How difficult is it to build a 1911? - 1911Forum
Advertise Here
Forum   Reviews   Rules   Legal   Site Supporters & Donations   Advertise

Go Back   1911Forum > >


Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 01-30-2018, 04:51 AM
Mschooley53 Mschooley53 is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Jan 2018
Posts: 20
How difficult is it to build a 1911?

For those that have used Caspian frames and slides, how difficult would it be for someone to make a working firearm?

What is the investment in parts, tools, etc.?

I would love to build a gun from scratch, but is this something a non-gunsmith could accomplish?

Thank you!
Reply With Quote
Old 01-30-2018, 06:27 AM
Hopknockious Hopknockious is offline
Join Date: Jul 2016
Posts: 1,184
I think you want to share how skilled you are with your hands, especially with metal files and measurement tools. It can be done with have tools, and not a huge investment in specialty tools, but it is NOT the same as building are AR15. Please expand on your background.
Don't worry, I'm not as smart as I look.
"It takes two to make a peace but only one to make a war."
- Pat Frank
Reply With Quote
Old 01-30-2018, 07:24 AM
jjfitch jjfitch is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 6,211
Get the Jerry Kuhnhausen 1911 Shop Manual. Read it until it is as familiar as your route to "Grandma's"!

Report back in 24 months!

All the best,
John, Retired LEO, CA POST Certified Firearms Instructor, NRA Endmt., NRA Instructor, NRA RSO, Blue Lives Matter
Gun Control: Acquire target, align sights, press trigger, only after you have identified your target and what is beyond it and made the decision to shoot!

Last edited by jjfitch; 01-30-2018 at 07:27 AM.
Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links
Old 01-30-2018, 10:08 AM
D H Grace D H Grace is offline
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 126
I'll second what John and Hop said.

It also might help if you told us your end goal.

Do you want to make a gun that has all the features you want and looks just the way you want it to? That's certainly within the realm of hand tool building. That said, I'd advise you not to expect it to cost less than the least expensive commercial guns, or to be worth a fortune if you ever decide to sell it. The reward of building your own 1911 is rarely financial. What you'll be getting is the gun you build, and a gun you know you built when you take it to the range. That can be worth a lot to those of us who enjoy building 1911s.

Do you want to make a gun that will hold the X-ring at 50 yards using only hand tools? That's possible as well, although getting there involves a different level of puzzle solving. Again, building a gun that can hold its own with the best can feel amazingly rewarding.

And any way you choose to tackle it, building your first 1911 will be an exercise in puzzle solving--no matter how many tools you already have. I loved doing my first Caspian build for that reason alone. I learned a ton of stuff about the platform that I'd only had reading knowledge of before. And that, in turn, gave me a new respect for the builders on this forum who've truly mastered the art.

If you like figuring out and understanding mechanical puzzles, you'll be in for a treat.

Hope that helps,

Reply With Quote
Old 01-31-2018, 07:02 AM
DesmoAndrew DesmoAndrew is offline
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 457
^^ what these gents said ...

It's not hard, but it does take time. Starting with frame that has all the basic machining done (as opposed to 80%) makes it much easier. It's then more a matter of detail fitting than outright machining.

It does help to have a good basic set of mechanical skills and skill with files.

I find that my own builds are what I typically take to the range, I guess in part due to the gun having been made with the features I wanted. It's also fun to respond to people who ask what brand of 1911 I'm shooting with "mine." This often leads to some humorous dialog of "yes, I know it's your pistol, but who made it .... ?"
Reply With Quote
Old 01-31-2018, 08:42 AM
bdavis385 bdavis385 is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Seattle
Posts: 6,522
It is hard to do it right unless you have a certain skill set. You also need to understand how the system works (Kuhnhausen seems to be the go-to source). Since you mention Caspian I'll go with that in mind, and assume that you are going to want the same quality in the other parts to complete the project. You are looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $1300 for part, including too much of the tricks that one can have done to make a gun pretty. Add is a couple of hundred for basic tools. This does not include any machining if you go with a ramped barrel, want some sort of treatment to the front strap. If you have not done this before you probably ought to order and extra thumb safety, you will almost assuredly botch the first one. I have factored into the $1300 a beadblasing of stainless, if you want any other finish, add that figure in. As you can see you are now in the Les Baer, Dan Wesson range, with no guarantee that it will run reliably or be accurate. But you will have built a gun and you will know how the 1911 system works. You could go with cheaper parts and then you won't really know if the problem is you or the cheap parts.

I would also say that you might want to pick up something like Springfield Mil Spec, make sure it functions by shooting a few hundred round through it. Then do the work one piece at a time, after each re-test fire. If you get a failure, at least you now know where the problem is and what to look at.
Reply With Quote
Old 01-31-2018, 07:18 PM
jtq jtq is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: NW Florida
Age: 62
Posts: 11,460
This may be helpful

It may be a good idea to start at the "Lesson's Learned" section

It's not like snapping together a Glock or AR15
Reply With Quote
Old 01-31-2018, 10:21 PM
Operator45 Operator45 is offline
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 152
Absolutely agree with everyone above.

Read each suggestion carefully a couple times.

Starting with a serial numbered lower receiver and a matched slide and barrel will teach you TONS about practical gunsmithing and very likely re-inforce (or introduce) your respect for the sheer engineering genius that was John Moses Browning.

When Para first made their wide body aluminum frame available, I started a build immediately. And even switching parts off of a brand new Springfield MilSpec presented challenges. I learned that I will personally NEVER attempt to do the hammer/trigger/sear work ever again - while throating the barrel and other things were very straight forward. (I probably did 20+ 1911s to feed Speer Flying Ashtrays)

Files. Stones. A Dremel if you feel really confident, because there's no putting material back onto a frame or slide or barrel once you take it off.

What you intend to do with the finished product does bear some thought - but again, carefully consider the posts above. Sights, safeties, barrels, finish - all will impact your work.

I recommend Major George Nonte's book "Gunsmithing" be on your shelf. It's a bit dated, but it was one of the very first sources for caliber conversions and radical customizations of the 1911 - like what would become the production Detonics. There are lots of other superb books.

Now, to complicate, not simplify the discussion...

You can start with an 80% lower, and if you don't mind aluminum, the job of finishing out a 1911 lower in aluminum can be done fairly easily now with an investment in a Ghost Gunner II. Roughly $1700 plus shipping, plus an 80% aluminum lower - another $150? Bolt up the lower with the right jig bits, let the machine auto-sense the lower, and sit down. After a while the Ghost Gunner will hand you back a 100% ready lower. (And it can do AR15, AR10 and Glock as well now, since the control files are written).

I do not own one, and am only suggesting the above because the technology does exist to complete an 80% without hand tooling it. There are also jigs and fixtures available from Stealth and Matrix that would help do the same thing as manual and labor intensive.

Why does this complicate? Cutting slide rails, drilling holes that have to be in precise places or the trigger/hammer/sear geometry is not right are "advanced course work".

And if you finish out an 80%, an additional level of complexity, because once you make a firearm for yourself, it is yours. No selling it (unless you get a Class 07 SOT License, maybe?) Anyway, if you decide to do the 80% route, please become completely familiar with the ATF rules.

So, reduce complexity and cost. Decide on your basic goal - target, carry, etc. Then get a good quality Caspian lower and slide and barrel with the surety that they put all the holes in the right places, carefully collect knowledge and parts, and enjoy both the journey, and the destination!
Reply With Quote
Old 01-31-2018, 10:46 PM
4whlr 4whlr is offline
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 136
I have built 6. 4 in 9mm and 2 in .45acp. .45 is a whole lot easier to get it to function properly. I did my own Cerakote and time invested on each was around 40 to 60 hours depending on the frame/slide manufacturer and learning curve of previous builds. The cost ranged from around $1800 to one Caspian double stack that I sent in to Nighthawk to have some milling that I don't have the tools for and hard chrome. That one with 4 mbx mags and RMR sight set me back close to 4k.

I personally don't think it is worth it if you are only going to build 1. Take the 2k and the other $500 or so for tools and by an Ed Brown, or used Nighthawk or Wilson. They will be worth more one the resale market than you will ever get for the one you build.
Reply With Quote
Old 02-04-2018, 07:18 AM
Magnumite Magnumite is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Belcamp, Maryland, USA
Posts: 8,055
I have built several. When starting out there is something to be said for starting with a working GI configuration pistol. Choose a RIA (or Phillipino derivant), SA MilSpec, a Turkish make. Shoot it, determine what you want to improve. Do the modifications one at a time. Shoot is some more to see if it ‘works’ for you. It magically becomes YOUR pistol at half the cost. Additionally, if something doesn’t work with the modification you will know the fault will lay in modification performed, not in something else affecting the fitting performed.
Once you have that experience under your belt a time or two try a ground up build. Caspian and the other name makers build good components, any error at that point will typically be on you.
As mentioned in previous posts, staying with a good completed, serial numbered frame is the most feasable start should you go the ground up approach.
The modern production 1911 - high visibility sights, beavertail grip safety, aluminum trigger, good trigger pull, enhanced slide/ frame fit, accurized barrel/bushing fit. If itís not a Kimber, itís a copy.
Reply With Quote
Old 02-13-2018, 10:21 AM
dreadi dreadi is online now
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 140
Originally Posted by Mschooley53 View Post
For those that have used Caspian frames and slides, how difficult would it be for someone to make a working firearm?

What is the investment in parts, tools, etc.?

I would love to build a gun from scratch, but is this something a non-gunsmith could accomplish?

Thank you!
Yes, someone who has never made a 1911 can build a functioning firearm or 1911. I did. With no supervision or previous experience and a butt load of tools that you've never used before, it can be done. If you're going to buy a Caspian frame and slide, and you want parts of at least equal quality, you're looking at around $2,000 for a standard 1911 with a mix of Wilson Combat, Ed Brow, EGW, Harrison Custom, and Wolff, plus tools. It's easy to spend another $700-$1500 on tools specific for building and finishing a 1911 if you don't already have at least some of them.

A friend of mine recently bought a parts kit with a frame from E-Sarco and made a functioning 1911. It's worth your time to compare the costs.

If you want to go the route of making from an 80% frame, you'll be buying or borrowing even more specialized tools. For example, a slot cutter tool for the frame. What else can you use that for? Nothing. A barrel seat cutter tool. What else can you do with that? Nothing. In my experience, I ended up buying as much specialized tools and had more guess work and doubts going the 80% route. I think I even ruined five safety levers before I got it right, and it turned out that the stacking tolerances added up to be root cause of it. Ultimately, my sear was cut beyond spec. Don't let any of that discourage you. I learned a lot. Although, if I had to do it all over again, I'd start with parts and a 100% frame.
1911 Pistolsmithing
Firearm Refinishing
NEMO Arms Authorized Dealer
Reply With Quote
Old 03-20-2018, 07:01 PM
JDpinardi JDpinardi is offline
Junior Member
Join Date: Mar 2018
Posts: 7
If you have lots of time and lots of money,'s really difficult. I built one from scratch in 2004 I have a machine shop building hi-perf motors so what the hey, totally different, by the time I was done buying the special tools and the hours of hand fitting parts, (and yes Kuhnhausen manual was needed) I got a great gun, still my favorite 1911 to date, but if I charged $5 an hour for the labor this gun would have cost about $10000.
Herego the old statement "you can't beat a good man at his trade"
Just my 2 cents worth.
Happy shootin' JD
Reply With Quote
Old 03-20-2018, 08:09 PM
amz52 amz52 is online now
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: NE Ohio
Posts: 87
I have to pretty much agree with the previous comments. I've built only one. I started with a serial numbered frame and a slide already cut for my sights. Then I spent a while with the Brownell's catalog ordering all the small parts. One short cut was using a matched trigger set from C&S. I definitely agree; buy quality parts. I had tried inexpensive (read here cheap) ones earlier and they were more difficult to fit and didn't really blend well.

All told, I had about $1300 in parts, probably another couple of hundred in tools before I was done. And JD is right, the labor charge is NOT included.

Sure I could have bought a nice one for that, but it wouldn't have been "mine".
So many guns, so little cash.
Reply With Quote
Old 03-21-2018, 10:35 PM
Condition One Condition One is offline
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Ozark Missouri
Posts: 393
My first and only build was a Heinz 57. Essex frame, Colt commercial slide, Sig 1911 barrel and a mixture of Wilson, Brown and Cylinder & Slide parts. I had a gunsmith mill the slide for sights and refinish. It was a learning experience and I had luck with me. I won’t do it again because it ended up being more expensive than a nice new 1911 from Sig, Colt, Kimber, you name it.
"Said I never had much use for one, never said I didn't know how to use it."
Reply With Quote
Old 11-19-2018, 10:02 PM
coyotebuster coyotebuster is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Indiana
Posts: 591
My first "build" was to buy a stainless Caspian frame with a checkered front strap, then to fit a stainless S&W E series slide to the frame. I also fit a full set of fire control parts, a new thumb safety, and an upswept grip safety into the Caspian frame. To fit the slide I used a stoning jig from Everglade Ammo. Once I got the slide fit to the frame, the rest went together with only minor fitting. I used all quality parts and had no problems getting a nice functioning pistol.
My next build was an aluminum officers frame from Caspian. The slide / barrel assembly used was a carbon steel Colt Combat Commander in .38 Super. With this build I used fire control parts from Cylinder & Slide, a Wilson Combat Bulletproof thumb safety, a .250 radius grip safety from S&A, and a Wilson Combat rounded mainspring housing. I again used the Everglades stoning jig to fit the slide, then assembled the pistol, again with minimum fitting. Once I had the pistol up and running, I sent it to my gunsmith for him to send it to his anodizing shop, and to mill the frame for a polished steel feed ramp. I'm still waiting for the competed pistol to return from anodizing. My investment in this .38 Super CCO will be near $1500.00 when finished.
Reply With Quote
Old 03-02-2019, 03:55 PM
wv109323 wv109323 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: Lenore, WV
Posts: 951
Before I would spend the money on a first time custom build, I would go the route of an experience build.
Get a parts kit from Sarco and a frame. It will not be much when you finish but it will give you a lot of experience. You will mess up some parts but at least they will be cheap to replace.
It will be functional and give you a lot of experience before you spend the big bucks. Plus it should answer your question"How hard is it to build a 1911?"
Reply With Quote
Old 08-16-2019, 12:31 AM
hhsmiley hhsmiley is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: -
Posts: 696
If I can do it, anyone can.
Reply With Quote
Old 08-16-2019, 09:10 AM
bdavis385 bdavis385 is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Seattle
Posts: 6,522
There is a difference between building a gun and putting one together. Many people can put one together and it functions (at least for a good while). If you read the stuff some of the smiths write here on correcting guns that don't seem to function reliably, things like VIS, ramp angles, the fine point of tuning an extractor, the art of a trigger job that lasts the lifetime of the gun. Not many can do that sort of build without years of learning. With that said it is the best way to learn how a 1911 works and how to diagnose issues. DON"T buy a Sarco, get good parts it is much easier and they are much more likely to be in spec. The other option is to get a lower cost working gun (Mil Spec) and one part at a time make your changes. After each change make sure it works and then move on.
Reply With Quote
Old 08-16-2019, 09:18 AM
DarkLord DarkLord is offline
Join Date: Apr 2013
Location: NW Arkansas
Posts: 1,619
Originally Posted by Mschooley53 View Post
For those that have used Caspian frames and slides, how difficult would it be for someone to make a working firearm?

What is the investment in parts, tools, etc.?

I would love to build a gun from scratch, but is this something a non-gunsmith could accomplish?

Thank you!
Don't jump in the deep end, start easy and advance as your skills advance.

My recommendation would be to start with a "lego" 1911; something that doesn't require fitting of the frame and slide. I would also steer toward "drop in" parts.

Get all drop in stuff, build the pistol and then learn the in's & out's of fitting each part as you slowly improve the pistol you build. I would recommend starting with all stainless as you can build, and then make changes as you see fit without having to refinish the pistol.

Also, skip the Kunhausen book; it sucks. I can't recall learning ANYTHING from that book, and everyone talks about it like it's holy scripture. If you want a book, find something better (although I don't have any recommendation that is more up to date than Layne Simpson's or Bill Wilson's old books).

Watch Youtube video's. Watch a good 3-4 videos for each step and each part. That way you see it from different angles, and from different pistolsmiths...And you have a higher chance of weeding through the bad videos and finding the really good ones; and there are some very good ones out there.

ETA - If you start simple, you're much more likely to be successful, and that's gratifying. If you try to build a really high end custom pistol, there's a good chance you'll fail, and probably ruin some parts along the way. Even if you can afford that, still a bad and potentially demoralizing reasons to not try that first.

But DO the build, you won't regret it. Once you get the knack, working on 1911's is a LOT of fun.

Last edited by DarkLord; 08-16-2019 at 09:21 AM.
Reply With Quote
Old 08-17-2019, 09:53 AM
RickB's Avatar
RickB RickB is offline
1911 Aficionado
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Not Seattle, WA, USA
Posts: 21,877
I never had so much as a high school metal shop class, and I've done some building.
If there had been something seriously wrong with the parts, I may not have been able to determine what it was (breechface or feedramp at wrong angle, mislocated holes, etc.), but I was able to do all the necessary hand-fitting of quality parts without much trouble.
I did install parts on functional guns as a start, then graduated to buying the parts necessary to build a complete gun.
Highly recommend Hallock's .45 Handbook, if you can find it, and Kuhnhausen.
If you're not shooting you should be moving. If you're not moving you should be reloading. If you're not shooting, moving, or reloading, you should be taping or picking brass. - Z.C.
Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:56 PM.

NOTICE TO USERS OF THIS SITE: By continuing to use this site, you certify that you have read and agree to abide by the Legal Terms of Use. All information, data, text or other materials ("Content") posted to this site by any users are the sole responsibility of those users. 1911Forum does not guarantee the accuracy, integrity, or quality of such Content.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Search Engine Optimisation provided by DragonByte SEO (Lite) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2020 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2020 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
Copyright 2015, LLC. All Rights Reserved