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Two enthusiasts build a
handgun for a wife and a friend.
By Wiley Clapp
Photography By Lynn Pedigo
When my longtime shooting buddy, Chris Weare, convinced
his wife that she needed to know how to defend herself
with a handgun, it was a foregone conclusion that she
would attend one of the week-long basic courses at the
Gunsite Academy, Inc.
Maureen(Mo) Weare is an open-minded woman with
the self-assurance that comes from her life experience
and from being in excellent physical condition. She is approaching the upcoming Gunsite #250 with great
anticipation, and I am betting that she will do
extremely well. Part
of my confidence stems from the pistol we put together
for her, which is the subject of this story.
Before she headed to
Arizona, we needed to equip her with the best in the way
of a shooting rig. Her pistol was particularly important. Having stood on the firing line at a number of shooting
schools and watched women shooters struggle with pistols
or revolvers obviously not suited for them, I wanted to
be sure that Mo's gun fit her needs.
While selecting a gun for a woman gets some
amount of ink in the firearms press, I hold the opinion
that most writers miss a very important point on this
In my view, the only
factor that seriously impacts the handgun selection
press is the size of the woman's hand.
There's a marked tendency for men to suggest
small, light pistols that the "...little lady can
But there's an even greater tendency for women to
resent being patronized in this-or any other-way.
With exceptions, women are shorter, lighter and
have hands that are narrower, with shorter fingers.
Traditionally, women have a greater degree of
fine motor skills than their male counterparts. The implication of all of this is simply to choose a handgun
that the woman shooter can get her hand around and work
the controls without shifting her grip.
Thus suitably equipped, start training.
If the training is of good quality, women learn
There are a few
handguns that fall easily into the category of being at
home in a smaller hand. Because of its established reputation as an utterly reliable
automatic, as well as one that's very good in smaller
hands, we decided to have a custom Browning Hi-Power
built for Mo's use.
It is conventional wisdom to describe the
Hi-Power as John Browning's last design, but most gun
historians give the great Belgian designer Dieudonne
Saive most of the credit.
It is a beautifully designed and crafted
single-action automatic pistol.
Hi-Powers have the world's first successful
high-capacity magazine, which holds 13 rounds of 9mm
ammunition (current guns come with 10-rounders).
After almost 65 consecutive years of production,
the Hi-Power serves around the world.
That's a remarkable achievement in a time of
polymer and aluminum high capacity pistols with advanced
trigger systems and every other gee-whiz feature
outdated with that plain, ole-fashioned single-action
trigger, the Hi-Power remains just as arguably efficient
a pistol as the world has ever seen.
Hi-Power pistols are no
strangers to Bill Laughridge's pistolsmiths.
From his well-equipped shop in Fremont, Nebraska,
he runs the well-known custom gunsmithing operation
called Cylinder & Slide. That's an appropriate name, as Laughridge and his guys work
on just about every kind of handgun imaginable.
Their specialty remains the Colt M1911 and
Browning Hi-Power pistols.
Laughridge has one of the few shops around the
country that does full custom work with the durable
Belgian pistols. After
a short consultation with him, Bill agreed to take on
the responsibility of building Mo's pistol for her
beginning training at Gunsite.
I specified only one item as mandatory on the
gun-Novak Lo-Mount sights.
They are the best to be had.
The rest of the custom modifications were left to
Bill Laughridge and his crew.
We sent Cylinder &
Slide a new unfired 9mm Hi-Power of current production.
It was the so-called "Standard Model"
with a polished blue finish and fixed sights.
This version came with very thick grip plates of
checkered walnut. Out
of the box, this Hi-Power was a handsome gun that had
been carefully polished before it went into the bluing
there were many things about the gun that could be
improved for hard use in a defensive pistol role.
Some of them were associated with handling,
aiming and firing the pistol-its actual shootability
The part of the pistol
that a shooter actually touches when the gun is in a
shooting grip is the receiver.
Hi-Powers are ergonomically way ahead of the
curve in that the designers built a pistol that even
small hands could manage well.
But the current production pistol came with
good-looking, but unnecessarily thick, grip plates that
didn't help. While
I have seen these stock grips modified with the aid of a
slack belt sander, aftermarket grips from the master,
Craig Spegel, were a better solution.
With a pair of his fine-line checkered grips in
place, our project pistol was almost 3/8-inch slimmer
than the original. Spegel's Hi-Power design incorporates a very slight palm
swell that tapers to the frontstrap of the gun.
I have never seen a shooter at any level of
experience who did not instantly like the hand-to-gun
feel of a Spegel-gripped Hi-Power.
Checkering on the
wooden pistol grips helps anchor the pistol in one's
part of defensive handgunning is changing magazines.
Under stress, some shooters have trouble doing
this as fast as their instructors want them to do it or
as actual circumstances might force them to do it. In either a tactical reload or a speed reload, the shooter
must learn to get a fresh magazine into the gun pronto. Laughridge added a magazine well of his own design to the
onto the frame, it flares out to form a funneled opening
that accepts a magazine in the hurried hands of the
opening seems huge, and it helps accelerate this
Another bit of welding makes sense to keep the
pistol from doing one of the famous Hi-Power tricks.
Stock guns have a grip tang that does not protect
the shooter's hand from hammer bite.
Laughridge uses a chunk of steel and welds it
into place on the tang, final-shaping it to form a
graceful beavertail that completely protects the hand.
This is an ergonomic improvement that I feel is
essential to the combat Hi-Power.
improvement to the well-dressed Hi-Power.
On the stock gun, the safety lever (or lock) has
a very small contact surface and it's a little mushy in
its application. C&S
added its own ambidextrous safety to this gun.
It has extended paddles on both sides and also
has a more positive detent to tell the shooter that his
safety is going on or off as the case may be.
Laughridge's company makes several parts (like
the mag well), and that includes a special wide trigger.
This wider-than-standard trigger spreads the
finger pressure over a larger surface and makes the
trigger pull seem lighter.
He also installed a traditional round spur hammer
of his own design. It's a handsome touch, as is the carefully done beveling of
every possible contact surface from one end of the gun
to the other.
Atop the slide, you can
see the small Novak sight system.
Aside from the clear sharp sight picture, the
Novak system has another important advantage.
In the course of shooting and practicing, a
student handgunner learns to deal with malfunctions.
A part of this process involves racking the slide
as fast as possible.
The racy-looking slope to the front of the Novak
rear sight has the practical ability to keep a shooter's
hand from being cut on the rear sight as it sweeps down
the top of the slide to remove a stovepipe or otherwise
move the slide. It
is both practical and attractive.
With the exception of
the Novices, no single visible alternation to the pistol
makes the gun significantly better than a stock Browning
the sum of the gun's various custom touches combine to
produce a pistol that is immeasurably better than the
we have spent a good deal of time talking about the
cosmetic and practical advantages of visible
alterations, there is another aspect of the gun's
there are a number of places where a little attention by
a competent pistolsmith is useful.
For example, one of the more critical points in a
Hi-Power is the extractor. It has to have the right tension and the right contour.
A little work here pays big dividends in the
reliability of the gun.
Browning triggers are not exactly a marvel of
simplicity or match-grade performance.
But when Laughridge and his crew finish 'em, the
result is a very good, crisp trigger pull. I
asked that the magazine safety be removed on this gun,
and that alone helps the trigger pull.
Other internal surfaces
get a polish where needed, and nowhere is that as
necessary as in the feed ramp of the barrel.
When he builds up a Hi-Power, Laughridge uses a
special barrel made to his specifications by the famous
Bar-Sto Precision Machine company.
Like the earliest Hi-Powers, this barrel
incorporates a hood not found on current production
installed, this design feature contributes to a pistol
that locks up in the same place time after time.
That is a key element in making it accurate.
I have had a number of different Hi-Powers pass
through my hands over the years, and this one is
probably the best in terms of pure accuracy. I fired the gun in the Ransom Rest to get a better picture of
the gun's potential that was suggested only by handheld
tabulated nearby, the results proved that the gun was
It average 1.19 inches per group, measured from
the centers of the most widely spaced shot holes in a
10-shot series fired at 25 yards.
The average comes form 10 different commercial
loads, and the largest of them was only 1.51 inches.
The smallest? It was a one-hole cluster of 10 shots measuring .92 inch,
fired with Federal 124-grain JHP.
Truly, this is an
elaborate, even elegant pistol.
Every one of the modifications and additions I
have described added to the gun's shootability.
In handheld shooting, I found this 9mm Hi-Power
pistol to be fast to get into action and easy to manage
in multiple-shot drills.
It was clear that Laughridge and his crew put
everything they could into the project.
That included test-firing the pistol with all of
the five magazines I shipped with it.
Before they put a soft matte finish on the gun
and blued it, they used a fine checkering file and
serrated the rearmost surface of the slide.
When the sun is high in the sky, light reflecting
off this surface can be annoying to the shooter.
am lucky enough to get to handle and work with all kinds
of custom handguns.
To me, they are the most interesting aspects of
the handgunning scene.
This Cylinder & Slide Hi-Power is one of the
best guns of the breed.
Accuracy is outstanding, handling is superior and
the overall aesthetics of the gun are absolutely
beginning shooters don't have a handgun as good as this
one, so Mo is way ahead of the game.
Hi Power from Wiley Clapp article "A Lady's
below are the modifications done to the gun in the
Fit Bar-Sto Barrel/Machine Slide for Hood.....$75.00
Throat & Polish Feed Ramp.....$37.50
Polish & Deburr all Internal Surfaces.....$81.50
Radius & Tension Extractor.....$18.50
Stipple Front Strap.....$75.00
Stipple Back Strap.....$75.00
High Grip Modification.....$125.00
Modify High Cap Mags.....$13.50
Serate Back of Slide.....$35.00
Radius all External Corners and Edges w/ Reblue.....$100.00
Wolff 18.5lb Recoil Spring.....$7.89
Craig Spegel Grips.....$55.00
Install Beavertail Blank.....$145.00
Novak Low Mount Sites with Dots.....$135.85
C&S Wide Trigger.....$68.00
C&S Commander Hammer.....$56.95
C&S Machined Sear.....$39.85
Trigger Job 4.5lb.....$184.45
(You can add or subtract from these modifications
for your gun.)
(Shipping , Handling and Insurance
(Pricing at time of modification, please visit our
online store for the latest pricing.)