Sunday, April 29, 2012

Understanding the 1911 Extractor Test

What happens when the 1911 extractor fails

Understanding the 1911 Extractor Test 

by Tim Lau

Recently, there has been a bit of discussion on the 1911 "Extractor Test" and it became clear that many, if not most, don't understand how to interpret the results or how it applies to 1911 function and why the test is not applicable to most modern service pistols. I will attempt to shed some light on this. 

The 1911 Extractor Function Test

First of all, let's describe the test. I first learned heard of this test from my friends Hilton Yam and Larry Vickers. Others, such as Wilson Combat, have shared it online as well. 

The test is simple: fire a prescribed number of rounds through the pistol without a magazine inserted. In the 10-8 1911 Function test, we shoot 16 rounds this way. Eight are fired two handed and eight more are fired strong hand only. 

The empty cases must properly eject between 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock. If any cases go forward, to the left, stovepipe, into your face, or fall through the magazine well, the pistol has failed this test.

Having a magazine in the pistol supports the empty case during extraction and ejection phase of the cycle of operation, which can mask issues such as poor extractor tension or geometry. 

Some folks have said they only fire five to seven rounds this way to evaluate extractor function, but Hilton and I have both found that with higher pressure duty rounds, extractor issues may not exhibit themselves in only seven rounds. If the 1911 can make it through two magazines' worth of ammunition without failing, it is likely good to go. 

Why is this test significant?

This test is designed specifically to test the extractor function in 1911 pistols. Let me repeat: This test is designed specifically to test extractor function in 1911 pistols. It tells you if your extractor is at 100% function or not. If the pistol fails this test, it is not at 100% function. This  is significant for two big reasons:

1. The internal extractor design of the 1911 relies on leaf spring tension, which is highly variable. Depending on the materials used by the manufacturer, and the service cycle of the pistol, the 1911's internal extractor is prone to lose tension and is dependent on a skilled assembler for proper setup. Failing the extractor test indicates that at best, the extractor is only working marginally. Should the extractor have any less tension, the gun will stop working altogether.

2. A marginal extractor has a less than optimal grip on the case rim during extraction, and in a 1911, the case will be pulled into the feed lips of the empty magazine, creating the stoppage in the photo above. The feed lip geometry and concave or flat magazine follower of the 1911 magazine makes the 1911 more prone to this than any other modern service pistol. It is a bear to clear, and destroys your magazine as it will permanently deform your feed lips.


Does the test apply to modern service pistols?

Some shooters have noted that quality modern pistols will not pass this test. This is not as much of an issue as with the traditional 1911 for the following reasons:

1. The coil spring setup of the modern external extractor is not prone to loss of tension like the leaf spring setup of the internal 1911 extractor. Once a pistol is set up from the factory, what you get (in terms of extractor function) on day one is what you will get until something breaks.

2. The feed lip and follower geometry of modern service pistols do not make them prone to having the empty case dragged into the feed lips should the extractor lose grip on the case rim during extraction. 

What about 1911s with external extractors?

This test is the Achilles' Heel of most 1911 external extractor setups. The only external extractor setup that I have tried that will reliably pass this test is the Smith and Wesson E-Series pistol, which uses the wide Performance Center extractor and is optimally positioned in the slide. Many 1911 external extractor designs do not optimally position the extractor relative to the bore axis resulting in marginal extractor function.

While the external extractor setup is not likely to lose tension, the marginal extractor function is still coupled with the geometry of the 1911 feed lips resulting in the malfunction depicted in the photo atop this blog post.

In other words, if you have a 1911 outfitted with an external extractor, and it fails this test, it is NOT good to go. It will be prone to pulling into the feed lips, the empty case of last round fired in the pistol.

Final Thoughts

The "experts" on the Internet have said "oh wow, so this test just proves the gun will only fire one round with no magazine in place. When would I ever shoot the gun in this manner?" Realize that this test was designed from the perspective of evaluating whether or not a 1911 pistol properly setup for service. We are not advocating shooting the gun in this manner as any sort of technique in and of itself.

Every 1911 that comes across Hilton's or my bench is tested for this and doesn't leave the shop unless the extractor is properly set up.

If you are still unclear as to the significance of this test, please carefully re-read this blog post. I hope this sheds some light onto this commonly misunderstood function test.

Special thanks to my good buddy Hilton for his input on this blog post. Please visit the 10-8 Performance Facebook Page and his blog at

Tim Lau
10-8 Consulting, LLC

1 comment:

  1. I have a question concerning this test:
    How do you perform the test?
    Drop the cartridge into the chamber and let the slide go (and let the extractor jump the rim)? Or do you insert the mag, load the gun, remove the mag, shoot... rinse repeat?