How Long can a 1911 "Hold" Extractor Tension?


March 10, 2008, 09:33 AM
Just wondering, how long can a quality extractor maintain its tension? As long as it is used properly (slide not closed on a chambered round), is it indefinite?

How about with a chambered round?

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March 10, 2008, 09:51 AM

Extractor tension: This is chief source of mechanical failure in the 1911. The extractor controls feeding, extraction, and ejection. You should periodically check the tension of the extractor to ensure that it is still providing sufficient tension. Disassemble the gun, and take a 230 gr ball round (preferably an inert/dummy round) and slide it up under the extractor. The extractor should hold the round against the breech face no matter which way you turn the slide. Remove the extractor from the slide and clean it every 500 rounds. A short .22 caliber brush fits into the extractor tunnel in the slide and makes short work of cleaning it. The extractor requires skilled gunsmith fitting and tuning, so do not expect a new part to drop in, and don't try to tune it yourself.

Once the extractor loses enough tension to begin to exhibit Type 2 and 3 malfunctions (stovepipe, double feed), then it is time to replace it. Retensioning it only delays the inevitable - total loss of tension or hook breakage - and will lead to more malfunctions as the extractor continues to degrade. I have found that most modern internal extractors have a minimum service cycle of about 5000 rounds, after which they statistically begin to show some loss of tension. It is at this interval that I begin to preemptively replace the extractors. I consider it just like periodic oil or tire changes in your car - you can run either until they fail, or you can change them while they still have some service life in them and head off trouble before it crops up.

5,000 rounds – This is what I find to be the average lifespan of the modern internal extractor. Yes, plenty last much, much longer, but plenty also last only a fraction of this round count. Once an extractor starts to log this many rounds, I will either replace it preemptively, or replace it at the first hint of failure (ie. erratic ejection). The extractors often will continue working with some retensioning, but that can sometimes just be a temporary fix. The key issue here is that extractor failure is typically only recognized by the shooter as a stovepipe or double feed malfunction, where that really is the most extreme situation. If you start seeing rounds ejecting forward, left, and straight at the shooter’s head, THAT is the beginning of extractor failure. This milder type of failure is often dismissed, which is why extractors may often seem to last longer.

I'd consider Hilton Yam an expert on the subject.

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