Kustom Ballistics Makes Sight Sense.
Since 1978, Neil Keller has been a full-time gunsmith, but like so many other gun-guys, he’d been dabbling in the black arts for years, working on his own, and friend’s guns. Neil’s experience as a tool maker and mechanical engineer helped him have a unique perspective on the inner-workings of the guns he handled, leading to a successful career as a custom gunsmith. Neil has broken new ground on many occasions, and his justly famous “Baby Lugers” represent just one area where he not only raised the bar, but invented new ones to raise!
Neil’s work is no stranger to the pages of Handgunner, and we find him here again with this innovative sighting system for a 1911. When I chatted with Neil some time ago, he pulled out a sample gun showing a prototype of this system. “I’ve always wondered why I couldn’t simply in-let the sights into the top of a 1911,” he explained. “And then I realized I couldn’t do it on a standard slide, but needed one without top machine work done. That was the ticket.”
I told Neil when he sorted it out to reach out to me and we’d show the world what he’d come up with. It took about a year of head-scratching but when Neil sent the featured gun I knew he had nailed the concept.
Based on a Strayer-Voight slide and frame, the 1911 in question looks
deceptively simple, but harbors a surprise in the sight department.
A standard 1911 front and rear sight sticks up quite a bit. This allows for the opportunity of damage occurring if dropped or banged, and depending upon the sights, can cut your hands if you manipulate the slide in an emergency. Some gunsmiths have machined “troughs” into the top of slides to both get the sight plane lower to the plane of the barrel, and to protect a low sight. Neil took it further.
“The barrel locks up in a very specific manner,” explained Neil. “If you don’t position the sight correctly when you make a modification like this, the gun will shoot low. I was able to machine the entire sight plane to be exactly parallel to the bore, what I would consider the perfect setup.”
And it just may be. Neil sent us the sample pistol, an actual customer’s gun, and allowed us to shoot and handle it as we saw fit. In order to accomplish the sight modifications, Neil reached out to Sandy Strayer, of Strayer/Voight, and asked him to supply a slide without top machining done. This allowed Neil to have the metal needed to properly perform his modification.
Neil cautions, “I can’t perform this on a standard 1911 slide, so a customer would need to work with a maker like Strayer/Voight to see if they would supply a slide. I’ve applied for a provisional patent and am hoping a company will pick up the idea and run with it on a production gun.”
The sight picture is typical of a fixed-sight arrangement but the red fiber optic front stands out well.
Roy found it easy to use in the real world. Right: Neil milled the front sight as part of the slide.
Note the fiber optic insert and excellent mill-work.
The front sight is perfectly protected by the sides of the slide.
There’s no knocking this sight out of adjustment!
Neil fitted a match barrel to the slide, then machined the slide top parallel to the bore by indexing it using a range rod in the bore. Once both were exactly in alignment, Neil then did the careful additional machining to actually cut-out the sights, front and rear. The final result is an elegantly simple look, taking a good deal of talent and thought to create. It’s always the simple things which seem to deliver the most performance and design insight.
Neil said the machine-work allowed the slide to weigh a few ounces more than a standard one. This then allowed him to use a recoil spring a couple pounds less than standard. “With 230 hardball in .45 ACP, the recoil actually feels softer than when shooting a standard 1911,” said Neil. “It’s a function of the added weight of the slide and the softer spring.” In my own shooting, my first magazine through this custom auto caused me to wonder if I had accidentally grabbed a box of low-recoiling .45 ACP we’ve been covering lately; but in checking, it was indeed, standard ball.
Workmanship on the entire gun is vintage Keller. It was carefully fitted, hand-polished, functioned fine, had a crisp trigger and all the bits worked nicely. A classic custom 1911 in every respect but one — the innovative channel sights by Neil.
The channel sight by Kustom Ballistics required an un-milled slide-top so
Neil Keller could make the necessary mods. The final result is attractive
and highly functional.
“Shoot it as much as you like,” said Neil. So I did. The lower sight plane reminded me of how an H&K P7 feels in the hand, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting one. The effect of Neil’s modification might be more subjective than mechanical — to some degree, at least — but I found the pistol to handle neatly. I felt as if it pointed very naturally, and I found it easy and fast to acquire the unique sights. The lack of front sights might help some holster fits, and having the top-rear of the slide exposed in a holster wouldn’t matter since there’s no sight sticking up to get knocked out of whack.
At the bench, aiming was a snap and I found the sights presented a good sight picture. It was cold and windy so I shot at 15 yards here in my backyard at SUMARO House, ending up with essentially one “biggish”-hole groups. The pictured one with Black Hills Ball was typical of everything I put through it. A crisp trigger helped to make it simple to manage.
I have a plate rack setup in a corner, and 6-plate runs were easy to manage. Unlike many modifications which are more show than go, this one actually works in the real world. These sights on a pocket-sized 1911 would be really interesting.
The only downside? It’s virtually impossible to do a 1-handed slide cycle (if your off-hand is out of commission) since there’s no rear sight to catch on something to cycle the slide. I’m on the fence on this one. I wouldn’t do this modification on a duty guy, but could live with it as a personal carry gun; although some might argue with me, and maybe with good reason. I’ve seen some rear sights angled in such a manner as making them virtually impossible to “catch” to cycle the slide, so maybe I’m overthinking this.
The rear is solid and fixed, basically an extension of the groove running the length of
the top of the slide. It looks easy to make, but it took a good deal of Imagineering to figure out.
“I’m working on the concept of an adjustable rear sight,” said Neil. “I don’t think it’s really needed, but some customers have expressed an interest so it always pays to keep options open.”
There’s that word, options. Which is what Neil is offering here. If you’re particular about performance — and are willing to do some experimenting — you might chat with Neil. I got the impression this was a work/concept in progress, so who knows where it might end? But one thing we like to do here, is showcase the new. At least when it makes sense. And this one does.
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/kustom-ballistics, (260) 724-3065
Neil carefully milled the slide top and corresponding sight channel and sights to be perfectly
parallel with the barrel. Note how the straight edge compares with the inserted range rod.
By Roy Huntington