View Full Version : Metal Checkering Question (Caution-pics)

04-24-2003, 08:22 PM
I used to do this the old fashioned, hard way, with a checkering file, beady eyes and steady hand.
This is the first .45 I ever built, about 15 years (and over 60K rounds)ago, one of the first SS Gold Cups Colt made (ser.#SN004XX). It sure was SCARY taking that first cut. I spent over 40 hours (and wore out 2 checkering files) doing this one, SS is a bitch to checker by hand (as I found out). I had to dull the points a little bit as they would eat you up after a few hundred rounds.
(Sorry for the big pics.)

Now I have a new-fangled milling machine and haven't a clue as to how to do something like this. Anyone care to walk me through it (in generalities), tooling, set-up, etc.?

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Al Messer
04-24-2003, 09:12 PM
You did this by hand??? WOW!! Congratulations!!

04-24-2003, 09:26 PM
Someone on another post mentioned uhmw blocks to cut to hold a 45.

Beautiful job. I still love the govt models. My last was not so fancy. Just bomar sites, pacmar grips, micro bushing, beavertail saftey and microbore barrel. nothing as nice as yours.

Nice work, you did a excellent job, If'n I was going to do it with a mill, it'd have to be a cnc with custom cutters. I don't think endmills will give you these results.

Paul Alciatore
04-24-2003, 10:01 PM
I'm very impressed with your craftmanship. Stainless yet. What are the side grips made from?

You didn't say what kind of mill you have, horizontal or vertical. But, IMHO, to do that kind of work with either kind would take some very special set-ups. Way beyond my experience but I wouldn't mind trying it. Perhaps a mill is not even the best machine for the job. Perhaps a Dremel Tool with special cutters and some kind of fabricated guides? Also, the number of pieces would be a factor. One off - several - hundreds - or????

I've seen some big multi-axis CNC machines that could make fast work of this but the $s would be astronomical.

I know I'n not much help, but I just had to say something about your beautiful work.

Paul Alciatore
04-24-2003, 10:04 PM
Oh, I would love to see a picture of the whole pistol.

04-24-2003, 10:04 PM
You could maybe rough it out on a mill and clean up with a checkering file.Excellent work!

04-24-2003, 11:19 PM

Beautiful work. That retaining pin needs rework though - whadda whacking that for, man - it should come out with a 7.62mm "Pin Tool" (field strip)! http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

That is one of the nicest checkering jobs I have seen on a 1911 for a very long time. I had a Para-Ordinance S&W .40 - they even machine the barrels chamber with CNC, their checkering job sucks.

Keep doing it by hand - I would reather pay for good hand checkering than the CNC jobs I have seen.

Damn, you are good - don't stop now!

P.S. love the "funnel" too!

[This message has been edited by Thrud (edited 04-24-2003).]

04-24-2003, 11:40 PM
There was an article in HSM a few years ago (maybe 10 yrs?) about checkering in the mill.

04-25-2003, 12:08 AM
Want to sell it?

Love your workmanship!!!


04-25-2003, 12:58 AM
Ok here you go. If the radius of the grip is constant i.e. it is an perfect arc, you can set up a rotary table and indicate the center of the radius then dial off center with the table, install a carbide insert cutter with serations (from Brownell's) then dial back in with the same axis until you make contact with the frame then dial the rotary table around untill you complete the first pass. then dial in a little more and do it again. Most good smiths just run straight across the front strap and leave it or for a more custom look finish with a checkering file.
By the way the job you did would fetch about $100 to $200 per side depending on the pitch.
Excelent work I haven't seen better from a custom shop.

04-25-2003, 11:18 AM
All-Thanks for the compliments.

Paul-The grips are the factory 150 yr commemoratives (1886-1986, see the little emblem), they are just a black stained hardwood of some kind, I never found any I liked better, so I never changed them. I just have a verticle end mill, no production work, just for my own personal stuff (I have 5 more 45's and 3 Hi-Powers I'd like to checker). I've done 4-45's over the years. The Hi-Powers are scary because the Ser.#'s are in the center of the frontstrap...one slip and you've screwed up bigtime. I would probably superglue a small pc. of shimstock over the # to help protect it. Here's the whole pistol.........
Thrud--That pin has been in and out a bunch of times over the years, both in the field (cleaning @ pistol matches) and the shop.
What most people don't even notice about this job was one of the hardest parts to do (nicely) is the little frame strips on each side of the mainspring housing. I also took out a bunch of metal at the top of the frontstrap (for a higher grip, factory stock now, but not 15 years ago) and checkered all the way up to the square edge.
This pistol was "state of the art" 15 years ago, 3 lb trigger, would shoot 3" groups at 50 yards (Ransom rested), I learned a lot about .45's building this gun, lots of trial and error. Now the new CNC guns have 1 1/2 lb triggers and shoot 1" groups.
Now you can buy a Kimber with everything done to it for $750-850, just the parts (not counting the gun) in my old gun cost that at the time.

Jerry--Thanks, but I better not. Lot's of good memories in that gun. It gives you that "warm, fuzzy" feeling when you pick it up, it fits so good (got to be a gun nut to understand that one http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif).

Kerry-The hardest part of checkering (for me, anyway) is keeping the layout straight on those first few cuts (both horizontal and vert., to keep the diamonds square) If you get them off, the whole job is crooked. The radius of the frontstrap is NOT constant(on Colt's guns, I think it is done on a belt or drum sander, by hand, seriously). I think I could use the cutter you mentioned JUST to do a shallow cut (both ways) for layout and then finish it all up with files.

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[This message has been edited by Hellbender (edited 04-25-2003).]

[This message has been edited by Hellbender (edited 04-25-2003).]

04-25-2003, 12:02 PM
I've heard that a good machinist can make anything using only a file. Now I'm convinced.


04-25-2003, 12:51 PM
Albert-the only power tools used on that gun was a buffer I made out of an old A/C motor to hold my 6" buffing wheel and a B&D hand drill to polish internal parts. But hours & hours of filing, sanding and polishing.

04-26-2003, 06:04 AM
I never missed the checkering you mentioned, but you did not show the mag release, and I love it too. http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif

Sorry to hear it shoots like a dog though. http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif My .38 super ever shot THAT bad, nor did my Para-Ordinance S&W.40 - for shame! (Just kidding) http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

Michael Az
04-26-2003, 11:12 AM
The first one I did was also stainless and like you found out how tough it was to do. But once you start, you have to finish. I would never do another. Took way too many hours. The one I did do, I went with "raised checkering" Put the checkering down and then removed the metal around it to the root of the checkering. After finding out how much fun this was to do, I made tool and did stripling on the stainless guns from there out. You did a very nice job.

04-26-2003, 07:43 PM
Great work. Like everyone else compliments. To help you ease the pain in the palm of your hand from the file handle you can contact Butterfield and request the following number from there archive files #TD35732. This is a cutter designed for the horizontal mill but will work on the virtical mills with a stub arbour. The last diget (32) I believe is the lines per inch. I use this rotary cutter (about 3" in diameter) for groving the top rib on shotguns as well and a similar cutter with the last didget (20) for metal checkering. The set up with this cutter is quite simple and you can vary your cuts depending on the shape of the item simply by raising and lowering your table. My cutters are about 45 years old now but still working like new.

04-26-2003, 08:42 PM
Well, I know next to nothing about this process, but I do know pretty when I see it. And that's pretty. I also know how tedious filing is. But I'm curious as to how those vertical lines are filed right up to the adjacent surface? For example, on the front of the grip, up to the bottom of the trigger guard?

Awsome is an overused word these days, but..
I'm truly awed!

04-26-2003, 09:06 PM
This is definitely in the very very nice category. GJ!!!

04-26-2003, 10:24 PM

Definitely a beautiful piece of work.

Interesting comment you made about it giving you the "warm, fuzzy" feeling. Got to be a gun nut to understand that.

My godfather is a gun engraver and I have been at his place and watched him carress a Colt single action revolver that he had engraved and could sense that same warm fuzzy feeling from him about that gun. Considering the hours of labor put into such projects I can understand the connection.


04-26-2003, 10:34 PM

Checkering files can only cut so deep. They usually have two cutting rows and the valley between the cutters limit depth. They are used on wood for the stocks as well.

04-26-2003, 10:40 PM
But I don't understand how you cut right up to a stop. Do they cut with a pull stroke?

04-26-2003, 11:48 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by lynnl:
[B] But I'm curious as to how those vertical lines are filed right up to the adjacent surface? For example, on the front of the grip, up to the bottom of the trigger guard?
Lynnl--I have no idea of the "proper" way to do it, but here's how I did it...

I cut a piece of SS shim stock to protect the underside of the trigger guard (cut out a half moon to fit the frontstrap) and taped it in place.

Then use the checkering file normally and let it bump into the shim stock, this only gets the lines up to about 1/8 inch or so (maybe 2-3 lines) of the corner, BUT does give you a long row to the bottom of the grip (for a guide).

Now for the secret. This was a mistake at first, BTW, I broke the tip off one of the long, skinny, pointed single row finishing files, they look just like a triangle needle file, only safe on the top side (they have a curve at the tip, like a riffling file) and ground the tip back on a grinder and actually used it like a scraper to slowly cut each groove (bumping into the protective shim stock).

I've never seen another gun done like this, most do as Micheal Az spoke of and do "raised checkering" in this area, by actually filing this area down to the BOTTOM of the checkering, look at the bottom of my mainspring housing (on the "funnel" part) for an example. It would probably save 6-8 hours of work.

Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could explain an easier way, I 've only checkered four of these guns in my life (hence hoping for the "easier way", before I tackle the next. My eyes aren't as "beady" as they used to be.)

I'll take a pic of my carry gun (Lightweight Officer's ) and post it when I get the time, tomorrow maybe, it has this type of raised checkering in this area and 30 LPI instead of 20 LPI like the Gold Cup.

gunsmith--So you've had the sore palm, too, huh? That cutter sounds like what I'm looking for, but I wonder if they have any smaller diameter, I think about a 1" D would be handier for the little stuff. I'll give them a call. Brownell's may have something, also. Thanks.


[This message has been edited by Hellbender (edited 04-26-2003).]

[This message has been edited by Hellbender (edited 04-27-2003).]

04-27-2003, 07:00 PM
Here's a pic of my carry gun with 30 LPI checkering (The GC above has 20LPI), it is done with the "raised checkering" in the area we were discussing earlier. It's not as pretty as the SS gun, but it has a different purpose. All the sharp edges on this gun have been completely "de-horned", it feels like a slick bar of soap all over (except when you grip it). Nothing sticks or pokes or rubs you when you carry it, even in a swimsuit with Thunderwear http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif It is an alloy frame, only weighs 25 ounces, Novak tritium sights, all the bells and whistles. I built this gun about 8 years ago. Lot's of filing and sanding on this one, too. The frame was hard anodized, so I had to sand off the anodizing before I could work on it.

This is the gun that has the electroless nickle that has discolored from sweat I had posted a question about earlier, it'a a shame, because it's a nice gun under the ugly finish. Someday, I'll send it off to someone who can strip the old nickel, hard anodize the frame and black the top end with one of the new-fangled finishes they have now.

04-28-2003, 09:17 AM
Nice work. Lining up the screw slots (on grip) is a nice touch.

Paul Gauthier
04-28-2003, 06:14 PM
Nice work.

Paul G.

04-28-2003, 06:23 PM
It is the things that you don't notice that you notice that really set off a job like this. The screw slots lined up, the checkering on the sides of the mainspring housing, the way the checkering ends without a border, and probably other things we haven't noticed.
Very nice work. It would be nice to be able to do by machine, but I don't believe you can duplicate that kind of quality.