Be Sure Your Firearm Is Functioning Properly and Safely
Perform these Function and Safety Checks for a 1911 Pistol after every cleaning, or partial disassembly of the gun. You can also use them when evaluating a pistol for purchase. These are excellent tests to check the condition of a used 1911 prior to purchasing it.
Generally, if a firearm that I’m considering buying fails any of these tests, I would pass on that particular gun. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but unless the gun was of such value that it was worth the time, effort and expense of an immediate trip to a qualified gunsmith, I would look at other guns.
Before performing these or any other tests, please ensure that your gun is UNLOADED, and that the gun is ALWAYS pointed in a safe direction.
And, by the way, you do NOT keep ammo near by when you clean or disassemble your guns, right? RIGHT? Right.
OK, great. Now let’s have a look at my preferred Function & Safety Checks for a 1911 Pistol:
Slide Safety Check
Rack the slide, engage the slide safety, grip the gun firmly (to disengage the grip safety) and pull the trigger (pointed in a safe direction, right?). The hammer should NOT fall. (Actually, it should not move AT ALL … if it does, you have an issue in the firing control mechanism, and you should visit a competent gunsmith).
Grip Safety Check
Rack the slide, disengage the slide safety (safety in down or off position), grip the gun in such a manner as to NOT disengage the grip safety (ie, no pressure on the backstrap). Pull the trigger. The hammer should NOT fall. Now, keep pressure on the trigger and put some pressure on the grip safety. The hammer should fall when the grip safety is close to fully depressed.
If your firearm passed those tests, great! Move on to the next test.
If your gun failed either of those two tests, you have a faulty grip safety, a faulty slide safety, or a faulty sear or mainspring. Take your gun to a competent gunsmith for repairs – your gun is NOT SAFE.
Trigger Group Check
Next, grip the gun as though you were going to fire it (ie, grip it so as to disengage the grip safety). Disengage the slide safety, and pull the trigger. The hammer should fall. If it does not fall, or if it only falls to half-cock, you have a weak hammer spring or other failure in the gun. Take it to a competent smith for servicing; your gun is NOT SAFE.
Next, grip the gun as though you were going to fire it (ie, grip safety disengaged). Disengage the slide safety. Pull the trigger – the hammer should fall.
Do not release the trigger. While holding the trigger, rack the slide several times. The hammer should cock on the first racking, and stay cocked. If it falls at any time, you have an UNSAFE gun that could go full-auto on you. Take it to a competent gunsmith.
If the hammer stayed cocked while racking the slide, slowly release the trigger until it resets: you’ll hear and/or feel it ‘click.’ (It should be about half way to its normal disengaged position). Then pull the trigger again. The hammer should fall.
Slide Stop / Slide Release
Insert an empty magazine, and rack the slide. The slide stop should fully engage the slide, locking the slide back into the ‘slidelock’ position. If the slide does not lock back, the cause could be a weak magazine spring, a defective magazine follower or the slide stop was fitted poorly. If the slide does lock back, great.
Check for ‘hammer follow’
The proper way to do this test is to insert a snap-cap or dummy round into a magazine and insert the mag into the gun. Doing the test with just an empty mag can put undue stresses on the firing components and can cause damage to a finely tuned trigger job. Using a snap-cap alleviates the stresses, and is my preferred way to do the test.
Insert an empty magazine and rack the slide. (The slide should remain locked, as from the previous test.) Remove the empty magazine and replace it with a magazine that has a snap-cap loaded in it.
With the snap-cap loaded in the magazine and the mag inserted in the gun, grip the gun in a firing position and release the slide lock lever. The slide should fall forward into battery, and the hammer must stay cocked. If the hammer falls, your gun is UNSAFE and could go into full auto mode when firing live rounds. See a competent gunsmith before using the weapon.
Firing Pin Check, Using an Unsharpened Pencil
Because we’ve tampered with the extractor, and therefore the firing pin & stop, let’s ensure that the firing mechanisms are functioning correctly, and that the firing pin will have the force necessary to ignite a primer.
To do this, grip the gun in a combat grip, rack the slide (slide safety disengaged), and while pointing the gun in a safe direction, insert a glue stick or unsharpened pencil with an eraser in the barrel (insert eraser side toward the breech).
Ensure that whatever object you use for this test slides easily within the diameter of the barrel. If it just barely fits or you need to jam it, find a narrower object! Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and pull the trigger. The pencil or glue stick should be launched from the gun (with quite a bit of force by the way, so choose your direction carefully!) by the force of the firing pin.
These function and safety checks for a 1911 pistol should be performed after any disassembly or cleaning of your weapon, or when checking out a gun as a prospective purchase.
If your gun has passed these tests, congratulations, you have a safe, operational firearm.
If your gun did not pass these tests, something was reassembled incorrectly, or has broken. Disassemble your gun and find the problem, or seek out a competent gunsmith.
Or if that’s starting to sound like too much effort, you can just send your gun to me and I’ll be happy take it off your hands at no extra charge!