Sunday, April 10, 2011
External Extractors and 1911s
In the wake of my testing of the S&W E Series 1911, which featured a wider external extractor than the original SW1911, some discussion came up about the merits of the concept. Almost every modern service pistol design features a spring loaded external extractor design. The 1911 still gets by using a spring tempered hook machined out of a straight piece of steel that is bent to achieve tension. It does surprisingly well with this, but it is certainly not the 21st century answer.
I've spent a lot of time studying the 1911 external extractor situation, to include building a gun through which I fed over 20,000 rounds and countless different experimental extractors. I have also studied the various commercially available external extractor guns. Suffice to say that the bulk of the available options had been less than stellar, and customers were justifiably reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. With the introduction of the S&W E Series, I think that situation is going to change, and I will be watching the progress of those guns with great anticipation.
So what does it all mean to you as an end user?
First, let's consider what the external extractor offers - consistent spring tension over the life of the part thanks to a coil spring which does not get worked very hard, and installation/setup that does not require much more than driving out a pin, stuffing the parts in, and putting the pin back in. Compare that to the current internal extractor design which requires hand fitting of the part into the slide, filing of the hook geometry, and bending of the part to create the proper spring tension. This all requires a skilled hand to achieve optimum results. For a single user, the internal extractor is merely a nuisance that can be worked around by having the gunsmith fit a spare extractor or two when the gun is built. For a group of users - such as a tactical team or a department - that "minor nuisance" grows quickly into a ton of man hours spent chasing extractor function.
As far as approaching maintenance, I think a huge part of the discussion here relates to points of reference. I am thinking in terms of LE unit or department level use vs. a single end user with a recreational or CCW gun, which makes the argument for an external extractor scream to me in a loud and compelling manner. To date, I have yet to hear any convincing arguments in favor of the internal extractor in this realm.
In regards to disassembly and maintenance, it certainly does require more tools to switch out an external extractor, but let's be realistic about what we want to do. If you're out on an extended rural patrol or on a deployment, that part of the gun can now be considered one unit, much like the lower of your M4, MP5, etc. Just like those weapon systems, don't take them apart until you're back in a controlled environment. If the use pattern consists of going to the range or a match, then go to the car and get some tools or the spare gun.
The amount of dirt that the external extractor can tolerate underneath it is far greater than that of an internal extractor, which accumulates the dirt right under the claw's locator pad. More dirt under the locator pad translates immediately into lost tension. If you get dirt/mud/etc. inside the slide, you can hit the slide with a hose or some brake cleaner and be done with it. You really have to work hard to get a lot of foreign material inside the external extractor's spring pocket when it's in a holster. If you got blasted with crud at a helo LZ and it's that bad, chances are the rest of your gun looks like a sugar cookie inside too and the extractor honestly is the last of your worries. If you consider how many modern pistols have external extractors that rarely ever see any service on them vs. all the 1911s that require some tweaking to their internal extractors, that's a clue.
As far as unit level maintenance, it's hands down for the external extractor. I don't know of too many armorers who have set up all the guns on a team or department with a fitted spare extractor. That's not very feasible when you need to do that for a whole big group. The very concept of the fitted spare is for a single end user (where it certainly does work well), but it just doesn't fly for a whole team. In fact, I don't even believe in the concept of the fitted spare, I always pack extra guns instead.
Properly executed, the external extractor breathes new life into the 100 year old pistol, and gives it a fighting chance to run with the new kids.
Hilton at 8:25 AM