Monday, May 21, 2012

1911 Tokarev Build


When ammo prices doubled and nearly tripled in 5 years, many shooters had to buy less or no ammo.  Even the surplus ammo, which has been sitting in warehouses for decades, rode the wave to ridiculous prices.  One round stayed the same price thru most of this price hike period, the 7.62x25mm Tokarev surplus.  So I stocked up on it as much as I could before the price finally started to climb.

(Click any picture for larger view)

The 7.62×25mm Tokarev cartridge is a bottle-necked pistol cartridge widely used in former Soviet and Soviet satellite states, China and Pakistan among other countries. The cartridge has since been replaced in Russian service by over-pressure versions of the 9×19mm Parabellum. The Tokarev round was used in pistols like the Russian Tokarev TT-33 and all its clones and Czech CZ52. It was also used in submachine guns like the Soviet PPD-40, PPS-41, PPS-43 and the Czech VZ24 and VZ26. The cartridge has an average muzzle velocity of around 442 meters per second (1,450 ft/s), and has about 544 joules (401 ft·lbf) of energy. However, given the wide disparity in ammunition manufactured in many different nations, ammunition will be encountered that yields much higher velocity. Most newly manufactured ammunition intended for commercial use has a higher average velocity of approximately 1,560 feet per second (480 m/s).

Well, since I had so much surplus built up and other ammo was too expensive for joy-plinking all the time, I started wondering if there was a modern weapon of some type that could use Tok ammo.  I did some searching and found almost nothing,  only surplus handguns or rebuilt semi-auto versions of sub-guns.  After more searching in some build forums, I found someone who was making parts to allow someone to build an AR-15 style upper that would shoot Tok ammo from a PPS mag.  Cool idea!  However, I was too late and they didn't have any parts left.  Bummer!  After dropping the whole idea of a modern Tok pistol for a while, I again started to search for an option. This time I found out there was soon to be a 1911 barrel available.  That is a great idea, I thought, so I waited until it became available.  It took a while, since early batches were scooped up by waiting lists of people who must have been thinking the same thing I was. J&G Sales is still, at the time or this writing, offering a "kit" for a Tok 1911 conversion. It includes a 5" or 6" Tok barrel, link, link pin, and bushing/sleeve. There is a ramped and non-ramped version of the barrel, and there are certain frames it will  not work on, but most frames are compatible.


Could I do this build? Well, my first attempt to build a 1911 pistol was done on an Essex Arms frame using a GI surplus parts kit from Sarco, Inc.  It is a great way to build a GI spec pistol for cheap.   If a part gets damaged from incorrect fitting or other mistake, the builder is only out a few bucks.  I enjoyed building my GI spec pistol, and did learn a lot from it.  I used the 2 books from Jerry Kuhnhausen, The Colt .45 automatic: A shop manual ", and The U.S. M1911/M1911A1 Pistols and Commercial M1911 Type Pistols: A Shop Manual (Vol 2).  These book have amazing amounts of info about these pistols and are a must-have for building your own 1911.  I must say that these books suggest that you have a lot of very expensive tools to do everything, but many things can be done carefully by hand with common tools instead, so don't get too intimidated from reading it. After building a great GI surplus in .45ACP, I also built a wide-body 1911 in .45ACP (uses Para-Ordnance magazines), and a wide-body, long-slide 10mm from an STI (polymer) frame. Both of these pistols use more expensive, modern parts and both are fantastic shooters. So, with that background, I hoped to build a 1911 Tok version.

Well, after obtaining a Tok kit from J&G, I needed an upper/slide to put it in. I found that Sarco, Inc. still sells a lot of 1911 parts.  They offer a 9mm/38 super slide with serrations and sights built by Rock Island Armory, who is selling a lot of affordable 1911s on the market right now. In fact, if you buy a Rock Island 1911 in 38 Super, it should be an easy conversion to 7.62x25mm.


The Tok ammo will fit into a 38 super magazine, but just barely, so this slide is perfect. Plus, if I don't like the results, I can still convert it to 9mm or 38 super quite easily.  Some builders suggest that only the mags with flat followers will work correctly.


So, how difficult is the build?  Well, it helped that I decided to take the existing, GI spec lower that I already mentioned and use it for the build.  I didn't want the expense of building another lower quite yet, in case this kit just doesn't work well. I just had to swap out the existing extractor for a 9mm/38s extractor. I also replaced the mainspring with one suggested for 9mm/38s, but I don't know if that is really necessary. Some people doing this conversion have suggested that a 26lb mainspring and 12lb recoil spring are the magic numbers for this caliber.



To complete the upper slide, I had to acquire a 9mm/38s extractor, firing pin (fp), fp spring, & fp stop. These are usually easy to fit. I had to fit the fp stop to the slots in the back of the slide. But that was the only part that needed any alteration.  I used a Colt series 70 compatible fp stop.


I also had to take a little material off the barrel bushing's lugs to get it to slide and turn correctly in the slots at the muzzle end of the slide. This is also not too hard of a job if you go slow and pay attention.  The most difficult part of this build was fitting the barrel to the slide.  There are a lot of areas to pay attention to when fitting a barrel.  I first had to remove metal from the very back of the hood, where it contacts the breach face of the slide  (see example image). It was too long in this area so the barrel would not move into the slide far enough for the upper lugs to engage the slots in the slide.


The barrel came with a link and link pin that worked fine, so I didn't try a bunch of links to see what length works best. I just used the one that came with it. 


After getting the barrel fitted and doing some more tests, I discovered that the pistol cannot be fired when in correct lock-up position (slide forward, barrel locked in place). Testing showed that a few mm of forward movement would allow the hammer to fall, but then the slide was too far forward on the frame and out of position.  I don't know why, but the grooved slot in the bottom of the slide that allows the disconnector to rise enough to allow the pistol to fire, was not quite long enough, or not quite in the correct position when the slide was lined up with frame correctly.  The other slide I had on this frame was in the correct position, so I used it to compare. Then, I used a Dremmel tool to carefully extend the slot a tiny bit at a time until the hammer fell correctly.


Once all the new parts were installed, the pistol function was tested.  The action was very stiff and locked up too hard for easy slide manipulation by hand, but it was at a point where I could test with live rounds and see how it worked.  The pistol fired one or two rounds correctly, but the slide would not always slide forward enough to lock up and allow a follow-up shot.



I had a real issue with this barrel fitting super-tight to the RIA frame.  It was so tight that I was not able to cycle it by hand.  So finally I quit guessing and got out my Kuhnhausen 1911 books and did some research. I decided that the best next step would be to make sure I had the correct barrel link, since this is critical to all link-up issues.  I tried some links that I had on hand, but they were all too long still. So I ordered a set from Brownell's that included a few undersized  links. When they arrived, I tried progressively smaller links until I finally got to a Wilson Combat #1 (.268") link.  With that link in place, it finally cycled normally by hand.

Testing results:
(10/2012) I have now taken this pistol out a few times and put a hundred rounds or so down the barrel.  It shoots really nice and is amazingly accurate.  It does not kick much and feels really solid in hand, like a 1911 should. I am very happy with how it feels and works.  I have not experienced any failures yet, which is really nice as well.  I think the shape of this round insures a lot of feeding reliability.  The only issue I wish I could solve now is that I can only get about 5-6 rounds in the magazine before they start to bind.  I know some people have resorted to seating the bullet a tiny bit further in the case, but I am not really wanting to do that with all the many thousands of rounds that I have.  If I could find a magazine that was even a tiny bit wider than the one I got with my J&G kit, it would probably fix this.  It would not take much, but I doubt one exists. I want to try a few brands and see if any are better. Still, even 5 rounds at a time is a lot of fun, when you consider you are shooting sub-machine gun ammo in a 1911 pistol!  This is a setup that very few people have seen.


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