Cabot Southpaw Review
At last … a true left-handed 1911
Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis
The announcement of a completely left-handed 1911 pistol will undoubtedly be of great interest to some shooters, and a real yawner to most right-handed shooters. After all, it’s been done before (Randall, then Olympic Arms, and Dlask in Canada have all offered left-handed, “mirror image” 1911 models). Randall, of course, went out of business decades ago, Olympic Arms still offers a few 1911 models but no left-handers, and Dlask no longer offers their left-handed 1911s. Most lefties who want to shoot 1911s have simply learned to manipulate a “right-handed” pistol using the left hand as the strong hand … often, but not always, with the help of an ambidextrous thumb safety. And now the new kids on the block, Cabot Guns, of Cabot, Pennsylvania, have introduced a fully left-handed, mirror image 1911 called the Southpaw (or, as it is marked on the slide, “South Paw.”) Why this news represents a natural step in the continuing evolution of the 1911 universe requires a bit of understanding.
Cabot Guns, LLC, is not exactly a start-up operation. It is, in fact, an outgrowth of a well-established, high-tech manufacturing company, Penn United Technologies. The background of Cabot Guns and Penn United were reported in these [electronic] pages two years ago by my late colleague, Steve Clark. His article detailing his visit to and tour of Cabot Guns and Penn United can be read here. At the time of Steve’s visit two years ago, Cabot Guns was still a fairly young operation, but they were already producing extraordinary 1911 pistols, as evidenced by Steve’s review of one of their right-handed models here. I was impressed by Steve’s reports, both on the company and on the pistol he tested. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t avoid thinking, “Well, that’s all very nice, but …$4,500 for a 1911? EEK!” I knew Cabot was an outgrowth of a high-tech manufacturing company and I assumed CNC machining was involved, and with my vague appreciation of CNC machining I just couldn’t wrap my reptilian brain around the concept of paying $4,500 for a 1911.
Fast forward about a year and a half from the date on Steve’s factory visit and gun review. Earlier this year, Rob Bianchin (President of Cabot Guns) contacted John Caradimas, the owner and administrator of The M1911 Pistols Organization, to ask if M1911.ORG would be interested in reviewing a true left-handed 1911. John was, of course, interested. It would have been a natural for Steve Clark to have reviewed the new pistol as a follow-up to his previous review, but Steve had passed away not too long before. John then turned to yours truly, and I agreed to undertake the review. Wisely, as it turned out, Rob Bianchin insisted that I visit the Cabot operation (as Steve had done) before receiving the pistol, so that I could better understand the philosophy behind Cabot Guns. As a result, in late June I embarked on a long weekend jaunt to western Pennsylvania.
The factory tour was an eye-opener for me, and it showed that my initial impression of Cabot’s entry into the 1911 marketplace was essentially 180 degrees out of register with Cabot’s purpose and intentions. My view (pre-factory visit) was that the 1911 market is already flooded, with guns selling from $300 to $3,000 and up … why would a new company try to enter the 1911 market by positioning themselves above the highest priced semi-custom and custom pistols in that market? As I learned during my time in Pennsylvania, the question for Cabot (or for Penn United Technologies when they were creating Cabot Guns, LLC) was not, “Why?” but rather, “Why not?”
Although most of the details of my visit to Cabot, Pennsylvania, echoed Steve Clark’s very closely, I did come away with a slightly different understanding of some of the details regarding Cabot Guns. For example: Penn United Technologies is an established, high tech manufacturer. They make a variety of products, from medical (surgical) instruments to classified national defense stuff they couldn’t tell me about, to prototyping and short run production of new products on behalf of other companies, to whom the tooling and machines are then transferred as a “turnkey” manufacturing process once Penn United had the bugs worked out. But … what they were NOT was a gun company. How did a defense contractor become a gun maker?
The answer lies in what made America great. Penn United Technologies is an employee-owned company. Today they have a workforce of about 650 people; a few years ago it was hovering around 600. And a few years ago the economy was slumping, and Penn United had more capacity (plant, equipment, and personnel) than they had work. Rather than simply lay off a bunch of people (who were all members of the same, small, close-knit community), the PTB (powers-that-be) at Penn United took a much more humane approach. They looked at their company, and they said, “We have a high tech company here, and we have a highly skilled work force that needs something to work on. Let’s find something to work on.” But they didn’t want to just make something the same way somebody (or everybody) else was making it. They went to their employees and asked them what they could make that Penn United’s technology could make better than anyone else.
Did I mention that Penn United is in western Pennsylvania? Pennsylvania is one of those states where hunting is such a part of the social fabric, especially in the more rural areas, that public schools are closed for the first day of hunting season. Cabot, Pennsylvania, (along with neighboring Saxonburg) is definitely in a rural part of the state. Firearms and hunting are near and dear to the hearts of many of Penn United’s employees. So, when management asked, “What can we make?” the employees answered, “Let’s make a gun.” Further discussion led to a consensus that a 1911 was about as all-American a gun as anything, and the original M1911 dated to an era of far more primitive machining technologies. Thus, a project team was formed to start the process of creating the world’s finest 1911 pistols. They didn’t pick a price point and decide to just jump into the market at the top of the heap. Rather, they analyzed every aspect of the 1911, figured out how to improve tolerances and manufacturing by relying on Penn United’s extensive high tech experience, and they let the process determine the price.
As a visual clue to the general atmosphere permeating western Pennsylvania, and more particularly the area around Cabot and Saxonburg, as I was fueling up my vehicle on Sunday morning as I prepared to head back to home I spied this sign posted across the street from the gas station:
Where’s the beef?
Penn United is a high tech company, but it’s not as if they are the only high tech company in the United States Most other brands of 1911s today (if not all) are manufactured on CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machining centers, so what is it that makes Cabot’s 1911s so much better than the best of the rest? The answer lies in one word: “Tolerances.” A glance at a set of original U.S. Ordnance department blueprints for the M1911 pistol tells us that most dimensions have a tolerance of .003” to .005” (that’s three to five thousandths of an inch). Where two parts have to fit together, as with a slide and a receiver, if one has a tolerance of +.005" and the other has a tolerance of -.005", the fit between two parts can be a sloppy as .010” and still be “in spec.” That level of tolerances was appropriate given the manual machining at the time the M1911 was adopted, and the fact that it was designed as a military firearm, to be used under harsh conditions, but such tolerances fell a bit short of the proverbial “Swiss watch” precision encountered in finely-crafted custom firearms. Modern CNC machines can reduce those tolerances somewhat, but only to a degree.
The secret at Cabot Guns is that their CNC machines are not, like everyone else’s, cutting machines. They are grinding machines. Penn United Technologies specializes in precision grinding, using diamond and tungsten carbide grinders in CNC-controlled machines. Using precision grinding technology in their climate-controlled factory, Cabot Guns can control their tolerances not to .005” (5 thousandths) or .0005” (5 ten-thousandths), but to 50 microns (that’s 50 millionths of an inch). The end result of such precision is both incredible fit, and incredible function. Where some high-end 1911 makers fit the slide so tightly to the frame that it almost won’t move when new, and they then require a minimum 500-round “break-in” for reliable functioning, Cabot’s pistols exhibit flawless fit AND function right out of the box.
In the final assembly area at the Cabot factory, I was put through the same exercise that Steve Clark described in his article. Ray Rozic picked up a receiver and handed it to me, then he picked up a slide and handed that to me. I was instructed to put the slide on the receiver. I did so … dry. There was zero perceptible lateral play, zero perceptible vertical play, and the slide moved back and forth on the receiver like it was on ball bearings. Ray handed me another slide, picked at random from a rack of finished slides. “Try this one.” The fit was identical. Ray challenged me to try any slide I wanted. I tried several, and they all fit exactly the same, and they all moved exactly the same.
In a nutshell, then, the story behind Cabot Guns, LLC, is simply their desire to build a better mousetrap. They set out to build the finest 1911s available, and it appears that they have succeeded. Their pistols are not for everyone. Rob Bianchin told me that they sell more of their 1911s in Europe, to high-end collectors who may never even shoot them, than they do in the United States. According to Rob, that’s okay. Cabot Guns is not trying to be everyman’s 1911. They are proud of their product, and they want to appeal to owners who will be equally proud of them.
With that in mind, let’s look at the product.
Whether a CNC machine is controlling cutters (as in a lathe) or grinders, the common denominator is that the machine is “operated” by a computer program. And it’s not that difficult, once the program has been created, to rewrite it to produce the same part(s) in mirror image. The underlying genesis of the Southpaw seems to have been much the same as the underlying genesis of Cabot Guns in general. Why set out to make a left-handed 1911? Partially because there are a few discerning left-handed 1911 aficionados who want one and who will pay the price to buy one but, beyond that, there’s the same reason as why Cabot Guns set out to build the world’s finest 1911s at all: “Because we can.”
What do we get in the Southpaw? We get a true, mirror-image 1911. The thumb safety is on the “wrong” side, the slide stop is on the “wrong” side, the magazine release is on the “wrong” side, the ejection port is on the “wrong” side. The whole thing is executed flawlessly (and beautifully), but it’s just … all wrong. The first time I saw it, in the gun shop at the range when it first arrived, Chris (the range owner) took the Cabot gun case out of the shipping box and laid it on the counter. After opening the case, when I first picked up the pistol I of course needed to verify that the chamber was empty. I racked the slide, fumbled around until I found the slide stop (which was under the gun rather than on top), then flipped the pistol over to peek into the ejection port. That’s when it was brought home to me that this was, indeed, a left-handed 1911. There WAS no ejection port. I was looking at a solid slide, because (dummy!) the ejection port was on the other side of the gun..
I haven’t asked how many parts had to be made in reverse in order for the Southpaw to see the light of day, but we can guess. The receiver, of course. The slide, of course. The barrel could have been left alone, but Cabot even reversed the twist of the rifling. But then there are a number of small parts that also had to be made in mirror image:
- Thumb safety
- Slide stop
- Magazine tube
- Magazine follower
- Sear spring
- Magazine catch
- Magazine catch lock
- Firing pin stop
Obviously, setting out to make a true left-handed 1911 is not a project to be undertaken by the faint of heart.
Even the case for the Southpaw is high tech. You need a Ph.D. to open it, as the two thumb latches have a safety that has to be pushed down before the latch can be swung out to open the case.
The Cabot Southpaw’s Case
Close-up view of one of the latches
Interlocked pressed, latch flipped out, ready to open case
Inside the case, we found the pistol, enclosed in a soft, red flannel pouch, and a single magazine. My immediate thought was, “No problem, I have a bunch of magazines we’ll test it with.” And then I remembered: “No, we won’t, dummy. You don’t own any left-handed magazines.” (This became a common thought process during our test period. Old habits die hard.) Next to the pistol and the magazine was a small tag alerting us to the fact that there were more goodies in the case, beneath the foam layer on which the pistol rested. Progressing down to the lower tier, we discovered a comprehensive instruction manual, a fired cartridge case (for buyers in states requiring same), a cable-type trigger lock, and a rather unique barrel bushing wrench. And, in addition to the instruction manual for the pistol, there was an instruction manual for ... the case.
Cabot’s proprietary barrel bushing wrench … clear acrylic
One unique feature of the bushing wrench is that it’s made of crystal clear plastic. It is so clear, in fact, that at first glance it appeared that the plastic baggie was empty. Once we removed the wrench from the case and from its protective bag, we noticed immediately that it isn’t configured like most “standard” double-ended bushing wrenches. Most have one end cut out for a Government Model or Commander barrel bushing, and the other end cut out for the wider, shorter Officers ACP style barrel bushing. The Cabot bushing wrench has one end cut out for a standard, Government model bushing, but the other end was cut to a shape we had never seen before. If fact, it’s cut to fit the bushing shape that Cabot uses, which is unique to their pistols. (We’ll discuss this more as we address details of the pistol itself.)
The pistol itself is (other than being “backwards”) a fairly standard, full-size 1911. The slide bears cocking serrations only on the rear (although front serrations are available upon buyer’s request). The ejection port is lowered and modestly flared. The mainspring housing is the straight style, and the front strap is checkered. The grip safety is an upswept, beavertail style with a palm swell. So far, nothing unusual, but everything meticulously executed. Trigger pull out of the box measured 3-1/4 pounds on an RCBS analog trigger scale, and had no creep.
Angled rear cocking serrations, and Cabot custom rear sight.
Extended thumb safety (not ambidextrous)
Beavertail grip safety is flawlessly fitted to the frame
In case there’s any question that this is a left-handed pistol
Aside from just machining to far tighter tolerances than other manufacturers, Cabot Guns has invested the Southpaw with a number of small touches that show how meticulously they approached their self-appointed task of making 1911 better than they had ever been made before For example:
The rear sight is dovetailed, but all 1911s have dovetailed rear sights. This one is held in place by sets screws to facilitate windage adjustment (there is no adjustment for elevation), but that’s not earth-shattering. The front sight, too, is dovetailed. So are any number of makers’ front sights; why is Cabot’s front sight special?
Because it’s special. Look closely at the photograph below. Do you see a dovetail?
Front sight, side view
You don’t see a dovetail because you’re looking in the wrong place. The artisans at Cabot Guns didn’t just jump on the bandwagon and start milling front dovetails like everyone else’s. They sat down and thought about what the front sight is, what it does, and what can go wrong. Every now and again we’ll read about some pistol, somewhere, that has the front sight fly off, or get knocked off-center. The folks at Cabot Guns realized that there is no need for lateral adjustment on the front sight; the rear sight is adjustable for that. But today’s front sights are orders of magnitude larger, fatter, and heavier than the tiny, crescent-shaped tab that John Browning designed for the original M1911. Even using thicker tenons than the original design, today’s heavier front sights demand a more reliable attachment to the slide than a little post stuck through a hole and peened over on the underside.
What Cabot came up with is a front sight that is dovetailed into the slide longitudinally rather than laterally. This means the sight can’t get knocked sideways, and it can’t get pushed back under recoil because it’s seated against the end of the dovetail. At the front, the open end of the dovetail is closed off by the barrel bushing. The sight can’t fly off to the front, either.
It’s so logical that one has to wonder why it took someone so long to figure it out. [In fact, I believe someone has done this before, possibly Paul Liebenberg. However, the author has never seen one before.]
The front sight from the rear
The front sight from the front. The dovetail is concealed and secured behind the barrel bushing
Cabot makes their own triggers, and this one is “jeweled” (or what we aging hot-rodders used to call “engine turned”) for bling, and instead of drilling three holes to lighten the shoe Cabot created a way to punch three 5-point stars through the trigger shoe.
Detail of the jeweled trigger
The Southpaw is also set up with a full-length guide rod. The tip is also embossed with a 5-point star. And then there’s the barrel bushing. It isn’t a “standard” Government model profile. Instead, the flange of the barrel bushing is shaped to echo the profile of the front end of the slide. However, rather than trying to mate the bushing flange to the slide all around, and deal with the difficulty of getting everything to line up perfectly (and they wouldn’t have accepted anything less than perfectly, apparently), they cut the curves in the flange higher up, so that it echoes the profile of the slide without trying to match it 100 percent. The result is unique, and attractive.
The custom-shaped barrel bushing, and the star on the tip of the guide rod
There's one last touch that just blew my socks off. At the rear of the slide, where the lower corner of the slide meets the upper edge of the grip safety frame tangs, the two curves (slide and frame) don't flow together such that the intersection of the slide and frame is a point of tangency. The folks at Cabot Guns saw that, and said "Well, why not make the two curves flow together?" So they did. Here's what it looks like. It's very subtle, but look closely:
Blended curves show attention to the smallest detail
It’s Gorgeous—But Does it Shoot?
Left-handed 1911s don’t come around very often, and the author is right-handed. In order to get a better sense of how a left-handed pistol shoots in the hands of a southpaw shooter, we looked around for lefties. Fortunately, we didn’t have to look far. Chris, the owner of Chris Indoor Shooting Range (where we test) is a left-hander. So is Gary, one of Chris’ assistants at the range. And I found a third in the person of Keith, a former co-worker who took up recreational shooting only a couple of years ago but who is a happy 1911 owner.
The first of this motley crew to try the Southpaw was Chris himself. Aside from drooling over the appearance of the pistol, Chris was very impressed by how smoothly it operated and by its inherent accuracy. That said, to my dismay Chris announced that he didn’t like it. Why not? Because he has been a lefty shooting right-handed guns for forty years, and he discovered (to his own dismay, in fact) that he just couldn’t adapt to all the controls being in the “wrong” locations. Chris’ own 1911s all have ambidextrous thumb safeties, so that wasn’t an issue. What was an issue was the magazine release. Chris finds it both easy and convenient to depress the magazine release with his trigger finger, and then to drop the slide stop lever with his trigger finger. With a left-handed control layout, he couldn’t do that. In the end, he decided he’d love to own the Southpaw, but he probably wouldn’t shoot it.
The next to try the Southpaw was Keith. Although Keith has about two years of experience shooting 1911s compared to Chris’ forty years, he too found the controls to be awkward at first. He decided after a few magazines through the pistol that he could probably adapt to it with very little difficulty. Keith shot the Southpaw freehand (two-handed grip) at a distance of 25 feet (as did Chris) and, like Chris, was shooting groups of one inch or less … consistently.
I shot the Southpaw freehand at the same time that Keith did, and my groups at 25 feet were about the same as his. Several were ragged single holes. I usually shoot well at 25 feet anyway, but I was impressed. Then the sky fell …
Our standard testing protocol here at M1911.ORG has always been to test pistols of Commander (4¼-inch) length and larger at a distance of 75 feet (25 yards, or approximately 22.9 meters), and anything with a shorter barrel at a distance of 25 feet (7.6 meters). The basis for this is the generalization that, while full-size and Commander pistols may be used for target shooting as much as for self-defense carry, smaller/shorter pistols are more likely to be carried for self-defense, and most self-defense shootings occur at distances of less than 25 feet (actually, most occur at less than 21 feet). The Southpaw being a full-size pistol, the plan was to test it for accuracy at 75 feet.
After Keith left to attend some family function, I ran a target out to 75 feet, set up a rest on the bench, settled into a chair, and commenced to shoot what I expected was going to be the accuracy portion of our testing. And I shot a group about the size of a dinner plate. How could this be? A 1-inch group at 25 feet should translate to no worse than a 3-inch group at 75 feet. I ran out a new target, switched to a different type of ammunition, and tried again. With the same result. Hmmm …
Every once in awhile I find that I’m just having a bad day. When that happens, it’s usually a recipe for disaster to keep trying to “push the river” when things just aren’t going with the flow. So I packed up and determined to come back on another day. Upstairs at the counter, Chris reminded me that, a couple or more years ago, I had brought to the range a Ransom rest that I had never used. The reason I never tried it is that I was certain the plywood bench tops were too light and too loose to hold the Ransom rest securely enough to produce repeatable results. Gary, the assistant at the range, is a long-time technology instructor and tinkerer. His comment was: "How do you know if you haven’t tried?”
Thus, I procured some large C-clamps and, a few days later, I was back at the range by appointment to meet up with Gary so we could play with the Southpaw in the Ransom rest. Initially, my concerns were validated. The first couple of magazines resulted in severe vertical stringing, and we could see the bench top moving with each shot. So, we added weight: two cases of ammunition on one end of the bench, and a bucket of empty brass on the other.
Getting back into the testing, we found consistency to be much improved, so we went right into the full test protocol with several different types of ammunition. As always, we fired five-shot groups and discarded the worst. We found throughout the testing with the Ransom rest that the first shot out of each five-shot magazine was always about two to three inches lower than the subsequent group. But oh, those groups!
We ran seven different types of ammunition through the Southpaw. After discarding the worst shot from each group, we measured the group size for the best four out of each five shots. The table below reflects the best group for each type of ammunition. The results were, frankly, boring.
NOTE: Reloads were 230-gr Berrys Plated Lead Round-nose bullets,
|Ammo||Group Size(inches)||Group Size(mm)|
|Reloads 230-gr. PLRN|
|Wilson Combat Match 200-gr. JHP|
|Winchester USA 230-gr. FMJ|
|Blazer Brass 230-gr. FMJ|
|CorBon DPX 185-gr. JHP|
|Hornady TAP 200-gr. +P JHP|
|Remington UMC 230-gr. FMJ|
Winchester large pistol primers, and 5.4 grains of Winchester 231 powder
The only ammunition the Cabot Southpaw didn’t seem to like was the Blazer Brass. Everything else shot extremely well, with the group sizes not being fully representative. Each of these sizes represent four shots, but in many cases three were touching and the group was enlarged only by one shot. We had a group with the Wilson Combat match ammo that put three shots into a neat three-hole clover leaf pattern. A group with the Hornady TAP put two rounds through the same hole. The Cabot Southpaw is probably (almost certainly) the most accurate handgun I have ever had the privilege to shoot.
What’s the verdict?
After all that, what’s the overall impression of the Cabot Southpaw?
First, it is simply a flawless 1911. The finish is a deep, traditional blue, not a spray-on finish. The polishing is masterful, with all flat surfaces truly flat, and all edges crisp and clean. Everyone who saw the pistol at the range was awestruck by the appearance.
Clearly, the test results show that the performance, in objective terms, matches the appearance. That brings us to the intangibles. As commented above, Chris decided that he would love to own it but he doesn’t think he can unlearn forty years of muscle memory, so he probably wouldn’t shoot it. Keith (lefty tester number 2) also loved it. His assessment was, “You have to reintroduce yourself to the way things should be.”
Perhaps the best comment of the entire testing cycle came from Gary (lefty tester number 3). I was sitting on a stool in front of the counter in the range shop, Gary was behind the counter, and a customer (who himself had recently bought a 1911 and is now looking to add another) asked if the Cabot pistol is worth the price. Gary’s response was, “The trigger is worth four thousand dollars.”
First, special thanks to Rob Bianchin and Mike Hebor of Cabot Guns, LLC, for offering us the opportunity to review this pistol.
Some of the ammunition used in the course of our testing was graciously provided to M1911.ORG by Winchester, Wilson Combat, and Hornady. Thank you all for helping make these tests possible.
As always, we are especially grateful to Chris Dogolo, Mike Rubino, and Charlie Baker at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range for their assistance and cooperation in allowing us the use of the range for testing. And for this test we have to add Gary Gerra, another of Chris’ assistant rangemasters.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this pistol and this review: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.php?t=105386
|Cabot Guns Southpaw|
|Overall Length:||8.63” (219.2 mm)|
|Overall Height:||5.63" (143.0 mm) (w/ magazine)|
|Overall Width:||1.30" (33.0 mm) (at grip)|
|… ||1.00” (25.4 mm) (at frame)|
|Barrel Length:||5.00" (127.0 mm)|
|Sights:||Combat-style (rear drift adjustable)|
|Weight w/empty magazine:||40.0oz (1.14 kg)|
|Magazine Capacity:||8 rounds|
|Grips:||Smooth, wood (species unknown)|
190 Carondelet, Suite 1530
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2234 CR 719
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