Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1 Part 2

Creating your own battlefield finish

By Dennis Adler

I picked the Swiss Arms 1911A1 because like several other blowback action models it is very close to the design of the c.1926 Model 1911A1, which still had the small thumb safety and original small military sights and spur hammer. The big change was a smaller trigger, checkered raised mainspring housing and longer grip safety spur. WWII models also were built with brown plastic grips, so the checkered plastic Swiss Arms grips are good. It is also a very affordable blowback action pistol at around $80.

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.

This early 1911A1 (top) has checkered wood grips, but the rest of the features are what the Swiss Arms model is based on. It is a very good copy especially with blowback action and a full 1911 sized self-contained CO2 BB magazine.

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.

The early style checkered flat hammer spur and checkered small thumb safety are nicely reproduced on the Swiss Arms model.
The trigger on the 1911A1 was shorter (smaller) than the first series 1911 models. The grooved trigger on the Swiss Arms CO2 pistol is a little longer than the original, but close enough to the 1911A1 design. Also note the nice checkered magazine release button. These are pieces that will look good with the weathered finish.

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Complete Fieldstrip   

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.

You begin by doing a full fieldstrip of the Swiss Arms 1911A1. When you are done it should look like this. The main parts to start defarbing are the slide and frame.

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.

You will need a couple of sheets of fine grain emory paper, 0000 steel wool, a wood block for sanding flat surfaces, and blue painters tape to cover any areas of the gun you don’t want polished and to keep grit and steel wool dust out of internal parts.
With blue tape I have covered the inside of the grip frame to keep debris out of the CO2 firing mechanism and the inside of the slide to keep all interior parts protected.
I have taped off the top of the frame and underside of the slide. It is important to keep steel wool debris and residue from polishing off the matte finish from getting into the interior of the airgun. Some will still get in and periodically I use Dust Off to blow off any debris I can see. It is a messy job from this point on.

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.

Using the 3M emory paper O11K I started working off the hard black matte finish from the slide. This also removes the white markings on both sides including the Swiss Arms name and logo. Here I am about half way on the right side and I have given it one buffing with the 0000 steel wool. Notice the black dust from the finish and steel wool dust. This is why I tape off the inside of the gun. You don’t want this fine grit getting into the CO2 mechanism. This is about an hour into the project.

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.

Here I have polished off the entire left side. The top is last and working around the sights is a bit slower. This side still needs a polish with the 0000 steel wool.
After having gone over my work for any small traces of the black matte finish I have given the slide another polishing with the 0000 steel wool. You want as bright a finish as you can get.

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.

So, here we have the slide completely polished out and ready to be set aside so I can begin working on the frame. This is a much harder part to do because there are so many curves and small areas. Also working around the trigger means you have to be very careful not to let debris get inside the frame.

1 thought on “Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1”

  1. Got as far as the slide taking ages to get rid of “Swiss Arms”. Amazing how durable those markings are.
    I share concerns over the mags. Not had the fitting problem but am having difficulty getting them to seal. One has never worked and the other has a slow leak. Its a matter of getting the right “o” ring I imagine. I had trouble with the PPS but a bit of experimentation has found the perfect fit. Will retain its gas indefinately. I wonder how many cylinders will empty before I find the Colt solution!!!

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