Tour of STI whets appetite for new 1911 pistol
Craftsmen at STI International in Georgetown take great care in their efforts to create quality firearms.
By Robert C. McDonald
Wilson County News
Several months ago, a good friend of mine and I spent the early hours of our Saturday at the gun club for a bit of target shooting. He owns a polymer-framed semi-automatic pistol, as well as a 2-inch revolver, but it was the glimmer and mystique of my venerable 1911 that attracted much of his attention throughout the morning.
I offered the large-framed pistol chambered in .45 ACP, along with a full magazine, to him more than once, but he repeatedly declined.
“No, that’s OK. I’m good,” he would say, though his facial expression told a different story.
As our range session wound to a close, his interest in the weapon remained evident, and I all but forced the pistol into his hands. It was clear he wanted to send some lead downrange, even if he wasn’t going to say so.
For those of you who own or have ever fired a 1911 pistol, you know exactly what it feels like. It’s not lightweight, made of “plastic,” or meant to be anything other than a working tool. It’s a large, heavy gun, designed more than 100 years ago by the great John Moses Browning, and it’s a true work of art.
After our day on the range, my friend’s interest in 1911s grew, and he eventually decided that he wanted to purchase one of his own. He began his research by “surfing the Web,” and I regularly received emails with links to various 1911 pistols, and quick comments like “How about this one?”
While it was Colt that first introduced the pistol in the early 1900s, it received its “1911” designation by way of its adoption in March 1911 by the U.S. Army (M1911). Since that time, the pistol has been reproduced by a seemingly endless number of companies. Trying to decide which one to purchase can easily become a difficult task.
As he sent me emails, I began to notice a trend. He was clearly focused on the “less expensive” brands, and I felt the need to talk to him about this. Having purchased some of these “less expensive” brands myself in the past, I didn’t want to see him make the same mistakes I had.
Rather than just saying “no,” however, I took the time to explain why I felt as I did, and offered alternative brands and solutions, knowing he wasn’t planning to drop $3,000 on his first 1911 pistol.
Among the options I presented to him were the 1911 offerings from STI (STI International Inc.). The company is widely viewed as one of the world’s premier 1911 pistol makers, and is located right here in Texas. He liked the idea of buying a pistol built in Texas, and began looking further into the company. He eventually established a connection at STI, and then shocked me a bit with news that he had arranged a tour of the Georgetown facility.
Handled with care
When we first arrived at STI, we were warmly greeted and our contact was called into the office. He was a nice young man named Bobby, and it was clear that he enjoyed working for the company. I’m not really sure what Bobby does at STI, but he is one heck of a good tour guide, and knew pretty much everything about the manufacturing process. He certainly answered all the questions we came up with.
Our first stop on the tour was in the room where STI’s magazines are made. Surprisingly, STI doesn’t make its own magazines for its single-stack 1911s, just the double-stacked magazines for its “2011s.” What are 2011s? I’m glad you asked, but we’ll get to those in a bit.
There were just five men diligently working in this room, and they quickly went from stamping out the two halves of a magazine to welding, buffing, assembling, and testing each and every unit.
From there, Bobby took us into the shop where the actual pistols were being assembled. Everything from the company’s basic 5-inch Government-frame 1911s to its double-stack, competition-ready 2011s costing more than $3,000 was being assembled right there -- each being handled with the same care and attention to detail as the last.
We watched as slides were hand-fitted to their frames, and were even able to handle a few of them. The extra work was quite evident in doing so. While the slide would glide from front to rear with the ease of a hot knife through butter, it had absolutely no play up or down, or from side to side. It brought an immediate smile to our faces.
The frame and slide of each pistol then move to a station where barrels are made to fit. Like the slides, each barrel is hand-fitted, matching it to the slide that was now perfectly matched to the frame.
The pistols continue to move throughout the shop floor, stopping at various points to have additional pieces added to the gun. The highly skilled employee-owners of STI meticulously installed barrel rings, trigger groups, hammers, and all the other parts that make a pistol work. I must admit I lost track of where every little step took place, but one thing was clear -- these guns were being put together with the utmost of care. Each gun was handled one at a time, and each remained wrapped in a cloth and in its own box when not in the hands of the craftsmen and women. There was no sense of “mass production” or urgency in this assembly process.
When each pistol reaches the end of the line, it is given another inspection, and undergoes a test-fire session. From there, the pistol is cleaned, packaged, and shipped off to fill orders all across the globe. STI is considered a semi-custom manufacturer, and “custom” is a seemingly appropriate label for its product.
Like kids on Christmas
After wrapping up our tour of the factory, Bobby led us back to the main office, and into a room just off the lobby. There wasn’t much in there, just a round table, a television on the wall, some publicity posters, and a large safe tucked in the corner. Bobby made his way to the safe, punched in a code, and slowly swung the door open. He stepped back, and our eyes lit up as though we were children on Christmas morning. I thought I even heard angels singing at one point, but I could have been mistaken.
The safe was absolutely filled with pistols, offering an example of what appeared to be every firearm the company makes. We were told to handle them all we wanted, and to say we soon lost track of time would be a colossal understatement.
In addition to offering a variety of 1911-style pistols in a multitude of barrel lengths and configurations, STI is also an innovator in the firearms industry, and has created a modern version of the 1911 that was quickly coined the “2011.” STI’s 2011 pistols provide shooters with a double-stacked high-capacity magazine option, something generally not found in a 1911 platform. These pistols have built a solid reputation in the world of competition shooting, and can be “tricked out” with everything from compensators to holographic sights.
Acting on ideas
When we were just about done with our visit, Tim Dillon, the president and CEO of STI, dropped in. He was kind enough to spend a little time with us, and showed us some of his favorite pistols. He even retrieved a pistol from his office that he had been modifying and experimenting with. It was great to see how these folks come up with some of their ideas, and how the desire for improved functionality often spurs new innovations. It was a great trip and truly memorable experience.
In a time where so many of the products we buy are mass-produced, it was refreshing to visit a company that takes such care with the manufacturing of its products. My friend is now set on buying an STI, and I must admit, they just got moved to the top of my wish list, too.
For more information about STI International, visit www.stiguns.com or talk to one of the company’s authorized dealers.