Skip to main content

Building the 1911: Making the Nation's Favorite Handgun

Building the 1911: Making the Nation's Favorite Handgun

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.

Steel Grain

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.

Precision Frames

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.

Heavy Lifting

Most of the heavy lifting is done on CNC machine centers like this one.

Processed Frames

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.

In-House Barrels

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 Forged

Slides also start out as forgings before making their way through the factory.

Hand Fitting

Once all parts have been manufactured, they come together for final hand fitting.

Approved By...

Once assembled and checked, the pistol is stamped on the trigger guard with the assembler's initial.

Proof Firing

Guns are then proof fired at the range before being boxed up and shipped.

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

David Fortier of Firearm News talks with Silencer Central CEO and founder, Brandon Maddox about the origins of the company and what led to its inception. From its humble beginnings at trade shows to inside the newly renovated complex in Sioux Falls South Dakota, Maddox talks through how Silencer Central is now everywhere owning a silencer is legal.

Behind Closed Doors; An Intro to Silencer Central

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo and Josh Schirard of Byrna go over the future for Byrna Non-Lethal weapons. Introducing the 12 Guage projectile, just as powerful as Byrna's other projectiles just utilizable in the 12 gauge weapon you already own.

Non-Lethal 12 Guage

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo and Josh Schirard of Byrna go through the three law enforcement and civilian home defense weapons, the Mission 4, TCR, and the MLR. Useable with the entire line of Byrna's projectiles, learn about the weapons law enforcement is becoming equipped with and how they can step up your home defense systems.

Non-lethal for Law Enforcement and Home Defense: Mission 4, TCR, MLR

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo and Josh Schirard of Byrna go over the aspects of the rapid deployment body armor Shield Backpack that make it invaluable in today's world. No matter where you're going, Byrna's Shield backpack will protect and equip you the ability to provide medical assistance to anyone in need.

Anywhere Protection With the Shield Backpack

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo and Josh Schirard of Byrna take a closer look at the pistol-style SD Launcher and how to set one up. Pneumatically powered, utilizing Byrna's "pull-pierce" technology, the SD Launcher is ready whenever you need it.

Everyday Ready With the SD Launcher

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo and Josh Schirard of Byrna go over the various projectiles to utilize with any of their launchers, including Kinetic, Pepper, Inert, Eco-Kinetic, and Max.

Power to the Projectile

Jack Oller of Guns & Ammo talks with Josh Schirard of Byrna to discuss the aspects of Byrna launchers and projectiles that are revolutionizing the world of non-lethal protection.

Meet Byrna: An Introduction to Non-Lethal

Digital Editor Jack Oller reviews EAA's Girsan MC P35 9mm pistol. Based the original P.35 Hi-Power pistol, the P35 features easy-to-use rear and front dovetail sights, slide serrations, slim trigger, ambidextrous safety, 15+1 capactiy and more. Sitting between a subcompact and full-size handgun, this hammer-fired 9mm is a great option for open or concealed carry.

Range Tested: EAA Girsan MC P35 9mm Pistol Review

Digital Editor Jack Oller reviews EAA's Girsan MC312 Sport shotgun. With a 24-inch barrel, fiber-optic front sight, vented rib, enhanced loading port, extended magazine tube, integrated Picatinny rail, pistol grip and more, the Girsan MC312 Sport shotgun may be the perfect firearm for an entry-level 3-gun competitive shooter.

Range Tested: EAA Girsan MC312 Sport Shotgun Review

Guns and Ammo Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now