1911 Maintenance: The Plunger Tube

One of the potential weak points on a 1911 pistol is the plunger tube. Shortfalls in either materials or workmanship (usually workmanship) can lead to the plunger tube becoming loose in the frame, or even completely falling out of the frame. The latter tends not to happen, since the grip panel will usually hold it in place.  

I recently have seen 3 different pistols suffer failures due to loose plunger tubes. On 2 of them, the strong side thumb safety lever snapped off. The other had the safety detent come out of the tube and bind the thumb safety. In each instance the shooter described having noticed that the operation of the thumb safety had been feeling odd in the period leading up to the failures. Since the grip panel was pretty much holding the tube in place, their cursory looks did not immediately show anything to be wrong and they simply attributed the feeling to normal wear of the safety. (For reference, each pistol was at least above 6k round count.)

Figure 1. Note wear area on rear portion of tube from rubbing of thumb safety

Figure 2. Note where thumb safety snapped off from shaft

Repairing or replacing the plunger tube is a fairly straight forward procedure, provided you have the tools to do so. If you shoot a 1911, especially one with higher mileage, do yourself a favor and give the plunger tube a look when you are doing your normal maintenance.

This entry was posted in 1911, Weapon Maintenance by Doug Flavin. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Flavin

Doug Flavin has been a State Trooper in New England Since 1992, serving in patrol and Tactical Operations. He is currently assigned as a full time member of his department's SWAT team, with 16 years on the team. He has served as an operator and also sniper instructor. He recently retired after 24 years in the Army National Guard, serving as a Military Policeman and ending his career as the NCOIC of the state marksmanship training section. Doug is a recent addition to the instructor staff at OpSpec Training. He is also rumored to make one one hell of a clam chowder.

7 thoughts on “1911 Maintenance: The Plunger Tube

  1. Any idea what make of safety that is? And I have repaired a plunger tube on my Springfield gi …. Could it be soldered in place for extra security?

    • These were S&W factory parts. As for soldering, I guess it could be done in theory. I would be inclined to stick with Loctite. See Tim’s article on how to in the related posts.

  2. Only non-field repairable malfunction I’ve ever had on my carry 1911 (a Wilson purchased in 1996, used extensively for competition, and with tens of thousands of rounds through it) was one of the plunger tube pins shearing off. This was just a year or two ago, so well into the pistol’s service life. (It was particularly disappointing because I was enjoying a weekend invite to do some shooting at the FBI Academy when it happened. Somehow they managed to find me a Glock to finish the day with.)

    Anyway, I sent it off to Wilson. They had it back to me fixed, cleaned, and with a gift two brand new mags within a couple of days. No charge. This on a well-used gun they’d sold me almost 15 years earlier (and the only one of their pistols I’ve ever purchased–only one I ever needed). 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

  3. I was wondering what are your thoughts on integral plunger tubes? Like the Ruger SR1911. The plunger tube is actually cast with the frame. Without high round counts I would have no idea what the effect could be. If it does have the propensity to break I would assume one would have to buy a whole new frame.

    • I have only given cursory examination to the Rugers. I think the idea in general has merit but manufacturers are often hesitant to change a design on these pistols.

  4. I had this happen on my first 1911, had maybe shot 500 rounds. I was at a range and it went flying on one shot never did find the spring and pins but the tube looked like it had hardly bin staked from factory, I had wrap around pachmayr grips on. Replaced it with a good NON MIM replacement been running strong ever sense

  5. It breaks my brain why the hell more manufacturers don’t just eliminate this entirely and machine it into the frame.

    There’re a LOT of parts on the 1911 that could simply be made part of the frame machining.

    I also think we could do away with the barrel link…

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