Wilson Combat Drop-In Grip Safeties

Drop-in Ö or not?

Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis

Not all 1911 pistols come from the factory with a contoured, upswept beavertail grip safety. Many pistols, especially those more oriented to the entry level price points for the various manufacturers, still come with a straight GI-style or Commander-style grip safety. While many shooters donít find the straight style grip safeties to be uncomfortable, other shooters do find them uncomfortableóespecially during long practice or plinking sessions at the range.

Any 1911 can be retrofitted with a beavertail grip safety, of course, but installation of most of these aftermarket units requires shaping the tangs on the rear of the pistol frame to match the shape of the cutout on the grip safety, and then trying to refinish the modified areas to match the original finish on the pistol. Except for very skilled amateurs, this is work best left to professional gunsmiths, and to do it right even a skilled do-it-yourselfer will probably need to buy a jig to guide the frame modifications. It can be done, but Ö is it worth the expense on an entry-level pistol? There should be another way.

And there is.

Wilson Combat has, for a long time, offered two models (each available in either blued or stainless steel finishes) of what they call a ďDrop-In Beavertail Grip Safety.Ē These were engineered to provide easy retrofits to Colt 1911s, and the two models are offered because the frame tangs on the Colt Government Model pistols are longer than those on Colt Commander and Officers ACP pistols. These two models provide a near-factory appearance with no alterations to the frame. The only fitting necessary (and it isnít always necessary) is minor filing in the tip of the arm that blocks the trigger stirrup.

The two models of Wilson Combatís Drop-In Grip Safeties.

ParaUSA GI Expert OEM grip safety (left) with Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safety (right)

These grip safeties will also fit most other makes of 1911 as well as Colts. However, since the profiles were engineered to provide a good fit on Colt pistols, when used on pistols with frame tangs shaped differently than Colts, there may be slightly larger gaps, or minor filing of the grip safety (or the frame) may be needed.

How ďdrop-inĒ are they?

The question most often asked about these units is how well they fit, and how difficult they are to install. After fielding these questions time after time, John Caradimas at M1911.ORG decided that it was time to take a look at these critters and try to provide some documented answers to the key questions. Since John canít import gun parts to Greece, I was assigned the task of doing some trial installations and providing a review of how it went.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, when I first discussed this project with our contact person at Wilson Combat, I asked him to send me two of the Commander model rather than one of each. That was a mistakeóon my part, not his. In trying to reconstruct why I might have made such a request, I think it was on the basis that I would try one in a Colt Commander and one in a Para-Ordnance pistol. I thought I remembered that the frame tangs on Para pistols are shorter than those on Colts, and so I was certain the Commander model grip safety would work on the Para GI Expert pistol selected as the test mule.

Memory is fallible.

Upon receiving the grip safeties from Wilson Combat, I immediately went downstairs to the Lab of Doom and Diet Cola to install one of the new grip safeties in a GI Expert I had previously obtained for this project. To my horror, it didnít fit. It was close but, as we used to say in the Army, ďClose only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.Ē It didnít fit, and the aim of this article was not to modify either the guns or the grip safeties, other than the normal fitting covered in Wilson Combatís instructions. Since I couldnít in good conscience ask Wilson Combat to send me a third sample, I sucked it up and ordered one of the Government Model grip safeties from Brownells. Once it arrived, I was able to return to the project.

There is a caveat, however: In the photos that follow later in this article, there is a photo of a pistol with a conventional, military-style spur hammer. This type of hammer is not compatible with the Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safety, or with any other type of beavertail grip safety. The spur impacts the beavertail before the hammer can reach the full cock position. This means that, to use the Wilson Combat drop-in beavertail on a pistol with a spur hammer requires (in addition to the minor fitting for the grip safety itself) either replacing the hammer, or "bobbing" the hammer spur.

Hereís what they look like:

Commander model on left, Government model on right

Commander model on left, Government model on right. Note difference in cut-out length


The installation is straightforward for anyone who knows how to detail strip a 1911, and it doesnít require knowing how to remove every last part from the pistol. Unless the pistol has a traditional GI hammer with a long spur, the essence of the job is to remove the thumb safety (because thatís what holds the grip safety in the frame and thatís the pivot pin for the grip safety); remove the original grip safety; install the new grip safety, and fit the arm if required; and reinstall the thumb safety.

1911 with conventional, spur hammer. Spur overhangs grip safety tail.

ParaUSA GI Expert with OEM Para ďCommanderĒ (ďCombatĒ) style hammer

Because on most 1911s it isnít possible to remove the grip safety from the frame with the mainspring housing in position, the first step is to remove the mainspring housing retaining pin and slide the MSH down a fraction of an inch. It isnít necessary to remove the MSH from the pistol, so the sear spring doesnít get disturbed.

Next, the thumb safety is removed. This frees the grip safety, which is also removed from the pistol. Now the new beavertail grip safety is placed in position for testing of fit and function. This can be done using the thumb safety, or a spare hammer pin can be used so as to avoid having the thumb safety pad in the way while working.

The first check is to see if the arm of the grip safety lifts far enough to permit the trigger to move when the grip safety is depressed. Using a spare hammer pin as the pivot pin leaves the thumb safety window open so you can look inside and see how the grip safety arm interacts with the trigger stirrup. If the trigger cannot be pulled even with the grip safety depressed, or if the trigger drags when resetting, the underside of the grip safety arm should be filed to provide enough clearance for the trigger stirrup to fit beneath it. Care must be taken not to remove more material than necessary. File a few light strokes, then reinstall the grip safety and check it again. Repeat as needed until the trigger moves freely.

Grip safety arm must lift high enough to allow the trigger bow to slide under the upper, forward tab (at left in photo)

Trigger must be able to move back to this position without drag

Next is the critical test to confirm that the new grip safety will prevent the trigger from moving enough to release the sear. First, the lower portion of the grip safety should be lifted (pulled out) to the disengaged position, which drops the tip of the grip safety arm down behind the trigger stirrup. Donít be disappointed if the grip safety wonít drop into position. Itís much easier to remove material here than it is to add material if the arm were too short. If the arm wonít drop down behind the trigger, remove the grip safety from the frame and carefully file the lower, angled face of the tip to provide clearance. Be careful not to change the angleóthis face is supposed to be parallel to the face of the trigger stirrup. If too much material is removed, the safety may not block the trigger enough to prevent firing, in which case the new grip safety will be ruined (at least for that pistol). Again, work slowly and carefully. Take off only a few light strokes with a file, reinstall the grip safety, and check it again. Once the grip safety arm will drop freely behind the trigger when the trigger is all the way forward, STOP! Do not remove any more material.

Grip safety must allow arm to drop into this position when released. Lower, forward portion of the uppermost portion of the
arm (at left in photo) blocks trigger. There should be effectively no clearance between the arm and the trigger bow.

At this point, I like to reinstall the grip safety, push the mainspring housing back up into position, and run a full function test on the pistol. Rather than install the mainspring housing retainer pin, I use a 1/8Ē punch as a slave pin because itís so much easier to remove if I encounter a problem and I have to take things apart again. Either way works. Run your tests:

  • With the hammer down and the grip safety not depressed, does the trigger move back when pulled? (It shouldnít move, or barely perceptibly.)
  • With the hammer down and the grip safety depressed, does the trigger move freely? Does the trigger reset properly, with no drag?
  • With the hammer cocked and the grip safety not depressed, does the hammer fall when the trigger is pulled? (The hammer should not fall, or even move.)
  • With the hammer cocked and the grip safety depressed, does the hammer fall when the trigger is pulled?

If your pistol passes these tests, the new grip safety should be safe to use. As a precaution, itís not a bad idea to also verify proper functioning of the thumb safety at this point. However, simply replacing the grip safety does not affect the relationship between the thumb safety and the sear, so there shouldnít be any malfunction of the thumb safety.

How well do they fit?

Before embarking on this project, I had previously installed three Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safeties. If I remember correctly, two installed and functioned with no fitting whatsoever, and the third required minor filing of the tip of the arm, as detailed in Wilsonís instructions. Having seen the installation go both ways, I had no preconceptions as I began this project.

The first victim was the aforementioned Para GI Expert. Removing the old grip safety and installing the new one took all of five minutes, at the conclusion of which the pistol passed all the function checks with no fitting required. As mentioned above, the GI Expert needed the Government model beavertail but, because Paraís frame tangs arenít as long and pointed as those on a Colt Government model, the fit of the beavertail to the frame left a visible gap on each side of the pistol. Even with this gap, the beavertail feels comfortable in the hand and is an improvement of the original, straight grip safety.

ParaUSA GI Expert (with aftermarket hammer) before installation of WC beavertail

ParaUSA GI Expert (with aftermarket hammer) after installation of WC beavertail

ParaUSA GI Expert (with aftermarket hammer) after installation of WC beavertail

The next candidate for experimentation was a Colt 1991 Commander. Not surprisingly, since this is the pistol the Wilson Combat Commander model beavertail is made for, the final appearance is nicer than that of the Government model beavertail on the Para GI Expert. However, this is due in part to the configuration of the Commander frame tangs. Being slightly shorter and more rounded that those of a Government Model pistol, the cutouts of the beavertail can be more rounded than the Government model beavertail. The result is very acceptable, and comes out looking almost like a factory-fitted beavertail grip safety.

Colt 1991 Commander after installation of WC beavertail

Colt 1991 Commander after installation of WC beavertail

However, to install the Wilson Combat beavertail in the Colt we did have to do a small amount of fitting, as outlined in the Wilson Combat instructions. Both the tip and the underside of the arm required a few swipes with a file, followed by smoothing out with crocus cloth, before the trigger would slide smoothly and return forward upon release. For the Colt, the total time required for the installation, without hurrying, was probably between a half hour and forty-five minutes. The only additional tool used that wasnít needed for the GI Expert was a file.

For comparison, I was also able to round up photos of a few other pistols that have been fitted with Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip safeties:

Para-Ordnance P13.45 fitted with Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safety

For comparison, Para-Ordnance P14.45 with factory OEM beavertail grip safety

Caspian full-size 1911 fitted with Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safety

Caspian full-size 1911 fitted with Wilson Combat Beavertail Drop-In Grip Safety


I have already admitted that I had previously installed three of these grip safeties. What I didnít mention was that each of them went into one of my own, personal 1911s. It didnít need this review to convince me that these parts are an excellent value for upgrading an older or lower-price pistol where the expense and labor of installing a true custom-fitted beavertail simply isnít justified. The Wilson Combat drop-ins are not always a complete drop-in, but with this review added to the mix my record now stands at three installations with no fitting, and two requiring minor fitting. In the big leagues, a .600 batting average or a .600 completion average for a quarterback would be hall of fame credentials. When fitting is needed, it can easily be performed using ordinary hand tools that just about anyone already has around the house.

Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this pistol and this review: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...056#post954056


Wilson Combat
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Berryville, AR 72616

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