On March 29th, a man produced an invention that has since saved tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of lives. His name was John Moses Browning. He worked at Colt and his invention was the M1911 service pistol: A semi-automatic, short-recoil, single-stack, leaf-sight handgun that fired up to seven large, .45-caliber rounds through a 5” barrel. Today, the M1911 is one of the most iconic handguns ever made. We’re here to walk you through building your own 1911. Let’s start with the frame – the guts and the real meat of the thing.
The 1911 Government Frame
The “Government” frame is the 1911’s gold standard. Measuring an overall length of 8.25”, a height of 5.5”, and a width of 1”, it’s the classic model that you’ve seen in so many movies. This is one bad frame and is reserved for only the best 1911’s
The 1911 Commander Frame
The Commander version of the 1911 was introduced in 1950. Often referred to as the Colt Commander (even though other manufacturers now develop Commander models) this smaller version measures in at generally the same size – the only difference is the barrel and slide has about ¾” a shorter length.
The 1911 Officer Frame
The 1911 Officer frame is considered a concealed carry dream. With a barrel length of 3.5” and height of 4.8”, the Officer is easily carried inside the waistband or in the small of the back with minimal clothing requirements.
Some companies have taken the 1911’s design to the extreme, offering “micro” models that are even smaller than the Officer frame. Some examples include the Kimber Micro, the Colt Mustang, and the Sig P938. Obviously, these guns will not carry a .45 cartridge and are usually chambered in 9mm or .380. Because of the small size of these Micro-1911s, there is often no grip safety.
1911 Frames, Aluminum vs. Steel
The 1911 has, in its century of service, continually been produced almost exclusively with steel frames. In the year 2018, things have changed. More and more 1911s are being produced with aluminum frames – thanks largely to its proven ruggedness and reliability in modern rifles.
Luck would have it that aluminum 1911 frames allow for at-home builders to literally produce a factory-quality 1911 from scratch, using basic hand tools and a 1911 jig.
Aluminum is Just as Good as Steel
We won’t mince words, here: An aluminum frame and the 1911 go together just fine. The best part about it? Well, besides the fact that you can build a 1911 at home legally, the aluminum 1911 frame is lightweight.
A conventional steel-framed 1911 weighs about 38 ounces with an empty magazine, while an aluminum-framed 1911 weighs about 28 ounces. That’s 2.4 pounds compared to just 1.75 pounds. Trust us, it’s a significant difference – about a 27% reduction in weight.
1911 Frame Finish: Bead Blasted or Anodized Black
1911s (and handguns in general) come in a plethora of finishes. For the sake of building a 1911 from an aluminum frame, you’ve got two options: bare aluminum that’s been bead blasted and made ready for a custom finish, or traditional anodized black.
Bead blasted aluminum frames will generally accept any finish that can other handguns accept, whether its anodizing, phosphate, nitride, or a tough at-home paint job, like DuraCoat. We’ll keep it simple: You want a traditional look and want to remove a step from the build process? Go with anodized black. It’s the same finish you’ll find on a standard-issue service weapon.
Make it Your Own
Want to be custom or unique? Give it your own flare? Stick with a bead-blasted, bare aluminum frame.
Congratulations! You now know everything you need to know about 1911 frames. Go forth and conquer! Build your own 1911 at home and be the proud owner of an American invention that has changed the world and is a true classic.
Handguns have evolved a great deal since the days of the classic M1911. As with many new technologies, there are new safety procedures and laws on how to handle today’s firearms. To learn more about carrying safely and responsibly, find an upcoming Concealed Coalition training class near you today.