September 20, 2012
After all the hoopla last year concerning the 1911, you might have thought someone would have made a pilgrimage to the source to see how the gun was actually made after 100 years. No one has ever accused me of being punctual, so here's a little behind-the-times, behind-the-scenes tour of the Colt plant and what it takes to make a 45.
Colt is going through some big changes at the moment due to a massive investment in new machinery. Some machine tools have been in almost continuous operation at the plant since they were driven by overhead belts, and many are being replaced by state-of-the-art CNC machining centers, which is good for us consumers, as it usually means increased productivity, shorter lead times, more product choices and better quality. Despite all the changes, JMB himself would feel right at home on the shop floor and maybe just a little proud that his iconic design is still going strong.
Ready for Service
Raw forgings arrive from the foundry, ready for machine operations. There are other ways of making a 1911 frame, but beating red-hot steel with massive hammers has its own set of benefits. Besides, it's a manly way to make a manly gun.
Like wood, forged steel exhibits a grain structure. When correctly oriented, this grain provides greater resistance to the shear forces generated when the pistol cycles.
The 1911 frame requires many machine operations to complete, some of which are performed more efficiently on older tools. Here, the front strap and trigger guard are partially profiled.
Cutting the Channel
One of the most difficult operations to perform on modern equipment is cutting the channel for the trigger bow. The machines performing this operation have been in service since the plant first started making 1911s — as one is in use, the other is being rebuilt.
Most of the heavy lifting is done on CNC machine centers like this one.
Multiple frames are loaded into the machine and batch processed, saving time and handling.
On the Rack
The frames are placed on a rack together before the next step.
Once fully machined and inspected, the frames are laser engraved with a serial number. At this point, a hunk of steel becomes a firearm.
No machine is capable of handling the intricacies of polishing — a real, live and highly-skilled human is responsible for the final finishing of your 1911.
Barrels are produced in house on a CNC lathe.
Profiling the Barrels
After turning on the lathe, another CNC mill profiles the locking lugs and barrel feet.
Rifling the Barrels
Barrels are then rifled and chambered. Here, a rifling broach is seen next to the barrel it just produced.
Slides also start out as forgings before making their way through the factory.
Once all parts have been manufactured, they come together for final hand fitting.
Once assembled and checked, the pistol is stamped on the trigger guard with the assembler's initial.
Guns are then proof fired at the range before being boxed up and shipped.
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