The Custom 1911s of Rich Dettlehauser

Rich makes his squared triggerguards with a much sharper square to them than previous-era ‘smiths made.

Rich makes his squared triggerguards with a much sharper square to them than previous-era ‘smiths made.

Rich Dettlehauser

Rich runs Canyon Creek, his shop that works on 1911s and a couple of other very interesting pistols. Rich is a USPSA Grand Master, and that is something uncommon in shooting and gunsmithing circles. Yes, many gunsmiths can shoot, some quite well indeed. And some top shooters can be good at working on guns, but to combine the two is rare. In the 1911 arena, Rich mostly does competition and combat-ready single stacks, with some hi-caps suitable for Limited thrown in.

He does checkering, serrations, non-slip scales and slide and frame sculpting, with an eye toward pushing the boundaries. One detail he is particularly fond and proud of is the squared trigger guard. However, Rich squares the guard to a sharper degree and appearance than the old-style Swenson look.

He has also perfected a look I experimented with when I was working on custom 1911s: the low-profile mag well. In most instances the mag well as it is fabricated is as wide as or wider than the grips. As a result, you end up with a frame that has a ring of steel at the bottom, instead of ending in the wooden grips. Rich sculpts the mag well funnel so its sides are less than that of the grips, and then relieves the grip to ride over the mag well sides. The result is a frame and grips that look proportionate and correct.

As a Grand Master, Rich knows what details matter, and you can count on them being tended to. The frontstrap is lifted and the grip safety has a tight, no-bind grip and clears the trigger early enough that a somewhat sloppy grip won’t preclude a shot. And of course they are utterly reliable and accurate. You don’t make it to GM status running unreliable or inaccurate guns, and having made it, you don’t do that to your customers.

The other guns Rich works on are the EAA and its clones, and the Springfield XD and XDm. The EAA, basically a CZ-75, still has a following. Much more so overseas, but the grip shape is very nice, and the feel of the grip is enough to lure Limited and some Production shooters away from the 1911 hi-caps and Glocks. The Springfield XD is chosen by some Limited shooters (in .40) and the XDm is poised to be the new big kid on the block in Production. (Due to a puzzling rules interpretation, the XD and XDm are precluded from international Production, so if you plan on going to a World Shoot, you’ll have to pick something else to take.)

Rich can tune up an old or new CZ/EAA, and he can make your XDm a real Production-winning machine. You could, if you wanted, have half your USPSA/IPSC competition battery built by Rich, and on Springfields at that: he could build a Single Stack on a Springfield Armory 1911A1, A Limited/Limited 10 gun on a Springfield hi-cap, and your production gun could be an XDm. If you found an old Springfield P9, you could even have him build it up as an Open gun in 9X21. The only thing left out would be Revolver, and that might be asking too much. (After all, Springfield doesn’t make revolvers.)

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As good as the old-time gunsmiths were, if a time machine ever allowed it, and you dropped one of the above guns down on their bench, they would be green with envy. Which brings us to the question: what is custom? Closely followed by another question: what does custom cost?

Custom is as custom does. If you have a gunsmith install a set of adjustable sights and put some checkering on the frontstrap, that’s a custom gun. As long as he was at least competent, and everything on it is straight and level, you have no need to be hesitant about showing off your custom gun. I think I’d have to draw the line at something so simple as slapping a pair of new grips on your 1911. That just doesn’t rise to the level of “custom gun” even if they are Esmerelda grips or VZ grips.

What can it cost? When you think of custom work, you really have to get your mind into the pattern of “$100 increments.” Checkering? That’ll be at least a couple of hundred, add another hundred if you want a non-standard spacing. Installing sights? Another hundred or two. Frenched borders? There’s another Franklin or two added to the invoice.

Replacement parts add up, as does basic mechanical work like fitting slides and frames and installing barrels. The end result is easily over a grand for a light-custom job, and the limit is met only after all the details have been attended to, which happens at about the $4,000 – $5,000 figure. Of course, for that you have an object of art, a thing of beauty, and a subject of some envy and/or appreciation.

Of course, having done that, you can then completely blow the doors off the downpayment for a house by handing the almost-finished pistol over to an engraver. It doesn’t take much to add our previous maximum again, in getting the perfect finish all “scratched up.”

Oh, and forward cocking serrations? That is like arguing religion. Some like them, some love them, some hate them, and some don’t care and don’t want to get sucked into yet another argument over them. But for god’s sake, if you do have to have them, at least get them matching the rear serrations, in pitch, angle, shape and depth. Nothing looks cheesier than straight up and down fronts and angled rears.

This article is an excerpt from 1911: The First 100 Years. To get your copy, click here.


Recommended 1911 Resources

1911: The First 100 Years

Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World

1911 Series Disassembly-Reassembly DVD

Gun Digest 2011

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