Given the heritage of the Colt Commander, it came
as no surprise when master pistolsmith C.T. "(Tim)"
Brian of Colorado selected a Series 70 steel gun to showcase his
remarkable talents for AMERICAN HANDGUNNER. Tim is nothing if
not a traditionalist, and his selection of this classic fighting
pistol is in keeping with his specialty of flawless custom carry
charter member of AMERICAN HANDGUNNER'S elite Club
100, the nations top 100 pistolsmiths, Tim has been plying his
trade since the early 80's. I first met the easy-going gunsmith
in 1986 at the IPSC Nationals where he showed me a gorgeous
set built on a Colt Government Model with three different slides
in .38 Super, 9mm and .45 ACP, which, incidentally, were the original
calibers of the Commander.
nodded sagely as I examined the workmanship. The
guns were perfect. In another ten years, I thought, this kid might
be ready for a feature story in AMERICAN HANDGUNNER. There is,
after all, such a thing as paying your dues.
later, Tim has paid them. With interest.
Brian Commander is a stunning
example of a true handmade
custom Colt. From the subtle
refinement of a French border
along the slide to the custom welded mag funnel, the craftsmanship
of this pistol is as good as it gets. In fact, it rates the highest
accolade I can pay to a pistolsmith's work.
a true 'one man' shop. Each and every gun
for each and every client is painstakingly hand-built by Tim Brian
himself. "Just between you and me," Tim confided, "I
don't think there can be such a thing as a 'production custom.'
A custom gun should be made to a person's individual demands,
needs and tastes. I don't think you can have a true custom unless
it's made one at a time, just for the client."
Tim's attention to detail are everywhere
on his guns, but the best place to look for evidence of quality
is where the rubber meets the road: the checkering. Tim hand-cuts
all of his checkering, eschewing the mill-cut checkering that
has become all too standard in the profession in the last few
years. So a checkering file ruins your arms? So your elbow creaks
in the winter and your tendons pop loudly in your hands when you
squeeze them? Clients pay for handmade work, they get handmade
if there's one thing in custom pistolsmithing
that separates the man from the boys, it's metal checkering,"
Tim observed. "'most of the checkering you see these days
is either machine cut or machine stamped."
this shop. The checkering from this
shop is completely hand-cut. Sharp, deep and flawless. The old
way. "No crosscuts or overruns,"
Tim snorted, his contempt for mass production methods obvious.
checkering is cut at 30 lines per
inch while the rear of the slide is cut at a fine 40 lines per
inch. The top of the slide is serrated at 40 lines per inch, also.
There are, in fact, no overruns, no crosscuts and no flaws.
housing is a work of art unto itself.
Tim starts with an arched unit and blends it to the frame by filing
it to match. The result is a "sunken" mainspring housing
that literally feels like the gun was left in the sun too long
and it melted into the frame. After fitting the mainspring housing,
Tim then removes it and hand-checkers it at 30 lines per inch.
cottage industry has sprung up around the 1911
pistol. The latest Brownell's catalog of gunsmithing supplies
contains no less than 45 pages (ironic, eh?) of 1911 goodies.
There are two full pages of nothing but thumb safeties, literally
dozens of different barrels. Pages of extractors, parcels of
palettes of pins. For chrissakes, there's an entire page of nothing
but guide rods!
of parts has made for a new genre of
"'gunsmith": the parts changer. Here you go pal, your
very own one-of-a-kind custom creation made entirely of pre-fit,
prepped, drop in parts. "It seemed like all the pistolsmiths
were getting into parts manufacturing. I decided to stay with
building guns. I figured there would be enough quality parts out
there, so I thought I'd just buy the best
of them, and
modify them as I need to," Tim said.
parts, that's the key difference. Tim
doesn't just slap in a Brown thumb safety and call it done. To
his discerning eye, parts are like Goldilock's porridge. Some
are a little too big, some are a little too small, but hardly
any are just right. His treatment of the mainspring housing is
a case in point, as is his thumb safety. "The Brown tactical
safety is just a tad too narrow, but his over-size competition
model is way too big," Tim explained. "'So I just take
an oversize safety and file it down to where I want it. At the
same time, he gently rounds the edges of the safety for smooth,
thumb-friendly operation. It's the upstroke of flicking the safety
on that can abrade a raw spot on your thumb if the underside edge
isn't broken with a file. Tim takes care of that.
the frame and welds on a mag
but that's not the end of it. He reshapes the funnel by hand,
with a file, until the O.D. is no wider than the frame itself,
but the I.D. is dramatically bigger than any bevel job can provide.
A nice touch is the way he inlets a pair of Hogue grips around
the mag funnel.
protruding tip of the slide stop pin is
flattened and recessed into a custom chamfered hole. Is there
much chance of pressing the slide stop out accidentally during
a gunfight? No. Does Tim Brian pay such close attention to
in a combat pistol that he covers even the most remote possibility
of failure? Yes.
is fitted with Kreiger Acc-U-Rails
to maintain a dead-nuts slide to frame fit. Acc-U-Rails are
machined steel rods that form the bearing surface where the slide
reciprocates on the frame instead of wallowing back and forth.
bat - the leadoff hitter's notoriously
well-worn stick - couldn't have fit his hands any better than
a Brian Custom. Ergonomics is the hot buzzword for pistols today,
but Tim has been filing and radiusing long before Smith &
Wesson programmed a computerized human hand into the Sigma's grip
can't quite put my hand on what makes Tim's Commander
feel so... so familiar. Taking a firing grip on the gun in a Wilson
Tigershark holster -- neat holster, by the way -- I was really
impressed by just how smooth and comfortable the gun felt. As Johnny
Cochran might say, "It do fit."
that feel comes from the squared
welded up and then carefully machined and hand checkered at 30
lines per inch. For those who shoot with a finger-forward grip
for increased leverage to pull the muzzle down from recoil, the
squared trigger guard is a tremendous help. Of course the fine
30 line per inch checkering contributes to the soapbar feel of
the pistol, too. Course enough to grip yet not so sharp as 20
line per inch, the front strap's checkering allows a smooth yet
solid purchase on the weapon. The custom fitted Brown beavertail
contributes to the handling too. Never one to simply drop in a
part, Tim filed and reworked the beavertail to give an even higher
carbon steel Combat Commander lies more
evidence of Brian's subtle refinements. A lowered and flared
port is standard fare, but notice how Tim comes in with an 1/8th"
mill cutter and squares up the front left corner. Attention to
of the ejector is carefully profiled to
fling empty cases away from the shooter. ""You can tune
an ejector to throw the empties in a five gallon bucket if you
want. I like to set it up to throw them straight out to the side
or even a little in front," Tim said. Sure enough, the cases
landed in a tidy pile just slightly in front and four feet to
the right. The extractor is also tuned with the hook cut and nose
profiled to take a solid bite on the case for 100 percent
and hammer are from McCormick. Tim fitted
hammer for maximum safety with full
engagement of the sear. The pull is a consistent 4.25 lb.. On
a Brownell's trigger pull gauge. Crisp and smooth with no backlash,
this is the perfect pull
for a carry gun.
sight is a serrated ramp with a Tritium
dot to mate with the Tritium bars in the Bo-Mar BMCS rear sight
blade. As Massad Ayoob so aptly phrased it, tritium night sights
show up like landing lights on a runway. Every carry gun should
have them now that they're more widely available and not
expensive like they were only a few years ago.
was genuinely impressed with Tim Brian's workmanship,
which can only be described as Master Grade. The blue job alone
represents several tedious man-hours of hand polishing. "'No
power buffing equipment is used. This is the only way to keep
lettering sharp and crisp. The end result is a deep, dark, rich
blue that is well worth the extra effort", Tim explained.
who specialize in the 1911 are
governed by a cookie cutter mentality. Spit "em out as fast
as possible, one just like the next. To facilitate this assembly
line process, the pistolsmiths want you to order a Limited Deluxe,
Carry Custom, Executive Elite or some such "package"
from their catalog. Occasionally you're allowed
a tiny decision - flat or arched, Novak or Bo-Mar. But for the
most part, you take the 'package" as is. Get this: Brian
doesn't even list any "packages" in his catalog, not
even a basic "'Street tune!" There is only a list of
work performed, with parts and labor included. You, the client,
are to choose exactly
what you want on your Brian Custom
are more than reasonable, considering
the quality. A 25% deposit is required at the time an order is
placed, with the balance due upon completion, which is not long
by most shops standards.
11 years to earn a
perfectly all right.
Quality evolves over time.