Jason Burton 9mm Commander

23-Jan-16 – 16:26 by ToddG

IMG_1083-2Many people have asked for specific information on the 9mm Commander that Jason Burton of Heirloom Precision built for me. Mostly all I can tell you is that the gun was intended from day one to be built from the ground up as an ideal appendix carry (AIWB) pistol and that I chose Jason because of his reputation and genuine demand of excellence in what he does. Jason doesn’t put a gun in a FedEx box unless he’s willing to trust it in his own holster. We’re talking about a guy who regularly shoots with Rob Leatham. Jason’s high standards obviously don’t stop at the “shoot straight and look good” level.

Most top gunsmiths collect guns from other smiths. Jason is someone whose guns they carry. That says a lot about his quality and what he expects from his own work.

Since I’m as far from a 1911 expert as you’ll ever find, Jason had to fill in a lot of the details:

caspianThe frame, donated by Caspian Arms, is a Series 80 Commander frame. frontgripJason contoured and re-shaped the existing high-cut, hand checkered the frontstrap 25 lines per inch, and also dehorned the frame by hand.

The slide, also provided by Caspian, is for a 4.25″ and obviously Series 80.

backofslideJason hand serrated the back of the slide to 50lpi . The ejection port was lowered and then a file was used to dehorn it by hand. The rear of the slide was also dehorned by hand.

The top of the slide was flattened and then serrated with Jason’s signature 30LPI arrow point. Lightening cuts were made on either side of the cartridge pickup rail. The final step was machining the ball cuts… that is done last to ensure the match fit barrel has completely seated so that the position of the ball-cuts relative to the frame’s dustcover is perfect. All of that work reduced the overall weight of the slide by more than 1.6 ounces which is quite substantial. That, in turn, results in a pistol that recoils faster and flatter.

barrelThe barrel is a Kart National Match that Jason crowned to a 45 degree angle on a lathe to guarantee concentricity and then gave a high polish. Jason used an EGW bushing that was dehorned by hand. In addition to its aesthetic appeal the barrel as fitted to the slide and frame is capable of producing three-quarter inch groups at 25yd. After some experimenting, I’ve settled on a Wolff  twelve pound variable recoil spring which provides the flattest recoil while still cycling with 100% reliability.

magwell-supportmagwellroundThe magazine well is a Smith & Alexander, shear pins were added to prevent the part from being able to shift on the frame and it checkered by hand to 25LPI. Then, with appendix carry specifically in mind, Jason radiused the bottom edge of the part. This has two benefits. First, it breaks up the normally sharp shape, improving concealability. Second, a rounded surface is less likely to snag on clothing during the drawstroke.

The grip safety is an EGW. Jason dehorned it by hand to provide for the highest grip without discomfort. Jason’s approach to tuning grip safeties is a bit different than most. Rather than simply reducing the amount of tension on the part, Jason actually increases the tension but shortens the amount of depress needed to disengage the safety. This means that it goes off-safe easily but also pops back on-safe very quickly as soon as your grip lightens up on the frame. Again, it’s another safety benefit especially applicable for appendix carry.

slidecatchThe slide stop was also from EGW, a flat & serrated model that Jason modified by contouring the pad (making it shorter from back to front) so that it doesn’t interfere with a high grip.

With few exceptions, the rest of the parts were donated by Wilson Combat and for the most part needed only typical fitting:

  • magcatchmag catch is Wilson Bulletproof™ hand checkered at 25LPI by Jason after he cuts it to an angle to provide better leverage. I’m using a Wolff reduced-2 mag catch spring because my right thumb doesn’t have enough strength to get reliable control with a standard spring.
  • extractor is a Wilson Bulletproof™ tuned by Jason and hand serrated 50lpi to match the rear of the slide.
  • The hammer, sear, disconnector, firing pin, thumb safety, ejector, and plunger tube are all Wilson Bulletproof™.
  • The firing pin stop is an oversize Wilson Bulletproof™ 70 Series flat bottom that Jason fitted and modified to work in an 80 Series gun.
  • safetyThe link & pin set as well as the screws, pins, and other springs are all Wilson.

The trigger is a Wilson medium solid and the 80 Series parts are factory Colt. Every part of the action, even the spring ends, were polished to a mirror finish by Jason. When I told Jason I wanted a Series 80 system for the redundant safety it would provide in an appendix carry pistol he didn’t even blink. Contrary to internet lore, Jason was able to tune the trigger to a perfectly consistent 3.5# (as measured on my NRA Weight Set) with a very short reset and exactly the amount of “roll” I asked for as I’m not a fan of the glass rod break that some prefer on a 1911. A number of experienced 1911 aficionados have shot the gun and not one of them could tell it was a Series 80.

frontsightThe sights started out as ordinary Heirloom Precision Professional Grade… which means an oversized front post and a solid (no notch) rear. The front sight was cut to proper length and then machined with an inlay so that Jason could apply a permanent orange line covering most of the front post’s face which is 0.125″ wide. The notch on the rear sight was cut and widened by hand to 0.165″ per my request. The rear sight is specifically shaped to allow for easy one-hand manipulations on a belt or holster and then radiused and dehorned by hand. I also asked for a 3-dot tritium setup which Jason drilled himself to guarantee that the dots lined up properly and provided a point of aim, point of impact using the front dot. For more details on why I asked for this particular sight design you can see my prior post.

For the moment, the finish is a simple parkerizing as a base layer that is then blued to results in a matte black finish. In the near term it will get a more permanent durable flat black DLC finish. Or I’ll break down and get it chromed. Or I’ll go with a flat black DLC. Or I’ll get it chromed. Or … well, now you know why it hasn’t had the final finishing step yet.

Jason shipped the pistol with Wilson ETM magazines and modified Dawson Precision magazines. While stock Dawsons (and the ones made by their supplier, Metalform) had a difficult time in my Warren/Sprinfield Custom Shop 9mm, Jason tuned these by modifying the followers and strengthening the magazine springs. They continue to be something we’re experimenting with. The Wilsons serve as my actual carry magazines, their only real deficiency being an unwillingness to eject when partially full.

Grips have been a prototype thumb cut-out style from my friend David at VCD Grips. These continue to be the most effective grips I’ve found for recoil control on a 1911.

Because I know you want to know the mundane details, you can have one just like this for about $7,500 and a 18-24 month wait. Inevitably this leads to the question of why?

This gun wasn’t built on an assembly line and put together by a set of people who assemble hundreds of guns each day. Each piece was examined, polished, and fitted one at a time by just one master gunsmith. Building this one gun took over one hundred hours of labor not including test firing, packaging, and literally dozens of hours of email and telephone conversations between Jason and me. In fact, Jason told me that once the work is done and the gun is ready to ship to the customer it takes him three hours just to assemble it. He slowly and meticulously verifies every single piece for both form and function before he declares it good to go.

So hurry up, before the rush is on, and order yourself a couple.

And once again, thanks to SLG and JAG for a gift far too generous and wonderful than I could ever hope to put into words. Not that I didn’t kind of deserve it. I mean, I did let Julie stay with me all night long in the out of control emergency room at a Las Vegas hospital in the middle of SHOT Show. What could be more fun than that? Hashtag Nothing. Or whatever the kids say.muzzle

Thanks as always to the pistol-training.com Heirloom Project sponsors:


  1. 21 Responses to “Jason Burton 9mm Commander”

  2. That is truly an awesome, one-of-a-kind piece.

    By Rick R on Jan 23, 2016

  3. Almost as nice as my Rock Island 😉

    Seriously, very nice pistol, Todd.

    By Steve S. on Jan 23, 2016

  4. Jesus. HP 1911s used to be like $3000. That’s what you get for not getting one in 2008! Man, those dudes who got them back then must be feeling pretty smug with themselves.

    By jellydonut on Jan 23, 2016

  5. It’s one of a kind, of a matter of fact I’m very jealous. I would like for the 9×23 brought about in a 1911 such as yours, but that’s my dream. Todd, it seems to me you really deserve such a nice piece.

    Though, the cost is really high for myself, my ambition is for me to build my own 1911. Also, I would really enjoy owning a LWRC rifle. Perhaps you can do a report on such a rifle in 6.8 SPC.

    By David S. Keough on Jan 23, 2016

  6. Beautiful! Functional art. What a fantastic gift, I’m happy for you Todd! (And a little jealous. ?)

    By Paul Sharp on Jan 24, 2016

  7. Looks a bit dirty in that first pic – might want to clean it :)

    Seriously, what an awesome gun!

    By Tim on Jan 24, 2016

  8. I’ve been waiting for this write-up for awhile! Thank you and Jason for putting this together. I have two questions… the one I have been wondering about is: If I recall correctly, when you did the un-boxing, I think you had a lefty AIWB holster. After sharing with us your elbow reconstruction and the need to sometimes shoot lefty, has the single-sided thumb safety “slowed” things down in that regard and was there any consideration given to an ambitious safety?

    Were the Dawson precision mags modified just as another option for magazines for the pistol or is there a different goal for those beyond the experimentation with yours?

    And I guess I’ll ask a third since I am here: I follow the FB page and here. You’ve obviously been using it and living with it for awhile. I’ve read the Warren post several times and I notice after while that changes were occasionally made to suit your technique and preferences. I also notice that it doesn’t appear that there are any changes to this since the last comprehensive post about it. Is there anything you would spec out differently?

    Thank you again for the write-up!

    By John K on Jan 24, 2016

  9. David — I’d love to have the skill and confidence to build my own. I’m jealous!

    John K — (1) I’ve been very lucky and have been able to shoot righty since I got back to shooting; otherwise I would have put an ambi in (2) mags were resprung because the Dawsons stopped locking the slide previously (3) only maybe the finish… the Warren was my first 1911 so I played with it per the Rules of Owning a 1911.

    By ToddG on Jan 24, 2016

  10. Todd, any particular reason you went with a bushing barrel over a bull barrel?

    By sam on Jan 24, 2016

  11. sam — No. Perhaps Jason has some thoughts on that.

    By ToddG on Jan 24, 2016

  12. You had “roll” (creep) built into a 1911 trigger..heresy.

    By Wobblie on Jan 24, 2016

  13. Wobblie — It matches my normal draw technique, and I just like having a little notice that the trigger is moving before it breaks.

    By ToddG on Jan 24, 2016

  14. Now you’re part of the dark side…you’re carrying a 1911…and you actually think it’s reliable. Congratulations, really nice 1911. That’s what they’re all about – having it done your way and hand assembled by a master pistol smith. I know you’ll enjoy shooting it.

    By SteveS on Jan 24, 2016

  15. Thank you for the write up Todd, been looking forward to this for some time.

    By Rob E on Jan 24, 2016

  16. You are rockstar Todd i was thinking about 9mm commander pistol and you put each and every details very clearly.

    By Rayan on Jan 25, 2016

  17. Rayan — My exposure to the various options when it comes to outfitting a 1911 is pretty limited. I’d hit up a place like 1911forum.com for a real wealth of options and details.

    By ToddG on Jan 25, 2016

  18. A beautiful piece of functional art, but I would never use it for CCW.
    If you have to use it in self-defense, it may sit in an evidence locker for a year or more, and they don’t throw silica gel in the plastic evidence bag with it. In some jurisdictions, you’ll have to sue to get the gun back, and when you do, it will have initials and/or badge numbers scratched on it somewhere.
    That’s assuming it’s not damaged in the initial fight, by being dropped on pavement, etc.
    Why risk it?

    By Old 1811 on Jan 26, 2016

  19. I’ve never bought the “don’t use an expensive gun for self defense because it will sit in an evidence locker for years” argument.

    -the odds of Toddg or John Q Public using it for self defense are slim.

    -if it is confiscated while charges are brought, the fate of the pistol will be the least of his worries

    -if you know you are going to use it for self-defense (ie a life or death situation), wouldn’t you want the absolute best, most functional, most accurate, most reliable pistol money can buy? That’s no time to skimp. (Of course here one could argue that this 9mm 1911 isn’t the most reliable, most functional, blah blah blah, but clearly Toddg has put it through the paces and feels very confident in the pistol.)

    By Bobby sands on Jan 26, 2016

  20. Old1811 — For the same reason I’d drive a Porsche every day if I owned a Porsche, even if that meant it was more likely to get dinged, scratched, or even stolen.

    The gun was built by a guy who is religious about CCW for a guy who is religious about CCW. As Bobb Sands put it, what happens after a fight and a potential series of court cases is just far too low on my radar to put it above having the best I can find for the fight part.

    By ToddG on Jan 26, 2016

  21. I should have included my usual caveat: It’s America, so you can do what you want.
    I don’t mean to say you should carry a Hi-Point or a Taurus Judge. My point is, there are millions of perfectly serviceable choices out there, which are just as reliable, and can be customized to your heart’s content, without spending seven grand.
    I really don’t care if you choose to defend yourself with a Harpers Ferry flintlock, a Colt Dragoon, or a Gyrojet. If you’re happy, I’m happy, even if we disagree.
    The way I see it, a carry gun is a tool, and this pistol is a work of art. You wouldn’t use a Ming vase to hold your door open or store your umbrella.
    I hope you never have to use it for its intended purpose, and this discussion is rendered moot.

    By Old 1811 on Jan 26, 2016

  22. Gawd that gun tho…Beautiful piece. Although the only thing more beautiful than a custom 1911, is a custom 1911 that’s been carried…and used…a lot. Very interesting to hear about all the pieces used by a master of his art. Also, I nearly died of laughter when I saw you were active on 1911forum.com a little while back. Some time ago, I built my first 1911. I’ll never sell it and it holds a special place in my heart for the reason I built it…I’d carry it without hesitation, even if I lost it to some evidence locker forever, because if that’s the case, the gun would have saved my life and that’d be an appropriate way to be parted with my favorite pistol.

    By John on Jan 30, 2016

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