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Hand Checkering: A Story

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ser2711
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Post by Chase Turner 3/22/2024, 6:47 pm

I don't pretend that what you are about to see is work you should pay for, but I hand checkered my 1911 (that I legged out with) from Jimmy Glenn. Jimmy was kind enough to let me borrow a checkering file (and he even gifted me one!) and Power Custom jig to get my lines started straight and true. I went with 30 LPI because... that's what I like. You owe it to yourself to try out as many checkering LPIs/widths that you can get your hands on. I've got a custom 1911 from one of the great makers here that I don't shoot because it is 20 LPI; and when I say, "get your hands on," I mean shoot an 1800 with that particular choice. It will help you figure out quickly if that is what is right for you for the CF/45 portion of the match (we mostly shoot 2700s where I am from, so perhaps this isn't quite the consideration for you that shoot a true 1800 as it is for me).

Still can't believe I spent well north of 4K for a pistol which came with a bum extractor; but even worse was following that gunsmiths advice and going with 20 LPI checkering. Of course, you expect a gun to come with a functioning extractor; but once you sign and say, "yes, I want 20 LPI," well, that was all me. I learned a lot of lessons from that transaction, but the biggest one was that I needed to do a lot more homework about a lot more things.

Anyway.

I screwed up a great deal by not having a solid game plan on how I wanted to tackle the "undercut" region. I knew that I wanted some sort of transition between the traditional "checkering area" and the transition to the "undercut" region. I looked at a lot of pictures online of 1911s; so much so I am probably on some list somewhere. I examined my own pistols, trying to suss out what I really liked, what I didn't like, and what I'd be willing to try.  

I tried a couple (2) different files and approaches for the transition. Neither of them worked; and by worked, I mean feel right. I got forced into cutting and filing a lot of work away- which was for the best, both comfort and looks wise. My only lesson from this particular endeavor was that you need to handle a lot of pistols to know what you really want. I don't have that luxury; I have to take my chances when I can, look around online, get drunk and dream, etc. 

This didn't quite turn out in the way I had originally intended, and because of the difficulties I experienced, I ended up with something that certainly would not be something you'd accept from someone after having parted with your money. However, I mostly recovered with the material that I had, and only have some slight issues in terms of errors that are immediately obvious. For a first time- I'll take it.

Lastly, one of my AMU buddies was telling me about taking a pistol and bluing it after parkerizing it. Jimmy helped to make that happen, and I thank him for it. It's probably hard to tell in the photo, but in this case, the frame has more of a rust blued look to it than the slide, but it is still pretty dope.

Remember- this was done by hand, is a first time attempt, and making errors along the way.

Thanks,
Chase

Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2093

My first thought was just cutting one way. Which I tried, and it just didn't feel right. It may feel right for you.

Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2092

Don't have a good photo of the interim, but here I had tried to use a rat file to make a bold concave cut above the checkering. It did not work.

After that defeat, I tried going up to the trigger guard (and not attempting any undercut) with the same lines from the first idea, and it didn't make the grip any better. I abandoned this approach, both from an aesthetics and feel POV.

Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2094

I filed out the lines, and began my undercut. I became worried that my undercut might make a hole in the frame; that was irrational, as I'm sure it could have been welded up, but in the heat of it, I decided to "do no harm." Still, I mostly cleaned up my boo-boos, and got a relatively good undercut.

Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2095

Please note that this is the undercut finished. It also is the best photo I can show that represents the "blue on parkerized" finish, which I think is wonderful.

Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2097
Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2098
Hand Checkering: A Story Pxl_2096

You can see how I left the one line above the checkering in the undercut. It's a reminder that I need to plan better in the future, and is intentionally left on the pistol.

Thanks to Jimmy for helping out with this project!

Chase Turner

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Post by Dan Webb 3/22/2024, 10:23 pm

Hell of a  job! I'd bet that next one or the one after will be PERFECT. It's really disappointing to pay the big bucks to get something perfect, but it's not even close. You made lemonade out of a poor craftsman's lemons. Good on you!

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Post by troystaten 3/23/2024, 12:29 am

I am a half way decent woodworker but metal work like that scares me, not being able to fixing my mistakes would give me a stroke. Nice job, I agree about too course checkering I have handled a few custom pistols with course checkering on the front strap and did not like the feel.  Thanks for showing us.

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Post by javaduke 3/23/2024, 1:00 am

Chase, this looks pretty good! I tried hand checkering myself, but quickly realized that it requires a lot of talent which I don't have, so I only do good old stippling, Bob Chow style Smile  I might try some machine checkering, but it requires some pretty sophisticated filtering and tooling.

Last year at Perry I handled Lisa Emmert's custom Rock River, both front and back straps had 15 LPI checkering...

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Post by Brassburnz 3/25/2024, 3:18 am

Difficult to see the fine details. Looks pretty good. I've checkered four or five frames of my own. 30 lpi and 20 lpi. 30 is easy on your hand and feels great but is a real pain for these old eyes. 20 can tear up your hand but is much easier to execute. If you don't make the points too sharp 20 is pretty comfortable. I'm much more aggressive with the undercut to get a higher grip. Even a few millimeters can make a huge difference. 

I've checkered Colt, Springfield Armory, and Armscorp frames. The Armscorp was the easiest to work with because the metal is softer than Colt and Springfield Armory. The Colt frame was the most difficult but the results were nicer. Springfield Armory is a little softer than the Colt but harder than the Armscorp.
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Post by ser2711 3/25/2024, 4:17 am

If it's not just for aesthetics it is much more practical, faster and economical to attach the 1911 CHECKERED WILSON COMBAT BLUED FRONT STRAP

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Post by MarkThomas 3/25/2024, 11:44 am

When I first started reading I thought you were working on the wood grips, and was mildly interested.  Then I see you are doing metal work, and am much more interested (my childhood gave me a bad taste for sawdust - long story).  I think the finished product looks pretty good for a first go-around.  

I took 4 years out of the middle of a technical / software career to become (barely) a journeyman manual mill man because I loved shiny metal parts.  Doing that learned that the better you are, the better you are at correcting your mistakes, like making a drilled hole for a press fit pin smaller if you accidently drilled it a slip fit.  That one is a bit of a secret.  Practice makes perfecter...  I'm curious about the jig you mentioned to get the lines straight, mainly how much metal does the jig remove, and how much metal do you remove with a file.  Can you put up a pic of the jig?  I'm just curious.  I do all my projects at home with hand tools since I don't have a mill and a lathe in my garage like some friends.  One can put out some pretty amazing parts with just a file and a Dremel and a hack saw.

I could go search the interweb for the jig, but since AI has been heavily used recently in the search algorithms most of comes back from a search is useless.  The problem with all these AI's is they can figure out how to write better sentences than most people by example, but they never ever know if what they are telling you is correct information or incorrect information.  The algorithms are trained on everything they could find on the interweb, and as we all know, it ain't all so true out there.  The AI doesn't know what's true and what isn't, and the way they work probably never will.  A noted researcher in the field says all the doomsday predictions assume AI will get better.  My researcher says that the results coming out of the AI will be fed back in to what the AI knows, so as time goes on more and more of what is AI generated will just be wrong.  It can write you beautiful sentences but what they say a large fraction of the time now is just plain incorrect and will get worse.  The AI doesn't know what it doesn't know.  It just computes the statistically best response from what it knows, and what it knows will get more and more wrong when it starts believing it's own results.  AI chat bots are like talking to a compulsive liar.  The AI speaks truth and lies equally and doesn't know the difference.  

OOPs.  Sorry.  I wandered off topic, as I am wont to do.

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Post by Chase Turner 3/25/2024, 2:19 pm

Mark- the jig doesn't remove any metal. The file does all the work. The jig can be located on the Power Custom website. PC also has a video available on YouTube, video below.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVHfABY8ecU

Thanks,
Chase

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Post by MarkThomas 3/25/2024, 3:22 pm

Chase,
So you scribe one line, move the guide whatever amount you like, scribe another line...   and then go after those scribed lines one at a time with a file?  That sounds craftsman stuff.  Or do you file more than one line at a time with a special file?  I'm ignorant here.  Looks like a lot of sharp grooves close together.??

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Post by Chase Turner 3/25/2024, 6:13 pm

Mark,

Here is a good video showing what a checkering file looks like, and it's use in knifemaking. Basically, the file is made to have many lines per inch next to each other on the file itself; you cut many lines at once (and that number is dependent on the LPI). Once you've gotten a good start, you simply shift the file over a few lines (say half in already cut lines, and the other half of the file on bare metal) and work on deepening the lines you've cut while starting the new lines. 

The jig is really just to get you started. Once I had my master/first lines done (don't think it matters whether you do horizontal or vertical first), I took the jig off and completed one direction. Once that direction was complete, put the jig back on and go the other direction.

I chased everything with a riffler when I was at the end. How do you know you are at the end? The file doesn't have the same sound, and there is very little resistance; the depth gage is basically however deep the teeth of the file are.

Hope that helps.
Chase

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Post by MarkThomas 3/25/2024, 9:41 pm

Chase,
Yes, that helps a lot.  Thanks.  I get the idea, although I think you forgot to attach the video.  Not that I have ever done that.  

You did a nice job cleaning up the undercut.  Good work!  It's a brave person who takes a file or cutter to gunmetal.  lol  I'm working up the courage to touch a wood rasp to the grip of the new Steyr EVO 10 I got in January.  There is already a small depression in the wood for a right handed ring finger, but the silver ring I wear is a little thicker, and I can feel it making the shiny spot on the wood that would be easy to hit with a file.  Now I just have to work up the courage.  Or not wear the ring, which I don't want to do.

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Post by jglenn21 3/26/2024, 6:42 am

Video is in Chase's last post, 1st line,
 Word  video in red
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Post by MarkThomas 3/26/2024, 1:12 pm

Oh, ok, thanks Jimmy G.  I don't see the link unless I hover over it.  

Cool file.  The video opened in an Amazon window I guess because Amazon sells them.  $40 for a 6 inch file is pretty pricey in my world.  There must be a better place to get one.

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Post by chiz1180 3/26/2024, 3:43 pm

MarkThomas wrote:Oh, ok, thanks Jimmy G.  I don't see the link unless I hover over it.  

Cool file.  The video opened in an Amazon window I guess because Amazon sells them.  $40 for a 6 inch file is pretty pricey in my world.  There must be a better place to get one.
Actually not too bad compared to brownells

https://www.brownells.com/tools-cleaning/general-gunsmith-tools/files-engraving-tools/metal-checkering-files/
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Post by jglenn21 3/26/2024, 7:09 pm

The checkering files I've used all are Grobet. You can find most of them out on the web at machine sites
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Post by DK 3/27/2024, 8:29 am

Chase, 
Nice job and thanks for showing us the intermediate steps that got you to the finished product.  I’m planning to try my hand at checkering a stainless SA soon so your post is both helpful and timely.

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Post by Chase Turner 3/28/2024, 7:07 am

DK wrote:Chase, 
Nice job and thanks for showing us the intermediate steps that got you to the finished product.  I’m planning to try my hand at checkering a stainless SA soon so your post is both helpful and timely.

Hi DK,

It isn't hard to do- just tedious. Figuring out how you want to handle the transition from front strap to trigger guard is the key to getting a job you are happy with, for the reasons I laid out above.

That said, absolutely make sure that you prep the front strap so that it is even and smooth. High spots will drive you bananas.

There are some YouTube videos that show the process that may help (from prep to finished work)- start with any listed here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hand+checkering+1911

Something a lot of people do, and I did too, to prevent overruns when working vertically is to use a zip tie as a stop between front strap and trigger guard. However, please learn the lesson I did, which was don't use old and thin zip ties that break easily. Lord knows how long I had those in my tool box, and I trashed them since they were surprisingly brittle, but deviously would cinch up and not break in the doing. When mine snapped and I gouged the work, well, I needed to take a moment.

In my case, it made sense to work on the undercut last, as it removed overrun marks; but you will always be better off not making the mistake in the first place. Use fresh zip ties.

Another thing that I found really helpful was using chalk on the file, and using a lot of it. It seemed to keep the cutting action going longer than carding did.

Lastly, if you don't have a handle for your file, I found a prosecco cork to perfectly fit how I best interfaced with the file and the work. YMMV.

Take your time. It really is a zen activity.

-Chase

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Post by MarkThomas 3/28/2024, 11:35 am

As Chase said NEVER use a file without a handle!  Ever.

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