One of the most commonly modified factory options on a handgun are both replacement of the front and rear sight. Even though your gun way have come with perfectly capable sights, these are generally fairly generic, capable options that might not always suit your shooting style or scenarios as much as you might like.
The actual sight a 1911 usually comes with are almost always iron sights – which definitely should be a choice you are comfortable with. However, it is not always the best choice for low light situations. To change out your sights, the first step is to remove and replace the front sight, which I’m going to detail for you here. Often, many shooters are happy with just a front sight swap and don’t bother with a rear sight chance – and this might be all you need.
Table of Contents
The Tools Required
Most custom sight manufacturers include installation manuals that contain in depth instructions on removing factory sights and installing the new ones e.g. in which direction to apply pressure while removing the sights etc. But before you can start doing what the manual says, you need to have an idea of the tools that may be required during the removal / installation process. Listed below are the tools which will cover all your requirements during the procedure:
A vise is truly the simplest sight tool to use with your slide to help remove sights. Use one that offers size to work with smaller materials and be sure it is well clamped to your workbench.
To make removal of a staked sight even easier, you may want to grind the bottom of the sight a bit first.
Brass Punch Set
Good for dovetail sights, or to help tap out a staked sight, these are a non-marring punch due to the malleable, soft metal. Avoid steel punches as they can ruin your slide. A good brass punch set comes with plastic punches as well that can come in handy.
A brass hammer is always good to have around, booth for sight removal and when putting a new one in. You want to avoid a regular hammer as it will get generally be too large or be made of steel.
Even though we aren’t detailing how to put in a new sight, you definitely want a Front Sight Staking Tool for proper placement of a new staked sight.
Step By Step Front Sight Removal Guide for a Staked Sight
Most 1911 sights are staked into place, meaning they are semi-permanently set rather than using friction within a dovetail. Although there are a few different ways to loosen and change out your sight for easy replacement, this is one of the most effective and quickly done.
Step 1: Remove Bushing From Slide
You want to first remove the bushing from the slide and clear your parts so you can work unobstructed and really see the smaller areas you need to get at. This is a simple task that only requires you to push the slide out of the battery and press the recoil spring cap for easy cap and spring release.
Step 2: Clamp the Sight in a Vise
Grab the sight firmly in the vise and then wiggle the slide until the sight pops loose. If you are having issues with this, you might want to grind the bottom of the sight to help loosen it further and allow it to pull through the square hole.
This guy does the same thing using pliers that he tapes off to avoid damaging the slide, but I assure you, a vise is much easier!
Step By Step Front Sight Removal Guide for a Dovetail Sight
Some 1911 models come with a front dovetail sight that allows you to push the sight out from the side. These are set in place using a frictional sight fit. Take a look at this step-by-step guide if you have a dovetail design.
Step 1: Remove the Bushing From Slide
Refer to the video in Step 1 above if you need help with this. It is a fairly simple step and allows you to work freely with the slide.
Step 2: Secure your Slide in the Vise
Be sure to take steps to avoid damaging your slide when you do this, such as placing a cloth on the vise or taping off the slide surface.
Step 3: “Punch” Out the Sight
With the brass punch and hammer place the punch on the lip of the sight and then tap it with the hammer to push it through the other sight. If it doesn’t move, try doing this from the opposite direction. Afterward, you can easily brass punch residues with a wire brush.
To watch the entire process of removal and how to replace a dovetail sight, take a look at this video:
Simple and not at all difficult to do, the removal of either a staked or dovetail sight isn’t a task to fret over. Rear sight removal is almost as easy to do and replace and follows a similar process.
No matter whether you prefer a night sight option or just a favored choice, a replacement sight is almost as easy to work with and only requires a bit of patience for proper placement. Just keep in mind that a replacement sight does need to meet the manufacturer’s specifications for a proper fit when replacing a factory sight.
We’d love to hear about any tips or tricks you may have to add to our steps in the comments below. And, as usual, please share!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you remove iron sights?
In traditional firearms practice, to remove iron sights, the sights are usually installed from right to left, taking into account that the muzzle is facing away. Therefore, to remove them, you would do the reverse, moving from left to right. This method may, however, vary with the type of firearm you are using. The process begins with pushing the sight into the dovetail with enough pressure that you could manage with your fingers. Talking from personal experience, you’ll know it’s right if the sight slips into the dovetail with not more than a slight resistance.
Are all 1911 sights the same?
The type of sight a 1911 pistol has is largely dependent on its intended use. There are four main types of dovetails, which all have different degrees and sizes. These include the GI, Novak, Bomar, and LPA TRT. Personally, I’ve found that each type adds a unique level of functionality and precision to your shooting. It is essential to find out the specifics of your gun’s dovetail to make the right choice if you plan on customizing or replacing the sights.
Can you change GI sights on a 1911?
Technically, changing the GI sights on a 1911 is doable. But the front sight is typically pined and may require you to cut a dovetail into the slide, which might not be an easy task if you do not have the specific expertise. The rear sight, however, can be adjusted for windage only and might be replaced with a few drop-in styles. This has been the typical design feature of the .25 dovetail in GI notch. But unless you plan on milling the slide for both the front and rear sights, replacement options might be limited. Through my years of experience with 1911s, I’ve found it best to carefully consider this before choosing to alter the sights.
Can you install pistol sights yourself?
You absolutely can install pistol sights yourself, but I must stress that it requires careful handling and some level of skill. Here’s how it is typically done: First, safely disassemble your pistol so that the slide is completely separated from the rest of the gun. The next step is to remove and replace your rear sight. In my experience, a tack hammer and brass punch are handy tools for this process. Changing your front sight requires a front sight tool. After installing, ensure you apply a small amount of Locktite on the new screw. The Locktite helps the new sight to remain securely in place, which is vital considering the stress guns go through when fired.