The iron sights that are present by default on most 1911s are extremely simple – not even three dot sights. They are usually quite accurate, but are useless in taking aim in the dark. In order to address this issue, most gun enthusiasts opt to replace these simple sights with three dot tritium filled sights which do offer visibility in low light conditions.
The Tools Required
Most custom sight manufacturers include installation manuals that contain in depth instructions on removing the old 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:
- Can be of any type but with a bit that can fit into the tiny set screw present on the rear sight (on both the old and new, since the screw sizes are same for both). Here is a screwdriver bit set that is designed specifically for the 1911.
- Brass Punch Set
- Brass punches are preferred over steel ones since they do not damage the slide when the old sights are being removed. They leave only a residue that can be easily removed using a tiny drop of oil and a coarse brush. Steel punches, on the other hand, would leave gouge marks that would look quite ugly once the process had been completed. Go for a good brass punch set that will contain some plastic punches which might come in handy in the future.
- You will need more than one type of hammer, depending on the strength with which the current sights are fixed to the slide. A small non-marring brass hammer will typically be included with the brass punch set, but you may also require a bigger rubber mallet or a full size hammer, if the brass hammer can’t pack enough of a punch to remove the sights.
Note: Instructions provided by sight manufacturers usually recommend automated sight pushers for removing the old sights – but they are a lot more expensive than the brass set and hammer approach. In fact, for replacing the sights of a modest $300 1911 pistol, you would need a sight pusher that would be costlier than the sights themselves! However, they do make the job easier and lessen the chance of damage.
10 Step Removal Process
We have steps below the video, so be sure to read them all before attempting as there is a mis-step in the video.
- Unscrew the rear sight using the screwdriver.
- Remove the firing pin from the slide. Do this by pushing down the firing pin using any narrow, pointed apparatus. You may need to apply pressure on the small notch present on the inside of the slide, while also pressing on the pin from the external rear of the slide. Remove the back piece while applying force on the pin as described above – this will expose the pin. Now carefully push the small mechanism on the inside of the slide to make the pin pop out. Make sure that the slide’s rear is near and pointing towards the towel, since the pin comes out at quite a speed thanks to the spring, and may even shoot across the room!
- Place the 1911’s slide into a vice, the slide will be held by the vice while you remove the back and front sights.
- The rear sight must be extricated from the slide in a left to right manner, looking from the back of the slide. What this means is that you will be punching the rear sight from its left side. Start with the brass hammer and punch, and if the force isn’t sufficient to remove the sight, switch to the full size hammer. Once the rear sight starts to move to the right, you will see a spring present underneath the sight. This spring will pop out as the rear sight is displaced towards the right completely. Catch the spring since you will need to replace it once the sights have been removed.
- Now that the rear sight is removed, you will notice a sticky material on the slides and the mold – this is the stuff that was binding the sight with the slide. You will also notice that the brass punch has left some brass residue. Clean up the rear portion of the slide using a wire brush and a small amount of oil – it will be good as new.
- Next, it is time to remove the front sight. Start by putting a small amount of oil on either side of the front sight.
- Remove the slide from the vice and set it on its side for some time to let the oil penetrate.
- Clean out any oil that remains on the slide before you proceed towards the next step. Go ahead and do so using a towel/rag.
- After replacing the slide in the vice, place the brass punch on the lip (much smaller than that of the rear sight) of the front sight (again on the left side) and use strokes from the brass hammer to push the sight towards the other side. If that doesn’t cause any movement of the sight towards the right, apply the punch and hammer directly on the sight’s left face instead of its left lip. It is important that the vice remain nice and tight during the hammering process.
- With the front sight removed, clean up the brass marring left behind by the punching process using a wire brush, as you did for the rear sight.
Note: You may require a bit of patience during the removal of the front sight since it isn’t as easy for the rear sight. If you aren’t able to remove it completely in one go, take a break instead of fueling your frustration through repeated fruitless attempts. After some time, have a go at it again and you will probably get it removed quite easily. Also, be sure to remove any left over oil and residue before installing the new sites.