Gun Review: Rock Island Tactical 9mm Conversion to 38 Super (Part Two)

If you’re lucky the barrel will drop right in. Most will find that some fitting will be needed at the rear of the barrel hood. Ideally what you want is a barrel that locks up solidly with the barrel bushing, barrel lugs into the slide recesses and finally the barrel hood length just long enough to fit against the rear of the frame when the barrel locks up with the slide.

One critical part is the barrel link, which has to be the correct size to lock the barrel into battery. If this link is too short or too long the barrel won’t lock into battery. The nominal size is .278. One option is to buy a five pack of links so you have one of each size made. One of these will certainly fit as it should.

Initially my intention was to only make the transition from 9MM to 38 Super. After some thought I decided to purchase new sights, trigger and grip safety. As I stated earlier I purchased the sights and trigger from 10-8 performance. The fiber optic front is very easy to see. The rear sight has a “U” notch, which I found, makes for a quick sight picture while still allowing a shooter to make precision shots.

I’m one that has always used a high handhold. The Rock Island has a fairly small tab at the bottom of the grip safety so a replacement was needed. Rock Island suggested the Ed Brown grip safety as a good replacement. The grip safety radius is .250 to obtain a proper fit with the frame.

Let me start with a cautionary note on safety considerations when performing modifications such as these. First and foremost all ammunition and magazines should be left in another room prior to beginning the project. This may sound overly cautious but it’s just good common sense.

After receiving all the parts I started my project. I laid out all the parts in the order of assembly. The tools were also laid out in the same manner.

First came the barrel fit. I assembled the pistol as I normally would to get an idea of the steps I would need to take in fitting the barrel. I also used the stock barrel bushing. One thing I did do was use a new stock size link and pin. I was fortunate that the fit was almost perfect. Talk about luck! The only fitting was to the rear of the barrel hood. I had to file a very small amount from the rear of the barrel hood to get the correct lockup. I filed a small amount off and used a Dremel to buff the rear of the hood for a smooth finish.

Second came the sight install, which took the most time by far. Rock Island uses a Novak slide cut with a 65 degree angle. My first order of business was changing the slide cut angle to 60 degrees as well as deepening the slide cut in order to accommodate the 10-8 sights which have a deep base. All the file work was done by hand. Something that will help you get a smooth even cut is adding some oil to the frame cut as well as the files. The feel will be much smoother.

I mounted the slide in the padded vise and began modifying the slide notch. Fitting the new sights wasn’t very difficult but does take a good bit of time. You want to take this slow and check your work often. Try the sight fit as you check your slide cut. As I’ve said before once that steel is removed the fit better be right or you’ll have ruined the slide and or sights, which is an expensive proposition. As I checked my work I also used a small level to ensure the slide cut was uniform across the width of the slide. Of course you need to ensure the slide itself is level in the vise or the following checks of the work you’ve done means nothing!

After the appropriate slide cuts were made I cold blued the frame cuts and mounted the sights. Allow enough time for the three coats of blue to dry before mounting the sights.

The front sight install is basically identical in method to the rear sight. The cut is smaller so greater caution is called for.

Next came the fitting and installation of the 10-8 trigger and an Ed Brown grip safety.

After disassembly I checked the trigger fit. The only fitting was a small amount of sanding on the top of the trigger bow. The fit was excellent with no play vertically or laterally. It’s worth mentioning the 10-8 trigger uses a takeup set screw mounted on the back of the trigger rather than the front.

The folks at Rock Island were right on the money suggesting the Ed Brown grip safety. It dropped right in with no fitting needed. With my high grip the larger pad on the Brown grip safety worked out perfectly.

After all was said and done I performed my safety checks to ensure the grip safety, trigger and sear spring adjustments were correct. Everything checked out fine. It was time for a trip to the range.

Let me add Tripp Research was kind enough to help me out with a couple of magazines for the project. These are the Cobra Mags, which I always use in my 1911’s. I spoke with Aaron Tripp about my plans and he suggested I try a 38 Super magazine and a 9mm magazine. The 9mm magazine was for the times I switched the 1911 back to 9mm. The interesting part was with the 38 Super Cobra Mag. By changing the follower from a 38 Super to a 9mm I could use this magazine in any 9mm 1911. It works I can tell you that! Now I must say that it’s not a use that Tripp advises using so just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it will for you. Aaron advised me using the 9mm follower in a 38 Super mag can cause the follower to tilt. There are two types of followers for the Tripp Cobra Mags. One is the standard steel “Flex” follower while the other is the steel and polymer “Hybrid” follower which is my favorite. Both can be seen on Tripps wesbite.

Tripp magazines also have a removable base pad, which is available in polymer or alloy. They are very easy to take apart and clean. The base pads also have small circles stamped into them. You can paint in your choice of color in order to number your magazines. Standard MSRP from Tripp is $34.95 each with the polymer basepad.

Since writing this I have also decided to go all the way and install a Cylinder and Slide Tactical II trigger kit, which gives a trigger pull of four pounds plus or minus ½ pound. The hammer and sear are per-fit so the kit is a drop in. If you shop around you’ll find this kit for $129.00 at Brownells (if you are a member).

After a trip to the range I was turning in groups of just under two inches at ten yards standing unsupported. Not bad for an inexpensive barrel! I’m very happy with this build and I’m sure even more so when the C&S trigger kit is installed.

Finally here is the finished pistol, which I think looks pretty nice!

Phil White

Retired police officer with 30 years of service. Firearms instructor and SRU team member. I still instruct with local agencies. My daily carry pistol is the tried and true 1911. I’m the Associate Editor and moderator at TFB. I really enjoy answering readers questions and comments. We can all learn from each other about our favorite hobby!


  • Sean

    Fuuny, I did the opposite. I took a .38 super and turned it to 9mm. I didn’t make it as nice as yours however. I just changed the barrel, the ejector, and magazines. Took all of 15 minutes. The barrel needed about 5 minutes of light fitting.

    • Phil White


      Hey either way it works:-) Sounds like you got lucky with the barrel fit!

  • Juan

    Just a small question out of pure ignorance. What’s with the flat trigger?

    All I can think of would do with having a shorter trigger pull since the classic 1911 style trigger is shorter, making you “curl” your finger more as to engage it. Dunno if I’m making myself clear though. I’d appreciate some light on this!


    • Juan

      Made a google search on it and I found this:

      I’d still like another opinion on the subject.

      • Gareth

        Thanks for the link. I was wondering about the flatness of one of the Geissele AR triggers too. It looks different from any trigger we’ve seen but intuitively I thought it might work. The linked article sure made a sensible explanation too.

        • Phil White


          Like I told Juan his experience pretty much mirrors my own. Those who have tried mine have liked them pretty well. In fact two of the guys had me change their 1911’s to the flat triggers.

      • Phil White


        That’s pretty much the same experience I’ve had with the flat triggers. The way he described the feel as well as in winter cold weather use with gloves does help you make consistent trigger contact.

    • Phil White


      Sure no problem. That’s actually how 10-8 Performance got started. They made these flat triggers and they caught on big time. When I first looked at them I was a bit skeptical but they really do feel good. It’s hard to explain how they feel but it allows me to get a good feel on the trigger and manipulate it better. If you have a tendency to put your finger to far into the trigger guard this trigger will help.
      They aren’t for everyone obviously but as I said it gives me a more precise trigger release. I would imagine if you have short or fairly regular length fingers you would be better off with a standard trigger.
      I probably never would have tried one but since one of these came on my S&W Koenig 1911 I found I liked them.

      • Juan

        Thank you Phil for your answer!

        • Phil White


          You bet Juan!

  • Ben

    Sorry, man… but the rear sight fit on this gun looks like it was done in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan.

    The 10-8 sight is made to fit slides that have been machined for Novak LoMount rear sights. The operative word there is “machined.” This is not something you do by hand. You should have sent the slide to Novak or other qualified shop to have the work done.

    • Phil White


      The slide cut on RIA 1911’s are made for the Novak low mount. The 10-8 sight wasn’t even close to a Novak cut which I expected. The 10-8 sight sits deeper in the cut than a Novak as well which necessitated the deeper and somewhat wider cut. I think it came out pretty well but we all have our own opinions 🙂

    • Flounder

      It does look like he took a little bit too much off right around the rear sight. But then again we are only seeing one picture and it is a picture. The actual gun might look different or even if it did look exactly the same I have a feeling that the sights are nice and tight right where they are. Which is pretty impressive considering phil only used a few files to get the sights to fit properly.

      Anyways another excellent write up Phil!

      • Phil White


        Thanks Flounder it’s appreciated very much! The rear sight is plenty tight. In order to adjust it you have to use a nylon drift like any other rear sight.It’s nice and straight and shoots a nice group with the sight set right in the middle of the slide as it should be. I sure won’t claim to be as good as a CNC machine:-) I did use just the two files and a bit of 600 grit wet dry sandpaper.

        The main reason for doing it myself was to learn from the experience rather than just send the slide off.


  • Jeff Smith


    Thanks for another great article! And good job on the conversion!

    • Phil White


      Thanks Jeff! It’s always great to hear you liked the article and conversion:-)

  • sqlbullet

    Great write-up and very helpful for me. I am in the thick of a 10mm CCO build on a Para P12 frame. Have the slide (STI), small parts, etc. Short the barrel and the reverse plug.

    I have going to have the reverse plug custom made with a long flange to fill the gap between the recoil spring housing on the slide and the dust cover on the frame, as well as reduce the excessive slide travel. As it stands now I can also see the hammer through the ejection port when the slide is all the way to the rear:-) Barrel fitting is not my strong suite, so wish me luck!

    Very nice looking finished gun. My P16 -> 10mm conversion worked out well, so wish me as good luck as you had on my P12 CC) build!

    • Phil White


      Thanks and I’m very glad the article helped you out. It sounds like you’ll have a great pistol when it’s all said and done. Enjoy it and all the best!

  • Ritchie

    I see that Starline makes .38 Super brass in “heavy duty” and true rimless variants. The latter may require some ejector adjustment.

    • Phil White


      Yes they do and you’re probably right on some minor extractor adjustment. You may get lucky though depending on how much tension the extractor is under now. Reloading the Super is a lot of fun with a good number of loads available.

  • mosinman

    sorry for my ignorance, but where is your RIA 1911 made? just curious. and nice work on the gun! looks nice

    • Phil White


      The only ignorance is not asking the question:-) RIA’s are made in the Philippines as are Metro Arms. Citadel company 1911’s are made by RIA as well.

      Thanks! Glad you like the way it turned out!!!

    • Phil White

      I left out one which is not 100% RIA but the frame and slide as well as a few other parts are and that would be the STI Spartan.

      STI chose the RIA as an excellent build gun to keep prices down. They made modifications by replacing internal parts etc.

    • mosinman

      ah thank you. since i do not currently own a 1911, im trying to get a feel for all the different brands and makes out there. im just looking for a decent quality, made in the usa 1911 for a fair price. have you tried the remington 1911?

      • Phil White


        I’ve tried one a friend owned. I can’t say I’ve really put one through it’s paces. I have one on my list of guns to review though. I expect it to turn out well from what I’ve heard from owners. I plan on requesting the loaded model.

        If you can find one the Ruger 1911 is a good choice at a reasonable price.