1911 Clinic: Troubleshooting


January 9, 2004, 11:45 AM
Since no clinic is complete without a basic troubleshooting guide...

One of the things that I'm known for is my insistence that most functional issues with the 1911 are simple in origin, and usually simple to fix. I've drawn some flak over this from a couple of pistolsmiths, and the only reason that I can come up with is that they want to promote and preserve the mystique. I surely couldn't be costing
them any real money, since they claim to be Big Dawgs.

The trick to diagnosing a problem is understanding what CAN cause it, because many can have several causes. Identifying the problem is half the battle. For instance, a failure to feed or return to full battery is often blamed on the throat and/or ramp when it's actually the extractor...and vice versa. Many times the magazine gets the blame when it's not the magazine at all...and sometimes the pistol is accused of being the worst sort of junk when the magazine is the culprit. Before adjusting, tweaking, bending, or filing anything, detail strip the pistol and clean it if it hasn't
been cleaned recently. I can't remember how many problems that I've "fixed" by simply getting the pistol clean.

I've outlined a few common problems along with the steps that need to be taken to identify exactly what's causing the malfunction. Too many inexperienced guys have attacked the barrel throat with a file or a Dremel, when the trouble was the extractor. By the time they realized their mistake, a barrel was ruined. The bottom line is that it's 10% knowing where to look and 90% common sense and patience.

Falure to return to full battery: Check the extractor by removing it. If the pistol goes to battery smoothly, the extractor is your bug. If nothing changes, look elsewhere.

Check for stem bind. This is more common than you'd think. A crescent-shaped mark just below the case mouth on a jammed round is the sign. Scrape the top edge of the throat lightly with the tip of a good penknife. Polish it with wet-or-dry paper on your fingertip.(600 grit) All you want is a light bevel so the side of the case doesn't dig in as it breaks over to enter the chamber. If this doesn't help, have a look at the barrel link. Most barrels ride the link a little, but are the right length in lockup. If the link is long enough to show a sizeable gap at the front radius of the lug, try a .003 shorter link. Most factory links are .278 center/center. Wilson #2 is .275 inch, and will probably solve the problem. Alternative is to remove about 3-4 thousandths from the top of the hole. A round needle file can be
used if done carefully. Best to get another link, though.

If no stem bind is noted, check the breech face for deep or rough tool marks. Use the 600-grit paper on a popsicle stick to smooth them out. Don't go for a polished surface...Just smooth the sharp edges.

Check the width of the breech face leading edge. Remove the extractor and look at the underside of the breech face. There are two parallel sides under the rounded area where the rim fits. Measure this width with dial calipers. If it's below .480 inch, open it up just a little with a flat needle file on either side. About .484-.488 is good, though some say .490 inch is ideal. I generally bevel the area at the bottom lightly. Use the file with the safe edges to prevent diging into the breechface. I see this condition once in a while, but not often.

Round stops at the top of the feed ramp at the junction of the ramp and barrel: (Sometimes blamed on the magazine.)

Check the barrel's position in the frame. Lay it in the saddle and look at the bottom of the throat and top of the feed ramp with the barrel down and back as far as it will go. The bottom of the throat should be 1/32nd inch forward of the top edge of the ramp. If it's flush or overhanging, correct it with a smooth mill file and reshape the throat with a scrape. A good pocketknife will do in a pinch. FIle the bottom of the barrel at an angle just a little to get the gap established. 1/32nd is equal to about.032 inch, so it won't take much. Don't cut the throat deeper into the chamber, and follow the original angle to blend the filed area into it. Chamfer the top of the throat as described above, and polish.

The Rideover Feed:

AKA Bolt Over base. Here the slide is outrunning the magazine and the breechface catches the round in the extractor groove instead of at the rear. The butt end of the round dips, the nose points up, and the round winds up as a live-round stovepipe. The true rideover usually results in a damaged case wall, but doesn't go nose up.

This is either a magazine spring issue, or the recoil spring is too strong. Wolff makes an excellent 11 pound replacement mag spring for 7 and 8-round magazines. Go to a maximum of an 18 pound recoil spring for the 5-inch gun, and I wouldn't go any higher than 18 in a Commander. Pistols with slides shorter than Commander-length are wild cards. 15-16 is about the ideal compromise for a GM.

Round chambered, slide out of battery, extractor stopped by the rear of the case rim, usually on the last round:

This one is a magazine problem, pure and simple, and generally shows up when somebody has tuned a magazine by removing that silly little dimple from the follower. An oversprung slide will aggravate the problem. Browning the Great put that dimple there for a very good reason. Best leave it be.

Side locking back with the last round loose on top of the follower:

See above. A stronger magazine spring may help, but likely won't cure it completely.

Slide locking with ammo in the magazine:

Check to see if the side of the bullet nose is bumping the slide stop lug. Relieve lightly, following the established angle and remove no more than necessary. Alsomcould be inertial bounce during recoil. Try a lighter recoil spring, and try it without the shock buff. Often noticed on pistols with extended (heavy) slide stops.

Slide fails to lock on empty:

Check for a broken lug. Magazine spring weak. Magazine follower angle wrong. Follower shelf angle wrong or located too far inward. Recoil spring too strong or too weak. Usually noted with too much spring, but can sometimes be not enough.

Top round nosedives from slidelock reload:

Follower angle wrong. Magazine spring weak or improperly shaped on the top coil. Feed ramp angle too steep. Incorrect ramp/throat gap. (See above)Extractor tension too high. Lower edge of breechface too narow. (.484-.488)

Live round ejection from magazine during recoil:

Weak magazine spring. (This one sometimes ejects the next to last round and feeds the last round.) Last round ejection of live round is the dread Gunshoppe Commando Syndrome..."Lack-a-Dimple". Weak mag spring is also a player.

Empty round stovepipe. Usually noticed on the last round, but can occur anywhere.

Too much recoil spring. Weak or broken grip. Low extractor tension. Extractor clocking. The clocking extractor usually results in the last round being crunched by the slide, even though all others kick out of the port well. The extractor still has a grip, but the rotated hook drops it due to not having a convex surface to support the case. The magazine follower is depressed far enough to prevent slidelock, and the case rides the slide back toward battery. Crunch. I've seen the empty brass actually get stuffed back into the magazine on occasion.

An oversized firing pin stop with a press-fit usually takes care of it, but if the extractor channel is located too far to the right in the slide, it won't help. Besides a new slide (expensive) the fix is to rough up the FP stop slot in the extractor, fill it with JB Weld, and file to a press fit. (Cheap) Jerry-rigged? You bet. Does it
work? You bet.

Ejected brass hitting you in the face or going down the back of your shirt? The slide is knocking the brass back at you. . Look for brass marks on the slide around the port.

Check the ejector for tight. Add some extractor tension. Radius the bottom corner of the hook to let the brass kick free earlier and at a different angle. Check the length of the extractgor hook. It should be about .030-.033 inch long. Reshape the ejector face to change where the slide tips it. The higher on the case it hits, the more straight out the brass flies. The lower it hits, the more straight up. File a very slight angle on the side of the ejector to change the direction of the case as it rolls around it. Compound angles are sometimes needed. Study the ejector face for a minute. It'll come to you where to cut. Go slow...just a light stroke and try it. Repeat until it stops. Sometimes it won't stop, and you have to buy a new ejector and start over. Don't get too concerned with where andhow far the brass lands. If it doesn't try to put your eye out, be happy.

Hammer stops at half-cock:

Clean the disconnect channel. Bend the center leaf inward a little. (Grasp it above the juntion of the main part of the spring or risk snapping it off.) Detail strip and clean behind the trigger shoe. Check the overtravel screw (if so equipped) to see if it limits trigger travel. It happens more than you know. I usually remove the set screw and toss it in the spare parts box. (Reliablity anal retentive)

Hammer followdown:

Replace the mainspring. (Never stretch it. They're cheap) Bend the LEFT leg of the sear spring inward, following the above procedure. Check the hammer hooks for wear or out of square. Check the sear primary angle for wear or damage. If you have a heavy recoil spring in the gun, get a lighter one. This will contribute to the problem due to the higher shock load as the gun returns to battery. Measure the hammer hooks if they look okay. Less than .020 inch long? Lay the backside of the sear on a medium India stone with a .020 feeler gauge under the legs. Push
the whole set-up forward 2-3 light strokes to get a little metal off the back of the sear so the primary angle will make use of all the hook length. Accept that you may need a new hammer, sear and disconnect soon. Not certain, but likely. Replace all 3 parts as a group, and it might be a good idea to have a new thumb safety on hand.

Rough, gritty, or creepy trigger:

Cock the hammer and dribble a little light oil into the area between the hammer and frame. Lightly boost the hammer with a small, slot tip screwdriver and pull the trigger until the hammer falls. Repeat 10 times.
If you can't make the hammer fall by pulling the trigger with about 10-12
pounds of force, ease up on the boost a little until it will. The trigger action
should feel smoother.

If the trigger pull gets noticeably harder with just a light boost, the hammer
hooks aren't bearing evenly on the sear, or the hammer hooks are badly oversquare.( Pulling the sear deeper into the hooks with pressure)

Anybody care to add anything...feel free. I'll add to it as I think of more and/or get the time. Dang dogs don't wait for nobody.


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January 14, 2004, 02:44 PM
BTT, it's a good read, should stay up top I think :)

January 14, 2004, 02:56 PM
Thx for the ''BTT'' Jeff ... how did I miss this on the 9th?! Usual prob I guess .. so much traffic!

Tuner ... thx once more for some great input .. I enjoy every item you post ... all grist to the mill.:)

Having resisted for sooooo long re 1911's I now have a commem' (which admittedly is more a showpiece) but am soon to pick up a Sistema ... and so will be exploring ever more deeply the various facets of the beast!

January 15, 2004, 01:12 AM
Tuner, great post.

When Trouble is detected:

A. Fire up 'puter , log on on THR. Do a search, if not found, use the "New Thread" feature. ASK.

B. In gunsmithing tools kit grab first tool...yep that one on top, yes that piece of paper...gunsmith's phone number, grab phone, dial number.


April 1, 2004, 11:40 PM
I was sent here by the administrator from shooters forum on a tech issue and I feel like I walked into a bar and met some old friends I had'nt seen in years. I'm old school like Tuner and SM. Under my fathers watchfull eye, I was taught the correct use of the file and other hand tools. Notice,HAND TOOLS! I've been hurtling Pb hammers downrange now for close to forty years and still shoot steel plate competition. I also have been working on these dolls since Jr. high school. (Ain't times changed?). My father was a Metalurgical Engineer so I learned all about ferrous and non. Back in Colorado it seemed like everyone reloaded,cast or worked on guns. Ain't so anymore. Try finding molds or powder on the sporting goods shelf. Anyway I'm passing on what I can to my boys. Before I go here is a little tip some might find useful. Some combat competitions and other situations may call for the use of a cocking lug.I prefer a pc of nickle steel,triangular in shape welded to the left side of the slide just before the serations.Smoothed and tapered to clear the holster but withan edge at the front to contact door jamb,steering wheel,bootheel ,post,bone or whatever is needed in the case of having only one hand to cock and aquire the target. After welding with a spare clip follower spring,cool in sand,file dress and polish. Check fit and slide action and adjust as necessary.Usually,if welded correctly little or no distorsion occurs.Tuff old dolls, huh? Some try screws drilled and tapped but as you may imagine after awhile they work loose. Also the material is quite thin in that area.

April 2, 2004, 04:00 AM
Howdy Devo, and welcome in! THR is one of the classiest forums
around. Good folks, useful information, and even the flames don't
get too hot. The Moderators here have an easy job, as most cuss-fights usually resolve themselves with apologies and drinks all around.



April 2, 2004, 12:04 PM
Devo - glad you joined us :)

Always good to have another ''Curmudgeon'' to milk for experience and tips!:p

August 23, 2004, 06:27 PM
Awesome post tuner. One question; can you explaing "boost the hammer" so I don't end up crying at my own stupidity? Thanks


Jim Watson
August 23, 2004, 07:28 PM
Well, OK, but I'm not going to scrape ordnance steel with my GOOD pocketknife. That is why I have an old beat up one handy.

Dave Sample
August 23, 2004, 07:34 PM
Since I may be one of those'"Blankety Blank Pistolsmiths" that are keeping all of this 1911 stuff a deep dark secret, I had better pass on this one. I teach my students in the Online 1911 Class how to "Boost The Hammer" but since you asked Tuner, I am sure he will want to tell you how it is done and why.

August 24, 2004, 09:40 AM
But of course! I didn't see Bob's question, since I'd unsubscribed from the thread. Sorry...

Boosting the hammer is simple. Cock it, and put some upward pressure on it while you pull the trigger. You can push with your thumb for a light boost, or you can use a lever between the underside of the spur and the
top of the grip safety for a heavier boost. Easy! Not TOO heavy. If
you put so much pressure on it that the trigger can't trip the sear, you're not accomplishing anything except damaging the hammer hooks and the sear. A small slot-tip screwdriver will work...just be careful not to scratch
things up. A thin piece of wood or plasticwill also work, if you've got a really nice finish on the levered parts.

Apply a little pressure and pull the hammer until it falls, and repeat. Be sure to use oil during the process. You can dribble it between the hammer and frame to get it on the hooks and the sear...Dry-fire it a few times to
spread it out, and boost.

Boosting helps the mating surfaces to break sharp edges...polish one another a little and seat the parts as well as help to equalize the sear and hook interface. Makes for a smoother trigger, and can make a big difference in the trigger, depending on how good or bad it was to start with. It's like dry-firing the gun a few hundred times to let things smooth out.

Boosting also gives you an idea of how the hooks are standing on the sear. If light boosting makes it a lot harder to trip the sear, the hooks aren't bearing evenly, and one hook is taking all or most of the load. So, in this case, it's a check to see if you've prepped the hooks right, and that everything is working like it should.

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