Easy DIY Upgrades

Upgrades, enhancements, customization . . . you pick the word. There are some easy things you can do to make a gun truly yours, especially if it’s a 1911. I’m using 1911 examples for this article because the parts necessary for these upgrades are readily available and on a 1911, the upgrades are relatively easy to accomplish. Why would you want to do any of these upgrades? That’s up to you. Maybe this isn’t for you, but I’ve always liked adding my own personal touch to items I own. As a kid I was into Hot Rods and Custom cars and I guess I’m still a kid at heart at 67, so here we go.

First let’s talk about grips. That’s an easy upgrade and sometimes it’s the difference between having a gun you can comfortably shoot and one you can’t. Or maybe you just want to change the look of the gun to make it more appealing. I’ve done several things with grips on my 1911s, but one of the most rewarding has been adding aftermarket logo grips. Here are some photos of grips I’ve added to a Remington R1, and a Ruger LW Commander:

Commander Grip Panels

The Remington Grips are Walnut with the metallic Remington “R” logo added. The Ruger grips feature the Ruger Phoenix logo carved into the beautiful wood grips. I have to admit that as beautiful as the Remington Grips are, I first tried them on my R1 Carry Commander and swapped back out to the full-size Ruger because those particular grips are a little rough on my hands when I shoot. So I’m going for beauty on the one I don’t shoot as much. The Ruger grips are totally satisfying in both look and feel and set the gun apart from a stock SR1911 LW Commander.

ColtGripsAndScrewsI really had fun with the Colt because not only did I find Colt logo grips that look and feel nice, but I even found some logo grip screws to hold them on. What’s really cool about these grips is where I found them–on Amazon.com. There are hundreds of grip choices on Amazon.com. Something to remember about swapping grips out is that if you go for thin grips–and I like thin grips because I have short, stubby fingers–you’ll need screws and bushings designed for thin grips. The bushings are what screws into the frame. The grips fit down over the bushings, then the grip screws screw into the bushings to hold the grips on. If they are not sized right, the grips can be loose or the screws can go too deep through the bushings and contact the magazine making it difficult or impossible to insert or drop. Strike Industries makes grip screws and bushings in both sizes and with in stainless, blued, or nickel and these are all available on the Amazon.com website as well as directly from Strike or through other firearms accessory suppliers.

In addition to the logo grips you can find grips of varying styles, colors and textures when shopping at Amazon or any number of other websites–those of the grip makers plus Midway USA or Brownell’s. One of my favorite companies makes VZ-Grips. Google for them and you’ll find quite a variety.

The next two upgrades I’m going to tell you about involve a little more work and gun disassembly than just changing out the grips. The first is installing an ambidextrous safety. I bought my ambi  safeties from Wilson Combat, but they’re not the only makers. It’s just that I’ve learned to appreciate the quality that goes into Wilson products, plus their outstanding customer service. Wilson make two grades of safety, the regular grade and another they call “bullet proof”. I’ve used the regular ones, but I think if I do it again, I’ll order the Bullet Proof design. That’s not because I’m unhappy with the ones I’ve got. I just want to try something different next time.

Ambi SafetyYou may be surprised if you’ve never had reason to try this, but removing the existing safety from a 1911 is very simple. First unload the gun, then cock it. Then move the safety to a position that is halfway between on and off. You may have to get a small screwdriver blade or a the blade of a pocket knife to start it, but in that position, the safety will pop right out of the slide.

Installing the ambi-safety could be a simple as popping it in where the other one came out and pushing the right-hand side of the safety onto the post of the left-hand safety where it goes through the slide, but it’s more likely that you will have to do some filing. There are instructions and videos on Wilson’s website and on a number of 1911 forums. You’ll have to do a little disassembly so you can see how the safety is fitting, but it’s not complicated and the instructions will show you step by step how to do it. File a little, then check the fit. File a little more if necessary, but be careful not to over do it and you’ll find it’s really a fairly simple process. I’ve done it three or four times and the results have been gratifying every time. I don’t need an ambidextrous safety because I’m left-handed, but I like having one because it allows me to easily check the position of the safety in my holster regardless of what I’m wearing or body position.

Wilson Combat TriggerAnother easy upgrade for a 1911 is replacing the trigger. I bought a Sig Sauer 1911 that had a straight aluminum trigger with no holes. For me there were two things wrong with that trigger. The first was that it extended the reach for getting my finger properly placed on the trigger and my short fingers just didn’t like it. The second issue was that the trigger’s appearance just didn’t seem to fit the gun. I found a Sig Sauer 1911 ScorpionWilson Combat trigger that fit the bill perfectly and with it I replaced the original trigger. The Wilson trigger is black, curved and has the three holes. I don’t know if you can really tell from the picture of the gun here, but in my opinion, this is the type of trigger that should have come with the gun.

How much trouble was it to install? Again, it requires some disassembly and it might require a little sizing. In fact this one did. The trigger itself was too tall for the space provided in the gun. It’s made out of plastic and with a few touches with a file, checking the fit as I want along, I was able to make the trigger fit perfectly. Installing this trigger as a drop-in like I did had no affect on the weight of the trigger pull. But it did make for a slightly smoother trigger pull because the part of the trigger that slides in the frame was narrower than the stock trigger and produced less friction. Not a lot, but enough that trigger operation felt smoother to me after I did the upgrade.

Colt MagazinesI’ll cover one more upgrade and this is an easy one. Ever since I started shooting 1911s I have bought Wilson Combat magazines to replace the ones that came with the gun. This may have been superstition or it may have been because I’ve seen Wilson magazines solve other people’s ammo feeding problems on the range during our classes on numerous occasions. But after buying a Colt with 8-round flush-mount magazines, I have switched to using the Colt magazines in all of my 1911s and with great success. This gives me 9 rounds available before reloading and nothing extending from the frame grip. That’s more aesthetically pleasing to me and it helps with concealing the handgun.

Another thing I like about the Colt Magazines is the follower inside the magazine is metal, rather than plastic as in so many other brands. It’s angled just perfectly for feeding the rounds and I’ve never experienced any of the next-to-last-round failure to feeds that is common with other magazine brands. As I’ve written previously, I’ve vetted these magazines in all my guns and have absolute confidence in them.

So there you have it, some ideas about how you can easily tweak your gun to fit your own personality or needs. Parts are readily available, as is “how to” information on YouTube.com and other websites. Have fun and if you think about it, let me know how some of your projects have gone.


Weighing In on the Lightweights

If all gun salesmen were required to spend some time on the range as instructors, I think what they offer to customers and tell them about guns would be different. For the past several years, because of the increased interest in concealed carry, everyone from the manufacturers on down have been pushing small, lightweight guns to first time gun owners. SHAME ON US!

I know the arguments:   “Any gun is better than no gun”, “It doesn’t do any good to have a gun you can’t shoot”, “What about concealing in the summertime when you wear lightweight clothes?”, etc., etc. The problem with those arguments is they work only when you’re talking about carrying a gun. But they fall apart quickly if you ever have to actually use your gun.

Common lightweight .380 handguns
Some Common Lightweight .380 Handguns

We see all of the guns shown above, as well as others that are similar, in our CHL classes. We sell some of them in our store. But we are careful to provide other options to our customers and to let them know of the disadvantages as well as the advantages.  These are all good guns, but they’re not necessarily good guns for primary concealed carry for relative inexperienced shooters.

The problems we see in the classes is only a small part of what we would expect to see on the street should, God forbid, one of our clients actually have to defend themselves. Here is what they’re not told at the Gun Shows or the Big Box gun stores:

  1. That small gun kicks like an SOB.
  2. It’s really hard to hold onto when you’re shooting it.
  3. If you’re not holding on tight and have kept your gun really clean and are shooting good factory ammunition, you may be shooting a jam-a-matic.
  4. That short barrel means a short sight radius (less accuracy), less stability for your bullets (less accuracy), less muzzle velocity (less power).
  5. Speaking of power, the .380 ACP cartridge is way down the scale in stopping power against a determined aggressor.
  6. Oh, and how many of those small, underpowered bullets does it hold?  Not many, usually 5 or 6.

If you’re a strong shooter, a very good shot, very cool under pressure, by all means carry one of these small .380s–as a backup gun.

Let me get to the bottom line here. I’m an experienced shooter and it is rare that I don’t hit what I’m aiming at. I’m a war veteran who has been shot at a number of times and I have learned to be calm and collected under pressure. I practice with my firearm regularly. You could say I’m somewhere near the top of the professional heap when it comes to concealed carry. And I wouldn’t dream on carrying a small .380 handgun for my personal protection or the personal protection of my loved ones.

But what about someone who just can’t handle a bigger caliber?  Get a PMR-30 with 30 rounds of .22 Magnum. Okay, I know they’re hard to get and hard to conceal, so let’s back off that a bit. One option might be a small, steel-frame (not lightweight) revolver in .327 Magnum. That’s a kick-ass round, with pretty much the same ballistics as a .357 Magnum, but the .327 revolvers carry 6 rounds and sometimes more and they’ve got enough weight to absorb some of the recoil.

Most small, lightweight .380 Semi-Automatics or even lightweight .38 Special revolvers have more felt recoil than most 9mms with a little size to them. Seriously. Go shoot some guns. You may find that a 9mm S&W M&P is a whole lot easier to handle than one of those small .380s.  There are some nice 9mms that hold 9, 10 or 12 rounds and are very concealable. The slim ones that are pretty popular are Ruger LC9, M&P Shield, Springfield XDs, and Berretta Nano. Bersa’s BP9CC and the Taurus PT-111 are a couple more favorites.

If you’re really serious about carrying a gun that might save your life, you may have to make some wardrobe changes. Our instructors, who come in all sizes, all carry big guns, usually in IWB (inside the waistband) holsters, but sometimes OWB (outside the waistband). We also carry spare magazines. In the unlikely event that we ever have to use our gun, we want to be the one standing, not the one who couldn’t hit the target, or whose gun jammed, or who shot until they ran out of ammo, but didn’t stop their aggressor.

The hunting regulations in every state I know of specifies a minimum caliber that can be used to hunt deer. They do this because they don’t want a lot of wounded deer running around. The deer should be harvested with a minimum amount of suffering. But, if you wound a deer, the worst case is you may lose the deer or you may have to track it to the location it finally stopped running. If you wound a bear, however, that bear is coming after you. In society, when preparing to defend yourself against one of the predators in society, you don’t know if that predator is going to be like a deer or like a bear. It’s best to be prepared to stop a threat that is big, hopped up on drugs or adrenalin, and mean as a snake.