Building a Colt
Officers Model


The completed Colt Officer’s project with bushing-less Caspian slide, sights
and custom grip safety finished in matte black IonBond.

Once in a while it’s good to try new things, a challenge. I usually try to work on something new with my son Nick, who was recently selected as an American Pistolsmith Guild “Apprentice,” a new program for young Smiths who are working toward full membership.

For a change, I decided to build a Colt Officer’s Model. Most ’smiths will roll their eyes at the mention of a compact in the 1911 platform. The short recoil system can be difficult when it comes to function. The plan was to convert the Colt to a bushing-less barrel set up and add a magwell. The frame was steel, which would allow for a welded magwell.


First, I sourced a new slide from Caspian Arms. The slide was cut with a smaller 0.699″ diameter barrel opening to mate with the Colt barrel — eliminating the need for a bushing.

The frame was checkered at 30 lines per inch. This would be matching a Wilson Combat checkered mainspring housing. For the magwell, my friend Pete Single had some rough blanks he had sent me to “play” with last year. To install the magwell, I first had to remove 0.300″ from the bottom of the frame using a mill. The back web of the frame had to remain since it holds the sear spring in place.

Nick and I worked together to weld (the process is actually silver brazing) the magwell blank to the frame. The frame must be heated to red while the magwell is held in place with clamps. Silver wire is drawn into the hot seam parts. Once cooled, it is a solid joint. This was the easy part. Now the blank must be sculpted into a comfortable shape, which also allows for fast magazine changes. Translation: Lots of hand filing and sanding. Once the shape was finished, a new mainspring housing pinhole was mapped out and bored on the mill.

Nick worked on the top end, cutting dovetails for a Novak Megadot front sight in orange and Heinie Ledge rear sight. We added a flat top and serrations to give a nice visual sight plane. The internals were all replaced with bar stock parts from Extreme Engineering. A small ergonomic thumb safety and slide stop from Harrison Design plus a Derr Precision “bobbed” grip safety finished off this compact 45. The recoil system was made with EGW parts. During testing, I had to tune the recoil spring to ensure proper function. The black IonBond finish and VZ carbon fiber grips kept things stealthy for conceal carry.

A variety of sanding sticks and stones used to smooth metal prior to finish application.
Many can be found at hobby tools or arts and crafts supplies.

Steel magwell blank after being silver brazed in place. The silver brazing technique
makes for a very strong permanent bond.

Milling a new hole milled through the magwell. This needs to be exact to allow
for a retaining pin that holds the mainspring housing in place.

Hand Tools

Most of my time at the bench is spent doing hand work using files, stones and sandpaper. It’s not glamorous but critical for a good job. Good tools make it easier, and I’m always on the lookout for better products. For stones I have used Boride Engineering on my bench for years. They offer a new “Pro Pistolsmithing” kit with almost 20 stones in a variety of shapes and coarseness for shaping and smoothing. They offer other kits as well as specialty abrasives.

Speaking of abrasives, I was watching my teenage daughter do her nails one day. She was using a sanding board with a flexible foam core. I looked on the internet and found a hobby pack with color-coded grits. The small size (popsicle stick) and flexibility really work well when smoothing small radii and tight corners. A very easy, inexpensive tool.

For large flats like a 1911 slide I used to wrap a sanding sheet around a flat steel block using fingers to hold the paper in position. A new sanding block from Harrison design has a clamp to secure a strip of paper and finger grooves to make holding less fatiguing. John designed it to take 2″ strips of paper that can be bought in rolls. It has a rubber pad for under the paper to help smooth out wavy surfaces.

As I mentioned, the American Pistolsmith Guild has announced a new class of membership for “Apprentice Members.” This is for the young ’smith either working with a Guild member, a manufacturer, or a student at a recognized gunsmith school. Apprentice members get insight and guidance from senior members. They also get guidance while working on their handcrafted pistols, which will be submitted to the Guild as part of their full membership application.

For more info:,,,,,

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