Monday, March 08, 2010

The malf controls.

There are two controls on the M1911 semiautomatic pistol that are designed to make it malfunction: One causes the slide to be frozen in its rearmost position and the other causes the pistol to vomit its magazine onto the ground. And yet every year people spend untold thousands of dollars trying to make these controls easier for their fingers to touch without leaving the normal firing position.

Weird, huh?


pdb said...

And some people curiously insist on making the slide malf lever a LOT easier to find and switch on than the lever that allows the gun to shoot!

The thumb safety is something you will have to find and use in self defense. The slide malf lever is something you will statistically never have to use. So why make it bigger?

Jim said...

The power of monkey-see advertising is at play. Tactical Sergeant Tuffton McShot won the Utah Box Canyon Steel Coyote match using the Spudworks 11 mm magazine release, so get yours now.

I seem to be on an unusually severe kick against over-priced and/or unnecessary products lately. But even allowing for that, I tend to prefer my 1911s built pretty much as the sainted Mr. Browing sugested.

Justthisguy said...

Well, I don't have a 1911, but a Star PD. Is that close enough? My starboard thumb seems to have grown with its last joint bent backward enough that I have to use a finger from the other hand to cut the mag loose. I only have one mag for the thing, so I suppose it doesn't matter, but I would like that button to stick out a little bit more.

Tam said...

I can't hit the mag release without shifting my grip. I like this. This means that it is vanishingly unlikely that I will hit the mag release without intending to do so.

For what it's worth, on the hard drive of the old Celeron upstairs is a pic of Robbie Leatham poking a mag release with the gun noticeably rolled in his paw. It doesn't seem to be slowing him down any, as his weak hand is coming up with the fresh mag while the empty is still dropping free and the spent case is in midair...

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

It's the one thing I like about being a lefty 1911 owner. I don't have to monkey with either. The trigger finger can reach the slide release, the social finger can easily find the mag release button.

The thumb safety, on the other hand, is a weakness for me.

Weer'd Beard said...

Somebody I follow just got a new Sig, and he was having all sorts of malf issues because his thumb kept finding the malf-button which is RIGHT where I put my thumbs on my 1911.

Yep, I'll keep these controls right where they are.

and I agree with PDB, making that thumb safety a bit bigger is also a good thing.

I also don't use my slide release when combat shooting. Much better idea to use gross motor skills to gab the slide rather than looking for that leeetle button no matter where it may be.

Tam said...

"I also don't use my slide release[.]"

This. ;)

pdb said...


As an instructor at one pistol class I attended put it, "This..", daintily pressing the slide release, "Works sometimes. This..." jacking the slide like it owed him money, "Works all the times."

Justthisguy said...

Answering Tam's answer to me: I've played wind instruments since I was a kid, so I have no problems keeping one finger still while moving others, or vice versa, and at high speed too. I think this is why I'm a better pistol shot than I deserve to be, for someone who never ever practices.

I am very very slow when I do shoot. I do wish I could afford to practice. Shooting is like other forms of music: Practice at the fastest tempo at which you can do it right; speed comes with more practice.

WV: chested. I can't think of a good booby joke, here.

elmo iscariot said...

All other issues with plastic microguns aside, my biggest complaint about the P3AT/LCP in particular is that big, protruding mag release right in the thumbspace of its tiny handle. The first time I shot one, my thumb shifted slightly in the recoil from the first shot, and the mag hit the floor.

And this on a gun made for encounters at bad breath range, where combat reloading will probably be a bit impractical.

Mag release buttons are great on bigger guns, but I'm not convinced they're better than a heel release on pocket blasters.

Cjrmultigun said...

Yeah, racking the slide works all the time. Just as long as your hands are not slippery with sweat/blood/astroglide, your grip strength is not compromised, and you are coordinated enough not to short-stroke the slide or leave skin in the feedway...

I'm still waiting to hear a good reason to rack the slide during a reload, other than, "I was always taught that way."


pdb said...

I'm still waiting to hear a good reason to rack the slide during a reload, other than, "I was always taught that way."

It is a gross motor movement, rather than a fine one.

It uses the same gross movement for reloading from slide lock, reloading from slide forward, loading from empty, malf clearance and chamber check, thus reducing conditional branching.

It is also consistent across autopistol platforms.

Ed Foster said...

I still give it to Cjrmultigun.
"Sweat, blood, astroglide". I shouldn't think about it, but the mind boggles.

Anonymous said...

Back before race guns in IPSC, about the only thing I found as a useful add-on was a mag release with a somewhat larger button. In three years of local matches and a fair amount of daily/weekly practice, I never had an Unintended Consequence.

With a bunch of dry-fire practice, I got to where I could fire a round, reload and fire the next round in about one second. Even so, I never got below 8.0 in El Presidentes, which I figure is at best a mediocre average.


Anonymous said...

"Just as long as your hands are not slippery with sweat/blood/astroglide"

...while your thumb stays miraculously clean!

GuardDuck said...

I'm still waiting to hear a good reason to rack the slide during a reload, other than, "I was always taught that way."

Everything PDB said, plus the gun was designed to load a round from the full slide back position. Doing so from the slide lock is to use less slide travel and less spring force and risks a failure to feed or chamber fully.

Tam said...


"and you are coordinated enough not to short-stroke the slide"

Please explain to me how in the name of Vishnu pulling the slide any distance to the rear and releasing it is going to provide a "short stroke" compared to dropping it from the stop, which is by definition a shorter stroke.

"I'm still waiting to hear a good reason to rack the slide during a reload..."

Reduced chance of a feedway stoppage caused by a dry, dirty gun and a broke-dick recoil spring. Why not give Mr. Slide that extra 1/4" if you have a free hand? Of course, manipulating the slide stop with both right thumb and left trigger finger should still be a feature of one-hand drills...

cjrmultigun said...


PDB - Gross motor skills are defined as dealing only with the arms, legs, and trunk. Everything you do with a pistol is a fine motor skill, including pressing the trigger, activating the magazine release, and lining up the fresh magazine with the magwell. I suspect you meant to say something like "simple" motor skill, in which case, I still disagree. Gripping and racking a slide requires much more coordination than mashing your thumb down on a conveniently located button.

Racking the slide is not consistent across platforms, either. Pistols with frame-mounted safeties, for instance. Racking the slide overhand on an M9 or a Gen3 Smith will frequently set the safety. No good.

As for conditional branching, the movements required to reduce a malfunction are sufficiently different from administrative or emergency reloading that I doubt any benefit is to be gained from always racking the slide. Even if it were, the most common type of malfunction is an empty gun. Does it make sense to sacrifice capability in a more common situation for a marginal benefit in a less common situation?

GuardDuck - I do not believe this to be the case. Would you have a cite from an engineer in the business?

Tam - Sorry, bad choice of words on my part. I was referring to the well-documented tendency of otherwise-competent shooters to ride the slide forward after racking the slide to the rear. This can induce a feedway stoppage. I've seen it happen a couple times on the range, and it's always good for a laugh.

I mainly prefer to use the slide release because it is much faster, and in a gunfight, seconds count. I suppose that a marginally functioning pistol is a reason to choose to rack the slide. I guess conditional branching is another. I don't find either reason very compelling. A lot of rounds can come back uprange in that second...


Farm.Dad said...

I really cannot see that one method of slide manipulation is vastly superior to the other . I think the more important point is to pick ONE and do it consistently. I also agree that oversized controls are best left on the range or better yet On the shelf of the fella attempting to create a perception of a need and then sell you stuff to fill it .

Caleb said...

I am glad that CJR pointed out that racking the slide is not a "gross motor skill". It drives me nuts when people say that. Gross motor skills are things like walking, jumping, or throwing a punch. Anything that involves grasping or hand movements is a fine motor skill.

That being said, if a person is interested in defensive shooting, slide lock reloads are the way to go because when trained properly they're more reliable than hitting the slide stop with your thumb.

But if you're playing games with your guns, the slide stop is waaaaay faster.

Firehand said...

Ed, my mind boggled too; for the moment before I slammed that door.

When I first got a 1911, after my second range trip I walked to the gunsmith's desk and asked about an extended slide stop. Happily, one of the salesmen was there, and after the 'smith said "Sure, you can put one on" the salesman said "Why?"
I had just heard it was a good thing to do, and he explained why it wasn't for a defense gun. And I've never missed not having done it.

Matt G said...

I have always released the slide with my thumb.

Then I was issued Glocks, and was told "Nein! You must pull the slide back to drop it, alvays!" So I tried that, and found that, yes indeed, the gross motor skill thing works, and that makes it work just fine.

Unless my off-hand is tied up doing something else important, like holding a light, or opening a door, or bleeding. There's always something, right?

So, satisfied that I can slingshot that slide with the best of 'em (it really is an easy skill to pick up, and I'm glad that I have it in repetoire), I have gone back to knocking off the slide stop with my (admittedly huge) thumb.

Art, I've had several times where the stock mag release button has popped while carrying. In fact, two of my pocket pistols have the mag released button ground down to almost flush, to prevent this from occurring. I've never had my magazine pop loose while shooting, but I've for damn sure found myself carrying an inadvertant single-shot pistol.

Clint said...

"the gun was designed to load a round from the full slide back position."

" I do not believe this to be the case. Would you have a cite from an engineer in the business? "

It is in the glock manual. Sadly I do not have a copy of such to show you.

Clint said...

Squeezing a sponge is a gross motor skill. So grabbing the slide, squeezing the slide, and pulling the slide are all “gross” motor skills.

Caleb, you are using the definition from child development, I'm using the bio-mechanical def. This means, basically, that a group of muscles are doing the same thing. Playing a flute, for example, has some forearm muscles doing “this” while other muscles are doing “that”. Squeezing a sponge (or a slide) has all the related muscles contracting at the same time.

Kinda like how the sun is made of plasma and your blood is made of plasma. There are two different types are plasmas. Or more likely how our idea of “reasonable” and the brady's idea or “reasonable” are different.

Clint said...

"I really cannot see that one method of slide manipulation is vastly superior to the other "

It is not "vastly" superior.

By pulling the slide back, any grime is more likely to be loosened and thus clear the mechanism when the slide slams forward. Dropping the slide release however, just crams the grim into the mechanism.

Like when you have a car stuck in snow or mud. Just flooring the gas petal only digs you in deeper. But by using the reverse, backing up a little and then going forward with gusto you are more likely to free the car.

Note: I did not state that grim was “likely” to clear, and wrote that it was MORE likely to clear.

Will said...

The short slide models of 1911's (officers .45) don't appear to have much overtravel to the rear. Add in a shock buffer, and it has almost none. As a lefty, I have no problems using the lever to drop the slide, however, I must mention that I have modded the locking tab to make it easier to disengage, otherwise the force needed to overcome the 24 lb recoil spring is excessive. Not generally a problem with the bigger models.
Please don't argue about how buffs cause reliability problems-in a stock gun, without a reverse recoil plug, yes-but if you are using a stock Officers, you are courting disaster. The broad surface that hits the buff lets them last a long time, as they don't shred from cutting action. My steel and alum frame guns are 100% reliable, after many years of use, including classes.

Caleb said...

The easiest solution to all of this is to not shoot your guns to slide lock, of course.


reflectoscope said...

The trick to this article, it turns out, is to read the title carefully.


Linoge said...

And there I had something approximating a serious comment to add to this thread, and Jim just totally buggered that...

Oh. Right. Speaking from a military background, I was trained to make use of the switches - but I was also trained on an M9, and after CJR's explanation, that makes sense.

Still do it to this day with my Walther, but I might fool around and see which way works best for me.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, without an extended/enlarged mag release button, I can't drop the mag on most pistols without using my off hand.

With the enlarged mag release, I have to rotate the gun in my grip. I've never been able to get a Glock slide stop to move without using both hands either, so I just rack the slide anyway - and yes, I can do it one-handed, you should be able to do it that way too.

One of the most common requests I have for pocket holsters, is to make the holster protect the P3AT mag release so it doesn't drop the mag while in a pocket. Never had that request for a Makarov or heel-release pocket gun.