Thursday, November 1, 2012

Smith Alexander Magwell Grip Review for Ruger SR1911

Smith Alexander Magwell Grip Review for Ruger SR1911

Smith & Alexander are known amongst the 1911 community as the “Magwell People”and are regarded as offering the finest, highest quality, best fitting aftermarket magwell funnels for 1911s. In fact Smith & Alexander has patented the one piece mag-guide and is the only manufacturer of this ultimate upgrade.  Many 1911 owners of S&A magwells even note stripping off their S&A magwells funnels before sell a 1911; simply put Smith & Alexander has a loyal following. The FBI even specifies Smith & Alexander mag-guide specs for their 1911s. Steven Seagal is even a huge fan of the company and the mag-guides.

The title of this article may be a little misleading in that this Smith & Alexander Magwell Funnel will fit any standard Government Model frame 1911, however many questions have been raised about upgrading the popular new Ruger SR1911 so I though this was an appropriate how-to article for new SR1911 owners.

It should be no surprise that the Ruger SR1911 has quickly become a top seller for those that want a high quality 1911 for not a lot of money.  It is stainless steel, features a match barrel, bobbed hammer, Novak sights, adjustable trigger, and oversized beavertail safety all for an affordable price in a package that shoots extremely well.  Despite its features, the SR1911 is far from a feature loaded 1911 and new owners now want to add a few basic upgrades.  The first upgrades most owners want are a set of new grips to customize the look and ergonomics and a magwell funnel to speed reloads.

These are both very easy upgrades on the SR1911 or any standard Government Model framed 1911 which anyone with a screwdriver and a ⅛” pinch can accomplish easily. 1911 grips for the most part are pretty universal as long as the new grips are the same thickness, and of the same base 1911 frame style. The SR1911 is a standard “Government Model” frame and has “Standard” thickness grips.  All that is required to replace a set of grips with the same thickness is removal of four grip screws, swap out the grips and replace the screws. Indeed, a pretty easy upgrade that does not require a trip to the gunsmith if you know how to work a hex wrench.

Factory standard grip on left
"Slim" S&A grip on right
Moving to “slim” or thin grip sets, such as these Smith Alexander “slim” Hand Checkered Black Micarta grips featured here, requires an extra step of replacing both the grip screws and bushings with shorter versions. The bushing are the nubs that the grips screws screw into and the stock longer grip bushings are removed and replaced like any other screw. 

This is still an easy upgrade and only requires a screwdriver for the bushings and hex wrench for the grip screws.  When choosing grips you will also have a choice of flat bottom or beveled.  Generally flat bottom grips are used when a magwell is installed because they do not have a beveled bottom and visually line up better to the magfunnel. Standard grips look and feel the best on 1911s without magwells because the bottom bevel removes one more sharp edge which could potentially dig into your side during carry.
Drive out the sear pin is simple.
Tall/standard bushing versus
Slim bushing installed.

I reached out to Smith & Alexander and confirmed that their standard Government Model Mag Guide would fit the Ruger.  When adding a magwell there are a number of options, however the one piece combo magfunnel/mainspring housing/backstrap from S&A tend to look and perform the best with a gap free fit. Forget about two piece magwell funnels, drilling and tapping the mainspring housing or hand fitting a magwell funnel, the Smith & Alexander version unit is a one step direct swap that required no fitting on my Ruger SR1911.

The Mag Guides are also pretty easy to swap out and only require a punch and small hammer.  After assuring the gun is empty and safe, field strip the gun, remove the grips and assure the hammer is dropped fully forward. With the punch, drive out the sear pin located near the bottom of the grip. A couple taps will usually do it.  

The mainstream housing will slip out under a little tension.  Remove the mainspring and mainspring pin down in the bottom of the hole from the original housing.  Test fit the magwell funnel without any internal parts or springs and assure the pin will seat and then disassemble.  Reassemble with all the original parts on the S&A housing.

Make sure the hammer is forward on the disassembled lower during the re-assembly or you will never get the sear pin back in. The mainsrping will have a little tension however the punch will help hold everything together while you tap in the pin. Once the sear pin is back in, reattach the grips, and reassemble the gun.  Complete round trip upgrade for including the grips and mag guide was less than 30 minutes; I could do again in less than ten.

We have all seen the poor fitting 1911 mag wells, however the Smith & Alexander magwells fit perfectly nice and tight on the bottom of my SR1911.  From a fit persepctive, the S&A was actually a bit tighter fitting than my original stock Ruger mainspring housing/backstrap and the bottom of the funnel is perfectly level with the bottom of my SR1911’s grip.  The magwell is compatible with the factory grips, however the hand tooled slim micarta grips feel much better in my hands.

With the Black Linen Micarta grips in place the transition from grip to magwell funnel was gap free perfection.  The slim grips do have a smaller grip profile than the funnel itself and there was a little step down, however this is fine as I am sure I will continue to try different grips. There is something about hand cut checkering that I love; the little imperfections at the corners where the checking tool stops adds character and tells the story that the grips were made by hand.  Overall very impressed with these hand tooled and crafted grips from Smith & Alexander.

The mainspring housing has a nice sharp 120 tpi checkering which is just a bit more aggressive than the original Ruger part. From a feel perspective the more defined checkering is appreciated. The bead blast finish also matched the Ruger’s perfectly and could easily be mistaken for a factory part.

After loading up the gun and heading to the range, I can now understand all those folks who swear by 1911 magwell funnels.  Reloads were fast and problem free without looking and after all when you only have eight rounds in a clip, you tend to reload a lot.  8-round magazines with standard or extended bumpers work best with the funnel due to the length providing easier seating. 7-round magazines will require bumper extensions for easy “palm slam” style reloads as they recess into the magwell funnel.

Both the Smith & Alexander magwell funnel and grips worked perfectly and delivered a big improvement in shooting comfort and reloading speed. on my Ruger SR1911  The slim grips felt great in my smaller hands and afforded a much more comfortable grip. The magwell funnel made reloads much faster and fumble free.  I was told by a gunsmith that this same magwell is used by many custom gunsmiths who then will blend in the funnel perfectly with the original factory profile to flare the magwell even further. Nice to know you have a part that is a potential start to a custom gun project. Both easy upgrades that anyone can accomplish in only 30 minutes and for me greatly improved the handling of this great new 1911.

S&A Government Model 1911 Mag Guide - $78.95
Available in Flat or Arched, Stainless or Blued
S&A Hand checkered Linen micarta slim grips - $39.95

Short grip screws and bushings - $19.95

Smith & Alexander

Sturm, Ruger & Co


Craig said...

Can you tell me if I have to use the slim grip or will the magwll work wit the stock grips?

Unknown said...

Your stock grip would fit perfectly if you are not ordering the slim fit magwell.

Chip said...

Great article but I'm confused by something. There is a step down where the magwell meets the grip. Can this bump be avoided somehow?

Major Pandemic said...

I have since switched to the thin VZ grips and they fit perfectly.

Unknown said...

I love my SR 1911! That is a great looking and functional upgrade!

FocusST252 said...

Hey major, great review. I just ordered a set of VZ slim fit Operator grips with the magwell bottom cut. I was wondering if the S&A magwell used in your review is the slim-fit version as well or the regular version. I want to have as smooth of a transition from grip to magwell as possible.

FocusST252 said...

Hey major, great review. I just ordered a set of VZ slim fit Operator grips with the magwell bottom cut. I was wondering if the S&A magwell used in your review is the slim-fit version as well or the regular version. I want to have as smooth of a transition from grip to magwell as possible.

FocusST252 said...

Hey Major, great review!

I just ordered a set of slim-fit VZ Operator grips with the magwell cut bottom and was also looking to get one of these magwells from Brownells. I was wondering whether you had the regular or slim-fit magwell for your review, as I want to have as smooth a transition from grip to magwell as possible.

Looking forward to your response!

Unknown said...

Will this magwell work with the sr1911 in 10mm?

Unknown said...

If you don't want the "gap" where the funnel meets the back of the grip, you need to spend $160 on the Nighthawk Custom or something like that which is curved on the back.

Unknown said...

Do they come with the black checkered back with the stainless magwell.