Daniel’s 1911 pistols

watters_custom_caspian_1s_3-tfb-tm

Daniel E. Watters, a well known expert and my go-to man on many of the topics I write about, sent me info and photos of the beautiful 1911 pistols he has built.

.38 Super

I built this .38 Super pistol in late 2000 for use in IDPA’s Enhanced Service Pistol division. The frame and slide were from Caspian; each made from 416 stainless barstock. This was during the brief period that they offered barstock frames in addition to their usual cast frames. I had to lap the two together as their rails were purposefully cut oversize.

Starting from the top, the rear sight was the Novak LoMount, mated with a MGW front sight. I was delayed in completing the pistol by the lack of a front sight staking tool. A friend was supposed to lend me his MMC staking kit, but he couldn’t find it. Ultimately, he did find it, but only after he had ordered a replacement from Brownells. I did most of the early test firing without a front sight by using the front sight slot as an index. The barrel and bushing were from Bar-Sto. The barrel was ramped, with a Clark/Para lower lug profile. I used a lug cutting kit from Brownells to fit the lower lugs of the barrel. I don’t remember where I got the barrel links from, but I ended up having to buy a couple of kits to find an odd-ball size.

The firing pin was from Nowlin, and the oversized firing pin stop was from EGW. As few aftermarket vendors offered a stainless .38 Super extractor, I ended up buying a Colt high polished stainless extractor as that was the only one Brownells happened to have in stock. The guide rod was a two-piece model from Wilson Combat, as were the recoil springs. I bought one of their Spring Caddies that had different weight springs so I could tune it to the loads I was using. If I remember correctly, I ended up settling upon a 15 lb recoil spring.

For the lock work, I used a Wilson #299S Commander hammer as it was one of the few quality aftermarket hammers offered in stainless. This was mated with Wilson’s Deluxe A6 sear. The short length Dlask trigger has a magnesium shoe and a titanium bow. A tab on the bow allows the trigger to be adjusted for pre-travel. The sear spring was from Nowlin, as I had previously found it very easy to tune. I ended up settling on either a 20 or 21 lb mainspring from Wolff Springs. After some tweaking and stoning, I ended up with a crisp 2 lb trigger pull. It was still as nice nearly 3 years later. (After a couple more years, the current owner eventually replaced the sear and disconnector with the low mass models from Cylinder & Slide. At last check, he was also considering replacing the hammer with one of the Doug Koenig models offered by EGW.)

The grip safety was a standard stainless model from S&A. While the frame was precut for a .250″ radius, it still took little extra fitting to install the beavertail. The thumb safety was another Wilson product: their narrow extended tactical model in stainless. The stainless plunger tube was from Nowlin. The stainless extended .38 Super ejector was from King’s. The original magazine release was a stainless extended model from Nowlin, but you can see from the photos that the current owner has replaced it. I used Ed Brown’s stainless flat mainspring housing with 30 lpi checkering, which has since been discontinued.

The slide stop was originally one of the oversized EGW models that had recently been introduced in stainless. However, EGW had yet to offer a .38 Super specific slide stop, and occasionally, the follower of the Chip McCormick magazines would slip past the side stop. (A proper .38 Super slide stop has a longer engagement surface than its .45 ACP counterpart.) As a result, I ended up replacing the EGW slide stop with a stainless .38 Super model from Wilson. Oddly, the first Wilson slide stop would not seat flush with the frame. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the slide stop’s pin was warped. Thankfully, the shop had a second one to swap out. However, the manager of the shop ended up putting the defective part back into his display case. Speaking of magazines, I tried several different 10 round models before settling on the McCormick. The Wilson magazine was simply too hard to load to full capacity, and the follower of the MagPak magazine actually got stuck in the bottom of the tube once it was fully loaded.

The stocks were the Chip McCormick Slim Carry grips. As the name implies, these are thinner than standard stocks, and require their own shortened grip screws and grip screw bushings. The front strap of the frame was checkered at 30 lpi, which I cut by hand using a checkering file. You’ll note that I didn’t add any horizontal lines below the cutout for the front of the magazine baseplate. This allowed me to round over the ends of the vertical lines to keep them from snagging. I also beveled the magazine well using files. I prefer a deep angle, instead of the typical 45 degrees. At the time, Colt was cutting a deep bevel, but they didn’t continue it to the rear of the magwell. I did a carry bevel on all of the parts, and I rounded over the bottom rear corner of the frame.

I regret that I never got a chance to bead blast the frame. However, at last check, the current owner hasn’t done so either.

Funny story: A Highway Patrol firearm instructor moonlighted at a local range teaching CCW permit courses. He was seriously in love with the pistol. After I let him examine it, he handed it back to me, and I put it back in my range bag. We’d continue to talk, and then he would reach over to my range bag, unzip it, and remove the pistol in order to handle it some more. This process was repeated several times until it was time for his class.

UPDATE: Daniel has priced the parts for this pistol in the comments below.

Colt M1991A1 Compact .45 ACP

Hand cut 30 lpi checkering on front strap
Carry bevel, including rounding over bottom rear of frame
Ed Brown – beavertail grip safety
Wilson Combat – narrow extended thumb safety
Ed Brown – barrel bushing
Novak – Carry rear sight
Hogue – Kingwood stocks
King’s – short aluminum trigger (black)

I also fit and blended in a S&A mainspring housing/magwell that was not installed at the time of the photo. In the process, I cleaned up the factory’s half-hearted attempt to bevel the magwell. Also not visible is the EGW oversized firing pin stop.

Colt M1991A1 Compact

Colt Combat Commander (XS Series) .45 ACP

Carry bevel, including rounding over bottom rear of frame
Ed Brown – 30 lpi mainspring housing
Wilson Combat – beavertail grip safety (replacing Colt Competition part)
Heinie – SlantPro rear sight (replacing Colt Competition part)
Ahrends – Kingwood stocks
Videcki – short aluminum trigger

Not visible is the EGW oversized firing pin stop. As before, I cleaned up the factory’s half-hearted attempt to bevel the magwell. The short-lived XS series was the product of the brief partnership of Colt with C-More, operating as Colt Competition. The XS series’ rear sight, thumb safety, and grip safety were all patented designs from C-More’s Ira Kay. When their partnership broke up, Kay took all of his designs with him. This led to Colt’s XSE series, which reverted to the parts Colt previously used on their Enhanced series. Of the Kay’s designs, only the grip safety lives on. It is now offered by Caspian and is standard on the SIG-Sauer 1911 models. Personally, I hate the design, as its “dragon’s tooth” digs uncomfortably into the palm of my hand during recoil.

Colt Combat Commander

Many thanks to Daniel for the info and D.A. Murray for the photos.


Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

    Just a note: You have picture “2s” shown twice, and left out picture “3s”.

    In addition, all of the pictures were taken by D.A. Murray.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      Daniel, fixed up. I forgot to add D.A. Murray – the photos are not attributed to him.

  • SpudGun

    As someone who regularly struggles with anything mechanical / technical, I’d like to congratulate Daniel for doing such a fine looking job on his 1911s.

    Honestly, if I can disassemble a pistol without the recoil spring flying around the room and then put it together so it works properly, I think I’m MacGuyver.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      SpudGun, you aint a gun nut unless you have lost lots of springs.

  • Simon_the_Brit

    If ever I could live in the USA, these are the sort of pistols I would aspire to own.

  • SpudGun

    Consider me a gun nut then. Is now the right time to admit that I’ve also loaded a round backwards into a magazine? No? Just me then. :(

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      SpudGun, only if you gun is an HK.

  • War Wolf

    What would be the total build cost of the Caspian pistol he built including all the smithing? Looks like a great pistol. How long do I have to save for to get there?

  • SpudGun

    Lolz Steve, I’ve seen that advertisement.

    Anyways, back on topic, I was always amazed that so much work had to be done to the M1911 back in the day. Everything had to be ‘polished’ and ‘throated’ and parts swapped in and out to get it to work ‘properly’.

    Probably why I became a BHP guy – all you had to do to get the Browning to function flawlessly was to shoot it a load more times. Like I said, I have no technical skill and I’m lazy, so this seemed great to me.

    Again, I’m very impressed with Daniel’s work, it looks fantastic and I’m sure it shoots beautifully.

  • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

    As for the cost, you have to remember that prices have increased over the past nine years. Some these parts aren’t even available anymore. However, I will say that it adds up quick.

    Other than the machining done at Caspian for the sights, slide serrations, ramp cut, and beavertail radius, I did all of the labor. So you’ll need to factor in the cost of tools if you don’t already have them.

    If you want, I should be able to put together an equivalent parts list using current prices.

  • War Wolf

    Daniel, are the Caspian frames and slides milled from SS billet? Or are they milled from cast SS? The Colt is cast SS right? What did that Caspian sell for?

  • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

    It is my understanding that the Caspian slides were barstock for many, many years. Their website now claims that they are currently using forgings. However, the Caspian barstock frames were only offered for a brief time, as they were more expensive than their standard cast frame. Colt frames and slides have typically been forged. I haven’t kept up with them to know if this has changed.

    Caspian’s basic cast stainless frame now has a manufacturer’s retail price of $198.01. In 2000, the stainless barstock frame was $295. Their stainless forged stainless slide is now $237.66. In 2000, the barstock slide was $200. However, these are the prices before optional features.

    Back in 2000, the ramped barrel cut was $45, and the beavertail radius cut was $15. The Novak rear sight cut and the forward slide serrations were $35 each. Today’s prices are $52.99, $17.87, $39.68, and $39.68, respectively.

    Other parts and their current prices are listed below:

    $205.00 – BARSTO 5″ Government Model .38 Super Match Target Standard Barrel Para/Clark Ramp (From manufacturer)
    $24.50 – NIGHTHAWK CUSTOM Barrel Link Kit (100-003-281)
    $8.25 – CASPIAN Firing Pin, 9mm/.38S/.40 S&W (SS) (168-000-026)
    $24.99 – EGW Series 70 O/S Firing Pin Stop, SS (296-000-131)
    $24.99 – CASPIAN Extractor, Series 70 (SS) (168-000-021)
    $29.25 – ED BROWN Two Piece Guide Rod fits Govt. 5″ (087-045-889)
    $32.95 – NOVAK Plain Black 1911 LoMount (662-260-045)
    $11.27 – MGW 1911 Auto Front Sight Only, IRS/WD/NT (584-006-545)
    $29.95 – WILSON COMBAT #364 Spring Caddy (From manufacturer)

    $36.99 – SMITH & ALEXANDER Series 70, Standard Hi-Grip Safety, S/S (849-007-171)
    $33.95 – WILSON COMBAT S/S Narrow Combat Safety (965-600-107)
    $51.95 – WILSON COMBAT #299S Commander Hammer (From manufacturer)
    $29.95 – WILSON COMBAT Deluxe Sear (965-314-000)
    $47.89 – DLASK ARMS Short 1911 Auto Trigger (253-102-003)
    $6.42 – NOWLIN Match Sear Spring (654-253-000)
    $63.99 – ED BROWN SS/Flat Mainspring Housing Government Model – 25 LPI Checkering (087-000-028)
    $29.99 – CASPIAN Ejector, Extended, 9mm/.38S/.40 S&W (SS) (168-000-016)
    $16.95 – ED BROWN Stainless Plunger Tube (087-821-100)
    $50.95 – EGW SS Slide Stop, 9mm/.38 Super (296-000-119)
    $23.35 – ED BROWN Extended Mag Catch, SS (087-011-101)
    $51.95 – PRACTICAL SHOOTING SUPPLIES Deluxe Completion Kit, stainless (475-100-100)
    $48.95 – MCCORMICK Slim Carry Checkered 1911 Auto Grips (207-559-003)
    $34.99 – MCCORMICK .38 Super 10rd Magazine No Pad (207-138-209)
    $9.99 – CLASSIC PISTOL, INC Low Profile Mag Pad, 3-Pak (169-500-002)

    You’ll note that some of the parts and/or brands were changed as Brownell’s no longer carried the exact part I listed earlier. For example, Ed Brown no longer carries a 30 lpi checkered mainspring housing. In a couple of instances, I substituted equivalent brand-name parts on the basis of price. (To be honest, I had to substitute some parts the first time around as Brownell’s did not have the one I wanted in stock.)

    To avoid hassles in trying to find a front sight staking tool, I would now go ahead and pay Caspian the extra $21.78 for a front sight dovetail cut. Of course, that would require a different front sight than the one I listed above.

    Now this was mainly a game gun, and some of the parts selection reflect that. If I intended to carry it, I would have made some additional substitutions. It certainly would not have had a 2 pound trigger pull.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      Daniel, thanks for compiling the price list. I am just about to update the post to say that you have a price list in the comments.

  • themexican

    Where can i find that gun??