How to Upgrade Your 1911 Pistol

Upgrade your 1911

The 1911 is one of the most widely-known and beloved handguns around. When properly cleaned and maintained, the 1911 is one of the most accurate and reliable pistols ever made. There are numerous makes and models of 1911s in various sizes and calibers. This makes the 1911 a prime candidate for upgrades and customization. In addition to a good holster and a stockpile of ammunition, there are a number of things you can get for your 1911 to fit it to your needs.


One of the first things most people want to upgrade on their pistols are the sights. Some 1911 pistols feature non-removable sights and would require gunsmithing and permanent modification to install new sights. However, most modern 1911s will utilize dovetail slots that allow you to change and regulate your sights. There are many different sighting options, and your choices will largely be dependent on your preferences and what the pistol will be used for.

The most common sight cuts are Colt Government, Novak LoMount, BoMar BMCS and LPA/TRT. Most fixed sights will be the Colt Government or Novak LoMount pattern, while most adjustable sights will be BoMar BMCS or LPA/TRT pattern. Some companies, like SIG Sauer and Kimber, utilize a proprietary sight cut. These would require specific sights or some modification to fit a more popular sight cut. If you are unsure on what pattern your 1911s sights are cut for, do some research to ensure you purchase the correct replacement sights.

If it’s intended to be a target gun or hunting piece, you may want to select a set of adjustable sights. These feature a rear sight that can be adjusted (usually with a small screwdriver) for windage and elevation. This allows you to dial your firearm in for your specific load and shooting conditions.

If your firearm is to be used for self-defense, you may choose to instal a set of night sights or fiber-optic sights. Night sights will generally utilize tritium dots that will glow in dark conditions. The dots tend to be larger, making them easy to view, but are harder to use at long distances.

Fiber-optic sights use colored tubes that draw in surrounding light that makes them highly visible. This gives you a sight picture that is easy to acquire during the daytime, but isn’t the best for night. The fiber-optic rods can also break, but they are easily replaced. There are some sights that use both fiber-optic rods with tritium rings for the best of both worlds.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 sights


One of the easiest 1911 upgrades, and a great way to make your pistol your own, is to install new grips to your 1911. These grips can make the grip thicker or thinner, and even add finger grooves, allowing you to better fit the pistol to your hand. There are 1911 grips made out of different materials, such as wood, G10, rubber, metal and plastic, with different levels of traction for your personal preference.

If the pistol may be used in foul conditions, G10 grips provide a lot of traction, even when wet, but they can also abrade the skin on your hands.

Rubber grips provide a good cushion from recoil and a fair amount of traction, but can also catch on clothing when carrying concealed. Wooden grips look stunning, but are typically smoother and can be warped by excessive moisture. It is important to note that if you have, or plan on installing, an ambidextrous thumb safety, it is important to select grips with the proper cut on the inside of the right panel.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 Grips

Thumb Safety:

A key feature to using a 1911 pistol is using the manual thumb safety. There are extended thumb safeties that allow you to more easily manipulate the lever to engage and disengage the safety.

If you are a southpaw, or simply would like the option to use your off-hand in an emergency, there are ambidextrous thumb safeties that can be installed. Sometimes these parts can be installed by simply removing the old part and inserting the new part, provided you are competent with the disassembly and reassembly of your firearm. However, the part may need to be installed by a gunsmith and properly fitted to your pistol. A 1911 is not like a GLOCK, and sometimes hand-fitting is required for proper functioning and safe operation.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 thumb safety

Grip Safety:

For this section, it will be important to know whether your model of 1911 is a Series 70 or Series 80. The Series 80 is marked by the inclusion of a firing-pin block that gets depressed during the trigger pull. This prevents the firearm from going off when dropped. This can be seen with the slide removed and looks like a small circle button just behind the breech face. Once this is determined, you can properly select a grip safety that will work with your pistol.

Changing out the grip safety can be used to give you a more extended beavertail. This can help to protect your hand from slide bite by providing you with extra metal to cover the web of your hand. Slide bite is when you grip too high on the pistol and the slide of the pistol cycles back while firing and runs into the web of your hand, cutting it.

A new grip safety can also provide you with a larger bump in the portion where your palm grips the pistol, helping to ensure the safety is more reliably depressed each time you draw your handgun. This memory bump was developed after some shooters gripped the pistol too high and experienced problems properly depressing the grip safety. Installing a grip safety is similar to the thumb safety, in that it may require a trip to the gunsmith for proper fitment.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 grip safety

Mainspring Housing:

On your quest to upgrade your 1911, you can also swap out the mainspring housing. Most 1911s utilize a squared mainspring housing, but there are options out there that feature what is called a bobtail. This means the rear corner of the grip is rounded or sculpted to print less while carrying concealed. There are replacement mainspring housings to fit both traditional and bobbed 1911 models.

Some 1911s come with plastic mainspring housings that shooters may want to swap out for a more durable metal one. You can also select a mainspring housing with a different checkering or texture pattern for more traction or a different feel in the hand. Mainspring housings can be arched or flat, and will point differently.

If your pistol is primarily used for home defense or target shooting, there are mainspring housings that incorporate a magwell into the design. This facilitates faster magazine changes by guiding your new mag into the pistol. There are also mainspring housings that offer improved traction. This helps you get a firm grip when drawing and shooting your pistol, even with wet or muddy hands.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 mainspring housing

Slide Stop:

You may also consider upgrading the slide stop/release on your 1911 pistol. This piece also serves as your takedown pin. You may opt for an extended slide release to make it easier to manipulate, or select something more low profile.

There are several companies making replacement slide stops for 1911s, and for the most part they are very similar. Some may feature a different texture pattern or finish, so just select one you like. However, you may want to look into whether the piece is forged or MIM. Machine Injection Molded (MIM) parts are sometimes seen as less durable, but modern techniques have started to blur the line.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 slide stop


The heart of the 1911 is its crisp single-action trigger. Some factory options are better than others, but they can always be replaced. Whether you simply want to change the trigger shoe for a new look and feel, or want a lighter and smoother trigger pull, there are tons of options.

There are flat and curved triggers that can be had in short or long configurations depending on your hand size and preference. There are even adjustable triggers that you can change the point at which the trigger resets. You can also set your trigger to be heavy and smooth for carry, or light and crist for competition or target shooting. It is worth noting that 1911 triggers may need to be installed and fitted by a gunsmith to ensure proper functioning.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 trigger


The type of replacement 1911 barrel you need will depend on whether your 1911 pistol model uses a traditional barrel bushing or a bull barrel. It will also depend on the slide length of your 1911 handgun. The most popular barrel lengths are 5, 4.25, 4 and 3.5 inches. 1911 barrels can also be ramped or non-ramped for different models. On ramped barrels, the feed ramp (part that guides the cartridge into the chamber while loading) will be built into the barrel.

On non-ramped barrels, the feed ramp will be a part of the frame of the pistol, just under the barrel throat (part where the chamber of the barrel opens to accept a cartridge).

This would also be a good time to instal a full-length steel guide rod if you do not already have one. This will require a new plug that is hollowed out to allow the rod to run through it while firing. This adds a little weight towards the muzzle end, helping with recoil and will help to keep the recoil spring from getting kinks or excessive wear. Shorter 1911 pistols, like the Officer’s Model, tend to come stock with full-length guide rods. Some shooters prefer a GI-style guide rod due to its simplicity and lighter weight.

Installing a new barrel can help achieve better accuracy, especially when paired with a matching barrel bushing. There are some drop-in barrels for 1911s on the market, but most replacement barrels will still require some fitting by a gunsmith for proper operation. You can select a standard-length barrel if you want a simple accuracy improvement, or you can choose a threaded barrel if you want to use a suppressor or compensator.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 barrels

Magazines/Mag Release:

Finally, you will also want to stock up on magazines and possibly upgrade your magazine release. There are several extended magazine release options that help you quickly eject a magazine for a faster reload. Most are very similar, just with different texturing patterns and finishes, so simply find one you like.

When it comes to magazines, there are seemingly infinite options, but all are not created equal. Some cheap options are not reliable in all pistols, or at all, and can break if dropped on the ground. Wilson Combat makes some of the best 1911s in the industry, and their magazines are up to the same standard.

They are as reliable and durable as it gets, and are not overly expensive when you look at comparable options. There are other reliable options from Chip McCormick and Mec-Gar as well. Magazines can come in different lengths for different capacities. There are seven and eight-round magazines in .45 ACP and 10-round mags for 9mm Luger that are great for concealed carry, and extended magazines for use at the range. There are also shorter magazines for use with an Officer’s Model frame, which is shorter than the full-full size. Longer magazines will fit in the shorter pistol frames, but the shorter magazines will not work with the larger pistol frames.

Specific Recommendations:

1911 magazine

Conclusion: Upgrading Your 1911 Handgun

The 1911 is an excellent host for upgrades and customization. In addition to all of the items on this list, you can get into changing out the extractor, ejector, hammer, sear and other small parts, but this can start affecting the reliability of your firearm.

Some of these upgrades may need to be installed by a competent gunsmith to ensure proper functioning and safety. You may also choose to instal a weapon light like the Streamlight TLR-6 if the pistol is intended for defensive use. If you select any of the options mentioned above, you are sure to be pleased.

1911 sights