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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After I got back from Rangemaster in Dallas, it occurred to me that I didn't ask a question of Dane while I had his ear over dinner. Let me ask it now, and address it to any other pistolsmith reading this post...

When you, as a student of handgun mechanics, pick up a gun for the first time, how do you determine the quality of the weapon without firing it? What do you look for visually, how do you manipulate the various mechanics to determine quality of workmanship, and what do you feel for?

I've picked up a couple of things over the years, but I'd be interested to know what a gunsmith looks for when he or she picks up the gun to judge it's quality of craftsmanship. Or even to judge a production/custom production gun since that workmanship varies from gun to gun.
 

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Wow Paladin BIG subject! You talking in general or custom 1911s specifically?

I have a Kahr and a original ASP S&W 39 here, both are quality guns. But those compared to a full house Heinie gun are night and day. hard to compare a nice 1911 to other guns IMO. personal thing I guess.

The difference for me is very much tactile. I pick up a early commercial Colt and a 1991, and the feel and the cosmetics tell it all. But it is subtle. I pointed out a rear sight was not centered on a magazine cover gun of a recent magazine article to my wife. She is attentive to detail but had to be shown what I was talking about. Much of the details of a fine firearm are most easily recognised by an aquired "eye" and the experiences you have had with fine guns.

Anyone who has handled one of my guns usually says it "feels" different. It had better for what they cost. But does it look much different from a standard gun....not much. I thistle marked FED for example is a whole new animal from a standard Kimber Classic. But many can't see the difference or justify the price. Pick one up and shoot it and the price and differenecs are clear.

There are a number of BCP owners on list that might echo what I am saying. It will be the same from any good, quality maker.

To answer your question in the short term, I do it by an aquired eye and how the gun feels in my hand. Not much of an answer I know...sorry. Might not even have the right question :grin:
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
In order to make this a more manageable question, perhaps I can break it down into two applications:

1. If someone is picking up a production or custom production gun, what tells them about the quality of the piece--visual, tactile, instinct (the last is hard to describe, I know).

2. If someone is picking up one custom gun and determining the quality of the gunsmithing, in the same three ares.

I know someone who has been in the business and shooting for many years develops that "sixth sense" but there must be certain basics about initial handgun examination regarding frame, slide, trigger, sight, etc., that average shooters can benefit from. For instance, I know some will lock back the slide and check for "wiggle". Some will immediately feel for trigger. Others will look at the finish. Others for componentry. With the production guns, there must be certain things a gunsmith will look for to check basic quality, then others for more advanced quality attributes.
 

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Terry Peters can answer your question. It's easier with examples in front of you

I met Terry at the Houston Gun Show awhile back and asked pretty much the same question. He had Kimbers, SA's, Wilson's, Brown's and a Heinie Custom. He answered my question. I'm not sure he can "phone it in" however.

Maybe he could help. Good luck.
 

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Sorry to be of little help. I look at every gun as raw material and something that will need work.

I look at a 4K$ Dakota the same way I look at a $400 Springfield loaded or a Kahr 9mm.

Just depends on how much time and money I am willing to spend to get it "right" for me.

Locking the slide back on a 1911 and looking for wiggle means nothing. When the gun is in battery means everything. How loose is it then?

Another example is some of the production guns available. Les Baer and Wilson for example. IMO, no matter how tight a gun is built, the heat treat and quality of the frame and slide mean everything to me. So I would rather have the Wilson gun as a starting point because of what I consider quality.
 

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Look for the details-

-Parts that are crisply blended, not just "installed".

-Barrels that fit snugly in lockup at the bushing and bottom lugs. Even wear marks on the slide stop pin, as well as the top of the hood. Good even "kiss" contact of the face of the hood to the breechface (for an accuracy gun)

-Centered firing pin strike (within reason)

-Polished breechface and slide interior

-Reasonable carry bevel, especially at the front of the frame/slide, rear sight,mag well ejection port, slide stop, hammer, and bottom rear of slide.Sharp edges suck.

A crisp trigger with a fast reset. It must have some take-up as well as some overtravel, but not much.

A trigger should be fitted with a minimum of up and down play. The real masters also bevel the tops and bottoms and edges of the trigger pad.They also bevel the inside of the bow so it wont interfere with a magazine.

A recessed or flattened slide stop pin is a good idea in my opinion, as well as a proper detent.

A safety that "snicks" on and off with enough tension that it won't come off IWB, but can be put on safe with the strong hand.

A beveled guide rod head that doesnt batter the barrel feet.

Things I don't like:

1)Allen head mag catch locks-easy to strip that small screw.
2)Trigger overtravel screws that aren't staked or removed.
3)Sharp edges at the mag well's front "ears". many of the best gun plumbers forget this area.
4)Titanium firing pins(get peened) and MSH caps.(squeak!)
5)Bushings that require 2 men and a boy to remove.
6)Disconnector click.
7)Any part made by Clark or Masen.
:cool:The "Melt Down" Look, perpetuated by Kimber, Clark, et al. Most of these type guns are pretty loose in most holsters, in addition to being buffed or tumbled beyond belief.
9)Guns that do not have a uniform finish.
One of the worst culprits IMHO is the chrome/nickel frame with the stainless thumb safety, slide stop etc., or the stainless gun with plated parts. I can handle a blued frame with some stainless parts for corossion resistance....not the other way around.
10)Plastic guide rods.
11)Reduced power mag catch spings

The best test is at the range, but these are some of the things I look for.......
 

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Good reply for a custom gun. How about a list on how you compare a production gun...say a loaded Springfield in comparison to a Wilson or a Kimber.

Price points, parts, and manufacture details all need to be compared.
 

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Here's my quickie check (I'm not a gunsmith, but am a Mechanical Engineeer and am something of a student of 1911 mechanics). This mainly addresses mechanics as the cosmetics are obvious pretty quickly just by visual inspection.

1) with the barrel in battery press down on the hood and check for movement. press side to side too. Any movement here and I won't be happy with the accuracy. Plan on a new barrel/bushing - $$$$$. Whomever built the gun didn't know the basic 1911 guts if this test fails.

2) Also while in battery stick your finger in the barrel and feel any play between the slide/bushing/barrel fit. You have to hold the gun by the slide to do this or slide play will enter into your evaluation. (Slide to frame fit almost doesn't matter to accuracy, other than as an indicator of the fact that the smith cared. If you don't believe me then I've got a gold cup and a Springfield that you need to shoot). BTW be aware that a FLGR can greatly improve the feel of a loosely fitted slide/frame fit. Don't be fooled by this one either.

3) Look at overall fit and finish. Evaluate "feel" of the gun by snicking safeties, going through drawing motions, etc.

4) Hold it. sight it. dry fire it. Check trigger reset by dry firing and while holding the trigger back cycling the slide. Then see how far you have to come out to reset the trigger.

5) With the slide retracted, stick your finger down onto the disconnector and depress it. A gritty feel is a quick indication that whomever worked on it didn't much care. You can also see polish points as noted above - throat, ramp, disconnector raceway, top of disconnector, breech face, etc.

6) Check trigger fitting. Up/dn/side/side. Does it rub on a mag? Does it feel different with a mag in it than without?

7) Sites centered in slide?

:cool: Oh yeah, check where the grip safety disengages. Get a high hold, push up and try to dry fire. A lot of guns fail this test. Good smiths know how to set them up so that no matter how high I lever my hand the thing will still fire. I'm not sure what the trick is here, but the good guys know how to do it.

Lots of guns fail the battery test and I stop right there. Fitting a new barrel is a major expense and often isn't justified. If a guy can't get that right then look out!

Hope this helps.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: JiminCA on 2001-11-20 00:28 ]</font>
 

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For a production pistol, I like to look for the "basics".

Since most of my production 1911's get tweaked by a pistolsmith, I am usually looking for good, sound platforms to get work performed on.

Straight, crisp slide flats and symmetrical rounds are important. A minimum of machine marks is also a good idea. These type of flaws add up to extra work (read $$).

A decent stock trigger may help indicate that hammer/sear pin holes are properly spaced.

I look for indicators that the slide/frame are true to each other. A slide that rubs far to one side is no good in my book. properly sized ejector cuts look better than really oversiaze ones also.

Old style roll-marking looks much better than the "dot-matrix" serial number.
Kind of like made in USA looks better than Made in Brazil.

Check for excessive chatter or over ramping of feed ramps and over throating of barrels.

The machining of the breech face and interior slide area near the chamber is usually pretty sloppy. More extra work for the smith.

In used guns, look for evidence of pitting and the telltale marks of a poor reblue (melted letters, round edges, parts that are various shades of blue/black.

I think the prettiest guns of recent vintage ever to build on are the Colt 70 series and Pre-70 series. maybe not the most precise, but certainly the prettiest. They also seem to hold their value well. Finding an unaltered one these days for less than a kings ransom is tough.

Do your homework. Find a Colt collector at a big gun show and examine his autos. You will learn to recognize the good from the bad and the "Custom shop fakes" from the real MCoy.
 
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