By Massad Ayoob 

Originally published in
Combat Handguns© November 2001 Issue
Click on images to see larger size.

Throughout human history, warriors have customized their weapons and sought out the best artisans available to enhance their fighting tools. In the entire global village, Bill Laughridge has emerged among the front-runners of craftsmen most skilled at this task. His Cylinder & Slide Shop in Fremont, Nebraska works on handguns for customers from all over the world.

Most pistolsmiths will specialize in one type of handgun Laughridge is among the very few to have established a reputation for improving the performance of multiple top-line designs. Almost always considered among the top five 'smiths for "carry" 1911s, he is generally listed among the top two or three for the Browning HiPower, and is also highly respected for the work he does on Walther pocket autos and on Colt, S&W and Ruger revolvers.

I am one of the legions who can attest that his work is top rate, and stands the test of time. I was fortunate enough to meet him early in his career some twenty years ago, and have since proudly owned at least five Laughridge guns. They include a Python .357, a .38 Detective Special, a Hi-Power, a lightweight Colt Commander and a single-action ParaOrdnance .45.

One thing that appeals to me about his approach is his understanding of the needs of those who actually carry guns as opposed to shooting them in competition. While I've used three of the above handguns successfully in shooting matches, they were all geared for personal protection. Laughridge understands what happens to gun handling skills under stress, and he understands what lawyers go after in the wake of a shooting incident. He builds his guns accordingly.

Bill's two "trademark" guns, the classic Colt and Browning, are long-proven single-action combat pistols that are normally carried cocked and locked. Over the years, this resultant short trigger stroke has been associated with unintentional discharges, to the point where many police departments will not allow such designs to be carried on duty. Cognizant of this, Para-Ordnance has introduced a double-action variation of their 1911 pistols called the LDA. This design offers a long, light double-action trigger stroke for every shot, a concept generally called DAO, or Double-Action-Only. This has found more favor with the police chiefs. One large California law enforcement agency has already authorized the LDA for its rank and file troops as well as its SWAT team, and a municipal police department in Massachusetts is about to issue the LDA .45 to all its officers.

The LDA, like all Paras, exhibits good design, high functionality and excellent workmanship. However, no manufacturer has yet produced a handgun so fine that a master pistol-smith can't make it better. Laughridge, who has long been doing splendid work on single-action Para-Ordnance guns, has turned his attention to the LDA. The result is a custom package he calls the CST-1 LDA. I recently visited his shop to test a sample, done on Para's new single-stack version called the 7/45 LDA.

Some workmen can't seem to enhance a pistol's function without removing safety devices. Laughridge knows better. Consulted dozens of times a year by attorneys in firearms liability-related cases, Bill has seen the reality, and refuses to compromise a safety device on a customer's gun. He has discovered that with something like the Series '80 internal firing pin lock, which Para-Ordnance licenses from Colt and installs on all its handguns, the extra pound or pound-and-a-half of trigger pressure required to activate the device can be compensated for by judicious polishing of internal parts. This leaves the customer with a smooth trigger pull and all safeties operational with a safe pull weight.

"I really like the LDA design," says Bill. "The manual safety catch is identical in user operation to the regular 1911 and it can be a lifesaver if someone gets the pistol away from you. The grip safety they put on the LDA is an excellent ergonomic design. On the LDA, you can't retract the slide unless the operator has a firm hold on the pistol that depresses the grip safety, and I think that's a good feature, too."

Bill knows that it isn't just the police chiefs who are nervous about carrying loaded, cocked pistols, a locked thumb safety notwithstanding. He has encountered so many customers in his two decades of pistolsmithing who don't care for cocked and locked carry that he offers a system for the 1911 and the Browning Hi-Power called SFS that allows the gun to be carried hammer down on a live round, with a deliberate activation of the thumb safety in the normal fashion causing the hammer to fly back to a cocked position for the first shot. He understands why a double-action 1911 strikes such a responsive chord in the shooting public, and he appreciates the excellent work that has gone into Para's ingenious double-action system.

CST-1 7/45 LDA Details


The Para LDA comes out of the box with a trigger stroke that is no less than incredibly smooth and light, running six to seven pounds pull weight, as a rule. In the CST-1, Bill takes this down to five pounds even, without compromising ignition or other reliability elements.

I've owned and shot several LDAs now, and have been won over by the concept. However, I've noticed that in a slow, careful trigger stroke, the marksman can feel a little hitch toward the end as the hammer prepares to fall. This goes unnoticed in fast shooting. However, in testing the Cylinder & Slide conversion, I discovered that even in slow fire, precision shooting I could no longer feel that little stopping point in the trigger pull.

The trigger pull on the Laughridge LDA was deliciously smooth and light. However, that was far from the only enhancement.

It was the famous pistolsmith Ikey Starks who said the combat pistol should feel like a well-used bar of soap. Laughridge buys into that and the Cylinder & Slide LDA has undergone a rounding of all external edgesand corners. This isn't something you notice immediately upon routine handling, but a week of intensive shooting at a training center will make you appreciate the user-friendly interface between hand and machine.

Bill has short fingers, and really likes the slim grip frame of the LDA, which mirrors that of the classic 1911 with a flat mainspring housing that C&S more smoothly mates to the frame. The front strap is stippled for a more secure hold. The excellent grips that come with the gun are left intact.

LDAs seem to exhibit excellent feed reliability and C&S ensures that they stay that way by deburring all internal working surfaces. This reduces the chance of a malfunction down the road when intensive shooting has crudded up the contact surfaces inside the pistol. A C&S 880 National Match extractor has been installed, radiused and tensioned. The ejection port has been lowered to allow a cleaner kick-out and preserve the roundness of ejected casings' mouths for reloading. The barrel throat has been recontoured and highly polished, again to insure optimum feeding under less-than-optimum conditions.

Paras come with good sights. C&S installs something even better, in this case the sleek Heinie Slant-Pro fixed rear with matching high-visibility front post and a three-dot system for less than perfect light conditions.

Paras also come with good accuracy, but C&S makes it even better. They can install a precision-accurate BarSto barrel if you need it, but in the standard package the factory barrel remains. It is honed and re-crowned to eleven degrees at the muzzle. A National Match bushing is installed, as is a full-length recoil spring guide rod with a pin takedown for easy maintenance. The result is accurizing to what Laughridge calls "Tactical Spec" meaning all the precision you can get out of that particular barrel without compromising reliability with too much tightening of parts.

Does it work? We went to the Elkhorn outdoor shooting range near Omaha to find out.

How It Shoots

We paced oft the outdoor pistol range at the facility at 20 yards instead of the usual 25. Close enough. Some sandbags went on the shooting bench, along with eight different brands of popular .45 ACP hollow point carry loads in three different bullet weights and encompassing five brands. Each five-shot group was measured twice, center to center of farthest shots. First, for all five rounds, an indication of what the shooter could expect from a braced position at that distance. Then again for the best three shots, which experience has taught me helps factor out human error and give a better picture of the gun's inherent accuracy if a Ransom Rest is not available.

It had very good accuracy for a defensive pistol. Did the C&S touch help? Well, the last stock LDA I shot delivered two inches, even at 25 yards, as its best group. Only five steps closer the groups this pistol delivered were proportionally better.

Functioning was 100%. Three of us shot box after box of ammunition through this gun without cleaning on the afternoon of the test, and there were no malfunctions of any kind. We used the magazine that came with the pistol, which appeared to be "generic" in the design of its feed lips and follower. National match style magazine lips and a rounded follower are generally associated with better feeding of hollowpoint defense loads. I use Wilson-Rogers mags in my own 7/45 LDA, and Laughridge likes the seven-round Metalforms, but I have to say that the magazine that came with the pistol ran just fine with the eight different JHP styles we ran through it.

Frank Belsky, an Omaha attorney, joined Bill and I for the testing. Frank agrees with us that there are two stages of action when a defensive handgun is employed for its intended purpose. What Colonel Jeff Cooper called Problem One is the fight itself, and what he called Problem Two is the legal aftermath. Belsky is well qualified to address both, and to understand how they relate.

A combat veteran of Vietnam who was wounded in action, Frank has seen his share of men manipulating small arms to defend themselves in the heat of battle. He told me, "I've been reading about the Para-Ordnance LDA, but this is the first time I've had a chance to fire one." He was very favorably impressed.

"I think that for the average individual, the LDA would be a superior weapon because its design helps prevent accidental discharge. It has an excellent trigger, particularly after Bill is done with it. Even with only five pounds of pressure, it's long enough that it's most unlikely to unintentionally discharge," Belsky continued.

Frank has been a practicing trial attorney for 21 years, nine of them as a prosecutor before he went into private practice. He has done a number of cases that touch on the sort of elements that we frequently discuss in this publication. He concludes, "I think for any person not deeply familiar with the cocked and locked pistol, and not constantly training with it, the LDA makes more sense, especially after Bill Laughridge has gone over it."

A graduate of multiple Chapman Academy courses, Frank Belsky owns two guns that Laughridge has worked on, and intends to soon own more.

Cost & Delivery

Delivery time on a CST-1 including brand-new base gun (at considerable customer saving) is four to six weeks and the ticket is $1,468. (These prices have been changed, since the publication of this article, please visit our online store for the latest pricing. This is a very competitive price, a handcrafted custom pistol for about the cost of a "factory fancy." Bill occasionally has one or more in stock with immediate shipping available.

If you have your own LDA, whether a single stack like our test gun or the more common double stack version, which has been out longer, the work on your pistol to make it identical to the one we tested will cost $725 plus shipping, and will take about six weeks.