The extractor is a critical part of 1911 reliability.  The 1911 extractor is a brilliant John Browning design-it is easy to user adjust and maintain, it provides its own tension and can be tuned to compensate for varying tolerances of different firearms.  The main downside to the 1911 extractor is that it often requires fitting or adjustment adjustment for perfect function.

The sole function of the extractor is to remove an empty case from the chamber during the firing cycle and hold it in position for the ejector to strike the case head and deflect the empty out of the ejection port to make way for a fresh round.  This sounds simple but the shape and spring tension of the extractor influences the entire firing stroke-too much extractor tension can cause failures to feed; too little can cause failures to extract.

  • If you have failures of an empty case to extract, you may need to adjust or replace your extractor
  • If you have failures to eject an empty on the last round, you may need to adjust or replace your extractor
  • If you have erratic ejection of fired cases, you may need to adjust your extractor or try an oversize firing pin stop that prevents excessive extractor movement in its tunnel
  • If you have failures to chamber, you may have too much extractor tension
  • A good live fire extractor test is to fire your 1911 with the magazine removed a minimum of 5 times-if the empty consistently ejects each time without a magazine in place, you likely have sufficient tension on your extractor

1. Correct Tension
With the slide taken off the frame and with the barrel removed, slip the rim of a LOADED cartridge under the extractor hook and position it so that the extractor is gripping the case at the center line, as shown in fig 1a and 1b. -to verify this use the barrel as a guide and move it into battery over the round. You should now be able to lightly shake the slide in any direction, without the cartridge falling off. The nose of the bullet should dip slightly.  When using an empty case to verify extractor tension, the case mouth should sit straight at 90 degrees to the breechface. If this test is unsuccessful, you will need to adjust the tension.

For tension adjustment, place aprox. 1/2″ of the tip of the extractor into the extractor channel and apply just enough pressure to slightly bend the extractor. Be careful, a little goes a long way! See figure 1c.

Do not put more tension than needed to perform this simple test – too much tension will result in feeding malfunctions whereas too little tension can cause failure to extract and/or erratic ejection.

2. Positioning of the Extractor
The locator pad (the radiused lug behind the extractor groove) determines at what point the bottom of the extractor groove contacts the rim of the cartridge and puts tension on it.
Slide the rim of an EMPTY case under the extractor hook and position the case so that the extractor hook grips it at the center line-again, use the barrel to verify that the case is in the proper location. Now pull the case downwards approx. .075 – .1000″; there should still be tension, enough to keep the empty case in position even when the slide is lightly shaken. The same test performed with a loaded round should result in the cartridge falling off. This equals roughly to 1-1.5 lbs tension on the case.

If you have correct tension on the case when it is centered on the breechface, as described in (1) above and little to no tension at all, with the case being pulled down approx. .075 – .100″, you need to bring the extractor groove closer to the firing pin hole.
This is done by removing a small amount of material at a time from the locator pad, while maintaining the radius. Constantly check for correct tension, so that you don’t take too much material off. See sketch below.

3. Fitting the Firing Pin Stop
The fit of the Firing Pin Stop to the groove at the rear of the extractor is crucial to the correct extractor positioning. If there is a loose fit, then the extractor will move or twist, causing inconsistent ejection.

With the extractor installed, the firing pin stop should slide into position using normal finger pressure. If the firing stop binds (when installing a new extractor), you will have to reduce the width of the firing pin stop, by removing material from its right side, where it contacts the extractor.

Remove only a few thousandths of an inch at a time, while being careful to keep the right side parallel to the left side. When correctly installed, the firing pin stop will fit snugly into place, which prevents the extractor from twisting.