Gun Review: The Detonics Story

Early model Combat Master

Early model Combat Master

After reading that some of you haven’t heard of Detonics I had to rectify that and give you a history of the company and why the “Combat Master” was such a groundbreaking pistol and one I enjoyed carrying. Many thanks to my good friend Syd and Rick who compiled all the information used in the article.

The Detonics Combat Master was the first really small and compact 1911-pattern pistol to be produced in significant numbers. Law enforcement fell in love with it immediately due to its diminutive size and quality. It received “star quality” when Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice was seen carrying one in a leg holster on the show. Far more important than the media exposure was the revolutionary reliability work done inside the pistol. The Detonics introduced the bulged barrel end so that the pistol did not require a bushing. It also incorporated double and triple recoil springs. It was the first production 1911-pattern which was throated and ramped for hollowpoints. The high price and limited market for the pistol doomed the company, but were the Combat Master to be reintroduced today, it would no doubt be a different story. Those fortunate enough to own a Detonics pistol treasure them.

The Gun

“The concept of the original Detonics was simply a stainless single action pistol. The big guns came after the little gun. Detonics was actually started with the Combat Master. Before Detonics, mini-pistols were all built by hand; they were cut-down Colts. The driving force behind the original company was to build a small, manufacturable production .45 ACP pistol and that was Sid Woodcock’s baby. He was the daddy of the Combat Master. He came up with that idea sitting around on a beach with Chuck Lyford somewhere down in South America in the mid ‘70’s. So Chuck introduced Sid to some money people in Seattle, and Detonics was started.”

Early stainless steel version

Early stainless steel version

Robbie Barrkman, 1991

“(Woodcock) got together with some friends and set about to improve the basic Colt/Browning design in such a manner that a gun could be mass-produced with not only the classic custom modifications already in place, but of a reduced size for easier concealment and reengineered to be more reliable and easily managed than the original. The firm that grew out of this attempt to make good better was Detonics (.45 Associates) of Seattle, Washington. Detonics originally offered a blued, ordnance steel Colt/Browning-style .45 of about the same size as a Walther PP. The gun featured a beveled magazine well, hammers of various peculiar shapes, a pre-pinned grip safety, a butt shortened to handle a six-round magazine rather than a seven (which could still accept full-size magazines as spares), a slide and barrel length much shorter than Colt’s Commander and slicked-up internal parts which allowed the gun to handle hollowpoints and hardball with equal aplomb. The barrel was bulged at the muzzle to facilitate the bushingless design, self-centering to mate with the slide. The (Colt) standard single recoil spring was replaced by a recoil spring guide with (two, and later three) separate counter-wound recoil springs. The six-round magazine featured a loaded magazine indicator. This was advertising hype to compensate for necessity. To give full support for a six-round capacity in so small a magazine, it was necessary that with the gun fully loaded a thumbnail-sized piece would protrude from the rear of the magazine base plate, to disappear again once the magazine went one round lighter. The first of these guns used cut-down Colt parts. The little guns caught on. Soon, various models were offered – adjustable sights, .38 Super and 9mm, etc. Then Detonics did something really radical. Detonics began to offer the little gun – by now known as the Combat Master – in stainless steel.”

Detonics Scoremaster which came in 45 acp and .451 Detonics

Detonics Scoremaster which came in 45 acp and .451 Detonics

Jerry Ahern, Petersen’s Handguns, 7/90

“The Detonics pistol, now in limited production and geared for full production the first of the year (1975) at Detonics .45 Associates, Seattle, is a short, compact, all-steel, single-action, single-column variation of the Browning/Colt of 1911. Various parts (slide-stop and thumb-safety assembly, magazine release, trigger, sear, disconnector, etc.) are interchangeable. While the butt is too short to include the standard seven-shot Colt magazine, such magazines are entirely functional and might be preferably carried as spares. The little gun is 6 ¾” long by 4 5/8″ inches deep, and its width is exactly that of the service auto. The . . . rear sight is set oddly forward, reducing the sight radius to a bare 4 inches. Admitting that this is no target pistol, it does seem odd to deliberately aggravate what is already a drawback. The Detonics pistol is a strong, simple, rather heavy – due to its all-steel construction – example of the type, with the distinct virtue of utilizing many standard Colt parts and employing neither exotic nor untried mechanical systems. Standard price $399.”

This is a Combat Master made during the late Jerry Aherns tenure as owner of Detonics. 1990's

This is a Combat Master made during the late Jerry Aherns tenure as owner of Detonics. 1990’s

Jeff Cooper, Guns & Ammo, 12/74

“This remarkable pistol is the smallest, lowest recoil single action .45 caliber semi-automatic in the world. The Detonics .45 is a premium quality professional tool for the serious handgun expert and combat shooter. It is capable of providing the brute force stopping power of the standard-sized .45 in a size no larger than a snub-nosed .38, or “pocket” 9mm auto. The Detonics .45 has an advanced mechanism which reduces the apparent recoil remarkably below the full-sized .45. This awesomely powerful pistol is smaller, more easily concealed, and has greater short/medium range rapid fire accuracy than any single action .45 weapon available today. This masterpiece of combat design is gaining recognition as the finest defensive handgun in the world today.”
Detonics .45 Instruction Manual, 4/80

Detonics Servicemaster

Detonics Servicemaster

“The carbon steel production guns start at (serial) number 2000. The first 1999 numbers have been set aside for presentation and commemorative models. So, to determine the true production number of your pistol, subtract 2000 from your serial number. Stainless steel production numbers start at number 10,000.”

Detonics Instruction Manual

“Although there are six different models available to the general buying public, a Detonics is a Detonics is a Detonics. Only finish, type of material used and adjustable rear sight differentiate one model from another. The plain-Jane entrant is the Combat Master Mark I, attired in a matte blue finish, fixed sights, with a retail price of $369 (1980). Stepping up a notch, the Mark II is a fixed-sight model dressed in a satin nickel finish with a price tag of $390. The Mark III is handsome in its hard chrome appearance with fixed sights and sells for $488. Variation number IV is resplendent in a mirror-bright blue finish and adjustable rear sight, and $499 will allow the buyer to take one home. The Mark V is a brushed-finish, stainless steel model with fixed sights and will sell for $498 ($626, 1983). And, finally, the top-of-the-line model is the Presentation-grade, Professional Mark VI which boosts the price to $575 ($635, 1983)[There was eventually also a sightless Mark VII, also $635 in 1983].”

Art Blatt, Guns & Ammo, 5/80

“The original Detonics pistol, a modified and much smaller version of the Colt Model 1911, made it initial appearance in 1977. Billed as the world’s smallest single-action autoloader chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge, the Detonics Mark I was an instant hit with law enforcement officers. Not content with their original little .45 ACP powerhouse, the Detonics people went back to the drawing board and created a new cartridge that is a real blaster. The .451 Detonics Magnum is virtually identical in (external) dimensions to the .45 ACP, except for case length. The .451 Detonics is only some .050″ longer, but the added capacity is enough to allow considerably heavier powder charges to be used without exceeding safe pressure limits. According to the loading manual, four different propellants will produce velocities exceeding 1,300 feet per second from a 185-grain bullet. The Detonics manual specifically states that seating depth is critical. Overall cartridge length must lie between 1.220 and 1.235 inches, using bullets no longer than .558 inch. Average velocity for all four loads was 1,188fps vs. an average of 1,284 for velocities given in the manual. Since we did not use maximum loads, it may be assumed that velocities in the neighborhood of 1,300fps would be possible with careful load development. If a velocity in excess of 1,300fps is truly attainable with a 185-grain slug, the .451 Detonics would produce a muzzle energy of more than 700 foot pounds – a remarkable improvement of raw power over a factory-loaded .45 ACP. The base price of the pistol is $754 (1984).”

Ralph Glaze, Guns & Ammo, 2/84

Corporate Travail

“Detonics, specialists in stainless-steel for going on two decades, changed hands. An agreement was reached in early December ’86 between Diane McCarthy, Detonics’ General Manager, Ed “Tim” Lasater, Sales Manager and Energy Sciences Corp., for McCarthy and Lasater to take over the complete business, including all the Detonics handguns. McCarthy retains her title, while Lasater becomes President and CEO.”
Combat Handguns, 6/87

“The original Bellevue, Washington company ultimately floundered, and a group of investors led by Lyford bought Detonics assets out of bankruptcy. Lyford knew Robbie (Barrkman) from the latter’s tenure at Gunsite, and contacted him about getting involved with the new company.”

Waldo Lydecker, Guns Magazine, 8/91

“I said, ‘Well, you guys aren’t doing very much. What are you looking for? What are you trying to do? I really didn’t think it would work out, but promised to give it 100 per cent. They agreed, and in July of 1989 New Detonics was in business in Phoenix.
Robbie Barrkman, 1991

Detonics’ line of guns expanded from the Combat Master to include the Commander-sized Servicemaster, Government-sized Scoremaster, and the compensated, race-gun style Compmaster. I don’t really know how or why the company finally failed. All of the reviews of Detonics guns, as late as 1991 were positively glowing. They were VERY expensive. The Combat Master cost $400 when a Colt Commander cost $250. The top-of-the-line Compmaster target pistol, similar to the various custom “pin guns”, was over $1600 in 1991!

Parts Compatibility

Combat Master parts that are compatible with standard Colt Government Model production:
Extractor, firing pin and spring, magazine catch/spring/lock, slide stop/safety plunger assembly, plunger tube, trigger, mainspring housing, mainspring cap, mainspring housing pin retainer, mainspring cap pin, mainspring housing pin, stock screw/bushing, safety lock, hammer pin, sear pin, slide stop, barrel link/pin, disconnector, sear, hammer, hammer strut pin.

Combat Master parts that are different from similar Government Model parts:
Frame, slide, barrel, rear sight, firing pin stop, “grip plate” (grip safety), sear spring, magazine, stock panels, recoil spring guide, recoil spring cap (plug), recoil springs (two or three, depending on model).

Simple takedown with no bushing.

Simple takedown with no bushing.

Combat Master parts that are in addition to those above:

Recoil spring guide screw.
Sources for replacement parts, non-Colt standard:
“grip plate”, sear spring and hammer strut – Essex Arms
recoil springs – single, Wolff; dual, King’s Gun Works (Officers ACP recoil spring set).
stock panels – Gun Parts Corp.; “slim-line” grips, Brownells.
magazines – Metalform
barrels – Storm Lake Machine
firing pin stop – standard stop can be fitted, and cut flush with top of slide

Detonics Defense also bought all of the spare parts when they purchased the company. They still sell magazines,springs,extractors etc.

Detonics Defense Website

The latest version of the Combat Master

The latest version of the Combat Master

Technical Specs:

Model: Combat Master
Caliber: .45 ACP
Height: 4.45 inches
Weight Empty: 30 oz.
Width: 1.25 inches
Length: 6.75 inches
Magazine Capacity: 6+1 Rounds
Sights: Low Profile
Material: Stainless Steel Frame, 4340 Slide
Finish: Two-Tone Cerakote
Grip: Aluminum/Dymondwood
Barrel Length: 3.5 inches
Action: Single Action Only
Current MSRP: Not listed



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!


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  • Irish

    Being based in a country with extremely limited access to handguns my only experience of the detonics combat master is airsoft (boo hiss, get it out of your system now 😛 ) and having owned a TM version of the replica, it feels incredibly nice in the hands! I have massive hands and it still falls into the same position as a full sized 1911 with little effort. A really nice gun and the engineering in the real one is pretty interesting!

  • guest

    “Nineteeneleveeeennssssssssss…..”

  • joe

    Why was the rear of the slide cut down and the sight moved forward? Better draw from concealment?

    • Micki

      I believe the idea was to aid thumb-cocking, when carried in condition-2, (round in chamber, hammer down).

    • Spencerhut

      These were made to be carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. My understanding is the rear site was moved forward and the slide was scalloped to allow cocking the hammer with your support hand in a sweeping motion as you draw and begin the punch out towards the target.

      • Coolhand77

        That is correct, found an article a couple of weeks ago confirming this. Basically it allowed the fast draw and fan of the hammer for the first shot without chewing up your hand or snagging on the rear sight. They did that prior to the development of modern handgun techniques.

        • joe

          Thanks for all the responses. That answers that question.

  • SCW

    I could have bought one of these for $400 at a gun show a few yrs ago. I always regretted not getting it.

  • Survivalist

    I remember that stainless Detonics CombatMaster was carried by Stringfellow Hawke in 80s Airwolf TV Show.

  • 2wheels

    I know the old Detonics (what 1911 fan doesn’t?), but I know little of the new Detonics and I’ve never seen one of their handguns in person. Don’t like the look of their new Combat Master either, but I’m a fan of more classic looking 1911s.

  • petru sova

    QUOTE;”The high price and limited market for the pistol doomed the company, but were the Combat Master to be reintroduced today, it would no doubt be a different story. Those fortunate enough to own a Detonics pistol treasure them” – QUOTE;
    I would have to disagree with everything in the above statement. The price was not too high as I bought one of the pistols made by the first Detonic’s company. The price was not any higher than a high quality Smith, Colt or Browning pistol.
    There was indeed a big market for them as there were often shortages of them for sale.
    What killed the company was when the owner died and there was a big fight over control of the company and the succeeding company made a lot of very poorly made pistols that malfunctioned and were unreliable. This is what killed the company..
    The original pistols although made of a cheap casting were very reliable but they suffered from only mediocre accuracy as this is a common problem on cut down 1911 type pistols with coned barrel lock ups that lack the traditional barrel bushing. Even Jeff Cooper who was a nut on .45 acp pistols admitted the pistol was not very accurate but “good enough for its intended purpose”, which was a polite way of saying it was good enough for a close range blaster,
    The original pistols were blued not stainless. The stainless models came later. There was also a very rare nickel plated model which I was lucky enough to snap up when they were first made. I chose it over stainless because guns that were made by other companies that had stainless slides and barrels often were jam-o-matics because the slide would stick and gall the frame on recoil. Various company of other pistols tried making the slide and frame out of a different grade of stainless with mixed results and companies like Smith just said to hell with it and started marketing auto pistols with stainless slides and aluminum frames thereby eliminating the problem of slide galling and jamming.
    When companies started making very small 9mm guns I quit carrying the .45 Detonics as
    the newer 9mm pocket rocket pistols were lighter to carry, kicked less and held more ammo and many did not have to be thumb cocked on the draw as well.
    The new Detonics company to their credit do not use junk brittle MIM cast parts in the construction of their pistols. Something to consider if you need a gun for serious carry defense.
    Detonics says they have only paused production of the Combat Master but they do make other more larger pistols.
    If you like a heavy but small .45 acp pistol with limited capacity there are still used Detonics guns out there for sale but buy one of the guns made by the first company or you may get a real turkey made by the succeeding company. I do not know how reliable the guns were that were made by this new company Detonics Defense before they paused production but one wonders why they did pause production. Was it because of reliability problems or is it that most people today that carry want a light weight el-cheapo plasticky pistol with high capacity?

    • Yep I believe I said the first were blued with stainless coming a few years later. Gauling was a problem back then.

      • Kivaari

        The stainless guns were cheaper to make than blued steel. With carbon steel if there was a pocket in the casting filling it required re-heat treating. The stainless cavities were easily filled without the need for re-treating. At the time (early ’80s) the Detonics cost about $125 to produce while the inferior AMT stainless 1911s cost about $85 to make. The mark up was high since production was low and the public would buy $600 stainless pistols.
        Carbon steel is tougher than the stainless of the era.

    • The street prices were often much higher than MSRP. The highest price I saw in 1983 was $700.

  • Isaac

    Woodcock, haha

  • Kevin Riley

    An additional note to the Detonics history. Author Jerry Ahern used the Detonics pistol for his main character, John Thomas Rourke, in his post-apocalyptic series, “The Survivalist”.
    I read the whole series of books back in the day. Mr. Ahern could NOT write them fast enough for me. I wish I still had them to go back and re-read.

    • Stephen Framberger

      The Survivalist books are available on Amazon as Kindle ebooks.

    • True the books are still available on Amazon. I read them all back in the day as well. They were actually good books.

      • jamezb

        I read them as well..

  • Vitsaus

    Very informative article, though the only Detonics pistols I’ve ever handled must have been very late production as the finish/quality was far from impressive. I know guys that still rave about these things, but the ones I’ve seen sort of reminded me of AMT stuff.

  • claymore

    I remember back in the day I wanted one of these so bad. They were really popular with police officers.

  • Squidpuppy

    Great article. Thanks! Always wanted to know more.

    I have a Mk V, s/n 12,xxx. Got it from an estate sale from a collector who basically never fired his guns – pristine condition; box and all. Fit and finish, machining, etc. are excellent. It runs like a charm, a fantastic shooter.

    Felt recoil is no more than with any of my full size 1911s – that I can tell, and certainly far softer than my other compacts, e.g., Kimber Ultra Carry II. Way more accurate than I’ll ever be. The only 1911 I have that readily out shoots it is my Les Baer – and that may be just me. Haven’t seen a new one yet.

  • Michael Pham

    For 80’s action movie cool, you can’t beat a Detonics. Maybe as a backup to two mini uzis.

    • El Duderino

      The real tough guys would hide a Detonics in their mustache.

  • MountainKelly

    Neat. Didn’t know much about them.

  • Seanobi

    Anyone else know Detonics from Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior series? He was in love with those things.

    • Yep sure do. I loved those I had! I carried mine cocked and locked. I didn’t miss the grip safety at all. Browning never intended for the 1911 to have the grip safety that can be blamed on the Army.

      • Technically, he didn’t intend for it to have a thumb safety either. The grip safety was added long before the thumb safety.

  • Sulaco

    Had one in the late 80’s when the company, if memory serves, was in Bellevue WA. Never could hit anything with it though and was always leery of how to carry it safely…

  • Also folks there is a Detonics group on Yahoo. Some buying, selling and trading going on there.

  • That would be Nehemia Sirkis and the Sardius SD9 pistol. The Detonics Pocket 9 and their ill-fated revolver were also designed by Sirkis. In more recent years, Sirkis has done a fair amount of design work for Kimber.

    Here is the patent for the Detonics revolver:

    https://www.google.com/patents/US4539771

    • Kivaari

      Yes. I didn’t drop his name, as Syd was really pissed off when he went back to Israel. Sirkis also was the one that commented on he and Galili standing in the desert, when Galili bent over picked up and AKM, looked aty it, dropped it, stood on the receiver and crushed it. He said, “When we make ours, it will have a machined receiver”. Thus the Galil-Valmet-Stoner-M16, parts came together to become the Galil. People say I am lying about how weak the receivers on AKMs are, but I’ve seen it, and he confirmed it to me.

  • Tim Lark

    It appears that Detonics Combat Masters have started gong up in price in the past few months. Does anyone know the reason? Everything has just about doubled from magazines, grips, and pistols.

  • No they don’t make anything that small.