Understanding the 1911 Extractor Test

What happens when the 1911 extractor fails

Understanding the 1911 Extractor Test

by Tim Lau

Recently, there has been a bit of discussion on the 1911 “Extractor Test” and it became clear that many, if not most, don’t understand how to interpret the results or how it applies to 1911 function and why the test is not applicable to most modern service pistols. I will attempt to shed some light on this.

The 1911 Extractor Function Test

First of all, let’s describe the test. I first learned heard of this test from my friends Hilton Yam and Larry Vickers. Others, such as Wilson Combat, have shared it online as well.
The test is simple: fire a prescribed number of rounds through the pistol without a magazine inserted. In the 10-8 1911 Function test, we shoot 16 rounds this way. Eight are fired two handed and eight more are fired strong hand only.
The empty cases must properly eject between 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock. If any cases go forward, to the left, stovepipe, into your face, or fall through the magazine well, the pistol has failed this test.
Having a magazine in the pistol supports the empty case during extraction and ejection phase of the cycle of operation, which can mask issues such as poor extractor tension or geometry.
Some folks have said they only fire five to seven rounds this way to evaluate extractor function, but Hilton and I have both found that with higher pressure duty rounds, extractor issues may not exhibit themselves in only seven rounds. If the 1911 can make it through two magazines’ worth of ammunition without failing, it is likely good to go.

Why is this test significant?

This test is designed specifically to test the extractor function in 1911 pistols. Let me repeat: This test is designed specifically to test extractor function in 1911 pistols. It tells you if your extractor is at 100% function or not. If the pistol fails this test, it is not at 100% function. This  is significant for two big reasons:
1. The internal extractor design of the 1911 relies on leaf spring tension, which is highly variable. Depending on the materials used by the manufacturer, and the service cycle of the pistol, the 1911’s internal extractor is prone to lose tension and is dependent on a skilled assembler for proper setup. Failing the extractor test indicates that at best, the extractor is only working marginally. Should the extractor have any less tension, the gun will stop working altogether.
2. A marginal extractor has a less than optimal grip on the case rim during extraction, and in a 1911, the case will be pulled into the feed lips of the empty magazine, creating the stoppage in the photo above. The feed lip geometry and concave or flat magazine follower of the 1911 magazine makes the 1911 more prone to this than any other modern service pistol. It is a bear to clear, and destroys your magazine as it will permanently deform your feed lips.

Does the test apply to modern service pistols?

Some shooters have noted that quality modern pistols will not pass this test. This is not as much of an issue as with the traditional 1911 for the following reasons:

1. The coil spring setup of the modern external extractor is not prone to loss of tension like the leaf spring setup of the internal 1911 extractor. Once a pistol is set up from the factory, what you get (in terms of extractor function) on day one is what you will get until something breaks.
2. The feed lip and follower geometry of modern service pistols do not make them prone to having the empty case dragged into the feed lips should the extractor lose grip on the case rim during extraction.

What about 1911s with external extractors?

This test is the Achilles’ Heel of most 1911 external extractor setups. The only external extractor setup that I have tried that will reliably pass this test is the Smith and Wesson E-Series pistol, which uses the wide Performance Center extractor and is optimally positioned in the slide. Many 1911 external extractor designs do not optimally position the extractor relative to the bore axis resulting in marginal extractor function.
While the external extractor setup is not likely to lose tension, the marginal extractor function is still coupled with the geometry of the 1911 feed lips resulting in the malfunction depicted in the photo atop this blog post.

In other words, if you have a 1911 outfitted with an external extractor, and it fails this test, it is NOT good to go. It will be prone to pulling into the feed lips, the empty case of last round fired in the pistol.

Final Thoughts

The “experts” on the Internet have said “oh wow, so this test just proves the gun will only fire one round with no magazine in place. When would I ever shoot the gun in this manner?” Realize that this test was designed from the perspective of evaluating whether or not a 1911 pistol properly setup for service. We are not advocating shooting the gun in this manner as any sort of technique in and of itself.
Every 1911 that comes across Hilton’s or my bench is tested for this and doesn’t leave the shop unless the extractor is properly set up.
If you are still unclear as to the significance of this test, please carefully re-read this blog post. I hope this sheds some light onto this commonly misunderstood function test.

Special thanks to my good buddy Hilton for his input on this blog post. Please visit the 10-8 Performance Facebook Page and his blog at http://10-8performance.blogspot.com/.

Tim Lau
10-8 Consulting, LLC
This entry was posted in 1911 by Tim Lau. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tim Lau

Tim Lau has over a decade of experience as an end user, armorer and instructor. He has worked for several well known firearms training organizations, and holds multiple firearms instructor certifications. He owns and operates 10-8 Consulting, LLC, which provides industry consulting services as well as marksmanship and specialized firearms training to qualified civilian, law enforcement and military personnel.

28 thoughts on “Understanding the 1911 Extractor Test

  1. I have a question concerning this test:
    How do you perform the test?
    Drop the cartridge into the chamber and let the slide go (and let the extractor jump the rim)? Or do you insert the mag, load the gun, remove the mag, shoot… rinse repeat?


    • NEVER drop a round in the chamber and drop the slide on it. This can cause extractor breakage. This applies to all handguns, not just 1911s! The only firearm I can think of where this would be acceptable is with a push-feed bolt-action rifle, where it is designed to snap over the rim of the cartridge.

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  4. I had a Springfield Armory TRP that suffered from this malfunction. I eventually ended up filing the extractor and shortening it a bit so the case would not start rotating up until it got back to the more narrow part of the feed lips.

    • Not that the ejector was the issue with that malfunction, but it seemed really long to me, and the pistol ran and ejected more consistently after I did it. I also found that the 7-round Wilson mags with a rounded follower helped, but then they didn’t want to feed my favorite hollowpoints on the last round sometimes. I was getting to the point where I thought I would have to carry 7-round mags with six hollowpoints and a round of hardball on the bottom…

  5. The above malfunction is not a result of ejector issues but rather improper extractor tension or geometry. The round top follower helps alleviate this issue as it helps stabilize the empty case from the last round fired and keeps it from being dragged back into the magazine’s feed lips.

  6. I have been told that this particular test will in fact harm the weapon by applying unnecessary stress to the slide stop. Is that true?

  7. The slide stop can take it, but as a matter of routine practice you don’t want to drop the slide on an empty chamber in general. However, this test is done for a specific purpose and done as a part of a periodic function test, there is no problem with it. The reality is that firing the weapon “causes harm” by contributing to decreasing its lifespan. If you’re worried about damaging your pistol by periodically doing this test, you should just keep it in the safe.

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  9. Tim,
    Thanks for this info. I just performed this test on both of my 1911s. One is a full size Kimber Custom II, the other is a Kimber Compact Custom with a 4 inch barrel. The full size has approximately 3500 rounds through it and passed the test with flying colors, consistently throwing the brass to my 4 o’clock. The compact has approximately 500 rounds through it, and has always functioned consistently with a magazine inserted. It experienced several stove-pipe style failures during this test. I’m preparing to have a new extractor fitted for it, but I wanted to ask, “should a 4 inch 1911 be expected to pass this test?” I would hate to get a new extractor fitted and get the gun reliably passing this test, only to find the new extractor is too tight to properly feed ammunition from a magazine as it currently can. Both guns appear to have identical dimensions rear of the chamber. I know you try to focus primarily on full size 1911s, but do you have any experience with commander style guns that would help you answer my question?

    • If you plan on using modern magazines with flat or concave type followers, then your pistol needs to pass this test or you will likely run into the terrible malfunction pictured in the article.

  10. Tim, I have some concerns involving the extractor test. With the slide slamming home on an empty chamber, will this cause damage or premature wear of the ignition parts?

  11. I was wondering I tried this test and one of my colts failed as it stovepiped and ejected anywhere in a 360 radius around itself and took it to the shop when I got home I attempted forceful hand cycling with a swift jerk to the slide to give myself an idea if it might eject as it should before I get to the range it ejected near 4oclock consistently doing this could that mean its fixed or will you only be able to tell from live fire version of the extractor test I’m learning more about 1911s and eager to learn more

    • I had to read your post a couple times since it completely lacks any use of punctuation. Shoot the test again, and you can see for yourself how much or how little correlation there is to bench testing.

  12. I guess the next obvious question would be…
    How do you properly tension a 1911 extractor?

    • There are plenty of videos and tutorials floating around on the web, but it is several hours of instruction to actually do it correctly, and nothing that can easily be passed along via this blog.

  13. Hello Hilton. Could you suggest a good web site that proper set up of the extractor can be seen.

    • No. It took me years to piece it all together myself from experience and various sources, including the ones listed on the 1911 Technical References article of my site. If it were truly as easy as most people think it is, then the 1911 would not be known for extractor issues. Additionally, setting up a new gun with all new parts is a completely different animal than chasing a gun with a high round count on it.

  14. Hi Hilton,

    What are your thoughts on the Weigand extractor tensioning tool and tension gages?Are these worth investing in as a means to measure and set extractor tension? Thanks in advance.

    • I have them and they do work, but I did not use them at all after my initial learning phase as they have limitations. The tensioning tool does not let you really feel the correct tension to apply to the extractor, and thus it becomes a crutch and limits your actual learning. Just because one setting works for a particular extractor does not mean that you can just drop the next one in and be all set. The gages do not account for tension changes as the cartridge moves on the extractor, and again you are dependent on a tool for what is ultimately a very variable and subjective determination that will vary from gun to gun. Opinions and mileage may vary.

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  16. hello. have only recently started having failure to ejects on my rock island 1911 govt. saw your website and went your explanations which make sense. purchased the weigand stuff as a good baseline to start learning. i also purchased a wilson combat bullet proof extractor and an egw aftec (internal w/coil springs) extractor.

    first, we tested the current extractor tension and found it to be 16 oz. we used the tool to increase it and got it set at 29 oz more or less. the way we are testing the extractor is using the procedure on the wilson combat site shown above (e.g. 8 rounds two-handed w/ no mag in gun + 8 rounds one-handed w/ no mag and all spent shells should hit in the 2-5 o’clock area)

    once we increased the tension on our original extractor the gun again failed the wilson combat test, BUT ejects spent casings perfectly each at about 3 o’clock one after the other if the magazine is left IN the gun. no more stove pipes. however, according to your article, by failing the test our extractor is marginal at best.

    we then tested another rock island 1911 govt that was having no ejection problems and found it would not pass the wilson combat test either. the extractor tension on that gun was about 20 oz.

    we then tested an almost new para ord govt 1911 (less than 500 rounds) and it failed the wilson combat test, but has had NO failure to ejects ever. extractor tension on this gun is 25 oz.

    we then installed the brand new wilson combat extractor on the first gun and found it would still not pass the test, but had NO ejection problems with a mag inserted. extractor tension was right at 22 oz.

    next, we installed the egw aftec (internal, coil spring) extractor and found the tension was only 8 oz! it also fails the wilson combat test, but ejects shells perfectly at 3 o’clock with a mag inserted as fast as the trigger can be pulled.

    we had just purchased a brand new high standard govt 1911. it was the only gun to pass the wilson combat test and eject shells perfectly with no mag installed. however, the extractor tension was also right at 8 oz!

    so now i am totally confused. in actual use with mags, all four 1911s work fine, but only one out of the four passes the wilson combat test and that one has completely inadequate extractor tension based on what i have read on weigand.

    the other three guns, one with extractor tension set at 25 oz., one at 22 oz and the original gun in question with the aftec coil spring extractor don’t even come close. in fact, none will eject even one case properly with no mag installed in the gun.

    is there something i’m doing wrong in the test? i have read it over and over and it’s seems pretty straight forward. we load a clip with 8 rounds, insert it in the gun, rack the slide, remove the clip and fire the round. we then repeat for the next seven rounds.

    any help would be greatly appreciated.


    bill adams

    • Nothing you are missing about the test, but read our article about the 1911 extractor test and why the gun should function without the mag in place. Most folks dismiss the significance of the results until they get the malfunction pictured at the top of that article – it isn’t important for the gun to pass without the mag in place….until it is important because you got a catastrophic malfunction.

      It also goes to highlight the shortfalls of depending solely on measurement tools to set extractor tension. As I have always noted, if it were easy then …it’d be easy. There are many other factors that go into proper extractor setup that cannot simply be measured just as ounces of tension.

  17. Tim and Hilton,

    Firts off, thanks for such a great website. Tons of knowledge and experience, in addition great photos of all sorts of blasters.

    I recently acquired my second 1911, a COLT series 80 1991A1 (manu 1995) w the large roll mark on the left side. This sidearm is very clean and appears to have been shot very little. Having minimal experience and a sample set of one 1911 in which I have any serious #s of rounds downrage with, I do not have much experience in setting up or fitting parts. My question is this. After having completed the extractor test of 16 rounds my results were as follows: 8 rounds fired with both hands all 8 hulls were ejected to roughly 3-5 o’clock to my right side. 7 out of 8 rounds fired one handed flipped straight up into the air over shooters head headed in the 6 o’clock direction. The extractor will hold a loaded round snug against breechface in any orientation. Do I need to replace the OEM extractor or tension it a bit more???

    After having completed this test and documented the results I fired 200 rounds through the pistol holstered from concealment running a # of different drills. 100 of these 200 rounds were current manu Win white box 230gr ball, with the later 100 fired being Tula steel cased 230gr ball. All 200 fired from wilson and chip mc magazines with no issues.

  18. I have a colt that passes the extractor test just fine. But when your firing under normal conditions I get intermittent jams where a live cartridge is being feed but is in front of the extractor. I’m at a loss for this as its never displayed this type of malfunction before. Buddy suggested polishing the feed ramp but I’m insure if this will really have that much if an impact on the issue. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

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