Monday, August 17, 2009

Thunder Wrench?

MattG takes issue with the Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special; specifically, with how tight Les builds his guns.

I'll note that the first time I field-stripped my Springfield Professional, the bushing was so tight that I was holding the pistol with both hands while Marko cranked on the bushing wrench, and even that wasn't as bad as some Baers I've messed with. I think Les builds them too tight because customers expect them that way: "Jeebus, Larry, the lockup on this new Concept V is so tight that I can't even run the slide! It must be awesome!"


Matt G said...

I was at an IDPA match a couple of years ago when a shooter (A good one, too, who oughta know better) bragged that he had to slap the back of the slide to get it to go fully back into battery, because it was so tight. "Oughta be okay after 500 to a thousand break-in rounds," he laughed. "This is just the break-in period."

(Admittedly, this was not a Baer, but was made for him by his personal gunsmith.)

Most people get pissed when their custom knives arrive less-than-work-ready out of the box, why do they readily expect their guns to be any other way?

Anonymous said...

I believe the correct response is "some people would complain if you executed them with a new rope", not the other thing that Clint said. :-)

I have 5 TRSs, from #800 to the last one I bought at the low #4100s. All are a little stiff when new, it's just the nature of the beast. All platforms have built in design trade offs. I am willing to trade having the guns shoot like it has eyes and function 100% for having to spend and extra 30 seconds tearing it down and putting it back together.

For me this extra minute, longer if unfamiliar with Les Baers, is meaningless.

Whether the gun has 1K rounds through it as my last TRS does or 25K as my first TRS does, the guns all run like sewing machines, clean or dirty. If dirty just throw more lube on and it runs some more, until I break a part on the gun as I exceed the design limitations.

To me, the overtravel screw is a much bigger problem, than the machining. You can probably still Google up Les Baer's response to this complaint. To me it is a non-issue, but that's the joy of guns, the objective is subjective. :-)

Shootin' Buddy

Tam said...

From what I've noticed, the TRS's are generally not quite as tight as some of the other Baers, some of which get delivered comically tight.

I've seen a grown man open up his hand on the Bo-Mar on his brand-new Premier II trying to work the slide (and this after he'd already cocked the hammer.) And he was happy as a clam. "Look how tight it is!"

Ed Rasimus said...

For all we rave about 1911s, they still are conundrums. I argued with a close friend for years about his preference for Colt 1911s while I was very content with my Sig. I pointed out in vain that he spent the same amount for his Colt as I for my Sig, but he then had to take it immediately to a gunsmith to change the sites, replace the grip safety with a beavertail, replace the trigger, get new recoil springs, install an ambi thumb safety, and on and on.

(PS, he now does the same with a Harley and doesn't see the issue there either.)

Someone did see the problem though and made a fortune by dealing with it--Kimber started selling affordable 1911s with all the desired goodies for a very competitive price out of the box. And, they work immediately. (I've got two and love them.)

Baer, Wilson, Brown et. al. do a job for those who want that special gun, but for the masses, there are better options.

Taurus has now apparently un-upped Kimber on the affordable "customized" 1911.

Different strokes...

Tango Juliet said...

In most every endeavor, there's a point of diminishing returns. That certainly includes tightly built 1911's.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Don't like, don't buy it. I don't think anyone purchased a 2K Baer with out doing some serious research. Unlike the Bersa .380 that I always felt needed a 200 round break in, the folks who buy Baers already know what's needed. The Bersa crowd was usually looking at a price point.

Drang said...

Uh, didn't Saint John M. Browning (pbuh) deliberately design the 1911 to be somewhat loose? Isn't building one that tight defeating the purpose?

I did think it was silly that I had to put a few boxes through my Combat Commander when it was new to break it in, but it's not like there were a lot of games in town in the mid-80s on SGT/E5 pay. (In Monterey, CA.)

Maybe I'm still just a grunt at heart (OK, a muddy-boots MI Geek) but if I need special tools to disassemble my sidearm in the field, I've got the wrong sidearm.

Unknown said...

Whatever happened to the "gold cup" bushing? The 70 series had some neat little springs that held on to the barrel, which I thought was pretty clever.

Otherwise, I think the goal is .0000001" tolerances between the slide and bushing. At that point, the cost of a Les Baer will go into getting them that new electron microscope.

Anonymous said...

To my mind, this discussion revolves about a set of points: the need for a gun shop to cater to what their customers expect, what point is reasonable for a break-in period for a custom gun, and at what point does fit and finish detract from a carry gun.

Everyone here would agree it's silly to go out and buy an expensive car, and then say that you paid so much money for it, you shouldn't have to change the oil.

That said, when I clear leather the gun's gonna go bang when I expect it to. Period. Anything that makes me doubt that's gonna happen will be corrected, and trained with to a fair-thee-well, pronto. If I need to shoot a thousand rounds to make me confident of my equipment, that's what I do.

Anonymous said...

I always pull the slide back about half an inch before turning the bushing. Makes it a lot easier to remove.

Montie said...


I do a lot of reading and very little commenting on your blog but this just got me. I recently happend upon a Les Baer Concept VIII (stainless Commander length gun) in my favorite pawn shop with an astounding low price tag that I was able to negotiate down to what I felt was a price I couldn't say not to. It was tight, but not so tight that I couldn't turn the bushing by hand (OK it was tight, but was do-able). The slide ran like it was on ball bearings, and I just knew it would shoot as good as my custom Colt Government (which incidentally used to belong to Clint Smith, Les Baer's biggest booster).

My department qualified last week and I shot the Les Baer as an off duty gun. Having never fired a round through it, I shot a 100% using Winchester white box 230 grain ammo. The best I managed with my issue Sig P229 was a 96%, and the best with my regular off-duty gun (Kimber Ultra CDP II) was a 92%. Both of those guns I have extensive experience with. The Les Baer gave me 3 100% runs in a row without a hitch, so say what you will, I'm now a believer.

Ed Foster said...

Lessons learned while making the Rock River 1911, now being applied to manufacture of (essentially) the same pistol as a Stag Arms: There's snug, and there's stiff.

Marek Dumbrowski, the gent who's been milling the slides and recievers for donkey's years, does a freakishly good job. Every slide will fit every reciever, but only just. Call it plus or minus .0002 tolerance. With two or three minutes of lapping, they're all smooth as glass.

Kids, loose is not more reliable, something often discovered with AK type weapons, especially Chinese varieties. A loose fitting bolt or slide will cock, and actually produce more drag than something smooth and parallel.

Our stuff is all made from forgings produced by Bourdon Forge down in Middletown CT, the same people who have been doing them for Colt's for about a century.

Something I noticed a few years ago was that the center of the rail tracks in the slide would consistently open up about .0025, causing a bit of wobble and drag in mid-cycle. I changed the milling program to cut shallow .002in the middle, which gave me constant bearing throughout the cycle.

Our toys will function reliably with loads that barely open the ejection port enough to clear the fired case and tickle the ejector.

As for the barrel, why screw around? We're buying Fred Kart's, and setting them up the NMU way.

At full battery, there's .001 to .003 clearance between barrel and slide, there are two little bumps between the lugs on the barrel that are painstakeingly filed in to allow .042 to .045 engagement of said lugs to the slide, and keep the barrel centered with no drag. The hood is hand filed in, just enough to bring the under lug at full battery to light, even contact with the pivot/disassembly pin. Every bit of this is done with Prussian Blue, to zero wobble.

The Bushing is supplied to us from Kart, individually fitted to the barrel. We only have to polish down the bushing's O.D. to fit snugly in the slide recess. The barrel diameter is reduced a few thousanths about 5/16ths of an inch behind the muzzle, so, as Salamandertales said, just pull the slide back an inch and the bushing will turn off with no more than thumb pressure.

There never was any excuse except sloppy workmanship for having a bushing so tight you had to bleed to get it out. If the slide recess and bushing are truely round, a tenthousanth or two is all the clearance you need for the best of both worlds, accuracy and ease of disassembly.

We'll be tinkering on the pre-production batch of 150 pistols for another month or two, but we should have the test guns out well before Christmas.

And yes, it really is possible to retail a custom gun with all the bells and whistles for 1,200 bucks. But only if you have the experience making the piece, and only if you make pretty much everything yourself.

Except the springs, which we're be buying from Wolfe. Again, why screw around? It's worth a few extra bucks to get their product.

Tam said...


Word from my sources is look into IMSI chrome-silicon recoil springs. I'm running an 18-lb. one in both of my guns right now, and I have a spare, but I'm not sure why.

The boys have been using them almost exclusively for a couple years now, and have some Master-class IPSC shooters with freakishly-high round counts on the springs.

theirritablearchitect said...

"...some Master-class IPSC shooters with freakishly-high round counts on the springs..."

As it should be. Modern springs in a locked-breech pistol of such moderate pressures (with a heavy slide to boot) shouldn't be battering the springs (or the frame or the slide) to death.

Now, shooting +P anything in otherwise standard dress is another matter.

Tam said...

There's spring steel and then there's spring steel.

I have 100+ y.o. Colts running on their original springs, and I've seen two-year-old Kimbers with springs so broke-dick that they wouldn't work anymore. If you're going to install a spring of the original diameter, length, and number of coils in a 1911, you need to make it out of the original material heat-treated to the original specs if you expect it to perform up to par. Half the "problems" with 1911s are caused by the myriad of manufacturers applying materiels'n'manufacturing shortcuts to the design.

Hunsdon said...


Just half?

Roberta X said...

....I am so not gonna mention applying a coat of Flitz polish to the rails of a too-tight Star and cycling it many-many times to get it all smooth and happy. Or was that "sloppy?" Hey, they were $139 per each back then.

Ed Foster said...

A point well taken. The CProducts magazines Stag and S&W have been shipping got C-S springs about two years ago.

The big advantage C-S has over the 17-7 stainless it replaces is that it takes an initial set over the first 2 days or so, then keeps it's form and strength pretty much forever.

Some folks are a bit off-put about the nice red rust you get on C-S. They shouldn't be. It's free iron on the surface of the wire, and actually forms a protective coating. Don't try to remove it, please. It does good things by sealing the metal underneath.

We're looking around for a long term magazine producer, but are probably starting off with Chip McCormacks. I really like the quality, the removeable but tight floorplate, and they all feed really well. But, I'm open for suggestions.

Metalform feeds well, but I remember the weld problems that troubled them until two years ago. I've been through their plant (It's next door, we share a parking lot), and I'm pretty impressed. The new owners have put mucho bucks into new machinery, and what's coming out the door seems to be first rate.

But, a reputation for Doo-Doo lasts a long time, and it might be worth our while to go bother CProducts or Eddie over at O.K. Industries. Both first rate companies, both within a couple of blocks, and I've worked with O.K. since Colt's back in the early 90's.

It's nice to be able to walk in the supplier's door ten minutes after you find a problem, and go "Hands On" two minutes later.

Still, I'm open to any suggestions. There are lots of folks out there with more 1911 shooting time than me, and I'm wondering if anybody's actually done any statistically reliable studies on magazine performance?

Kristophr said...

Bah ... youse guys all forgot to get the Les Baer bushing impact wrench attachment.

Just take it and the pistol to your local tireshop for bushing removal ... or get a compressor from Harbor Fright.

NotClauswitz said...

My buddy Wes bought a Les Baer. Just holding it felt like if I fired it I'd have a whole handful of red dots from cuts - the grip diamonds were so sharp and the backstrap and front strap too.

word: oxyflab - need more exercise.

John B said...

Sheeeee's Tight!
Half way through the debate, Cheap Trick came up on my jukebox computer!

Says it all really!