Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 2

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 2 Part 1 Part 3 Part 4

Taking off the matte finish, detailing small parts and cleanup

By Dennis Adler

Well it is a dirty job when you’re sanding off the matte black finish on the Swiss Arms 1911A1. I used a variety of sanding medium but mainly the 3M O11K Fine emory paper and 0000 steel wool, in that order. Here I am working off the finish on the grip frame.

The hardest part of this defarbing project with the Swiss Arms 1911A1 is the frame which takes the most time and effort to work around small corners, edges, and parts that are attached to the frame, such as the thumb safety. Once you have cleared this hurdle there remains only a few small separate parts to strip the finish from, and then it is time to do a thorough cleaning of all polished out parts, before removing the blue tape and cleaning out any debris that may have gotten past the tape and into moving parts.

On the right side of the gun I am about a third of the way through the grip frame. I have already polished my work with the 0000 steel wool to see how the finish is turning out. You can go back over with the emory paper to get the black finish in small areas, like around the right side of the magazine release which still needs to be gone over, and edges of the triggerguard. I have already done one side of the trigger.

There are probably half a dozen ways to do what I am doing in this series of articles and this is my way, maybe not the best or easiest, just what I have done in the past to achieve the look I want. But the hard labor in stripping off the matte black finish is only the first part of the job. The final polish and refit come next and then you have a polished out gun that needs to be refinished.

Step-by-step

After I had the slide completed (fully polished out) the frame required the same steps plus adding a green 3M scrubbing pad for working around curves and small edges. This does leave some scoring in the alloy because it is more abrasive but it can all be polished out later with the 0000 steel wool. And a little roughness isn’t bad when you are trying to create something that looks like a battlefield worn gun. That is another touch that will come in at the end when the final finish is applied.

More rubbing and polishing and you have a grip frame in the white. Areas that are going to be totally covered by the grips are not as important to get polished out. Also note that on the checkered mainspring housing I have only polished off the high edges. The black that remains will actually help make the gun look more worn and authentic. Same for the checkering on the hammer spur.

In doing this process, the maker’s marks, proof mark and even the serial number of the air pistol (if it has one) will be polished off; it is back to a bare alloy gun like it was before markings and the matte finish were applied by the manufacturer. Getting into tight spaces the 3M scrubbing pads (or similar scrubbing pads) work well and also for flat surfaces such as the face of the recoil spring retainer sleeve, which has the checkered front that resembles the recoil spring plug on a 1911, front of the barrel bushing, sides of the slide stop (slide release), and even the face of the grip screws. Just a light buffing leaves a worn look. The 0000 steel wool is your best friend for finalizing the clean polish of parts since it is flexible for getting into tight spots. After using the steel wool or any of the other emory papers or scrubbers, always dump any dust or residue off the parts being worked on (it piles up) and blow off the parts with Dust Off. After you have reached the point where all of the parts are cleaned of the matte finish (though some small edges may remain and that will be alright), the parts need to be cleaned off. This is to remove any oils or remaining debris.

The left side is polished out and ready for fine tuning of small details. Again you can see that I have left some black on the thumb safety as this will add depth to the final finish. Doesn’t look like it now but it will. Also the bottom of the frame above the triggerguard has to be polished out. The 0000 steel wool is very malleable and you just have to get it up into the curve and work off the black finish. It is important to do this with the frame facing down so none of the steel wool dust or broken up finish falls into the trigger housing. This is also a great time to lightly hit the checkering on the trigger shoe so it has a rubbed surface but black left between the checkering.

For cleaning there are a variety of recommended degreasers, but for this project it is a simple use of warm water with a drop or two of Dawn (dishwashing soap) to make a solution that will be wiped over the exposed surfaces. The blue tape is still in place but be careful not to let any of the solution get inside the gun. Only work on the outside surfaces. I wiped the gun parts down with a wet microfiber cloth. After that, it is dried off with another microfiber cloth and we are ready to remove the blue tape and reassemble the gun to make sure everything is working smoothly.

Both the frame and slide are polished but there is smaller touchup to do inside the triggerguard, and sides of the mainspring housing and hammer. Again leaving some black at the inner edges will not hurt the finished look of the project. The next pieces to do are the fronts of the checkered recoil spring plug, barrel bushing and slide release. I used the 3M scrubbing pads for this. All you need to do is rub the parts on the pad until you get the desired wear and removal of the black finish. You can leave a little, especially on the checkered slide release.

After the gun was reassembled I gave the inside of the rails (gun turned over grips up, rails showing with the slide locked back) a light oiling with RWS Air Chamber Lube. And a light drop on either side of the trigger at the top edge. I wiped off the edges, ran the slide and fired the gun (no CO2, no magazine inserted) about a dozen times to see that everything was running smoothly and the trigger pull remained smooth.

Here you can see how rubbing the smaller pieces on the 3M scrubbing pad can leave a worn finish, a little black and more detail, especially with the front of the checkered recoil spring plug and checkering on the slide release.

All polished and ready for the next step. I have also used a courser emory cloth, 3M O11K course, to rub down some of the edges and finish on the brown plastic grips, especially along the bottom edges. These will look worn but still in good condition on the finished project.

Where we are and what we have      

At this point the Swiss Arms 1911A1 is a buffed out in the white gun showing some darkness around protected areas that are less prone to surface wear. Of course, a polished out gun is not a finished product, but it is more realistic looking than the Swiss Arms model was when we began.

After removing the blue tape from the frame and cleaning all the polished parts with a mixture or warm water and a couple of drops of Dawn dishwashing soap, to remove any oily residue, I have reassembled the parts into the slide. The next step is put the gun back together and do a function check of slide lock, thumb safety, trigger and hammer. No CO2 is needed for this, it is strictly to be sure nothing has been damaged and everything works. Put the gun back together before you try testing the safety, hammer or trigger.

So at the end of day two (about six hours total time now) I have a Swiss Arms 1911A1 in the white and ready for the next step, refinishing. Yes it looks good in the white and some of you may be happy with that look…

…but it is not nickel, not all even, nor as shiny as it looks in the photo. It is just polished zinc alloy. The final finish seals the deal.

Time thus far invested is about six hours and maybe $10 in materials. If you like guns in the white, this is the end. If not and the look of a war worn 1911 is your goal, in Part 3 we begin experimenting with finishes.

9 thoughts on “Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 2

  1. Nice polishing job . Not sure markings could be engraved into the slide and frame. Without stepping on Colt patent toes. Slide marked US Army model 1911, patentdates and on frame serial numberAE 00001, Airgun Experience serial number range. Maybe Adams could do it for a reasonable cost


  2. You have great ideas! Actually, if this were not an under $100 project (including the airgun, of course, my time is free!) that would be a perfect step in the process sending the polished out frame and slide to Adams & Adams to engrave everything but the Colt name before the bluing and aging.


  3. The pistol is reasonably priced. Wonder if Pyramid would consider a custom pistol like this. Does it seem like Umarex will offer aWW2 Colt 1911, why , is a big question, so a custom pistol might be a reasonable alternative



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