Home Pistolsmithing 101

by Bob Londrigan as published in Front Sight Magazine, March 2003

 One of the great things about shooting IPSC is that you get to play around with your equipment by tuning it to work the best for you.  So the question is - what can you do yourself that is not going to cost you an arm and a leg? 

 There are actually quite a few things you can do to customize your gun to shoot better and more reliably.  You can: 


Everyoneís eyes are different and what works for your buddy may not be right for you. Experiment -- try different combinations of front and rear sights to see what works best for you.  Narrow sights let you see more light around the blade.  Fiber optic sights help older eyes focus on the front sight.  You can also open up the rear sight to get more light around the front sight


C-More is the standard scope, but itís a good idea to try some of the other styles to see if they work better for you. The Docter sight is more like iron sights; the Omni has different dot sizes that adjust with the click of a switch; tube sights make it easier to pick up the dot.  Also try different dot sizes.  Smaller dot sizes offer a more precise sight picture but are harder to see in bright sunlight.  Larger dot sizes are faster and easier to see in bright sunlight.

 Trigger styles

When trying to determine the best trigger style for you, keep in mind that when your finger is on the trigger, the last joint of your finger should be at 90 degrees and the pad of your finger should be flat on the trigger.  If you have small hands, a shorter trigger may be the ticket; if you have large hands, go for a longer trigger.

 The SV trigger inserts are popular and offer many varieties. STI offers a gunsmith trigger that can be cut to any configuration.

 Mainspring Housing

Flat, arched, and wedge shaped mainspring housings are available. The flat style is best suited for small to medium hands, whereas the arched and wedge styles are better suited for people with larger hands. You want your hand to be fully supported at the rear of the gun.

Magazine Release Button

For maximum speed mag changes, you have to be able to reach the mag release without having to rearrange your grip.  If you canít reach the stock mag button, try a round magazine release button.  If you canít reach the round button, try a paddle type. If your mag release does not have a screw hole, you will need a drilled and tapped mag release to be able to use a mag button.  The most common size screw used with a mag release button is 4-40 threads.

Also make sure your grip does not cause you to inadvertently drop magazines. If it does, there are a couple of things you can do.  Begin by grinding down the mag release button about 0.030 inches, keeping it square.  Then install a stiffer spring in the mag release. This will lower the button and make it harder to depress accidentally.

Guide Rod

You can experiment with tungsten, steel, or aluminum guide rods.  Each will give your gun a different weight distribution and, thus, may help you better control recoil. Lighter rods will be faster but harder to control.


You can do a lot to affect the perceived recoil of your gun by changing the mainspring (hammer spring) and the recoil spring.

Consider that a lighter mainspring does not absorb as much of the recoil stroke and allows the gun to cycle faster. It is also easier to rack the slide and cock the hammer with a lighter mainspring. The stock mainspring is 23 lbs. Although most people use a 19 lb. mainspring, you can go down as low as 17 lbs.  I donít recommend less than 17lbs. because you may have trouble with light primer strikes.

As far as recoil springs for a limited gun, the range is between 12 lbs and 18 lbs.; for an open gun, itís between 8 lbs. and 12 lbs.  A lighter recoil spring will hit you harder at the end of the stroke, but will close lighter.  This is generally a better feel for most shooters. Remember, you are trying to get the sights back on the target as the slide closes. The softer it closes, the quicker you will be back on target.

Two types of recoil springs are available: standard and variable rate. Variable rate means the coils are wound different at the back than at the front of the spring. Because the coils are closer together at the front of the spring, it stacks up as the slide comes to the rear and then closes softer. I prefer this type of spring, especially in an open gun.


Your extractor needs to be tuned properly to provide 100% reliability. This is an art in itself and will be covered in detail in a future article.  Basically you want the case to be able to slide under the extractor smoothly with little resistance, yet still have enough tension to firmly hold the case.  To make this happen, roll all the edges of the extractor and adjust the tension by bending the extractor.  Another alternative is to get an Aftec extractor. Often this type of extractor will drop in and work fine.


The ejector is like the extractor Ė it must be properly tuned.   Tuning your ejector is accomplished by filing the face that contacts and ejects the case.  I usually bevel it at the top and bottom slightly, so that I get a single contact point.  Next, move this contact point up or down until you get the desired ejection pattern.  The higher the contact point, the lower the brass will be thrown. Always make sure your brass is not getting any contact with the ejection port or your scope. 

Firing Pin Stop

You can adjust the speed at which your slide cycles by the bevel you put on your firing pin stop. The rounder you make this edge, the faster your slide will cycle and the more recoil energy it will maintain. EGW makes a firing pin stop that has a 90-degree ledge at the rear. The 90-degree edge slows down the slide and can be adjusted to give you the slide speed you are looking for.

Larger Magwell

Several brands of magwells are on the market that are larger than stock.  These larger magwells will make reloading easier and faster. Depending on the size of your hand, some of these magwells also support your hand at the rear of the gun.  With any of the larger magwells, remember to bevel the interior of the grip to match the opening of the magwell.

Making It All Work

Make one change at a time so that you can evaluate it properly.  If a change you made has an adverse effect on reliability, either determine how to make it reliable or undo the change. Use the timer and several different drills to evaluate your changes -- donít just go by feel.  Often a gun will feel better but not perform better.  This often happens when you make a gun shoot softer.  It might feel much better, but the sharper, faster recoil may result in faster times and better hits depending on how well you control recoil. Once you have made one successful change, move on to another one and evaluate it in the same manner.  After you have made all the changes, re-evaluate. Some modifications may affect others, and you might need to tweak things slightly. Keep in mind that your shooting is a fluid equation - itís always changing.  You must constantly be on the lookout for alterations that can make you a better shooter.

1911 parts at Brazos Custom