Just look at that masterpiece. Classic. Timeless and cool. Today we have the privilege of detailed photos of a Colt customized by Armand Swenson courtesy of our pal and master gunsmith Karl from www.KGBcustom.com A rare treat this is. I hope you enjoy this detailed picture heavy look at a masterpiece of a bygone era. If you enjoy this please thank Karl in the comments.
See that slide/frame fit? There is a lesson here for long time readers who know my policy on hard / tight fit M1911s.
From other Swenson 1911’s I’ve seen, that wee little pad of metal inside the ejection port on the left-of-center top was a barrel positioning pad that Swenson used before custom barrels were available with the lugs not fully cut. He put those there so that he could control the engagement of the barrel with the lugs in the slide without welding on the barrel’s matching lugs. It was very difficult to weld up the lugs in the slide and then work them back – you could weld up the lugs on the barrel, but this would weaken the steel (because the welding would remove the heat treating).
Here’s another Swenson 1911 without the “G” embellishment, but with the pad, and you can see the hole:
So Swenson came up with the idea to drill a wee hole through the slide where you see that pad (and the “G” detail) and then that pad inside the slide would have a stud on it to match the hole. He could then weld on that stud and minimize the heat he put into slide to weld that pad in place.
Today, with modern pulsed TIG welders, you can really control how much heat & penetration you put into a weld on a gun. I use a Miller Dynasty 200, and it’s the cat’s ass for welding on guns, because I can tightly control the heat I put into a part, and still get penetration. Back in the 70’s, these sorts of “inverter” welders did not exist. There were TIG welders, but they didn’t have electronic controlled pulse shaping the way we have today. Many gunsmiths would weld on guns back in those days with a acetylene/oxygen torch and a fine tip – but this would put a lot of heat into parts too. Gunsmiths in those days would make heat control blocks out of copper or aluminum to suck heat out of parts on either side of the heat-affected zone, so they wouldn’t loose too much heat treatment from a part.
OK, moving on from that topic, look at the top of the slide. That’s a fine “stippling” job – Swenson was known for these finishes that were coarser than bead blasting, but not checkering/etc. You can also see his on the pic I linked above.
Swenson originally used GI barrels, and sometimes he would fatten up the muzzle area, or weld up a bushing in order to get a tighter lock-up on the muzzle in the bushing. Today, you can buy barrels that need fitting front&rear, or tight bushings for fitting to a GI-spec barrel. The Bar-Sto barrels were nicer barrels all ’round. Today, you can buy barrels that have to be completely hand-fitted.
Slide/frame fits: There are ways to tighten this up without making it so goddamn tight that it’s unreliable. In reality, what matters the most for accuracy is getting the wiggle out of the bushing in the slide, and the wiggle out of the barrel in the bushing. After that, I’d say that the lock-up of the barrel at the rear matters a bit – but slide/frame fit is a minor contribution to accuracy of a 1911. Let’s think about this for a sec: What controls/holds the barrel? The slide. Where are the sights mounted? The slide.
So if you make the barrel lock up repeatably in the slide, and the sights are on the slide… the only contribution of the frame to this lock-up is how the barrel lugs ride on the takedown pin and how the swinging link fits. That’s it. Unless the slide is so loose on the frame that the barrel’s lockup at the rear isn’t repeatable when the slide goes into battery and shoves the barrel up into the slide/barrel lockup lugs, we’re good. The slide/frame fit isn’t that important side-to-side. So you can fit the slide to the frame a tad tighter on the vertical, leave clearance side-to-side, and still have an accurate pistol.