80% 1911 for under $400 build adventure

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80% 1911 for under $400 build adventure

I was so excited to start this project in the beginning, but it quickly became my most dreaded project to date. I have built an 80% 1911 before and quite frankly I didn’t see why people said that 1911 builds are so hard to do. Sure 1911’s are more of an advanced build, but if you take your time, it is not beyond the average person’s capabilities.

Initially, I was shooting for a build that was about $500 and was pleasantly surprised when it came just under $400 for the parts ($375.50 to be exact).

Let’s explore how I did this!

80% 1911- Background

This adventure started with the frame selection. To keep prices down, I decided to go with a blemished frame. A blemished frame is entirely functional; they happen to fail manufacturers standards for looks. Quite frankly, you may never see the blemish. If you do discover the blemish, you can take some additional steps in the finishing process to remove them.

To make things more complicated, not only did I want to go with a blemished frame, but I also wanted it to be steel instead of aluminum. There are not many steel 80% 1911 frames out there, yet alone blemished ones.

After doing my research, I decided on Tactical Machining’s blemished 1911 Government frame. It fit the build for the price and I am no stranger to their products. After all, I built my personal 308 AR on their TM-10 lower.

The frame was in stock, but I was waiting for some money to come in to buy it. That waiting period initially proved to be a mistake, as the product sold out. After waiting weeks for the frame to come back in stock again, I decided that I needed to move on and look for another frame.

Around the same time that I was looking for this frame, I was working on our 80% Arms AR15 jig video. I happen to find the blemished 80% Tactical Machining 1911 frame that I was looking for along with my 80% AR lower at the same place (www.righttobear.com). Even better than finding the 1911 frame that I wanted to use, it was cheaper by just over $20!

That left me with, well everything else to purchase. I came across a deal from Sarco for a 1911 build kit for about $265. After doing some searching, I found mixed reviews. However, I decided to continue with my purchase anyway. 

80% 1911 – The Build

When it came time to build this frame, I quickly ran into problems. I know that this is a blemished frame, but it was looking more like a frame the failed quality control for more than blemishes.

The frame was tight to get into my jig (I run Matrix Precision jigs on my 1911 builds) and the rear pin wouldn’t go through the grip safety as it should. I took the frame out and tried to put the pin in without the jig and found that the hole on the left side was the correct size. Well, kind of the right size. The pin went in but stopped just short of going all the way as the hole was the wrong size right before it ended. I moved the pin over to the right side and found that the hole on the other side was completely wrong. I pulled out my calipers and started to measure, The hole on the left was .1555 Inches (within spec for the hole), and on the right, it was .128 inches (too small for the spec).

Even though it had been two months since I bought the frame, I decided to send an email to Right To Bear to see if they had run into this problem before. On April 17th at 1:17 pm, I sent off an email explaining what I was seeing. I was surprised when 3 minutes later, I received a response that they had not heard of the problem before, but they copied Tactical Machining on the email response for some assistance. Feeling good that I was going to be taken care of I went on with my day.

Ten minutes later, I received an email from Tactical Machining apologizing for the problem and that they would send me out a non-blemished frame for a replacement, but it would take a few weeks.

I started to feel good about this build after the quick panic of having an out of spec frame. After all, I discovered that these two companies are dedicated to customer service and I realized that I was going to be taken care of during this build.

Not being one to let a good disaster go to waste; I decided to see if I could fix the frame. However, that is a horror story for another time.

80% 1911 – Prepping the slide


Since I have time until the new frame comes in, I decided to work on the slide.

I ran into a problem that the extractor was oversized in the rear. However, I fixed that in a few minutes with a file and some sandpaper.


80% 1911 – Finishing the new frame

Now that the new frame was in hand, I was ready to get this project rolling. The new frame fit into my jig securely without problems and I began to finish the frame.

I drilled the hammer and sear pin holes on the left side with no issues. From there, I switched to the right side and drilled the hammer pin hole drilled with no problems. However, when I drilled the sear pin hole, I ran into a problem. The drill press started to drill this hole with no problem but shortly after starting the drill bit broke. Well, that happens, so I just figured that I would order a new one.

This is the point where I started to dislike the project. Unfortunately, the drill bit broke just under the surface of the jig and the into the slight hole that it made in the frame and made it impossible to remove the frame from the jig. I tried to use a smaller drill bit to drill out the larger one, but that proved to cause more problems when I broke that bit as well and messed up the hardened steel inserts in the jig.

I figured that since the drill bit was not in the frame far, I would use a 4lb dead blow hammer to remove the frame from the jig thinking that the tip of the bit would break off. Well, it did break, but it gouged the frame on the way out. I was disappointed, but the damage was only cosmetic and being an optimist, I figured that there was another video that I could make on this in the future.

After I removed the frame, I found that I also gouged the inside of the jig as well but not enough to cause problems or mandate that I replace the jig. I went to Matrix Precision’s website and ordered replacement parts and set the frame aside.

80% 1911 – Finishing the new frame (The second attempt).

After I received my replacement parts and rebuilt my jig, I started to drill the hole again. However, the drill bit was not drilling as it should have. I re-ran my speeds and feeds calculations to figure out if I was running at the correct RPM.

My calculations are correct. I contacted Tactical Machining to double-check the type of steel that frame was made up of ( it is 4140 steel and heat-treated to 28-30 rockwell for you machining people out there). Once I verified the metal and calculations are correct, I verified that I was using the proper cutting oil.

From there, I set off to drill the hole and broke another bit. Fortunately, I could remove the broken bit this time. After breaking a few bits from the kit, I decided to use a few different kinds and they broke as well. I used, Carbide coated, Cobalt coated, Titanium coated, no matter what I used I either broke them or wore them out.

At this point, I found out about the phenomenon of Work Hardening. My first drill bit was so worn and I was feeding too fast and hard, that even my cutting oil couldn’t keep the bit cool enough. The overheating of the bit further hardened the metal even further than it already was making the drill bits that I was using useless.

With this information, I decided the change up my drill bit and went with a solid carbide (not carbide coated) drill bit. This solid carbide drill bit did the trick and cut right through the frame with no problems.

I did not have a problem with the slide to frame fit.

80% 1911 – The assembly

The assembly of the frame went reasonably well with only four areas that needed attention. Most 1911 parts are gunsmith fit. Gunsmith fit is just a fancy way of saying that they are oversized and need to be hand fitted.

I had to fit the thumb safety, which is normal. However, I had two new areas that I had to fit that I was not expecting. They were the slide stop and the mainspring housing.

I tackled the slide stop issue first as it was rubbing the underneath of the slide, making it difficult to rack. A few minutes with a file took enough material off that the slide was moving freely. Next, I moved onto the mainspring housing.

The mainspring housing was not going all the way into place and it took me a little bit to figure out as I wasn’t sure if I ran into another frame problem or part problem.

I tried putting the mainspring housing in another 1911 and it didn’t fit in that frame either. After painting the surfaces with Dykem and

 repeatedly inserting and removing the part, I found that the Main Spring Housing was too thick and the front side where it meets the frame, so I sanded it down and It fit with no problems.

I noticed that the frame was out of spec a little on the bottom with the mainspring housing installed. The frame is .03 inches too long and doesn’t affect the functions of the frame. I am going to file the 

excess down in the future when I go to put the finishing touches on this gun.

The biggest problem that I had with the Sarco kit was the barrel timing. Once assembled, the barrel refused to unlock fully but just barely. I realized that the barrel link was too long, which was throwing the timing off.

The link that came installed on my barrel was a #3 (.278 inches) and is the factory standard length. I settled in on a #2 link which is .005 inches smaller than the #3 link. Changing the link gave me positive engagement when closed and unlocked the barrel at the right time.

Most people do not have a link kit for a 1911 laying around, so don’t be surprised if you need to purchase one to get your barrel timing correct.


My kit came with a magazine. However, this magazine refuses to hold the slide back when it is empty. I tried this magazine in another 1911, and the problem followed the magazine. Using another magazine, the problem went away.

Several magazines ranging from expensive to economy worked in the pistol with the exception of the one that came with the kit.

If you purchase this kit, based on my experience, don’t expect the magazine to work. 




The kit came with some grips. I could have upgraded them at the time of purchase for a little extra money. However, I decided to see what they sent. They are cheap, plastic and possibly used. But, they are perfectly acceptable to use as is.


Here is a list of the parts with links.

Sarco .45 1911 Auto Builders Kit with Serrated Slide $264.95
Shipping 17.95

Tactical Machining Government 80% Frame – Blemished $87.95
Shipping $4.65 (Shipping was combined with another item so I divided the cost evenly).


Yes, you can build an 80% 1911 for under $400 in parts. This figure is exclusive of tooling and jigs. This is never going to be the best 1911 I built. However, it will be a fun gun to shoot. 

The gun does leave much to be desired in the trigger pull and performance department. However, the slide fit is snug and I can upgrade the components inside the gun. Upgrades will make this a more reliable and accurate shooter.

This build did annoy me with all of the problems I had. However, now that it is finished, I am happy to have the gun functioning. Stay tuned for future adventures of this pistol as I take it from a functioning gun to something more enjoyable.

Learn more about the 1911

We have lots of content to fill your 1911 needs. Visit our 1911 Series 70 Field Strip Video, 1911 Series 70 Slide Disassembly and Reassembly , 1911 Series 70 Frame Disassembly Video, as well as, 1911 Series 70 Frame Reassembly Video to learn more about this firearm.

If you would like to learn more about building a 1911, we have you covered there too. Visit our 1911 slide to frame fitting calculator and 1911 barrel hood fitting calculator articles to learn more. 

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