Building 80% 1911 and Glock Pistols
In Part 3 of this series, we took a detailed look at selecting and completing an 80% AR-15 lower receiver. Whether or not you choose to build an AR-15 ghost gun, you may be interested to know that there are also 80% pistol frames and build kits out there to make your own ghost pistol as well. It’s a great challenge and very satisfying to complete one successfully. First, we will look at the legendary John Browning-designed 1911 version.
Your 1911 Ghost Gun
Trying to explain the popularity of the 1911 .45 ACP pistol is like trying to tell someone why you love your Harley Davidson motorcycle. It goes beyond simple functionality, often being described as something that just feels right. A friend, who is a fanatic for both his 1911 and his Harley, once told me that while neither of them could be called the best versions among their competitors, they both fulfill their mission in a way that feels uniquely American. They are both solid performers, each with its own rich history and back story. So it’s no surprise that an opportunity to build your own version of a handgun with such a storied tradition would be popular. There’s no question about it; the 1911 is the most popular 80% pistol build as of this writing.
Do the 1911 project for the privacy factor, bragging rights, and love of the platform because it’s a bit challenging, and it almost surely will cost you more than a good quality commercial 1911 from a mainstream manufacturer, like Springfield or Ruger. There are lots of YouTube videos are out there that show the success and challenges of doing this build. Choose wisely, and work carefully.
Here is the list of readily available frame material choices for your project, from the most expensive to the least expensive. Some vendors offer quantity purchasing discounts as well.
- 416 Stainless steel
- 4140 Cold Rolled Steel
- 7075 forged aluminum
Variations and Calibers
There is no caliber-specific difference when finishing your 80% 1911 frame. Primarily, the caliber is determined by your choice of slide, barrel, and magazine. Depending on the caliber, there may be a few tweaks necessary during the remainder of the build. The original and venerable .45 ACP is overwhelmingly the caliber of choice for most builders. If you need to ask why, then you should probably just move along because there’s nothing more for you to see here. However, other calibers do have their supporters. A successful .45 ACP build can typically accept 22lr conversion slides and magazines. There is also a high-performance .460 Rowland kit available, and some 9mm versions are also starting to appear as well.
The 1911 has been a mil-spec firearm for many years. Even though it is retired, it enjoys the resulting benefit of component standardization that helps assure a steady supply of parts for the 80% builder and lots of modifications. Combine that fact with a fanatic base of 1911-lovers and you can rest assured that there will be a robust aftermarket for this platform for years to come. However, there are still about 40 additional parts you will need after completing the receiver/frame, so this still tends to be an expensive project. Some suppliers are starting to offer packaged 80% completion kits, so shop around.
Currently I have been able to identify six online sources that appear to have their own unique source for 80% receivers. The first three seem to currently be the most popular if you consider the many videos and forum postings debating their relative merits as evidence of their popularity. They all sell frames as well as work holder jigs to simplify completion. You might also see a limited selection of their frames listed for sale by major distributors, such as Brownell’s and Midway.
Here’s a picture of a complete kit from Tactical Machining showing the 80% 1911 frame, jig, and completion kit. [fig3]
Prices for a plain 80% bare receiver will start at about $159–$300. Expect to pay between $600 and $1100 for a complete kit with all parts. The jig will add about an additional $90 for just the work holder and up to $175 for a complete setup with all of the needed cutting tools. While you could produce multiple finished receivers on the same jigs, the reality is that these smaller cutting tools are very prone to breakage, so be prepared to spend more money.
Parts tip #1– I bought a Para Ordnance 1911 with a gouged-up frame at a police auction that was sold in parts-only condition for $150 bucks. It was a modest beginning, but it fit the budget and all the parts swapped straight across. My total build cost for a stainless frame, including a DuraKote job on the slide to match, was about $450 with all bragging rights intact.
Parts tip #2 – Several eBay sellers have complete 1911 parts kits less the lower receiver for sale starting at about $225. That’s not too shabby.
The 20% Required To Complete It
With the 1911 you will be better off with an actual milling machine, better measuring equipment, and some machining skills for a successful outcome. If you are planning to try it with a Harbor Freight drill press and a Dremel, it will be a challenge, so plan accordingly. Here’s generally what will need to be done to complete Phase 1:
- Milling extra material from top of frame and slide rails
- Drilling hammer and sear pin holes
- Milling out barrel seat
The same rules and suggestions that were discussed during Part 3 – Finishing the AR-15 Lower of this series apply here as well. There is more milling setup on the 1911 frame than with an AR-15, and the frame material is steel instead of aluminum. This translates into more opportunity for mistakes, so be careful and use the old adage “Measure twice then cut once.“ Once complete, you can begin the second phase to assemble everything together. The other suggestion made in Part 3 of this series is to become thoroughly familiar with the assembly and disassembly of the 1911 before tackling this project. Having someone verify your work as you go will help you build confidence. When finished, you can use any suitable 1911 mag and ammo. Also, make sure you match the lower with the proper slide and barrel length.
The 80% “Not-a-Glock” Glock
Polymer 80 was one of the early arrivals to the 80% AR-15 industry. They have been offering AR-15 kits for several years and now have an 80% polymer AR-10 lower system as well. They also recently introduced a newcomer to the 80% pistol build community that shares all of the working parts and most of the DNA of a Gen 3 three-pin Glock handgun. Their P940 Spectre frame family has opened the world of the Glock-type clone to 80% builders. The full-sized P940 follows the Glock 17/22 pattern and the P940C tracks with the Gen 3 Glock 19/23 compacts. One person jokingly referred to it as the “Not-a-Glock” pistol line. They are available in about five colors.
The current form factor of the Glock polymer pistol is protected by design patents and other intellectual property provisions, so an alternate design was required. Polymer 80 designers did their homework and came up with an ingenious solution. They managed to leverage the popularity of the Glock pistol into an 80% ghost gun frame and offer it with jig and tooling as a very reasonably-priced $160 package. As you can see in the picture below, they also found a way to update the design that replaces clunky Glock look with more “1911-style” grip characteristics and trigger guard so the result is a very functional combination of both a Glock and a 1911 while looking like neither one. [fig4]
The barrel, slide, and innards used to complete the build require that you use ultra-reliable Glock parts or clones. It’s a pretty ingenious combination and sales have been brisk.
My P940 Build
Let me say up front that I can’t recommend doing this build unless you are familiar with how to completely disassemble and reassemble a Glock Gen 3 pistol or have access to someone who is familiar and who won’t mind your frequent questions. You will understand why as you read on.
I purchased my black P940 from Brownells on a $99 special and completed it in less than three hours. That included all the hand filing and fitting needed to make sure the slide fit and operated smoothly yet snugly. I found it to be doable with my bench top drill press, a dremel, a number of small files, and a solid measure of deliberation. The only item of note is that the process of milling the slide rails deep enough to be functional required cutting deeply into the red jig, which probably rendered it unusable for future completions. The cutting tools were all intact and still sharp.
Lone Wolf Distributors had the foresight to offer a complete 80% lower parts kit for a reasonable $81 that already included the 3.5 lb trigger connector I wanted. I ordered the 9 mm version, and it arrived quickly. It was mostly Glock OEM parts with a few Lone Wolf parts included. Everything fit perfectly. It helped to have a Glock 17 handy because it does not include any instructions. Check with other distributors like the Glock Store and Glockmeister as they are getting on the Polymer 80 band wagon as well.
Summary of the P940 – This project, like the 1911, essentially requires that you do a lot of work to complete the lower, then procure a parts set for a complete Glock without the frame. Next you assemble those parts to your P940 lower and confirm it is safe before firing. Here you are again with another 80% pistol build that costs about 20% more than buying the comparable quality commercial version. Here’s the breakdown- The best price I have seen for all of the other required parts as a kit has been on eBay where the cheapest used Glock 17 or 22 complete kit including slide, barrel, and no mags has been $450 shipped. Add about $75 if you want new parts. Now add that to the typical street price of the P940 kit at $120 and $40 more for two mags. You are now at $610 out the door. This for the P940 build comparable to the Glock 17/22 pistol that you can buy brand new for $499 all day long. I just looked on Armslist and saw that I could purchase a used/like new Glock 17 with no background check offered private party in my area for $450.
So just like the 1911, do not do this build because you think it will save money. Do it for the bragging rights, the experience, the privacy, and the fact that you now can have a great combination of Glock reliability and 1911 grip characteristics rolled into one firearm. It is interesting to me that the ultra-reliable Glock went together using a total of only 18 parts while the 1911 required more than 40. I’m just saying…
I love building these special projects, and I am happy to share my experience. I have a fondness for Glocks and wanted to give the P940 a try because I have owned an Advantage Arms .22lr Glock 17 upper conversion kit for several years. I paid $200 for it several years ago with three mags, and it is great to shoot with. As mentioned earlier, I built my P940 80% lower complete for $180. Now using my $200 AA slide and barrel I have the equivalent of a dedicated Glock 17 chambered in .22lr with two mags for $380. I’ll go with that. Good luck with yours.