March 6, 2014

Glock Mods: An M1911 Man Branches Out

The Glock is no longer the mystery it once was. Today, the modifications necessary to optimize the Glock’s performance are almost as “standardized” as those of the 1911.

I’ve worked with the 1911 for many years, and sometimes that experience has been helpful with other pistols, such as the Browning Hi-Power, for example. Sometimes the differences between pistols are hard to spot, and other times we find similarities between handguns that at first seem very different. Another example: If you can work on the Savage 1910, you can work on the Astra 400, and you won’t be confused by the H&K P7M8. But the Glock? Ah, the Glock is an altogether different creature.

Sometimes my 1911-based reasoning produces positive results with the Glock, and other times it does not. With the Glock so popular with law-enforcement and now proving itself in competition—winning the first top-class award at IPSC—we’re going to see more and more Glocks turned in for improvement. And at the very least, we should be familiar with the similarities and the differences between the Glock and “old Slabsides.”


The XS or Express sight is well suited to shooters with less than perfect eyesight.

When we first began to take a torch and file to the 1911, it was the sights and the trigger that received the most attention. Today, much the same is true of the Glock. Eventually 1911 pistols were introduced with considerable improvement supplied by the factory, and the Glock is getting its share of improvement with the Glock 35 and the long-slide variants. The handwriting was on the wall when Wayne Novak started offering sights for the Glock. The Glock turned into a 50-yard rather than a 25-yard pistol.

While the Glock can be improved while maintaining its good traits, I’ve seen some disastrous blunders in customization. Oversize slide locks and extreme barrel and slide porting did nothing to improve the piece, and neither did poorly fitted barrels that robbed it of its reliability. Now that the Glock has matured, we seem to be arriving at a consensus on what is needed to improve this pistol.

But before we start thinking of improvements, it’s important to understand that there are several generations of Glock pistols. While there is about a 75-percent commonality of parts, the Glock frame differs in exact dimensions even among the same models, such as early Model 23s and late model Model 23s. The first generation did not have a frame rail, and there were other differences in checkering. Now, the Glock is checkered in all the right places and the most modern examples feature finger grooves. Large-frame Glocks are just that—large—and as a big pistol, they’re challenging for average-size hands. Most of the Glocks brought in for grip reduction will be the Model 21 in .45 ACP, or possibly 10 mm.


The Sights
Glock offers factory sight options that, in my opinion, range from terrible to barely acceptable. The plastic sights are poor and can be easily ripped off on the draw by a stiff holster welt. The plastic adjustable factory sight was reportedly used only to buy import points, but the things are occasionally seen in service and don’t last long. Glock self-luminous steel sights are reasonably good examples of the type, and should be specified on a personal-defense pistol. But for the serious Glock shooter, there are much better aftermarket sights available. There are some sights on the market that I’m hearing mixed reports on, and I”m taking a “wait-and-see” attitude, but at present I think the Ameriglo Operator offers a good option for Glock pistols. This is a tritium night sight that features a thin front blade rather than the wide front post found on almost every Glock. On an accurate pistol such as the Glock 21, this is an excellent setup for both day and night. For shooters with poor eyesight, the XS sight is a good choice. This sight features a large front—a big glowing ball in the dark. It is very fast on target and has real utility for home defense. Finally, the Warren sight has proven itself in competition.


This is the XS or Express sight fitted to a Glock 17. This sight is reminiscent of the old hunting-rifle Express sights. Results at moderate range are very good

Changing sights on the Glock is simple. Bump the front sight out from under the slide. The new front post then fits into the hole once occupied by the factory sight. Tighten the set screw and the front sight is mounted. Use LocTite once the shooter is convinced this is the sight for him. The rear sight is easily bumped out with a rubber mallet. Sometimes the little metal insert in the bottom of the sight separates; but since the rear sight will not be remounted, this is not a concern. I then drift the rear sight in with a brass mallet. I carefully pad the sights to avoid damage.

Many 1911 shooters have come to favor the Novak sight, which was the original high-visibility low-mount aftermarket sight. Then Wilson Combat introduced a design that found a home on many high-end 1911s. Either of these can be obtained in a version for the Glock, with no need for cutting a dovetail for either the front or rear.


The Trigger
At first, many 1911 shooters were confounded by the Glock trigger. But they found that it reset as quickly as all but the most finely tuned 1911. Glock trigger work is a science unto itself. When working with the 1911, we worked with the trigger mechanism; when working with the Glock, we tighten the slide. Glock barrel and slide fit is good for accuracy potential, but slide-to-frame fit is not very tight. When pressing the trigger, you might actually see the Glock slide move a bit. Slide tightening to improve trigger action is the proven route. The firing mechanism of the Glock is partly in the frame and partly in the slide, while other handguns have the action in the frame, dropping a hammer. The Glock trigger presses the striker to the rear and releases it to fire.

When tightening the Glock’s slide, keep in mind that it has limited slide-to-frame contact. Just enough tightening improves the trigger action, but too much will make you wish you’d never touched it. Carefully place the slide in a padded vise and work the slide tighter by either vise pressure or the use of a mallet. You need not work the whole slide, as the Glock has relatively short bearing surfaces. Work in slow increments. Test the fit. Even if you have one of the more accurate Glocks such as the Model 21, you can produce a better action for rapid fire. The result is not a lighter trigger action but a tighter trigger action.

As for reducing the pull weight, there are connectors that make changes in weight possible, but the trigger still moves only about a half-inch in travel from compression to firing. We’ve come to agree the 1911 trigger needs to break at about 5 pounds in a personal-defense pistol, and the Glock breaks at about 5.5 pounds. The 3.5-pound connector may be a good weight for the competition shooter. For others, use your own judgment.

In a double-action type, the trigger finger must lie on a shelf above the trigger and come down to contact the trigger and press it to the rear. The Glock connector would be the drawbar in a double-action design. To my way of thinking, the Glock is a single-action pistol with a heavy trigger spring. A straight-through press works. The proper cadence with the press and reset makes for remarkably accurate shooting, as with the 1911.


Another helpful addition to the Glock is the Dawson Precision Magazine Guide, shown here separated and ready for installation.

You can polish the Glock and produce a smoother though not necessarily lighter trigger. Although I like to use Wilson Combat and other high-quality aftermarket parts in the 1911, in my experience, the aftermarket trigger parts for the Glock are not always consistent. I, therefore, prefer to modify the Glock factory parts. Many shooters do not realize it, but Glock triggers are available in both serrated and smooth-face types. The complete trigger bar assembly must be changed.

The trigger bar has an extension that bears against the firing-pin safety. The rear of the bar rides the disconnector. These surfaces can be polished to produce a smoother action. The all-important connector is simply the piece the trigger bar bears against, performing much the same function as the drawbar does in, say, a SIG or Beretta. This standard type is not marked for identification in any way. There are parentheses marks on the 3.5-pound connector. There is a connector with a “+” sign in parentheses for the heavier law-enforcement trigger (8 pounds). Remember, the trigger still requires only a half-inch press with either the light or heavy connector. A heavy trigger spring is sometimes used to simply make the trigger feel heavier. Go too heavy and you may experience reliability problems. I tried an experimental combination of the heavy trigger spring and heavy disconnector and produced failures to fire.

I normally disassemble the pistol and inspect it then move on to the next procedure. This is the procedure that improves the Glock trigger. After removing oil, grease, and powder ash, I coat the trigger bar and disconnector with Tetra Lube. Next, I reassemble the piece partially. I leave the slide lock out and reassemble with the trigger, trigger bar, and grip pin in place. The action can be smoothed by manually working the trigger to produce pressure on the vertical extension of the trigger bar. Essentially, what you’re doing is working the action without spring pressure. Don’t force any parts, but simply burnish them. After 20 strokes or so, the trigger will be noticeably smoother. Stop and check for polishing-the parts will be shiny—and then give it about 20 more. After 50 strokes or so, excess wear can be produced.

This exercise is not actually dry-firing the piece, but it is burnishing the moving parts without firing the pistol. Why not machine work? You can go too far too fast. This little hand polish works. The trigger bar and connector parts will appear shiny after this treatment and will be smooth if the procedure is done correctly. This is all that is required for a Glock trigger job.


Other Parts
If you need a longer ejector on a 1911, you just mount one, but the Glock’s ejector must be hand modified. (I’m not aware of a long ejector available from any supplier for the Glock.) To make a long ejector remove the piece and beat it until it is longer—carefully. Sure, a bit of finesse is good but the Glock sometimes demands rugged measures. The longer ejector is often demanded for pistols that are mounted with optical sights. The extra bit of momentum zips the case out with authority, past the sight tube of a dot sight.


A minimum of fitting is required to install these magazine guides.

Grip frames for the 1911 require only changing a flat or arched mainspring housing for better hand fit, coupled with a shorter or longer trigger. But the Glock is more difficult. However, a Glock magazine well is much easier to fit than a 1911. Recently I fitted a Dawson Precision magazine well to a Glock with good results. The brass plug supplied with the kit is carefully fitted into the hollow recess in the Glock frame. There is a tapped hole in the plug that lines up with the hole in the bottom of the Glock grip frame. The holes did not quite line up with finger pressure, but a few taps with the brass mallet moved it into line. Next, I separated the magazine-guide body using a thin blade and lined the screw hole in the upper magazine-guide body with the hole in the frame plug. No one except tactical hypochondriacs worry about being caught in a high-volume running gunfight, but these magazine guides make range manipulation much easier and are mandatory in competition. The plug that is fitted into the hollow grip strap also makes for better balance.

There are those who like the Glock grip and others who want every pistol to feel like the 1911. The process is more arduous than simply changing the mainspring housing of the 1911. With the 1911, you have flat, arched, in between, and the Ed Brown Bobcat to choose from. The Glock, on the other, has a malleable grip frame. The process begins with filling the void in the Glock grip frame and allowing the compound to cure. Next, the frame is ground and reshaped. The internal mechanism is not affected, but the frame is changed dramatically. There are several types and styles of grip reduction and it is wise to study each before deciding upon the exact one you wish to perform. As an example, Dane Burns and Robbie Barkmann each turn out subtly different designs. There are others as well. It’s important for the gunsmith and the owner to agree upon the desired outcome before the work is started. The process is not easy, and it’s not easy to undo if the customer doesn’t like the results. Naturally, a small-frame pistol can’t be transformed as completely as a large-frame Glock.


Aftermarket Barrels
A few years ago it was common to see monstrosities with four to eight ports in the barrel and slide, with the resultant ear splitting blast and particles of bullet jacket and powder that would be thrown into the face if the pistol were fired below eye level. The goal was to reduce +P (1140 fps) loads to standard levels (980 fps with the .45 ACP). Why standard pressure or reduced loads were not simply used in the first place is a question that boggles the mind. We all know that a simple compensator works wonders with control and that the Magna Port works fine.

There are a few good reasons for replacing a Glock barrel. A worn-out barrel is not one of them; personally, I’ve never seen a worn-out Glock barrel. The first reason is the need to fire lead bullets; the second is to increase accuracy; and the third is to change the caliber. The Glock barrel features polygonal rifling. This rifling is fine for general use. The polygonal barrel will often prove quite accurate, and the barrel may produce more velocity than a conventionally rifled barrel of the same length. Polygonal rifling features shallow grooves that give the jacketed projectile adequate spin without deeply engraving the bullet. When using lead bullets there is nowhere for the lead to go. Without the traditional grooves, the lead fouls the barrel and increases pressure. I’m pretty certain that some of the spectacular Glock blow-ups were due to the continual use of lead bullets.

To make use of economical lead bullets, a conventionally rifled barrel is demanded. The standard Glock barrel does not support the case head as well as some designs. This is a product of a design that is intended to feed every type of bullet every time. Lead bullets for automatics are practically unknown in Europe. Handloaders feel that the case should be supported more adequately. I’ve used Bar Sto barrels in the Glock that produce excellent results. I’ve also used a .357 SIG-caliber Bar Sto in the Glock Model 22, originally a .40 caliber pistol, with excellent results.

There are drop-in and fitted barrels. Glock barrels from Bar Sto are usually truly drop-in if specified that way. Nevertheless, a Glock barrel is not difficult to fit properly, although it’s considerably different from the 1911. A fitted barrel coupled with good sights will convince you of the Glock’s accuracy potential. In no case should you allow a new barrel to affect the reliable functioning of the pistol. One of my customers uses the standard Glock barrel in his pistol for carry, but uses the Jarvis barrel with lead bullets for practice, and this works well for him.


The Wilson Combat barrel is a relatively new option that has proven to give excellent service.

Another barrel that offers excellent results is relatively new. The Wilson Combat barrel is quickly achieving a reputation equal to the barrels they make for the 1911.

After going over the various problems I’ve seen with barrels, I have to make a comment about handloads. It’s difficult to tell a shooter who has spent good money on a custom barrel that his handloads are not up to par. We must understand handloads well enough to make this judgment. For proofing and fitting a custom barrel, we must have a proven loading—a benchmark to work to. The load must be light enough for control but heavy enough for good momentum. I use Winchester’s USA ball in the 124-grain weight in the 9mm (preferred over the 115 grain). I use the 155-grain .40, 230-grain .45, and the 124-grain .357 SIG. Good results have followed.

Another drop-in barrel I tried gave me considerable trouble. Perhaps it was intended as a gunsmith-fit barrel and got slipped into the wrong batch. All Glock frames require the same procedure in fitting and I followed the rules on this one. The hood presented no problem. The usual two worn dimples are present on this and practically every other Glock barrel. I proceeded cautiously and found the rear lug struck the lock bar despite my best efforts at hood fitting. I went rather slowly with this one and in the end removed .016 inch from the rear lug to achieve a fit. The rear lug then cleared the lock bar with little clearance. But the pistol shoots quite well and my “drop-in” barrel took to fitting well.

As for fitting a semi-drop-in barrel, the course is simple. First, check the fit of the barrel in the slide. If the barrel sticks, determine where it’s sticking. To work the hood in, remove small amounts evenly. At some point, the barrel will fit with adequate clearance with a minimum of file work. When done, the underlug must now be centered between the rails. If canted, you will have to remove material from one side or the other of the hood. When fitting a barrel that locks on the hood instead of locking lugs, this is standard operating procedure. With this done, the top end is mounted to the frame. I have done this several times with Jarvis and Bar Sto semi-drop-in barrels with good results.


The Glock Consensus
Anyone with experience with the 1911 will be able to approach the Glock with little difficulty. The differences are all in the details. A generation ago, gunsmiths reached a consensus on the 1911 pistol and what was needed to make it a first-class handgun—a set of sights, a speed safety, a trigger job, and some added barrel throating to feed hollowpoints.

The Glock consensus is simpler, it seems to me, and includes good sights and a proper hand fit. Unlike the 1911 grip which is always pretty much the same except for length, we have the option of different frame sizes with the Glock, with the Model 21, 23, and 37 all having different sizes in a real way. And in the final analysis, the Glock is not the great mystery we once thought it was.