How to Install Sights on a 1911 Pistol

by Scott Friedman
Adding new sights to the 1911 pistol can improve accuracy.

Adding new sights to the 1911 pistol can improve accuracy.

The Colt 1911 semiautomatic pistol is a part of American history. Many gun enthusiasts enjoy owning these handguns, which were designed a century ago. Some of the qualities of this firearm that gun owners enjoy most are its reliability and the simplicity of its design. Thanks to this simplicity, the owner of a 1911 pistol can often repair or customize the firearm on his own without special training. One of the most common customizations of a 1911 is the installation of new sights.

Check to make sure your pistol is unloaded by taking out the magazine, pulling back the slide and visually checking the chamber. Also, stick a finger into the breach of the barrel to ensure a live round didn't get stuck there.

Field strip the pistol.

Place the slide of your 1911 pistol into the bench vise, between two index cards, with the top of the slide slightly above the bench vise. The index cards will protect the slide from scratches. Tighten the vise just enough to hold the slide securely.

Check the fit of the front and rear sights in the dovetailed slots on the top of the 1911 slide. They will not fit yet, but you must check the fit by eye to get an idea of how much you need to file the sights down.

File the bottom of the front and rear sights a little bit at a time, stopping often check their fit into the side of the dovetails. Only file the bottoms of the sights until they fit snugly so that you still have to use the brass punch to slide them in further. If you can slide the sights all the way into the dovetails by hand, then you have filed too much and ruined your sights.

File the angle faces on the side of the sights with the triangular file, if necessary, to make them fit, but be careful to maintain the exact same angle on the side of the sights. The triangular file will allow you to do this, but you must be careful not to file too much.

Slide the front sight into the front dovetail by placing the brass punch on the side of the base of the sight and tapping the brass punch with the hammer until the front sight reaches the center of the slide. Do not place the brass punch on the sight blade.

Retract the set screws fully into the rear sight, and slide it into the rear dovetail by placing the brass punch on the side of the base of the sight and tapping the brass punch with the hammer until the rear sight reaches the center of the slide. Do not place the brass punch on the sight blades.

Tighten the set screws on top of the rear sights with an Allen wrench to complete the installation.

Items you will need

  • Brass punch
  • Gunsmith hammer
  • Metal file
  • Triangular file
  • Allen wrench set
  • Bench vise
  • Loctite (optional)
  • Index cards
  • Flat head screwdriver

Tip

  • Constant use of a firearm can cause sights to eventually fall out, so the use of Loctite when installing the sights is an optional addition that can more permanently secure your sights to the pistol. Give the Loctite two hours to dry before firing your pistol.

Warning

  • Be absolutely sure that your 1911 pistol is unloaded when repairing or customizing it in anyway. Always place the brass punch on the side of the base of your new sights and not on the sight blades on top, or you will bend or break your new sights and ruin them.

About the Author

Scott Friedman is a writer based in Bend, Ore. Friedman was a technical writer for a USAID contractor and a community health system. He writes for various magazines and websites while running a proposal development firm, BDC International. He holds a B.A. in international affairs from George Washington University.

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