It's all in the Details

July 14

This picture shows the two basic mil-spec Argentine Sistemas that I am starting out with. They are really in fantastic condition and I must admit that I feel a little twinge of guilt about cutting into them. But what the heck that's the whole reason I bought them in the first place so I'll get over it. They are in my opinion however some very fine shooters just as they are. I fired one of them for about 50 rounds as it came and no FTF's or other problems at all. Shoots about 2 3/4 inches at 25 (not bad for me).

WHY? - Yeah, Yeah I already know what some are thinking. If you're gonna build a pair of custom carry guns why choose the 1927 Sistemas? Well I'm glad you asked...I actually chose them on purpose. I am a C & R collector and as such I am able to purchase Curios and Relics in a way that an FFL dealer can buy modern guns. The 1927 Sistemas are C & R eligible for one thing. secondly...they are made on 100% Colt compatible machines and as such are 100% colt compatible down to the smallest parts. Thirdly they are fairly inexpensive. At 299.00 a piece I could afford to buy them as complete guns. I could hardly get a slide and frame combo for that amount of money anywhere else, so for the same money I get a C & R eligible complete gun (spare parts after the project). Fourth I am doing all the work myself...that means the milling operations also. I do not have the space to install a full sized Bridgeport Mill so I need to be able to work on these with a Mini-Mill. the older frames and slides on the 1927's are much softer (due to the fact that heat treating metals was in it's infancy). So the odds are that I may actually stand a chance of making it to the other side of the slide  with a dovetail cutter if I use the Sistemas.

 


 

July 19

As you can see in the picture I received the first shipment of custom parts for the Sistemas we will be modifying. In this order I got the following:

2 - Chip McCormick "Extreme" control grip safety's
2 - Chip McCormick "Easy Fit" 1911 Hammers
2 - Chip mcCormick "Easy Fit" sears
2 - Gun Parts silver "Adjustable" triggers

WHY? - Ok so why did I buy these parts instead of any of the vast number of other parts available. Well cost and supplier were the main reasons. for one thing, these are good solid parts from a respectable (although not exclusive) name brand company. Chip McCormick parts have always been a good solid performer for me in the past and they tend to be in the middle price range. The other reason is that I REALLY like the guys at CDNN investments. they are always friendly and fast with my orders and I just basically like the way they treat me. So it has been my policy to always buy from CDNN if the part is available through them. They have a very limited selection of 1911 parts but what they do have I get from them. I had originally wanted to go with a Videki trigger but they were out of stock when I called Brownell's. So I'll slap these in for now just to get the feel for it. Who knows I may end up sticking with em if they work well. Anyway that's kinda the point in this whole project.....find out what does and doesn't work so we can all learn from my mistakes.

 


July 19

Let the adventure begin ! Ok I received a few of the parts that I want to install today so I decided to jump in and get the ball rolling. the objective for today was to fit the new trigger, sear and hammer to each of the Sistemas. Since the only Milling work will be done on the slide it seems logical to go ahead and fit the new frame parts. the only thing I don't plan to install today is the new beavertail grip safety's. The safety's will require fitting and I don't have the fitting Jig in yet from Brownell's, so I plan to save that for another day.

So with a clearly defined plan in mind I set about the task at hand. Since my wife was not home I decided to use the opportunity to do the disassembly and fitting in the Kitchen instead of brave the heat of the garage. The only part I had to use the garage for was the polishing. (I can just see her face if she came home and caught me polishing metal on her counter....haha)

Here is a picture of what I started out with. Everything laid out neatly on the counter. I started by completely disassembling both guns. Here are a few pictures of the disassembly process.
Step one - shows the Sistema taken down to about the level of "Field Stripped". The slide and grips are removed and set aside. We will be focusing on the frame anyway, because that's where all the parts that we need to change are located.
Step two - with the gun field stripped I used a 3/4 inch PVC cap as a rest to punch out the mainspring housing pin. Works well because the pin falls into the PVC cap and doesn't get lost.
Step three - I remove the mainspring housing and continue to disable the gun down to it's smallest parts. Here are a couple more pictures for those of you interested in the full disassembly process. Picture. Picture Picture

Ok so the guns are both torn down and we can start inspecting the parts that we are gonna put in. I noticed that the Triggers were both Kinda...hmmm how do I say this. Rough looking. As you may recall I wanted to install Videki triggers but Brownell's was out of stock so I bought these to try em out. They look like fine triggers but not quite up to my personal taste. Hey what the heck, it's my project so I want it to be MY WAY. Here is a picture of how they looked right out of the package.

I decided to polish the side rails to a mirror finish and to check the way they slide in and out of the "trigger ways". I noticed that when I inserted the trigger and then turned the gun on end the trigger stayed in place (kinda a tight fit). I got out the old Dremmel tool and bits and started polishing. I used a  Black and Decker polishing set that I found for $14.95 at Walmart (hey I needed polishing bits and didn't have time to order them.) they worked Great too ! I started with the Brownish ones then moved to the blueish ones then finished with a felt wheel and some polishing compound paste. ALL of this came in the one little plasitic case I got from Walmart for $14.95 This is how it ended up. This picture doesn't do it justice.....this thing is like glass now.

I put the newly polished trigger into the trigger ways and turned the gun on end and whammo out drops the trigger...slick as grease baby. Note to self ** when polishing tiny pieces of metal with high speed bits do not hold them in your fingers. they get really HOT **

With the new triggers polished and in place I turned my attention to the hammer and sear. I do not have a stoning Jig for putting the correct angle on the sear and trigger so I thought what the heck, lets see what we get by just using the stock out of the package parts. the guy at CDNN says they are a set and as such they work well together. (the sear and the hammer). So I installed them just to see how it all works without stoning. I used a small punch-pin to align the sear and disconnector and to hold them in place while I put the pin back in. picture  Note to self ** All pins push out from the right and are inserted from the left **  With the pins all back in place I  then started re-assembling the frame. Here are some pictures. If you are real quick to notice things then see if you can find the error in my thinking for today. Here's a hint it's in the first picture that you notice a "Little snag" in my logic. picture , picture

What did I learn?

All back together so lets try this puppy out see how she pulls...... scccrreeeeeeeeech. we come to a complete halt. I failed to think about what the new rounded hammer spur would mean when combined with a mil spec grip safety. The two parts were NOT made to work together. the hammer hits the safety horn before it can engage the second notch on the sear. So the hammer will not cock all the way to the rear. ooops. Also the slide can not be reinstalled because the hammer will not lay flat enough to get out of the way of the slide coming back. I guess that's why you always see dished out grip safeties being used with commander style hammers DOH. Ok here's what I mean. This works fine but this is an oversight. No harm done....I'll just have to wait until the grip safety Jig comes in. Should be here in a few days.......until then..............

As a side note. I did install the new trigger in the second gun along with the new sear but I left the old Hammer, this gave me at least one of the two guns to use as a test bed to see what difference the new parts make BIG DIFFERENCE BABY !!! Keep in mind that all I did was to change out the trigger and sear with good quality after-market parts. the new setup gives the most awesome crisp light trigger pull I have seen. ** Note to self, order a trigger pull gauge to see how good it really is ** I'm guessing about 4 lbs. Same old mil-spec hammer but new sear....must be a good combo or something. Sure hope it's the same with the new hammer.


July 30

The point of No return. - I received the Beavertail Jig that I ordered a week ago and so today the objective is to fit our new grip safety to the Sistemas. This of course has me a bit worried because it will entail filing and cutting the frames.....* big-time pucker factor* I guess we have reached the point of no return. After I do this there is no turning back.....so onward and upward.

I started the day by unpacking my order of parts and tools from Brownell's. I also took the time to read the instructions that came with the Ed Brown beavertail fitting jig that I ordered. The instructions leave an awful lot to be desired but what the heck, you only live once. The way the jig fits is pretty simple. You strip the frame and insert the jig into the thumb safety hole on the frame. Here is a picture of how the jig fits. The directions say to install the jig and then "Scribe" around it with a sharp object. You are then supposed to remove the jig and cut down "close" to the scribed line. (they recommend a belt sander). Well as with most things, I didn't like that idea. It simply leaves too much room for me to screw something up. I figure if I'm sanding away with a belt sander, I can get myself into trouble a lot faster than if I hand file. The product description says that the jigs "buttons" are case hardened tool steel, so you need not worry about messing them up or going to deep (as long as they are installed). So I installed them and then decided to hand file all the way down to the buttons. This would (in theory) make it impossible for me to file off too much. Here is a picture of what I started with. All ready to start filing away. I used a 6 " Barrette #2 Swiss pattern file. ** NOTE TO SELF - It's a good idea to keep chalk on the file so the metal shavings don't build up and clog the teeth. **

As I stated, I wanted to work slowly and get a good hand fit, so I just kept on filing till I got all the way down to the buttons. It is important to keep the file level across BOTH tangs and file them together. At the end I started going in very soft half / length strokes. I wanted to be very careful not to dull the teeth of my new file by hitting the hardened buttons of the jig. Here is a picture of what it looked like when I stopped filing. I then took the jig off of the frame and inspected my handy work. I think it looks pretty good actually. I got a nice smooth radius as seen in this picture.

Ok so the initial filing is done and the radius looks pretty good by eyeballing it. Next I tried to install the grip safety. It would only mount if I tilted it to the far upper portion of the frame. Here, this picture will show you what I mean. I am going for an ultra smooth hand fit here so I decided to take Blindhogg's advise and use a small soft faced mallet to tap down on the safety. This causes a "shiny spot" to appear in the exact spot where the contact is. It doesn't take much at all. Be REAL careful when you are hand filing. Like I said earlier, there are no buttons to stop you now, so you can take off too much if you are not careful. the way I did it was to only file off the "shiny metal" just a couple of strokes until it's not shiny anymore. After a couple of repetitions of this I ended up with a perfect fit. I know I'm partial but I swear it's the best fit I've ever seen on any gun.

Now that the grip safety will install and move freely It's time to blend the metal to the frame. Some production guns don't bother with this, but then you are left with a round "bump" on the bottom of the frame and the grip safety looks like it's a separate piece (which of course it is). But I want a high quality hand fitted look. The grip safety should look like it's an extension of the same piece of metal as the frame. After filing here are a couple of pictures that show you what I mean. the first picture shows the "bump" I was referring to and the second picture shows the top where the two pieces meet. Not exactly a hand fit if you ask me.

To blend the frame and safety I decided to start with a sandpaper roll on my Dremmel tool (more on the Dremmel later). Here is a picture taken just before I take the plunge. I used a 120 grit sanding drum to do the initial heavy sanding, then switched to a 230 grit to clean up the scratch marks. What I am trying to do here is to blend the two pieces of metal together so that the lines of the frame match up with the lines of the safety. Here is a picture that explains what I'm talking about. Notice the line of sanding (where the blued metal and the shiny metal meet) This is now a continuous seamless line that runs from the tip of the grip safety to the bottom of the mag well opening.

I continued to fine tune the blending until I could not really tell where one piece ended and the other one began. Here are a few pictures that show the final blending.( Picture1, Picture2, Picture3 ) I used a course polishing stone from my Black and Decker polishing kit (mentioned earlier) to put the final touches on the job. I wanted to remove any scratch marks made by the sandpaper so that after bead blasting nothing would show through and I would end up with a nice "frosted" matte finish. The pictures don't do it justice, these two are absolutely gorgeous!!! Here is a picture of the two Sistemas after the blending process.

Next I need to insure that the grip safety engages when it is supposed to and blocks the trigger properly. Almost EVERY grip safety is cut slightly long so that it will need to be fitted. The manufacturer does this on purpose to account for different triggers. When I first installed the thumb safety (which acts as the pin to hold the grip safety in place.) and the new trigger, I noticed that the grip safety arm was indeed a little too long. That means that the arm would not swing in behind the trigger to stop it from coming back, instead it touched the top edge of the trigger shoe and stopped right there before it can come down all the way. The result is that I had NO grip safety. you can pull the trigger even without engaging the grip safety and the hammer would fall.....not a good idea. The arm on the grip safety has to be filed down just a tiny little bit so that it will swing down behind the trigger when the trigger is all the way forward. And it needs to be able to swing completely out of the way for the trigger to move back when you are gripping it. This picture shows the way they should work. I used a small fine cut Swiss needle file to file down the arm. It only took 3 light strokes to get the job done. Be real careful to only take off a tiny bit....it doesn't need much. Also be sure that the trigger is in the full forward position. If you look closely at the arm on the grip safety you will notice that there is a slight "angle cut" on the bottom edge of the arm. You need to try to maintain this angle (it helps it to slip over the sharp edge of the trigger shoe), so if you file off a little bit of the arms length, you should do the same to the angle cut. The last step is to reassemble the pistol to make sure it functions right. The spring that returns the trigger forward and the grip safety rearward is what you are checking. This makes sure that everything works fine under it's own power. (without you pushing anything).

 Both grip safety's are fitted and we are ready to move on. The next step is to strip off the old bluing and bead blast the frames and small parts to a nice frosted finish.

What did I learn?

Well the first thought that comes to mind is that this was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I had visions of deformed and destroyed frames and parts as I screwed up every aspect of this. But the truth is, it just wasn't that bad. I think the key lies in the fact that I went really slow and paid attention to what I was doing at all times. The first frame was done exclusively with the barrette file and took about 1 1/2 hours to do. I decided to use a different file, an 8 " American "bastard cut" file for the heavy stuff on the second gun and then switch to the barrette file once I got close to the buttons. that worked out real well and I was able to cut the time in half.

I also learned a lesson about Dremmel tools today....I have had a Dremmel multi-pro tool for about 2 years now. I always baby it and have never really "Used" it for anything more than a quick sanding job on a plastic model car my daughter was working on. So the thing is like new....well it DIED after only 10 minutes of blending. I couldn't believe it. What a piece of junk. I paid $98.00 for it 2 years ago. After the Dremmel died (it overheated) I was left with no way to finish my blending job (which was now only 10 minutes underway) so I ran to Walmart again to see what they had to offer. Boy am I glad I did too. I bought a GREAT new rotary tool by Black and Decker called the RTX...this thing is pure quality too baby. I used the livin crap out of it (mainly to see if I could kill it) and it did a fantastic job. so for $58.18 including tax I got a heavy duty work horse. Here is a picture of my new favorite tool.

I had a lot of fun doing the beavertails and they turned out better than I could have ever hoped for. I'll be doing more work on them next week, so.........until then.


August 1

Refinishing Prep work - Today I want to strip off all the bluing and beadblast the frames so they will be ready to parkerize when the fluid arrives. I decided in the beginning that I wanted to try a two-tone look similar to the Kimber CDP series of .45s. If you haven't seen them then I'll try to explain. The frames on the CDP's are aluminum and are then anodized black. I'll be using a different method since I have carbon steel frames instead of aluminum ones. The colors look great to me when you do this scheme. the Frames are black but all the parts like the thumb safety, grip safety, mainspring housing, slide release ect..are stainless steel. the slide is also stainless so it makes for a very attractive finish. Here is a picture of a CDP so you can see what the color scheme looks like.

I decided to use Blindhogg's method for stripping the old bluing off. He recommends that you dunk your parts in a bath of Muratic acid cut 50 / 50 with water for about 10 to 15 seconds. Here is a picture of what I am starting with. I poured the acid / water mixture into a little bucket that I have and then attached the parts to small pieces of black iron wire that I bought from Brownell's. I used the wire as a handle to dunk and remove the parts so that I wouldn't have to touch the acid. (not even with gloves).

Here is a picture of the first Sistema as I lowered it into the acid. This stuff dissolved the finish INSTANTLY baby. 10 seconds was plenty of time. The stuff simply disappears on contact, (no fooling). The Muratic acid trick will not work on parkerized finishes only on bluing......so if you are stripping a parkerized gun you will need to beadblast it.

Here is a picture of the ladies after their bath hahaha. I left the thumb safety and the beavertail on the frames when they went in the solution. that way I didn't need to rig a small basket type thingee for the smaller parts. It worked out just fine though, the acid gets in between the parts easily. After I took them out of the acid I rinsed them in a pail of fresh clean water and then used my airhose with a blowgun attachment to dry em off good.

Next I need to beadblast them to give them a nice matte finish. I'm using the same #100 - 170 grit beads that I bought from Wholesale tool when I got the blast cabinet. I am planning to use the Brownell's Moly / Teflon bake-on finish to redo the frames but I want to parkerize them first and then put the bake-on stuff over the parkerizing. The people at Brownell's say that this a very good way to do it. the benefits are. You get a SUPER tough finish that resists any and all corrosion (because of the bake-on finish) but you also don't have to worry about little chips and scrapes because of the parkerizing underneath. The parkerizing also allows for the entire frame to be covered. It is hard to spray into the internal areas (like around the trigger ways). So the parkerizing ensures that everything is covered. (even the stuff you can't see).

Ok, so why don't I just parkerize the things and be done with it? Well because the metal on these old Sistemas has been "spot hardened" in places. That was the standard back in the 40's we didn't have the same processes that are in place today. So what that means is that I would end up with spots here and there that are a slightly different color than the rest. So it's off to the blast cabinet.......

Sccrreeeeeeeeeeeech....... we come to a complete halt after 20 minutes of blasting.

What did I learn?

Well it seems that I have overestimated the abilities of my new PBH1000 bead blaster. It works great for doing small parts, but its going to take me a month of Sundays to get these two frames done. The poor little guy just doesn't have enough gusto to get a job this size done. When I originally bought the PBH1000 I called the people at Cyclone to ask if they thought it would be big enough for what I am doing and they said yes, that other gunsmiths had used them too. Well turns out that the "other gunsmiths" are mostly using it for doing fine detail work on small parts. (which it is perfectly suited for I might add). So after 20 minutes of mind-numbing slow progress I called Cyclone back and let them know that I was less than pleased. The man I spoke to apologized for the mix up and said he'd make it right. ** Note - At this point I'm thinking to myself that I now have a $159.00 extra expense....I figured they would make me buy a bigger one ** NO WAY baby....these chaps are top notch. The guy explained that it's not the blast cabinet or the air delivery system that's the problem. It's the "Pencil Tip" that limits it. He told me that they also sell a unit that has BOTH a pencil and a trigger gun style all in one unit and that this other unit would be exactly what I should have gotten. The cabinet on the "Dual tip" unit is slightly bigger as he explained....but the parts will interchange just fine. After I assured him that the size of the cabinet was adequate for my use, he said he would send me out the trigger gun style tip FOR FREE !! I thanked him profusely and hung up the phone feeling like I had really been taken care of well.

I would recommend to anyone out there that you should get the Dual unit that is offered. I really like the pencil tip and it's perfect for small stuff, but you will need the trigger style for bigger stuff (like blasting the whole frame). The upgraded cabinet is a little bigger and costs about $100.00 more than the one I got. They really went out of their way to take care of me.....you see I COULD have bought the dual unit, and it would have cost 100 bucks more, but in the end I got the same thing just because these folks are so outstanding with their customer support. I'll let you know more when the part gets here.....but I sure do like the way I was treated. I wish all companies were like that.

I'll finish the blasting as soon as the new trigger style gun upgrade gets here......but until then.


August 7

Refinishing Prep work Part 2 - Today I received the new nozzle for the beadblaster that the good folks at Cyclone had promised to send out. So since we now have the part let's try to finish the prep work and get the frames ready for refinishing.

Here is a picture of what they sent me. There were no instructions but I was able to figure it out anyway, the way this thing works is so simple it would hard to screw it up. I installed it in the cabinet via an external airhose being fed in through the back of the cabinet (through the breather hole). I had to block the hole around the hose so I just wadded up an old handtowel and stuffed it into the opening to fill it up. After installing the new trigger gun, airhose and pickup tube, the cabinet is quite full. It's like trying to fit 20lbs of sh!t into a 10lb bag, but it worked. Here is a picture to illustrate how tight the fit was.

It only took about 10 minutes with the new nozzle to completely blast each frame. The end result is somewhat spectacular too, they sure do clean up nice. I used the same #100- 170 grit beads that I've been using all along and they seem to be just about right. I got a very uniform matte finish that looks great and is very even. The new nozzle makes all the difference. Here is a picture of the completed frames (and small parts). They are now ready for a final degrease and then on to the re-finishing process. 

What did I learn?

As expected the new gun style blast nozzle worked fantastic. It is more powerful than the pencil type and I have a feeling that I will be using it almost exclusively. The pencil is still nice to have for small detailed blasting but the new nozzle is what I envision most gunsmiths using. I feel that I could completely mess up the parkerizing and it wouldn't really matter. I can always head back to the blast cabinet and start over.

If you are getting into gunsmithing I would like to restate my previous recommendation. Get the dual head unit that I talked about earlier. It really is the way to go. The dual head model is the "PBH2000 COMBINATION BLASTER" and it is offered by Cyclone on their web site for $295.00. I would like to upgrade mine but, in essence I already have the same thing except that mine has a smaller cabinet. The extra space would be nice, but it ain't worth buying a new one over. I'll be doing the refinishing as soon as the next order arrives from Brownell's. I am waiting on the special degreaser solution that is in that order............so until then.


August 8

Parkerizing - I decided to go ahead and do the Parkerizing on the two frames today. I don't want them to rust while I am waiting for the degreaser to arrive from Brownells and after-all the Parkerizing kit includes it's own degreaser so I figured I'd use the stuff that came with it.

The kit that I bought is for creating a black finish (Manganese) and the company advertises that their chemicals will create a mil-spec finish that is easy to use. Let's put those two statements to the test and find out. The kit includes a small one page instruction sheet that explains how to use everything. The instructions are super easy to understand and they basically say...degrease, beadblast, cook and spray. Pretty simple if you ask me (although I beadblastered THEN degreased). Off we go....

I started out with a stainless steel "Stock Pot" that I bought at Walmart this afternoon. I need a dedicated pot for this because :

1.) It is unsafe to prepare food in the same pot as chemicals and
2.)
My wife would "kick me 'til I was dead" if I used one of her "special" cooking pots.

 So to avoid both problems I decided to pay the $14.97 and get my own. The instructions also call for a cooking thermometer and a strainer so I picked up one of each while I was at Walmart. So with all my supplies and chemicals gathered neatly beside the stove I was ready to dive in. Here is a picture of what I started with.

I had already beadblasted the frames (yesterday) so all I needed to do was to degrease them (I know it seems redundant but I'm a perfectionist) to remove any finger prints, dust, or anything else. Nearly everyone I ask about blueing and parkerizing says the same thing. It's 90% preparation 10% doing. And the most important part is to be absolutely sure that you have no grease or oil on the metal. I degreased both frames and the small parts by bringing the degreasing solution to 180 degrees and then "cooking" the frames for about 10 minutes. This also pre-heats the metal and makes them flash-dry really fast. Here is a picture of the degreasing process.

After removing the frames from the degreaser I mixed the Parkerizing solution and brought it to a brisk boil. The directions say to keep it at a brisk boil during the entire process to keep the oxidizers in suspension (whatever that means). I like the fact that this kit doesn't require me to keep the solution at any special temperature and it doesn't appear to be very sensitive to changes (like some other formulas). So basically I just turned it up to high and left it there. Here is a picture of the frames as I lowered them in. The water began to fizz pretty hard the minute they were lowered in. It looked a little like an Alka-seltzer. I left them in for exactly 30 minutes before taking them out. This picture shows one as it is coming out of the solution. I noticed a lot of heavy oxidation on all the parts and was a bit concerned at first. They almost looked like a gray color instead of the deep black I was hoping for. However after I re-read the instructions it very clearly states that this is common and that it will wipe right off after the new finish hardens. Here is a better picture of what they look like with the oxidation on em.

While the frames are still hot from the boiling solution I ran out on the porch and let them finish drying. They completely air dried (aided by the hot metal) in about 2 minutes. The next step was to soak them down real good with the water displacing spray that came with the kit. The spray is actually a light oil of some sort and it turned the parts black on contact. It says to let them cure for 24 hours. The new finish is still soft for a few hours so I'm just going to hang them out of the way and let them fully cure before I mess with them any more........ so until then


**** CHECK BACK IN 24 HOURS FOR THE REST ****

Ok it was hard to do but I waited 24 hours without messing with them. I was beginning to get a little concerned about the "specs of stuff" that I saw on them and several times I thought about wiping them off. But after re-reading the instructions for the 30th time I realized that the specs were normal and I should probably just wait. I didn't want to take a chance of rubbing off the finish until it was hard enough (cured) to withstand it. This picture shows the "specs" that I am talking about. It gives the metal a sparkly look and it worried me at first. I was afraid that they would become embedded in the finish and then they wouldn't come off after drying. I shouldn't have worried, they wiped right off. Here is a picture of what they look like after I wiped them down with a clean rag and some gun oil. I was amazed at the amount of black that came off on the rag, but it's all just excess chemicals and oxidation. The finish looks great. A very even deep black. 

What did I learn?

The difference in metal hardness doesn't really apply to the frame because they don't have any spot hardened places, therefore it is fine to parkerize the frame. Of course you can do the slide too, but you'll have an area around the slide release notch that will be a different color because it's hardened in that area. If you look closely at the "before picture" you will notice that the area around the notch was discolored when I first got them. Blueing has the same problem with showing different colors for different metal hardness.

Parkerizing was much easier than I thought it would be. I figured I would probably have to re-strip them at least once to get the hang of it, but it worked out great the first time. I would have no trouble recommending the chemicals that I used, they worked great. It's almost a shame to put a finish on top of the Parkerizing, I could actually leave them just as they are. Maybe I'll have to rethink the bake-on finish idea.....hmmmm I'll let you know......but until then............


August 27

Brownell's Bake-On Finish - After much deliberation, I decided to stick to the original plan and go ahead and apply the Bake-on finish over the top of our Parkerizing job. I really like the way the Parkerizing turned out. But I want the finished guns to look like a CDP, which means that the finish should have a smooth "semi-gloss" look to them. Also I like the feel of the smoother finish when I'm holding it in my hands. If done correctly the Bake-on finish should give the frames a very professional look, and should hold up real well. I'm using the Brownell's Baking Lacquer as my finish.

Well the first thing I did was make a little home-made paint spray booth, so I don't get paint spray all over my beautiful new (freshly painted) workshop. I just used an old cardboard box laid down on it's side. This picture shows the booth that I made for today's endeavors. I also cut a hole in the side of the box and stuck the end of my shop-vac hose through it to help control the fumes and the spray. I used a rubber band and a coffee filter over the end of the vac hose, like this.

I am using a little cheap Testor airbrush to apply the paint. An airbrush is 100 times more controllable than a can of paint and at 14 bucks I figured what the heck. I don't want any runs, and I want to be able to control the paint very well, this allows me to put on several very fine thin coats instead of one heavy one. Here is a picture of the airbrush I bought at a local Hobby Shop for $14.00 It came with a little jar to hold the paint and a removable spay tip (for cleaning). I bought 2 cans of propellant so I would have very clean steady air for the process. (More about the canned air later).

I mixed up a small batch of Baking Laquer and thinner as the directions instructed. They call for a mixture of 4 to 1 (4 parts paint to 1 part thinner), but I left a little bit of room in the jar so I could add more thinner if the airbrush started to clog. As it turned out I'm glad I did. The airbrush needs a bit thinner mix in order to spray correctly so the final mixture was 3 to 1 instead of 4 to 1. Here are a few pictures that show the process. Picture 1, Picture 2. Look closely at the second picture and you will notice that I placed the air can into a pitcher of boiling water. I found out that the can gets VERY cold if you use the airbrush for more than a few seconds. Once the can gets cold it looses all it's air pressure and stops working. It annoyed the hell out of me so I went inside and filled a pitcher with boiling water and then placed the whole can in the water. This solved the problem completely and the rest of the painting process went forward without a hitch. I let the paint cure for an hour before I baked it. Here is a picture of the first Sistema ready to go into the oven.

I used a small cookie sheet that my wife had and I covered it with aluminum foil (so she wouldn't kill me for getting paint on it). I preheated the oven to 325 degrees and then baked the frame and the grip safety for 45 minutes. After that you just take the parts out of the oven and let them cool to room temperature. The whole process only took 2 hours from start to finish and 90% of that was just waiting.

I love the way they turned out. The finish is very smooth and has a tiny bit of a shine to it. It really does look a lot like the factory finish that you see on aluminum frame guns and some others that use this type of process instead of more traditional finishing. Here is a picture of what the first one looked like as it came out of the oven.

What did I learn?

Well for such a simple operation it doesn't seem like there would be much to learn from today's exploits....WRONG ! I discovered a bunch of things that I didn't know before I started. First off lets talk about the little cans of compressed air that I used for the first gun.

I already mentioned that the cans loose pressure real fast when they get cold, but what I didn't tell you as that they run out of pressure way too fast to be useful. I bought 2 of the biggest size cans they had so that I'd have more than enough canned air to do both pistols and both grip safeties......or so I thought. As it turned out I used up both cans on the first gun. At 5 bucks a pop, they start to add up fast. I probably would have needed 5 cans to do the whole job (including clean-up afterward). I didn't feel like spending 25 bucks for air, so I decided to make a few modifications to the basic canned air design.....hee hee you're gonna love this..........

The airbrush that I bought has a special fitting on the end of it's hose that only fits on these little cans of air (that's why it is only 14 bucks) If you have a professional airbrush (like a Pasche or some other name brand) then you can buy air fitting adapters that will allow you to use your compressor as the air source. You still need to clean, filter and regulate your air supply, but at least you don't have to buy all those little cans of air for 5 dollars each. I didn't want to buy a different airbrush (I really like this one a lot) so I took one of the empty cans and drilled a hole in the bottom of it. then I tapped it with my 9/16 pipe thread tap and fitted a quick disconnect standard air nipple in the hole and soldered it in place like this. Now I have an "unlimited" can of air. This picture shows the can with it's air supply attached. I can now use my main air system with my new airbrush....I works fantastic. I just dial down the pressure on the feed valve to about 35 psi and presto, no worries about cold cans or running out.

I also found out that it was a really good idea to parkerize the frames first and then apply the bake-on finish over that. It would be nearly impossible to get a fine smooth coverage of paint on the inside parts of the frame (like the disconnector hole and the inside of the plunger tube). The parkerizing assures that all metal surfaces are completely covered and protected against rust, while the spray on finish makes the outside look very professional. Also by having the parkerizing under the paint....if you scratch your finish it will not show through because the metal underneath is also black. (assuming you used black parkerizing)

I used a cookie sheet when I baked the first Sistema, but I decided to hang the second one from the rack using a piece of wire.(through the grip screw holes) This insures that the baked on finish doesn't have any marks on it from where it touches the cookie sheet. The second one turned out  perfect so I'll just have to re-do the first one. I want them to be as perfect as I can possibly make them, so the little 1 mm long mark on the first one has got to go. hahaha. Here is a close-up picture of the finish. It also shows the way the beavertail is blended with the frame.

Well that's all I can think of  for right now. I'll be practicing with the new milling machine for a few days before I do any milling of the slides (I want to get good with it using scrap metal before I start cutting on my babies). So hang in there we aint done yet.....much more to come. But until Then............


August 29

Fitting the Barrel Bushings - You may recall that I ordered some new barrel bushings in one of my earlier orders from Brownell's. Well today I decided to pull those guys out and try fitting them to my Sistemas.

I bought a couple of  "Match Drop In" bushings made by Maryland Gunworks (MGW). I like these very much because they are somewhat thicker than a mil-spec bushing. What I mean by thicker is that the face sticks out away from the front of the slide by about .003 more than a normal one. This allows the tip of the barrel to be flush with the bushing instead of poking out beyond it. I have another custom 1911 that has the same bushing (fitted by a professional before I started doing my own work) and I really liked it, so I bought the same ones for my Sistemas. They are also marketed as "Match" bushings which means that the ID is precision measured but the OD is left a bit oversized for a custom fit to slide.

As with any so called "Match Drop In" parts, you still need to do some minor fitting if you want everything to be just right. I inspected the new bushings very closely and found that the ID (inside diameter) was just about right, but that the OD (outside diameter) was a bit oversized. This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for. This means that I will need to re-size it slightly so that it will fit into the slide. But I will not need to do anything to the ID (the hole) in order to get the barrel to fit. The ID is just about perfect, you have about .002 of clearance between the barrel and the bushing. You need some clearance in order for the barrel to be able to tilt enough to lock and unlock from the slide lugs. But you want a super tight bushing to slide fit so that there is no movement from side to side or up and down. If you have a tight fit it improves accuracy. I like my bushings to be tight enough to where I can just "barely" get them out with my fingers. I have to rock it a little to get the bushing to turn. I normally use a bushing wrench, but I have to "theoretically" be able to disassemble by hand......that's just the way I like it, you can go tighter or looser based on your own preferences of course. The mil-spec bushings that came with the pistols are real loose. They are easy to turn by hand....and if you shake the slide with the bushing in place, you can hear it rattle......not good enough for me. So here we go.

This picture shows what I am starting with. I decided to try a little trick of my own for sanding the OD down so it will fit into the slide. I saw a mandrel listed in the Brownells catalog and it looks pretty simple to me. The mandrel is made for a lathe and I don't have one. But the idea was good so I decided to make my own fitting for doing basically the same thing, plus it'll save me $34.81. (You're gonna love this).

I found that a sanding drum holder for my Dremmel is just slightly undersized and will fit easily into the hole in the bushing (too loosely in fact) This is the part I'm talking about. I tore off a few thin strips of duct tape and wrapped the mandrel until I got a snug fit. By doing it this way, I ensure that if the bushing spins it will not harm the inside surface (as it turned out the thing never spun at all). This picture shows the home made mandrel with a bushing "Chucked Up" hahaha. 

I used the slowest setting on my RTX to spin the bushing. At first I tried using a small needle file. It worked ok but it was taking a long time to get anywhere. That's because a file is made for slow movement, even the slowest setting on my RTX was too fast to let the teeth dig in. Now don't get me wrong, it was working.....just really slow. Ok so I needed a better tool for cutting the bulk of the stuff off with. I looked around and realized that just about any Dremmel attachment was made for high speed cutting so I looked through my box and came up with a nice course stone. I used a needle file handle and chucked up my Dremmel stone so I could hold on to it more easily. This picture shows my home made stone cutter. The stone cutter worked perfectly. I used it until the bushing would start to slide in, but wouldn't quite fit (not even if I pushed on it). Now I switched over to the needle file to get the final fit. Here is a picture of the file I used. The file takes off tiny bits and I had to keep stopping and checking the fit. I got it to where I could get it in.....but it was really really tight. (Read the important tip at the end of this section !!!). I had some tooling lines that I wanted to smooth off anyway, so I wrapped a piece of fine grit emery cloth around the file and did the last little bit with it. This picture shows the sandpaper rig.

That did the trick, the sandpaper not only made everything glass smooth, but it also took it down the last tiny fraction so that I could get the bushing in and out by hand (but just barely). This picture shows the bushing installed in the slide for the first time. The last step is to polish the bushing face (I like that look). So I used my trusty Black and Decker polishing kit with a felt wheel and some polishing paste. Here this picture will show you the final polishing step.

What did I learn?

I found out that it's not that hard to fit the bushing as long as the ID is ok. I would have needed a reamer if the hole had not fit the barrel. I think I'll try that on my next project, but the fit of these bushings is every bit as good (if not better) than any of my other custom built high dollar 1911's. (all done by professional smiths).

**IMPORTANT TIP***  Be sure that once you start getting close. When the bushing as almost starting to fit into the slide. Install the barrel in the slide BEFORE you try to push the bushing in all the way. Sooner or later, you are going to get to the point where the bushing will fit into the slide, but it will be a little too tight. You will want to remove the bushing and do the final sandpaper polishing trick. If you forgot to put the barrel in the slide, you are gonna pay hell trying to get the bushing back out again.(how do I know this you ask?....look at the picture again hahaha). If you have the barrel installed it's easy.....just pull on the barrel and it will pull the bushing out with it. Once you get it all polished and fitted correctly you should be able to get the bushing in and out without the barrel in the slide.......but until you get to that point, heed my warning or you will be sorry.

 They look great and function fine. Need to take em to the range now and see how they shoot. Stick around I'll post the range report next week sometime........but until then...........


August 30

Lowering the ejector port - The time has finally come for me to try my hand at milling. This will be the first time I have cut into my Sistemas with my new mill, and I must admit I'm a little nervous about it. I've been practicing with the mill for almost a week now.....and my cuts are looking pretty good. The main thing (and the reason I decided to go ahead and try it today) is that I  have figured out how to do precise depth/length cuts. I just had to learn how to set up my dial indicators correctly and how to get everything adjusted. (tram, level, feed rate, tool speed etc..) I've never used a mill before so that's why it took me so long. I've been practicing on a piece of 1" "keystock" which is very soft metal, so it'll be interesting to see how much different it feels when I'm cutting a real slide (much harder metal). So without further ado, let's get crackin...........

Here is a picture of what I am starting out with. I am using a 3/8" carbide endmill to do the actual cutting. The radius of a 3/8" will give me the correct "rounded" corners at the bottom of the ejection port. Look closely at one of your guns and you will see what I am talking about. The shape of the ejection port is not perfectly square. I also get to use my new Yavapai slide milling jig (the aluminum thing in the picture). Next I measured the distance from the bottom of the slide to the edge of the port opening. This picture shows you want I mean. I do this to find out how much I need to lower it. According to my manual, a lowered port should be between .425 and .475 from the slide bottom to the bottom edge of the port opening. I measured a couple of my other custom .45s and found out that this is true. The one that feeds the best for me is a Colt 1991 that I have, so I measured it and decided to make the Sistemas the same. (.460).

All the measurements are done and I'm ready to start setting up the slide in the mill. I used a couple strips of 3x5 card to keep the Yavapai slide jig from scratching the underside of my slide. This picture illustrates. Here is another picture that shows the slide mounted on the jig and ready to clamp in my mill vise. I put the jig and slide into the vise so that the ejection port is facing up, and the opening is towards me (the front). This way I can have a nice clear view of the cutting process. Next I leveled the slide so the cut would be perfectly straight (**Note** this only works if your mill table is also level with the horizon....check out the "workshop" section diary entry number 8 for more details about this). I need a way of knowing how far to go when I'm moving from side to side. It is important to NOT cut too far to either side because on one end you could cut into the breech face, and on the other end you could cut into the area where the barrel chamber is supported. I looked at the little needle on my mill tables X axis and it has a small ruler with a triangle shaped needle. By placing a couple small pieces of black duct tape at the same angle as the needle, it gives me a real good mark. (easy to see). I only need to be close, not "Dead on" because the final step is to run the cutter along the left and right edge to straighten it all up. (you'll see later). Here is a picture of the tape marks I used as guides for the side-to-side measurement.(in the picture I have the needle lined up with the right limit mark)

This is what it all looked like after I set up for the cut. If you look closely at the picture you will notice that I have a dial indicator sitting on the left side of the table. the dial indicator has a super sensitive needle that will measure .001 of an inch. I set it up so that the needle is just touching the tip of the mill table. As the table moves forward (towards me) it will cause the needle to register. Remember that the table moving forward means that the cutter is digging deeper into the ejector port opening. So I just move the table until the dial reads .165 and I have my new depth. You can also see the little pieces of tape on the front ruler (right beside the hand wheel I'll be turning). I can just go back and forth, stopping and reversing direction each time I touch the tape. This sets my left and right limits. ** IMPORTANT TIP ** - Remember that you only want to take off a tiny bit with each pass. I only cut in .010 for each pass from left to right. By only going a little at a time, it allows me to cut in either direction. (left to right AND right to left) This allows me to go from one side to the other....then deeper.... then back to the other side....then deeper. well you get the idea. If you try to cut a lot of metal off with each pass, then you run into a problem with the mill cutter doing what's called a "climb" cut. This illustration shows how a cutter is designed to work in a "CONVENTIONAL" cut. You feed the workpiece INTO the cutting blades. Now if you feed the workpiece AWAY from the teeth it's called a "CLIMB" cut. The climb cuts are harder on the machine and on the workpiece and they exert a greater force on everything. (but climb cuts create a really smooth finish, so end your cutting on a left-to-right cut if you can). ** SIDE NOTE** I found out about all this stuff by accident. I didn't know that it made any difference which way you fed the darn thing, until all of the sudden my machine started to vibrate and chatter. If I just went the other direction though it worked fine.......hmmmm interesting. So I did a web search and found out about Climb -vs- Conventional.....either one is ok to do, but you can't be making deep climb cuts on a small milling machine. (sorry if I'm boring you)......back to the real story.......

Ok, where were we....oh yes, we were cutting our ejector port. Here is a picture of the cutting process, I kept spraying cutting fluid on the slide and cutter to keep them cool during this process. And this picture shows what it looked like after I cleaned some of the metal shavings off. Here it is after a good clean up.(but before polishing) Next I used a small round course grit stone and my RTX to smooth everything up and remove the tooling marks. Then, a final polishing job using my trusty polishing stones and viola... Look closely at how straight and even the "vertical" edges are at the front and the back of the opening. I made one final in-out cut down the edge of each side before I took it out of the vise. Mine looks better than some factory jobs I've seen. Some of them have a slightly forward leaning notch to the opening. (which Jerry K. says NOT to do.....)

What did I learn?

I found out that the Grizzly Mini-Mill will cut the harder metals with no problem at all. It didn't complain one single bit about anything I threw at it. Of course the real test is going to be when it comes time to cut a rear sight dovetail.....that's the deciding factor. But so far I have been nothing but pleased with this little mill. At $ 475.00 plus shipping, it is certainly affordable. And the size is perfect for a "Garage Workshop".

The lowering of the ejection port is what I would consider one of the easiest milling operations I can think of. (that's why I did it first). The precision of the cut is what I would call "Low" because you have some latitude with your measurements. (between .425 and .475) and because the side-to-side cuts are dressed up at the end of the process anyway. So being ridiculously precise isn't a problem. I was a lot more precise with mine than others might be, but hey.....they're mine and I want them perfect.

Stick around....there's more to come. ** Note** there is no "Until then" photo this time, because I still have em torn down for the next step. Flaring the ejection port.


August 31

Flaring the ejector port (aka: Roll over notch) - After yesterdays adventures, I have more confidence and so I decided to attack the most challenging part so far. I want to create a roll over notch for the ejected cartridge. Most of my other custom 45's have a notch, and so I examined them closely before I started. I will be using a special set of grinding stones that I bought from Brownells a few weeks ago. These stones are listed in the catalog for just this purpose.......So, on with the show..........

I started out by reading the instructions that came with the grinding stones (big mistake, but more about that later). The instructions show the 2 different shape of stones, and they say to use the B51 (the long thin one) to start the cut. The instructions go on to say that the entire job can be done using only the B51 stone, but that they recommend using the B42 stone to bring the port to final length and depth. This picture shows the two stones I am using. I tried doing it that way on the first Sistema, and almost ended up ruining the whole slide.....BIG MISTAKE !! I don't know if the instructions are wrong or what.....but after inspecting the 2 stones and looking very carefully at the instruction sheet, I am now convinced that the written instructions are right. But that the labels are totally backwards. The instruction sheet labels the two stones like I did in the picture above. However.....if you reverse it and use the short fat one first, and then use the long thin one to bring it to length....everything works fine. Bad, Bad, Bad instruction sheet. The other thing that they say to do in the instructions is to draw the outline of how you want the port to look after its done. The idea is that you can use the pencil marks to shape your notch.....once again I have to say Bad, Bad, Bad instructions. It simply doesn't work like that.

 

Here is an example that may help to explain what I'm talking about. Imagine that you have a 2 x 4 and you want to cut it with a hand saw (you remember hand saws don't you?) The trick to getting a good cut is to "Start" the cut correctly.(the very first couple of teeth will start it) Once you get the first downward stroke of the saw...you are pretty much committed for the rest of the cut. If you start the cut at an angle, you will pay hell trying to get it straight again, because the saw blade naturally wants to follow the line of the initial cut right? If you messed up, you need to start the cut again. Ok so what does this have to do with anything?.....

The same thing applies to your initial cut with the stone. I did it all wrong on the first gun, but figured it out on the second one. This picture shows the "initial cut" on the second gun (the one that turned out right).Look closely at the picture and you will see a shiny spot where I just barely started to grind. This cut takes on the shape of the bottom of the stone and makes it hard to control the stone in any angle other than the one I just set. Also notice the line I drew on the picture. It shows the correct angle that you should hold the stone when you make the first cut. If you do it right, then the rest of the process is really, really easy. You simply use the same stone (the fat one) and stay in the same spot until the notch gets deeper and wider. The stone will do all the work because it is shaped just for this purpose. Here is another picture That shows you what I mean. I didn't move the stone or change the angle....I just left it in one place and let it dig in a bit. ** Warning ** If you do as the instructions say and try to "freehand" it you are asking for big trouble. I did that on the first one. I was able to kinda fix it, but it will never be quite right. The instant that I started moving the stone around, all was lost. Because I could never get back to the original shape of the stone. Once you go outside the lines it's too late.

This picture shows a close-up of the one that I did correctly. Notice the shape of the notch. It's the exact dimensions of the Fat stone....I didn't even use the thin one at all. I did the whole job using the B42 stone. If I had chosen to do so, I could have then switched over to the B51 (thin one) to lengthen the opening. See what I mean.....they have the instructions 180 degrees backwards. The instructions say to use the B51 for the whole job....trust me folks THEY ARE WRONG !!!! (bad, bad, bad instructions) Here is a final picture of the notch after I applied some cold blue (to keep it from rusting while we continue working on the slide)

What did I learn?

Ok everyone, up to this point I have done mostly "text book" stuff. What I mean is that all the modifications that I have performed are pretty well documented and are simply a matter of correctly following a set of instructions and measurements. However.... today I attempted something that simply can't be explained with words alone. The grinding of a roll over notch is more of a "skill" or "Art form" than simply taking a few measurements and doing a good job of setting up. It's these little things that can only be learned through actually doing it.

** Important Warning ** Be very careful to stay away from the opening where the extractor comes out of the breechface. If you cut too deep or too close to the opening, you can grind into it. If you do that it is nearly impossible to salvage your slide. You will need to leave yourself at least 1/16 of an inch of metal between the extractor opening and the edge of your roll over notch. Keep checking it every couple of seconds and stop if you get too close.

I must admit, I'm a little bit pissed about the instruction sheet that came with the stones. A simple labeling error on the part of Brownells nearly cost me a slide. Luckily, I was able to catch it early and get it "mostly" fixed....but it will never be as nice as the second one. Here is a picture of the first one that I screwed up. I fixed it the best I could.......Lots more to do and see, but until then..........

(hey, did you notice how nice the Bake-on finish looks....look at the closeup picture again...only the frame, we didn't do the slide yet.)


September 1

Range Report 1 (Function check) - Today I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and go to the range. I wanted to find out how well these babies function, having done so much work to them. As a side note I also wanted to see what kind of accuracy I am getting. We still have a lot left to do, and I just want to get an idea where we are with the functionality right now.

I decided to test the 2 Sistemas with as wide a variety of magazines as possible, so I loaded up 220 rounds and headed off to the range. This picture shows what I took with me.( I know what you're thinking hahaha)

When I got to my normal range it was closed for the holiday, so I went to a different range that is right around the corner, and boy am I glad I did. As luck would have it, I ran into a really nice guy named Richard Singletary. Richard works at the range as a rangemaster, and we got to talking about the project. I told him the story behind the two Sistemas and asked if he would mind helping me with the tests. Now a little background is in order. I am a really bad pistol shooter. I can shoot a rifle very very well, but I'm still trying to get the hang of accurate pistol shooting. So it was a major stroke of luck that I happened to walk in on a day that Richard was rangemastering. This guy CAN SHOOT baby !!(he is also a 1911 fan. As it turns out that's what he carries too......what luck) Here is a picture of Richard getting the feel for the guns, before he got down to business (kinda like a warm up) He shot a couple more rounds and started to get the feel.

Ok, remember I said that the primary objective today was to function check these ladies and see if they would have any problems with feeding, ejecting or any other problems. So I asked Richard if he could run a full mag through as fast as he could go so I could check for feeding problems.......boy was I in for a treat.....haha. As this picture proves we didn't baby these guns at all, he worked em hard. He was so fast on the trigger that I couldn't even snap the photo in time to catch it. At one point I actually counted FOUR shells in the air at one time!! I just couldn't get the timing right to catch all of them in a picture. Here is a look at the fast-shot grouping.

What did I learn?

I'd have to say that any fears I had about malfunction or accuracy are pretty much dispelled at this point. Out of 220 rounds fired we had only 2 failures to feed. Both FTF's came from the same gun, and both occurred when we were using the crappiest $3.00 cheapo magazines I had. All-in-All I'd have to say that it was a big success. It looks like the new match bushings helped a lot with closing up the groups, and all the safeties and trigger components worked perfectly. Nice crisp triggers on both of the Sistemas (and we haven't even done the trigger jobs yet).......stick around......much more to come when the next order of parts arrives..........


September 3

Front Cocking Serrations - I feel like I'm getting pretty good with the mill, so tonight I decided to try cutting the front cocking serrations in the slides. I want to be really picky about how they look. They need to match the rear serrations as closely as possible so that they all look the same. The rear serrations are straight up and down with no angle to them. They are also .062 apart and about .023 deep......so lets see if we can make some front serrations that look the same shall we......

I started out by tilting the head of the mini-mill to a 20 degree angle. This picture shows the mill all set up and ready to start. I am using a 3/8" carbide endmill for this (like Blindhogg suggested). I moved the very tip of the cutter .300 from the front edge of the slide to start the first line. All the other lines will index off of this first one so I need to get it exact. This picture shows the position of the first cut. After I get the first line cut....I need to zero my dial indicator and then move the table .062 inches for each subsequent pass. This picture shows how I set the dial indicator. It is touching the edge of the table and will register any movement of the table from right to left (as I am facing it). So the basic idea is...make a cut by moving the table from back to front. Then move the table to the left by .062 and make another cut. I keep doing this until I have 14 lines (again from Blindhogg's recommendation). This picture shows the first couple of lines. If you look closely at the picture you will see that there are roll marks that the importer stamped into the slide.....I will be going right over them and getting rid of the stupid importer name.....hahaha.

So I kept on cutting until I had 14 lines. This picture shows you how it looked after the last line was cut. Now, here is where the Mini-Mill differs from a full sized milling machine. With a full sized machine, you would simply remove the slide from the jig. Turn it around and put it back on the jig so the other side is facing up. And then tilt the head of the mill 20 degrees to the other side. Very simple.........but not with a mini-mill baby ! The table is too small to allow enough "cross table" movement to reach the opposite side of the table. You need to move the vise, or move the workpiece. I chose to move the workpiece instead of the vise. But I did not need to tilt the head to the opposite side. I left the head right where it was. Same depth and everything. I just turned the jig around so that I was now cutting from front to back instead of from back to front.(you need to re-level your piece and re-check your depth after reversing the jig) ** Important Tip** If you are doing more than one slide, be sure to cut the serrations on both slides before you switch the jig around backwards.

The process is exactly the same on the other side so I didn't take any photos of it. After the serrations were cut, I put some cold blue on the bare metal to protect it until I finish the rest of the milling operations on the slide. When I'm done with the dovetail sight cuts, I can go ahead and beadblast and refinish the slides.

What did I learn?

This was a more delicate operation than the last one. You do not have the room for error here that you do when lowering the ejection ports. Your measurements need to be right on the money, or else it will be obvious when you look down at the serrations from the top. They need to line up on both sides.

It took longer than I expected, but that's because I was being real careful to double check all my setup and measurements before I started to cut. The actually cutting only took about 20 minutes per side. I'd rate this as a "Medium" on my scale of how precise you need to be. Again the Griz had no problem at all doing the job, if it will cut sight dovetails, then I believe it is just about the perfect mill for the home gunsmith.

Lots more to do yet........but until then.........


September 10

Install the new Wilson Snag free sights - The time has finally come to test the Mini-Mill to it's maximum. I have heard from many accomplished gunsmiths that the dovetail cuts for sights are the hardest to mill.....so lets see if a Griz is up to the task....

The new sights that I bought are Wilson Snag free 3 dot sights from Brownells. I like the Wilson sights very much, and these are a nice choice (for me). I wanted a low mount fixed rear sight. Since these two Sistemas are being built as carry guns, I wanted to have nice "fast" sights on them. the Wilson 3-dots are easy to pick up in a hurry and they ride very close to the frame. The other thing I wanted to be sure of was that the front sight was a dovetailed design. I like the dovetail sights better (just a personal preference). This set has two different dovetail types. The rear sight is a "standard" 65 degree dovetail. It slid right into the existing cut on the Sistemas with only minor file fitting. The front sight however uses a .300 x 60 degree cut. Since the Sistemas do not already have a dovetail cut for the front sight, we will need to cut it ourselves.

I started the day by getting all my stuff set-up and ready for our adventure. I measured all angles of the new front sight dovetail (all the math is located in the what did I learn section). I am using a HSS steel .290 x 60 degree cutter for making the front dovetail. (the rear one is already cut the right size). I decided to use the .290 because it will make sure that the initial cut is slightly undersized (by about .010)....I'm glad that I decided to do it that way because after I measured the actual sight base I found that it was only .297 instead of the advertised size of .300. If I had purchased the "correct" cutter (.300) I would have made the cut too wide, and the front sight would not have been tight. I will need to make two passes with the cutter but I should be able to get it very exact. ** TIP ** If you buy a dovetail cutter that is smaller than you need you can make any size cut from that size up. Example: a .290 cutter can cut a .290 or higher in .001 increments. (you just move the table to the right/left a couple thousandths and go through again) However if you buy a cutter that is large you can NOT make smaller cuts. By using this logic...all you should ever need are 2 dovetail cutters. A small 60 degree and a small 65 degree. That way you will have all bases covered.(sights are either 60 or 65 degrees). While the width varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer....the shoulders are all 60 or 65. So buy the smallest one of each and you're all set.

After doing lots of measuring and math, I finally had my plan. This picture shows the mill and slide set-up and ready to get started. I milled off the old site flush with the top of the frame using a 3/8" endmill to start the ball rolling. I also need to make a "relief cut" before I try going through with the dovetail cutter. The dovetail cutters have fine and fragile tips that can break off if you put too much stress on them. It's also really hard on your mill to try to go whole-hog and do the entire dovetail cut in just 1 step....(bad idea). I want to remove as much metal as I can using a normal endmill first. I used a 3/16" endmill and made a couple shallow passes until I got to within .002 of my desired depth. This picture shows you what I am talking about. The relief cut is just taking out the "center" part of the dovetail. That way I can make a nice easy pass with my dovetail cutter and it will not have to remove any of the middle part. This picture shows how it looks before using the dovetail cutter.(notice the areas that will be taken off when the cutter goes through).

 I also made a second pass with the dovetail cutter to "widen" the cut. I need to get to .297 and the initial cut is only .290, so I moved the table to the right about .005 and made the second pass (this time only taking off a whisker of metal from one side). This will leave me only .002 to remove with my file for a nice tight custom fit. Here is a picture of the final cut after making both passes.

Next I filed the sides very lightly with a 60 degree #1 sight file until I got to where the edge of the sight would just start to go in. Then I moved over to the main workbench and used the vise there to finish smoothing everything up with the #2 sight file. This picture shows the way it looked when I finished filing.** Note** The old front sight is staked in and silver soldered in place on these Sistemas. They also "countersunk" the front blade down into the slide to make it very rigid. If you look closely at the previous picture you will see the groove that is left behind by the old sight. The new one covers this groove up very nicely and you can not see it once the new sight is installed. This picture shows the new sight in place. I made sure that the fit was very snug. I had to tap it in place with a wooden dowel and my little smithing hammer. After I re-finish the slide, it will be even a tad tighter....which should be perfect. Here is a picture of the business end after fitting the sight.......

 

What did I learn?

This was the most precise of any of the cuts I've made so far. I would rate this as High on my little low-medium-high scale of milling precision. I used 2 dial indicators for today's adventure, and you need to be darn sure that your slide is leveled and your table is true to the cutter. I spent a lot of time on the first one to get everything set-up just right. The cutting part was really a non-event. The Griz went through like butter. So since this was the real test of whether or not the mini-mill is strong enough to do the job, I'll officially go on record as saying....."Absolutely no doubt that it WILL do the job". If you are doing a dovetail cut in a hardened Rockwell 40 slide...then you should probably use a carbide cutter....but at least I have no doubts about the mill being able to handle it.

I'll be doing an update to this section in a few days to explain all the mathematics involved in placing the cuts (it'll take a while to write it up)........but until then........


September 13

Puttin on the Ritz - Having finished all the milling operations that are planned on the slides. It seems like it would be ok to re-finish them so they don't rust (and so they look nice). I had originally wanted to have the slides done in hard chrome, but after a few discussions with a gunsmith buddy, I have decided to "wait and see" for now. The discussion centered around the topic of doing any future work to the slides and also around re-finishing at a later date. My buddy informed me that Hard Chrome is pretty much a one way operation. Meaning that once you hard chrome an item.....that's pretty much it. It is very difficult to remove the finish later. If I do any more milling of the slides (like serrating the top, removing the roll marks etc..) I would need to re-finish them again. So if I just use parkerizing, bluing, or bake-on lacquer for now....it allows me to change my mind. I can always have them hard chromed later on, and it will not hurt a thing. He just basically said "Be darn sure you are completely satisfied with them before you go forward with the chroming"......sounded like good advise to me.

In addition to re-finishing the slides with bake-on lacquer, I also decided to install a few stainless steel parts to replace the originals. This will primarily be to dress them up and make them "look" better. So cosmetics would be the primary reasoning behind today's work. I think they look fantastic (the work) and I feel that it's time they got the additional parts to dress em up right.

I bought (2)new stainless mag release buttons, (2) Smith and Alexander Mag funnels (Flat MSH), (2) McCormick extended competition thumb safeties, (2) stainless firing pin stops, and (2) McCormick 1 piece full length guide rods (no I don't want to get into a debate about FLGR's....let's just say I like em and we'll leave it at that ok?).This picture shows the parts I received for today.

I refinished the slides using the same procedure as outlined in the August 27th section above. But this time I was able to use a slick little airbrush compressor that was donated by Tony G. It worked very well and delivered a steady 20 psi to the brush. I think the slides turned out even better than the frames. Here is a picture of the makeshift paintbooth and the new airbrush compressor (actually a vac pump but it works great) that Tony G sent me. (Thanks Tony... I still owe you that beer.)

All the parts dropped in with only minor fitting, so I didn't take any pictures. There is no What did I learn section for today....because quite frankly, I didn't learn much today. I have a few more parts arriving soon, and we will be throating the barrels this weekend. Still a long way to go but we're getting there slowly but surely so...........until then...........


September 18

Throating the barrels - During my first range test of the new Sistemas I only used 230 grain ball ammo, but I want to be able to feed my babies anything and have them function without any problems. The best way to insure that non-ball ammo will feed reliably is to throat the barrels, so that's what I decided to do today.

I started the day by creating a homemade jig to hold the barrel in the correct position so that I would have easy access to the chamber throat, and to keep it nice and steady. I noticed a pretty neat fixture for sale in the brownells catalog but they cost nearly $83.00 and it doesn't do anything that my homemade one doesn't do. I started by marking a line on a piece of 2 x 2 pine that was the same width as the jaws of my vise. I also marked a spot for where I wanted to drill my "holder hole"......haha new term. This picture shows the wood laid out for the cuts. Next I drilled a diagonal hole with a 1/2" bit, this picture shows the angle I used. Next I split the wood lengthwise right through the center of the hole, and then cut it off to length. What I ended up with was two equal length wood blocks that when put together form a holding hole for my barrel. Here this picture will help you visualize. By clamping the two pieces into my vise and placing the barrel in the cutouts...I get a nice steady holder that will not hurt my barrel (even if I crank down on the vise) and it holds the throat area at a nice angle for me to work on.

This picture shows the barrel mounted in the jig and ready to begin. Next I picked a nice medium grit grinding stone for my RTX as seen in this picture.(more on this subject later). I began by taking the right side of the throat down just a little bit, being very careful NOT to touch the inside of the throat ramp. It is very important not to "move" the throat deeper......all you want to do is "open" it a little on the sides. I did this by going in steps. You can see exactly where you are cutting if you use a black magic marker to coat the sides first. Then just use the "shiny metal" as your guide. Here are a series of pictures that show the steps. Notice that at no time did I cut any metal off off the center part of the throat. Picture1, Picture2, Picture3

After I got both sides opened up I polished the whole area (including the center part) with a fine polishing stone. This will remove any swirl marks from the grinding stone and make for a nice slippery surface on the throat ramp. Here are a few pictures of how it looked after I polished it. Picture1, Picture2, Picture3 .

 

What Did I learn?

The most shocking thing to me was just how little material needs to be removed. I had always thought that I would need to keep at it to get the throat to open up correctly. It only takes a few seconds (no fooling) to move the shoulder of the throat out. the metal around the opening is already pretty thin and just a little bit goes a long way, so be careful. Also, be sure to use a cone shaped stone. The shape of the stone will actually form the proper angle as well as insuring that you do not accidentally gouge your chamber. This picture shows the stone I used. Notice that the shape of the stone follows the angle of the throat ramp very nicely. By using a cone shaped stone, I can do all the cutting with the tip and not need to go very deep. By contrast, a straight stone would have to be held at an angle, and would need to be inserted deeper into the opening if you wanted to get the angle right. ** Important Tip ** DO NOT USE a straight one. This picture shows you how easy it would be to slip (just a tiny bit) and gouge the inside of your barrel.

That just about covers it.....everything went real well, and they turned out great. Stick around much more smithing to come.


September 30

Front strap checkering - has always been one of my favorite custom touches, so it only seems logical that I would add it to my Sistemas. I already installed a Smith & Alexander mainspring housing/magwell on each gun and it came with 20 LPI checkering. In addition I added stainless steel Ed Brown high hold beaver tail grip safeties and they also have 20 LPI checkering, so to keep everything uniform I decided to do 20 LPI on the front straps too. I played around with several different ideas on how best to do the checkering, but finally decided to do it "by hand" using a Marvel checkering jig. The only jig I could find for doing machine checkering (using my mill) is a $650.00 Keller jig. As if the cost weren't enough I'm not sure that it would fit under my mini-mill's quill. The Keller was designed for use with a full sized floor model milling machine and it's pretty big. Also, it would be a really hard sell, to get my wife to believe that I need a $650.00 jig just to do 2 guns. If you are planning to do 10 or more then ok I can see it, but I just can't justify the money. (remember, the mill is only 500)  So the choice was to do it by hand.

Of all the custom touches I have added to these Sistemas, this was by far the most time consuming and physically demanding so far. I had first thought that I would post this detail section after I completed the first of the two guns and then do the second one later on. I didn't want you to have to wait 'til I finished both guns before I posted my commentary. However, I changed my mind after I had completed the first one.....I followed the directions that came with the jig down to the last detail on the first one. But after I completed it, I had a few ideas on how I could do a much better job on the second one if I did a few things differently. Since this is a web-site geared towards learning by doing....I figured the delay would be worth it, if indeed I was able to make a better go of the second one. Be glad I did it that way, the first one took a little over 9 hours to complete. The second was done in less than 4 hours, both look identical down to the last detail, so the quality did not suffer at all. I can honestly say that I learned more on this section than on any of the others. As such, the "What did I learn" section will probably dominate this commentary.

Be forewarned guys......you should go get a big cup of coffee and settle into a comfortable chair before reading on. This is going to take some time to explain. Also if you are the kind that likes to jump to the end and summarize...DON'T, you will miss all the "meat" and the hard-won lessons, there are 20 photos in this section. So settle in, and lets go........

** NOTE ** In case you are wondering how you do different LPI checkering. The answer is that the special "checkering file" has the LPI built in. The file looks like any other flat file but it has several rows of teeth. The spacing between rows is set by selecting the appropriate file. If you buy a 20 LPI file....then you can only do 20 LPI checkering with that file. The jig will work with either 20 or 30 LPI files. Brownells sells 20, 30, 40, 50 and even 75 LPI checkering files.( 75 would be utter madness !!)

My first step was to unpack and set-up my new checkering jig. I read the instructions cover-to-cover and everything seemed pretty clear to me. The design of the jig seemed pretty simple, and idiot proof, so I decided to forego the "practice" and jump right in and do a real frontstrap.....hahaha, I've never been the smartest kid in the class. As you will see in the photos that are coming up, the jigs design is very good. I will be doing a full write-up on it in the tools section in the next few days, but since this section is already pretty long winded I didn't want to spend too much time on the jig here. Let me just say this about the jig and then we'll move on.....This thing is awesome !! I normally don't get too excited about an item that does what it's supposed to do. What I mean is that it doesn't get me all giddy when I buy a pen, and then find out "wow, this thing writes on paper"....big deal, that's what it's supposed to do. This jig is an exception to that rule. I understand that it's supposed to make checkering easy, but boy does it ever. This little baby is highly recommend. It gets my highest rating.....ok 'nuff said.

I started out by mounting my frame in the jig and then securing it in my main workbench vise. This picture shows what I'm starting out with. The very first thing I needed to do was to create a "Relief Cut" under the trigger guard. the relief cut will act as the upper most limit of the checkering pattern. It also serves the very important role of allowing you to move the checkering file (verticals only) without gouging your frame beyond where you want the lines to be. (more on that later). The jig will allow you to place the relief cut at 3 different positions. I think it's more a matter of taste than anything else, but the jig was made so you have a choice. Here is a picture of how the jig is used to support your file when making the relief cut. You can place the file against either the front or back side of the plastic rollers and use them to guide your file. This will ensure that you get a nice straight line. By moving the rollers forward and back, and by using the front or back edge, you have 3 different heights that you could start from. This picture shows all 3 starting points. I just pulled the file against the frame lightly to "mark" the relief cut starting point. Then after looking at all of the options I decided on the center line as the one for me. The top position would give you more lines and a bigger area of checkering, but on my frame it would not have blended well. I would have had to "undercut" the frame in order to have a flat area to work with. The bottom position was just too low for my taste, so the middle it is. I used a 1/4" round needle file to cut the relief cut. You want the relief cut to be pretty deep so that the checkering will ride slightly above the level of your relief cut even when the checkering lines are taken to maximum depth. Here are a couple of pictures of the relief cut so you can see the depth and how far to bring it around the sides. Picture1, Picture 2.

After the relief cut is made, I configured the jig to cut the vertical lines (from magwell opening to trigger guard). First I set the width of the jig guides "fingers" by placing a strip of tape on one edge of my file. The tape acts as a thin spacer and ensures that after you adjust the jig fingers you will still be able to move the file freely. I tightened the fingers against the file and snugged em in place. This picture shows you what I'm talking about( notice the tape on the file edge). To cut the vertical lines, I started by placing the jig in the far left position. Since I will be indexing off of these lines throughout the remainder of the job, I need to ensure that I always use the same side of the file and that I keep moving from left to right until I'm done. If I accidentally flip the file over and use the other side, there is a chance that the teeth will not line up properly. So I marked the file with an A and a B to keep it straight. The "A" should always to facing up on this section. Here is a picture of the jig in its far left starting position. All I have to do now is start filing. I used long even strokes and made sure to keep the file flat (in contact with the whole face). It was slow going because I had to be careful not to over-shoot the relief cut on the forward stroke. I did that a couple times and gouged the metal under the trigger guard....Then I got smart and placed several thickness of duct tape under the trigger guard to help protect the area. This picture shows what it looked like at about the halfway point in laying out the vertical lines.(notice the tape that cushions the file at the top of it's stroke). Each time I index the jig fingers, it allows me to cut about 3 more lines. Here is a picture of the verticals all nicely laid out. I cut the lines to a little over half of the desired depth using the checkering file.

This would be a good time to give you the first of my little jems of wisdom Hahaha. Notice that I started the checkering with the finish still on the gun. This was on purpose. If you are doing a stainless, or an unfinished (in the white) frame, then I highly recommend that you use layout fluid before you begin your checkering. You will NEED the contrast later on to help determine depth and keep your eyes from going crazy. If you have no color of any kind, you are gonna pay hell trying to figure things out. The way to tell how close you are getting to reaching your desired depth, is by looking at how thick the colored lines are. the thinner the lines between cuts, the deeper you are getting. You want nice sharp points, so eventually there should be no "black" showing. All the "squares" will be turned into "diamonds"......don't worry, more on that later.

With the verticals all laid out, it's time to set-up the jig for doing the horizontal lines (across the face of the strap). This picture shows the starting position for doing the horizontals. Never start from the bottom, always start at the relief cut and work your way down towards the magwell opening. This allows the file to harmlessly hang over the opening at the end, so you don't need to worry about where the lines end up. As I cut the horizontals, I began to see little black squares forming. As the lines are made deeper the squares start to turn into diamonds as the top surface narrows. This picture shows the difference in appearance between the squares and diamonds. Now you see why it is so important to have a contrast color. (either the old finish or layout fluid) The checkering file just gets the lines all laid out nice and straight, but you need to deepen each line with a 60 degree bent checkering file if you want diamonds. Here is an intermediate picture after all the layout is done, and I'm in the process of deepening the lines. (the real time consuming part).

This picture shows the diamonds after bringing everything to depth. Notice the absence of contrast color. This means that the tops of each of the squares has narrowed down to a point. Here's another picture. Turned out pretty darn nice.

After you get all the lines to depth, it's time to turn our attention back to that ugly relief cut we made in the very beginning. Nobody wants an ugly round "ditch" running across the front of their grip, so we now need to blend it into the rest of the frame. I used a half-round needle file to blend the top edge of the relief cut into the surrounding metal. This picture shows the first step in the blending process. After I had blended away the top edge (leave the bottom edge alone) with a file I smoothed it up and removed the file marks with a half-round medium cut stone. Here is a picture of what it looked like after the stone. Last step was to polish the blended area with a fine polishing tip from my trusty Black & Decker polishing set. (which I have now officially worn completely out......time for a new set.)

I needed to refinish the frames after this of course, so I decided to go ahead and install the new Ed Brown beavertails and polish the feedramps. This will ensure that I do not have to cut on the frames anymore after this section. The new beavertails are slightly higher gripped than the McCormicks that I had on them. They are still a .250 radius, but required that I blend the frame a bit higher so they would fit correctly. The new ones are stainless steel and have 20 LPI checkering on the palm swell. I just think they look better since I have stainless hardware on the rest of the gun. The black grip safeties just didn't look right, and McCormick does not sell a stainless version of the ones I installed. The Ed Brown is the closest match I could find in stainless. I also polished the feedramps....but alas, I loaned my digital camera to a friend that can not be bothered to return it, so as a result I have no photos of the feedramp polishing. It's ok though really. There isn't much to see........it's literally "Just like it sounds" you aren't trying to change the ramp angle or anything like that. All you do is "polish" the surface to make it smooth......pretty self explanatory.

Here is a close-up of the checkers after I refinished the frame. Pretty nice huh?

 

What did I learn?

Where do I even start? Hmmmm, this section was the hardest for me to write. I'm having a hard time getting my mind around what I need to say, so bare with me ok?

Let me start by saying that I did both frames inside a 24 hour period. The first one, I did by-the-book and followed all the directions that came with the jig. I'll never again do it that way. The second one I used what I had learned on the first one and it went SO MUCH smoother. I had heard that this is a fairly physically demanding modification, and the first gun proved that to be true. My fingers were really sore, I kept taking Advil, my eyes were getting funny from staring at the checker pattern, the whole nine yards. The second one however was nothing like that......here's the basic way it all went down.

The root of the problem is that the directions call for you to lay out all your lines (vertical and horizontal) first, and then go back and deepen them with a 60 degree bent checkering file.....ok, sounds logical. DO NOT DO IT THIS WAY. If you never listen to any of my advise again, please heed this warning. In the words of Al Pachino "...I'm givin ya pearls son, I'm givin ya pearls". The way to do it right (in my humble opinion) is to layout the verticals first. Then go to full depth with them before you ever make the first horizontal cut....I mean it too. Here's why......

The file will "stay put" inside the vertical grooves much better if you do not have any intersecting lines. The verticals are by far the more difficult of the two to cut, because they are A.) longer in length....B.) on an angle that the file will easily slip out sideways if you aren't careful.....and C.) you have to be careful up around the relief cut at the end of the line. I found that during the first one after I had already cut the horizontal lines, that the file is very unstable in the vertical grooves. This forced me to go very slowly and make short file strokes to keep from slipping out of the vertical groove. This was particularly true when I was working on the lines that are far right or far left of center. However, if you do as I suggest and bring them to full depth before cutting the horizontals, you have a much, much more stable groove to work with. The file stays in the groove and you don't have to go nearly as slow. You still need to be careful, but not overly so. The other major advantage is that your eyes do not play tricks on you. If you have ever seen one of those "hidden dot" pictures (the ones that were all the rage a few years ago) then you know what I'm taking about. As soon as you cut the horizontals you will have a whole bunch of little checkers and after staring at them for any amount of time, your eyes start getting confused by the pattern. you have to stop...look away.....blink and then go back at it. If you don't, then you will start loosing track of which row you are working on. This makes the file wander...which is a bad thing.

Do the verticals first, bring them to full depth and all these problems disappear. It is very easy to keep track of the row you are working on, because you will see the "thin black lines" on the rows you have already done, and the "thick lines" on the ones yet to do. No tricks on the eyes.(stripes aren't as bad as dots)

After you finish with the verticals, the horizontals are when laid out, and brought to depth. It is much easier to do the short horizontals, and you can keep track of your progress by looking at the "diamond rows" as the complete ones....and the "square rows" as the ones yet to be done. If you want to you could go back over the whole thing one more time at the end, just to ensure everything is straight and deburred. The time saved by being able to see what you are doing, and not having to be "too careful" on the verticals is substantial. It takes about half the time if you do it the way I did it on the second one.

The other piece of advise I have is to be sure that you tape your fingers with duct tape (not bandaids they tear right off) before you start. Put a couple wraps around both index fingers at the first joint, and a couple wraps around both thumbs right on the pad. This picture shows my hand taped up. The tape will save you a lot of pain as you hold and press on the needle files while deepening your cuts. Also wrap the files with tape right above the handle (on the tang).....all the padding you can get will help save them fingers baby.

Well, that's it for now. They turned out great. I refinished both frames with baking lacquer and installed the new Ed Brown beavertails. This should be the last time I have to refinish the frames, because the rest of the work is internal stuff........more adventures ahead of us........but until then..............


October 18

Trigger Job - Ok, time to tune these triggers and see how close to 4 lbs I can get. You may recall that I was pretty impressed by the trigger pull once I changed out the hammer and sear back in the beginning of the project. I bought a Chip McCormick hammer and sear and they seemed to work fairly well together. I didn't have a trigger pull gauge back then and so I was just going by my "finger gauge" and comparing to how they felt before I changed out the parts...........well now I have a trigger pull gauge so lets see where we are starting from shall we??

Here is a picture of some of the tools I ordered to do the trigger jobs. Notice the big red X through the Wilson hammer jig No. 1-H.....It totally SUCKS so I immediately sent it back to Brownells for a refund. Complete piece of crap and poorly designed. I feel that it's just about useless so I want my 57 bucks back. I can do the same thing by clamping my hammer in a vise. Ok enough on that matter, don't want to beat a dead horse......on we go..........

I started out by recording the trigger pull on each of the Sistemas to get a feel for where we are at the beginning. This picture shows one of the ladies clamped in and getting her weight taken hahaha. The initial reading on the first one was 6.5 lbs and 7.25 on the second one........ok definitely NOT a very good pull if you ask me. I guess my "finger gauge" needs some work huh? I had been comparing the feel of the trigger to how they were when I first got them. They must have been horrendous with the old mil-spec parts. Time to do something about it.

Since these are to be custom carry guns and not match target ones, I am aiming for a 4 lb trigger pull with no creep. I started by installing the alignment pins on the second gun to take a look and see if there was anything visible to the naked eye.....seems like a  logical place to start. Here is a picture of how the pins work. You just strip the frame and then turn it on it's side. The pins slide into the hammer pin hole and the sear pin hole, and allow you to see the relationship of the two parts without having to assemble them. This is what they looked like to start with. My camera isn't capable of getting enough detail to show you what it looked like so I'll try to explain it......the hammer hooks are not perfectly square, but the sear engagement surface is. So I end up with a tiny triangular sliver of space at the base of the hammer hooks. This gap is very slight but I can see it with the naked eye. I think that's why they call them hammer "Hooks" because from the factory they resemble a hook shape. I need to change that to a perfect square ( 90 degrees) in order to have the sear slip easily off  and release the hammer.

Here is a picture of the tools I will be using for this part. I have a hammer squaring file, 2 ceramic stones and the Wilson sear jig No. 1. I started by placing the hammer in my vise with the hooks facing straight up. I used a couple "Thin Parallels" to act as a visual guide so I could keep the file perfectly level across the hammer. Here, this picture shows the hammer in the vise ready to start. I used the hammer squaring file to get the hooks to a perfect 90 degrees. The file works much faster than the ceramic stones and saves wear and tear on the fragile stones. It only took about 5 gentle file strokes to get the hooks to 90 degrees as this picture shows. After the file I used the medium grit ceramic stone to smooth everything up, and then progressed to the extra fine stone for a final polish. The hooks are now perfectly square and polished to a glass-like finish. The height of the hooks was already perfect, so I didn't need to remove any material there. It seems to me that the parts makers are certainly capable of producing exact dimension parts, but that for legal reasons they make YOU put the final touches on it if you want a light trigger. The hook height is right on at .020 but the hooks are ever so slightly tilted inward to "hold onto" that sear..........well just an observation.

With the hammer all squared away ( pun intended ) it's time to turn my attention to the sear. Right out of the box, the sear have no angle at all, nothing. It looks as if it has been ground off perfectly flat at the engagement surface (the tip). I suspect this is so that it can be fitted to whatever angle you want. So it's perfectly flat to start with. I want to put a correct primary and secondary angle of it to have it mate with my 90 degree hammer hooks. I used a Wilson sear jig and followed the directions that came with it to put the primary angle on the sear. Here is a picture of the sear in the jig ready for stoning. The feeler gauge is used to protect the stones and the jig from wear. It was super easy to use and I just started with the medium ceramic stone then switched to the extra fine for final polishing. I just kept going until I got a very nice smooth ribbon of metal extending all the way across the top of the sear tip. I stopped every once in a while to look at it close up and just watched as the ribbon of shiny metal slowly marched across the tip. Next step was to put the secondary angle on the bottom edge. This secondary angle is just to make it slip out of the hammer hook a little easier. The secondary angle is easy to do also. Just place the feeler gauge (the one that comes with the sear jig) directly on top of the stone and slide the sear tip back and forth over the stone until you get a thin ribbon of shiny metal (about as thick as the feeler gauge .020) but not all the way across the face. Then I polished it all up one more time with the extra fine stone.

Last step was to polish the disconnector to a high polish. Here is a picture of the polished disconnector.

I then reassembled the pistol and checked the trigger pull. I now have both Sistemas breaking at 5.12 lb very crisp, with no creep at all. Not the 4 lbs that I want but then again I'm not finished yet hahaha.......part two should get me where I want to go. I still need to replace the hammer springs and adjust the sear springs....but I'm pretty sure I can get to 4 lbs.......I'll post the second part in a few days when the parts arrive. I'll also hold off on the "What did I learn" section until I have the full scoop for you.....so stick around ok?

 

**** 72 HOURS LATER ****

Well the new springs came in (a little late but they arrived). I received a pack of 5 new Ed Brown 19 lb hammer springs and 2 new Ed Brown Sear springs. After installing the new springs I tested the trigger pull and came up with a reading of just a hair under 3 lbs. That is too light for my taste so I bent the middle finger of the sear spring slightly ( a little goes a long way) and got the correct setting of 4 lbs with only a couple tries. The bad news is, you have to reassemble the pistol each time you want to test it. The good news is that you can fine tune your trigger to basically whatever weight you want.

What Did I Learn?

I dispelled a few of my stupid notions on this part of the project. First off I thought this was going to be a very difficult and time consuming adjustment. That turned out to be totally false. The second stupid notion was that the trigger pull weight is determined by the hammer hook / sear engagement.....again WRONG. The whole idea behind stoning and squaring the hammer hooks and sear angles is just to give you a "Crisp" pull with no slack. The pull weight however is completely controlled by the springs.....not by the sear or the hammer. True, you want the hooks and sear to be smooth and snag free, but 90 percent of your trigger weight is in the springs. Think about it......how hard is it to move the sear out of it's tiny little notch on the hammer. 8 lbs ? ....hahaha hardly. The hammer spring (aka: mainspring) is a big part of the equation, the lighter the spring, the easier the trigger pull......think of it like this.

Take a pencil and hold it with the eraser tip touching the top of a table. If you push down on the pencil real hard and then "flick it" with your finger....chances are it will not budge....now hold the same pencil with just a tiny bit of pressure and flick it....you'll probably send the whole thing flying. That's a simple way of looking at the dynamics of the mainspring as it acts on the sear and hammer. If the two parts are pressed together really hard ( like say, 23 lbs) they will not separate as easily as if the are held with 18 or 19 lbs. (same thing as the pencil example).

So you need to find a middle ground between too heavy and too light of a spring. The standard colt mil-spec spring weight is 23 lbs. Competition shooters use weak little 16 lb'ers for some tame loads. You want the spring heavy enough to be able to send the firing pin into the primer, but you don't really need a heavy duty bad-boy spring in most cases. I used the 19 lb'ers for the balance they offer between power and trigger pull weight.

After you get the mainspring weight the way you want it, you can fine tune the trigger pull weight by adjusting the center finger of the sear spring. This is your PRIMARY point of adjustment....once the sear and hammer are smooth and crisp, then that's about all you can do to them. Same thing with the mainspring. Once you pick a spring weight, you are basically done...it is what it is. So with this in mind....your adjustments are going to come mainly from that sear spring. Get a good one (aka: a new one) that hasn't been bent and worn. This will insure that the setting "stays" the way you set it.

That's pretty much it for my trigger pull adjustments....I was able to set them both at exactly 4 lbs, and they are crisp and clean with no creep......I love these babies. Stick around a little while longer....we're nearing the end, but there are a few more thoughts I'd like to share if you are interested. -- More to come -- ( Special thanks to BlindHogg  for his input and help on this section )

 


October 24

Signing my work - The time has come to place my signature on my work. But before I do, I want to inspect every piece and be sure that it is something I would be proud to have my name associated with.

During my final inspection, I determined that the checkering needs to be taken a bit deeper. Since I will have to re-finish the frames after I etch them, it seems like a good time to do the checkering touchup also. I used the fine cut 60 degree bent needle file to retrace every line and deepen them all to a uniform depth. They look much better now. So I guess I can sign them now.........

Ok, so how do you sign your work? Well simple. I read about the electro chemical etching process on BlindHoggs site and thought to myself...."wow that would be cool" the marks look like real rollmarks and add a personal touch that is great. I looked into the Marking Meathods machine that BlindHogg uses and just about fell out of my seat when the sales-rep told me the price. $1000.00 OUCH !!! So I started searching for other makers of the equipment. I finally found a company called Jantz Supply that sells knife making supplies. As it turns out, a lot of knifemakers use the electro chem-etch process to put designs on knife blades. I bought the top-of-the-line model that they sell (the Personalizer Plus) for under 200 bucks. Much closer to my price range. You get the whole kit for 179.00 and that includes all the chemicals and other accessories. I did have to buy a photo stencil though, because I want the professional look. Here is a picture of the etching machine.

I started by blasting a small area up near the front of the frame down to bare metal. This picture shows the area I prepared. Next step is to carefully position the stencil over the area that you want to etch. I used black electrical tape to hold the stencil in place. Here is a picture of the stencil ready to go. Then you just wet the tip of the etching handle with some etching fluid and hold it on the stencil. Be careful not to let it move around or the image gets blurred. I used the deep-etch mode on full power and it took 2 minutes to get the depth I wanted. Here is a close-up of how the mark looks after I finished.

Now that the ladies are signed I thought I'd share a few detailed close-ups of some of our work together.

Cocking Serration and muzzle
Grip Safety
Checkering

That's about it for the Sistemas.... Hope you have enjoyed following along as much as I've enjoyed doing them. I'm gonna sit back and enjoy a nice smooth shot of the "good stuff" ....... I poured one for you too. Maybe we'll get together again some time .......... but until then.....I'll save the worm for you.

Take care, and God Bless:
PvtRyan    


 
( a few final words )