If you’ve spent any time at all around handguns, it’s a surety that you’ve heard a friend, acquaintance, or random guy at a match say something about how easy-to-maintain their XYZ modern wonder-nine is. There’s a good chance it might have even been you who said it! If it was, you would have been right.
Technology is a wonderful thing; it makes life easier, and it applies to gun maintenance as well as anything else. Many new firearm designs today will never even be shot enough by their owners to necessitate something like a recoil spring change (some of the guns won’t last as long as their springs, but that’s another matter entirely), and while most people today probably do shoot less than people did fifty years ago, that isn’t the reason. Look at the recoil spring in a stock 1911 and compare it to the one in a Gen3 Glock 21; you should notice something. Spring technology as it applies to guns has made great strides in the past twenty years, to the extent that many new (non-high-volume) shooters will never have to worry about changing one.
The Wilson Combat Flat-Wire Recoil Spring Kit is perfect for allowing your .45 ACP 1911 to more than keep pace with decades-newer designs on the maintenance front. The reviews are golden (because it works…), and by now there’s a fairly decent chance that you’ve already heard of it. Just in case you haven’t, though, it is kind of a big deal: 50,000-round service life and the ability to operate flawlessly with anything from lighter match loads to +P duty ammunition. Plus it’s just a cool idea in general.
But as cool as it is, none of it is the focus of this article, because you people are well-informed already and there’s a very good chance you’ve either heard of this or tried it. Heck, the Glock guys on here have had it for years. Instead, we’re going to focus on a question we’ve seen asked all over the internet, “How can I make a flat-wire recoil spring setup work in my 38 Super/9mm 1911?” You could buy a 12# aftermarket Glock flat-wire spring once you have the billet Wilson guide rod and go to town in 9mm, but this way is more fun, and the results will be even better.
Note how much longer the 10# conventional spring is; the shortened flat-wire still has more coils…
Finding a flat-wire solution for 38 Super was even easier than I guessed. Since the characteristics of flat-wire springs are slightly different than conventional round wire ones (even when they’re the same weight fully compressed), I tried the 17# Wilson .45 setup in my 38 Super as it came from the factory. And to my surprise, it ran everything from low-powered Aguila 130-gr ball to Corbon 125-gr DPX and Wilson 115-gr TAC-XP duty loads. So for 38 Super, the 17# flat-wire kit is good-to-go. Problem solved.
9mm, on the other hand, has a notorious reputation in the 1911 platform because of its shorter OAL than 38S or .45 ACP. That’s unfortunate, because that makes America’s most popular handgun caliber a sometimes-risky chambering in the nation’s most legendary sidearm. Further, most standard 9mm loads recoil best with a 9# or 10# recoil spring, but in conventional-type springs (especially ones that have lost length and/or tension over time) those weights are typically too light to reliably strip the top round off of a fully-loaded magazine. Add new or stiff mags to the equation and you’ve got a hiccup machine. Taken in conjunction, those things are reasons this process is preferable to just buying a random flat spring and assuming it will work in your nine: this process allows you to start with room to tailor the spring to your gun. And it keeps you from wasting the spring included in the kit. However, since we liked the performance we got out of the stock flat-wire spring in 38 Super, we used a second flat-wire spring here for 9mm. You can buy just the spring from Wilson as well if you have 2 barrels, and the 38 Super I carry is much hotter than the 9mm, so a second setup was necessary.
1. Begin with a nice, consistent load (we used Winchester 115 grain Winclean), and start each string of fire in the same spot. Fire up to five shots with the stock 17# recoil setup. The casings will likely just trickle out in a small pile next to your foot. The amazing part of it is that with a properly-tuned gun and a good grip, the 17# spring will run factory 9mm ammo just fine.
2. Clip one coil off of the flat-wire spring, put the spring back into the gun, and fire 5 more rounds. Fire 10 if you’re feeling squirrelly. If you’re shooting +P+, there’s a chance you’re good at this point. 8-15 feet (3-5 paces) is an ideal ejection distance. Repeat this step until you’re happy with the results, keeping in mind that 4 coils is about the most you’ll want to take off of the spring length-wise (possibly 5 for a very light target load).
As you go, you’ll likely recognize a few things:
-You got really good at speed-disassembling your gun
-The recoil smoothes out dramatically and is more of a light push with very little muzzle rise
-Ejection is smoother and more consistent (because the spring recoils in a more linear fashion)
-Using the slide-stop to chamber the top round of a fresh round is very smooth, even though the spring recoils like a 9# conventional
-YOUR SPRING GOT SHORTER…don’t laugh this one off. It sounds counterintuitive, but you can fit more coils in less space when the wire is flat, so it isn’t anything that should cause you concern. It’s also worth noting that flat springs don’t lose length or tension over time the same way that conventional ones do, so even though it is shorter it will provide a more effective cushion to your frame for a MUCH longer period of time.
All in all, this modification is something that is absolutely required in order to guarantee the highest degree of reliability in a 9mm 1911 you plan on using frequently or carrying, and it is a fantastic way to tailor your gun to work with your grip and ammo. Best of all, you won’t ever have to count down from 2500 to know when it’s time to change the recoil spring. If WC keeps it up, the 1911 will still be up-to-date in 100 more years…
-Colt Driver; Product Photos by kChanko
www.wilsoncombat.com; Part #614, Flat-Wire Recoil Spring Kit, $19.95
Part 614G17, Extra 17# Spring, $10.95
*Originally published 3/23/2013