Ithaca Gun Company will probably always be known for their slide-action Model 37 shotgun, but also world-class are the Ithaca 1911s.
Although the new Ithaca 1911s share much of their DNA with the guns that the company produced in the 1940s, the differences in the manufacturing process are tremendous. The Upper Sandusky facility, which was converted from a roller rink into a gun company, is home to some of the most modern machining tools available. With the equipment in place and the ability to make several different components on a single machine, Ithaca was poised to build pistols in-house.
Ithaca’s sleek new 1911 begins life as a single block of steel , and from that block of steel, the frame and slide are cut using wire electrical discharge machining, a process wherein metal is cut using discharges from two electrodes in a dielectric liquid bath. If it sounds complex that’s because it is, but the resulting parts have tight tolerances.
Rows of modern CNC machines at the Ohio factory allow Ithaca to create virtually all of the small parts for the guns like hammers, firing pins and triggers in house, so production of almost all of the parts for each custom 1911 happens under one roof. Quality control allows tolerances to be kept within five-millionths of an inch, which is just one of the reasons that the Ithaca 1911s are so smooth and so accurate.
Another facet of producing a target-quality 1911 is to match it to a superb barrel, and Ithaca’s are among the best currently available. The machining process is something of a trade secret, but the barrels are machined in the factory and are sent out to have the rifling electrochemically cut into the bore, creating a smooth, virtually burr-free bore for accurate shooting.
One of the final steps in the process happens in a small room in the center of the factory. Bryan Stoops, head of manufacturing for the 1911 handgun, and his team spend the day testing new customer guns for fit and function. It’s meticulous work, and very time consuming, but Stoops and the rest of his crew hand finish each gun, lapping, stoning or filing where necessary, until the last rough edge is removed and the gun fits tight and runs smooth.
Trigger Time with Ithaca
I had a chance to test one of Bryan’s guns recently, a custom Ithaca 1911 with black grips and a nitride protective finish. Since Ithaca builds custom guns, there are many different options and styles, but the gun that Bryan gave me to try out had a smooth black finish on the metalwork and black Hogue grips.
These guns are available with either BoMar-style adjustable target sights or Novak adjustable combat sights, though there are other options available as well if the customer chooses.
The model I tested had combat style rear sights with a Trijicon front sight, an ideal combo for rapid target acquisition in most lighting conditions. It also had a skeletonized tool steel trigger and skeletonized hammer, a lowered and flared ejection port, hand-fit match-grade stainless steel barrel bushing and an extended beavertail-style grip safety.
The front strap was heavily textured for a sure grip, and the rear of the slide was serrated. The metalwork was smooth and simple, with “Ithaca Gun Company Upper Sandusky, Ohio” on the left side of the slide and “M1911A1” on the right side. When you have a gun this nice it doesn’t need dressing up, and the Ithaca I tested looked darn good in basic black.
Virtually every clone of the 5-inch 1911 shares the same profile, but closer inspection reveals the true nature of any .45. The fit and finish of the Ithaca 1911 is extremely good, and everything on this gun is smooth. When you pull the slide back there is no unevenness or roughness, a testament to the job Bryan and his team do during the finishing stages of production. There are go gaps or machining marks, and everything fits tightly.
On the range, the Ithaca performed extremely well, keeping groups under 2 inches during the test firing process using Federal Premium’s Personal Defense HST jacketed hollowpoint rounds. Everything about the Ithaca feels tight, solid and smooth, and the result of all that hand work is a pistol that shoots extremely well and runs flawlessly. Throughout the test, there were no feeding or function issues.
The trigger pull was light and clean, and one of the nice things about purchasing a custom pistol is that the client gets to choose the type of sights that are mounted on the gun. I found the setup on the test gun to be excellent; the black combat rear is effective and works for concealed carry (you won’t hang these sights on clothing when you draw). The Trijicon front sight, which is dovetailed into the receiver, offers a clear sight picture in low light.
This is a very versatile sight setup, and if I were ordering an Ithaca 1911 tomorrow, I’d choose the same irons. The heavily textured front strap is easy to hold onto, and the Hogue grips worked well, though you can also choose your own grips when you order the gun if you prefer something a little different.
No matter how the gun is dressed, this is one of the best shooting 1911s you can buy, and even though the price of purchasing a custom gun may seem a bit high to many shooters (the custom 1911 from Ithaca, depending on your list of options, will run you around $2,000), but the quality of the workmanship and the resulting accuracy make this a bargain in the world of custom 1911s.
It’s been an interesting decade for the Ithaca brand. Less than 10 years ago the company was bankrupt and closing its doors, but with new owners and a new, modern factory it seems that Ithaca has righted the ship. The brand may always be best known for producing high-quality, durable pump shotguns, but the new 1911 is certainly a gun that will only expand on that legacy.
This is an excerpt from the full article that appeared in the April 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.