Cylinder & Slide Ultimate 1911 Extractor

If you’re going to do it, why not do it right?

Reviewed for The M1911 Pistols Organization by Harwood Loomis

Getting back to basics

John Moses Browning knew a thing or two about firearms design. When he designed the M1911, he designed it to function as a “controlled feed” mechanism. All that means is that cartridges are under direct control of the mechanism during the entire feed cycle. The way it’s supposed to work is that, as a round starts to rise up out of the magazine, the rim of the cartridge is supposed to slide into the notch or recess behind the extractor hook and be retained there, against the breech face of the slide, by a combination of the extractor hook and lateral force applied by the extractor.

A 1911 extractor holding a cartridge in battery

The fact that lateral pressure is necessary means that the extractor can’t be simply a rigid part. It has to provide some spring action. The original design called for using spring steel from which to make the extractors. (A very few modern manufacturers of 1911-type pistols use external extractors. In these, the extractor itself is rigid, held in the slide by a vertical pin that acts as a hinge, and the lateral pressure is created by a tiny coil spring.) Unfortunately, in recent years the use of true spring steel to make extractors seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Makers and vendors of 1911 extractors today mostly produce them by metal injection molding (MIM). If you’ve heard the term but aren’t familiar with the process, think back to when you were a kid and your mother baked cookies for a holiday. She may have put the cookie dough into a cookie press and then extruded the individual cookies onto the baking sheet, ready to be put into the oven. Basically, that’s what MIM is, except that the dough is a mix of powdered metal (steel, in the case of extractors and other 1911 small parts) mixed with an inert binder that holds the powder together so it can be shaped. The binder is sacrificial. The raw parts look like the final product, but they are oversized. When they are baked at the prescribed temperature for the prescribed length of time, the inert binder is cooked away, the metal melts and fuses together, and the formed mass in the oven shrinks to the final, finished size. Generally, there is no additional machining performed on MIM parts – they come out of the oven ready to use. The type of steel they are made of is determined by the type of steel powder used in mixing the dough.

A few premium 1911 makers are proud of the fact that they don’t use MIM parts. If not MIM, what do they use? Most proudly proclaim that their extractors (or whatever part is being sold) are made of “tool” steel. But … is “tool” steel the same thing as “spring” steel? It turns out the answer is a resounding “No.” And, as it turns out, this is significant. Few active gunsmiths anywhere in the world know more about the M1911 platform than William Laughridge, the proprietor of Cylinder & Slide. Bill has decided to produce a 1911 extractor that is made from genuine spring steel. We’ll let Bill tell the story that led to the creation of the new Cylinder & Slide Ultimate 1911 Extractor:

The History of the Cylinder & Slide Ultimate 1911 Extractor.

About 6 years ago I began to notice that the extractors that are being used in all of the name brand 1911 pistols and the extractors that we were using would begin to lose their tension at around 1000 rounds and that by 3000 to 4000 rounds many of them had lost enough tension that they would begin to cause failures to extract or failures to eject because they were losing their grip on the case before it could be fully ejected.

Being a dinosaur in the 1911 business I knew that the Colt 45 ACP extractors were good for around 20,000 rounds before they would show wear on the extractor hook but they would still have their tension on the case.

I decided that I wanted to find out why the newer extractors were losing their tension. First I noticed that the nose profile of many of the extractors was incorrect. This was causing undue stress on the extractor if the extractor had to jump the rim of the case on slide close. Now most people think that during the feeding cycle the slide comes forward, pushes the cartridge out of the magazine, up the frame feed ramp, up the barrel feed throat into the chamber as the rim of the cartridge slides up the breech face until the slide closes on the fresh cartridge. Not so extractor breath!!

I have had the fortune to observe the feeding cycle of several 1911 pistols taken with high speed digital movie cameras. The rounds that actually feed out of the magazine don’t feed smoothly up the frame feed ramp and barrel throat. The bullet nose actually hits the feed ramp of the frame, bounces up and strikes the barrel feed throat and then bounces up against the top of the chamber, and then the cartridge chambers as the slide finishes closing. Now there are the rounds that are thrown out of the magazine by the inertia caused by the slide impacting the frame when it stops against the frame. The round is so heavy that the pistol actually moves to the rear so fast that the round stays where it is. This causes the round to be thrown out of the magazine, up the feed surfaces and into the chamber before the slide ever touches it. Now that the round is already chambered the extractor is forced to jump the rim of the case as the slide closes on the round. The extractors that have an incorrect nose shape are slammed back and to the right with extremely violent force. Ok remember this as we go on.

Now let’s have a look at how the extractor is fitted in relationship to how it actually grips the cartridge. I have noted that most extractor hooks are too long. This causes the extractor hook face to contact the case in the relief angle above the rim of the case. This causes the cartridge to tip to the left with the cartridge base not being in full contact with the breech face. When the slide chambers the cartridge the cartridge is slammed straight with the chamber and the base of the cartridge is now fully contacting the breech face. All of this causes the extractor to be slammed to the right and back with great force. The face of the extractor hook gouges a notch in the case relief which also puts a great strain on the hook itself. All of this force put on the extractor can only be resisted by the tension in the extractor. The extractor must have enough tension to retain its grip on the case rim as the slide opens under recoil to extract the empty case.

Now I asked myself why, doesn’t the extractor retain its tension. Remember the 1911 extractor provides its own spring force to return it to the proper place. That is when I began to suspect that the steel being used was not the correct spring steel. I purchased every extractor that I could find from known sources. I then sent them out to a metal analysis laboratory to have the type of steel used identified. Guess what, every extractor that I had tested was made from the same steel. And that steel is not the spring steel that is called out by the military prints.

Ok, I thought that it would be worth having extractors made from the spring steel called out on the military print. That is when I got my next lesson. The proper spring steel is not available in the diameter needed. The only diameters that are available would mean that more chips of steel would be on the floor than in the extractor and what’s more this steel is really expensive in comparison to the steel that is currently being used in 1911 extractors.

Let’s just say that I am probably crazy but I had to buy 8000lb. of the correct steel alloy to get it in the diameter that I needed. I just wanted to make an extractor that is correct. I have not only made my extractor from the correct steel, I have made it to the proper hook length, with the proper contours, with the correct radiuses. We are tensioning them to the military print specification. However, due to the different tolerances that slides from the various manufacturers are made to, my extractors may have to be properly tensioned to your slide.

Now let’s talk about heat treatment. I not only have my extractors heat treated to the correct hardness, they are also austempered. This is a special process that makes the steel much tougher so it will wear much longer. This process adds to the cost of the extractor. Every extractor is quality checked. We test the hardness on every extractor. You will see a tiny dimple on one of the flats on the shank of the extractor. That dimple is made by the diamond tip on our Rockwell Hardness tester. Each extractor will come with a certification slip showing the hardness of the extractor along with the initial of the technician who checked it. What the heck, I figured if I was going to do it I might as well do it right.

So there you have it. I feel that I have made the best extractor on the market bar none.

Bill Laughridge
President, Cylinder & Slide Inc.

In the Maestro’s own words, “There you have it.” What he wrote about the “wrong” steel only confirmed what I have been hearing and seeing for quite some time. If manufacturers are proudly proclaiming their use of tool steel, and tool steel isn’t working … why not? John Moses Browning specified spring steel for the extractor. Maybe Mr. Browning had a reason for specifying spring steel.

Tool Steel

Jumping right into the fallacy of using a term to define itself, “tool steel” is steel that’s used to make tools from. This means that it needs to have certain mechanical and structural properties. There are multiple grades of steel that can be classified as “tool steel” but, in general, they share certain fundamental attributes: the steel has to be tough, hard, easily machined, it has to hold an edge, and it has to resist deformation. In fact, the steel powder used to make MIM parts is usually a powdered form of an alloy that qualifies as “tool steel,” but when 1911 parts makers brag about making their widgets from tool steel they mean they machine the parts from bars, rods, or ingots rather than molding them and baking them in a MIM furnace.

Tool steel usually originates in a soft form, and requires heat treating after having been machined to its final shape. The heat treating is what adds the toughness to the part. Often, though (depending on the specific alloy), the heat treatment also makes the part resistant to deformation. In machine tools, this is a good thing. If you’re drilling a hole, you want the drill bit to stay straight, not bend and “walk” off center while you’re drilling. You also want it to stay sharp.

But a 1911 extractor is designed to flex, and it has to flex with each and every round fired. If it isn’t made of the correct alloy and tempered to the proper depth and hardness, repetitive flexing results in metal fatigue, which in turn results in the extractor losing tension.

Enter “spring steel.”

Spring Steel vs. Tool Steel

The book of (reproduced) U.S. Ordnance Department blueprints for the M1911A1 has a separate sheet just for the extractor. The steel is described as follows:

  • STEEL, CMPSN 1060 THRU 1095 SPEC
    QQ-S-631 OR ASTM A108
    1550[degrees] F. AUSTEMPER AT 700[degrees] F. TEMPER IF

Coming from a construction background, I’m accustomed to structural steel, which is typically ASTM A36—a completely different animal than the ASTM A108 specified for the M1911A1 extractor. Tool steels, too, are different. One large vendor of steel alloys I found on-line lists the following alloys under the category “Tool Steels”:

  • A2
  • A6
  • D2
  • H11
  • H13
  • M2
  • M3
  • M42
  • O1
  • O2
  • P20
  • S1
  • S2
  • S5
  • S7
  • W1

Other sources may include more or fewer alloys under the category of “tool steel,” but we’ll go with this one. And A108 isn’t listed. We can extrapolate from this to conclude that the Ordnance Department didn’t want “tool steel” for their M1911 extractors. They wanted something else.

“Spring steel,” as opposed to “tool steel,” is steel that is chosen for having a high yield strength rather than being “tough,” abrasion resistant, or capable of holding a cutting edge. High yield strength allows the part to deflect farther without exceeding its yield point, which results in allowing the part to return to its original position without deformation. This is, of course, pretty much a textbook definition of a spring. All I was able to find after much research on the Internet is that spring steels generally have high carbon content, low amounts of other alloying metals such as chromium, nickel, and others that are commonly found in tool steels, and spring steel usually contains manganese and silicone.

Since the 1911 extractor is a spring, doesn’t it make sense that it should be made from spring steel? Why don’t the people who sell extractors make them from the proper steel? The answer can be found in Bill Laughridge’s explanation of his process, above:

”The only diameters that are available would mean that more chips of steel would be on the floor than in the extractor and what’s more this steel is really expensive in comparison to the steel that is currently being used in 1911 extractors.”

Evidently the companies selling 1911 extractors don’t think 1911 owners will be willing to pay what they would have to charge for a spring steel extractor, so they either sell MIM parts or they make their extractors out of tool steel and advertise that as a feature rather than a bug. (If life deals you lemons … make lemonade.)

What I have noticed about the extractors available today is that they aren’t especially flexible. Tuning an extractor to obtain the preferred amount of tension on the case head without getting too much is a delicate task. I long ago gave up the manual method of inserting the tail end of the extractor into the slide backwards and bending the exposed length until it feels right. That works, but it’s too time-consuming. I was always cautious to avoid bending it too far, so I generally didn’t bend it enough, then I’d have to go back and repeat the process multiple times. Several years ago I bought a Weigand extractor tool from Brownells, and it makes the job much easier and more precise. There’s still some trial and error involved, but I don’t have to worry about going too far.

Starting out with proper extractor tension, though, allows you to see how quickly an extractor can lose tension. If you spend much time on firearms discussion forums where 1911s are discussed, you can’t avoid periodic conversations about how often extractors should be checked and re-tensioned, and how to do it. Bill Laughridge is absolutely correct; the entire industry seems to have lost the way with regard to the extractor.

Consequently, Bill decided to do something about the loss of proper, spring steel extractors for 1911 pistols. The owner of, John Caradimas, had a sit-down chat with Bill at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January, and Bill brought up the fact that Cylinder & Slide has embarked on a mission to produce a proper, spring steel 1911 extractor. After a few minutes of discussion, they agreed that would be among the first to actually see one of Bill’s new extractors. Since John lives in Greece, it wasn’t exactly practical to send him a sample (for lots of reasons, some of which revolve around ITAR regulations and prison terms), so they determined that yours truly would be the recipient of a sample of Bill’s new extractor. Just a few days after the SHOT Show ended and John had made his way back to Greece, the new extractor appeared in my mailbox.

The Cylinder & Slide Ultimate 1911 Extractor

The sample we received is a non-Series 80 style extractor. This means that it does not have a notch in it for a firing pin safety plunger. It’s the original John M. Browning design. In fact, Bill told me in an e-mail that a long time ago he purchased both a set of U.S. Ordnance Department prints for the M1911A1, and a set of Colt prints. His intention is, indeed, to get back to making the extractor as it was designed to be made. My job was to try it out and report—to both Bill Laughridge and to our readers—how well he did at the task.

Before installing the new Ultimate 1911 Extractor in a pistol and putting it to use in actual shooting, I wanted to do as much comparison as I could against other extractors. I don’t have a genuine, military M1911 or M1911A1, so the closest I could come was a Colt Combat Commander whose serial number indicates that it was manufactured in 1973. It doesn’t have a firing pin safety, so it’s definitely pre-Series 80. I felt that if anyone is still making extractors more or less correctly, it would be Colt. I also dipped into my parts drawers and came out with two brand new, unused extractors of recent manufacture. These are generic replacement extractors, not products of any of the “name” 1911 makers or parts suppliers. I wish I could say with certainty whether or not they are MIM or machined, but I can’t. There are a couple of elements on them that make me suspect they might be MIM, but I’m just not sure. So we’ll just have to accept a gap in our knowledge and go forward from there.

Generic Series 80 extractor (top), Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor (center), and generic pre-Series 80 extractor (bottom)

My first step was to weigh and measure all four extractors: The new Ultimate Extractor, the Colt extractor, and the two generic parts. And right away, I began to find differences and variations. Some are probably not critically important; others, as I’ll discuss, are very important.

Here’s a reproduction of the Ordnance Department blueprint of the M1911A1 extractor, to which I have added letters to make it easier to refer to specific dimensions. When I refer to “overall” length, I am actually referring to “effective” length, as measured from the slide stop slot to the tip of the extractor. This would be dimension ‘C’ on my dimensioned blueprint image. What I found was that there is no uniformity. One of the generic extractors was within the range specified on the Ordnance Department drawing, the other was not. The Colt part was barely within the Ordnance spec, the Cylinder & Slide part seemed to be slightly too long (but not as long as the out-of-spec generic extractor).

Reproduction of the Ordnance Department extractor blueprint, with letters added to facilitate calling out which dimension is being discussed

I sent a table of my measurements to Bill Laughridge, and what he told me in response was enlightening. He said that in developing the Ultimate Extractor he worked with both the Ordnance Department blueprint and with modern blueprints he received from Colt when he was consulting to them, and that the dimensions for the Ultimate Extractor were derived by “blending” the Ordnance dimensions with the modern Colt dimensions. Bill said he could not allow me to see a copy of the modern Colt blueprint because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Colt. (I wish I could sneak a look at the Colt drawings, but good for Bill Laughridge for honoring the non-disclosure agreement.) If there was “blending” involved, we can probably assume that the current manufacturing dimensions are slightly different from the Ordnance Department dimensions.

No wonder most replacement parts have to be fitted in most 1911s.

All this means that I spent a lot of time taking measurements, only to find out that I was checking against a secret standard that I don’t have access to. Oh, well. Suffice it to say that, as compared to the Ordnance Department dimensions only, the Colt and Cylinder & Slide extractors fell within spec for most of the critical dimensions, the generic Series 80 extractor was not as good but not terrible … and the generic pre-Series 80 extractor was out-of-spec for eight out of eleven measurements. And yet I have used that same part number extractor in multiple pistols, and it worked—at least for awhile. How long they will last is the crucial question and, since none of the pistols I’ve used that part in have reached high round counts, I can’t provide an answer.

What seems to be critical for a well-functioning and long-lived extractor (aside from the type of steel used) is the configuration of the extractor hook itself. The Ordnance Department drawing calls for the tip of the extractor to be machined on a radius. Both of the generic parts skipped this, and used a simple bevel, or chamfer, instead. Bill Laughridge told me that the radius here is important. Also, in the extractor hook recess, the bottom of the recess is supposed to have a radiused transition. Both the Colt extractor and the Cylinder & Slide extractor are properly radiused here; both of the generic parts again use a simple bevel, or chamfer, here. This can cause rough, “notchy” feeding. In fact, there is a sketch that has been circulated on the Internet for at least fifteen or twenty years showing how (and where) to create this radius as part of tuning an extractor.

Large-scale Ordnance Department detail of the extractor hook. Note the smooth radius of the tip

Another critical dimension that both the Colt and Ultimate extractors got right and that both generic extractors got very wrong is the depth of the extractor hook. The hook is supposed to fit into the case relief so that the flat of the extractor recess rides on the case rim. The depth of the case relief is nominally 0.040 inches (based on the current SAAMI drawing for .45 ACP). In order to accomplish the intended fit, then, the hook depth has to be less than 0.040 inches. The specified hook depth from the Ordnance Department drawing is 0.030” to 0.034”. Tellingly, both generic extractors had hook depths that exceeded 0.040 inches; this means that the tip of the hook will rest in contact with the base of the case relief rather than allowing the extractor hook recess to ride on the case rim, as designed. Both the Colt and the Cylinder & Slide extractors were set up to correctly ride on the case rim.

Worse (or just as bad), the Ordnance Department extractor hook has a flat at the tip of the hook. Both of the generic extractors taper to almost a knife edge at this point, and it’s this knife-like tip that rides in the case relief. Over time, this is just asking for the tip of the extractor hook to break off.

Here’s what the extractor hook is supposed to look like when in battery with a cartridge:

The Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor fits like the above. For contrast, both generic extractors would fit as shown below:

In the second diagram, it can be seen that the back wall of the extractor hook recess doesn’t even make contact with the case rim.

In the next photo, note the blunt tip of the hook on the Cylinder & Slide extractor compared to the sharp tips of the two generic extractors:

Generic Series 80 extractor (top), Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor (center), and generic pre-Series 80 extractor (bottom)

Colt extractor (top) and Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor (bottom)

Extractor Tension

The entire reason Bill Laughridge decided to pursue offering a proper, spring steel extractor is to have an extractor that can be properly tensioned and that will maintain tension over a long service life. Bill mentioned in an e-mail that the Ultimate Extractors will ship pre-set to the proper tension. It was a surprise, therefore, to find that when I installed it in my Colt Combat Commander there was zero tension. Then I reinstalled the OEM Colt extractor, and I found that, even though this pistol has been almost 100 percent reliable over the eleven years I’ve had it—there was zero tension on the extractor. A fired case inserted into the slide falls right out. The same was true with both of the generic extractors.

Hmmm. Puzzled by this, I pulled out another reference slide. I mentioned that I don’t have a genuine USGI M1911A1, but I remembered that, a number of years ago, a small guns and antiques shop in a nearby town had sold me a USGI Colt M1911A1 slide. I dug it out and, somewhat to my surprise, I found that the Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor provided empty case retention and proper feed control when installed in the USGI slide. This suggested that the Colt Combat Commander might be out-of-spec. I needed another data point for comparison.

I recently purchased a used Colt Enhanced Officers ACP for carry, so I next turned to that pistol. I bought it used, so I don’t know that it’s in original configuration, but nothing about it suggests that it has been modified in any way. It still has the original, Colt dual recoil spring assembly with the short, .250” recoil spring guide. On the assumption that it is all original, I began by inserting my Weigand extractor tension gauge into the slide and pulling it out with an RCBS analog trigger pull scale. There is sufficient tension that the original extractor holds an unfired round, but the tester shows less than 8 ounces (that’s the lowest the RCBS scale reads). The instructions for the Weigand gauge set suggest 25 to 28 ounces. (I have always felt that’s a bit heavier than what’s needed.)

When I installed the Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor into the Colt Enhanced Officers slide, just as with the Colt Combat Commander I found zero tension. Nonetheless, at least in bench testing the extractor function flawlessly. Feeding was smooth, and there were no bobbles in extraction. This suggests that Colt may have changed the dimensions of the extractor tunnel in the slide between USGI military production and post-war civilian production. Or, I just happened to have found a couple of sample pistols at one extreme of a range of manufacturing tolerances. I don’t know, and without sourcing a couple of dozen pistols and trying the Ultimate Extractor in all of them, I don’t have any way to determine what’s going on.

Does it work?

My late grandmother always told us, “Handsome is as handsome does.” Liberally translated, this means that what counts is how it works. In actual test firing (in the Colt Combat Commander) the Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor performed as expected … which is to say, flawlessly. Feeding was smooth, thanks to the smooth radius in the extractor hook recess, and extraction was positive.

Unfortunately, the one aspect of the Ultimate Extractor I wasn’t able to test is service life. I have a Weigand extractor tensioning jig, so I could easily adjust the Ultimate Extractor to provide, say, 16 ounces of tension in any pistol of my choosing. But the reason why Cylinder & Slide decided to produce this extractor is to offer an extractor that will maintain proper tension over a service life of many thousands of rounds. The facts of life are that I don’t have the time, energy, or money to put thousands of rounds through any single pistol in the time available to report on this extractor while it’s still news and worth reporting on. It’s going to be released any day now (and, in fact, may have already gone on sale by the time this review is published), so there’s no time for a long-term test. I regret that, but that’s reality.


I am one of “those people” who occasionally rant about companies that think they know more about the 1911 than John Moses Browning, and who take liberties with his magnificent pistol in the name of “improving” it. There are few people alive today who know as much about the 1911 pistol platform as Bill Laughridge. When Bill sees a need to get back to the original design, I’m inclined to believe there’s a good reason for doing so. It’s both refreshing and commendable to see someone of Bill’s status commit to the cost of sourcing what is basically a huge quantity of the correct material to make us a part the way John Moses Browning intended that part to be made. Kudos to Bill and Cylinder & Slide for doing so. The Ultimate 1911 Extractor should make life a lot easier for anyone who puts a lot of rounds down-range through their 1911s, particularly competitive shooters who count on fault-free performance from their pistols to get through each stage of a match in the fastest possible time. The last thing anyone wants is to have to tune or replace an extractor in the middle of a match.

According to Bill, the Cylinder & Slide Ultimate Extractor will initially be offered in .45 ACP and only in a Series 70 configuration. If there is a perceived demand, they will move on to offer a Series 80 configuration, as well as a 9mm configuration. It will be available only in blue. We asked Bill about stainless, and he responded (as we expected) that there isn’t any alloy of stainless steel that offers the proper characteristics to be considered “spring” steel.

MSRP is set to $34.95, from Cylinder & Slide.

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