18 Apr 05
Kimber's grip-safety/firing-pin safety, from a department armorer whose department uses the Kimber 1911 pistol:
"We have had grievous problems with Kimber's firing-pin safety. It came on some of our officers' new Kimbers. It is deactivated via the depression of the grip safety. When the grip safety is not fully depressed, the hammer falls when the trigger is pressed, but the gun does not fire! It creates a horrifying situation, as the officer does not know is he has a dud round or an
incorrect grip. Accordingly, I've pulled all pistols equipped with this device out of service. Friends at Kimber indicated to me that we can thank LAPD for this undefendable 'safety,' that never should have seen the light of day!"
Lesson: You can really put yourself in danger by having too many "safeties " on a serious gun. "Safety" devices that are particularly detrimental to your health are the ones, such as described above, which engender confusion in the mind of a desperate user. Any legitimate "safety" will forestall the entire ignition sequence. At least then the operator may have a clue as to what the problem is. A "safety" which allows the gun to “half operate" is nuts!
14 Sept 05
The 1911 Pistol and the Swartz system
As originally designed and produced, John M Browning's 1911 pistol had no mechanical interlock that prevented the firing pin from going forward when the pistol was dropped on the muzzle or when the slide went forward in the normal loading procedure or during the normal cycle of operation. These two theoretical circumstances through which the pistol could conceivably fire unintentionally (or even go full auto) were considered so astronomically unlikely, Browning was unconcerned.
History has proven him correct! I, for one, have been training people to carry and shoot 1911s since 1968 and have had thousands of 1911s come through classes, including many that were manufactured during and before WWII. My students have loaded them, unloaded them, performed chamber checks on them, shot them, and even dropped more times than I can count. In those thirty-seven years, I've never once personally witnessed a 1911 slam-fire, a 1911 go full-auto, or a 1911 discharge as the result of being dropped. Maybe these things happen, but they have never happened in front of me. Yes, like all of us, I've heard many third-hand stories, but my experience causes me to believe Browning was right, as we have discovered over the years that he usually is !
Today, nearly all major manufacturers of pistols, other than the 1911, have trigger-activated firing-pin locks, standard on all their products, and have had this feature from the first gun they produced. In the 1980s, Colt added a trigger-activated system to their version of the 1911, and all Colt’s 1911s have come with it ever since. A trigger-activated firing-pin lock makes it
mechanically unachievable for the firing pin to reach the primer of the chambered round without pressure being applied to the trigger.
Other modern-day 1911 manufacturers, specifically Kimber and S&W, instead use a version of the "Swartz System," which is a grip-safety-activated firing-pin lock. The Swartz System was designed specifically to address the drop-safety issue only. It does not address the slam-fire issue, as the pistol is properly gripped (depressing the grip safety) when it is loaded. Since most pistols don't have grip safeties, the Swartz System is found only on 1911s.
Kimber makes the "Warrior" model, which has neither a grip-safety nor a trigger-activated firing-pin lock, and that is the one currently being purchased by the USMC. My Detonics too has neither of the above.
I became concerned with this system when I witnessed several female students shoot my S&W Scandium Commander one-handed last week. On several occasions, S&W's version of the Swartz System worked only too well! The hammer dropped all the way forward as the trigger was pressed, but the pistol, to the astonishment of the shooter, failed to fire. The primer on the chambered round, upon examination, was unmarked. I'm persuaded that this failure was due to the fact that the grip safety was not fully depressed. It was depressed far enough to allow the hammer to fall but not far enough to fully unblock the firing pin. The phenomenon was not observed with shooters with bigger hands, nor did it happen when my female students held the pistol with both hands.
Upon examination of the firing-pin stop itself (a spring-loaded plunger), I could see that it had been battered by the firing pin hitting it. A friend who also owns a S&W 1911 observed that the firing-pin stop on his pistol was badly battered too. He sent his back to S&W, and they, of course, replaced the part, but he, and I, are concerned that eventually that part (the firing-pin stop) will batter itself into incompetence.
S&W has a good product here, but I am concerned about these occasional failures to fire. When I get a chance to talk with gunsmiths at S&W, I'll report back.
05 Oct 05
The Word on firing-pin locking systems on 1911 pistols, from Master Pistolsmith, Jim Garthwaite:
"Firing-pin locking systems on autoloading pistols are designed to prevent firing-pin-inertia-engendered, unintentional discharges as the result of three circumstances:
(1) The pistol falls on a hard surface, striking directly on the muzzle
(2) The pistol is loaded normally, and the slide springs forward, chambering a round
(3) The pistol goes full-auto during normal firing
In the early 1900s, it was the opinion of Browning himself that all of the forgoing events were so unlikely that the addition of a firing-pin-arrest system on his new pistol was unnecessary. However, in the intervening decades, trigger-deactivated, firing-pin-arrest systems have become standard on nearly all other reputable, modern, serious pistols. Some current makers of 1911 pistols have also decided to add such a system. Others have not. Some, like Colt, make the pistol both ways!
Among current manufacturers, two firing-pin-arrest systems are employed, one trigger-deactivated (Colt System) and one grip-safety-deactivated (Swartz System). The Colt System addresses all three circumstances listed above. The Swartz System address only the first, as the grip safety is normally depressed when the pistol is loaded and when it is fired. In addition, the Swartz System will only work on 1911 slides with an external extractor.
The Colt System employs two, trigger-activated levers that lift a spring-loaded, firing-pin block, thus allowing the firing pin to move forward. Problems with this system abound with the addition of an after-market, over-travel limiter that limits the rearward movement of the trigger. This can allow the hammer/sear to disengage (allowing the hammer to fall forward) but fail to provide enough lift to raise the block and release the firing pin. The effect is that the trigger is pulled; the hammer falls normally, but the pistol fails to discharge. Trigger over-travel limiters, of any kind, are thus not recommended on any 1911 pistol that is used for serious purposes.
Another shortcoming of this system is the location of the hole in the slide that accommodates the firing-pin block. It is located beside and to the rear of the disconnector hole and can allow the slide to peen from contact with the hammer. This is especially true in 9mm/.38 Super/9X23 slides that use a wide cut for the added width of the ejector.
The version of the Swartz System employed by S&W is less complicated. It features only one lever in the frame. Pressure from the grip safety unlocks (lifts) the firing-pin-block in the slide, deactivating it. Kimber’s version uses a plunger in the frame and a collar that fits around the firing pin.
The most common problem with the Swartz System is the fitting of the parts from the factory. Timing must be such that the firing-pin-block is deactivated BEFORE the grip safety releases the trigger bar, allowing the hammer/sear to disengage. If that sequence is reversed, the hammer may fall before the block is deactivated. The result is that, when the trigger is pressed, the hammer falls normally, but the pistol fails to fire.
Both systems have obvious shortcomings. Many believe neither contributes positively to the original Browning design. However, I recommend, if you own a Kimber, S&W, or a Colt Series 80 1911 pistol, that you don't remove the firing-pin-block. Both the Colt and the Swartz Systems can be made reliable, when they are not that way already, with attention from a competent pistolsmith. Owning a pistol which is absolutely drop-safe is important to many gun carriers. When you want a drop-safe 1911 pistol, you have your choice!”
Comment: Additional "features" invariably involve additional moving parts and other engineering compromises. All who carry the 1911 need to decide how important absolute drop-safety is to them.