom 1911 cost ceiling. If we were to look at a gunsmith operation in the light of a traditional service industry that also offers manufacturing work, then the gunsmiths cost structure should be geared to an increase in production capability. As this increase is achieved through a refinement of process and a reduction in operating mistakes i.e.: the smith should be able to achieve a higher production rate with fewer mistakes as his/her skill is refined through continuous practice achieved by building these "full house" pistols.
As the smiths cost structures have risen as a reflection of the quality of work and his/her ability to charge a higher price the smith should be able to absorb additional costs like inventory of custom parts and more/greater amounts of production equipment that will in fact result in a faster production time and a reduction in labor intensive tasks.
The smith should then be able to continue to provide the same level of quality with a substantially increased volume of production, the addition of inventory should also decrease production delays. Through proper application of business methodology almost any smith that provides a quality product should be able to continuously grow the production operation while refining the business process and through a continued investment in the business operation the shop will indeed grow very quickly. The most common business principle that pistol smiths and custom knife makers violate and tend to ignore is the role of shop time and floor production, typically it goes like this, if a smith can build only 25 pistols per year and they have a one year backlog then they are actually suffering a 50% loss of profits per each six months of operation. A smith with a five year backlog say on 25 pistols @ $4k annually is in fact losing an average income of $600,000 out of a potential $1,200,000.00 cash money over that same five year period based on demand remaining equal and production remaining equal. The smith should be learning and applying proper business methodology to their operation. Once they achieve standardized growth projections and production time lines the shop will easily be able to support more employees, then the smith needs to carefully evaluate the labor market and develop an appropriate FTE and PTE cost/versus skill structure. By using the production numbers, operating cost, employee cost, and lease hold or capital improvement projections and quarterly numbers the smith can easily ascertain the correct hourly billing rate, (without these numbers the smith may actually be selling the $4k pistol at a loss and I suspect that a great number of these one man shops are operating at a technical loss.)
Combined with the increasing operating and production efficiencies the smith can then achieve a reduction of 20% of production cost in the first 18 months and a continued reduction of 5% per fiscal year, if they continue to grow at 15% bi-annually in revenue generation. Following even the most rudimentary business methodology a one man shop can easily achieve a 20% increase in annual profit and with the role of increased staffing and efficient operation the smith can easily grow business operations on scale.
This of course will result in the smiths hourly cost decreasing, which always results in sales volume increasing as the consumer achieves the benefit of increased efficiencies passed on as cost savings. The same one man shop can then become profitable and charge $3k for that $4k pistol, sell 100 of them annually and earn some real personal revenue/income to improve the smith’s quality of life because the same smith will average a backlog of only one year with 5 years of revenue achieved each year.

Please understand that my post is not meant to anger or insult anyone, I have posted this message as it perplexes me that so many really good smiths and knife makers are seemingly oblivious to business methodology when given the back logs and incessant operational delays most of the top 10 listed on the AH list could easily generate several hundred thousand dollars annually in additional sales and production and some of the makers could easily break the seven figure mark with a modest amount of effort. I guess I have a concern over this trend of ever rising pistol prices that really should not occur, if anything the prices should be decreasing. It really is not that hard and wihtout the interference of todays stock market generating 6 figure income numbers is still pretty easy and with work a person can still generate 7 figure numbers.
Again it is my opinion and you need to go with what works for you, my methods work for me.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
170 Posts
I am plagued by some suspicion that people may have thought I was upset. I am sorry if I gave that impression.

Great posts, Mr DiFabio and Mr Burns. Thanks for taking time from your busy days to educate people like me.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: telackey on 2001-06-03 14:55 ]</font>
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
988 Posts
David...interesting post.

The wild card in the $4,000 1911 market is buyers. Not sure there is a market for 250 1911's from say the top 5-10 makers' shops, year in year out. There might be, but I don't know. If there is, of course, then it would mean there is a market at $4,000 for the "production" custom, since that is what it would take to turn out a full-house pistol every 1.4 days.

The other wild card, being an employer myself, is whether these independent gun makers could put up with a crew of employees :smile: It has been the hardest thing for me to get accustomed to, in life. One employee usually brings few headaches, two employees compound the headache factor exponentially, as do each of the employees added above that. And I have a fantastic staff! Then, you get into the benefits side of employment. Our group health premium costs have increased, on average, 25% per year for the last 5 years. Retirement? Even self-directed plans require work, and money.

I am envious of the artists that can work by themselves, and have customers dedicated enough to their product to be on a wait list that stretches for years.

You bring up some very interesting points though, well worth considering.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,831 Posts
On 2001-06-02 19:55, telackey wrote:
And, not insignificantly, physically much smaller. (a 1911)
Bingo :grin:

Incidently, when one factors in the time spent and the materials, 'Best Grade' long guns may easily be the superior value.
That is an astute observation IMO.


All that said, I have never seen a best grade semi-automatic. I think I read somewhere that Heinie had done one (maybe more..I only heard of the one). And Krebs' Steel Serpant might count.

Giving credit where it is due I think you find that Heinie has done a LOT more than one best grade gun. I suspect that he has done more than any one currently building. And from what I have seen recently still the bar by which others are measured for detail and quality of their work. Nastoff, Swenson, Krebs, Garthwaite Pachmeyr, Wetstein, Colt and others have built a number of "best grade" 1911s as have I.


All THAT said, I think of handguns more as tools than display pieces. I would not pay the extra for the appearance and finishing of a 'Best Gun' just to scratch it to bits in my holster.
All guns are tools :grin: What may have been missed is that a "best grade" gun is first meant to be used, second made to be cosmetically perfect. A scratch or two or honest wear isn't going to hurt the value of that quality of gun. If it is truely best grade, the maker will gladly refinish it for you (at a cost of course) to like new. Just as Rigby or Westley Richards did after the end of any African Safari for a sportsman or a number of hunting seasons for a Professional hunter. "Best grade" is a quality firearm through and through and the level of customer service that out shines the firearm.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,831 Posts
On 2001-06-03 12:35, David DiFabio wrote:
I believe Dane is on point and $4k should actually be high for a custom 1911 cost ceiling. If we were to look at a gunsmith operation in the light of a traditional service industry that also offers manufacturing work, then the gunsmiths cost structure should be geared to an increase in production capability.
Let me cut to the quick on David's comments :grin: Of course time is money. If you go back a well over century in time and produce a firearm by all hand you will indeed end up with a very expensive firearm.

The increase in production in a one man shop is time mangament (No. 1) and the ability to do best quality work with power tools (#2). #2 is just more time manangement.

Good example is an ambi safety costs installed, $75 from one maker, $ 150 from another and $250 from another. Part cost is $45, so you have $35, $105 and $205 in labor charges. The value can only be compared in a side by side comparison of the finished product, right? Let's say that $35 and $205 are equally done in a professional manner for function and cosmetics. One by machine and the other by hand. No question which is a better value IMO. If it take one maker 35 minutes to do the job and the other 205 minutes to do the job you have a good comparison of what time mangement is.

But you get the idea I think. I begrudge no one a comfortable living or the price of his art. But if we are going to start making grandiose statements that a 1911 is worth $5K or $6K or $10K I have to say that the marketing hype is getting out of control.

One man shops can do any number of things to raise their proifit levels without adding to the price of the finished product. Time management is the quickest return on the dollar and not the easiest thing to do. The easiest is just to raise prices.

The difference here is that we have an open forum to discuss pricing and market value. There is a reason Kimber has ran away with the 1911 market. There is a reason Wilson, Brown and Baer were once one man shops and are now production shops.

There is reason, Heinie is 8 years on backlog.

The more our customer's are aware of the market and the value of our products in it, the better off all the makers are in my opinion.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,831 Posts
Dane explain to me how a bolt gun, no matter who builds it is more complicated than a 1911, no matter who builds it... I simply dont understand from a mechanical stand point.
Matt, have you built either? No slight intended. The difference in labor and skill IMO is quite substantial from best grade 1911 to best grade rifle of any sort. Without getting into actions, barrels, triggers and how accuracy is developed depending on the action and how it is mated to the stock and barrel, let's just address the stock fit. Any idea what it takes a master stock maker to inlet a Mauser action on a best grade gun time wise? While the bolt action rifle, like the 1911, was a tool made for war and pretty simple the differences between making one a best grade work of art and a mass producted tool are substantial.

The amount of knowledge, tooling, time and labor that goes into a new commerial series Colt from the 60s and a new magnum Mauser action isn't comparable IMO having done both to a best grade standard.

Take the example of getting a 4 round drop box to feed 416 Rem Magnum ammo with the addition of one in the chamber, as an example, compared to getting a 1911 to feed a 8 round mag.

I might thing that the difference could be compared to a technical folder or automatic as compared to a fix blade. But I have done neither.
 
1 - 20 of 78 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top