Help with 1911 springs


Well-Known Member
OK, didn't want to bore everyone, but if there is some interest.

One of the most common issues with a 1911 is inconsistent ejection, typically a symptom of an
improperly tensioned extractor. It turns out that this bit if knowledge seems to have largely fallen through
the cracks as production of the 1911 moved from only Colt for the better part of a century (less the WW2
contractors who came and went from the field quickly) is the need for and proper way to set up
the tension on the extractor. I have seen numerous 1911s and the mini-not-really-1911s like the
SIG 238 that come with ZERO extractor tension and very inconsistent ejection. My wife's 238 tossed the first
two cases into the tin roof over the firing line, upward about 70 deg from the ground. The next one was
about 10 degrees above horizontal, and the third case literally rolled off of her hand and lay on the
shooting bench, zero energy/velocity. Since it has a tunneled extractor just like a 1911, I set the tension
and it started ejecting vigorously and consistently, and that was years ago, and it is still fine.

Basically, the extractor is a leaf spring, and it needs to be moderately preloaded towards the centerline
of the slide so the forward 'doughnut', actually more of a pad, is touching the interior of the extractor
tunnel solidly. There are special tools which are said by the sellers to give you perfect extractor setup,
but my simple, no tools method works fine. Start with the slide off the gun.

Push in the firing pin, and move the fp stop downward, about 1/4" and stop, then get ready to catch
the FP, under spring pressure rearward, as you move the FP stop the rest of the way down and out.
Catch and remove the fp and it's spring. Note that the spring has a right and wrong direction. Right is
with the tight end pushed up onto the FP until it will stay there by itself. The other end is bigger and
will not stay there, will just fall off if you tilt it down. Now, here is the first real item of inspection to see
how your extractor is set up. It should take a small screwdriver to pry the extractor up until the
rear 1/2" (which is the mounting portion) pops clear.
If yours pries up super easily, or will just
shake out ( many do!) it has too little or even zero preload, not good for consistent extraction and
ejection. If yours take a bit of prying, clean the extractor and tunnel (a .22 LR brass brush fits nicely
to clean the tunnel) and then push the extractor back into place, until it is flush. It should take a
firm push with a thumb to get it flush, say 4 or 5 lbs force. If it is a lot less, you need to bend the
extractor. Fortunately, there is a handy, professional extractor bending tool laying right on your
bench....the slide. Insert the butt end of the extractor (rear) into the slide's extractor tunnel until
the full diam portion is fully in, but no more. Then using the slide as a lever, put the tip of the
extractor on a wooden surface that you don't mind marring slightly, and put a bit of bend into
the extractor, JUST A BIT. Do this gently and you will not do enough the first couple of times
as you learn what it takes to put a tiny permanent bend into the extractor. Once you think you have
bent it a touch, reverse it to normal orientation and reinstall flush - hoping to take a firm push
to seat it. If it still does not, do another slight tweak to the extractor......BENDING IT TOWARDS
the centerline of the slide, to increase preload towards a case rim. Once you get the tension
right, reassemble the extractor - get the slot exactly lined up be prying with a small screwdriver
before you even attempt to put in the FP stop. It is useful to slide the FP stop into place without
the FP or spring as a test to see that you have the extractor in the right location fore and aft and
rotationally. Once you can slide the FP stop in freely, then put in the FP with spring, compress it
with a punch or similar, and slide in the FP stop until the FP clicks in and locks it in place.

Also, if your gun has a trigger stop in the trigger (tiny allen screw on the bottom, accessed by a hole
in the lower trigger face, or the GC factory screw has holes and is rotated by a pin from the side) you
should see if it is set correctly. With the gun unloaded, or better, the slide off, for safety, hold the trigger
all the way rearward firmly while cocking the hammer and slowly letting it down with your other thumb.
You are trying to feel for the sear hitting the half cock notch as the hammer rotates forward from fully
cocked. If you feel nothing but smooth hammer movement this is good. If you want to set to minimum
overtravel, back off the stop screw a bit and check again. Do this until you feel the half cock swiping the
sear as the hammer goes forward. This is unsafe ( gun could stop at half cock, not fire) and will eventually
damage the sear top. Once you get to feeling this, back off the stop screw (move the screw fwd so the
trigger can more back more and push the sear farther away from the half cock notch) until the half cock misses the
sear and then give it another half turn for safety's sake. Too tight a trigger stop screw can make it impossible to
fire the gun, or catch it at half cock, neither is good if you depend on it to work.

While you have the extractor out, check to see if the bottom edge of the working portion, the 3/32" or so
behind the hook has a nice smooth bevel or better yet a radius on the bottom. The 1911 is SUPPOSED
to be a controlled round feed design, like the Mauser 93, 95 and 98 designs where the rim slides under
the extractor before the round leaves the control of the magazine. Some modern 'early release, parallel
lip' mags do not let the round rise up, and it pops free of the mag and the cartridge is in free flight for
a bit, not a good thing. With a dummy round, you should slowly cycle the gun and watch as the slide moves
forward and see if it pops out of the mag before it is under the control of the extractor. Most guns will work
this way, but it is NOT the way JMB intended, and is asking for trouble. Original tapered lip mags ( the only new
source I know of now is Checkmate, their GI mags, all the rest of, even theirs are early release) let the round rise
up behind the extractor before it is released from the mag. Recent Colt mags are a hybrid design with tapered
lips but an early release, too. Seems a pretty good compromise. Again, MOST 1911s will function well with
either original tapered lip JMB design mags, or hybrid mags or parallel lip, early release mags (the last make up
at lease 80-90% of current new production mags, or higher) but not all will. I have a Commander which feeds, slowly
by hand slick as owl snot from original or hybrid mags, but has a definite, always there hitch when feeding my
preferred Gold Dot 230 JHPs in slow hand checking. Best check this with the FP removed, too. It is worth doing
the test to see how your rounds feel on the trip from the mag to the barrel, and watch to see if they go up
under the extractor before being release by the mag.

Also, a very rough surface finish on the breech face is detrimental to good, smooth feeding. A light polish
of that area with, say 400 grit sandpaper on a small tongue depressor will help smooth up feeding if yours
has a rough finish.

Hope this is useful.



Thanks for sharing with others what us old .45 guys have ingrained in our noggin. Tuning an extractor reaps benefits that are instantly realized.

Charles Graff

Moderator Emeritus
A quick look at the rear of the assembled slide will tell you, if your extractor has "clocked", i.e. turned in the tunnel from it's proper position. If the extractor has turned, it needs to be tensioned so it will stay where it is supposed to be.


Well-Known Member
I prefer to fit a new, properly tight firing pin stop if the extractor can rotate significantly with the original
FP stop. The FP stop being tight against the extractor and the slide groove is the proper way to orient the extractor.