A generation or two ago, many shooters could disassemble a 1911 pistol blindfolded. Of course, before 1985 the 1911 platform was Uncle Sam’s sidearm of choice.
The .45 ACP 1911 has been in service with the US military since its titular year of 1991, first during WWI in its original iteration, then after a few modifications as the M1911A1 during WWII through Korea and Vietnam and smaller engagements all the way up to the present, though it was replaced by the 9mm M9 as the military’s general issue sidearm in ’85.
Today’s 1911s are highly refined pistols that are purpose built for various applications: concealability for personal defense, target/action shooting, hunting, and LE/military tactical applications.
Colt was the original manufacturer, but throughout its history, M1911s and 1911 style pistols have been built by a menagerie of gun companies that 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 a given handgun 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 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 full-length recoil spring guide rod.
Strip it Down
Remove the magazine, pull the slide back to check that no cartridge is in the chamber and then that the slide is in its forward position with the hammer down. 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.
1. Rotate Barrel Bushing
If your pistol uses a GI-style recoil spring, push the slide back about ¼ inch and use your thumb to press in on the plug. While depressing the plug, rotate the barrel bushing clockwise about a ¼ turn. If your 1911 hasn’t been cleaned in a while, you may want to use a bushing wrench to rotate the barrel bushing, as it can pretty tight with fouling.
(Some people prefer to cock the hammer and engage the safety to keep the slide from moving during this part of the process. If that works better for you, go for it.)
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 slide as you move the bushing out of the way. If you lose control, the recoil spring can launch the recoil spring plug well across the room. This will take all the tension off the slide.
If your pistol uses a full length guide rod like the Springfield TRP Operator use a 5/32 hex wrench to remove the front portion of the guide rod.
If your pistol uses a full length guide rod 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.
Remove Slide Stop
This next step applies to all 1911s. Cock 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.
Separate Slide from Receiver
Pull the slide assembly forward and remove it from the frame/receiver.
Remove Bushing and Spring
For a GI/Government model and a TRP, remove the recoil spring and recoil spring guide rearward through the back of the slide.
Once the recoil spring is removed, you can rotate the barrel bushing in the other direction and remove it from the slide.
Tilt the barrel link forward and remove the barrel from the front of the slide.
For the TAC and other bull barrel guns, 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 assembly can now be pulled out rearward and then the barrel can be eased forward and out of the slide.
1911 Cleaning Made Easy
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.
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. 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.
Then, scrub the feed ramp and chamber area with a tooth brush.
I liberally spray CLP on the interior of the slide and let the solvent work to loosen and remove powder residue. Letting the solvent sit for a bit so it can do its think is extremely important. Don’t start scrubbing too soon, you’re just making more work for yourself.
I position the slide so the dissolving crud falls out of the slide and not into the slide. Use a nylon bristle brush, like an old tooth brush, to 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.
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, but if you use a conventional solvent, add this step. Done.
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.
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.
The magazine for a 1911 takes abuse, especially when it is ejected and falls to the deck or dirt. 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.
To disassemble the standard GI/Government style magazine you can load three rounds, snap caps, or empty brass casings. I generally do not like to mix the 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.
If you use live rounds or snap caps, remove them. 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 grip it and bend the feed lips. 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.
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 reciever/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.
This is where the barrel lugs mated up with the barrel lugs. A another drop along each rail and wipe it along the length of the slide.
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. In the case of the TRP and TAC series pistols, lightly coat 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.
The receiver/frame, on a general field strip, will have oil applied on the bottom of the slide stop. Apply a very thin line of oil down each slide rail.
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.
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.
Put It back Together
Not that we are cleaned and lubed, assemble in reverse order. Famous last words. Here are some advice on reassembly.
Place the slide upside down, slide in the barrel and move the barrel link forward. For a GI/Government model, place the barrel bushing over muzzle of barrel and into slide until it is flush with the face of the slide and turn the bushing clockwise as far as it will go. Next place the recoil guide into the recoil spring so the open end of the spring is against the collar of the guide and guide into the slide by pushing the end of the spring through the slide from the rear. Position the arched portion of the recoil spring guide over the outside surface of the barrel directly in front of the barrel link. Done.
For the TRP, insert the recoil rod in the rear of the slide. Place the front of rod through the front of the slide. Rotate the barrel bushing to align with the front of the rod and use the hex wrench to screw down the front of the recoil rod to the rear of the recoil rod. Done.
For the TAC and other bull barrel guns, insert the barrel into the slide. Insert the recoil guide and paperclip attached into the rear of the slide so the paperclip sticks out near the muzzle.
Push the rear of the recoil guide to release the paperclip and align the rear of the recoil guide against the barrel link. Done.
Next, cock the hammer. While looking through the slide stop hole in the side of the frame/receiver. Attach the frame/receiver to the rear of the slide by sliding it along the rail until you see the hole in the barrel link line up with the hole in the side of the frame/receiver. Depending on the manufacturer and the purpose of the pistol the frame to slide fit can be tight.
You may need a small punch to align the barrel link with the slide stop hole in the frame.
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 disassembly notch lines up with the rear bump on the slide stop and push the slide stop down into the frame/receiver.
Avoid the Idiot Scratch
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. You get extra idiot points if you miss the frame/receiver and scratch the slide! Please don’t be an idiot. The slide stop should slip right in place like your foot into your cowboy boot. At this point the TAC and bull barrel 1911s are fully assembled.
For GI/Government and the TRP, move the slide fully forward and rest the back of pistol on the bench top with the muzzle pointing upward. Insert the recoil spring plug onto the recoil spring, then press down on the recoil spring plug to compress the recoil spring into the slide until the plug is below the slide, then rotate the barrel bushing over the bushing.
Align the arched part of the bushing so that it straddles the recoil spring plug and locks in place. For the TRP drop the front of the recoil rod through the recoil plug and screw it down with the hex wrench. Done.
To reassemble magazine, drop the spring in the magazine body with the small loop end facing up.
Push it down on the spring until about two spring loops are showing and slide a punch in the holes of the magazine body to trap the spring. Slide the underside of the follower onto the top spring loop. Tilt the follower toward the front of the magazine, compress the spring and slide under the feed lips. Remove the punch and ensure the follower easily slides inside the magazine body. Done.
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.