The other day I showed some photos of pistols made by custom gunsmith Armand Swenson. Swensen was one of the most influential 1911 pistolsmiths of all time. He pioneered the genre of combat custom pistol work on the 1911. He invented the 1911 ambi safety and high visibility rear sight. He made metal checkering common along with the square trigger guard ( which isn’t so popular now) and the beveled mag well. He was the first to apply “french borders” to the slide and coined the term. The look of the modern combat/ custom-combat 1911 comes from his sense of style and ideas.
After WW2, Swenson left working for Boeing and started his own custom shop in Seattle where he built custom rifles. He set some early benchrest records using the custom rifles he made. Those rifles quickly became known for their quality, accuracy and beautiful metal work.
“One day an Air Force Colonel came into Armand’s shop with a 1911 pistol. he was a member of the Air Force pistol team and wanted Armand to look it over and see if he could make it more accurate and improve trigger pull. Swenson agreed to see what he could do with the pistol.“
In the 60s, Armand came up with the idea for a shortened government mode. It used a full sized frame with a slide 1/8 inch shorter than the Colt Commander. He named this new creation the bobcat. By the mid 60s demand for his pistols became so great, he quit his day job designing yachts and became a full time pistol smith.
Swenson designing and refined many of his innovations in the following years. His most famous being the 1911 ambi safety.
The Swenson safety came about after a visit to Gunsite shooting school. He listened to the students talk about how much better it would be if the 1911 safety could be operated with either hand. After perfecting the design, he had the parts cast and the Swenson ambi safety was born.
He also developed the squared trigger guard. In order to not weaken the frame, the trigger guard needed to be heated and forged to shape, then properly heat treated. He then checkered the front vertical face with 30 lines per inch. At the time many shooters put their left index finger in that spot,wrongly believing it helped control recoil. It doesn’t. The squared look still sticks around as a lot of people still like the aesthetic.
Armand began checkering the front strap of metal framed 1911s with 30 lpi and using satin white hard chrome plating he learned from the yacht building experience. It was so attractive and durable most of his pistols came coated this way.
All of his pistols were noted for their superb accuracy. He developed his own way of fitting the barrels and unless the custom specifically asked for it, he used the factory Colt barrel.
Like I mentioned in the earlier post, Swenson was the first to fit S&W K frame sights to the 1911. Armand milled a slot in the slide , then drilled and tapped the slide for stock screws and added shear pins sp the sight always stayed in place. He made his own custom made front sights to go with the K frame adjustable rear sight.
As you can see above this one also has the “french Borders”. Narrow lines machined into the each side of the slide . He put a matte finish on top by beating the top with a machinist file very carefully.
Swenson also developed the “shok buff” as it’s now called. First using leather then polymer. Never intending for them to be used for anything other than training. I am not a fan because they come apart. Their value is debatable.
Notable people who owned and used his pistols included Jeff Cooper, Audie Murphy, Elmer Kieth among other actors. His shop was in California so it was no surprised they sought him out. The list also includes secret service officers, SWAT officers, members of SEAL team 5 who presented him with a special award for appreciation.