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 retired as associate editor since December 14th 2017. My replacement is my friend Pete M email: [email protected] you can reach Pete for product reviews etc.