Custom Shop

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Originally Published in American Handgunner Magazine May/June 1979

Fremont, Nebraska, is a city with approximately 22,000 residents on the banks of the Platte River in the eastern part of the state. Such a setting is in stark contrast to the large urban centers where custom pistolsmiths such as Swenson, Hogue, and Pachmayr practice their craft. In spite of this unlikely setting, I recently discovered a pistolsmith there producing work the equal of such well-known individuals.

Bill Laughridge is a man young in years, but long on experience. He customized his first gun at age ten. When he was 12, he shot his first .45 Auto and a long-lasting fascination with the big auto developed. While still in college and newly-married, he took out a loan on his car so he could own a .45 Auto. Extremely limited funds confined his shooting to ten rounds a week, but he gradually mastered the weapon.

A tour of duty in a Special Forces Reserve Unit provided him with the opportunity to shoot and repair a wide variety of weapons. His formal gunsmithing career started on a part time basis for a local firm. He repaired their customers' guns in exchange for guns and ammunition. When this outfit went out of business, he approached another sporting goods shop in town and started a gun department and repair service that was soon grossing $200,000 a year!

Demands for custom handgun work gradually increased until Bill found himself doing these sorts of modifications to the exclusion of all others. Bill's shop is the equal of any I've seen with lathes, grinders, and mills everywhere. Unlike many others, his is strictly a one man operation. His return may be little longer because of this, but Bill never has any worries about the quality of the work that leaves his shop.

Bill can and does work on virtually any handgun, but specializes in four areas; target .45 autos, combat .45 autos, combat Browning Hi Powers, and big-bore conversions for S&W N frame revolvers.

Bill produces a top notch .45 target gun. He has tried all kinds of barrel and bushing setups, but has found the Micro bushing produced excellent results when fitted properly. Fitting of slide and frame along with tight lockup at the back of the barrel produce outstanding accuracy in his target .45s. The number of satisfied target .45 users is shown by the fact that the bulk of his business in this area is generated by referrals from satisfied customers.

Bill's combat .45 work is not too unusual or different. He believes in close fit coupled with total reliability. This requires a bit more work but it produces an accurate, combat reliable weapon. Bill likes the S&W revolver sight installation favored by many custom pistolsmiths, but installs them in a different manner than most. He mills out the original dovetail a bit deeper and installs the S&W rear sight in what he refers to as a "protected" installation. This is an ideal approach for a combat weapon, as the recessed sight is protected from damage.

He also offers a number of the more commonly encountered modifications such as: squared and checkered trigger guards, checkered frames and back straps, beveled magazine wells, match triggers, lowered ejection ports, extended slide releases and ambidextrous safeties. He also offers a variety of finishes ranging from a highly practical sandblast blue to master blue or Armology.

The custom combat .45 Bill built for me is based on a light weight Commander. I've carried this gun in basically unaltered form for almost eight years as an off-duty and plain clothes weapon.

Bill performed the following modifications on my .45: S&W revolver sights in protected style with white outline rear and orange insert front; Micro barrel bushing and match barrel link; barrel ramped for wadcutters; lowered ejection port; beveled magazine well; ambidextrous safety; left-handed extended combat slide release; combat large head magazine release; Pachmayr combat rubber grips and mainspring housing; long match trigger fitted to the gun; stainless steel recoil buffer; back of slide serrated; and master blue finish. The result is a highly attractive weapon that is accurate with total combat reliability.

Bill's Hi-Power work is similar to his .45 combat offerings. He does, however, offer excellent trigger work on the Browning 9mm unlike most Browning builders. He accomplishes this by tightening the slide, shortening the trigger reconnect distance, and honing all contact points. Most Browning "trigger jobs" consist of removing the magazine safety and little else. Bill has found the Browning to produce sufficient combat accuracy without the Bar Sto stainless barrel, but will provide and fit the barrel for those who require match grade accuracy from the 9mm.

Another area where Bill's talent is evident is in the area of big bore revolver conversions on the S&W N frame. He can provide them in a variety of calibers, but the two most popular are the .44 Special and .45 ACP. He rebores the cylinder to the new caliber, and can either install a new S&W barrel (in .45 ACP only) or install a custom Douglas barrel with solid rib and ramp. He can further provide an ejector shroud and custom contour the barrel. His double and single action trigger pulls are superb, with trigger stops provided if desired. The end result is an accurate big bore revolver with the quality reminiscent of long ago.

As mentioned earlier, Bill can work on a wide variety of handguns. He specializes in custom modifications for handicapped shooters, and is an authorized Colt warranty center. For prices and other information, contact Bill at The Cylinder & Slide Shop, 523 N. Main, Fremont, Nebraska 68025.