anyone asks about custom gunsmithing on the Browning
Hi-Power, they are sure to be told of Bill Laughridge's
shop Cylinder & Slide. The folks at Cylinder &
Slide are best known for working on HI Powers and 1911
Government Model pistols, but they also work on Ruger,
H&K, Para-Ordnanece, Colt Mustangs, Kahr, SIG and
Smith & Wesson pistols, plus Colt, Ruger and S&W
when they're not doing normal stuff, Laughridge likes to
turn big guns into little ones. The latest in that line
is called the Pathfinder. It is a seriously chopped
version of the Browning. We need to remember that
Cylinder & Slide is a true custom shop. The customer
has lots of choices to make too, so the two guns you see
here are just examples of what can be done.
were two Hi-Powers used in the test:
A Hungarian Clone (left) and a Browning
is built on a genuine browning, the other on a clone
from FEG in Hungary. The seriousness of the chop -job
can be told with just a few measurements.
is about a 10 percent reduction in every dimension,
These numbers are taken from actual measurement in
comparison with a full-size Hi-Power.
metal reduction amounts a huge amount of work. Removing
that half-inch from the grip requires that a Section be
removed from the middle. They can't simply take some off
the bottom, because the grip feel would be altered and
there wouldn't be anyplace lo put the mainspring. Once
the section is removed, the two pieces have to be welded
back together in perfect alignment.
you look real hard, you won't even see where the welding
was done, The area of the frame where this work is done
is a virtually stress-free zone so strength is not
compromised at all.
the slides did not require welding There was enough
metal to simply remove some off the front and relocate
the front sight. The clone had enough metal at the front
to allow the original press fit bushing to be used, but
the Browning did not. Laughridge had to install a
screw-in bushing of his own manufacture.
and lightweight handguns are quite the rage right now
and public demand is for ever smaller and lighter guns.
But every time you chop a pistol, the whole dynamic of
the gun changes- sometimes to the point where operation
becomes problematic. So the pistolsmith must walk a
tightrope between reliable
function and giving the customer what he wants.
the customer often wants something be just can't have,
The geometry of any tilting barrel imposes limits on how
short the barrel can be while still functioning.
guns you see here are Laughridge's first two of the
Pathfinder design. In the past other gunsmiths have
offered shortened Hi-Powers, but not very many have been
done. These are very much works in progress. And, yes,
there are a couple of bumps in the road we'll talk about
later but once those were ironed out, both ran and ran
though they look very much alike at first glance, there
are many differences in features. The Browning gun seems
to have everything you can do to a Hi-Power, in addition
to the shortening. The first thing you'll see is he
mirror blue on the slide, matte finish on the frame, and
tasteful stippling on front and back straps. The top of
the slide is grooved and the rear is checkered. It
sports an ambi safety, Novak night sights and a very
on Hi-Powers aren't the same things we're used to on
Government Models Hi-Powers do not have grip safeties.
So a blank must be welded or silver brazed onto the
frame and then finished by hand. It is an expensive
modification, but one that makes the grip feel even
there's more of Laughridge's flawless craftsmanship. A
BarSto barrel is fitted to the slide. The shortening
necessitates a screw-in barrel bushing, which also aids
accuracy. The trigger is great. It breaks crisply at 4
3/4lbs and the overtravel stop is a real asset to
accuracy. All the trigger parts are replaced. Other than
being a pretty expensive job, there's nothing to
FEC clone is a much plainer Jane- but no less
interesting. Gone are the purely cosmetic features.
There is no checkering, stippling or grooving. Sightsare
Novak, minus the tritium. The barrel is the original.
The most radical feature is the trigger which is a
"Safety Fast Shooting" kit (SFS) imported and
distributed exclusively by Cylinder & Slide.
One of the
pistols tested had the SFS Conversion, which allows a
to be "cocked" by the safety after pressing
forward on the hammer.
SFS kit allows you to push forward gently on the cocked
hammer. It will move down to look like it's in an
uncocked position, but when you push it forward, the
ambi safety is automatically engaged. Then, when you
push the safety down, the hammer hops back to the cocked
position, and the gun is ready to fire in the normal
SFS adds a mechanical! hammer block to prevent the
hammer from hitting the firing pin unless the trigger is
pulled. It also locks both the sear and hammer.
use of the FEG clone can save you money because the cost
of a new gun is considerably less than current prices
for a Browning- when you can find one. Laughridge will
perform the work on a customers gun as long as it passes
the years, I've adopted a test procedure that is
comprehensive and lets me really get to know the gun. If
possible, each gun goes to the range at least three
times. The first is for a break-in and function test
with 50 to 100 rounds of generic ammo. The gun is
cleaned and inspected for wear.
next trip is dedicated to group shooting and
chronographing. Again, the gun is cleaned and inspected.
The final run is a longer function test with a variety
of different loads. When all is done, the total number
of rounds fired is 300 to 400, sometimes more.
was the procedure I followed with the two Pathfinder
pistols. The Browning gun had a stoppage about halfway
through the first test that was found to be caused by a
tiny piece of bullet jacket metal getting wedged between
the top barrel lugs and the corresponding cut in the
slide. It prevented the pistol from going into battery.
It took awhile to figure that one out. The FEG
gun had no stoppages. Both shot to point of aim at 25
and inspection showed some tiny bits of Jacket metal in
both guns, but nothing that seemed to be particularly
significant. About halfway through the accuracy testing
on my next trip to the range, the Browning began to need
a tiny nudge, now and then, to go into battery. This got
progressively worse, and by the time chronograph
measurements were done. the slide just wouldn't close
of the FEG pistol was largely uneventful until near the
end when it, too, began to be reluctant to go fully into
battery. By then it was clear that we were suffering
from worn-out recoil springs.
home it was a two-man job to fieldstrip the Browning
because the battered, collapsed recoil spring prevented
the slide from retracting to the point where the slide
stop pin could be pushed out. Fieldstripping any
Hi-Power is something of a pain unless you use the
thoughtfully provided second safety notch that will hold
the slide in the proper position. Couldn't do that
FEG fieldstripped without difficulty, but there was
virtually no tension left on the recoil spring. Remember
that chopping changes the whole dynamic of the pistol?
The spring situation is a perfect example. Any time you
reduce the weight of the recoiling mass (slide and
barrel), the recoiling velocity of the slide is
increased considerably. And that is hard on springs. To
soon as I began to describe the problem to Laughridge,
he exclaimed "That's my fault! I should have
mentioned that spring life is short and sent along some
spares." Our discussion revealed that, between the
two of us, the pistol had fired over 400 rounds before the
spring failed. As a result, Laughridge will ship each
gun with a good supply of springs
and instructions to change them every 300 rounds.
we talked about the little bits of jacket metal. Again
Laughridge knew what I was talking about. A small rough
spot on the feed ramp of the FEC was visible and easily
fixed. The Browning was another story altogether. There
were no visible sharp edges, but some small pieces were
visible In the chamber.
look through a bore scope gave the answer The chamber
had a very sharp shoulder, which was brightly marked
with jacket metal scrubbing around the entire
circumference. The possibilities were either a chamber
that was just a little too short, or an improperly cut
throat that was tight and scraped off some jacket. In
any case, this had to go back.
flew to Nebraska. Laughridge found that the chamber
needed to be slightly deeper. Parts flew back, along
with a supply of new recoil springs. And, sure enough, a
cure was wrought. With new recoil springs installed,
both guns ran flawlessly with a good assortment of ammo.
This time I wanted to measure the rate of shortening of
the recoil spring. Exactly 100 rounds were fired,
|After 100 rds.
that the initial collapse of any spring happens very
quickly, but they will then normally operate for some
time before showing much more shortening. Laughridge's
suggestion of 300-round replacement seems wise here.
you see why I called this a "work in
progress," because it turned into a great
problem-solving exercise. And because of that, I find it
hard to judge the guns too harshly. If these were
production guns, that would be different, but these are
the first two mini-Brownings Laughridge ever made.
to the range for a brief function test. Now we have guns
that run just great and I'm confident that the next ones
Laughridge builds will just get better with experience.
And with problems solved, the mini-Brownings were
cleaned and inspected yet again. Both went to the range
for a fourth time.
you can see from the table, accuracy was good, so the
Browning, and my trigger control, were put to a test.
There are some famous (or infamous) gongs at our range:
12" diameter steel plates located a measured 72
yards from the firing line. Using 124 gr. Speer Gold Dot
ammo, the Browning's first 10 shots at the gong gave
nine tremendously satisfying clangs. One of the other
valuable lessons I've learned over many years is to quit
while you're ahead.