Skip to main content

The 1911: Dovetail Front Sights

The 1911: Dovetail Front Sights

Up until 15 or 20 years ago, most 1911 front sights were staked to the slide. Staking worked OK for the tiny sliver of a blade John Browning originally envisioned or the old World War II-era pistol I carried in the Cold War, but you will see fewer and fewer pistols from today's factories with the front sights secured by swaging a bit of metal into a recess.

As higher profile sights became the norm in the '70s and '80s, the taller front blades put more weight above the attachment point and this increase in leverage, combined with the high round counts endured by competition guns, caused them to fly off occasionally. Military armorers building bullseye guns machined front sights from bar stock, cut a longitudinal slot in the slide and silver-soldered them in place. This was a secure setup. but changing the blade required a torch and refinishing the slide.

At some point a couple decades ago. dovetail front sights became available as custom parts. The downside of dovetail sights is the need for a milling machine to cut the dovetail. The upside is they require only one simple cut with the appropriate sized dovetail cutter. Virtually anyone with the most basic knowledge of machine tools can do the job.

The example I used for this article is a Novak front sight installed on a Springfield Armory, Inc. slide. First we measure the sight to determine the depth of the dovetail we will need. Measure the total height of the sight from the bottom of the dovetail to the top of the blade. In this case it is .259". Subtract the height of the blade itself (.185") for a dovetail depth of .074".


Using an edge finder, center your spindle on the front edge of the slide. Install a 65°x.330" carbide dovetail cutter. Move the center of the cutter back .320" from the slide face and touch off on the slide to find your depth zero. Then simply lower the cutter below zero .074" and cut straight across through the slide.


Pretty simple. One cut and it's over. Flooding the dovetail with cutting oil during the machining operation will increase the life of your expensive cutter. They can be resharpened, but they get a tiny bit smaller each time.

Also, keep in mind different brands of sights may require different sized cutters. For instance, we used a 65°x.330" tool (Brownell's  080-621-065) for this Novak, but we would need a 60°x.300" cutter if we were installing a Heinie front sight. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard.

After you have milled the dovetail into the slide, there will be some hand fitting so the sight is a press fit. A sight dovetail file of the appropriate angle, 60 or 65°, is handy during the fitting phase. The dovetail in the slide can be cold blued before final installation.

In the case of the Novak, there is a hole drilled vertically through the sight blade for a roll pin. The sight is left in place and a 1/16" drill is lowered through it and a hole is drilled through the slide. I usually wait until I have verified the zero of the pistol with the new sight(s) installed before I pin the front sight just in case I need to swap it for one of a different height.


Dovetail front sights are strong and easily changed if the need arises. What's not to like?

Dovetail cutter

The carbide dovetail cutter enters the slide at 1200 rpm. Just take is straight across the width of the slide, and you're ready to install a new front sight.

Oil

Flooding the cutter with oil will help to increase tool life. The tool can be resharpened, but you lose a bit of size each time. So it's better to keep it cool and lubricated.

Dovetail cutter

With a correct setup and plenty of lubrication, just one pass is all it takes to cur the dovetail for a new front sight. It will be much more secure than a swaged blade.

Dovetail

The slot where the original swaged front sight lived can be seen in the new dovetail. Swaging was fine for the original small front sight, but won't hold a taller one.

Triangular file

A 65 degree triangular file is used for final fitting. Only a few strokes will be required if your setup was correct and plenty of cutting oil was used. This can be a quick job.

New sight installed

The new sight installed. Note the hole in the blade for a roll pin. Norcross recommends checking zero before installing the pin in case windage needs adjusting.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Citadel Boss 25 Magazine Adapter

Citadel Boss 25 Magazine Adapter

Will Dabbs gives a rundown on how to limit the magazine capacity in your Citadel Boss 25 to stay in compliance with hunting laws.

Transcoded: FANIssue11-SpringfieldEdgeEVAC

Transcoded: FANIssue11-SpringfieldEdgeEVAC

Patrick Sweeney of Firearms News shows off the Springfield Edge AR pistol with a folding arm brace.

Ruger Mini 30

Ruger Mini 30

Patrick Sweeney reviews Ruger's classic semi-auto chambered in 7.62x39, and why it's the perfect deer or pig gun! See Ruger for more details.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Unless Democrats rescind their proposed Gun Issuing Board, threats and anti-rights promises don't matterGun Control Speeches at DNC Misleading 2nd Amendment

Gun Control Speeches at DNC Misleading

JPFO - August 21, 2020

Unless Democrats rescind their proposed Gun Issuing Board, threats and anti-rights promises...

The Mossberg 590A1 Retro offers the proven durability and reliability of the M500 and M590 models with the enhanced combat utility of a military “trench gun.” Mossberg 590A1 Retro Shotgun Review Shotguns

Mossberg 590A1 Retro Shotgun Review

Leroy Thompson - August 24, 2020

The Mossberg 590A1 Retro offers the proven durability and reliability of the M500 and M590...

This article will walk you through the process of building a Glock pistol from an 80 percent frame.How To Build a Glock From an 80 Percent Frame Gunsmithing

How To Build a Glock From an 80 Percent Frame

Gus Norcross - August 13, 2020

This article will walk you through the process of building a Glock pistol from an 80 percent...

The Wilson Combat-SIG Sauer WCP320 pistol is now legal for IDPA Stock Service Pistol Class Competition and USPSA Production/Carry Optics Classifications.WCP320 Pistol Now Legal for IDPA and USPSA Handguns

WCP320 Pistol Now Legal for IDPA and USPSA

Firearms News Staff - August 14, 2020

The Wilson Combat-SIG Sauer WCP320 pistol is now legal for IDPA Stock Service Pistol Class...

See More Trending Articles

More Handguns

With the VP9SK-B, Heckler and Koch is giving the American market what it wants and needs.HK VP9SK-B Review Handguns

HK VP9SK-B Review

James Tarr - October 27, 2020

With the VP9SK-B, Heckler and Koch is giving the American market what it wants and needs.

If you’re looking for a classicly-styled 1911 with solid fit and performance, from one of the category leaders, you should check out the Springfield Armory Ronin Operator.Springfield Armory Ronin 9mm Commander Review Handguns

Springfield Armory Ronin 9mm Commander Review

James Tarr - November 12, 2020

If you're looking for a classicly-styled 1911 with solid fit and performance, from one of...

Editor Vincent DeNiro tests the Springfield Armory XD-M 10mm pistol.Springfield Armory XDM 10mm Pistol — Video Review Handguns

Springfield Armory XDM 10mm Pistol — Video Review

Vincent L. DeNiro, Editor - December 28, 2020

Editor Vincent DeNiro tests the Springfield Armory XD-M 10mm pistol.

The Smith & Wesson's Registered .357 Magnum Revolver is an example of craftsmanship and customization during the Great Depression.Smith & Wesson's Registered .357 Magnum Revolver Handguns

Smith & Wesson's Registered .357 Magnum Revolver

Leroy Thompson - December 21, 2020

The Smith & Wesson's Registered .357 Magnum Revolver is an example of craftsmanship and...

See More Handguns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW OUR CURRENT ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Firearms News App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Firearms News subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now