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Why Are Short-Barreled 1911s Less Reliable?

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It seems to be widely acknowledged that the short-barreled 1911s (shorter than Commander, like Officers and other shortys like Warthog, Combat Master, etc) are less reliable than the 5" barreled 1911s. More prone to FTF FTE and more finicky about ammunition.

My question is, why is this so?

On theory I've read is that the short slide cycles faster, so the round in the magazine has less time to move up into position, and then the breechface hits the cartridge too hard, bouncing it forward rather than smoothly sliding it into the chamber.

Is that the correct answer? Or is it something else?

How do the best short-barreled 1911s deal with the problem(s)? What makes one short-barreled 1911 reliable and another one unreliable?
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Two factors. The lower slide mass is balanced with heavier spring weights stuffed into a smaller available area-not a good formula for longterm spring happiness. The other problem is the steeper angle the barrel must pivot to in order to travel the same vertical distance for unlocking. Picture the bushing as the pivot point and it is easy to see the breech will have to move through a greater angular arc to open the shorter barrel. Other designs get away with this better because their locking surfaces are much shorter than the 1911's three lug system.
 

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I think that's one reason. The slide is shorter and lighter, less inertial mass in recoil and rammed back by coax or Seecamp telescopic springs. Its travel is shorter as well as faster.
Also the feed angle is greater with the shorter barrel having to move as far as any to unlock.
The big front slide opening coming back over the locking lugs with nothing holding the barrel in place but the link pin allows more slop.

The ones that work just happen to be right on the design inside the reduced operating margins, the ones that don't, aren't.

It's not as though they were real 1911's after all.
 

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On a short 1911 there is very little room for cycling. The slide doesn't go back as far, the short barrel has to drop down to an extreme angle, the short slide doesn't get to travel very far going into battery and has less inertia.

In my opinion making a 1911 shorter than 4 inches is taking the design too far, and in my limited experience with sub-compacts they can never be made 100% reliable. Yes they can be tuned so that they are acceptably reliable with certain loads and with certain magazines, but for me life is too short (pardon the pun). If I'm going to carry a little itty-bitty semi-auto it's going to be a 9mm, built from the ground up as a compact pistol.
 

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The bullet exits the shorter barrel before the slide has developed full steam from the load and often short cycles. Compacts must be PERFECT to run correctly, and that is hard to do.
 

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I know that the smaller 1911s are supposed to be less reliable, but I have a series 1 Kimber Pro Carry that has never jammed. Not even when I was breaking it in. I've used bullets from 185 to 230 grain hardball and hollowpoints, and it has yet to gag. So maybe I just got lucky, but they can work. Now that I've said that, I've owned three Officer's acps that were all garbage and would jam with hardball.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
If overly fast slide cycling is a problem, then I wonder if anyone ever tried hydraulic recoil damping in a 1911?

This is going to sound stupid, but I noticed that the oil-filled shock absorbers used in high-end R/C cars (not the Radio Shack cheapies, but the expensive 1/8 scale gas-powered racing ones) are not that different in size from the recoil assembly in a 1911. The spring rates on those shocks go up to 22 lbs. I don't think you could actually fit an existing R/C shock in the slide - just a bit too large in diameter - but I wonder if the concept has been explored.
 

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Kahr and Rourbaugh (sp?) both make compact, reliable 9mm's. A Kahr P9 is my CCW piece when I can't carry one of my full-sized 1911's.
 

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jyl said:
My question is, why is this so?
They aren't. It's an Internet Legend. :)

I did a search on this forum for posts about shorty 45s. 90% of those posts were people who were pleased and had no problems.

Of the rest, 90% of those were fixed with one trip to the shop.

ALL of the major manufacturers make a 1911 shorty 45. If they were inherently unreliable, they wouldn't be selling any.
 

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AnthonyRSS said:
The bullet exits the shorter barrel before the slide has developed full steam from the load and often short cycles.

You're wrong Anthony. The slide on ALL 1911s has to stay locked with the barrel until AFTER the bullet exits the barrel. Then the pressure drops to a safe level for it to open.
 

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Shootcraps said:
You're wrong Anthony. The slide on ALL 1911s has to stay locked with the barrel until AFTER the bullet exits the barrel. Then the pressure drops to a safe level for it to open.
It is not legend it is well documented that shorty 45s have serious problems if they are not sorted out.

The Detonics 45 seems to be the best but they have some geometry changes in the slide that the others do not incorporate.
the shorty sprinfields I have sen come through classes seem to be the worst followed by kimbers.
If you think that the Internet is the end all be all of research, you will be disappointed.
 

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My theory is that aside from inherent design issues mentioned above, many small 1911's are bought by people with poor shooting technique. In most guns that is forgivable, but not small 1911's.

Beginners are attracted to the "smaller, lighter, and easier to conceal" apect of these pistols, without realizing how much more difficult they are to shoot. The smaller grip frame and poor technique are a recipe for failures.
 

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Shootcraps said:
90% of those posts were people who were pleased and had no problems.
Assuming, only for sake of argument, that posts in the 1911 forum constitute a representative random sampling of the population at large, how does this compare to 5" 1911s? Without that data, how can one conclude that short 45s aren't less reliable?

ALL of the major manufacturers make a 1911 shorty 45. If they were inherently unreliable, they wouldn't be selling any.
The industry has statistics on how many rounds are fired in the lifetime of the "average pistol." If I recall correctly, it's in the 2 digit range. If the average pistol is fired less than 100 times, then the average shooter doesn't know whether his gun is inherently unreliable. I don't think you can conclude that because they are selling them, they are inherently reliable.

The most experienced shooters and trainers I know virtually all recommend the 1911 in 5", and many suggest that 4" is a minimum.
 

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Shootcraps and I have had this conversation before. I went looking for a compact 45 and never found one in a 1911 platform that satisfied my needs, either because too many stories of poor performance or price tags over 1k and still reports of poor performance. Where there is smoke there is fire. So I ened up with a Glock 36. The 1911 was designed as a 5 inch battle pistol. Companies looking for more markets have forced the 1911 to do something it prob shouldn't.

I had multiple problems with a Springer Micro, and had nothing to do with my shooting abilities. I am sure you can find compacts that work. If you do keep it and enjoy it. It is easier to find a compact that works in a diff design than the 1911 and that is where I ended up.
 

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Tim Burke said:
If the average pistol is fired less than 100 times, then the average shooter doesn't know whether his gun is inherently unreliable. I don't think you can conclude that because they are selling them, they are inherently reliable.
My Colt Compact would work fine, for about 30-40 rounds, then I'd get a failure to feed about once per magazine. It's gone.

At the range where I shoot, we have informal IDPA-type events and encourage shooters to use their carry pistols. The compact 1911-types seem to always have a failure. Many times the owners claim it's the first one, but will admit they'd never fired a box of ammo in one session.
 

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Compacts can be made to work reliably, but the gun needs to be set up correctly with less room for slop than in a full size 1911. I have a 1991A1 compact that I use for CC and even went through Gunsite with. The only problem was the front site staking.
Other than that it had not a single problem in 1,250 rounds.
The compacts are not for a new shooter since they are more difficult to handle. Smaller and lighter is not your friend if you are not used to recoil. A premium is placed on beavertails to elevate the strong hand to help reduce muzzle flip from the smaller weapon. I use a Gunsite lowered thumb safety to move the thumb up also (thumb rests above the paddle of the safety).
Everything must be set up and timed correctly to make a compact operate reliably. The greater vertical swing required from the short barrel means the bushing relief must be correct (King’s are good). Link length must be correct. Extractor tuning needs to be set up correctly, and adjusting ejector nose length and angle may be required.
Unless you are willing to learn how to perform these things it can get expensive. The number of smiths able to make a compact sing does not seem very large either.
A lot of full size guns are ‘armory’ setups. They work in spite of themselves since the basic design is pretty forgiving. Very few seem to have correct engagement of all 3 lugs, let alone correct timing of barrel pull down and slide movement.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I tried a Detonics Combat Master recently. which is why I asked this question. It seemed like a high quality gun, nice fit and finish, and no problems in about 50 rounds. However, it was was less enjoyable to shoot than a 5" 1911, after going through the 50-round box I was not particularly very motivated to keep going.
 

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dsk said:
Kahr and Rourbaugh (sp?) both make compact, reliable 9mm's. A Kahr P9 is my CCW piece when I can't carry one of my full-sized 1911's.
Once Springfield Armory starts selling those GAP Micro's we can hopefully assume that it will be offered in 9mm as well. At least down the road. A bit bigger than the Rhorbach but you will be able to utilize +p's if desired. And finally, a spacer in the magazine is not required! :)
 
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