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Thread: Sub-compact 1911 style pistols

  1. #1
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    Default Sub-compact 1911 style pistols

    Working at Front Sight gives me the opportunity to see real-world heavy usage of a variety of handguns. I see what works and what doesn't.

    JMB designed the 1911 pistol to be a powerful and reliable military sidearm. I doubt concealability and extreme accuracy were on his mind. One hundred years later his pistol is still at the top of the list as designed. When you take a full-size 1911 and redesign it for concealment several things happen.

    A full size 1911 has several inches of rearward travel in the slide to complete the actions needed to complete the unloading and reloading sequence. The barrel cams downward and seperates from the locking lugs in the slide, the extractor pulls the spent cartridge from the chamber which is then ejected, the magazine spring then pushes the next round of ammunition into place to be picked up by the slide when it begins to move forward placing the round in the chamber, the barrel then cams back up into the locking lugs in the slide. This takes place in a fraction of a second.

    To illustrate, and I'm using simple assumptions, lets say that a 230 gr FMJ leaves a full-length 1911barrel with a muzzle velocity of 850fps. According to Mr Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means the slide wants to move rearward with a relative velocity. Now the mass of the slide and the recoil spring mitigate this and the slide moves much slower but it is still pretty fast. Consequently the upward force of the magazine spring must be strong and fast enough to push a round into alignment with the slide before it starts moving forward again. Timing is important.

    With a sub-compact 1911 all of this takes place in approximately half the distance/time. That, and the lower mass of the slide is why these small 1911s have heavy recoil springs. The heavy spring tries to replicate the same timing of the full length slide. This doesn't always work.

    The other issue with the heavy recoil spring is that these small guns can be difficult to load for folks with weaker hand and arm strength. Trying to lock the slide to the rear can be difficult as well. A person using these small guns needs to be physically capable of loading, locking, and managing the recoil. If you can't manage the recoil, meaning holding the gun stable enough to resist the push of the recoil spring, the slide will not move far enough rearward to complete the loading cycle.

    I have observed that students using sub-compact 1911s (all from very good manufacturers) experience malfunctions, Type I, II, III at a much higher rate than the full-size 1911s. Other instructors have reported similar results.

    A common malfunction is a failure to feed. This is similar to a Type I stoppage except that the slide is not fully forward and you will have a dead trigger. The the slide moves rearward enough to eject the spent brass but not far enough to catch the rim of the next round. The slide then moves forward on top of the cartridge pulling the round with it. When you look into the gun you see the slide pressing against the top of the cartridge, which is pressed against the feedramp/chamber at an incorrect angle for insertion. I believe this is usually caused by having a loose grip. Another cause might be having magazine springs that are weak and which fail to push the next round up before the slide starts it's forward motion (out of time with the slide).

    While similar to a Type I malfunction it clears like a Type III (failure to extract, or double feed). You have to lock the slide to the rear (which is more difficult since you have a heavy spring) and strip the magazine from the gun. Hopefully the round that was halfway up the feedramp, but not in the chamber, will stay with the magazine. Either way you still forcefully rack the slide to clear the chamber and then reload with a fresh magazine.

    If you are elect to carry a sub-compact 1911 make sure you shoot it enough to identify any issues. If you use good ammuniton, quality magazines and have the ability to correctly handle these small guns you should be able to minimize malfunctions.
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  2. The Following 5 Users Say Thank You to Sgt T For This Useful Post:

    Jim Trueblood (06-16-2011), mmszbi (08-11-2011), NWFFT (06-15-2011), rkbartley (06-15-2011), shibmaster (09-06-2011)

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    Thanks for sharing the benefit of your experience at Front Sight.

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    Thanks Sgt T! This is one of the reasons I shy away from all sub-compact's, the other is that I have large hands and I do not want ANY fingers left off the grip and I do not want to put in a mag extension.
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    Another issue we (FS staff) deal with is keeping students from muzzling their hands while manipulating the short slide. It doesn't matter how much we tell them to work behind the muzzle they still get their hands in front of the gun.
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    ASD Senior Member Jim Trueblood's Avatar
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    Icon14 Make Mine a 5"

    30 years ago I had 1911 instructors telling me,
    "The more barrel length decreases, the more problems increase".
    For me a 5" barrel is the only way to go with a 1911 .45ACP.

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    So far my 3'' Springfield 1911 high cap 10 + 1 has been flawless. Not to say that some thing won't happen tomorrow with it. So far so good & would not take A thousand + for it!!!
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    ASD Senior Member Jim Trueblood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by barnjoer View Post
    So far my 3'' Springfield 1911 has been flawless.
    SWEET, glad to hear it's working well for you. They are VERY popular for sure.
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    Default short kimber ...

    Sgt. T has it totally right, I love my kimber ultra and it is a fine piece of machinery but at the end of a long day at front sight I did notice that there is rarely but occasionally failure to feed. it might be because the gun is getting dirty or because my grip is getting tired after a long day. I love my short kimber but I also love my five inch kimber too .. decisions, decision!!!
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  10. #9
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    Thanks Jim
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    Sgt T: True words my friend. Here is another problem and fix. First let me apologize to UGA. I had recommended a Kel-Tec P-3AT to him, along with the special holster built for it. It has served me well, but........ it's not a 1911. I plead guilty to a shameless devotion to this style of handgun. But.. the Kel-Tec will not be thrown under the bus. My construction foreman is giving it new life.

    So Sgt T, I purchased a Sig Sauer P-238 .380 as a new backup, and dug pretty deep in my jeans to do it. Right out of the box, I was in trouble. I threw 206 rounds downrange with a 24.8 failure rate. Ejected fine, but on many occasions it would fail to peel off another round.

    I dropped-kicked it off the walls a couple of times, and called customer service. He says no problem, and stand back, your gun will be back in a flash. True words... 4 days and it was back. Armorer advised he replaced the slide stop spring, shot 50 American Eagle rounds through without failure.

    I'm off to the range, hammered 238 flawless rounds. Add his 50 and it's 288. The fix is in I think.

    Then.... drats!!! Sig says they are bringing this gun out next year in 9mm. Then!! Colt says it's bringing the Mustang back in 9mm. Gee.... a 1911 9mm is want I have always wanted as back-up to start with. Sadly, (for my wallet) my last new gun purchase might be in the near future.

    Thanks for the thread, all very interesting, but tell the guys and gals that Sig has the bead on short 1911 gun reliability.

    Rossi

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