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The custom mod that's more than just fuzzy dice.
By Jim Gardner

Is it just me, or are we a nation of gadget hounds? I'll be you added some geegaw or widget to it the first time you had a little jingle in your pockets. I know I did.

For me it was a nineteen and sixty-four "B Model" MG. The moment I recovered from the whopping $150 dollar purchase price, I invested in and eight-track tape player to add to the standard AM radio. Yea buddy, eight tracks and two speakers --- I was stylin'.

It's the same for pistol accessories. Most new handgun owners cant wait to add some "custom" part to their new prize. These additions may give us joy, and that's fine of course, but like a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror, most add-on components don't really do a thing to make a pistol more suited to the task at hand.

What you're seeing on these pages is different. The SFS kit from Cylinder and Slide replaces the hammer, sear, safety and other critical components of your 1911 or Browning Hi-Power and actually changes the pistol's method of operation. You might say this is a modification that matters.

Reasons For Concern

Wear a 1911 or a P-35 with the hammer cocked and safety engaged ("condition one" carry), and you'll be the recipient of a lot of nervous glances. Sooner or later, some polite fellow will come up and whisper quietly in that tone usually reserved for telling some other guy his fly is open, "Uh, excuse me, but your hammer's cocked."

In the first part of the last century, we didn't seem to worry much about this. Even those who might not have considered toting a "cocked and locked" 1911 would blissfully carry a loaded Colt Woodsman or '03 Pocket Colt, which operate in exactly the same manner but which have the good taste to hide their hammers internally. But those days are gone.

The majority of law enforcement agencies (there are exceptions) frown on single action autos for patrol use. Rightly or wrongly, this casts a shadow on these guns, just the sort a prosecuting attorney might use to color you as a reckless individual. "So Mr. certified police armorer and rangemaster, are you telling me the defendant's gun is not authorized for use by your agency because it's excessively dangerous?

There are other reasons for even a diehard single action auto fan to look askance at the faithful old design. Personally, condition one carry in a good holster doesn't bother me in the slightest. But for a desk drawer gun, or for slipping my 1911 inside my sleeping bag in a desolate border camp, I'm not happy with it. I usually resort to condition two (hammer down on loaded chamber) for those uses, but it's a less than completely satisfactory solution.

The more modern lockwork of the SFS conversion solves these issues. Here's how.

Simple And Safe

With the SFS kit installed, upon chambering a round you simply push the exposed hammer forward against the slide. The ambidextrous safety will pop up automatically into the locked position. That's it. No levers or buttons to fuss with, and both hammer and slide are securely locked in place.

Now, to fire, wipe off the safety like normal. Voila, the hammer springs to the cocked position, ready for duty. Trigger action remains the same crisp, light, easy- to-shoot single action pull we've always loved about these guns. Ready to holster? Just press the hammer forward again. It couldn't be simpler.

The SFS conversion kits retail for $134.95 plus shipping. A hard-chrome plated version is available for $154.95. (These prices have been changed, since the publication of this article, please visit our online store for the latest pricing.)  They arrive carefully packaged and with complete installation instructions. The 1911 kit is a cinch to install. The Hi-Power version takes just a bit more effort, given the three-handed nature of assembling that pistol's sear and sear spring.

If you have any concern about performing the installation, C&S can do this for a very reasonable fee, or if you're reluctant to ship your pistol, any competent local gunsmith can do this simple job in a jiffy. Nor is it a permanent mod. If, for example, you wish to sell your pistol but retain the SFS kit for future use, you may certainly do so.

How will the SFS unit affect your trigger pull? That's a good question, and the answer will vary from pistol to pistol and from conversion to conversion, but the results seem to be favorable. I installed a 1911 unit into a vintage Armand Swenson customized series-'70 government model. Prior to installation, the gun exhibited a 3.5-pound "roll off' trigger with considerable movement just prior to release. After installing the SFS the trigger still broke at 3.5 pounds, but perfectly crisp.

This same unit was later placed in a Springfield Armory TRP Operator pistol that was to be 6valuated for SWAT team issue by the San Diego, Calif., police department. Out of the box, that gun wore a crisp, 5.0- pound trigger. Installing the SFS unit resulted in a clean 3.5-pound trigger action, which was lighter than desired. Twenty seconds spent adjusting the sear spring had it at five pounds on the nose.

That pistol was fired 5,000 rounds with no reported failures of the SFS system. The last word I heard on the selection process was that no 1911 pistol without the SFS system would be considered for adoption.

When I removed the SFS unit at the end of the test process, the trigger pull measured just under five pounds -testimony both to a good sear spring and to the good quality of the SFS components.

Best In The Browning?

I like the SFS unit for the 1911, but for me it's the Hi-Power unit that really shines. Mine has been riding in my "working" Mark III Hi-Power for nearly two years now. It too produced a perfectly splendid trigger pull once installed. Frankly, I haven't put the weights on it, but I'd guess it at just under four pounds and perfectly crisp. For a P-35, that's pretty darn wonderful.

One unique feature of the SFS unit (for both 1911s and P-35s) is that it adds a positive firing pin block. Of course the Mark III already has one by design, but older Hi- Powers do not. The SFS conversion interposes a small paddle-like projection between the hammer and the firing pin stop. Its thickness positively prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin until this paddle is lowered by means of pressing the trigger. It's simple, reliable and ingenious.

The reason I've found the SFS unit so splendid in the P-35 is the short frame tang of this gun. Its abbreviated length compared to a standard 1911 grip safety (and more so an extended beavertail grip safety) makes it an easy reach to push the hammer forward with my rather stubby thumb.

Not that this is really a problem with the 1911, it isn't. I simply find the SFS/P-35 combination to be a great match, made more so by the fact I often use the Hi-Power as a "truck gun" if I'm not wearing something else. The extremely secure SFS system makes the Hi-Power positively inert, and I don't need to give it a second thought as I bounce down some back road.

About now you may be wondering, as I did initially, if the addition of an SFS conversion means you'll have to relearn the pistol's operation. The answer is no. Just as in condition one carry, depressing the safety makes the pistol ready to fire.

When ready to make safe, you may find yourself reflexively trying to raise the thumb safety, which will stubbornly resist. That's your reminder to push the hammer forward prior to holstering.

I think a good practice when using the SFS system is to adopt the reholstering technique GUNS' handgun editor Massad Ayoob has proposed for years. For reholstering traditional DA pistols with their unlocked slides, Mas recommends you place your shooting hand thumb on the back of the hammer.

In those DA guns, this practice prevents slide movement and possible inadvertent cocking of the hammer. With the SFS system, that can't happen, but this technique provides a final verification that the pistol has been made safe and is a natural continuation of pressing the hammer forward with the strong hand thumb.

Dyed-in-the-wool 1911 shooters tend to be a pretty stubborn breed, and may resist change on general principles. However, the SFS system has a lot to offer. Personally I'm not likely to convert all my single-action pistols, but I think it's a great tool for specific uses. It offers all the safety of the most modem pistol designs, but retains the superior trigger action inherent in the 1911 and Browning Hi-Power designs.

For more information, call Cylinder and Slide, [402] 721-4277, or check out the excellent Website: