The "customizing" trap... "If it ain't broke, fix it till it is."


January 30, 2003, 12:12 AM
Lately I've been thinking about what many of us do with perfectly good, reliable, new pistols... we're so eager to jump on the "customized bandwagon" and think our guns "need" to be reliability-tuned, improved, tweaked, features switched out, etc. This may be largely a 1911-lovers phenomenon. And I'm certainly one of them. We think that by spending more money on them, they will be that much more reliable, accurate, and just better.

More than once I've done work on a gun and later decided that the gun was just as it should have been in the beginning, that I should have left well enough alone. But I was thrilled by the process of determining what to customize, how to tweak it, etc. In the end I wound up with something that perhaps was not as reliable as the gun was in the first place. You know the drill... new trigger, new sear, new hammer, lighter hammer spring, lighter FP spring, lighter recoil spring, shock buffs to compensate for lighter springs, etc.

It's all fun to do that (and costly!), but I can't help but wonder if this customizing, tweaking, enhancing, modifying passion of ours is something like government work (please forgive me, government workers....)

"If it ain't broke, fix it 'till it is."

Of course certain modifications are truly beneficial and have good results, but more often than not, lately, I'm thinking we're better off leaving guns just as the factory made them. Sometimes our fine tuning and tweaking just messes things up.... we fix 'em till they're broke!

Now when I buy new guns, I resist all urges to change things and then only do so when I am totally convinced it is necessary. I'm slowly learning.

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January 30, 2003, 12:36 AM
In many cases, if not most cases, I agree with you completely. Especially when it comes to 1911s. The ones that I didn't mess with run flawlessly.

happy old sailor
January 30, 2003, 12:52 AM
it may be a matter of personalization, much like putting fancy wheels on a car/truck and a LOUD sound system. their gun, their money. if they enjoy it, then good for them.

about all i really want from a gun is a good trigger and sufficient accuracy for its intended purpose. had i not liked the rest of the gun, i would not have bought it.

good post. and, i agree. "fix it til its broke". ain't that the truth.

January 30, 2003, 04:34 AM
I agree to a point, but every neat invention, gadget, accuracy-improving method we have came about from someone who wanted to tinker.

Without the very male, very human inclination to fix things that aren't broken, we'd be a very dull society.

Jim March
January 30, 2003, 05:12 AM
It's gotta fit your hand, and it's gotta have sights that work for YOU, and it's gotta work reliably.

All too many new guns fail at least one of these. Some slideguns fail all three.

I don't believe it's a "waste" to fix those three points.

Now, accuracy can be another matter, unless there's something simple you can do. Ruger Single Actions respond well to very modest tweaks that more or less never cause problems, such as reaming the cylinders to the right bore on a 45, or putting in a Belt Mountain base pin (each mod is $25). A re-crown job on a stainless revolver can run as little as $50 done professionally. Doing just those three sometimes brings groups from 5" at 25 yards down to 1.5" or less :).

Me, I'm not a collector. I can well see taking a $300 used street-carry wheelgun that checks out well to start with, putting $50 into the grips, $150 into the sights and another $50-$100 in misc tweaks. Will I get my money out of it if I sell? Heck no. But it'll fit ME and my shooting style and I'll just plain like it :).

Sigh. That's when I'm past my current dead broke phase :(.

Still Learning
January 30, 2003, 09:00 AM
Jim, how right you are about the Rugers. My carry guns are typically 1911s. My IDPA gun is a 1911. The guns that I have thrown the most money at have been the Rugers!

My 3-screw Super Blackhawk was purchased for $150 about 10 or 15 years ago. Today I may have as much as $1000 in it after all the tweaking and cosmetic changes (including switching grip frame to the Ruger Old Army frame as per John Taffin's suggestion. Which, by the way, improved this gun's handling tremendously!)

Back to the original post, I agree that many shooters spend a lot of cash "improving" their guns until they really mess them up.

January 30, 2003, 09:10 AM
Your call is about 90% right, in my book! :cool:

Admiral Thrawn
January 30, 2003, 09:33 AM
I'm very much against too much "customizing" and "modifying."

In fact, all my 7 handguns are completely stock except for removable night sights on a few of them.

January 30, 2003, 01:11 PM
I've had several guns "customized" by so-called "gunsmiths." that worked worse than out of the box.

It is worth it to send away to someone with a national reputation for peace of mind.

January 30, 2003, 03:20 PM
When you try to squeeze every drop of performance from something whether it is cars, bikes, guns, you are looking at such tight tolerances that problems will pop up. THe key is to find what level of enhancement is enough for you to maintain reliability ;)

January 30, 2003, 05:50 PM
I agree.

Due to this, I have a handgun and rifle I will never mess with since they are perfect from the factory and I want to have something to trust if needed.

The rest, are teaching me.

January 30, 2003, 06:31 PM
There is a definate gee-whiz factor in any mechanical or technological device.

There is the tweaking that newbies do to try and create the "magic sword" effect - make the perfect device so you do not have to practice or learn.

In the computer realm, I see a lot of newbies put all kinds of gadget software on their PC - sure it often makes things more interesting, but sometimes at a substantial cost to performance or reliability.

I have built hundreds of computers - and my home PC is kept as stock and static as I can keep it - much like my guns.

Technology is no substitute for competence.

That said, even a truly great gun may need some personalization. I had the sights painted on my Valtro - also had a new safety put on. Minor changes that make it fir me better. Next step I will probably hard chrome the frame (for rust and looks) and get some nice cocobolo grips and hex screws - purely for looks.

I think I am of the same mind as Mr. Cooper who makes frequent reference to people with expensive "accurate" rifles who cannot make what should be an easy shot at a hundred or two yards.

When I buy a rifle, I am going to buy a lever .45-70 and I am going to get as good as I can get with it - but to me, if I can hit a pie plate at 200 yards with iron sights, that seems plenty good for anything I would want to do - so tweaking the gun to do 1MOA just seems silly.

Now, on the flip side, the Valtro is about as accurate as you can reasonably make a 1911 and for the first time in my life, I was able to shoot out a teacup saucer sized hole in my target - with very few rounds out of that pattern. - was it the "accurate" gun? was it all me? was it the extra confidence that the magic sword gives the bearer?


Sean Smith
January 30, 2003, 07:40 PM
I kind of agree with the premise and kind of don't.

Alot of customizing IS fluff, especially on 1911s. If you want fluff, that's cool. I've bought fluff. I've liked fluff. Heck, wood grips are fluff, and almost everybody buys those. But I knew it was fluff; I wasn't fooling anybody, including myself. When you think fluff isn't fluff, you are getting dumb.

I have a nearly stock (aside from wood grips, extra mags, that kind of thing) Colt 01991 that is just way cooler than it has any right to be. Really accurate, perfect trigger, and I even like the 3-dot sights just fine. And most importantly it is reliable as hell. I *could* spend more money on it, but I really can't be bothered.

On the other hand, I'm waiting for a Delta Elite to arrive at my friendly neighborhood FFL that is going to be customized. Because I'm a hardware slut that wants to compensate for no skills? No. Quite the opposite: I'm finally good enough to tell the difference, and happily I'll be able to afford it with my new job. So I'm going to have the gun set up *exactly* the way I want it to be set up.

Make no mistake, good custom work with good parts can make a gun objectively better than stock... better trigger, better accuracy, more visible sights, more durable and more reliable. Bad custom work can break anything. But blaming custom work per se for unreliability is like blaming brain surgery for killing people... leaving out the minor point that the operation was done by a drunk epileptic instead of a qualified surgeon. :rolleyes:

January 30, 2003, 10:28 PM
Sean, your point is well taken but just coz power tools or parts are available does not mean everybody should go use them. There are more horses' patoots than there are horses if you get my drift. You know what they say, "Give a guy a dremel tool and he can't wait to plug it in... :uhoh:

I will compare it with the penchant for the young today to fix up their four door Nissans with $1000 on each corner and a two foot high wing on the back. It's still a family Nissan...

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