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Adjustable Triggers - Not?

By Don Burke 


Recently, I have encountered several instances where so-called adjustable triggers have gotten shooters into a bit of trouble.  In reality any trigger can be considered adjustable as proper stoning of the sear engagement surfaces and so on can produce the weight and travel more to the shooters preference.  Other types incorporate setscrews to adjust sear engagement, overtravel and so on.  Of this type there are several.  Timney and Savage are two that come to mind that are easily adjustable.  However I will confine this article to the 1911 type pistols that incorporate a setscrew to facilitate "adjusting" the trigger.  For liability reasons I will say that ALL trigger work should be completed by a competent gunsmith.


In the "old days" the only 1911s I saw with an adjustable trigger were target type pistols.  Nowadays almost every offering from the major manufacturers has this feature.  First, a little information on what that little setscrew in the 1911's trigger actually does.


In the 1911 Colt-type pistols the trigger rides in grooves inside the frame.  Ideally the trigger does not slop excessively up down or side-to-side.  This fit is done when the trigger is initially fitted to the pistol.  A word to the wise:  drop-in parts usually aren't.  As the trigger is pressed to the rear it bears on the sear/disconnector causing the sear nose to pivot away from the hammer and release it.  The sear must move far enough to clear the hammer's primary sear notch and the safety notch.


In the "adjustable" triggers fitted to many of today's 1911 offerings there is a little bitty allen setscrew in the trigger.  This limits overtravel of the trigger by stopping the trigger's rearward movement when it contacts the magazine catch.  Usually this adjustment is set at the factory or by the gunsmith and the setscrew is staked or locktited in place.


The purpose of limiting the trigger's overtravel, the movement of the trigger to the rear after the sear is released, is to give it a better "feel".  The trouble is that if that itty-bitty screw is improperly adjusted it can cause problems.  They include failures to fire because the trigger won't go back far enough to release the sear. In extreme cases the sear and hammer engagement surfaces can be damaged because the half cock notch strikes the sear as the hammer falls.  In Colt series 80 pistols the overtravel screw can cause problems where the trigger releases the sear but does not fully disengage the firing pin block.  This condition can cause inconsistent ignition or failures to fire.


Adjustable triggers should never be used in pistols that use the Colt type series 80 firing pin blocks.  The block is actuated by a set of levers that are operated by the trigger.  Even when the overtravel screw is adjusted to release the sear properly, the trigger must still move far enough to the rear to fully activate the block.  Usually what happens in these cases is the block is not moved far enough to allow the firing pin to move and the pistol fails to fire.  Or, the block moves almost out of the way but is still struck by the firing pin as it goes by.  This can cause light hits on the primer and may also cause enough damage to the block and/or firing pin for them to eventually fail.  My recommendation is overtravel screws should never be used in series 80 style pistols.


*Note: the Kimber II pistols use a firing pin block activated by the grip safety and do not have the series 80 problem.


How can you tell if there is a problem?  With the pistol unloaded and pointed in a safe direction, hold the hammer by the sides.  Press the trigger down all the way and slowly let the hammer go all the way down.  If you feel a "bump" about two-thirds of the way down this probably indicates the sear is contacting the safety notch.  You want to do this a few times.  The correction is to back out the setscrew to allow the trigger to travel farther to the rear.  The screw should have right hand threads and looking at the front of the trigger turning it left will allow the trigger to move farther aft.  The other thing you should feel for is after the hammer is released; can the trigger continue to the rear?  Generally, a teeny bit is acceptable and indicated a properly fitted setup.  If there is a lot of movement the trigger screw can be turned in a bit to the right to eliminate this.


After the trigger screw is adjusted it must be staked or locktited in place.  Generally this is done with the trigger taken out of the pistol.  In some cases it is possible to leave things assembled and add the Locktite (I prefer blue) to the screw and get all the adjusting done before it sets.  However, if the Locktite gets into other areas it can gum up the works!  The preferred way is to set the screw properly then disassemble it for staking or Locktite.


Occasionally, adjustable triggers can become loose through normal wear.  If the screw backs out, it the trigger will have more overtravel but the pistol still works.  If the screw goes the other way, it can prevent the trigger from going back far enough to release the sear and the weapon cannot fire.  This is a bad thing for a defensive weapon! I normally recommend overtravel screws be removed in defensive weapons.


Trigger set screws can be removed either through the front or rear of the trigger.  Some may only be removed from the rear and this necessitates taking out the magazine catch.  However the easiest way sometimes is to disassemble the weapon and remove the screw from the trigger while it is out of the pistol.


If you choose to leave the setscrew in but want to ensure it is tight and will stay in place, take a properly fitted allen wrench and GENTLY apply pressure.  Some may not take much pressure at all to move so be gentle.  If it stays put it will probably be ok.  "Probably" is a four-letter word when we talk about defensive weapons.  Remember Murphy's Law:  What can go wrong WILL go wrong.  Of all the manufacturers, Kimber absolutely is the toughest one to adjust or remove.  They are set at the factory, and very securely locktited and/or staked in.


In summary, I would avoid using adjustable type triggers on any defensive pistol.  Once they are properly adjusted and secured they should give long service.  Kimber would be my only exception.  –AZOD-