There was a time (a couple decades ago) when most 1911 front sights were staked in place as John Browning originally intended. The factory cut a slot in the slide through which the tenon of the front sight was inserted and the extra metal of this tenon was swaged upwards from inside the slide fixing the sight in place.
This method worked pretty well with the tiny GI half-moon combat sights, but as front sight blades became wider and taller in the ’60s and ’70s, soldering them in place became common. The problem with soldering is the finish of the slide will be damaged, and it’s a technique not everyone has mastered. If the solder isn’t applied perfectly, the front sight may fly off.
In the 1990s, custom smiths like Wayne Novak began offering dovetailed front sights, and I think they are the best way to go. Dovetailing allows front sights to be swapped out with a minimum of fuss and is a very secure attachment method. Most aftermarket 1911 front sights offered today are of the dovetail type.
The downside to dovetailing front sights on older factory pistols is the need for a milling machine, a carbide dovetail cutter and a skilled individual to run it.
In the late 1980s when I began working with a lot of 1911s, staking was the only factory front sight attachment method employed by the major manufacturers such as Colt and Springfield Armory. Staking front sights requires proper tooling. The best tool of that era was made by the sight manufacturer MMC for professional gunsmiths. It was expensive, but I look at tools as a long-term investment and it served me well for many years.
The MMC tool consisted of a block of steel that fitted on to the muzzle end of a 1911 slide with a set screw that applied pressure to the top of the sight while a swaging bar was driven through a slot to force the metal of the sight tenon up into the slide recess. This system was easy to use and produced excellent results.
Fast forward to 2014. MMC is gone. Staked front sights have pretty much disappeared from the catalogs of aftermarket suppliers. Dovetailing has become the de facto sight attachment method for most manufacturers. A look through the current Brownell’s catalog reveals the only stake-on front sights they offer are Trijicons, and Trijicon offers a copy of the original MMC sight tool for armorers.
Using this tool allows an armorer to replace a staked 1911 front sight with a tritium night sight quickly and efficiently. No slide refinishing is necessary. Follow along as we replace the sights on a Colt Commander.
The Colt we have on the bench is a current production Commander model with basic fixed sights. Our customer wants tritium night sights. I suggested Trijicons due to the excellent sight picture they provide, the lower cost of staking the front sight as opposed to machining a dovetail and the desire to avoid rebluing the slide.
The rear sight was simply driven out of its dovetail and the new Trijicon was installed in its place. The factory front sight was removed by clamping the blade in a vise and simply twisting it off.
The new front sight is then test fitted and some slight cleaning up of the sight slot may be necessary, but be careful: We want a snug fit. Be aware that late-model Colts have wide tenon sights, but older (pre-series 80) models are equipped with the narrow version. Order replacement sights accordingly.
Once the sight is fitted, I degrease it and the slide, apply red Loctite to the sight base and press it in place. The Loctite is simply insurance against our new sight ever coming loose. Install the fixture. Tighten down the clamp over the front sight.
You’ll note that Trijicon sights have a skirt around the bottom edge next to the slide. The fixture clamps down on this skirt so pressure isn’t applied directly over the tritium capsule. Lubricate the appropriate slotted shear punch with grease and drive it into the fixture until flush.
The next step, according to Trijicon’s printed instructions is to remove the punch. This step is easier said than done. You now have the punch firmly wedged into place between the tool and the slide, and it must be driven back out from inside the slide.
You won’t be able to get a straight shot at it, so you’ll need a bent punch or piece of stock, preferably aluminum or brass, to tap it out. Once the swaging punch is removed, the clean-up shear punch is driven into the fixture to shear off any excess material. Very little further clean-up should be necessary.
Carefully done, a very nice staking job is possible with this Trijicon tool at a lower cost compared to milling a dovetail in the slide. The downside is the tool costs close to $300, so you’ll have to do a lot of staking jobs to pay for it. There are alternate methods for staking sights, but this one results in the neatest job with the least amount of effort.
It is worth the entry fee for armorers who install a lot of Trijicon sights on 1911 type pistols but may be prohibitively expensive for many.
<h2></h2>The factory front sight on the <a href= "http://www.colt.com/Catalog/SpecialEditions/21stCenturyCommander.aspx" target= "_blank">Colt Commander</a>. While bigger than the half-moon sight on the original 1911, it's still pretty small by today's standards.