At last, a M1911 with the safety of a double-action, the speed and accuracy of a single-action.......thanks to Cylinder & Slide!

Originally published in Combat Handguns August 2000
Click on images to see larger size.

Though it didn't make headline news, in 1979, Fabrique National (FN) designed a radically new single-action firing system for an equally new version of the classic Browning P-35 High Power.

 This High Power fast Action never passed the pre-production prototype stage, and only 11 samples were produced in serial numbers H001 to H0011.  The F.N. High Power Fast Action was not adopted by the Belgian Military, which chose a double-action version instead.  Today, those 11 Fast action pilot pistols are among the most sought after by Browning collectors.

  Gun Details

The Fast Action system consists of a two-piece hammer.  An inner cradle-like hammer, called the hammer ring, houses and outer, or exposed, hammer.  Inside the two hammer parts there's a small torque spring.  Connected to the hammer ring is the Strut for the mainspring, and the hammer ring also contains the sear notch. 

The outer hammer cocks the hammer ring and is also used to make the Fast Action SAFE.  When it is forward, the hammer causes a sear locking plate to rotate to block the sear.  When the hammer is freed to snap to the rear, the locking plate is rotated to allow the sear to move.   

The Fast Action hammer ring fires the pistol by carrying the outer hammer forward.  If the slide is retracted, or the outer hammer is cocked by hand, it remains in the cocked position along with the hammer ring, held by the relatively light internal torque spring.  However, this torque spring is not connected to the mainspring or involved with firing the gun. 

If the pistol is not to be fired, the hammer is pushed forward against the torque spring, leaving the inner hammer ring cocked.  Then, a pivoting lever in the slide, called the hammer hook, springs down over a protruding pin on the side of the hammer to lock it forward. 

In the High Power Fast Action, when the trigger is pressed, the trigger bar pivots down against the hammer hook, which, in turn, contacts the sear.  First pressure on the trigger makes the hammer hook disconnect the hammer, which instantly returns to the rear.  Continued pressure on the trigger causes the hammer hook to disengage the sear to release the hammer ring, allowing it to carry the hammer forward to fire the gun. 

Although the Fast Action somewhat resembles double action, the system is really single action.  When the hammer is pushed forward, the safety can be put ON, the pistol can be carried in what appears to be a condition "2" mode with the hammer down.  However, in actuality, the hammer ring is cocked, and the pistol can be put into action as fast as a standard condition "1" cocked-n-locked mode.  In fact, it is in condition "1:' but doesn't appear that way, because of the two hammer parts. 

Although the F.N. High Power Fast Action didn't get beyond prototype stage, the concept of its two-piece hammer was valid.  Variations of this inner and outer hammer system are incorporated in the Daewoo Fastfire Tri-Action and Para Ordnance Light Double Action pistols However, neither of the above two are, true Fast Action design, and none has ever been available until now.

 The SFS

The Cylinder & Slide Safety Fast Shooting (SFS) kit is available for not only the Browning High Power but the 1911 and its many clones as well. 19l1s with firing pin safeties such as Colt and Para-Ordnance, the kit comes with the necessary parts to convert them as well.

Simplified from the original Fast Action system, the SFS uses a two-part hammer that goes together as two corresponding halves instead of the cradle like hammer ring.  As in the original Fast Action, the inner part of the hammer contains the sear notch and the hammer strut.  It also contains a pivoting hammer blocking lever that serves as a drop safety. Inside both hammer halves, there the torque spring that snaps the hammer to the rear when it's unlocked.

There's a significant difference between the Fast Action and Safety Fast Shooting designs.  With the SFS, the outer hammer is released when the thumb safety is depressed.  When the SFS hammer is pushed forward, the thumb safety springs up to lock it the while at the same time blocking the sear.  During this operation, the blocking lever is pivoted up between the hammer and the firing pin plate.  When the thumb safety is depressed, the hammer is freed spring back to meet the inner hammer at its pre-cocked position.  When the trigger is pulled, the inner hammer is released to rotate forward.  In doing so, it carries the hammer block along with the outer hammer to fire the pistol.

The 1911 conversion kit contains 13 parts in all.  In addition to the two firing pin safety parts, these include the inner and outer hammers, the hammer torque spring, the hammer block, mainspring, strut, plunger spring, thumb safety, ambidextrous thumb piece and retaining pin.  These are just the parts needed for the basic conversion.  There's more.

Options include an extended slide release and an ambidextrous magazine release.  That's right, a magazine release for the 191 1 that's truly ambidextrous and requires no fitting.  With a rounded keyway on the right side, this release accepts a grooved lever with a matching key-like base.  When assembled, the lever works like a toggle.  Pushing down on the lever causes an integral foot to bear against the frame, thereby pulling the magazine release outward.  Operation from the left side is as normal.  Unlike conventional extended slide releases, this is sleek, subtle and out of the way.

After receiving a sample of the 1911 SFS kit, I examined the parts closely to better understand how the system works.  Although it comes pre-assembled, the two-piece hammer comes apart very easily @after its parts are worked when out of the pistol.  A caution here: Careful study of the assembled hammer group is necessary before allowing it to come apart, and pay attention that the torque spring is not lost.  Reassembly is accomplished with the use of a small pick to reposition the spring.

     
      SFS Installation

I decided to install the SFS kit in my Kimber Custom 1911. I field stripped and partially disassembled the gun, removing the mainspring housing and mainspring, thumb safety, grip safety, plunger and spring and hammer.  I then prepared to reassemble the gun with the SFS parts.

In attempting to insert the SFS hammer group into the frame, I met slight resistance.  Upon close examination, I found that the arm of the safety bar was dragging.  With a Swiss file, I removed about 0.001 of an inch from this tiny part, which cured the problem.  All remaining SFS parts were assembled into the Kimber without a problem, although the slide stop required more than the usual pressure to bypass the new stiffer plunger spring.

Next, I replaced the standard magazine release with the ambidextrous unit furnished with the sample SFS kit.  It was also easily assembled in the Kimber and worked as advertised after a short learning curve.  The SFS standard slid release and ambidextrous magazine release will not work in the wider Par, Ordnance frame.  Another caution: Thos not mechanically inclined should ha% the SFS kit installed by a competent gunsmith.

 My assembled Safety Fast Shooting kit worked as smoothly as those B Laughridge had shown me at the 20C SHOT Show.  Except for the fact that the hammer is released by depressing the thumb safety, my Kimber was now performing much like an original F.N. Fast Action, maybe faster.

The Kimber's trigger pull with the SF kit was the one surprise.  Although Bill Laughridge had told me to expect a pull of up to five pounds, it didn't happen in my gun.  The trigger pull of my stock Kimber had been very good, breaking about four and one half pound.  However, with the SFS kit, the trigger actually improved.  Letoff with the SFS I began at about three pounds, with only tiny bit of creep, and with use, this h, smoothed out some.

Familiarity with the Safety Fast Shooting system requires only a short learning curve.  When the slide is retracted and released, the hammer stays the rear as normal, but the safety cannot be moved.  Manually pushing the hammer forward causes the thumb safety spring up and lock it, while also blocking the sear, and there's no way to retract the hammer except by using the thumb safety, which also locks the slide.  Since the safety bar is attached to the inn hammer (which remains cocked) when pushing the hammer forward, the safety bar protrudes to block the hammer from contact with the firing pin in case the pistol is dropped.  Although the hammer has a rebounding action, it is the safety bar that blocks it.

It takes almost no effort to push the hammer forward, and with the hammer locked there and double safe, the pistol can be holstered.  If the holster has conventional retaining strap, it can I locked behind the hammer spur.  Safariland has designed a version of its excellent 6400 series security holster for the Para-Ordnance LDA and SFS, both of which ride with the hammer forward.

To put the SFS-equipped pistol in use, simply present it as normal, and when on target, push down on the thumb safety.  This not only takes the safety off but it feels like the action of a standard 1911 thumb safety.  What also happens in a millisecond is that the outer hammer is released to jump back to the cocking position under pressure from its torque spring.  Now, with the two hammers together in the cocked mode, the trigger can be pressed to disengage the sear.  When this occurs, the inner hammer rotates forward, carrying along the safety bar and the outer hammer to strike the firing pin.  If the pistol is loaded, it will fire.  While all this may sound complicated, it's actually quite simple, and takes place in an instant.

A minor alteration is advisable using the Safety Fast Shooting in 1911-type pistols with beavertail grip safeties.  To make them more efficient, most of these grip safeties have a recess that partially houses the hammer spur.  Since the hammer must be pushed forward, the beavertail grip safety may offer some interference.  Carefully grinding or filing away part of the top of the recurve to, expose more of the hammer will provide, more access to the hammer spur.  This, condition does not exist with the SFS-converted Browning High Power.

Safety Fast Shots Fired

Shooting my .45 ACP Kimber Custom brought no surprises.  Like all Kimbers own and have tested, this one not only shoots very well but has also proven totally reliable with good quality ammunition.  Although my interest in accuracy was academic, my interest in the operation of the Safety Fast Shooting system was what the test was all about.

After loading the Kimber Custom, pushed the hammer forward where it locked.  Pointing the pistol downrange, I  pulled the trigger, but there was no movement.  The safety's engagement with the sear was positive.  After lowering the pistol again, I looked at my target, brought the gun up and depressed thumb safety.  Instantly, the hammer sprang back to meet its inner counter part at full cock.  With my sights on target I pressed the trigger and the Kimber fired.  Quickly verifying my sights, I fired again and again.  The gun operated like it always had.

Taking my finger out of the trigger guard, I pushed the hammer again with my left hand and re drill.  With many grip safeties, do not fully depress them, shooting "high thumb," I merely wipe the thumb safety off and shoot with my thumb below it.  This was easily accomplished with the SFS thumb safety, but there's enough paddle there to grind off to this part if preferred.  Incidentally the right (ambidextrous) portion of safety is made of tough polymer.

After several boxes of .45 ACP ammunition, I felt right at home with the SFS.   There were no malfunctions, mechanic or otherwise, and the ambidextrous magazine release worked satisfactorily with either hand.  Oh, yes, as far as accuracy is concerned, most of  my shots went into nice tidy groups at 25 yards as usual.  The only problem I encountered was that the normal position of my support thumb caused it to hit the extended slide release during recoil, locking back the slide.  Adjusting my thumb position cured the problem.

Wearing the SFS-converted Kimber in a Milt Sparks IWB holster, I found no problem whatsoever with either the safety or the magazine release.  In all holsters, the SFS should operate as normal.

        Druthers

Although the SFS extended slide release is superior to others I've seen, it got in my way and I would prefer a standard release.  The only drawback I could find with the 1911 version of the Safety Fast Shooting system is that the hammer must be pushed forward manually to make the pistol safe, and that this is normally done with the support hand.  By modifying the beavertail grip safety, the hammer can be pushed forward by swiping it with the palm of the hand or against a holster or fabric.

 Depending on the size of one's hand, pushing the hammer forward can even be accomplished with the thumb of the shooting hand.  My hands are size 9 1/2, and I can push the hammer forward with my shooting thumb even with an unmodified beavertail grip safety.  It would be easier yet doing it with either a modified or standard grip safety.  As there's no grip safety on the Browning High Power, it should be no problem using the strong hand to reposition the hammer.

     Final Notes

 All in all, the Safety Fast Shooting conversion is of high quality and should last as long as any standard system.  It is also quite reliable and simple to use.  Where a single-action 1911 is preferred, but carrying it with the hammer down is also appealing, the Safety Fast Shooting system is the logical answer.  The SFS kit for the 1911 and High Power can be purchased online in our store.

For information on this and all its custom parts and services, contact Cylinder & Slide, Dept.CH, 245 East 4th St., Fremont, NE 68025, (402) 721-4277.