A couple generations ago, many shooters could disassemble a 1911 pistol blindfolded. That was when Uncle Sam’s sidearm of choice was the M1911 platform.
The 1911 pistol began its service with the U.S. military in the year 1911, first as the M1911 during WWI, then after a few modifications, as the M1911A1 during WWII through Korea and Vietnam. Though it was officially replaced as the standard issue sidearm in 1985, a variant of the 1911 is still in service with some units today.
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 for the military, but over the years, many 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.
Those 1911 pistols made by Colt and those designed like them 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.
STEP 1: Make Sure The Pistol Is Unloaded
STEP 2-A: Remove the Barrel Bushing (GI-Style Pistols)
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.
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.
STEP 4: Slide Removal
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.
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.
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.
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
STEP 2: Clean the Slide
STEP 2: Clean the Frame/Receiver
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.
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.
AVOID THE IDIOT SCRATCH
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.