Nine Steps To A Reliable 1911

Wilson Combat “Classic Supergrade”

Des Moines, Iowa – – ( – We found this item in the WebBench archives while preparing our 1911 Catalog # 10.

It’s been a few years since we originally published it, but we found this interview so fascinating that we just had to share it with a new generation of readers, especially since Wilson Combat kindly made a Special Edition 1911 for us in memory of the Brownells has built its 75th anniversary. It will be available at our booth at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Indianapolis, May 25-27. April 2014, issued. Visitors can register for a raffle to WIN this weapon!

Wilson Combat “Classic Supergrade” is featured in our 1911 Catalog No. 10 as one of the Dream Guns. Click here for a parts list. :

The interview
The first thing that strikes you about Bill is his down-to-earth personality, which is reflected in his approach to building reliable self-defense pistols. Our goal in this interview was to get a personal look at Bill’s early years as a pistol smith, as opposed to his skills as a handgun competitor. The other thing we really wanted to know was what criteria he makes of a well-made handgun. We hope this interview brings Bill and his philosophy about defensive handguns, competition, and business practices a little closer, and that all of our readers can apply his ideas to their own gunsmithing projects.

We thank Bill for taking the time to share his thoughts.

Brownells: When did you start gunsmithing?
BW: I started tinkering with revolver action jobs back in 1972 and started working on my own 1911-style pistols in 1974. The first 1911 I worked on for a client was in 1977, and the client was Frank Triplett from Licking, Missouri.

What was the very first pistol or handgun you made?
A Series 70 Colt .45 with the following modifications: King Tappan High-Visibility fixed visor, trigger job with long aluminum trigger, polished feed ramp and throat, lowered ejection opening, polished and adjusted extractor, beveled magazine well, curved hammer spur, Swenson ambidextrous thumb safety and Pachmayr handles.

Bill Wilson in action several years ago.Bill Wilson in action several years ago.

Was your pistol smith training formal or informal?
I would say informal. My formal education is a watchmaker / jewelry maker and many of these skills, particularly watch parts and jewelry making, were easy to apply to weapons. I acquired my knowledge of guns through studying how they work, books and advice from other skilled gunsmiths such as Armand Swenson, Jim Clark Sr. and an excellent local gunsmith, Terrance Clark. I’ve always been a serious shooter and exposed to serious shooters all the time, so it was very easy for me to figure out what really worked and what didn’t. I started out as a pistol smith to build my own competition weapons.

Where was your first shop or gunsmith job?
My first store was the 10 by 15 foot back of my father’s jewelry store. I had hand tools, a Dremel, Craftsman drill with a turntable vise, a bench grinder, and a small Atlas lathe. It was pretty primitive in the early days!

Is the 1911 Auto your favorite weapon?
Yes, I would have to say that. No other pistol is as reliable and durable as a 1911. If I were limited to ONLY one gun, I would have one of our # 130D Defensive Pistols or our Service Grade equivalent of the Protector. Personally, however, I like the following handguns very much: Beretta 92F, Glock 19, S&W 640/629/19/3919, Browning High Power and Ruger Redhawk. No weapon will meet all needs.

What is your favorite modification to the 1911 car?
Is that a trick question? I wouldn’t say I have a “favorite” single modification. I certainly have favorite modifications, however – those I think should be made in any serious 1911 use.

Your goal is to make sure the pistol fires EVERY time you pull the trigger with the ammo you want to use. It does this through the following modifications: polish the feed ramp, properly adjust the barrel, properly adjust and adjust the extractor and use the correct recoil spring for your load. I also like a safe, crisp trigger with an aluminum trigger. I prefer 3-1 / 2 lb. Trigger weight, but a lot of people like a 4 lb. with our # 190 (# 965-190-045) print. In order to shoot well, you also need a highly visible sight and an extended thumb safety device. Personally, I prefer our # 6BN one-sided fuse (# 965-600-007), but others like an Ambi instead. I keep all of these NEEDS on every 1911, but I also like a beavertail grip security and beveled magazine well. If the gun doesn’t shoot my pet load within 2 inches of 25 yards, accuracy needs to be addressed as well.

A Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry Pistol.  Click here for a parts list.A Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry Pistol. Click here for a parts list.

Which visor system is your favorite for combat or carrying use?
I prefer our # 367T Wilson Combat Nite-Eyes solid tritium night visor with a light green front insert and a muted yellow back. I have these on all of my serious utility guns. However, shooters who primarily target target shooting will be impressed with the quality of our # 428 series fully CNC machined adjustable sights. They are hands down the BEST adjustable visors on the market.

Do you see IDPA as the future of competitive pistol shooting?
I don’t know if you can call it the “future” of competitive shooting, but I’m going to share these thoughts with you: We HAVE to get more people into the shooting sport, and so do the pistol and revolver departments of IDPA. (I would say that at least 7 in 10 IDPA members had never participated in organized competitive shooting before they joined.) The more specialized a sport becomes, the less attractive it becomes to the masses. People want to be better at using their self-defense weapons and IDPA is giving them a place to do so. I support all types of shooting (including those I personally don’t like) from tin can looting to the Olympic free pistol and everything in between.

How do you see the future of pistol smithing – “hard” gunsmithing or drop-in products?
I believe there will always be a demand for high quality, truly custom made products. However, drop-in parts are very popular with consumers. Quality work, such as that done by the master pistol smiths here at Wilson Combat, Richard Heinie, Larry Vickers, Jim Garthwaite and others, can never be mass produced. However, the quality of the work is only part of the puzzle. It is just as important how a pistol smith treats his customers. Always give the customer the most accurate delivery time possible, do what you tell them to, stand behind your work and pay your suppliers on time – all of these contribute to success.

Darla and I started what is now Wilson Combat in November 1977 (we married in October ’77) with practically just the following business principles: Treat the customer the way you want to be treated, do quality work at a fair, price make sure make sure the product is properly and fully tested before shipping, promote your products and services, work closely with your suppliers and consider them to be lifelong business partners, pay your bills on time, get out of debt by doing try to grow it too fast. In any case, it worked well for us.

Bill Wilson’s Nine Steps to a Reliable 1911 Pistol

For the convenience of our readers, we have included the Brownells stock numbers and hyperlinks to our website after the Wilson Combat part number that Bill refers to.

Brownells: Let’s say I’m a typical customer who wants a reliable 1911 car and I have some money to spend. What changes would you recommend to my serial pistol?
BW: Using Wilson Combat parts to build a good 1911 Series 80 Carry Gun in .45 ACP, I recommend the following items and modifications, in order of importance:

  • 1. Match grade extractor, # 101 (# 965-101-080) or # 415 (# 965-415-080) series, properly adjusted and set.
  • 2. Polish the feed ramp and barrel neck. Remember: There MUST be a 1/32 inch step between the top of the feed ramp and the bottom of the barrel neck.
  • 3. Choose the right closing spring for YOUR load. I recommend using a 17 pound or 18.5 pound nib in a full-size 1911 .45 if you’re shooting IDPA or IPSC charges, hardball, or JHP self-defense charges. I ALWAYS use a Shok Buff # 965-002-004 in my pistols. Buffs and feathers are cheap, but slides and frames aren’t.
  • 4. Trigger job with a sharp / safe pull of about 3-1 / 2 – 4 lbs. with an aluminum match trigger and a commander-style hammer, # 190 (# 965-190-045) and # 337 (# 965-337-002). If your pistol is a Colt with a MIM (Metal Injection Molded) sear, it is advisable to replace the sear with a # 314 Match Sear (# 965-314-000) as well.
  • 5. Install easily visible landmarks. I prefer our # 367 black on black or # 367T with tritium inserts.
  • 6. Install a Beavertail handle lock. I prefer our # 298B (# 965-298-001) on my pistols. Bevel the magazine slot and / or install an oversized magazine slot # 188B (# 965-170-113) or # 188S (# 965-170-213).
  • 7. Install a corrugated spring housing # 92B (# 965-092-001) or # 92S (# 965-092-101).
  • 8. Install a full length shaft and plug # 25G (# 965-025-001) or # 64G (# 965-064-045).
  • 9. Install a match grade barrel and bushing, # 33D (# 965-033-645).

Founded in 1939, Brownells is an Iowa-based family business that supplies more than 75,000 firearm parts, accessories, reloading components, gunsmith tools and ammunition to gunsmiths, gunsmiths and marksmen worldwide. In addition to their industry leading 100% Lifetime Warranty on EVERY product sold, their experienced Gun Techs are available to customers whenever they need it – free of charge. There are no minimum order quantities or fees. To place an order or for more information, call 800-741-0015 or visit

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