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Harwood Loomis
29th July 2009, 23:03
M1911.ORG Visits Check-Mate Industries

by Harwood Loomis (e-mail Harwood@m1911.org)

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Since the revelation approximately two years ago that a hitherto unheralded company somewhere in New York state was one of the OEM manufacturers of magazines for Colt’s 1911 pistols, and that this company was expanding into direct, outside sales, there has been considerable “buzz” about Check-Mate Industries. Who are they, what are they, where did they come from? Perhaps most important, how good are they and what assurance is there that their products are “quality” products?

M1911.ORG set out to answer these questions, and yours truly was assigned the task of trekking to the home of Check-Mate Industries to see what lies behind the name. We made an initial inquiry to Jackie Vieweg, Check-Mate’s Director of Marketing, and she graciously invited us to visit the factory at any time. A date was set, directions were sent, and early one morning a couple of weeks ago your roving reporter found himself crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge onto Long Island and making his way out to Wyandanch, the home of Check-Mate Industries.

The factory lies just a couple of miles from the Southern Expressway, an easy hop once the heavy traffic closer to Manhattan has been left behind. The building is a one-story masonry and stone structure set on a corner and looking for all the world like any of hundreds or even thousands of small to medium sized industrial buildings all over the country. The building is not ostentatious, but the grounds appeared to be well maintained and the building itself didn’t show any evidence of neglect. The entrance to the parking lot lay beyond the building, and it was here that we received our first hint that Check-Mate is a thriving concern. The parking lot was, literally, filled. In fact, employees’ vehicles were stacked two and three deep, with no aisles between the rows, in order to get everyone into the lot. We finally found what might have been a space near a back corner of the building and grabbed it, hoping the trash collectors weren’t scheduled to empty the dumpster we blocked when we parked.

It was an overcast, rainy day so we didn’t attempt to take a photograph of the exterior of the building. It wouldn’t have come out and, in any event, we didn’t know if Check-Mate would approve of publicizing their location that blatantly. Ducking into the small reception lobby to escape the rain, we informed the receptionist of who we were and, a few minutes later, Jackie Vieweg came out to introduce herself and lead us into the inner sanctum.

I do not use the term “inner sanctum” lightly, by the way. To my surprise (and very great pleasure), Jackie escorted me directly into the office of Tom Vieweg, her father and the president and one of the three founding partners of Check-Mate Industries. And Tom Vieweg was exceedingly generous with his time, sitting down to give me the history of the company and to show me some of the toys in his office … such as a genuine U.S. Army machine gun that Check-Mate made part of the action for some years ago as part of a military contract. There was also a photograph of a stock car painted up with Check-Mate sponsorship colors, which led to the discovery that Tom and I shared an interest in auto racing as well as firearms, shooting, and M1911 pistols.

Check-Mate Industries was started, and is still owned and operated, by Tom Vieweg and two partners. Today, Tom acts as president, another partner runs the shop, and the third minds the books, The arrangement seems to work and to suit the partners well. Ed Kruger (Vice President) is an experienced die maker and quality inspector who provides general support for any troubleshooting or miscellaneous production projects. Additionally, given his inspection history, he’s often found on the production floor personally checking critical measurements for the more complex parts manufactured. Joe Carco (Treasurer) is responsible for managing Check-Mates entire quality control department. Tom Vieweg (President) is responsible for the overall management of the business, sales, marketing, finance and accounting functions. Additionally, he is responsible for working directly with Check-Mate’s customers on new product design.

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Tom Vieweg, President (standing) and Jackie Vieweg, Marketing Director (seated)

The company began approximately 30 years ago as a tool and die shop, making tooling for other manufacturers. Being a trio of bright and enterprising young men, it didn’t take the partners long to realize that making tooling for some other company’s manufacturing process was not a reliable way to develop a consistent work flow through their shop. They quickly figured out that, while making a die is pretty much a one-shot proposition, using a die to produce something you can sell in volume generates a more consistent work load. So they went searching for things to make, and found themselves bidding on a U.S. government contract to make magazines for the M-14 rifle. They won the contract, and thus Check-Mate Industries was in the magazine business. They have remained in it ever since.

But … again to my surprise … I discovered that their production is not limited to firearms magazines, and not even to firearms or military related products. As I was shown a bit later when we actually walked through the factory, Check-Mate also makes very high-tech (and very sharp!) surgical instruments that are sold under the name of a major supplier of surgical supplies and instruments. These are the kinds of things that get used in little procedures such as open heart surgery. And these instruments are being produced in the same factory and right next to Check-Mate’s 1911 magazines.

Tom also told me (and later showed me) that Check-Mate still does some traditional tool and die making, just to keep their hand in the business. A very large portion of their production today though, has to be firearms magazines. It is already common knowledge that Check-Mate is an OEM supplier of magazines to Colt’s Manufacturing, so I am not spilling any proprietary information by confirming that. In fact, Tom told me that Colt’s was one of their first civilian customers, and has remained so through the years. But Check-Mate also supplies magazines to several other very well-known manufacturers of 1911 pistols, as well as some other types of handguns and rifles. Tom and Jackie did tell me some (but not all) of the names, but I am not at liberty to reveal the names of their customers because the companies do not give out the names of their suppliers and subcontractors. Suffice it to say, the list is impressive.

With the history and philosophy of the company thoroughly discussed, Tom and Jackie took me on a tour through the factory. Most of Check-Mates products involve stampings rather than extensive machining, so rather than banks of CNC machines I found banks of heavy presses, and then some ingenious machines for operations such as running the welds along the back seam of 1911 magazine tubes. Check-Mate uses commercially procured welders for this, but built into machines of their own design and construction to hold the magazine precisely in position and to run the weld completely automatically. After the weld has been made, the magazine may be ground to make the weld almost invisible, and/or the tube may be polished or left semi-finished. The choice of how “finished” the end product will be is up to the customer.

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One of the stamping presses, set up for magazine production

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A magazine body, stamped to shape and with the first folds made

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Magazine followers on the hoof

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A completed magazine tube, showing the seam ready to be welded

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A reloader's fantasy, this industrial tumbler is used to polish finished magazine tubes. It's about the size of three or four commercial washing machines!

Check-Mate produces 1911 magazines in an astonishing variety of variations, ranging from traditional, blued, 7-round GI magazines just as designed by John M. Browning through more contemporary 8-round (for Government models, 7-round for Officers and Defender size pistols), to their new extended base 8-round designs. Most of these are available with a choice of tapered GI style feed lips, wadcutter feed lips, or hybrid feed lips, and in either blued or stainless steel finishes. And Check-Mate offers both the traditional flat-topped steel follower of the original Browning design, and also a proprietary, patented design with a skirt on the nose to allow for extended capacity while counteracting the tendency of some extended-capacity magazines to tip forward when feeding the last round and gouging the feed ramp.

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An array of several Check-Mate magazine styles and sizes

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An example of the standard M1911 style follower

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An example of Check-Mate's proprietary follower

After seeing the production end of the business, I was shown the packing and shipping operations. There are actually two of them, one for the surgical instruments and another for the magazines.

Before my visit, I had mentioned to Jackie that the Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg is a “sub-Officers” size 1911; the length of the grip frame is actually about a quarter of an inch shorter than that of a Colt Officers ACP. And, although Para had initially shipped the Slim Hawg (and similar-sized LDA models) with one flush magazine and one polymer-based magazine with an extended pinkie rest, more recently they have changed over to shipping all pistols with two polymer-based magazines. The downside to that is that the polymer-based magazines make the grip virtually the same length as an Officers ACP, somewhat defeating the advantage of buying a smaller pistol. When I told Jackie that there simply was no source for flush magazines to fit the Slim Hawg, she sounded interested.

As a result, I brought with me to the factory the original Para-Ordnance flush magazine that came with my personal Slim Hawg. While we were touring the factory, Tom had his chief design engineer taking measurements from the magazine. When we came back to Tom’s office, they assured me that it would be easy to modify their tooling to produce flush magazines to fit the little Para pistols. They were as good as their word, because about ten days later two prototype magazines appeared on my doorstep. We are still testing them and, so far, they look very promising. I hope that in the near future we’ll be able to announce that flush magazines for the little Para pistols will be available from Check-Mate.

With that, Tom, Jackie and the other two partners invited me to join them for lunch. Discussion was wide-ranging, covering everything from education (Jackie is planning on returning to school in pursuit of a law degree) to the state of the economy to stock car racing. After lunch we returned to the factory, where I was suitably equipped with the obligatory corporate baseball cap as proof of my visit, and then it was time to let Tom and Jackie get back to work.

What I saw was enough to convince me that Check-Mate Industries is exceptionally well qualified to produce magazines for our beloved slabsides. And it seems that it’s more than just a business for them. I came away with the strong impression that, first, all of the principals of Check-Mate really enjoy their work and care about their work. Secondly, they are genuinely interested in maintaining and improving their quality and their product. And, thirdly, they are shooters. They care about the magazines because they use the magazines themselves. That’s important. They aren’t just a bunch of bean counters selling widgets. They are part of our community, they understand where we are coming from and why we worry about whether or not our magazines will work. And they are dedicated to ensuring that their magazines WILL work.

On behalf of M1911.ORG, I would like to thank Jackie and Tom Vieweg and Tom's partners for their hospitality in allowing us to visit the factory, and for giving up so much of their time to show me through the factory. We very much appreciate their assistance and generosity.

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You may discuss this article here: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?p=696392#post696392

Contact Information:

Check-Mate Industries, Inc.
777 Mount Avenue
Wyandanch , N.Y. 11798

Toll Free: 1-800-229-6467
In NY: (631) 491-1777
Fax: (631)-491-1745