After attending the Viking Tactics Handgun 1.5 class last weekend, I watched various student 1911s perform very poorly over the three days. About 1/4 of the students had 1911 platforms, and two of them, a double stack .40 and another a cone barrel Commander sized gun, certainly did nothing to further the cause of the 1911 or its modified formats. Both guns had frequent cycling and feed way issues. Some other guns, 5" .45's, fell victim to the usual feed way malfunctions, some caused by worn/defective magazines. While I personally found all of these malfunctions quite distressing and unsatisfactory, their owners seemed to take them right in stride or otherwise declare that their guns worked well. The reality is that they did not, and the owners should have been working harder to sort those guns out rather than making excuses or lowering their standards. This got me thinking about what 1911 owners should really be seeing when their guns malfunction, instead of experiencing selective amnesia.
Let's take a look at some of the common excuses, their root causes, and the fixes.
If a magazine is bad, for goodness sake don't just roll with it. After the first malfunction, label the magazine as suspect. If and when it does it again, then it gets retired. The excuse of "it's just for training" shouldn't fly, as additional malfunctions experienced during training only serve to undermine your confidence in the weapon and cloud its true reliability record. I could see saving them for training double feeds and such where mags can get damaged, but shooters have a tendency to let the defective mags back into the inventory, which is of course unacceptable. It is far easier and less tempting to just ditch the faulty mags. Keep your inventory of magazines numbered so you can weed out duds, and don't be afraid to replace them regularly.
Feedway issues are very fixable, but they certainly won't go away with any combination of hope and ignorance. The user needs to recognize this as a mechanical issue with many contributing factors. First, pick good quality ammunition with bullet shapes optimized for feeding in the 1911. Remember that some ammunition, like old Federal HydraShok with the square bullet profile and the Speer 200 grain JHP, just weren't destined to work well in all 1911s. Second, make sure your magazines are doing their part and have proper feed lip geometry and spring tension. Lastly, it is not uncommon even for new factory guns to have improperly cut feed ramps and barrel throats or chambers that are rough or tight. Feedway issues need to be addressed by a competent 1911 specialist, and are not a home project for the untrained with a Dremel.
"It just needs to be broken in."
No it doesn't. Most of the time, this really just means that the gun was not built correctly and you are completing some of the final fitting by firing. Break in does not fix all the issues, so don't hope for the break in fairy to make an improperly set up weapon suddenly become right. Overly tight slide/frame/barrel fit, improper chamber finish, rough breech faces, etc. are better addressed on the bench than wasting precious time and expensive ammunition at the range. The only really legit break in that I typically see is related to guns getting tightened up after they get refinished with a coating that adds surface thickness, such as the spray and bake paint finishes. Usually the refinished gun will work ok, but needs to be kept very clean and well lubed during this initial wear in period. This break in can also be addressed on the bench instead.
"It needs more lube."
Lube is good, but a clean gun with only a modicum of lube should work just fine. It is pretty common to see shooters blame mechanical shortfalls like feedway malfunctions on lack of lube, where the actual root of the issue has nothing to do with application of oil. If you reference my Project Charlie gun, I ran it for 1000 rounds without any oil or cleaning. Proper initial setup of the weapon is more critical than how much lube is slathered on the gun. Lube promotes good function and reduces wear, but it is not pixie dust.
"It was dirty."
How dirty was it that it would stop working? Through my research and experience, most of the malfunctions that users attribute to a dirty weapon are actually mechanical issues that have nothing to do with cleanliness. While every 1911 is going to have some threshold for its ideal maintenance state, most shooters tend to incorrectly attribute feedway issues and extractor problems to a dirty gun. The key here is to truly understand what the malfunctions are before dismissing them.
If all of this sounds pretty harsh on the 1911 platform, I suppose it is. However, it is meant more as a wake up call to the 1911 users to stay on top of their guns as well as to keep their standards for function and reliability extremely high.