Stan Chen, the founder of Stan Chen Custom, is the first one to admit that he's not a household name when it comes to custom 1911s. But it's not because he's unknown or a new face in the industry. In business for over a decade now, Stan is a competitive-shooter-turned-gunsmith that specializes in full-house custom pistols tricked out with a variety of signature features.
These handcrafted 1911 semi-automatics are mechanical works of art that take a good deal of time to build to Stan's perfectionistic standards. As a result, he only produces a handful of pistols each year for clients on a long waiting list (four to five years as of this writing) with price tags that the average shooting enthusiast will find daunting.
Despite the fact that his high-end custom pistols are marketed to an elite crowd, Stan is by no means an elitist. I met him several years ago at one of my first trade shows. Although I was about as green as a new gun writer can be, Stan took the time to meet with me during that busy event to talk about his products, processes and philosophy. His passion for the 1911 platform is almost tangible and his understanding of how it can be tuned and improved is clearly evident in his work.
I've been in the same boat as many other fans of Stan’s innovative products. I don't want to wait half a decade to work with Stan's in-house custom features and my wife isn't exactly enthusiastic about cashing out the kids’ college fund to pay for a full-house pistol.
In order to reach a broader shooting audience, reduce turnaround times to about eight weeks, and to give folks a variety of features at a more reasonable price, Stan Chen Custom is now offering a set of custom machining services for the exterior of factory 1911 pistols. Customers can send in their guns to be treated to a package of upgrades or individual services provided a la carte.
When I met with Stan over the phone to discuss his new services, he mentioned that the customers sending in 1911s for machine work generally fall into three categories. First, there are the collectors who would like to add a piece with Stan Chen features to their collections. Next are the enthusiasts who have a family treasure or heirloom that they would like to dress up. Finally, there are the working pistols, self-defense and competition guns that will benefit from the enhancements the shop has to offer.
When I learned about these new services, the first question that sprang to mind was: Which factory 1911 models are eligible for custom machine work? If you haven't purchased a pistol yet, Stan is going to recommend something along the lines of a steel-frame Colt, Springfield or Dan Wesson (no aluminum frame work is available at this time).
Those are all excellent options but I had something else in mind. The pistol I wanted Stan to work on falls into that third category, a tough-as-nails Ruger SR1911 CMD that was purchased for use as a work-a-day defensive and practice pistol after it was reviewed for this website. It's not the fanciest 1911 on the market but it's proven to be utterly reliable and I like how it handles. It was still so new to the market (relatively speaking) that I hadn't seen any customized versions when I pitched the idea of using it as the base gun for this project.
Stan was happy to work with the Ruger. He’s willing and able to provide services for several other 1911 makes and models including Remington, Kimber, Wilson, Nighthawk, Caspian and JEM models with Government or Commander/Champion size frames. If you don't see your model on this list, give Stan a call and he'll talk it over with you.
Although I was originally drawn to Stan’s unique grip checkering, I’m pleased the pistol received a full package of custom machining. All of the features came together so elegantly to transform this ordinary pistol into something remarkable. I usually walk through review guns from the top down but in this case I'm going to start at the bottom and work my way up beginning with the special package of grip frame enhancements.
The Maxbevel treatment of the magazine well includes several modifications for faster reloads and more comfortable carry. It provides the largest opening available without adding a target style extension to the base of the frame. The front edge and sides of the magazine well are contoured and shaped by hand to remove the sharp angles and edges.
The base of the proprietary mainspring housing is cut at a deep angle to provide as much room as possible when a magazine is brought up into place for a quick reload. As you can see from the photos, the base of the mainspring housing is blended into the frame to provide a smooth surface. The heel of the frame and the mainspring housing is rounded off (known as a Roundbutt) to make the pistol more comfortable to shoot and carry. Removing that sharp edge keeps it from digging into your hands when shooting or into your ribs while carrying.
The rear facing surface of the mainspring housing and the front strap of the grip have been milled with Stan’s exclusive diagonally cut skip-line checkering known as Progressive Traction Checkering, or ProTrac. It's an innovative pattern designed to give the pistol operator a level of traction which is proportional to the amount of force applied to the gripping surface. The more tightly the ProTrac checkering is gripped, the more purchase it provides. When held lightly, it slides smoothly in the hand without feeling abrasive. It really is one of those feel-it-to-believe-it textures that is unlike anything else on the market. It has the added advantages of not holding on to dirt and grit like the finer 30-LPI type checkering.
The ProTrac Checkering process for the frontstrap includes undercutting the trigger guard. This allows a higher grip for improved recoil control and a more comfortable spot for the middle finger of the shooting hand. Like the Roundbutt and Maxbevel, the undercut is hand finished to provide smooth, graceful lines.
The grip frame is topped off with a set of custom VZ Grips G10 grip panels secured with black hex-head screws. Traditionally styled with diamond pattern checkering, these panels were especially designed to work in conjunction with the ProTrac pattern. The grips are included with the custom machine work at no charge as a thank-you gift to customers.
On the right side of the pistol, the slide stop pin was shortened and chamfered so that it's flush with the frame. The pin's hole was then countersunk so that the user can still manually press the pin out of the frame for routine maintenance. The purpose of this adjustment to the pin and frame is to prevent the slide stop from being out of place when the trigger finger is laid straight out along the frame to keep it out of the trigger guard. The bottom edges of the slide have been chamfered to remove the sharp edge.
Along with all the work that has gone into the frame, some terrific touches were added to the slide. The bottom edges of the slide have been chamfered to remove the sharp edge which adds a subtle touch of elegance to the gun.
The Ruger SR1911 slide leaves the factory with a standard front sight and a dovetailed Novak rear sight. The sights were removed and the slide was precision machined to accept a set of Heinie 1911 Slantpro sights which require a dovetail for the front sight. The matte black, no-dot serrated sight surfaces of the Heinie system provides a crisp sight picture for target or defensive applications. The flat ledge on the rear sight can be hooked over a belt, pants’ seam or boot heel so the slide can be racked with just one hand.
The smooth, rounded top of the slide is serrated along the radius at 30-LPI to help reduce glare. Taking a closer look at the front sight dovetail shows that the border lines of the serration continue around the front sight and off the front end of the slide. It's another classy touch that elevates the overall appearance of the pistol. With the machine work completed, the stainless steel frame and slide were bead blasted to give the pistol an overall matte satin finish.
If you take the time to read up on Stan Chen's full-house 1911s you'll see reviewer comments along the lines of, "They’re worth every penny," and, "This pistol was well worth the wait." Having seen one of these unicorn-like 1911s up close, I can say without a doubt that the same level of planning, precision and attention to detail given to the five-figure models is reflected in this company's custom machine work. I'm proud to own a pistol that Stan's worked on, and I know you will be too.
Base Pistol: Ruger SR1911 CMD .45 ACP (Model#6702) Custom Machine Work: Stan Chen Custom Special 1911 Frame Package: $690 ProTrac Checker Frontstrap High Cut Frame and Fade Trigger Guard Maxbevel Magazine Well Fit and Install Chen Mainspring Housing ProTrac Checker Mainspring Housing Roundbutt Mainspring Housing Base Shorten Slide Stop Pin, Countersink Frame Pin Hole: $95 Slide Chamfer: $95 Flat Top and Line the Top of Slide at 40 LPI OR Line Along the Radius of the Slide at 30 LPI: $175 Machine/Install Heinie Slantpro Serrated Rear Sight (Sight Included): $150 Machine/Install Heinie Slantpro Serrated Front Sight (Sight Included): $100 Satin Matte Finish of Entire Pistol: $140 VZ Grips Custom G10 Grip Panels: $0 Shipping & Handling: $50 Total Service Package Price: $1,495