by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, July 2008
The number one rule of our sport is to “BE SAFE.” Of course, everyone wants their gun to be safe, but what do you need to check to be sure that your pistol is working in a safe and proper manner? Parts wear and parts may break. If you install new parts, they may not work with the old parts. Any of these things can cause safety problems if they occur in certain areas of the gun. The most frequent safety issues with guns I see at matches seem to be hammer/sear/trigger problems, thumb safety problems, and grip safety problems. I’ll elaborate on each of these problems and show you what you can do to safely rectify them. Before performing any of the checks I recommend here, always make sure your gun is unloaded.
If you’re having hammer/sear/trigger problems then worn, maladjusted, or poorly matched parts are the usual culprit. Also, the lighter the trigger pull weight the more likely you are to have problems. The reason for this is that the lower the trigger pull the more closely matched the parts must be. If they are not closely matched you will get hammer follow (dropping to halfcock) or doubling/tripling.
Checklist for your trigger job:
· Make sure your halfcock notch works. Test by cocking the hammer until you hear the first click (about 1/3 to ˝ the way to full cock). Release the hammer and it should stay at halfcock. Pull the trigger moderately and the hammer should stay at halfcock. It should not fall (most guns have a captive halfcock notch). If it does fall it is not working properly and the gun will need to be adjusted. You want your halfcock notch to work so that if your trigger job goes south your hammer will fall to halfcock and not go off. If it is working properly and your hammer/sear surfaces wear enough to let the hammer fall without pulling the trigger, the gun will not double. The hammer will be stopped and held by the halfcock notch. Knowing that your gun is set up this way can also help in diagnosing trigger/hammer/sear problems. If your gun doubles you know that there is most likely something going on with the disconnector and not the hammer/sear interface. The usual cause for the halfcock notch not functioning is a lack of adequate pre-travel. You need about 0.025 to 0.040 inch pre-travel for the notch to work properly.
· Check that the disconnector travels freely in its channel and has adequate pressure from the middle finger of the sear spring. This enables the disconnector to pop up each time the slide cycles.
· Clean the lower end of the gun at least every 5000 rounds to make sure everything is moving smoothly and is well lubricated.
· Check your grip for cracks or for loose grip screws. Either can cause mystery malfunctions in your trigger group.
· If you have installed new parts in the trigger group, always test for function several times with a single round in the magazine. Then test with two rounds, three rounds, and so forth. The reason for this is so that if the hammer follows, the gun will not continue to fire in an uncontrolled manner for an entire magazine.
Checklist for your thumb safety:
Check list for the grip safety:
A note on pinned grip safeties: The grip safety on a 1911 is not considered the primary safety -- the thumb safety is. It is legal for USPSA competition to deactivate the grip safety by “pinning” or other means. If you do this, make sure that the grip safety will not rub or interfere with the trigger in any way. You can also adjust your grip safety so that it deactivates sooner. You do this by moving the bottom of the surface that contacts the back of the trigger bow up little at a time so that the grip safety has to move less to deactivate. Go carefully and test often. It is easy to remove too much material and deactivate the grip safety completely. If adjusted properly, the grip safety needs to move only about a sixteenth of an inch to be deactivated and allow the trigger to be pulled.
I have touched on the most common mechanical safety items in your gun and how to keep them in top shape. Always remember to keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot and to always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.