The first thing Fred Kart, founder of Kart Precision, wants you to understand is that his XACT FIT barrel is not a dumbed-down , drop-in, contrivance.
It’s the real deal—a superb match grade barrel designed to more easily be installed by a non-gunsmith. There are distinct design differences between the company’s (patented) XACT FIT model and their ‘standard’ Gunsmith Fit Barrel, but Mr. Kart assures us that accuracy-wise they are identical.
Kart’s rationale for the XACT FIT is to make the fitting process less hassle without sacrificing quality. The company still produces the standard Gunsmith Fit model but in Fred Kart’s own words, “putting in a gunsmith barrel is counter productive” because it’s a great deal more labor intensive. He says professional gunsmiths could and should be using the XACT FIT in all their builds.
Some of them, he said, already do.
One of those pistolsmiths is Dave Salyer*, owner of Salyer Bullseye Pistol Service based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Dave not only knows his way around a 1911, he’s a seasoned marksman who has competed in every National Conventional Pistol Championship at Camp Perry since his first outing in 1983.
A Virginia Tech-trained Mechanical engineer, Dave has been a proponent of XACT FIT barrels for over 10 years and uses them almost exclusively in his bullseye builds. He guarantees his customers that the accuracy of his 1911s built with XACT FIT barrels are equal to (or better) than anything else on the market.
Dave is convinced that Kart has perfected 1911 barrels and unabashedly pronounced Fred Kart a “genius”.
Like so many top pistolsmiths, Kart started out as a competitive shooter. Dissatisfied with the existing products on the market Mr. Kart designed his own barrel and tooling. The end product, which he developed in 1974, proved to be vastly superior to what was available on the market. Kart realized this from the get-go. In his first outing at an NRA sanctioned match in Poughkeepsie, NY, he broke a record with the new barrel.
The rest is history.
His barrels are considered to be the ne plus ultra–the very best. To his credit he sticks to cottage industry style small scale manufacturing rather than mass production. In other words, he’d rather produce smaller quantities of of reliable, accurate products than larger numbers which he believes would diminish quality.
Says Dave Salyer, “Just about every .45 used by Camp Perry competitors in the last 35 years has a Kart barrel. Some may be marked with another brand name, but the barrels inside are produced by Kart.”
Fred Kart told me that his breakthrough back in the 1970s wasn’t just about producing an accurate barrel. The challenge was to make every barrel that came off his production line a stellar product. He explained that back in the day one of the better-known manufacturers (who shall remain unnamed) came up with barrels that could shoot 3” at 50 yards, which at the time was the platinum standard.
The problem, said Kart, was that the quality of the barrels coming off the line varied. There was no way of knowing which barrel was going to hit the 3” mark unless they were tested. This company (as well as other companies) testedd to see which barrels met precision standards and sold the best ones at a premium.
Fred Kart realized he could improve on the state of the art. And he did. Not only was he able to produce barrels that shot accurately, every unit that came off his assembly line had consistent quality.
Bruce Cockerham, founder of Cammer Technologies, which designs custom 1911 hammers and sears, is also an XACT FIT fan. He’s done six builds using it and states, “You can’t argue with results. If done according to Kart’s instructions, the pistol will shoot comparably with an accurized 1911 built by a professional.” Cockerham likes the XACT FIT system because you don’t need to be a pistolsmith to do it, nor do you need the specialized tools. “What you will need,” he says, “is some mechanical aptitude. You can easily screw things up.” (He admitted butchering a barrel by taking off a bit too much of the hood).
Another reason to choose Kart is because the barrel is manufactured from 4150 mil-spec steel. If you’ve got a squib, firing another round without clearing the gun will result in a bulged barrel rather than one that may explode.
Comparing XACT FIT with ‘Gunsmith fit’ barrels
One of the traditional accurizing techniques on a 1911 is to contour the bottom barrel lugs, which in turn causes the barrel to rise higher into the slide. In the old days, pistolsmiths would weld extra material to the bottom lug and then shape the area to get the added ‘elevation’ and hence, desired fit. (Nowadays barrels are manufactured to be oversized. In this scenario, one carefully removes metal to achieve the same result).
Kart turns this ‘classic’ technique on its head.
The XACT FIT barrel comes with bottom lugs that are “pre-contoured” (and installed with a barrel link) so they don’t need to be modified. Mr. Kart has done the work for you.
Instead, your job is to fit the barrel hood extension into the slide and tweak the height of the two raised pads located 45 degrees of top dead center in the rear locking groove of the barrel.
Mr. Kart’s dictum is that the three-legged stool will always sit solidly on the floor.
Thus, only three areas will be modified to correctly fit the barrel—the hood (end and sides), the top lug (or more specifically the pads as mentioned above) and the bushing. With the latter, you’ll be fitting the bushing to the slide, rather than the bushing to the barrel. (This is already pre-fit by Kart, so you’ll also want to leave it alone).
Fitting the barrel in the Dan Wesson Pointman 9
The candidate for the Kart barrel was a (9mm) Dan Wesson Pointman 9. The best way to describe this pistol is a ‘production’ match gun. I’d had it for nearly 10 years but was never able to achieve the kinds of groups I was capable of with other pistols.
In short, I thought the XACT FIT would solve my accuracy issues. (At the very least with a correctly fitted Kart barrel, I could no longer blame the gun for my shooting difficulties).
Doing the New Math
As a prelude to fitting, Mr. Kart suggests you read his ‘New Math for Shooters’—the documentation for the install, assiduously. “Read it at least three times,” states Fred Kart.
The first section of the document is a treatise on the motion of the barrel assembly going from full battery (aka lockup) to the recoil stage. He discusses this cycle in terms of where the barrel contacts the slide and frame. These are the contact points that will need to be attended to. It’s useful to understand the theory before removing metal.
The first step in fitting the barrel is to get it to go into battery. This will entail removing metal from the sides of the hood until you have a minimum of .003-inch clearance.
Suffice it to say, when you file metal, be conservative.
Once we established proper clearance, we removed metal at the end of the hood to match the breechface. We used a large file to ensure a flat, symmetric surface. Ideally there should be a clearance of .001 to .002” between the hood and breechface. (According to Dave Salyer, the barrel should lightly rub the slide face).
The next series of actions establish proper upper lug engagement. We did this by gingerly trimming metal from the two pads atop the barrel lug with the file in the Kart kit. Properly done the barrel will reach its full height and engagement, and the lower lugs will make even contact with the slide stop pin.
Determining how much metal to file off is a somewhat laborious process.
We did this by assembling the gun with the barrel and the bench bushing that’s provided with the kit. A tiny bit of the Dykem paste, a blue goop provided in the installation kit, is then placed on the pads. We were able to determine where to take off material by observing where the blue goop has been swiped off, thus exposing the almost bare metal. That’s where the pads made contact on the slide and that was our hint as to where a tiny bit of metal was removed.
It may take a dozen or more times to get this right—that is until the slide goes into full battery.
The last major step was fitting the bushing to the slide.
Dave Salyer recommends the safest way to do this is to acquire a Bushing/Compensator Fitting Mandrel from Brownells which runs $62. You can mount it on a lathe or a drill press and file or turn the outer diameter of the bushing. (You could file the bushing by hand but you’re taking a risk. Better to let the mandrel do the work).
According to Fred Kart, if you follow his instructions and have gunsmithing experience you should be able to fit a barrel in less than an hour. (Don’t expect to this the first or second time!)
I should re-state, as if it weren’t evident enough from the very beginning of this article, the XACT FIT is not a color-by-numbers solution. It’s not a marketing gimmick, a hobbyist’s toy, nor a product of lesser quality than the conventional gunsmith fit barrel.
Fitting still must be done in a careful, incremental manner.
The ‘New Math for Shooters’ documentation provided by Kart Precision is well written and has illustrations, but I would prefer that they used photos or better yet, provide a video to demo how the work should be done. This is for those of us non-mechanically inclined. (Think ‘Barrel Fitting for Dummies’).
The $50 tool set that Kart offers is of excellent quality and will help get the job done. I particularly liked the Swiss-made file ground to size with ‘safe’ sides, so you don’t inadvertently mess things up. It fits exactly between the grooves in the upper barrel lug will help you take off the precise amount of metal from the pads. (Also included is locating block, a bench bushing, and a .003” feeler gauge).
The crucial issue to consider before purchasing an XACT FIT barrel is to determine whether your ‘transplant candidate’ is in Fred Kart’s words, a “Quality gun made to 1911 A1 specifications and dimensions”.
This is because not all 1911s are created equally.
The XACT FIT barrel is designed to be best fitted in a Colt, Springfield,
Remington, or a clone such as Rock River, STI or Caspian that matches the Government 1911 A1 specs. The barrel will work in proprietary designs (such as my Dan Wesson). However, as I learned (at least with the DW) a non A1 gun will entail a whole lot more labor and pistolsmithing.
Among other things, we had to change out the link which would not have had to be done if we were working on a standard Government A-1. Without my friend, an experienced 1911 guy supervising me, I would not have understood what to do.
Thank goodness I had some great coaching to complete the job.
Other than tips offered by Kart Precision, we made a few other tweaks such as polishing the ramp and beveling the business end of the guide rod slightly so that if it slipped during the field stripping it wouldn’t dent the lower lug.
Although Mr. Kart has created a barrel that’s easier to work with than a Gunsmith barrel, it still takes skill, knowledge and time. Pistolsmithing is not something you learn overnight. Knowing how to remove the proper amount of metal, what a good lock up feels like, etc become intuitive to someone who has done it hundreds of times. A novice doesn’t have this and you have to proceed with caution.
The takeaway lesson is, if you plan to buy an XACT FIT barrel, your job will be infinitely more straight-forward with a pistol that matches, the A1 specs.
I learned quite a bit. It was humbling. As Dave Salyer told me, being patient with the process is the key to success.
Would I try this again?
Absolutely. However, it will be with a Colt or a Springfield!
The initial testing of the new-barreled gun did not go without hiccups. The fit was fine but I noted with displeasure that the new improved DW would crunch my pretty Starline cases coming out of the ejector port. It didn’t happen all the time (once in a while during the last round in the magazine) but suffice it to say, it happened too much.
I consulted my brain trust and the consensus (let’s call it conventional wisdom) was that the recoil spring load was too heavy. “Lighten it up”, they said. So I spoke to a very knowledgeable guy named Dave over at Wolff Springs, a company that have experience with these kinds of occurrences. He suggested trying the eight and nine lbs springs, along with the stock 10 lbs spring.
After some experimentation I noted that the lighter springs didn’t solve the problem but Wolff’s 10 lb spring did the trick–at least 98% of the time. I was happy about this outcome. (I will try an 11 lbs spring–maybe that will take of the 2%! The tweaking never ends and I’ll apprise readers of my findings.)
I loaded 115, 125 and 147 gr bullets and tested the DW-Kart off the bench. In that department it didn’t disappoint.
Below is a sample of the accuracy that you can get. The target is from HAP (JHP style) 115 bullets from Hornady shot at 25 yards. (No ransom rest). I used 5.5 gr of Silhouette Powder from Accurate Powders, a product of Western Powders. I highly recommend it for 115 gr 9mm loads. There was one little flier but it wasn’t the gun’s fault! Hornady doesn’t sell directly but you by them at any number of retail outlets. (I’ll have more results from Hornady bullets in a future bullet-roundup article).
EGW makes a slew of high quality parts for 1911s and other firearms. They have been very helpful to our testing program over the years. (Note that there are a variety of sight cuts and you’ll need to huddle with the customer service folks at EGW to be certain you’re ordering the right mount).
Most of the XACT FIT barrels Kart sells are chambered in .45 but they also offer them in 10mm, 40 S&W, 38 Super, 38 special and 9mm. All are available in 5” or 6” lengths and in various configurations—‘NM’ (National Match), NM ramped or Para Ord. The barrels are sold as a set with an XACT FIT bushing.
Prices start at $205 for the 5” National Match (in .45) and top out at $265 for other configurations in size and caliber.
If you don’t have the tools, I highly recommend that you get the companion installation kit.
Keep in mind, your best tool will be your own analytic skills.
*Dave Salyer of Salyer Bullseye Pistol Service can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.