In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to build a 1911 at home with no FFL! Unlike other guides, this guide doesn’t involve buying a 1911 frame at the store. Rather, we’re using the 80% 1911 approach. We’ll hit on the legal stuff first – explaining how you can do this at home and stay on the right side of the law – and then we’ll explain what parts you need. We’ll walk you through what a 1911 80 frame is and how to complete one using some hand tools. Then, we’ll walk you through the steps of final assembly.
How to build a 1911: The legal stuff
A lot of people ask, “can I build a gun at home?” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has this say to on the subject:
“No, a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use. However, a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution.
The law prohibits a person from assembling a non–sporting semiautomatic rifle or shotgun from 10 or more imported parts, as well as firearms that cannot be detected by metal detectors or x–ray machines. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and advance approval by ATF.”
[18 U.S.C. 922(o), (p) and (r); 26 U.S.C. 5822; 27 CFR 478.39, 479.62 and 479.105]
The 1911 is not:
- A shotgun
- An NFA gun
- A non-sporting semiautomatic rifle
- A gun built with 10 or more imported parts
- A gun that can’t be detected by metal detectors or X-rays
We’re not building our 1911 to sell it, and we have no intentions of doing so. So, we’re in the clear as far as Federal law is concerned.
Some states have special restrictions against building guns at home, especially handguns. California, for example, only allows specific handgun makes and models that have been tested for certain safety requirements to be legally owned in the state. Unfotrunately, that excludes the 80% 1911. Check your local and state laws before building. Moving on, let’s look what what parts we need:
80% 1911 Build: The parts you’ll need
Here’s what you’ll need to build your own 1911 from scratch. The first two components of the project – the 1911 80 frame and parts kit – are caliber- and frame-specific and must correspond with each other.
For example, if you want to build a classic G.I.-style 1911 chambered in .45 APC, you’ll need a 5” Government frame and 5” Government Parts Kit. The same rules apply for Commander 1911s, and 1911s chambered in 9mm (which are available here).
Are these 80% 1911s compatible with retail parts?
Yes! If you wanted, you could just buy a frame and jig, complete the frame, and then buy all the 1911 parts you’d need from wherever to complete your build. But the parts kits, barrels, and slides included with the frames and jigs we sell are top-tier, made in America by some of the country’s best gunsmiths.
What is an 80% 1911 frame?
The 80% 1911 is a firearm frame blank that is 80% complete, but not yet functional. The 1911 80 frame is inoperable and cannot be made operable without manufacturing it further. It is therefore not considered a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The ATF can only define and regulate firearms. They don’t regulate receiver blanks, frame blanks, or inoperable stuff. In their eyes, the 1911 80 frame is no different than a piece of raw aluminum.
1911 80 frame vs. Retail 1911 frame
Speaking of aluminum – the 1911 80 frame is not made out of steel. Instead, the frames used to build at home are made from forged, mil-spec aluminum. This is no different than a typical 80% lower used to build an AR-15. The fact the 80% 1911’s made from aluminum provides some big advantages, the biggest being weight savings. The aluminum frame weighs around 60% less than a store-bought, steel 1911 frame! That’s a huge reduction in weight, making the 1911 more comfortable and ergonomic without sacrificing its ruggedness or reliability.
And since the 1911 80 frame isn’t a firearm, it can be bought, sold, and shipped to you without having to deal with the ATF or an FFL. Nothing else you’ll buy for this project is considered a firearm, including the parts kit and jig.
How to finish a 1911 80 frame
Now that we’ve cleared up the legal stuff and figured what you what you need for the build, let’s get started! These instructions are to be used only with the Phantom 1911 Jig by Stealth Arms. Other 1911 jigs may work differently:
Step 1: Insert 1911 frame into Phantom Jig
The Phantom Jig secures your 1911 frame using two provided dowel pins and one Allen-head set screw. Seat the dowel pins into one of the two plates as pictured. Let your frame slide onto the dowel pins and then sandwich the frame using the other plate and set screw.
Step 2: Drill the hammer and sear pin holes
Rest your frame and jig on its side. Secure the larger drill bit (#22) into your drill and drill half-way through the frame to begin making the hammer pin hole. Repeat drilling of the sear pin hole using the smaller drill bit (#35). Then flip the frame and jig and finish drilling on the opposite side.
Don’t attempt to drill all the way through the frame on one side. Your drill bits will hit the surface underneath the jig and cause your drill to “walk”, damaging your frame and work bench.
Step 3: Set up the cutting car
After drilling both holes, you’ll move on to the cutting car. This is the manual cutter used to finish the slide rails and barrel seat. The car already has the slide rail and barrel seat cutting blades installed, but they need to set before you begin cutting.
Loosen the Allen-head set screw securing the slide rail cutter (pictured), and carefully push the blade up into the car so the blade’s edge is slightly inside the bottom of the opening. Re-tighten the screw.
Next, thread the cutting handle and adjustment knob atop the car (like shown). You’re now ready to find your starting point for cutting.
Step 4: Set up the jig for cutting
Place the provided spacer block inside the center of the slide rail slot on the guide plate (pictured).
Then, secure your frame and jig in a tabletop vise as shown.
Step 5: Set the initial cutting depth
Once the jig and frame are secured, grab the included machining lubricant and apply some to the frame, inside the slide rail slot on the guide plate. Next, rest the cutting car atop the frame, with the cutting blade resting inside the slide rail guide slot.
Gently move the cutting car back and forth atop the frame while turning the adjustment knob clockwise. This will begin bringing the cutting blade in contact with the frame. Continue rotating the knob until the blade contacts the frame. This is your initial cutting depth.
Once you’ve found the initial depth, grab a marker and mark where the adjustment knob is in relation to the jig (pictured).
Step 6: Measuring slide rail cutting depth
There are notches surrounding the adjustment knob. These notches represent 1/10th of a full revolution of the knob. The knob must be rotated 19 times (1.9 complete revolutions) to achieve the desired cutting depth of 0.61”.
Step 7: Cut the slide rails
Once you’ve found and marked the starting position, begin cutting the slide rails by pushing the car forward across the frame. Make 3 to 4 passes before rotating the adjustment knob one notch. After making a forward cutting pass, it’s a good idea to lift slightly on the cutting car in order to bring it back to you for the next pass.
This will prevent the back of the blade from dragging along the frame and dulling. Be sure to clean out metal scraps and debris while you cut. It’s also important to occasionally apply machining lubricant/oil while you cut.
Repeat for the opposite side.
Step 8: Set up the jig for the barrel seat cut
Once both slide rails have been cut to 0.061”, disassemble the frame and jig and re-position the dowels pins in the side plate as shown. Re-secure the frame and jig atop the guide pins, and re-seat the jig with the provided set screw (pictured).
Step 9: Secure the jig for cutting again
Secure the frame and jig vertically in a tabletop vise, like shown. The barrel end of the frame should face toward you.
Step 10: Set up the cutting car for the barrel seat
Loosen the adjustment knob and handle on the cutting car. Re-position both on the left-hand side of the car as shown. Repeat step 5 to find the initial barrel seat cutting depth.
Step 11: Cut the barrel seat
Repeat step 7 and cut the barrel seat to a depth of 0.077”. This is achieved by making 2.4 complete rotations of the adjustment knob, or 24 notches. Mark the starting position and make 3 to 4 passes, lifting and lubricating as needed until cutting is complete.
Your 80% 1911 is complete!
Once you’ve finished cutting the barrel seat, you’ll be the proud owner of a real, functional 1911 frame. At this point, you’re now the owner of a firearm in the eyes of the ATF. And now, you must observe all applicable gun laws. But now comes the fun part: Finishing your 1911 and hitting the range! All you need to do now is install your 1911’s parts kit, which includes the barrel and slide.
Like we said, your completed 80% 1911 frame functions exactly like a retail or store-bought 1911. The parts kit installation is just like any other 1911 you’ve put your hands on.
If you’re not familiar with the installation procedures, there are plenty of resources online (trying to provide every step and photograph in this guide would be unfeasible). One of our customers, Sterling Archer, created a wonderfully paced, easy-to-follow instructional video! Check it out here if you need detailed instructions to complete your installation.