Over the past few decades there have been certain firearms that have become very popular for custom gun projects. It would appear that many of these firearms have shown a direct correlation between their popularity, and the availability of aftermarket parts created for them. So, as a result we see a lot of the same guns being completely customized over and over. AR type rifles are popular and can now be completely assembled from kits at home, and many uniquely modified Ruger 10/22 rifles have become very common as well. There are also several other firearms that have established cult-like followings like these, which has helped launch a somewhat new era, or niche in the firearms market. The gun that we would like to discuss here also fits that criteria, but is far more iconic then most of the others. It is the 1911 semi auto pistol and we would like to take a closer look at the custom barrels that are being used in many of these popular pistols.
The Colt Model 1911 has been around for over a century and has since been copied by far more companies than we can possibly list here. There is an incredibly large market for everything related to the famous John Browning design. Whether you are searching for grips, triggers, sights, or whatever else, you will be offered many custom options that will help keep your custom project a true original.
However, when it comes to building a custom 1911, the barrel is a part that will require that you do a little bit of research before diving into your project. The barrels for these pistols have evolved into a very unique feature, and you will need to learn about the different options to avoid making a costly mistake.
Currently there are three common types for the barrels of the 1911 pistol. First is the barrel with the standard feed throat that was, and still is made the way that the almighty John Browning intended. Then there is the Wilson/Nowlin style ramped barrel, and the Para/Clark ramped barrel.
You may be wondering why the ramped barrels were developed in the first place? This is certainly a reasonable question, especially given the success of the original Colt 1911 pistol. After all, John Browning put a lot of effort into that design and it stood the test of time by remaining in military service for over eighty years. So why did some custom barrel guys feel the need to change it?
The answer is quite logical really, because the one thing that has changed consistently since the introduction of the first 1911 pistol is ammunition. Many of the rounds developed over the years are way more powerful than they were back then. They burn hotter and create heavier pressures than the early days of cartridge ammunition. This is especially true for the changes that took place during the 1970s when companies began introducing the +P ammunition. Those rounds are specifically designed to create higher pressure and to send the projectile down range at much greater speeds.
So, the very first ramped barrel for the 1911 was created as a result of these advancements. A man named Irv Stone II, who originally worked in aerospace technology and founded a company named Bar-Sto Precision, was the first to tackle the idea of using a ramped barrel and a reinforced lug to strengthen the action of the 1911.
His idea came as a direct result of the resurgence of interest by competitive shooters in the .38 Super caliber. A high-pressure caliber that Colt introduced way back in 1929 and even chambered it in the 1911A1 for a couple years. However, due to certain circumstances it never quite managed to gain traction as a mainstream commercial round. Partly because just a few years after its introduction there was another powerful round introduced that drew most of the attention. The .357 Magnum would become a far more popular round by comparison. During this time there were other issues that put a damper on the commercial gun industry, such as the great depression, followed by WWII. These events limited civilian use of just about everything that wasn’t a necessity.
However, many years later, professional competition shooters would discover that they liked the way the .38 Super round performed, and in the 70s and early 80s many IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) participants and other competitive shooters began using it. Although, firing this hot round in the standard configuration of the 1911 did not come without an issue, and there were instances of stove piping and cartridge case failure due inadequate case wall support.
That led to the first Bar-Sto ramped barrel, which included a newly designed lower lug. Ultimately the idea was good, but it turned out that the Bar-Sto design was still too weak for its intended purpose. Nevertheless, it would inspire further development. The Bar-Sto barrel was evolved into what we know today as the Wilson/Nowlin ramped barrel. These barrels are identified by the flat-backed lower lug and integral feed ramp.
During this same time period, Para Ordnance also began tackling the 1911 barrel problem for competition shooters. They came up with a similar solution with a slightly different appearance. These barrels became known as the Clark/Para barrels, which would also have a feed ramp, but their lower lug was rounded on the back side.
Both barrel options improved the pistol's ability to handle the higher pressured rounds, but neither design could escape an occasional mishap. Although, according to the custom barrel makers at Schumann Barrels the documented incidents of either of these barrels breaking was about 1% to 2% a year, and this they claim, could have been chalked up to inexperience of the gunsmith or DIYer that failed to properly time their gun. They also state that over the life of a 1911 pistol, its timing requirements will change as the gun wears.
In the 1990s the Clark/Para design would be revisited by a barrel maker named Lissner from Australia. The primary modification to the design was to strengthen the radius of the lug, where the critical maximum stress point had been identified. Barrel makers using this modification have reported the barrel is even less likely to have failure and will be far more forgiving to sloppy gunsmithing.
Now, it is important to note that for those drilling and cutting their own frame, or even for those of you who plan to purchase an already prepared frame, none of these barrels will interchange. It is crucial to know which type of barrel your frame is designed to accept.
It would also be advisable that before you dive into your 1911 project, that you do some online research. Nowadays, there is a lot of helpful information available in the form of video tutorials, forums, and articles like this one. For example, Brownell’s has video available that provides a clear explanation of the necessary frame modifications for each type of 1911 barrel. The forum on our website can also prove to be a valuable resource, and of course don’t forget that we here at Numrich Gun Parts Corporation are the world’s leading source of gun parts, so when you’re ready to begin, we will be happy to assist you with any items you may need for your custom 1911 build.