Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a two-part series on a custom built, 9mm 1911 constructed of parts sourced from Caspian, Nowlin and EGW. Part 1 centered around the construction of the pistol. Part 2 focuses on peripherals such as brass, bullets, dies, magazines and optic. These included products from Redding Reloading Equipment, Starline Brass, Rainier Ballistics, Tripp Research, Vortex Optics, Western Powders and Wilson Combat.
Range Day and Beyond
I’d been preparing for this day for over a year. It was hot, muggy and the air was ripe with vog–(volcanic smog). We were getting what the locals call “Kona winds” from the SW which brought the volcanic air pollution from Kīlauea, the active volcano on the Big Island.
But I wasn’t at the range to call in a weather report. I was here to see what my brand new 9mm Caspian/EGW/Nowlin build could do.
The pros say that you need at least 500 rounds before a new gun is broken in so I came up with some unlabeled mystery 9mm rounds in a zip lock bag and gathered some factory rounds too.
The gun functioned fine from the get-go and grouped well.
So far so good.
To prepare for this day, months ago, I started experimenting with loads with my “other” 9mm 1911, a Dan Wesson PM9 with iron sights.
I had all the components I needed to load good quality ammo. This included a plethora of powder from Western Powders to experiment with, boxes of 115, 125 and 147 grain plated bullets from Rainier Ballistics and cases from Starline Brass.
I also had several varieties of magazines to feed the beast. These included mags from Tripp Research and Wilson Combat. All magazines functioned flawlessly in the Dan Wesson PM9 but it remained to be seen what would happen in the new build.
After 50 or so rounds of pure break-in shooting, just to ascertain if the gun would cycle, I was curious what the gun could do with my pet load of 4.8 gr of True Blue over a 125 gr Rainier HP bullet. I had tested this load assiduously with the Dan Wesson and it seemed to work very well. However, it didn’t seem to be very consistent in the new gun.
A pleasant surprise was that there was much less muzzle flip that I had expected. Let me backtrack for a moment. Anyone who regularly shoots Bullseye style guns is used to light, accurate loads out of a .45 wadcutter gun. You want minimum recoil with maximum accuracy so that you can get back on target rapidly as possible.
In practice you can’t really shoot super-soft 9mm loads because the round is designed to function at a greater velocity than a .45. Thus by definition, you’re going to get more recoil on a 9mm 1911 than you might be used to on a .45. To compensate for this, I installed the Cammer Hammer which according to it’s co-inventor, Bruce Cockerham, reduces muzzle flip by almost 8% as measured on a ransom rest.
I can definitively say that it works. I did notice lighter recoil on the newbuild compared to the PM9.
There were of course, hiccups.
I was using a wimpy handload at the outset for this tight, new gun and on occasion I’d get a stove-pipe. This didn’t happen with the factory ammo or the stouter load of the mystery ammo. Not to worry. It was a brand new gun that needed a bit of exercise. After a few more rounds, the stove-piping ceased and the gun cycled .
There were also ignition problems.
Perhaps 20-30% of the time when the hammer dropped, the gun didn’t shoot. I had to cock the hammer manually a second time and the gun would then shoot. I had an idea from the get-go that this might occur. When my gunsmith completed the job he told me that if there were ignition issues, he’d swap out the firing pin spring for something lighter.
His warning proved prescient. He also suggested that the problem might have stemmed from not properly seating the primers on my home made ammo. He was right. Some of the ammo wasn’t seated correctly. He had to replace the spring twice before ignition was consistent. The good news was it worked like a charm after that.
Finding the right Magazine
I always thought magazines were pretty much an interchangeable commodity, like factory rounds. I was certainly proven wrong in the case of this gun. As alluded to before in this article, a highly tuned 9mm 1911 can be a persnickety, idiosyncratic creature.
In this case, I noticed there were feeding issues from the get-go with an inexpensive magazine I happened to have on hand. This magazine had worked flawlessly in the Dan Wesson 1911. However, the new 1911 clearly did not “like” this particular magazine.
Why? Perhaps because the geometry of the 9mm ramp was slightly more acute than with the Dan Wesson and the follower on the magazine was not able to guide the bullet up the ramp. I don’t exactly know what the cause was but I learned that the solution was to find a magazine that would work.
My first move was to try the Dan Wesson mag that came with my PM9. It worked fine. I then tried a second Dan Wesson magazine variant, which clearly did not work.
By chance one of my colleagues at the range was using a CobraMag from Tripp Research and was kind enough to loan it to me. It worked perfectly with the new 1911. (After that I acquired several CobraMags).
The CobraMag functioned with 115, 124 and 147 gr hollow point bullets. I realize this is not a definitive test but it was sufficient for my purposes. I would definitely recommend this product which is priced at $36.05 from Tripp Reseach.
Prior to writing this story I wasn’t familiar with Tripp Research so I did some research. The company was founded by Virgil and Shari Tripp, who were the original founders of STI, a firm well known for manufacturing high end 1911s. The couple went on to found Tripp Research, a 1911 custom shop that specializes in pistolsmithing 1911s and refining 1911 magazines.
The website states that after talking with thousands of shooters and gunsmiths, Virgil Tripp was convinced that the single biggest issue regarding 1911 function was feeding reliability. He believed, in turn, that the key to 1911 feeding reliability was the magazine. Being a master pistolsmith and a manufacturing guy, he started working on the CobraMag design as the solution. It proved to be a solution for me.
As alluded to earlier, in addition to the Tripp Research product I also had a chance to test out a magazine from Wilson Combat. There was an issue with the Wilson mag, which seemed to bind the slide, preventing it from moving smoothly down the rails. Wilson makes first rate gear so I was a bit perplexed. On the other hand because 9mm 1911s are notoriously fussy I wasn’t surprised.
Not to worry.
My genius gunsmith solved the Wilson ETM glitch by ever so slightly beveling the magazine’s lower “lip”. (See above photo). Following that slight modification, the slide functioned perfectly and the Wilson magazine fed the rounds flawlessly with the 115, 125 and 147 hollow points. (Price is $39.95 from Wilson Combat).
Do I recommend that you do this type of modification without the guidance of a gunsmith? Probably not.
That said, I’d recommend Wilson products as a rule. What I learned from this project is that if you have a 9mm, 1911 build it’s probably a good idea to borrow a magazine from a friend or go by your neighborhood shop just to make sure that the slide functions.
Redding Competition Dies
Progressive reloading machines, such as the Dillon 550B that I use, are excellent for hand guns and work well for rifles. Of course a crucial component of your reloading system are the dies which of course size, seat, crimp and load your rounds. This is especially important with reloading 9mm rounds, which as I’ve mentioned, have to be totally in spec to work properly in a 1911.
What’s more, you have be careful reloading with a small case size, which can be more prone to pressure spikes if your COAL or powder charge is off. For example, if your maximum load is 6 grains of a certain powder and you increase it 1 grain, while the change doesn’t sound like much, it is actually a 16% increase. This quantity makes a large difference in such a small case.
Thus, caution should still be taken when working up 9mm loads.
That said, I was having a more basic problem reloading for this caliber. Sizing 9mm cases was proving to be problematic. I was regularly getting stuck cartridges in the chamber. It was slowly driving me crazy.
I decided it was high time to acquire Redding’s “Competition Pro Series” a carbide, three-die set which is compatible with the Dillon Precision 550B. I’d used Redding Competition dies with great success loading a 10mm 1911 and was convinced it was a good idea for the 9mm as well.
My stuck casings ceased once I got the Redding system set up.
Nowadays carbide dies are the industry standard, and for good reason. The carbide die insert allows you to size cases without applying case lubricant when seating, crimping or sizing. The chief attributes of carbide is that it’s harder, smoother, and more abrasion-resistant than steel. The downside is that it’s brittle. When using a carbide sizing die, you’ll need to set the height of the die so that there is clearance between the shell holder and the die. Otherwise the force of the shell holder repeatedly impacting the die may cause the carbide ring to crack.
So how do Redding dies differ from the competition?
Traditional taper crimp die adjustment is both time consuming and imprecise due to the coarse 7/8 – 14 pitch die threads and the need to re-position the lock ring.
Redding has integrated its crimping and seating dies with a micrometer that is adjustable for bullet seating depth, each with increments equaling .001 which equates to .050 per revolution. This feature enables the hand loader to make fast, accurate, and repeatable changes in bullet seating depth, with no guesswork.
The bottom line is that the close tolerances will seat the bullets more consistently and accurately. My reloads resemble factory ammo.
Instead of locknuts, Redding utilizes lock rings on the dies to keep them adjusted properly on the tool head. The lock rings are cinched down with Allen head screws rather than lock nuts. For this reason, it’s much easier to adjust Redding dies.
Once you’ve tightened up the lock ring the main thing you need to keep an eye on is a die loosing up on the tool head. They will sporadically do so because of the constant movement of the progressive reloader. You’ll need to occasionally check the dies and cinch them down if necessary.
Consistency is paramount and that’s what this system provides. It goes for $169.99 on Brownells.
Using high-end components
Once you’ve got you dies, you’ll need the right components. When I started reloading, I used to collect range brass. Nothing wrong with that if you’re on a budget and you’re just banging away on a Glock where there’s not an issue between a 1 moa or 3 moa at 25 yards. However, if you’re serious about shooting with accuracy and perfecting rounds that are up to spec, forget about the range brass.
The problem with scrounged range brass that you is that you’re collecting items from different manufacturers with slightly different dimensions and varying quality. Ergo, every round you crank out could be slightly different in size and it becomes a nightmare if you want to make uniformly consistent ammo.
In fact, it’s impossible if your brass is a jumble of different headstamps. Also, some brass does not accept primers as easily as others and reloading slows down, as low end brass gums up the process.
Competitors understand this and wouldn’t be caught dead picking up range brass.
I started using Starline brass for my .45 loads years ago when I joined my local club and never looked back. I suspect about 50% of the guys that shoot competitively at my club also use Starline.
Combined with the Redding dies, I’ve been able to keep the COAL on my brass uniform and my rounds incredibly accurate.
One more comment: Starline has an excellent online archive of essays on reloading that are both informative and well-written.
Getting the Load right
Reloaders understand that you can precisely tailor a round to a particular gun with stunningly accurate results.
I’ve been using Rainier bullets for the last few years. I started loading with Rainier because they are flat out less expensive to buy than jacketed bullets.
The trade out, according to “conventional wisdom”, is that jacketed bullets are more accurate than their plated or cast lead cousins. In theory this is true. In practice, at least in my experience, it really depends on the situation, ie, what you are shooting, velocity, application, etc.
Jacketed bullets, for example, are ideal for high velocity 357 or 44 magnum loads and are accurate at targets at 100+ yards. But anyone who has competed in silhouette competition can tell you that cast lead bullets are also used at high velocity to shoot at targets at up to 200 yards!
Thus it’s stretching credultiy to say that jacketed bullets are always more accurate.
Naturally I wanted to determine what bullets would be best for my new 9mm 1911. I acquired a mess of bullets from Rainier in 115 gr, 125 gr and 147 gr variants. I had specific applications in mind. The 115 gr bullets would be used for paper @ 25 and 50 yds. (Target shooters prefer 115 bullets because their smaller mass means less muzzle flip).
The 124 gr bullets would be used both for paper and steel targets up to 100 yards.
The 147s, because of their heft, I’d use exclusively for steel plates at 100 yds.
I started testing the bullets with another 1911 even before the custom gun was completed. This meant taking a small leap of faith. Even thought both guns are 5″, 9mm 1911s it doesn’t mean they will both “like” the same ammunition and the same loads. That said, my experience told me that the odds were pretty good that if a load worked well in one 9mm 1911 match pistol, it should work well in another.
I experimented with a number of different Western Powders but the ones I had the most luck with were Silhouette (for 115 gr HP) and True Blue which works great for 124 gr HP. (The True Blue load for the 124 gr bullet (5.6 gr) was tested at 100 yards and we were able to hit a 10″ gong offhand with it).
I also found that 7 gr of AA #7 was very accurate with the 124 gr HP bullets from Rainier.
Finding a good load for 147 gr bullets that was as consistent as True Blue and Silhouette were for the 125 and 115 gr bullets respectively was challenging. I did get a pretty good group with 4.9 gr of AA #5 but I wasn’t completely satisfied. I did some research online and found a story about reloading for heavier 9mm bullets in Shooting Times. Interesting enough, the author had also experimented with Western Powders and found that AA #7 and Silhouette were also a good bet for 147 gr bullets. So I decided to try both powders for the 147 gr hollow point.
With the 147s I got the best results with 4.9 gr of AA #5 and 4.8 gr of Silhouette but they did not group as well as the lighter bullets. (More experimentation is needed and I will report results in the future).
A red dot helps (a lot)
I should mention that the Vortex Razor red dot reflex sight (see below) worked superbly and I could not have printed the kind of groups I did without this optic. This is Vortex’s top of the line red dot optic and I was able to place proprietary mount from EGW on the slide this after getting a Novak style rear sight cut from Caspian.
I plan to do a full-on review of the Razor soon because it’s worthy of a good serious look.
The big question I had embarking on this project was if a competent neighborhood gunsmith, using good quality parts, could build a gun equal to or even better than a “brand name”.
Brian Takaba, a gunsmith and the manager over atf X-Ring Security in Waipahu (near Honolulu) suggests that it’s possible for a neighborhood smith with 1911 experience to build a tight gun that’s accurate but told me that “to build something that accurate, reliable and will have longevity is another matter.” If a customer came into his shop and asked him what to do, he’d suggest buying a gun from a reputable builder so that when it comes out of the shop, it’s done right.
George Smith of EGW suggested that it could be done with the caveat that the individual smith would have to specialize in 1911s in order to accomplish this.
“Only an experienced 1911 gunsmith could do it,” opined Smith. “You learn, from mistakes you’ve made on a gun that doesn’t feed, doesn’t eject, etc. You accumulate that kind of knowledge over time.”
The bottom line: Start with good quality, durable parts.
“The rest”, says Bruce Cockerham, co-founder of Cammer Hammer, “is up to the gunsmith.”
The author is not responsible for mishaps of any kind, which might occur from the use of this data in developing your handloads. It is the user’s responsibility to follow safe handloading guidelines to develop safe ammunition. You use this data at your own risk. No responsibility for the use or safety in use of this data is assumed or implied.