March 14, 2017
When the subject of 1911s Arises, DoubleStar does not necessarily come to mind. Going forward, I feel they should. They have been making 1911s for almost 15 years now, and the fully-forged "C" series are good examples of a high-end 1911. In a world where incomes have not progressed nearly as much as the powers-that-be assert they have, a 1911 that starts at $2,500 is a tough sell. Aware of this, DoubleStar decided to see how much they could ease the cost of their pistols, while still offering the features that every self-respecting 1911 owner requires. The end result is the DoubleStar PhD.
As collegiate or philosophical as those letters may sound, in this case the acronym stands for "Personal Home Defense." Base model 1911 came to my mind, and I can live with that. Then I started noticing the details in the build sheet. As a 1911 aficionado, one of the first things I check is the fit of the slide to the frame. It took a moment to realize that I felt no movement. That's right, no wobble. If I really grip the slide and see how hard I can torque it, I can feel a slight hint of movement, but that's it. This gun is tight.
DoubleStar uses a cast frame for its PhD. Casting has had a bad rep for a long time, usually because of a poor choice of price-cutting details. I spoke with Chris Hatton, the head 1911 pistolsmith at DoubleStar about that.
"We get the casting in as an 80-percent part," he said, "and then [we] machine all the critical dimensions." The mag catch, rails, feedramp, safety, hammer and sear holes, and the grip safety radius get machined and worked over in-house. The slides arrive as forgings — both the slide and frame are 4140 alloy steel — and are then machined by DoubleStar. Final hand-fitting is accomplished before any other parts are installed. Once fitted, the slide and frame remain paired throughout the remainder of the assembly process.
Thanks to the focus on delivering a semi-custom gun at production prices, the slide receives some interesting features. The top has a flat milled on it with three grooves stretching the length of the slide. Perched on top are a set of Big Dot XS Sights. Hatton explained, "We wanted sights that were more in keeping with a home defense pistol. [They had to be] large, fast and easy to acquire, even in reduced light."
The XS Sight systems are the same as the express sights often found on dangerous game rifles. The front sight is a big, round-topped blade, with a tritium element, ringed by a big white donut. The rear is a shallow "V" with a white line coming up to the bottom center of the V. The process is simple: Put the dot in the V on the target and get to work. For ease of installation, the front and rear are standard Novak-dimension slots.
The nose of the slide features what are referred to as "Hi-Power" cuts. Instead of the trendy front serrations, the single ledge of the venerable Browning Hi-Power provides a gripping surface that does not shred holsters. The front angle matches that of the rear cocking serrations and pulls your hand down away from the muzzle when doing a press-check.
As we'd expect from a modern 1911, the ejection port on the PhD is lowered and flared, and the ejector is extended. Empties are briskly removed and tossed aside.
The barrel is from StormLake. I consider these barrels one of the insider secrets of the 1911 industry. They make very good barrels, and DoubleStar has properly fitted them. It is possible to perform heinous trickery in "fitting" a 1911, trickery that makes it appear that the slide-to-frame fit is tight. A timing check usually reveals them. But no trickery here. DoubleStar does it right. They also mate the barrel with a National Match-heft bushing of its own manufacture. Bushings are an easy way to go cheap on less-robust 1911 builds, but again DoubleStar makes their own, and it is a solid example.
The internals are also up to par; DoubleStar was not interested in re-inventing the wheel. They do not use MIM parts; the hammer, sear and disconnector are tool steel. While those arrive at DoubleStar from Cylinder & Slide, the grip safety is a Wilson Combat High Ride, complete with a speed bump at the bottom to ensure we get the grip safety fully depressed.
The trigger has an aluminum bow with three lightening holes in it, the thumb safety and slide atop are low profile enough not be in the way but large enough to be used. The slide stop — like the hammer, sear and disconnector — also come from Cylinder & Slide, while the single-side extended thumb safety is a part from Ed Brown.
In all, DoubleStar has done an excellent job of crafting parts in-house, while sourcing critical parts from known entities. As an example, machining a slide in a multi-axis CNC center is relatively easy. Machining a sear is not.
Averaging just over 4½ pounds, the trigger pull is clean and crisp and, in my opinion, an ideal weight for a defensive pistol. Before the cries of outrage that it should be a pound lighter, keep this in mind: The top shooters, the ones who use much lighter trigger pulls in matches, started with a trigger this heavy. And "heavy" is a relative term.
I didn't look inside the PhD until after I had done all my chrono, accuracy and plate-rack work, so I was surprised to find that the PhD has a Series 80-type firing pin safety. When that design was new, we all complained. It has been a long time since then, and 'smiths have worked the bugs out of the system. In all the testing, it never crossed my mind that it was anything other than a traditional trigger system.
The frame of the PhD has a lifted frontstrap, but no checkering, grooves or other add-ons. DoubleStar considered that checkering costs additional time and money, and shooters can't agree what's best. If you want frontstrap treatment, here is a clean slate.
The mainspring housing is a bit different. There are three groves in it and it is machined flat to match the frame, while the bottom corner is rounded. That corner is always problematic, requiring a certain amount of handwork to properly fit. If left angled, it makes carrying concealed more difficult. By gently radiusing the corner, both of those problems are solved at little cost.
The magwell opening is gently beveled, but does not have a magazine funnel. The mag well needs to at least be de-horned, if only to keep customers from bleeding on their pistol. Since DoubleStar is dehorning it, they might as well (and do) put a small bevel on the edge, and since the choice of the "best" magazine funnel is subjective, DoubleStar saved you more money.
The grips are from AR accessory powerhouse Magpul, who may not be your first choice in 1911 grips, but they are low-cost ($20 at retail) and get the job done well. DoubleStar has yet again saved us coin.
I was surprised by one detail of the assembly process. While talking with Hatton, he informed me that once the frame and slide are mated, they remained in the white during the assembly process, and were testfired in the white before being sent out to be Parkerized. I grabbed the PhD out of its hard case to give it another look. What I had thought, in the gloomy winter light, to be a brushed blue finish was actually a fine-matte Parkerized finish dyed black after the treatment. Wow, more money saved and you get a good-looking, durable finish.
The PhD comes in a hard case with two eight-round, blued magazines from Act-Mag, and a trigger lock.
While at the range, it didn't take long to determine that the PhD was going to feed everything I had to give it and the barrel was right in the middle of the velocity range. We like to think that a 5-inch Government Model will deliver a certain velocity but they all don't. As with any manufactured product, some will be fast, and some will be slow. This one was right in the middle. I had no problems whacking whatever was on the 100-yard berm as my aiming point while I did the chronograph preliminaries.
Early on, the PhD had one abnormal partial failure to feed. The round stalled on the feed ramp, and then, as I stood there looking at it, closed up and completed the feed cycle. It didn't hesitate for the rest of the day.
I have always struggled with Big Dot XS Sights. It was with a certain amount of reluctance that I started the accuracy work. The Big Dot is bigger than my aiming point at 25 yards, so I had to make some slight adjustments. I held the dot up on top of the vertical line of the rear sight, and then held the dot on the target so I could just see a rim of white on top of the dot. While fast, the Big Dot has less feedback on lateral alignment in your aiming and on the height of the dot over the line. As evidenced by the smallest groups shot, the PhD really wants to shoot. Also evidenced by the largest groups, the emphasis on speed takes its toll when trying to shoot small groups. The performance chart is clear: With a Big Dot sight, I hit my group-size limit at just under 21/2 inches on average. The PhD is capable of much better. At 25 yards, the groups were small enough to have been contained within a circle of half the diameter of the "zero down" ring of an IDPA target. Being grumpy about a pistol that is wicked-fast, and "only" shooting groups that aren't Bullseye-good, is clearly missing the point.
And just so I would not miss the point, I went off to the rack range to have some fun. That's where the Big Dot XS Sight shines. At 10 yards on falling plates, it was like I was shooting a laser beam. Is the dot on the plate? Then trip the trigger and get to the next one, because that plate is toast. The rest of the ammo disappeared at an amazing pace.
The price? Given Colts, Kimbers, SIGs and Springfields all tend to average $1,200 to $1,700 for a 1911 with these features, the PhD is a stunningly reasonable $1,375. You'll probably find it in the gun shop counter for well under $1,300. My first custom 1911 — adjusted for inflation — cost me a lot more than that. It didn't perform nearly as well as the PhD does. If you want a basic 1911 that punches above its weight, here you go. If you want a base gun with a solid build to start your own custom project, this should be high on the list. If you want a 1911 for personal and/or home defense, your search has ended.
Shooters with an eye for detail will appreciate DoubleStar's pistolsmiths when examining a disassembled PhD.
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