1911 mods

The Top 10 1911 Gun Mods

An aspect of the 1911 pistol that some people really appreciate is that you can take a gun that's basically average and - with a few 1911 upgrades - make it a tack-driving machine with surgical-grade accuracy that would stop the Incredible Hulk in his tracks.

The ability to customize a 1911 easily given the availability of upgrade parts has long been a virtue of the platform. You can really do almost anything to one. What, though, are the most common of the 1911 upgrades? Here are the top ten. Most people who modify their 1911 have one of the following, if not multiple or all of them.

1911 Barrel

1911 barrels

Due to how the 1911 barrel locks into the frame and slide, a 1911 barrel can have far more rigid lockup than any other pistol. A properly fitted barrel can be capable of sub-inch groups at 50 yards in 9mm or .38 Super, and sub-1.5-inch groups in .45 ACP. 

That's why 1911 pistols dominate bullseye competitions to this day; Glocks and other brands are well-represented in USPSA/IPSC and IDPA, but they aren't competitive in Bullseye. And that's why a barrel (and bushing, if you have a bushing gun) upgrade is one of the classic improvements you can make to the gun. 

Some people will also have a traditional gun to a ramped barrel, which requires a frame ramp cut, to feed different types of ammunition reliably. Fitting is usually required, which is best done by a gunsmith. 

1911 Sights

1911 sights

People have been doing whatever they could to make the sights more useful or more visible on this gun for more than half a century. Armand Swenson milled his slides to install revolver target sights. People would open the rear sight with a file and paint the front blade. 

Original GI sights are hot garbage - Rex Applegate learned to point-shoot because they weren't usable! - and today's three-dot sights aren't far behind. 

The world is your oyster given the amazing selection available...but only if you have standard dovetails like the Novak or GI cuts. You might otherwise be out of luck. However, you'll need a sight pusher (at minimum) and some minor fitting. You may want to have it done by a gunsmith. 


1911 grips

You can change the grips in seconds with a screwdriver.  

Nice thing about the old-school handguns is the grips are easy to change and there are a ton of aftermarket grips out there. Wrap-around Hogue grips are popular, as are the line of 1911 grips made by VZ. You can also dress your gun up in walnut, cocobolo or any other wood you desire. Or, you can get Crimson Trace grips and get in on the fun people have with lasers.

The range of choice will astound you. You can drop as little as $20 or shell out ten times that amount on exotic woods; it's all up to you.

Grip Safety

1911 grip safety

One of the most common 1911 upgrades - either aftermarket or as a factory option - is an upgraded grip safety, with the beavertail type being the most popular. Some shooters find the standard 1911 grip safety doesn't let them grip as high and tight as they like without giving the shooter a bit of slide or hammer bite.

A whole lot of firms make them, but the procedure is almost always the same. Some fitment will be required, as the pall of the beavertail will need to be filed for a flush fit. Don't believe the labels that say "drop in;" they aren't. 

There is a slight catch. Beavertail safeties aren't compatible with spur hammers, so getting the safety will require a new hammer to be installed as well, which brings us to

1911 Hammer Upgrades

1911 hammer upgrades

There are a number of good reasons to upgrade the hammer. If you're modifying a GI-style gun to have more ergonomic and modern features, adding a beavertail grip safety and ring/Commander hammer will take care of the rear end of the gun. 

Some folks want a skeletonized hammer to make the gun that much lighter, or it might just be that the old one looks beat up, worn out and about to break at any moment. 

In any event, it's a common upgrade. 

Trigger Upgrades And Trigger Group Upgrades

1911 triggers

Some people drop in an upgraded trigger, and some people upgrade the entire trigger group - including the trigger, the sear, sear spring and the hammer - to get a better trigger pull.

The good news is that even the high-end trigger units are relatively inexpensive...but a full trigger job is not, and usually requires some fitting. If you're after the full meal deal, a gunsmith is recommended.


Full Length Guide Rod

1911 full length rod

Another common 1911 upgrade is to install a full-length guide rod. The standard 1911 guide rod doesn't extend the full length of the recoil spring. This upgrade is somewhat contentious. Some people insist it's a must-have and others have found that it doesn't make a darn bit of difference.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

You have to toss the recoil spring plunger, but the touted benefits of a full-length guide rod are a tighter barrel-to-slide fit and smoother cycling. Again, some shooters report the action cycles smoother and accuracy improves...but others have found no tangible benefit.

Spring Kit

1911 spring kit

Some people insist on installing an upgraded spring kit in every 1911 regardless of who they get it from. If it isn't from a custom shop, it gets new springs in the trigger group and the recoil spring as a matter of course.

The benefit is that the pistol cycles better. The other benefit is that springs are dirt cheap. Plenty of people have spent a few bucks on a spring kit, dropped them into a budget import and gotten a budget 1911 to run as well as models costing two to three times as much. That makes a spring kit the 1911 upgrade to give you the most bang for the buck.

Mainspring Housing

1911 mainspring housing

Those annoying so-and-sos that rave about their plastic pistols love to point out how they can change out the backstraps...but the joke's on them, because mainspring housings are another common example of 1911 upgrades. You can change the texturing or stipling, add an arched mainspring housing like that on the M1911A1, whatever you want.

Some fitment may be required (again, you may have to go to a gunsmith) but there are a great deal of choices out there. If you need something a little different, you can totally get it.

And your gun is going to look better than some hunk of plastic.

Ambidextrous Safeties

1911 safeties

Another common 1911 upgrade - and also one not without a bit of controversy - are ambidextrous safeties. The typical version has the longer prongs than the simple metal tab common to GI-spec models.

However, some find they don't like them and have no real use for ambidextrous safeties. Entirely up to you.

Extractor And Ejector

1911 extractor and ejector

The 1911 has a few parts that are more or less it's Achilles heel. Magazines, feed ramps, recoil springs and the extractors/ejectors. For smoother cycling, one of the most common upgrades is an improved ejector and extractor. This gets empties out more quickly, preventing stove pipes and failures to return to battery.

Replacing these parts may require a trip to the smith, but can guarantee a butter-smooth function for years to come.

You Might Also Consider Upgrading 1911 Magazines

1911 magazines

Arguably not an upgrade to the pistol as 1911 magazines are (again, arguably) consumables like ammunition...but this is something that any and all 1911 guys agree on. Factory magazines range from useless to merely adequate.

Don't junk the factory magazines; instead, upgrade the springs (Wolff and Wilson make good ones) and followers. Get yourself some good aftermarket magazines. MecGar are widely held to be the best quality magazines for the budget-minded. Who makes the best magazines is a matter of some debate, but common consensus is that you'll never go wrong with Wilson Combat or Chip McCormick magazines.

About The Author

Writer sam hoober