Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1 Part 2
Creating your own battlefield finish
By Dennis Adler
Battlefield or weathered finishes are not nearly as desirable on collectible firearms as they have become on CO2 pistols copying vintage firearms. In fact, it would be safe to say that if every 19th or early 20th century based CO2 pistol was offered with a weathered finish, they would all be top selling airguns. Alas, only a few select models get the ageing process and the rest are produced in like new (or matte) finishes that seldom look like the originals except for nickel plated models. Defarbing is a term used for removing all modern markings from a reproduction black powder gun and replacing them with the correct period marks (and often ageing or applying a custom finish). Manufacturer’s markings are also removed so all that remains are the serial numbers required by law. Over the years I have antiqued my share of black powder guns (and a few cartridge models) for articles in Guns of the Old West. The same process on a CO2 pistol is actually a little more difficult because even the best air pistols are made from cast alloy parts, which are a softer metal. This is great for engraving (as evidenced by the series of Colt Peacemaker and Schofield models engraved by Adams & Adams for Pyramyd Air over the last couple of years), but polishing out and refinishing an alloy pistol is a dirty job. And bluing a zinc alloy gun is no simple task, either.
I have selected one of the easier guns to defarb for this series of articles, a Swiss Arms 1911A1. Why this airgun? It comes very close in design to a c.1926 Colt model 1911A1 version with the correct military style small sights, lanyard loop, grip design, checkered raised mainspring housing, longer grip safety spur, flat, checkered hammer spur, and 1911A1 style short trigger. WWII era 1911A1 models were also produced with checkered plastic grips, so the grips on the Swiss Arms model are actually close enough.
To begin defarbing you need to do a complete fieldstrip of the Swiss Arms 1911. This is done sequentially by removing the magazine, pushing the side back to the disassembly lever opening, pressing the disassembly lever (slide release) pin from the right side and removing the entire release from the left. Then pull the slide and barrel assembly forward off the frame. Remove the grips from the frame and set them aside with the screws. To take the barrel and slide apart, depress the recoil spring plug, rotate and remove the barrel bushing and pull out the secondary recoil spring around the barrel, (this is part of the blowback action and is not part of a cartridge-loading 1911 design). Turn the slide facing up and push the recoil spring and guide rod forward and away from the barrel lug; pull the spring and guide rod out, now pull the recoil spring retainer sleeve back (used to hold the recoil spring and plug in place and again not part of an actual 1911 fieldstrip) and remove it. Then pull the barrel forward and out of the slide. You should end up with all the separate parts shown in the photo.
Before you begin using any emory paper to begin taking off the matte finish on the slide and frame, take masking tape or blue tape and cover all of the internal surfaces of the slide and frame to prevent any grit particles from getting into the CO2 firing mechanism. The only other parts, aside from slide and frame that will be polished are on the slide and frame, the hammer flats, part of the trigger, thumb safety, and front of the barrel bushing.
It takes time, patience, a few different types of polishing medium and I use two different grades of emory cloth. Both are pretty fine, I start with 3M 011K as it a little bit more course and really helps break down the matte finish on the gun. I go over my work with a little finer emory paper and do a final polish of the alloy surfaces with 0000 steel wool. It is labor intensive especially around edges and pretty messy, which is why I used blue tape to cover as many openings as possible. The slide took about two hours to rub down the matte finish to bare metal and then polish bright with the steel wool.
It is all hand labor and no polishing wheels or professional equipment is needed, just time and elbow grease. This isn’t for everyone but as you can see from beginning with the slide, the results look promising.
This will be an on-going project. The next two installments of Airgun Experience will be published later in the week, on Friday and Sunday, a little unusual but I will be visiting the Sig Sauer factory mid week and hopefully be able to report back to you on new models and when they may be available. For those of you inspired to defarb a WWII era style 1911A1 air pistol, we’ll touch base in a future Airgun Experience.