November 09, 2021
It’s hard to wait in line for a work-of-art gun, but Stan Chen Custom now offers M1911 parts.
What do you do when you’re ready to purchase a custom Model 1911, but the famous gunsmith you’re after tells you, “There (chencustom.com) happens to be the guy whose guns you lust for, good luck. He is a straight shooter, so he simply told me, “Sorry Kyle, you are never getting one of my guns.” Ok, he wasn’t quite as gruff as that quote reads.
Chen’s pistols fall into the category of custom Model 1911s that cost more than $10,000. What makes a Model 1911 worth this kind of money? Guns like Chen’s are works of art, or what I call “Warrior Art.” I’ve heard many times, “No 1911 is worth more than $1,000 or $2,000.” Folks, pistols like those handmade by Stan Chen Custom are about supply and demand. Chen meticulously crafts these one at a time at a comfortable pace, and demand for his work only attracts those willing to be patient and who can afford to spend that level of disposable income on a moment’s notice. And Chen doesn’t accept orders if he doesn’t think he’ll get around to completing the job in an agreeable amount of time. Those terms prevent the majority of us from owning one. Somehow, I had to find a way.
A few years ago, I stopped by Stan Chen’s home to see his kids, who are amazing. I was hoping to see Stan as well, but the kids were the priority. You see, I have watched them grow up and it was time to see how Chen’s family was changing the world. However, Stan and I did talk, so I used the opportunity to ask him to please make parts for the M1911. He said he was already ahead of me on this task but needed more time to make them perfect. While I was there, I also checked in on a Springfield Armory Range Officer that I had dropped off for some simple machine work. Jokingly, I told him that I needed to make sure he hadn’t pawned my pistol since it had been a couple years at that point. At his shop, I was in agony while watching Chen work on a gun that would never be mine. Then it was time that I head back home to Tennessee.
At the 2020 SHOT Show, I ran into Chen and his oldest daughter, and I was happy to learn that the parts business was becoming a reality. Chen’s Magwells (Gen2 and SI) can be individually purchased with and without checkering, in carbon steel or stainless starting at $175. He makes mainspring housings that start at $47, as well as rear sights ($55), grip safeties and thumb safeties ($80). All are made available at his online store, and I expect this list of parts to eventually grow. Before I knew it, I had my hands on a thumb safety, grip safety, rear sight and magazine well marked with the Stan Chen Custom logo. It’s the next best thing to owning one of Chen’s full-house custom 1911s.
The magazine well is my favorite part of his. There are many available on the aftermarket, but Chen’s is at the apex of design and manufacturing. Chen’s parts are milled from steel, which means they are not castings. Second, they are made from quality metals. For example, the mag well is 4140 for blued and 416 for stainless steel. The flawless-cut checkering on the mainspring housing is 25 lines per inch; not too sharp, and not too smooth. Chen was happy to inform me that all of the checkering is done by Mastersmith Pete Single, who is another great friend of mine and legend in this business.
“Wow, Pete Single is doing these?” Chen replied, “Why wouldn’t he? He is the best.” Do you know how powerful of a statement that is? For Chen to say that another gunsmith is squared away speaks volumes about Single’s work, and even more about the kind of person Chen happens to be.
Separately, Single went out of his way to tell me how happy he was that someone like Chen was finally making parts from blocks of steel and not castings. He was also extremely happy with the choices Chen made with regard to metal types. Believe me, Single knows.
Chen’s magwells are perfection. The lines seem impossible to achieve, but as Chen said, “I start at the end, not the beginning.” Allow me to translate for those of you who don’t speak Chen: He knows what he wants in the end. He knows how much work he will have to put into a part before it can be installed on one of his guns. And for his parts, he wants all of those steps completed during production.
The bevels for the magwell go all the way to the edges, which have a filet cut around the entire edge. The points of the magazine well are curved to cover the sharp corners that exist on most production models. Chen accomplished this by taking every semi-custom-production Model 1911 on the market and measuring every angle on every frame. After considering the data of what he found to be a standard spec, he took aim at the sweet spot for a custom fit part that works on production-quality guns.
The curved bevel on the mainspring housing has another impossible cut. Most machinist couldn’t make these moves to blend it in to the frame, but Chen has managed the custom look, feel and fit of a crafted part from a machine.
Chen’s custom thumb safety is another marvel, in my opinion. The sides of the paddle are smooth, and the radius that will sit at the rear edge of the frame is a perfect complement to his grip safety. Even under the paddle there is a groove cut that would require a lot of hand filing and polishing if you wanted the effect. His thumb safety’s pin runs within a tenth of a thousandth. What does that really mean? His measurement is 0.1555 inch, which in turn works perfect with the hole in his grip safety, which is 0.156 inch. That’s called “precision.” Chen also ensures that all pins are concentric, and checks for perpendicularity with regard to the frame. Even his detents for the plunger and spring that provide the positive click when the assembly engages the groove in the thumb safety. The rear-most cut on the thumb safety matches the radius of the cut for his grip safety. In addition to this, the cut goes up and over the top of the safety then fades to the side of the safety with a beautiful bevel. These are engineered so the gunsmith can easily give the part that custom feel right out of the package.
Chen’s grip safety is also machined from 4140, or 416 if you want stainless. This part matches the thumb safety perfectly and has angles and radiuses that make it look great and function perfectly. Every custom 1911 you find has a fitted beavertail grip safety, so this Chen Custom part is going to make many gunsmiths smile. It’s high quality and easy to install.
The last part on the list is Chen Custom’s rear sight, and its brilliance is in the details. The curve of the sight matches the top of the dovetail, and then swoops back to meet up with a rear sight blade, which is squared off for one-handed malfunction clearances. It’s not so sharp that you come away needing stitches, either, if you’re the type who brings your hand over the top to manipulate the slide. The rear of the sight is also serrated at 40 lpi for a no-glare, crisp sight picture. The rear sight notch is also cut square, as I believe it should be for precise alignment with the front.
Stan Chen’s guns could be considered unicorns, and they’ll never be easy to come by. However, with the introduction of an aftermarket parts line, many of us now have a chance to touch some of the magic. If you are in the market for, or tinker with, a Model 1911, you wouldn’t go wrong checking out Chen Custom’s parts. Until now, there has been nothing available made to his exacting standards. Oh, and don’t forget: These parts are made in America, by Americans.
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