The Dan Wesson TCP, or Tactical Combat Pistol, is a lightweight, alloy-framed 1911 built for everyday carry.
I’m a big fan of the 1911. I not only work on them, but also use them to hunt and compete. I love what the system offers; however, with it being such an old design, attempts are constantly being made to “improve” upon it.
A larger discussion can be had as to whether these proprietary designs are even true 1911s at all, but rather something based on it. One such gun, the Dan Wesson Tactical Compact Pistol (TCP), is a unique design and execution. While not a traditional 1911, it offers some major advantages over the legacy guns.
Execution And Materials
Although this article is centered on the 32-ounce TCP, a larger discussion must be had on the materials used in its construction. The TCP is an alloy-frame pistol, and a substantial number of purists flat-out reject the notion of an aluminum frame on the 1911. The TCP is the only 1911 with an alloy frame that I had zero issues with. For as common a material as aluminum alloy is on modern guns, it has always struggled in the 1911.
It took me a great while to fully understand where the negative bias against alloy-frame 1911s came from, and the best I can find is that the earliest ones were made of castings or porous material and weren’t very strong. Frame cracking and constant malfunctions were common in the 1990s, and, even into the late 2010s, I was having issues with alloy-frame 1911s.
I had one that simply wasn’t well designed, even coming from a name-brand high-end company. If I ran it dry, the slide would bind up. I swapped out the magazines to Wilson Combat, a default remedy for 1911 feed issues, and the problems persisted. I lubed it up constantly; it’d only get through a couple magazines soaking wet, and even then, the lube leaked out chalky gray. I was getting particles of the frame shaved off as I fired.
I went on to a couple more alloy-frame 1911s from two other companies and had relentless problems with those as well. All the while, I never had a single issue with any steel-frame 1911s. To this day, the only 1911s I’ve had issues with have been alloy framed. Color me surprised when the TCP proved to be not only extremely accurate but also supremely reliable.
I’ve noticed that it’s not all pistols that have this issue; I’ve shot the hell out of Sig P226 and P229 variants and have never even had an issue with my P238 .380 ACP. The Beretta pistols I’ve shot for years likewise have never really had an issue. So, what is it about aluminum 1911 frames that makes them a challenge?
This comes down to execution and materials. The 1911 was supposed to be a steel gun, and despite aluminum being a good thing, it isn’t a direct replacement in some roles. You wouldn’t trust aluminum screws when putting a deck together or for any task that requires a good amount of impact. The 1911 is a slick gun, but it’s a rather violent gun in terms of how it feeds and fires.
Making a frame out of aluminum in the exact dimensions as a steel frame isn’t a great idea, as the two materials wear and bear strain in very different ways. A guy at my local range had his alloy frame crack in two places, one in the slide-release pin hole and the other in the notch location where the release catches the slide. His frame basically snapped in half. This is an inherent weak point, and the material makes a difference.
Shooting The TCP
The TCP was subjected to some serious use. It was impressive in that, while being light, it handled much like a full-size gun. The gun was obviously designed with the frame material in mind. While dimensions were externally identical to a regular 1911 frame, the internals seemed to be stronger and more reinforced, particularly around the feed ramp and the railed dust cover.
The rail fit to the slide was also exceptional for being as tight as it was when it arrived. Many of my steel guns have rattle now from constant use, and I’m used to that. The TCP was so tight fitting that it concerned me when I first handled it. The back of my mind told me that this would get gritty fast and start choking. I was certain that the TCP would suffer the same fate as the others I’ve used over the years, as it had another Achilles’ heel I’ve come to avoid: a sub-Commander length bushing-less bull barrel.
I, frankly, have never had a good time with a sub-5-inch 1911. I’ve shot many Commander-size guns over the years, and I’d just rather have that extra 0.75-inch on the barrel than mess around with altering frames and recoil spring assemblies. I’ve always appreciated that I can find parts and springs for my 5-inch guns, and that isn’t always the case with short, proprietary 1911s.
The issue I’ve encountered with these short 1911s is that they seem to have heavy springs and stiff, sharp recoil. This is a symptom of design necessity; a short slide needs to travel and return to lockup with less spring length and an equal power cartridge as a longer slide. This has created hard-cycling, hard-shooting 1911s.
All this changed when I took the TCP to the range for my initial accuracy and reliability tests. The gun ran flawlessly for over 1,000 rounds of FMJ, JHP and solid Black Hills Honey-Badger loads. Never once did I have a failure; the TCP just kicked out brass like it wasn’t interested. Personally, I’ve never experienced this with an alloy-frame 1911, say nothing about it being shorter than a Commander. This gun shot like it had eyes.
Unlike a regular 1911, this one has a thick, heavy barrel and, while this could be seen as a negative on a light and short carry 1911, it’s capable of delivering accuracy on par with some of the most accurate .45 ACP pistols I’ve had the pleasure of testing. It’s as accurate as the most accurate production 1911 I’ve ever used, the Colt M45A1, itself sporting a National Match barrel. This is high praise from a dedicated 5-inch Colt fan; I was deeply impressed with what Dan Wesson did with this gun.
One-and-a-half-inch groups for five shots at 25 yards from the bench were achievable with 135-grain BHA HoneyBadger and 220-grain +P Hornady Critical Duty. These are my choice accuracy loads for .45 ACP, and the TCP delivered exceptional results. Common 230-grain FMJ ball loads grouped an average of 2.5-inches for five shots—also nothing to sneeze at.
As far as handling, it’s a crossover among Glock 19 size, CZ slide contours and 1911 controls. The weight difference between it and a steel frame gun is very noticeable, and it balances to the magazine like a Glock instead of a 1911. With a light mounted (I used a SureFire X300U-A), it’s nearly perfect and barely comes off target while firing.
A Few Minor Tweaks, Please
A minor point of complaint is that it doesn’t come with night sights. Instead, the rear is plain, and the front is a brass bead. Any modern gun meant for carry and self-defense should ship with night sights at a bare minimum. This gun is a prime candidate for night sights, though you’ll need to pay careful attention to which ones you get. Dan Wesson sights aren’t the same as most standard 1911 dovetails. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it is something to be aware of should you put down some greenbacks.
Reloading the gun is easy, thanks to a funneled magwell. I like this on a match gun but for a carry pistol, it adds unnecessary length to the grip. My favorite mags for the 1911 are Wilson Combat versions with a steel base plate. They do seat but are too short to conduct a speed reload. You’d need to keep the plastic base pad on for the Wilson mags to work, and that’s the first part I swap out when I buy new ones from that company. Luckily, the mainspring housing can be swapped out to a flush version should you wish to save some grip length, and I’d like to see future versions of this fantastic gun avoid the magwell.
Another plus are the tapered and slim stocks. I don’t have Andre the Giant hands, but I have long fingers and usually shoot with standard thickness grips on my 1911s (and even prefer larger ones). I’m one of those guys with hands a Glock 21 feels made for (if that gives you an indicator). The TCP grips are wider at the base and thinner to the slide, thus driving the hand up into the beavertail; it insists on a high grip.
The last part I must address is disassembly. The gun needs to be taken apart with the aid of a paper clip or similar pin. When the slide is locked back, it needs to be inserted into a hole in the recoil spring assembly to remove pressure from the spring when the slide is removed. This is a bit of a pain, as you won’t be able to field strip the gun with ease. Again, it’s just something to be aware of.
The TCP is probably the best alloy-frame 1911 variant on the market today. I don’t baby my guns, and if I’m going to carry one, I must be damn sure my life stands a reasonable chance of remaining in the mortal coil when I holster one. Up until I tested the TCP, I was very much a skeptic of the alloy-frame 1911 and actively discouraged people from buying them, no matter the brand.
This is a unique gun that offers the .45 ACP round in a tried-and-true control setup with the added benefit of light carry weight and superior accuracy. While it’s not cheap, it’s likely one you’ll find room for in your safe should you get the chance to fire it
Dan Wesson TCP SPECS:
Caliber: .45 ACP
Magazine: 8 Rounds
Slide: Duty Finish
Overall Length: 7.64 Inches
Barrel Length: 4 Inches
Height: 5.6 Inches
Weight: 32 Ounces
Sights: Brass Front, U-Notch Rear
Safety: Manual Thumb & Grip
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the EDC 2021 special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
For more on Dan Wesson, please visit danwessonfirearms.com.
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