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Ruger SR1911 CMD Review

by Peter G. Kokalis   |  May 8th, 2013 8

Kokalis says Ruger’s SR1911 CMD is fully loaded with custom features, making it a best buy selection that is selling like hotcakes.

The project that was to result in the Colt Commander commenced almost 65 years ago in a U.S. government post-World-War-II-era trial to replace the M1911 Government Model with a lighter pistol that would be issued to officers.

The requirements were a chambering in cal. 9x19mm Parabellum, a length not to exceed 7 inches and a weight of not more than 25 ounces. Trial specimens included the Browning Hi Power from both Inglis in Canada and Fabrique Nationale in Liege, Belgium, and Smith & Wesson’s new Model 39.

Colt’s entry was a highly modified M1911 chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum round with a barrel shortened from 5 to 4.25 inches and a 9-round magazine. Early in 1948, Colt, in developmental work for lightweight, heavy-caliber handguns, decided to investigate a frame made of aluminum alloy rather than from the then conventional alloy-steel forgings.

Together with the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa), forgings were made from high-tensile strength aluminum alloy and designated as “Coltalloy” These forgings were delivered to Colt’s frame machining department, where more than 140 machining operations were performed on them. The result was a half-dozen .45 ACP pistol frames that were unbelievably lightweight for the time. They were assembled into pistols chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum, .38 Super, and .45 ACP cartridges.

The slide of this pistol was fabricated from forged gun steel as previously, but was shortened from 7.375 inches to 6.625 inches and the barrel was shortened from 5 inches to 4.25 inches. A ring-type hammer, in the configuration of that found on the Mauser Broomhandle, was added, numerous internal modifications were made and the sights altered to conform to the new barrel length.

The weight, with an empty magazine, was approximately 26.5 ounces compared to about 40 ounces for the all-steel M1911 Government Model, a weight reduction of almost 35 percent. An anodizing process was used to produce a “blued” finish on the frame. Plans were initially also made for chamberings in .30 Luger and .380 ACP.

Unsurprisingly, absolutely nothing came of the U.S. government trials. But, Colt’s “Commander” appeared on their 1950 price list and was an immediate success. In 1970, an all-steel version appeared as the “Combat Commander” in the three original calibers and with both blued and nickel-plated finishes. Total production through 1970 was already in excess of 70,000. The Commander-style configuration remains quite popular to this day and a substantial number of the many manufacturers producing M1911-type pistols feature models in this size, with either lightweight or all-steel frames.

A year ago, Sturm, Ruger & Company startled the firearms industry with their much-anticipated introduction of an M1911-type handgun, loaded with desirable features and priced right. It has been an incredible success, and deservedly so. And, most recently Ruger announced a Commander-style version of the SR1911. Like its predecessor, reception of the new Ruger SR1911 CMD has been phenomenal and sales have been astounding. Let’s see why.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the Ruger SR1911 CMD is an incredible $829, complete with two 7-round magazines, an attractive black nylon zipper case, the now mandatory (but usually quite unused) trigger lock, black polymer bushing wrench and instruction manual. No other M1911 Government Model pistol with the features and quality of manufacture the Ruger SR1911 CMD has come close to it in price. As a consequence, the demand is quite high and they are selling literally just as fast as they hit the dealers’ display cases.

Shotgun News recently received a Ruger SR1911 CMD for test and evaluation, and it’s impressive at many levels. The overall configuration is that of a traditional so-called “Commander” version of the M1911. With an empty magazine, the all-steel Ruger SR1911 CMD weighs 36.4 ounces (1.03 kg). The width, at the grip panels, is 1.34 inches (34mm), with an overall length of 7.75 inches (196.85mm) and an approximate height of 5.45 inches (138.43mm), measured 90 degrees to the barrel’s axis and with the 7-round magazine inserted. So far, this is all rather conventional.

The 4.25-inch (107.95mm) SR1911 barrel is made of 400-series stainless steel, which is through hardened, features 6-groove, broached rifling and a 1:16 right-hand twist. Ruger’s manufacture of the barrel and barrel bushing is quite unique, because both components are machined at the same time from the same piece of bar stock.

Ruger finds that they can honestly say that this provides consistent accuracy. Furthermore, when these components are machined separately, they frequently will require a small amount of hand fitting. Hand fitting parts to ultra-close tolerances produces tight and accurate pistols, but adds considerably to the cost of manufacture.

And, finally, in Ruger’s “Lean Manufacturing” environment (see below), the ultimate goal is to create a “one-piece flow,” i.e., building the components for, and then assembling one pistol at a time. When a mistake is uncovered, it’s corrected immediately and in an ideal Lean Manufacturing system there is zero work in process behind that pistol.

Thus, producing one barrel and one bushing at a time off the same CNC machine is a perfect example of the Lean mindset and it ensures that both parts are always built within a defined and complimentary set of parameters.

The frame is an investment casting from 415 stainless steel. The slide was CNC machined from 415 stainless steel bar stock, as there was no cost advantage to investment casting this component.

The slide and frame have a satin stainless steel finish. The front and rear sights, slide stop lever, thumb safety, magazine catch/release, top and bottom sides of the Commander-style hammer, mainspring housing, and the beavertail grip safety have a black oxide finish.

The right and left sides of the slide have eight cocking serrations each at the rear. There are no front cocking serrations, which are, in any event, used only for “press checking” a pistol. In a manner now more or less standard with custom tactical M1911 pistols, the ejection port has been lowered and flared to enhance reliability. The left side of the slide is marked “Ruger Made in USA”, while the right side carries the new Ruger logo.

The original logo, designed by Ruger’s partner, Alex Sturm (who it is claimed was an authority on heraldry) was a Prussian imperial eagle, slightly redesigned in the style of a phoenix and carrying the letters “S” and “R,” for Sturm and Ruger respectively. The logo was originally in red, but after Sturm’s untimely death it was changed to black (except for a special anniversary model of the .22 pistol). Quite recently, the “S” was dropped from the logo.

The Ruger SR1911 CMD’s high-profile fixed sights are dovetailed to slots in the slide and can be adjusted for windage zero, if necessary. The sight radius is 5.75 inches (146.05mm). The slightly front-tapered, blade-type front sight has a single white dot with an unusual short step on each side, as the front portion of the blade measures .115″ and .125″ at the rear. The rear sight, (marked “Novak’s”) is a Novak Lo-Mount-type, which was developed and made popular by the famous and highly regarded Wayne Novak of Parkersburg, W. Va.

Retained to the slide by an Allen-head set screw, there is a white dot on each side of the open square notch, which is .140″ in width.

Moving to the frame, we find the right side marked “Prescott AZ Ruger SR1911” and the serial number. A standard-configuration, black oxide, slide stop lever has been installed on the left side and an extended, tactical-type thumb safety (also finished in black oxide) is also on the left side only.

However, it appears that the SR1911 CMD will accept a substantial number of aftermarket M1911 components and Brownells stocks almost a dozen different makes of ambidextrous thumb safeties.

The checkered magazine catch/release is a high profile, tactical type. The beavertail steel grip safety has a slight bump on the bottom to insure that it is disconnected even if not depressed completely. It entirely cups the hammer to prevent “hammer bite” and permit as high a grip as possible.

The flat mainspring housing is made of steel, not polymer as some are, and carries very attractive checkering of 25 lines per inch (lpi). The front strap is uncheckered. The magazine well has been beveled to ease insertion of magazines, which should always be done with the operator’s eyes downrange on the anticipated threat.

The rosewood grip panels are checkered with a classic double diamond pattern and the new Ruger logo. Rosewood refers to a substantial number of richly hued woods, most often dark reddish brown. Rosewoods are strong and heavy and thus ideal for handgun grip panels. All genuine Rosewoods belong to the genus Dalbergia. Each grip panel is held to the frame by two steel hex head screws, another small, but very nice touch found on this exceptional pistol.

The two stainless steel seven-round magazines provided are in the configuration of the original M1911 magazine; they have five unnumbered indicator holes on each side—from the third to seventh round. This magazine has a long, single coil follower spring (with some smaller diameter coils at the top) that was designed to give sufficient stripping pressure for totally reliable operation and a fixed floorplate that cannot be removed.

This type of magazine can only be disassembled by depressing the floorplate and then running a pin or narrow drift through one set of indicator holes to keep the follower spring depressed. Then shake out the follower and subsequently remove the drift or pin holding down the follower spring and pull it out the top of the magazine. The magazines carry the Ruger escutcheon and “45 ACP Made in USA” on the left side of the body.

The silver anodized, aluminum alloy, skeletonized trigger is equipped with an adjustable overtravel stop. The trigger face has vertical serrations. The trigger pull weight of our test specimen was a consistent and clean 3.75 pounds, as measured with dead weights.

The method of operation as designed by John M. Browning is well known to almost all handgun enthusiasts and remains the same on the SR1911 CMD. Locked-breech, short recoil-operated; the barrel and slide are locked together by two ribs on the top of the barrel at the chamber end, which engage two recesses in the underside of the slide. Securely locked together during the moment of high chamber pressure, the barrel and slide travel rearward a short distance still firmly mated to each other.

During recoil, the barrel swings backward on its link, which is attached to the frame by the slide stop pin passing through it. As rearward travel continues, the barrel is forced downward and away from the slide. The barrel’s rearward travel ceases when it strikes its stop in the frame, while the slide continues backward to complete extraction and ejection of the empty case before rebounding, by means of the recoil spring, to strip and chamber another round from the magazine.

Lean Manufacturing, Just-In-Time, and Kanban at Ruger
Things have changed dramatically since I first visited the Ruger facility in Prescott, Ariz., almost a quarter of a century ago. The Ruger SR1911 CMD pistol is manufactured using methodologies quite different from those used to produce Ruger’s first center-fire, semi-automatic pistol, the P85. A few years ago, Ruger Group Vice President and Prescott plant manager, Mark T. Lang, instituted radically new production procedures. “Lean Manufacturing,” sometimes referred to as simply “Lean,” is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources and efforts for any purpose other than the creation of value for the consumer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. The concept is centered on creating more product value for less work. It was derived mostly from the Toyota Production System, but actually had its origins with Ford.

Another aspect of Lean Manufacturing is an emphasis on improving the smoothness of work flow and this often involves the implementation of “Kanban,” which simply put is a system to initiate action, usually using inventory cards to signal the need for a component. Kanban is in turn used to implement “Just-in-time,” which is an inventory strategy that reduces in-process inventory and associated carrying costs. At the Prescott facility, with all these techniques now in play, the inventory went from 10 months to two months, with an eventual goal of one month.

The components used to manufacture the Ruger SR1911 CMD pistol are divided into three categories. The “A” list consists of 20 percent of the parts numbers representing 80 percent of the dollar volume. The “B” list comprises 15 percent of the parts numbers representing 15 percent of the dollar volume. The “C” list consists of 65 percent of the parts numbers and 5 percent of the dollar volume. Examples of components on the “A” list would be the slides and frames. Items on the “C” list would include roll pins and small springs.

Perhaps surprisingly, computers are not used in the Lean Manufacturing process at Ruger. The control of inventory and its acquisition and flow are by means of parts bins and tags and visual inspection and counting. The production employees themselves are an integral part of the process. The concept has proven to be successful and is being initiated at all of Ruger’s production facilities.

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