1911 Disassembly and Deep Clean

This step-by-step guide will show you how to disassemble any 1911 you might come across, how to clean it, and a couple tricks for putting it all back together.

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few generations ago many shooters could disassemble a 1911 pistol blindfolded. That was when Uncle Sam’s sidearm of choice was the 1911 platform. The 1911 has been in service with the US military since 1911, first as the 1911 during WWI then after a few modifications as the 1911A1 during WWII through Korea and Vietnam and smaller engagements to the present. Today’s 1911s are highly refined pistols purpose built for various scenarios: concealability for personal defense, target/action shooting, hunting, and LE/military tactical applications. Colt was the original manufacturer but since the 1980s other manufacturers have built 1911 style pistols and put their own proprietary spin on the design to improve reliability and accuracy. Some of those design changes involve the recoil assembly. So, as much as they may look like a 1911 as spec’d by the U.S. government, they are not and require a different method of field stripping.

1911 disassembly
All 1911s may look similar but the field stripping technique can differ. Armscor  TAC  series  pistols (top) and the  Springfield  Armory  TRP (middle) are built with a recoil rod guide. The Colt Special Combat Government (bottom) uses a GI-style takedown.Robert A. Sadowski

Those 1911 pistols made by Colt use a recoil spring and recoil spring plug. Others like the Springfield Armory TRP and Armscor TAC series pistols use a recoil rod that requires a slightly different technique to field strip. What follows is basic field strip for 1911 pistols with GI-style recoil spring and a recoil rod. No tools are required for field stripping a GI-style 1911, but a paper clip or a hex wrench is required for those models with a recoil guide rod.

Here are step-by-step instructions to field strip your 1911 platform pistol. Note the differences between GI-style, full length guide rod and bull barrel models. You may want to remove the grips when doing a thorough cleaning this way you can avoid damaging grip material or a laser if so equipped.

1911 disassembly
Standard GI 1911  pistols like those made  by  Colt (middle)  use  a  recoil  spring  and  recoil  spring  plug.  Others  like  the  Springfield  Armory  TRP (bottom)  and  Armscor  TAC  series  pistols  use  a  recoil  rod  that  requires  a  slightly  different  technique  to  field  strip.Robert A. Sadowski

FIELD STRIP

STEP 1: Make Sure The Pistol Is Unloaded

1911 disassembly
Remove the magazine, pull the slide back to check that no cartridge is in the chamber and control the slide to its forward position. Never release the slide on a 1911 without a loaded magazine inserted. Damage can occur to the locking lugs on the barrel and in the inside of the slide.photo from all4shooters.com

STEP 2-A: Remove the Barrel Bushing (GI-Style Pistols)

1911 disassembly
If your pistol uses a GI-style recoil spring push the slide back about 1/2 inch and use your thumb to press in on the plug. While depressing the plug, rotate the barrel bushing clockwise. Make sure you control the plug since it is under spring pressure. If you have trouble keeping the slide from moving, you can engage the manual safety to keep it still.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
If your 1911 hasn’t been cleaned in a while you may want to use a bushing wrench to rotate the barrel bushing. A bushing wrench can make it easier on your fingers when removing and replacing the barrel bushing.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Note that the recoil spring is under tension and held back by the barrel bushing so control it and allow the plug and spring to extend out of the front of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 2-B: Remove Barrel Bushing (Non-GI Style 1911s)

If your pistol is equipped with a full length guide rod like older Springfield Armory TRP Operator models a 5/32 hex wrench is required to remove the front portion of the guide rod. If your pistol uses a full length guide rod and bull barrel like the Rock Island TAC and some other bull barrel 1911s it does not use a barrel bushing. You need to remove the slide assembly first.

1911 disassembly
For older Springfield Armory TRP Operator models or other 1911s with a similar guide rod, use a 5/32 hex wrench to unscrew the front portion of the guide rod.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
The front portion of the guide rod for older Springfield Armory TRP Operator models and other 1911s can then be removed.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 3: Slide Stop Removal

This next step applies to all types of 1911s. Cock back the hammer so you can easily pull the slide back and align the disassembly notch on the left side of the slide with the slide stop. Push the slide stop out from the right side of the frame/receiver and pull it out of the left side of the frame.

1911 disassembly
To remove the slide stop line up the half moon notch in the slide with the rear of the slide stop lever.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
While you align the slide stop and the notch in the slide, use your finger to push the slide stop out from the other side of the pistol.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 4: Slide Removal

1911 disassembly
Once the slide stop has been removed the slide can them be pulled off the front of the receiver/frame. Pull the slide assembly forward and remove it from the frame/receiver.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 5-A: Recoil Spring and Barrel Removal (GI-Style Pistols)

For a GI-style pistols, remove the recoil spring and recoil spring guide rearward through the back of the slide. The barrel bushing is then rotated counter clockwise so the barrel can be removed.

1911 disassembly
The recoil spring assembly can now be pulled out rearward and then the barrel can be eased for-ward and out of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Rotate the barrel bushing counterclockwise and remove it from the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Remove the barrel bushing from the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Tilt the barrel link forward and remove the barrel from the front of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 5-B: Recoil Spring and Barrel Removal (Full-Length Guide Rod/Bull Barrel Pistols)

For the Rock Island TAC and other bull barrel guns, the slide is removed before tension is release from the recoil spring. A tool is typical need to trap the recoil spring.

1911 disassembly
With the slide removed, push the recoil spring guide with your thumb until a small hole is seen out the front of the muzzle. Insert a paper clip with 5/16 inch of its end bent at a 90° angle into the hole. This traps the spring assembly and the recoil spring.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
The spring assembly can now be pulled out rearward and then the barrel can be eased forward and out of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Tilt the barrel link forward to allow the barrel to be removed from the front of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
At this point your 1911 is field stripped and ready for routine cleaning.Robert A. Sadowski

MAGAZINE DISASSEMBLY

The magazine for a 1911 takes abuse especially when it is ejected and free falls to the deck or ground. Watch the feed lips of your magazine for any deformity. If the 1911 has an Achilles heel it is the magazine. Many 1911 malfunctions are directly related to a faulty magazine.

1911 disassembly
To disassemble the standard GI-style magazine you can load three rounds, snap caps, or empty brass casings. I generally do not like to mix the field stripping/cleaning process with live ammo, so I use a screw driver or bushing wrench to push down on the follower until about an inch or more of the tool is inside the magazine body. I then insert a punch, nail, or paperclip into the second from the top hole in the magazine and make sure it goes all the way through.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Turn the magazine up side down and the follower will fall free. You may need to wiggle the follower a bit to remove it. Make sure you don’t gorilla it and bend the feed lips.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
With the follower removed, cover the top of the magazine with your hand and remove the punch holding the spring. Remember there is spring tension here. You don’t want to poke your eye out. You should be able to easily remove the spring. That’s it.Robert A. Sadowski

NOW GET CLEANING

I hate cleaning firearms. There I said it. Since I know the importance, but hate the drudgery I think of cleaning a 1911 as a meditative experience. You will need a cleaning kit that consists of a nylon brush to scrub the lead and copper out of the bore, a solvent, lube, and clean cloth patches.

STEP 1: Clean the Barrel

1911 disassembly
Use a cleaning rod to run a patch saturated in gun cleaning solvent and run the patch through the bore of the barrel several times or spray it with a CLP. While you attach a bristle brush to the rod the solvent will start to break up copper and lead residue. Run the bristle brush through the bore and in the chamber.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Switch to a dry, clean patch and run that through the bore and the chamber. If the patch gets dirty, change it so it picks up the crud.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Scrub the ramp and chamber area of the barrel with a tooth brush. Done.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 2: Clean the Slide

1911 disassembly
Liberally spray CLP on the interior of the slide and let the solvent work to loosen and remove powder residue. I position the slide so the dissolving club fall out of the slide and not into the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Use a nylon bristle brush, like an old tooth brush, and scrub the interior of the slide, along the rails, and chamber face. Canned air, like the type you use to clean your computer keyboard, helps evict any lingering solvent and dissolved gunk.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Use a clean cloth or patches to wipe the interior and exterior of the slide clean. You can use a patch or plastic dental style picks to clean out crevices. Since I use CLP (Cleaner Lubricant, Protection) I don’t need to wipe the parts down with an oiled cloth. Done.Robert A. Sadowski

STEP 2: Clean the Frame/Receiver

1911 disassembly
If you have exotic wood grips, a laser grip, or any grip material that could be damaged by solvent, remove them from the frame/receiver, then spray the frame/receiver with CLP.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Allow the CLP to drip out of the frame/receiver and not into it. Use your old tooth brush to scrub along the rails. Use canned air to blow excess solvent out of the pistol. A pick helps clean out stubborn debris. Use a clean cloth or patches to wipe the interior and exterior of the frame/receiver. Done.Robert A. Sadowski

LUBE IT UP

There is a reason gun oil comes in tiny bottle. It is because you very little to keep your pistol operating. Too much oil attracts dirt and makes the pistol slippery to hold. Apply gun oil carefully and judiciously. Naturally the outside of the slide and receiver/frame should be wiped with a lightly oiled soft cloth. Use a cloth that is soft and will absorb excess solution, lube, and gunk. For the slide assembly, add one drop of oil in front of the locking recesses of the slide.

1911 disassembly
Apply oil where the barrel lugs mate up with the barrel lugs.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Apply a few drops on the outside of the barrel making sure to coat the areas where the barrel contacts the bushing. A coating of oil on the outside muzzle end of the barrel is needed.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Apply a drop of oil along each rail and wipe it along the length of the receiver/frame.Robert A. Sadowski
1911 disassembly
Also apply a drop of oil along the inside rail of the slide.Robert A. Sadowski
Oiling the full length recoil rod
For pistols with a full length recoil rod like the TRP and TAC series pistols, apply a light coat of oil the outside of full length recoil rod. I also add a drop to the inside of barrel bushing before putting back in the muzzle of the slide so it will be easier to remove after extended shooting. I also add one drop in the disconnector hole. Since the grip panels are removed, place a drop on the top and bottom of the pad and to the left, right and back sides of the trigger bow. Typically I add a drop and work the trigger to disperse the oil. You do not want it wet with oil, just slick.Robert A. Sadowski

To clean the magazine, run a swab or patch saturated in CLP around the feed lips and inside and out side of the magazine body. Run the swab over the follower and on the spring. Cleaning in this order allows the solvent to work and saves you time. Then use a clean cloth, swab or patch and wipe out the magazine body inside and out. Do the same with the follower.

I lay the spring on the cloth and fold the cloth over the spring and gently work my fingers through the spring loops. Done. Make sure there is no excess lube on the magazine. Lube and magazines are not friends. Oil attracts dirt which can collect inside the magazine making the spring malfunction and follower not function.

Not that we are cleaned and lubed, assemble in reverse order. Famous last words. Here are some advice on reassembly.

1911 disassembly
Place the slide assembly upside down and make sure the barrel link is forward. Then slide the receiver/frame onto the slide.Robert A. Sadowski

AVOID THE IDIOT SCRATCH

The idiot scratch
The idiot scratch.photo from ar15.com

With the slide and receiver together the next step is to insert the slide stop. While looking through the slide stop hole in the left side of the frame/receiver you will see the hole in the barrel link. Line it up with the hole in the side of the frame/receiver. This is the part that separates the idiots from rest of us. Insert the slide stop through the hole on the left side of the frame/receiver until it is almost fully inserted.

Retract the slide rearward until the half moon disassembly notch in slide lines up with the rear bump on the slide stop and push the slide stop down into the frame/receiver.

The idiot scratch is typically caused by a user who gorillas the slide stop and does not hove the notch in the slide aligned with the bump on the slide stop. They gorilla the slide stop and scratch the frame/receiver. Look at some used 1911s and you will more than likely see an idiot scratch. The slide stop should slip right in place like your foot into your cowboy boot.

Once your 1911 is fully assembled, the last thing to do is function check the pistol. Insert the unloaded magazine and rack the slide. The slide should lock in place. Release the slide and control it moving forward. The hammer is cocked so press the trigger to drop the hammer. Check that the thumb safety works. Press the magazine release and the empty magazine should fall free. Done. And no left over parts.