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  #1  
Old 06-12-2011, 12:14 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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2011 Severns Custom "THUNDER IN THE WEST" shoot-out!

Introduction:

Welcome to the Severns Custom 2011 “Thunder In The West Shoot-Out! Before I get started, a few notes and house-keeping details. First, as with past shoot-outs, please understand that this article will include a lot of photo and video insertions, and typing. As such, due to photo limitations per post, I’ll have to upload several, consecutive posts. Between posts, I respectfully ask that you refrain from interjecting except at designated intervals, simply so as to keep this going as if it were one, continuous article. Everyone wants to read all the various members’ input, and there will definitely be time for that, as well… OK? Thanks!

A note or two about the guns used, and the evaluation, in general. As with past shoot-outs, this is a “for fun” evaluation of various 1911 pistols, for entertainment purposes only. In every case, it evaluates only one gun of each model, and it is very important to stress that PISTOLS OF THE SAME MAKE AND MODEL OFTEN VARY IN QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE FROM SAMPLE GUN TO SAMPLE GUN. Further, this evaluation is far, far from scientific, and it is admittedly limited in scope. On the other hand, it is a real world test, conducted at the gunsmith’s bench as well as outside, in real world conditions. I do this simply as a way to give back a little to the forum that has done so much for me over the years, to say “thank you”. Now, to potentially save you some time, if you're looking for me to declare a “winner”, please stop reading right now, and go back to reading your favorite gun rag. It ain't gonna happen! I'm not doing this to say so-and-so is “best”. Frankly, in my opinion, there is no such thing. I'm simply going to share with you an evaluation of the features and performance of the guns tested, and (hopefully) provide you some relevant information that will allow you to draw your own conclusions. Your ultimate conclusions matter, not mine.

Please consider that I have tried to do my best to remain unbiased throughout these evaluations. I recognize that, to those who don‘t know me, this may come across as a hollow-promise. However, those who know me well know that, although I moderate an internet forum for a specific brand of 1911, in reality I really don’t care about brand names or “Ford vs. Chevy” type debates. I find blind brand loyalty to be just that; blind (and perhaps a wee bit humorous...). I am an engineer and a gunsmith, and look at these pistols as machines. Some work better than others, and that is just the way it is. In this particular shoot-out, note that my shop sells ALL of the brands being evaluated here. Personally, I like each of the brands represented here, and I respect those who are manufacturing them. As such, were I to write this evaluation with an ulterior motive, I'd really be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

I view my mission here as to show you what features and performance you might expect to purchase with your hard-earned dollar, without regard to hype and sales pitches. I’m going to try to simply report facts and figures as they exhibited themselves during my evaluation, and will try not to associate those findings with colorful adjectives and sales claims like you’re bound to find in some magazine. You’re big boys and girls, so how ‘bout I just show you what I found, and y’all can take it from there. To help keep me on the straight and narrow, all shooting was witnessed by individuals who have no connection to any manufacturer, nor to this forum. I have nothing to gain by doing this, other than sharing some time with friends doing what we all love to do, and to also perhaps help the 1911forum membership make the decisions that are best for them.

Feel free to draw whatever conclusions you desire from this evaluation. It makes no difference whatsoever to me, as long as you enjoy what we have done. Further, understand that no one is giving me anything to do this testing or write-up. The guns are all owned either by myself, other forum members, and/or friends, and all ammo burned was either purchased or reloaded by yours truly. I have asked for neither consent nor compensation in ANY manner from any gun manufacturer for doing this simple evaluation.

Finally, some love and gratitude. To my wife, a big THANKS! for putting up with me through another shoot-out. For those that don’t know, finances dictate that I have to do these evaluations in addition to my normal (abnormal?) shop work. That means later nights and earlier mornings away from home than usual, and what seems like countless hours spent sorting through test targets, photos, and notes. Believe it or not, all this ‘fun’ can make a grouchy old pistolsmith a mite irritable and hard(er) to live with. Why she puts up with me, I’ll never understand. Love ya, sweetie!

And to my friends, clients, and fellow forum-ites who agreed to let me use your pistol for testing, my sincere thanks! I appreciate your willingness to participate and the trust you have put in me. You have my promise that your valued firearm has been treated with the utmost care, and also that it will be returned to you in a condition better than that in which it arrived!

OK, that’s all the ho-hum intro stuff…let’s get to it!


SEVERNS CUSTOM 2011 THUNDER IN THE WEST SHOOT-OUT!

This shoot-out has been in consideration for a long time, and follows a format different from past shoots, both with regard to the evaluations themselves, and also the presentation. Here, the objective is to test a “standard” versus an “enhanced” (or “high end”) model of a full-size (or “Government”) 1911, from each of three different manufacturers, each of whom enjoys a reputation for producing high quality, accurate guns. As such, the goal is not only to see how the different brands contrast, but also note some of the differences brought about by enhancing standard model 1911s. Is there any real difference between an upgraded gun and its standard cousin? Just what does that extra money buy you, anyway? Can you really tell a difference when shooting them? Interesting...? I hope so.

Note that, in past shoot-outs, I have included a few short videos, primarily of the Ransom Rest shooting, to allow folks to see the tests first-hand, as well as to prove that the shooting was actually conducted. These videos have generally been well-received, and I have received several requests to do videos of the bench evaluations of the pistols as well. Consider it done! In summary, you're going to see quite a few more videos this time than in the past. I hope this will meet your needs.

This shoot-out consists of several phases. Phase I consists of an introduction of the various competitors, along with a brief description of each. In Phase II, I will completely detail-strip each pistol down to its bare components. Each part of each gun will be evaluated from a 1911 pistolsmith‘s perspective, noting the “successes” and the “opportunities for improvement” in the build quality of each. In Phase III, we’ll tote each weapon from the shop to the remote, super-spy-secret Severns Custom outdoor range, and put them through their paces with regard to function, reliability, and accuracy in a mechanical “Ransom Rest”, with different ammunition types.

The majority of the guns tested are factory stock, with no modifications what-so-ever. Any modifications to any of the guns will be pointed out from the get-go. Most of the pistols were absolutely brand-new, fresh out of the factory wrapper. I opened ’em, I lubed ’em (without any disassembly), and I shot ’em. I also included a Severns Custom modified gun (at customer request), as I have done in the past, just to keep things interesting. My shoot...my rules!

Sound exciting? Hope so! Let’s get rolling…
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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-12-2011 at 06:12 PM.
  #2  
Old 06-12-2011, 06:11 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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PHASE I: Meet the competitors!

PHASE I – WHO SHOWED UP TO THE PARTY?

Meet the contestants for the shootout:



Clockwise, beginning from the two-o'clock position in the photo, they are:
. As-New Springfield Armory “Professional” model in Black T finish; 45acp
. NIB Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special “standard” model in blued finish; 45acp
. NIB Dan Wesson “Valor” model in black Duty Treat finish; 45acp
. NIB Springfield Armory 9109LP Loaded model in phosphate finish; 45acp
. NIB Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special “1.5” Guarantee” model in blued finish; 45acp
. As-New Dan Wesson “Valor” model in stainless finish, modified by Severns Custom; 45acp

Introducing each of the pistols, we have:



First we have the Springfield Armory “Professional” model, colloquially known as the “FBI gun”. This is the same gun issued to the FBI, built by the Springfield Custom Shop. Some highlights of the gun include a Nowlin match barrel, Black T finish, hand checkered frontstrap, quality parts throughout, and a 5.0-6.0# trigger pull. This pistol was purchased new by a fellow forum member, and was shipped to me expressly for this test. Total round count on the gun is approximately 200 rds. It is completely stock and unmodified. These guns have long been in high demand, and retail for $2595.



Next, we see the SA PRO's little brother, built “without steriods”; the Model 9109LP “Loaded” model. This is a Brizialian-made, carbon steel pistol, which crams a lot of value and features into one package. Like it's big bro', it features tritium night sights, and an ambi safety, and features beautiful wood grips, a full length guide rod, and a few extras such as polymer holster and dual mag carrier holster, all in a nicely padded case. This pistol was very recently purchased NIB by a client, and is absolutely untouched and unfired. Retail price on the Loaded is $981.



Next, we have a pair of seemingly identical twins, made in my home state of Iowa; the Les Baer Thunder Ranch Specials. In this shoot, we're going to evaluate the standard TRS, side by side with it's muscle-bound twin, the TRS with “1.5” Guarantee”.



Both guns are brand-spankin'-new in the oily baggie, inside in Baer's famous cardboard boxes. Being all about performance, Les believes in keeping all the performance “under the hood”, so to speak, and spends his money on the product, and not the packaging.



According to the manufacturer, the 1.5” gun is built with the capability to shoot 1.5” groups from a measured distance of not 25, but FIFTY yards! Yowzers! Very handsome guns, indeed. Retail price on the standard TRS is $1990, while the 1.5”G TRS is $2285. Wonder how they'll compare...?





Finally, we compare a pair of new Dan Wesson Valor pistols; one in stainless steel finish, and one in DW's high-tech black “Duty Treat” finish. For the uninitiated, the Valor is the flagship of the Dan Wesson fleet, and is built by good folks in upstate New York, to compare with high-end pistols costing much, much more.



The black Valor is NIB and unfired. I received it in one of my latest orders from DW, and noted when logging it into our inventory that its Serial Number happens to be the same as the birthdate of my daughter, Marina. Being a sentimental Dad, I decided to take the pistol into my personal collection. Sure hope it shoots... Anyhow, she's a real beauty, isn't she? Retail price for the Black Valor is $1977.



To keep with the intent of the shoot-out, we need a hi-zoot Valor, if that's possible. As fate would have it, I recently finished a project where-in I modified a silver Valor for a client who also happens to be a forum member. You may have seen my recent mini-video series detailing how I hard-fit barrels in the 1911. Well, this is that gun. Hearing about the shoot, the owner offered to have me test his modified Valor “if I wanted to”. If I wanted to..!?! Dude...is the sun not hot? Is testing 1911s not the coolest gig on the planet? Ah man...I hope that doggone gun runs in front of a crowd... The stock stainless Valor retails for $1594, and the barrel and accuracy modifications run approximately $500.

Well...that's the gang. Now, on to Phase II, where we show what they're each made of!
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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-16-2011 at 09:30 PM.
  #3  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:27 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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PHASE II - Strip Search!

PHASE II – STRIP SEARCH!

All right...time to pass through the BS filter, and on to the bench for evaluations of each pistol. Here, I try to provide evaluations in different phases, beginning with an overview of each gun, then looking at the pistol top end (slide and barrel assembly), and then progress to the lower receiver, or frame, assembly. For some pistols, the evaluation is done primarily by video, while others exhibit more of a combination of videos, photos and text. In compiling one of the pistol evals, which was done almost all by video, I note that one of the videos is well over 300 meg! Yeah, I know...big mistake... My apologies to those with...gulp...dial-up out there. Also, my apologies for the crappy lighting and off-center videotaping. I did what I could with what time, tools, and skills I had. Mediocrity at its best, to be sure, as I am learning here too... OK, on to the evaluations, in no particular order:

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY 9109LP “LOADED” MODEL

This all carbon steel pistol is assembled in Brazil by Imbel, who knows a thing or two about weapons. Overall, it is a quality handgun, especially considering the price. The pistol is aimed at the value-conscious 1911 buyer, who wants a ton of features without spending a ton of cash. In this respect, the pistol delivers.



In terms of aesthetics and feel, the pistol exhibits a nicely executed phosphate finish, resulting in an even, dark charcoal/black appearance, which contrasts beautifully with the “crossed cannons” emblazoned cocobolo grips. The pistol is packed with features, including front cocking serrations, ambidextrous thumb safety, beavertail grip safety, 3-hole aluminum trigger, beveled magazine well, and a full-length guide rod. The pistol also features real, Novak tritium night sights, unlike the “Novak clones” you see on so many pistols today. Classy. A vigorous shake of the gun reveals no rattling; more evidence that this is a well-assembled pistol. In the hand, the gun feels great. No snags from sharp edges, and nothing pinching the hand. The smooth frontstrap is notable, and to be expected from a gun sold at this price point.

Please refer to the following videos which contain the bulk of the weapon evaluation:






Highlighting the evaluation, I note the following:

. Pistol exhibits a respectable, forged steel slide and frame, which are well mated for a pistol of this price. The frame exhibits a decent machined feed ramp, as well.



. The pistol contains a mix of MIM (clustered in the above photo, immediately to the right of the dial indicator dial) and decent quality cast steel small parts. Not as many MIM small parts as one of the “big” manufacturers, however.

. Hammer and sear are well-fit, with good hammer hook engagement on the sear. Trigger pull is firm but smooth, and breaks right at 6.0 pounds.



. Ejector is an extended part, and the non-MIM (THANK YOU!!) extractor is very well tuned.



. Barrel is a 2-piece part, which is well-fit to the gun for a defensive pistol of this price-point. Barrel feet lower tips exhibit a bit of contact, which is undesirable.



. All-in-all, a good, solid pistol, which pulls no surprises. The fact that the pistol comes in a “kit”, including a polymer holster and dual mag carrier is a bonus for many newer shooters. Seems to be a very good value, to me. Wonder how well she'll shoot?
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  #4  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:27 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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SPRINGFIELD ARMORY “PROFESSIONAL” MODEL

Now, we progress from the least expensive pistol straight to the most expensive pistol tested. As with the Loaded model, the bench evaluation of the Pro was conducted principally via videotaping methods, supplemented with only a few photos.



Aesthetically, this handgun is all-business. Clearly intended to be used by those who appreciate a well-crafted, no-BS, Government length fighting gun. Other than the barrel bushing, she's basically all black, including the Black T coated barrel. In the hand, the first thing I feel is the 20lpi checkering on the frontstrap. Very well executed, and crisp yet not overly sharp. Very solid feel, with a look that just exudes quality. Like its little brother, the Pro exhibits real, well-fit Novak night sights, ambi safety, and a 3-hole trigger. Unlike the Loaded, the Pro features a magwell and fully-checkered, semi-flattened slide stop pin with corresponding, countersunk frame hole, conventional “GI” style guide rod/plug assembly, and conventional thickness, cocobolo grip panels. The pistol features subtle dehorning, with no real sharp edges are to be found. Very nice.

Video evaluations follow:









Additional evaluation highlights include the following:



. Slide, frame, barrel, and most small parts are good, hard carbon steel. Pistol is coated with “Black T” coating, which has been time-proven as a good quality coating.

. The coating on the barrel hood shows significant evidence of wear, with only a couple hundred rounds downrange. To be expected with any coating.

. Overall, pistol demonstrates excellent fit and finish of the slide and frame, barrel, and small parts. Level of fit and finish is commensurate with the purchase price and intended use of the weapon.

. Nowlin gunsmith-fit barrel is well-fit overall, with a very respectable lock-up for a defensive pistol. Barrel lower lugs are particularly well-fit.

. Interestingly, the pistol was found to exhibit two MIM parts...the mag catch and disconnector. The disco appears fresh out of the mold, exhibiting no evidence of smoothing or polishing. This is rather unexpected, considering the price of the gun. All remaining small parts are either cast carbon steel or made from tool steel barstock.







. Another opportunity for improvement lies in the fit of the firing pin stop. The stop on this pistol measured approximately 0.012” narrower in width than the firing pin stop channel in the slide, and allowed noticeable rotational movement, or “clocking” of the extractor. This was also a bit unexpected for a pistol of this stature.

. The hammer and sear are good parts, and the pistol exhibits a crisp trigger pull weight of 5.375 pounds, which is right in the middle of the manufacturer's advertised range of 5# - 6#. Very nice, clean defensive pistol trigger pull. Upon close inspection, the sear was found to be bearing rather lightly on one of the hammer hooks. This bearing pre-load should increase, however, as the pistol wears in.

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  #5  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:31 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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LES BEAR THUNDER RANCH SPECIAL; standard model

Now on to another of the “big boys” in the limited production market. As with the Springfield Pro, the Thunder Ranch Special (or TRS) was designed as a fighting/defensive pistol, and has that all-business look. Contrasted with the SA Pro, the TRS features a single-sided safety, and lacks a magwell (not at all deficiencies, in my opinion). The TRS features the Thunder Ranch® shield logo etched into the right hand side of the slide as well as the thin, cocobolo grips, which appear handsome alongside the deep blue-black blued finish on the gun. The pistol also sports hand-cut 30lpi checkering on the frontstrap, a checkered mainspring housing, finely spaced front cocking serrations, and conventional, GI guide rod system. Feel in the hand? VERY solid.



Following the Baer philosophy, the TRS is built using traditional, “old school” methods. It features tons of hand-fitting, with most every part being hand fit. Files, stones, and emery cloth, baby! Notable of the TRS, and Baers in general, the pistol features a hand-fit, “hard fit” match barrel, which quite literally wedges into battery, giving the pistol a very light lock-up, and sometimes making the slide a bit difficult to retract when new. This is rather a trademark of Baer pistols, and this particular pistol didn't let me down in this respect.

As with the previous two pistols, I evaluated the TRS primarily using videos, available here:










Some noteworthy written findings findings:

. All in all, a nicely constructed pistol. Most all parts were found to be well fit and properly clearanced. Barrel is a true, oversize “gunsmith fit” barrel of excellent quality, and definitely “hard fit” to both the slide and frame (accomplished in the latter instance via the slide stop).

. This particular gun is very very tight in terms of barrel lockup into battery. Unlocking the slide took considerable force to accomplish, when fresh out of the bag, as shown in the following video.



. The barrel bushing was very snugly fit into the slide, and initially required a bushing wrench to rotate the bushing. After a few rotations, this rotation loosened up very slightly, to become nice, smooth, and snug. Excellent.

. The interior flat plate surfaces of the thumb safety and slide stop didn't show a lot of attention to detail with regard to smoothing to eliminate scratching of the frame.

. The firing pin stop exhibits about 0.006” of clearance with the slide, allowing minor, but acceptable, clocking of the extractor. Not bad, but something that could perhaps be improved upon.

. The interior surfaces of the slide and frame show significant file marks, as evidence of the hand-work in building the gun. This is as one would expect, and certainly is not at all problematic; however, some gun owners have an aesthetic aversion to tool marks on/in an expensive weapon. To each his/her own, here.

. Fire control group parts are excellent quality steel. Trigger pull exhibited a bit of a crusty, or slightly gritty feel when fresh out of the bag. Initially, the average of 3 trigger pulls (my standard test method) yielded a 5.25 pound pull weight. Out of curiosity, I performed several additional trigger pulls, during which time the trigger pull quality smoothed up a little bit. Re-testing the trigger pull at this point yielded a consistent, 4.5# pull weight.
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  #6  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:33 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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LES BEAR THUNDER RANCH SPECIAL; 1.5” Guarantee model

For those in search of enhanced accuracy from a 1911, Les Baer offers many models with a “1.5” Guarantee” option. There is some speculation and varying opinion amongst gun folks on exactly what this guarantee is, and what it means to the buyer. Does it mean the gun is guaranteed to shoot these groups for the buyer? Does it mean that the pistol has the potential to possibly shoot a 1.5” grouping at 50 yards? Does it mean that the gun has already demonstrated this capability at the factory? How many shots in the group from 50 yards? It the Guarantee “worth it”? Well, you're not going to get definite answers here, sorry. I work for myself, and am not in a position to represent nor speak for Mr. Baer or his company. What I am going to do here is show you how the pistol arrives to the consumer, how this one example was fitted and assembled, and how this one example fared on one particular day of shooting with two particular types of ammunition. You take it from there and draw your own conclusions. Fair enough?



The 1.5” Guarantee pistols come with a clipped-out coupon of very clean cardboard, showing what appears to be a grouping of bullet holes. Accompanying the cardboard cutout is a serialized certificate stating that the pistol was “manufactured with 1.5” groups”. The coupon and certificate for this particular pistol are shown below:



Looking at the exterior of the pistol, it is every bit as handsome as the standard TRS, appearing absolutely identical in all respects. The gun itself bears no distinguishing markings or other characteristics indicating that it is an enhanced pistol.

In retracting the slide, the first thing I noticed about this particular pistol is that it was not as tight in lockup as the example of the standard TRS described above. As shown in the following video, while the standard model was “bank vault” tight, the 1.5”G TRS is best described as “nice and snug”, and its slide could easily be articulated by hand.



As with the previous guns, I took a video of the bench evaluation of the 1.5”G TRS, which may be viewed here:

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  #7  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:35 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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Baer 1.5" Guarantee TRS, Continued:

Notable additional findings are as follows:

. The pistol used the exact same parts and components as the standard grade TRS. No surprise here, of course. Overall, the fitting work appeared very similar to the standard gun, as well. Inside the gun, there are exhibited no easily identifiable, distinguishing characteristics (special parts, serializations, etc.) that the 1.5”G gun is somehow different from the other TRS.

. As with the standard TRS, the trigger pull on the 1.5”G was felt to have a lightly crusty feel out of the bag, which should break in nicely over time. Pull weight was measured at 4.375 pounds. Overall, a good quality trigger for a defensive gun. As with the conventional TRS, quality of the fire control group parts is excellent. Disconnector exhibits no evidence of fitting, and exhibits side loading (incomplete bearing) with the sear spring, as shown below:





. The barrel upper and lower lugs exhibit evidence of hand-fitting, and mate firmly to both the slide and the slide stop pin. A true, “hard fit” match barrel, in all respects. Contact of the barrel lower lugs on the slide stop pin was a bit light, but this should change as the barrel seats.



. The fit of the barrel bushing to both the slide and the barrel was found to be a bit interesting, in my experience, with both the inside diameter of the bushing and the ID of the slide in the mating areas found to exhibit a detectable taper of a few thousandths of an inch, rather than being parallel surfaces; i.e., the outer edges of both the bushing ID and slide ID were measurably greater in diameter than at positions deeper into those components. Ultimately however, good engagement or bearing of the barrel, bushing, and slide are achieved at the in-battery position, and reliability is not adversely affected.









. The aft portion of the barrel hood was found to be fitted to the slide with about 0.006-0.007” of additive clearance versus the slide hood cutout width, with daylight visible along the sides of the barrel hood sides. Note that this is not indicative of a problem, and that many notable pistolsmiths advocate such a fit (some very strongly so), especially for a defensive pistol. The fit here resembles the fit of the barrel hood on the SA Pro. Interestingly, the barrel hood fit on the 1.5”G appears a few thousandths looser than on the TRS standard, where no discernible “daylight” was evident on either side of the barrel hood.

. The nose of the sear on the 1.5”G was found to be fit with it's secondary face fit at a bit of an skew angle to parallel, such that the primary face varies noticeably in width, from side to side. This has the effect of creating a bit of variability in engagement depth of the sear with the hammer, from hammer hook to hammer hook. It should be noted however, that, while not ideal, this situation is definitely seen from time to time with gunsmith fit trigger jobs, and in this case the hammer/sear engagement was found to be safe and reliable in field testing.



. One thing that really stood out to me was the profiling of the slide stop inner lug's vertical face. This one was fit pretty strangely in my experience, and proved to be a downright bear (no pun intended) to insert when assembling the top end on the frame, due to it's sharp, irregular aft face. Note that the standard TRS had a slide stop lug which was much more conventionally profiled, and inserted easily into the pistol.



. Note that in the information presented in these last three bullets is not meant to be overly critical, but, rather, to demonstrate some of the variability inherent with building pistols using hand-fitting methods. Bottom line, if the gun is safe and works well, then it is safe and it works well, and there is more than one way to skin a cat.
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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-18-2011 at 12:50 PM.
  #8  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:37 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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DAN WESSON BLACK VALOR



Dan Wesson is likely the least well known or understood brand present in this shoot-out, and the Valor may well be the least well known pistol in this evaluation. For those unaware, DW is an small, American company based in upstate New York. The Dan Wesson revolver maker of old is long gone, and DW is now a modern 1911 maker (although they this year are re-releasing the Model 715 revo). Dan Wesson makes only a few thousand pistols annually, and in in this regard a “limited production” shop, just as with some of the other, perhaps better known manufacturers.

Dan Wesson distinguishes themselves from some other limited production shops in that they do not make all of their own parts. Rather, they employ several high quality, commercially available or aftermarket parts in the manufacture of their pistols. For example, most newer DW pistols use Ed Brown beavertail grip safeties and/or mainspring housings, Grieder or Ed Brown slide stops, EGW barrel bushings, and Wolff springs throughout, while the fire control group parts (hammer, sear, and disconnector), the thumb safety and mag release are Dan Wesson parts of very high quality, made from barstock. I have been known to wryly tell clients that “the worst quality part in a Dan Wesson is an Ed Brown part”, which is a statement having basis in fact. And...we all know that Ed Brown doesn't make junk parts! The following photos show some of the barstock parts, as well as the blending work done on a couple of them:





In direct contrast to the Baer philosophy of building guns, where-in oversize parts are painstakingly hand-fitted to one another, Dan Wesson has chosen an alternative philospohy, where-in many of the critical parts are precisely machined to very close tolerances, such that less hand-fitting is required for a precise, fit that is repeatable from pistol to pistol. I suppose you could call it an “old school” vs “high tech” approach, to some degree. Interesting in that both approaches yield very good results. The following shows a couple photos of the frame of the black Valor, where very clean, precise machining is evident:







The bench evaluation of the black Valor was completely videotaped, for your enjoyment, as follows:









Some notable written findings are as follows:

. The Valor uses a forged stainless slide and frame, which are precisely machined and hand-lapped to a final fit. Slide to frame fit is exceptional, with this particular pistol exhibiting the most precise fit of any of the pistols tested. Vertical and lateral free-play between the two is visually essentially non-existent.

. The pistol features no front cocking serrations, a conventional GI style guide rod assembly, and employs Heinie Straight-8 Ledge night sights and VZ grips made of G-10 material.

. Unlike the previously-evaluated pistols, which use protective systems consisting of conventional bluing or coatings, the black Valor employs a high-tech, ferritic nitrocarburizing metal treatment, which simultaneously hardens and blackens the stainless steel. This type of treatment is quite popular in the firearms industry, at present, and is currently in use by several different manufacturers.

. The Valor employs a “semi-drop in fit” stainless barrel, where-in the barrel hood and lower lugs exhibit evidence of hand fitting. No evidence of fitting is seen, however, in the barrel's upper, locking lug areas. The rear hood of the barrel was found to be very precisely fit, with a 0.001-0.002” clearance measured between the barrel hood and the slide.

. Barrel to barrel bushing fit is excellent, as is the fit between the EGW bushing and the inside of the slide. Clearances between these parts is measured at 0.001” - 0.002”.

. Trigger pull is the best of the factory pistols tested, with a very clean, crisp break, breaking consistently at 3.75 pounds. The quality of the hammer and sear contribute quite a bit to the quality of the trigger pull.
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Severns Custom 775-790-0681
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  #9  
Old 06-18-2011, 12:38 PM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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DAN WESSON STAINLESS VALOR, modified by SEVERNS CUSTOM

Rounding out our cast is a new DW Valor in natural stainless steel finish, that recently came into my shop for modification. The client had already performed some modifications to the pistol, including:
Aftermarket VZ grips
Ed Brown Max-well magwell
Ed Brown large button mag release
STI adjustable rear sight



I was contracted to do the following, with the directive being to make it a more accurate target pistol:
Fit and install a Bar-Sto MT oversize stainless steel match barrel
Fit and install an EGW oversize Angle-Bore barrel bushing in stainless
Machine an 11 degree target crown on the barrel, flush-fit with the end of the barrel bushing
Install a modular, SVI flat-faced trigger
Trigger job, with pull very crisp, and pull weight set to 2.75#.
Install a custom, serrated, black iron sight and ensure POA = POI.



The pistol itself started out as a new Valor, so not much to talk about there. Additionally, some time back, I threw together a few quickie-videos which outline the barrel fitting process as I choose to do it. Those videos are available here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0a4XeJn35g&sns=em

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU5TZqsu-TM&sns=em

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJdys0audUo&sns=em

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_8p4u810jU&sns=em

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuhrlFjj7WM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs2Q5dn1_ow&sns=em

All in all, the pistol turned out pretty nice, and she seems fairly attractive, to boot. Hopefully, the client will be happy with the result. The barrel ended up demonstrating good contact all around, with no unusual wear exhibited from the test firing. I think she'll prove to be pretty accurate.







I do want to quickly note that, with that client offered to have me add this pistol to the shoot-out (and yes, he's also a member here), I obliged simply as a means to show what an aftermarket barrel installation might do, so folks could have a better appreciation of the installation process as well as the results. Some of you will agree with my decision, while some of you will not. Considering the prospect of providing you more information as always better than less, I am certainly comfortable with my decision.


All-right, there you have the pistol evaluations. Hope you found them at least somewhat useful. Now, we'll progress to the range, and see how the pistols fare with regard to accuracy.
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  #10  
Old 06-19-2011, 12:57 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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To the Range...

PHASE III – LET 'EM EAT! ACCURACY TRIALS

Now we move to the field, to see how the pistols fare with regard to initial function right out of the box (perhaps I should say “bag”) and with regard to machine-held accuracy. As with previous shoot-outs, the pistols were each fired from a “Ransom Rest” mechanical vice, which tightly clutches the pistol, and re-positions it between shots in a precise, repeatable manner. The goal is to have the vice hold the gun so as to theoretically eliminate the movement introduced into the equation by a human shooter.

The testing format was followed identically for each pistol, as follows:
1.Remove pistol from bag/box and remove grips
2.Retract slide and lightly oil interior frame ways (corresponding to slide rails) and barrel muzzle with FP-10 lubricant
3.Install pistol evenly and very snug in Ransom Rest
4.Shoot one, 5-shot group to clean out the barrel and allow the pistol to take a set in the rest
5.Re-torque Ransom Rest clamp screws
6.Fire 3 consecutive groups, each using 5 rounds of Federal 230gr FMJ ammo, purchased from WalMart
7.Fire 3 consecutive groups, each using 5 rounds of handloaded ammunition; in this case a 200 grain H&G 68 mold pattern lead semi-wadcutter bullet atop 5.0 grains of Winchester 231 ball propellent and a Winchester primer. Ammo was loaded in a Dillon RL650 reloading press.

As in previous shoot-outs, all shooting was witnessed by at least one person who has no affiliation with Severns Custom nor the 1911Forum. In most cases, the pistols were actually fired by someone other than myself. All tests were video-taped, usually by yours truly. Between individual groups, the “target” (a plain 8.5 x 11 sheet of white paper) was retrieved from the target stand, and measured using dial calipers. As with the shooting, all measurements were gathered/witnessed by at least one third party. Each pistol was then photographed along with the smallest test target fired by that gun.

For these tests, I used “old trusty”, a Novak 8rd mag that seems to work in about any Gov't Model pistol. The mag worked flawlessy in each of these 6 pistols. This mag being very reliable in my experience, the goal in using it was to try to remove mag problems from the equation.



For example, the Baer mag has a base-plate which protrudes aft of the mag body, and won't easily insert in the gun when in the Ransom Rest. Using the Novak mag eliminates suvh worries.



Let me say up front that accuracy testing (and I do a lot of it) seems at the end of the day to be pretty much equal parts art, science, and downright mystery. Guns vary in their performance not only from pistol to pistol, and from ammo type to ammo type, but also from shooting session to shooting session. Pistol accuracy changes over time, as precision-fit barrels (and drop in barrels, for that matter) “settle in” or “take a set”, and then again as they wear. Not only barrel fit but barrel dimensions, rifling type, condition, and cleanliness play significant roles here.

Volumes have been written and documented on accuracy in the 1911, and we're not going to go into a treatise here. Rather, we're simply going to do some “for fun” evaluations of six pistols, showing how they happened to fare on one particular day. My advice at this point is that you don't take these evaluations too seriously or read too much into them. Rather, consider them for what they are, a snapshot of one point in time in the life of each gun.

With that said, following are accuracy testing videos for each pistol. For each, I have presented a “best” accuracy group, and a lesser accuracy group, demonstrating either a “typical” or worst case group. The intent here in the selection of videos presented is not to show any particular gun in a particular light, but, rather, to show some of the inherent variability exhibited between ammo types, “initial set” vs subsequent firings, etc. Enjoy.

Heading to the outdoor range..



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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-19-2011 at 02:04 AM.
  #11  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:21 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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RANSOM REST TESTING VIDEOS

Springfield Armory Loaded Model







Springfield Armory Professional







Les Baer standard Thunder Ranch Special





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  #12  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:22 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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Les Baer 1.5” Guarantee Thunder Ranch Special









Dan Wesson black Valor







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  #13  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:24 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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Severns Custom modified Dan Wesson Valor









OK, that's the testing. Now, how did they stack up? Let's go to Phase IV; the numbers...
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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-19-2011 at 01:29 AM.
  #14  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:38 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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PHASE IV – WHAT'S IN A NUMBER? FINAL RESULTS

Well, it's been an interesting test, and hopefully we've all learned a thing or two about the pistols thus far. Now that the evaluations and shooting are done and the pistols are all cleaned up, it's time to look at the hard data gathered from accuracy testing each 1911 in the Ransom Rest. Let's go...

ACCURACY TESTING RESULTS – 5 Shot Groups From 25 Yards

Tightest group fired
Rank Pistol Group Size Ammunition type
1.Severns Custom modified Dan Wesson Valor 0.554” 230gr Federal FMJ
2.Dan Wesson Black Valor 0.999” 230gr Federal FMJ
3.Baer 1.5” Guarantee Thunder Ranch Special 1.010” 200gr lead SWC
4.Springfield Armory Professional 1.096” 200gr lead SWC
5.Baer standard Thunder Ranch Special 1.524” 200gr lead SWC
6.Springfield 9109LP Loaded model 1.943” 200gr lead SWC

Photos of each pistol with their best target:













Average Group; 230gr Federal FMJ Ammunition
Rank Pistol Group Size
1.Severns Custom modified Dan Wesson Valor: 0.854”
2.Dan Wesson black Valor: 1.398”
3.Springfield Armory Professional: 1.676”
4.Baer 1.5” Guarantee Thunder Ranch Special: 1.766”
5.Baer standard Thunder Ranch Special: 1.983”
6.Springfield 9109LP Loaded: 4.504

Average group; 200 gr H&G 68 lead SWC Ammunition
Rank Pistol Group Size
1.Severns Custom modified Dan Wesson Valor: 1.209”
2.Springfield Armory Professional: 1.215”
3.Baer 1.5” Guarantee Thunder Ranch Special: 1.417”
4.Dan Wesson black Valor: 1.623”
5.Baer standard Thunder Ranch Special: 1.915”
6.Springfield 9109LP Loaded: 2.223”

Overall Average Of All Groups Fired With Both Ammo Types
Rank Pistol Group Size
1.Severns Custom modified Dan Wesson Valor 1.032”
2.Springfield Professional 1.446”
3.Dan Wesson black Valor 1.511”
4.Baer 1.5” Guarantee Thunder Ranch Special 1.592”
5.Baer standard Thunder Ranch Special 1.949”
6.Springfield 9109LP Loaded 3.364”
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Severns Custom 775-790-0681
www.severnscustom.com

Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-19-2011 at 01:50 AM.
  #15  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:40 AM
Dave Severns Dave Severns is offline
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PHASE V – WRAP IT UP ALREADY! CLOSING THOUGHTS

So...after sifting through the information presented, what conclusions can we draw? As I mentioned earlier, please keep in mind that what was presented here are the results of singular examples of a few pistol models, subjected to limited, non-scientific evaluation. As such, it is important not to draw sweeping generalizations from the information presented. Just because Pistol X performed very well, or Pistol Y didn't quite met your initial expectations, doesn't mean that a second example would perform the same. Again, think “limited” and “non-scientific”. Or, simpler yet, think “for fun”. With the above said, there are a few observations I'd like to share:

. In general, it appears that the more precisely built guns proved to be a bit more accurate than those built for more general use. The pistol built to be more of a target shooter fared better in terms of accuracy than the entry level, mass-production gun, with the defensive pistols faring somewhere in between.

. It was interesting to see how much better the Springfield Loaded model performed shooting lead semi-wadcutter target ammunition, as compared to the factory ball ammo. It REALLY woke the gun up, from mediocre to respectable performance. All things considered, this pistol is quite a good value, indeed.

. I was surprised to see two Metal Injected Molded parts inside the Springfield Professional model. Being a custom pistolsmith, I don't get to tear into this particular pistol often, as they don't tend to be candidates for custom modifications. At any rate, I guess I assumed that a $2500 pistol wouldn't have any MIM in it. I was also a bit surprised that the disconnector showed no evidence of fitting work. Even the MIM molding seam was left in place on the disco spade ( a very minor detail, but still...). Overall, however, even considering the MIM parts, the pistol proved to be extremely well fit, and a very high quality, very accurate pistol. Definitely worthy of their excellent reputation.

. The Dan Wesson black Valor was impressive; not only at the range, but also with regard to its overall construction. Extremely precise, tight construction, with nary a tool mark to be found. Lots of barstock parts. Very high quality pistol in all respects. I noted that this pistol tended to favor FMJ ammo, and proved that it could shoot 1” groups at 25 yards. I was a bit surprised by this, until one of my clients referred me back to prior shoot-out tests, where-in earlier model Valors also proved to shoot similar groups out of the Rest. I'll be darned. The Valor is one helluva gun.

. The Severns Custom modified Valor did just what it was built to do, that being shoot tight groups. I'd like to think it performed pretty well in all respects, acknowledging that it was built to be a target gun. This pistol is now back in the hands of its owner who reports shooting sub-1” groups, hand-held using a sand-bag, using good, lead semi-wadcutter ammunition. Good deal!

. The Baer TRS with 1.5” Guarantee proved to be a very good gun, but I'll admit I was hoping to see a bit better performance out of the Ransom Rest. Other 1.5”G guns have certainly been impressive in past tests, and I really thought this example was going to spit out some sub-1” groups, as well. The pistol is damned close at this point, so perhaps she just needs a wee bit more break-in time to let things settle in. Still, this gun did out-shoot the non-1.5”G TRS, perhaps demonstrating how a “snug and smooth” pistol can out-perform one that is “vault-tight”. That funky slide stop has got to go, though...

. The Baer standard TRS proved to be a well-fit weapon, using good parts, coupled with traditional craftsmanship in construction. The pistol shot right at 1.5” from 25 yards right out of the bag, which is impressive. When broken it, it should be able to shoot right at or below 3” from 50 yards, as advertised. This solid, handsome fighter is my kind of 1911. Great gun!

Well, that's all I've got. I hope this was as entertaining for you as it was fun for me! In the future, I think I'll have to find an alternative to the smart-phone video presentations, as they're just too much hassle to produce and present, and the quality just isn't there. Hopefully, though, they communicated the information adequately.

OK, let's open this up for some discussion. Thanks for “watching”!
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Last edited by Dave Severns; 06-19-2011 at 01:43 AM.
  #16  
Old 06-19-2011, 01:55 AM
Steelhead303 Steelhead303 is offline
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Thank you again for doing these tests. Definitely confirmed and validated my decision to go with a Valor. Heck of a value when stacked up against these other fine pistols. Can't wait to start shooting it!
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  #17  
Old 06-19-2011, 02:17 AM
Bullseye1911 Bullseye1911 is offline
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Another great shootout

I know it is very time consuming and for you to take that time away from the shop to do this every year, my hats off to ya

Thanks so much for your effort and time
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  #18  
Old 06-19-2011, 02:22 AM
DWCoyote DWCoyote is offline
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Wow Dave! Thanks for all your hours and efforts! I won't get into details but I found some of the results surprising! Very informative! I have to say I would be a happy man to own any of those beauties! Thanks again for the effort!
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  #19  
Old 06-19-2011, 02:42 AM
jack852 jack852 is offline
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What a great review. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I think your shootouts are a marvelous resource.
  #20  
Old 06-19-2011, 03:45 AM
mer mer is offline
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The Dan Wesson black Valor was impressive; not only at the range, but also with regard to its overall construction. Extremely precise, tight construction, with nary a tool mark to be found. Lots of barstock parts. Very high quality pistol in all respects. I noted that this pistol tended to favor FMJ ammo, and proved that it could shoot 1” groups at 25 yards. I was a bit surprised by this, until one of my clients referred me back to prior shoot-out tests, where-in earlier model Valors also proved to shoot similar groups out of the Rest. I'll be darned. The Valor is one helluva gun.

This implies consistency between those "singular examples"; good manufacturing processes in place.
Not saying noone else is doing the same, just why us "few that should be committed" think highly of DWs.
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  #21  
Old 06-19-2011, 05:17 AM
fshcop fshcop is offline
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"SC",

Thanks for the hard work, fine report, and the "giving" of your time to the community of us whom are interested in the shooting of these fine guns.

It is much appreciated by this old fart,


Fshcop
  #22  
Old 06-19-2011, 06:28 AM
rbert0005 rbert0005 is offline
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Well done Dave, thanks.

I think I won the pool. I predicted the Severns Valor would shoot the smallest groups.

Bob
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  #23  
Old 06-19-2011, 07:25 AM
MPrimo MPrimo is offline
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Great work Dave! Fantastic information. My Valors have proven to be incredibly accurate (and dependable) and this confirms my feelings on that model. I am also in the market for a Baer so now I have to really consider which one and why. Again ... THANK YOU!!!
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  #24  
Old 06-19-2011, 08:12 AM
Juicemt Juicemt is offline
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Thanks for the shoot-out Dave.
  #25  
Old 06-19-2011, 08:50 AM
chiselchst chiselchst is offline
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Dave, WOW! Just incredible...

Can't wait to go over it at length...

THANK YOU so much for your great effort!
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