What's the point?
Note: This is a post about guns, and gets very slightly technical. If you're bored to tears by such drivel, you are forewarned; come again and see what I've got tomorrow.
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I recently had business at the house of another cop.
I was in uniform, and he asked me what happened to my 1911 pistol. I had to admit that I now work for a department that issues Glocks, and expects me to carry one on duty. I allowed that I was able to do decent work with one, just not the higher-end shooting that I had been doing with my personal 1911.
"Speaking of 1911s, you want to see what I just bought?" he asked me.
Aha! I could see that he was eager to show me, and hey-- I'm always up for some show-and-tell. "Sure," I said. "Let's see what new play-pretty you got." To be honest, I was kind of curious.
As he unloaded the pistol (I appreciated his attention to safety) which he had just retrieved from a back room, he said, "I'm actually quite proud of this one." He handed it to me with some reverence that made me want to wince; if I didn't like it, I was clearly going to have to fib about it, to avoid hurting his feelings.
I looked down in my hand at a Springfield Operator, a semi-custom out-of-the-box 1911 .45 acp. His had been customized some more, making it undoubtedly more than the MSRP of $1100.
The black "Armory Kote" finish was blacker than black, and seemed to repel dust. The stocks that he had on it were some kind of very hard, checked grey stocks that had a slight cut-out for the thumb to more easily access the magazine release. They felt good. The 20 lpi checking was on the back of the flat mainspring housing, and on the frontstap of the frame. It had medium-profile tritium sights that gave a good sight picture. It had a bump on the extended grip safety, and a short hammer spur. It had an extended safety, which the ball of my overly-long thumb found easily. It had slide serrations on the front as well as the back.
I could deal with all of this, just fine. Actually, I liked it.
It had a magazine funnel. These were originally popularized during the bastardization of IPSC, by making magazine changes faster. They allow the opening in the bottom of your magazine well of the pistol larger, thus making it easier to hit with blinding speed with the full magazine that you are inserting. There are problems, however:
- To work (with blinding speed, or with any speed at all), the magazine must be longer than the standard 7 round magazine introduced 97 years ago. The standard method of doing this is to attach a "bump" or buffer pad to the bottom of a 7 or 8 round magazine, to extend its length. If you have a standard-length magazine designed to fit flush against the bottom of a standard 1911 pistol, you're going to have to press it in with the tippy-tip of your off-side thumb. Which is not fast.
- This extends the length and bulk of your pistol, right where it sticks out from your body. Range shooters love this-- it absolutely can make the pistol easier to shoot. People carrying pistols begin to realize that they hit doorframes and such. They also become much more difficult to carry concealed.
- It's one more part hanging off your gun.
- It makes disassembly slightly more complicated.
Ambidextrous safety. I'm more amenable to them than some, because my mom's a lefty and her 1911 always had a Swenson ambi safety-- I thus grew up with an ambi-safety'd gun in the house, and shot one a lot. But if you're right-handed anyway, why hang more crap off your gun? Especially with the right side (for left-handed persons) safety also being oversized and extended? This can interfere with some holsters, and generally makes things bigger and less likely to go bang.
Flat mainspring housing, long aluminum trigger. One, or the other; either your hand is big, or your hand is small. Why increase the trigger pull with the longer trigger, but put a thin flat main spring housing in? I have big hands, and like an arched main spring housing a la the 1911A1.
Light rail. I can take 'em or leave 'em. I don't like that my boned holsters might not work with 'em, and I don't like that some people will rely on weapon-mounted lights to investigate sounds in the dark. Shining your weapon-mounted light into an unknown corner means that you're pointing your weapon at a previously unknown corner. No bueno. That said, they're great for dealing with known threats, in conjunction with dedicated lights. Training is needed, and the right mindset. I'll call that one a wash. (But damn, they're ugly.)
Rear sight raked back at a sharp angle, from the front. I suppose that this is to allow easy re-holstering. But they also disallow one-handed racking of the slide on jeans or table-edges.
Mediocre trigger. For better than a grand, I want that trigger to give me a surprise break, no creep, and a minimum of over-travel. I got none of this, on about a ~5 pound trigger. Not bad, mind you-- just not anything special. Come on, folks-- it's a single action pistol that's supposed to be an elite combat gun-- gimme a really good trigger.
Finally, it had the deal-breaker: A Full Length Guide Rod. It is this piece of metal for which I have entitled this blog entry. I ask, without a hint of snark in my voice: What is the point of the FLGR?
See here a picture of a field-stripped 1911 pistol (made by Colt) that I found somewhere in the public realm. You see that stubby tube of metal stuck in the right side of the recoil spring? That is the standard, and proper guide rod for the Model 1911 pistol, as John Moses Browning designed it. Its purpose is to give the end of the recoil spring an interface to press its force against the pistol's frame, as the recoil spring begins stacking its load against the slide as the slide moves rearward with respect to the frame. The entirety of the spring is enclosed within the dustcover of the frame and the front of the slide.
A Full Length Guide Rod is, relative to the pistol, a fairly new addition to the M1911. It replaces the standard length guide rod, and runs down the length of the spring, keeping it really, really straight. It is approximately the same length of the barrel, and when the slide is pulled back, it protrudes out beneath the barrel of the 1911, like this, or like this.
To accomodate this, a FLGR must have a special bushing (red) that allows it to protrude out the front, replacing the proper recoil spring plug that John Moses Browning designed almost a century ago. In some instances, the FLGR uses a hex-head (purple) to be unscrewed to take it out. That's what my friend's used.
This requires extra tools to disassemble the M1911 pistol. That's a shame, because the 1911 pistol is actually quite easy to field strip, as demonstrated to me regularly by my 9 year old daughter, who only requires a pencil or a pen (to remove the firing pen retention plate). (Teaser: we're working on her times, and will soon present high speed demonstrations, as soon as I figure out how to make video work.)
It also makes it more likely to break down, by increasing the number of bearing surfaces and parts. Also of interest: In a pinch, an empty .45acp case can be used to replace a missing recoil spring plug. (How could one of those go missing? Well, when the pistol is disassembled, the recoil spring is under some pressure. Things can sometimes get launched.) But if you're sporting a FLGR, you cannot utilize such field expedients.
Speaking of field expedients, in the case of a combat-worthy pistol, one might want to plan for the exigency of racking the pistol, one-handed. With an original-designed 1911 pistol complete with a standard-length guide rod, one need only to press the bottom of the slide (where the recoil spring plug is) against a hard edge, like table top or a door frame, to rack the pistol. With a FLGR in place, this is not very possible. Also, "press checks," wherein one pushes back on the slide slightly to assure that a round is in the chamber, are harder to accomplish with the FLGR in place.
Full-length guide rods don't only require more tools, they require more skill to break down.
So what's the point of the FLGR?
I've been told that they reduce the likelihood of the recoil spring "kinking". I have asked around among my gun afficianado friends, and I can't find any of 'em that have ever seen a "kinked" recoil spring, except for out of a pistol that blew up from a double-charged reloaded case (in which case, the pistol was ruined). I've been told that they somehow "buffer" the pistol. (By friction?) I've been told that they improve the accuracy of the pistol. I think that this is the one that really sells to most people. With a FLGR in place, the pistol feels tighter. It seems to rattle less between shots. There is a perception that the FLGR makes the gun shoot tighter.
A false perception.
When I got my brand new Kimber Stainless Classic 1911 (Series I), I took it out, and fired a couple of groups off of a sandbag rest at 25 yards with the factory FLGR in place. I then took the factory FLGR out and replaced it with a standard-length guide rod, and a standard recoil spring plug. I fired several more groups out of it, and found that they were precisely the same as the previous groups. Not "about the same." Not even better. Just, exactly, precisely, not-even-a-little-bit-different, The Same. I never put the FLGR back in.
The only possible benefit that I can possibly see to having a FLGR in place is that it adds a minute amount of weight to the muzzle, to assist in reducing muzzle flip during recoil. To that end, why not get tungston ones?
So why are they so prevalent among custom pistols? Even gun-smart men and women whom I respect are often carrying them. Why? Replacing the "custom," hard-to-use and hard-to-disassemble Full Length Guide Rods requires only that the guide rod and the spring plug be replaced. These are some of the cheapest parts for a 1911, and do not require hand-fitting. The cost should run less than $10 to replace them with old GI gun parts. (Which is what I have in my go-to gun.) Once disassembled, a nine-year old girl can put them in, without hesitation, the first time she tries. (I see her do it all the time.)
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I commented on the parts of the gun that I liked, and I asked him about why he kept the FLGR for a duty gun. I just couldn't help it. He blinked, and said that he hadn't thought to do otherwise. I offered to show him the difference sometime. I hope he takes me up on it.