The Long & Short Of Triggers

| Pistolsmithing |

By Ted Yost

As popular as the 1911 platform is, there’s one thing I just don’t get — why is it so many people don’t take advantage of the many ways available to make the pistol actually fit their hand? This point was hammered home for me during my first General pistol class at Gunsite. Jeff Cooper demonstrated the advantage of a short trigger, even in his big paws. He commented the US military and Colt had taken 15 years to discover what common sense tells us all. While only a small percentage of shooters can comfortably manage a long trigger, a short trigger will work for nearly everyone.

While I don’t contend everyone is best suited to a shorter trigger, I certainly agree most will do better if they shorten up the reach a bit. Manufacturers are all over the place on the issue, with what seems like most of them promoting the long triggers. Colt’s Series 70 reproductions are shipped with short triggers, while the Series 80’s are sent out with extra-long triggers. Most semi-customs come standard with long triggers as well.

The goal here is for the shooter to have a comfortable firing grip on the pistol, with the pad of the trigger finger resting on the center of the trigger’s face. The trigger finger should be clear of the side of the pistol’s frame, making no contact with either the gun’s frame or the side of the trigger. It not only feels better, it works better, and it makes the pistol easier to shoot well.


A high grip, with a comfortable rest of your trigger finger pad
on the trigger surface is usually the best setup for most shooters.

Fit A Trigger?

Fortunately, the 1911 trigger is not an incredibly difficult part to change. The fitting of a trigger isn’t very much more complicated than the detail stripping of the pistol, so a patient owner with reasonable skills should be able to accomplish the task. Triggers are available from several sources, and as expected, the best selection is found in the Brownell’s catalog. Greider, Harrison and Wilson short triggers are listed, and all are excellent choices. These are all oversized to varying degrees, and trigger slots in 1911 frames have been known to vary too, so fitting is typically required.

First, make sure the pistol is unloaded, then detail strip the frame assembly. Try your new trigger in the frame — but don’t force it! Look for the points of contact on the top and bottom. Then place the trigger in the frame backward, check for smooth travel of the bows in the races, and visual squareness of the trigger shoe. Remove material sparingly from the bottom and top surfaces, taking care to keep the file square in both directions — front to back as well as side to side. A quality file, either a No. 2 Swiss or smooth cut American will suffice for removing material from the trigger shoe.

Use caution while holding the trigger not to distort the bow, as they’re a lot harder to straighten than they are to bend. When the trigger drops in smoothly and tracks in its races with no drag or binding, use your file to lightly chamfer all four of the in line “corners.” Many trigger broaches are not cut perfectly square in the corners, and will cause drag if the trigger’s not relieved. If everything tracks smooth and true, it’s time to test it. Reassemble the frame, install the top end and test function. If everything checks out, strip the frame again so you can set the overtravel adjustment screw.


Cutting two flats on the overtravel screw allows a final
“staking” to keep it in place.

Overtravel Screw

To prepare the overtravel screw for installation, use a belt sander to cut a couple of flats on opposing sides — it’s okay to cut partially through the threads, it won’t hurt anything. To set your overtravel stop, reassemble the pistol with the screw in place, but not turned in fully. Turn in the screw until the hammer will not fall with the trigger pulled fully to the rear, and then back the screw out slowly until the hammer will fall. At this point, hold the trigger to the rear, and move the hammer from front to rear. You should not feel any contact of the sear on the hammer hooks or half-cock notch. If you do, turn the screw out until the hammer swings freely. Now, turn the screw out 1/4-turn for proper clearance, and strip the pistol again.

To firmly stake the overtravel screw, turn your two opposing flats to be parallel with the trigger shoe’s sides, and use a 1/16″ punch to stake it in place. If you had to turn the screw in to align the flats, you’ll have to file fit it to restore proper clearance.

Remember, any time you make changes to a pistol, proceed carefully and patiently. If you get stuck, just stop for a minute and consider your options. Tons of reference material exists on the web, including the informative and Brownells’ YouTube channel.

Make sure upon reassembly you perform a complete function check, including all safeties — before loading or firing your pistol.

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