Education Corner: Understanding Aftermarket Parts Install

In this article we’d like to discuss about how a basic part swap can accumulate unforeseen costs.


This firearm came to be put together with some aftermarket parts. The hammer on it had already been changed from the original hammer – commander style with an aftermarket hammer, namely a skeletonized hammer (a.k.a. bobbed spur). The other parts that the customer was planning on having changed are the sear spring, extended slide release and trigger.


The issue the customer ran into was that the new hammer didn’t work with the standard factory grip safety – so obviously, the other parts wouldn’t fit in (see picture 1). The skeletonized hammer is sold as an aftermarket part for the Colt 1911 Government model, which will fit provided that the grip safety is also replaced with a beavertail grip safety. Otherwise, the skeletonized hammer will not match with the factory standard grip safety. (On a slightly different note, the beavertail grip safety is way better and safer than the standard grip safety, but the standard one is not a bad design either.)

Below, a comparison between a 1911 that already has the beavertail grip safety installed (an older project of ours), and the 1911 that we are currently working on:

On the seller’s website, the customer find any indications regarding the issues one might come across when swapping only the original hammer with the sleek skeletonized hammer. Of course, this information should be listed, but just because something should happen it doesn’t mean that it will. Please note, this skeletonized hammer is not the only part that is described partially on some distributor websites. A number of aftermarket parts can be installed only if yet another part or two are swapped, or if there are modifications made to the firearm’s frame. For some, that’s the beauty of customized firearms: one part swap calls for another; but it can also come at a cost!


In this case, in particular, here’s what we’re looking at: The skeletonized hammer needs a beavertail grip safety. A beavertail grip safety requires modification of the firearm frame (dehorning) and manual fitting. Once the frame is modified, it will need to be refinished at least in the area where it has been modified, in order to cover the bare metal.


In the fortunate case in which the frame is stainless, the metal finish is not a problem. Otherwise, the project can get quite pricey quite fast - but if this hammer is important to you, it might be worth it.


We are posting here a break-down of the necessary operations (and time required) if you intend to swap your original hammer with a skeletonized hammer on a 1911. Based on your local shop’s rates, you might be able to figure out a rough cost. The average gunsmithing shop rates are now around $80 / hour for man labor and $120 / hour for machine work.


1. Dehorning (frame modification) – about 1 hour machine time.

2. Refinish – you may choose either a metal finish or a metal coating.

3. Fitting the beavertail grip safety to the 1911 frame - takes about 1 - 1 ½ man hour, and finally, installing the skeletonized hammer and re-assembling the firearm.

When it comes to protecting metal against rust, the metal needs to be polished (the better the polish, and the finer, the fewer chances for it to rust – which is why polishing represents a cost in itself, usually charged at hourly rates), and then protected with either a finish or a paint.


METAL FINISHES:

- Cold bluing (about ½ hour) – it is not recommended, but possible; it might wear off quickly and expose the metal to weather; high risk of rusting in a very short time; we do not encourage this option at all.

- Hot bluing (5 hours) – it is the so-called “factory bluing”, and it will last as long as an average factory bluing; the entire frame is re-finished, so the finishing will be uniform and look properly done.

- Belgian bluing (7 hours) – it is a middle ground between a traditional bluing and a fast industrial bluing, it will last longer than a factory finish; the entire frame is re-finished, so the finishing will be uniform and look properly done.

- Slow Rust Bluing (10 hours) – it is the most superior type of bluing; it usually lasts about 25 years with average use; the entire frame is re-finished, so the finishing will be uniform and look properly done.


METAL COATINGS: - Ceramic paints (2 hours, including assembly); we do not recommend this coating, for this particular case; the firearm will be holstered and un-holstered quite a bit, and ceramic-based paints tend to wear off in the holster area faster than bluing.

- Parkerizing (4 hours); Parkerizing is a military-grade finish, well under-rated in our culture of glamour and glitter. It is a finish that yields a dark matte black, and it is extremely durable.


Our shop’s practice is to never recommend options that are not a good solution for a particular project, but we do mention them because ultimately, the one who has the final say regarding the investment is the customer; there are finishes that we would not encourage or recommend in this case – like the ceramic paints and cold bluing. In this particular case, both might wear off particularly fast. Should a customer insist to have the firearm finished in one of these two ways, we will gladly help, provided there is a liability release form signed.


The budget options that we would recommend are Parkerizing or Hot Bluing.


Premium options, like Belgian Bluing and Slow Rust Bluing, would include in the same price the refinish of the entire firearm; so if the firearm brought in is in a condition that could use a full refinish, we would suggest a complete re-do. If the firearm is in decent shape, there is no reason to invest that much in re-doing the finish on the entire firearm. In that case, Parkerizing or Hot Bluing would do.