Saturday, 2 May 2015

Hi Maintenance

I recently bought myself another gas blowback pistol. It's not like I actually needed one, but I saw this one on a local airsoft marketplace on Facebook and just decided to have it.

There she is, a WE Hi Capa 5.1. The picture is after I did some work on her, all of which is detailed below. But first, some background.

I've never really been into 1911s, I know some people swear by them both in the real steel world as well as in airsoft. Personally, the Hi Capa looks visually a lot more pleasing than the original 1911 design. Especially the models like this one with the sharp angle on the trigger guard. Interesting how such a small thing can make a big difference. Still, I wasn't really in the market for a new pistol, but when this particular one floated by me in the marketplace, something about it caught my eye. Since the price for the gun and one functioning magazine fit my wallet nicely, I decided to go for it.

The seller was from another city, but he was kind enough to send me extra photos of the externals. A few scratches, nothing major. He did say that it had been used for couple of years, but that it worked ok, and that the right hand safety was a bit loose but didn't really affect use. I didn't enquire any further, and we agreed on the deal. He mailed me the gun the very same day, which I was very happy for. Caveat emptor, though, it seems. While the gun did function, yes, and the safety was loose, sure, what I wasn't told was that there were a few more shortcomings.

After receiving the gun I naturally filled the magazine with gas and fired off about twenty or so BBs. Every round cycled and the gun had a very nice kick to it. One of the first thing I noticed handling the gun, though, was the way it rattled. Several parts seemed to have rather large clearances. I couldn't tell if this was by design or from wear.

Just gently twisting the slide from side to side produced a rather noticeable gap between the frame and slide. Another thing I noticed was that the slide stop was incredibly loose. The pin would move from side to side several millimetres just by turning the gun sideways.

It was obvious the gun had seen better days, and as I test fired it some more, I came to notice that the the slide stop barely functioned. The slide would lock back about one time out of three or so on an empty magazine.

When it did work, the slide stop only barely caught the edge of the cutout, and the wobble of the frame allowed it to slip out rather easily. There was also some gooey residue on the slide stop and frame, which I assume is from some haphazard tape related attempt at fixing the slide stop on the previous owner's part.

The safeties didn't fare too well either. The grip safety was completely non-functional, so you could discharge the weapon without depressing it at all. The thumb safety had no resistance to it, and would at times engage by mistake.

As the seller had mentioned, the right hand side thumb safety was extremely loose, and it did indeed have several millimetres of upward travel before the left side safety would move at all.

The obvious next move was to take the gun apart. I had to go online to see how that is done on a 1911. If you're curious regarding that as well, it's done by moving the slide back enough so that the smaller cutout (see image above) on the slide meets with the tallest part of the slide stop. At that point a small tab on the inside of the slide stop is no longer stopped by the slide. When I did this on my pistol, the slide stop would simply fall out if the gun was held sideways. With the slide stop out, the slide is free to move forward and be removed.

Not being familiar with 1911s, I didn't even realize everything that was wrong at this point. If you know your 1911s, you might have already figured out a couple more things which I didn't know of.

Looking at the slide stop and the cutout on the slide in detail, it was obvious they had severely worn down and created a slanted contact surface, so that the force of the recoil spring slamming the slide forward would push the slide stop out and down, and it would simply slip off the edge of the cutout. It certainly didn't help that the slide stop was so incredibly loose.

I figured that it had simply worn down as everything else seemed to have on this gun. I decided to fix this with a bit of super glue and material from a beer can, so that the pin on the stop would have a tighter fit and the end of the stop would ever so slightly turn inwards, towards the gun.

I started off with some brake cleaner to get rid of all lubricants and other contaminants both on the pin and the strips of can I'd cut into size. Then I pre-twisted the can strips around a small screwdriver so that they'd hug the surface better (after I'd taken this photo where the upper strip doesn't attach properly). A toothpick was a very handy tool when applying the glue onto the pin, and a pair of tweezers helped get the strips in place. This was the first, but nowhere near the last time when my scale modelling experience and tools came in handy with this particular gun.

Once the glue had set, I filed the edges of the can strips down so that they were flush with the pin surface. The side wall of the can was only 0.10 millimetres thick (I callipered it, that's just who I am), but we are talking very small clearances here. After that it was mostly just testing, filing, testing, filing, testing and filing some more, until I found the perfect fit. It couldn't be too snug, or the magazine follower would not move it, and not too loose, or it would not sit properly in place.

Speaking of magazine followers, I thought to aid things further by stretching out the follower spring, thus giving some extra oomph to the follower and achieving a more positive lock on the slide. As things stood at this point, the magazine follower would not even lift the slide stop up all the way.

Taking the follower and spring out was rather easy. You just need to push out and then pull off the pin near the top, take off the feed ramp, and make sure to hold onto the follower, lest it fly off with the spring. Once out, it's rather straightforward just to stretch the spring a bit an put it back in. I, however, decided to go one further.

A bit more superglue and can bits were in order. I cut off a very thin strip and, with some tweezers, bent it over itself a couple of times to produce an extension to the magazine follower. With the strip bent, I cut the extra bit off and attached the extension into place with a rather hefty load of glue.

After this, I put the magazine together to see how things had improved. As an afterthought hours later I realized I should have put the strip on sideways and used the extra bit of the strip to attach it to the side of the follower for an even more secure fit. Then again, this is not exactly a part that's under high tension.

Even after this fairly remarkable improvement, the slide still would not lock back every single time I racked it with an empty magazine in the gun. I thought now would be a perfect time for some metalworking.

As I'd mentioned before, both the slide stop and the cutout on the slide had worn down rather lot. I figured straightening out the slant on both would not only ensure the slide stop didn't want to get pushed outwards any more, but that there would be even more space for the stop to jump up because of the increased clearances.

I taped off the slide a bit to make sure I didn't scratch it with the rotary tool I used (after I'd scratched it the first time, of course). A small grinding head, steady hands, and a lot of patience, and I finally managed to remove the slant from the slide and change the angle of the end of the cutout to also be a bit more vertical. Then, with a small hand file, I evened out the end of the slide stop to remove the slant from it as well and make it fit the cutout.

I think I made a pretty good job at mating the surfaces. The slide stop issue was now mostly resolved. It would still occasionally, when inserting a magazine, pop outwards a bit, so that the follower was no longer touching it. I decided to move onto the thumb safety, however.

With the slide off the frame, the safety lever would rise up a bit higher, and I could then just pull the two pieces apart. The safety levers were linked by a triangular head and slot, and the wobbling was due to the pieces having worn down. As before, I reached for the beer can, cut off a strip and set off to glue my fingers to the workpiece.

With the strip in place it was again time to simply file it down until the fit was snug. When I was happy with the fit on the outside of the gun, I went to reinstall it. And that's when a strange, small, oblong piece fell out. Luckily I noticed where it came, a small opening parallel to the frame above the grip.

After some head scratching and online searches, I came to the conclusion that it is something called a slide stop plunger. The things that typically hang out with it, the spring and a thumb safety plunger, were nowhere to be seen. This was pretty much the moment the penny finally dropped.

The reason the slide stop and the safety were so loose was because they were supposed to be held in place by spring loaded pieces. I guess the safety plunger and spring had gone flying when the previous owner took the safety apart, with the slide stop plunger left in place. For a while I tried to think of something to scavenge a spring small enough from, but after opening a couple of pens and such, I came to the conclusion that I simply did not have a spring that small anywhere. Onto plan B, then. After all, I reasoned, it didn't have to be a spring, just springy enough.

Wire. I have loads of different sized wire lying around. It didn't take too long to find the proper size.

After I'd cut the wire to length (with some to spare), I pulled out the copper so I could use the jacketing as a spring. Since the plunger for the other end was missing, I had to improvise. With all the toothpicks I'd used and left lying around, it didn't take long, though.

The wire jacketing was just the right size to fit the end of the plunger and the head of the toothpick in firmly, and fit in the hole in the gun. It's not as good as a proper spring, but once installed, the thumb safety became very crisp and the slide stop would sit in place very tightly. Also, now my gun is partly made of wood, which makes it at least 213% more classy.

One negative side did come with the plungers installation, though. With the safety installed, the slide stop became very tight, since the plunger was pressing against it.

I went to my trusty file again, and smoothed out the end until it was pretty nicely polished and no longer made such heavy contact with the plunger. Some lube here and there, and I had a very positive lock on each and every racking on an empty magazine.

One final thing I just had to take care of, though. The rattling slide. Since I'd already spent so much time and effort, it would have felt stupid to leave the slide-frame connection so loose. Guess which materials I used?

Cut strips, clean with brake cleaner, apply super glue with toothpick, place with tweezers, hope it sticks. I put one strip on the side and one on top, so as to make the slide sit tighter both in the horizontal and vertical planes. Putting the top shim (that's what they basically are) on the bottom of the rail allowed me to seat the slide lower down, which would further help with the slide stop. After installing the shims, I again carefully filed the ends to make them sit more flush with the rail.

The Hi Capa frame has these short rails to connect the slide to the frame (unlike my P226, for example, where the rail is as long as the frame), one pair on top of the trigger, the other one just in front of the hammer. I put shims on the rear rails as well, but soon noticed it was not such a good idea. On the front rails the slide is in constant contact with the shims, but on the rear rails the contact is broken when the slide cycles. The thumb safety cutout got caught at least once on the rear shims when testing, so I removed the shims from the rear completely. The ones on the front seem to do the job very well, though.

After all this, I lubed up all the moving parts, put everything back together, removed the previous owner's gunk from the outside and tried it out.

It. Is. Sweeeeeeeet. Everything works, the gun no longer rattles, I get a slide lock every single time, and all in all it feels so much better than when I got it. It just might be that now that I've put so much love and sweat into this thing, the P226 will have to take a back seat.

One final pic from the mess of a work area that made this happen. I'm thinking of looking into the issue with the grip safety, but that is for another day.


  1. I love the effort and tenacity you put into fine tuning/DIYing these things. keep it up! step, GBBR. heh.

    1. Thanks! I don't want to stop once I get going until everything is perfect. I also fixed the grip safety, but haven't yet written about that.

      The GBBR is still somewhere in the future, sadly. Maybe if I get a broken one dirt cheap, like this mysteriously non-functioning M4 AEG that I just bought. That troubleshooting writeup is coming soon. Sweat, blood, lust for murder - the works.

  2. How did you file the ends of the shims in the rail? Especially the bottom one?