Of all the guns I own, very few are meaningful enough to me that I wouldn’t sell them. Guns, to me, are tools rather than commodities or keepsakes. The first gun I ever bought — embarrassingly a Taurus PT-99 — was sold within about a year of purchase. The same could be said for the next half dozen guns I bought from Browning, Glock, HK, and SIG. Bought ‘em, shot ‘em, sold ‘em.
But earlier this year, when I began thinking about a 1911 test gun I reached out to friend Jason Burton of Heirloom Precision for advice and the possibility of having him build the guns. I first met Jason through our mutual friend SLG at the SHOT Show and was immediately impressed by his approach to building 1911s. While Jason’s guns are beautiful and precisely built by hand, they are first and foremost working guns. Jason himself is an avid shooter and firearms instructor whose personal guns see tens of thousands of rounds of use. Jason understands how to make a gun that runs… and runs and runs and runs.
So the challenge I placed before Jason was this: build a 1911 truly optimized for 9mm and appendix carry.
Over the past few months, Jason and I had a number of lengthy discussions about exactly what the gun should be. With most of the big picture finally figured out, building will begin soon. Jason normally builds one gun at a time… his wait list is exactly that, waiting for your place in the queue. Once he starts your gun, no other major work goes to his bench until your gun is complete. For our project, however, Jason is taking a different approach. Work on this gun will happen in phases, literally fitting in between other customers’ orders. By working on my gun as a side job it gives Jason the chance to record what he’s doing step by step.
That should make for an interesting series of posts here on pistol-training.com. Readers will get to follow along throughout the whole process, getting a chance to experience vicariously something few will ever do themselves: commissioning a truly unique custom hand built gun.
The Story So Far
First, Jason’s response to my request was to recommend a full size .45 instead. Once we got past that…
The gun will be built on a true 4.25” Commander platform. There are two reasons for this. First, the Commander length slide is better suited for running a 9mm due to its lighter weight (the Commander was, after all, originally built to be a 9mm from Colt). Second, I travel to Canada every year or two and their strange gun laws require at least a 105mm barrel on pistols. A 4” gun is illegal, but a 4.25” gun is fine. Thanks, Canada.
Frame will be steel. We discussed the possibility of aluminum or even something more exotic like titanium but in the end Jason’s recommendation for best durability was steel. I’ve been carrying a bigger, heavier steel 5” railed 1911 for months without trouble so the weight savings of a lighter frame just weren’t worth the potential reduced durability. Keep in mind this gun could easily see 100,000+ rounds in its lifetime.
Now for what will likely be the biggest controversy after the caliber choice. The gun will be a Series 80. While many see the Series 80 firing pin block as an abomination, the redundant layer of protection for a gun that will be pointed, cocked and locked, at my femoral artery 12+ hours a day seemed like a good idea to me. Jason had no objection and stated that, properly done, the difference in trigger pull and reliability would be non-existent. He did mention, though, that the Series 80 components would require a little more preventative maintenance in terms of keeping the gun clean. Oh, well.
With all of that decided, Jason’s recommendation was to find a decent used Colt 9mm Commander as a base gun. But I don’t do used guns… I always worry that the previous owner is as irresponsible about maintenance and care as I am. So that left us needing a NIB gun.
That led us to Caspian Arms. Caspian has been making frames and slides for decades, and they’re often the supplier to smaller custom shops. They happily build Series 80 versions of all their offerings. Another benefit of the Caspian build it that Jason can easily spec out exactly how he wants the frame and slide made. For our purposes, that means:
- Commander length “basic”receiver in carbon steel
- No feed-ramp cuts
- No cuts for ramped barrel
- No pre-cut beavertail radius
- No integral plunger tube
- No mag-well
- No front strap texture
- No “dehorn”
- Commander 9mm slide in carbon steel
- 9mm breechface
- No lowered or flared ejection port (they may call it “high port” or “standard port”)
- No slide top work such as serrations, etc.
- No sight cuts
- Not pre-fit to frame
- No “dehorn”
As you can see, Jason does all of the detail work himself.
The barrel will be a Kart, 9mm obviously, with a Clark/Para-style ramp.
As for internals, Jason spoke very highly of Wilson parts and chooses them for most of his work. The great folks at Wilson Combat graciously donated the following parts to build the dream gun:
- 298BBP – Bulletproof Grip Safety, blue
- 34S – Extended Ejector 38/9mm/45ACP CMDR
- 415,S80 – Bulletproof Extractor, Series 80, 38/9mm, blue
- 31TBP – Bulletproof Magazine Release, blue
- 314 – Bulletproof A2 Sear
- 573 – Bulletproof Disconnector
- 337B – Ultralight Skeletonized Bulletproof Hammer, blued
- R10,38 – Firing pin 38/9mm
- 315B – Pin Set, blue
The gun will also be running Wilson 10rd 9mm ETM magazines that Wilson has already provided for the current Springfield/Warren test gun. They have been without question the most dependable 9mm 1911 magazines I’ve used, and they also happen to be the same magazines that Burton recommended from day one.
There are a couple of questions I bet you still have.
First, how long will it take? Keep in mind that this project actually began back in May. We’ve been discussing the idea for more than six months. Over the past six or eight weeks Jason and I have probably spent more than five hours on the phone talking about the gun. Another couple dozen emails have gone back and forth hammering out the little details. Because it’s going to be built “along the way” instead of as a dedicated bench project, delivery is a big question mark. For what it’s worth, when I first inquired back in May, Jason said he was quoting delivery dates in July 2013. That’s fourteen months.
Second, what will it cost? Frankly, I have no idea. Jason and I have never once discussed price. You don’t go to a place like Heirloom Precision if you’re looking for a bargain. This will be a genuine one of a kind pistol, build by hand by a master craftsman just for me to the exacting specifications that I choose. It’s not just a gun. It’s not just a tool. It will truly become a family heirloom.
Train hard & stay safe! ToddG
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