Colt Factory and Custom Shop tour!
12-05-2011, 07:50 PM
Let me preface this by saying a big THANK YOU to Brent for making this possible. Also, to those I got to meet and chat with, it was MY pleasure.
This was right up there with the Hoover Dam tour in coolness for this unabashed Colt fan.
Truly an eye opener it was. First and foremost they are running at full capacity...I mean FULL. It is a lean operation that to my eye, is very well run and HUGELY committed to the future on the commercial side. The defense side is not really open for a tour but I can tell you from seeing the big Gov't boxes that Colt is alive and well there too. They also have a government inspector on staff, yep that's right.
To those of you waiting for a model to get to a store and wonder why you never see that many Colts: They ALL sell. ALL of them...immediately. There is no "inventory" per se. All the guns are already sold.
I would call it very well organized for such a large operation and it is very unique in that a very old world commitment refusing to compromise on quality....you get the feeling they feel very strongly about quality as you take in the all the goings on around, combined with lean modern manufacturing techniques (such as Sigma 6 and J.I.T.)creates a unique environment for building the firearms we so love.
Machinery: Ah yes, the smell of industry and let me tell you, that place smells like home to someone that spent lots of years in an auto machine shop. They have old machinery converted from the old belt driven style to conventional stand alone high voltage power supplies as well as the most state of the art CNC machines any manufacturer could purchase and there are LOTS of new machines including more ready to come online ASAP. There are also old machines sunk into the floor like the old days so they can be used at a comfortable height but still allow for maintenance. They still make most of the small parts in house on older machines and they look just beautiful in the white. In fact, some of the cleanest raw machining I have ever seen.
Hand performed operations: Oh gosh, where do I start???? The filing, the rollmarking, the machine and hand polishing? The amount of handwork that goes into your new Colt is staggering...truly, it is. People working diligently at their stations, checking and re-checking as they go. I saw two guys working at one station, one on a Detective Special and one on a 1911 frame, both were for customer requested refinishing. As we passed by one was showing Brent the revolver and how from age and use the cylinder "swing" was not cosmetically lining up, both agreed no matter what, it had to be as perfect as possible. The guy began to gently massage the metal to make it look brand new again and it will look perfect. I just can't get over the amount of handwork still done, especially considering the price of an average new Colt. Unreal.
The Materials: Rest assured, your new Colt 1911/revolver or rifle is made with American steel and forged right in CT. For you alloy framed and rifle fans, only the BEST aluminum is used. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of slide and frame billets, barrels and other components in various stages of production along the way..you name it along with the marking to prove good old USA sourcing. Picking up a raw slide and receiver billet is a total trip as you sit there thinking "Wow, LOTS of work to get to a finished product."
The Colt 1911 barrels truly are works of art by the way. The testing they go through is just mind boggling. It's no wonder many consider them to the the most robust 1911 barrel made. Also, yes, there is a difference in the match barrels...I saw racks of those allocated for rollmarking separated from non-NM barrels. For a company that busy to separate them, what does that say? No secret, the barrels are different.
One little interesting piece was a small forged "plate" about a couple of inches long and maybe 3/4" tall and probably over 3/16" thick. A bin was full of them. Brent picked one up and said "guess what this is?" It becomes the ejector in your gun, yeah, that much waste could be said but they refuse to compromise on the quality.
BTW, much talk has been that Colt uses cast hammers...HAHAHAHAHA! I saw the raw forgings and the lady running them and prepping them..all Colt pistols and revolvers use forged hammers.....period. I swear Colt must go through so many grinding and polishing wheels, sandpaper and other materials that they must own stock in the companies that make them. Again, so much handwork going on it just blows my mind..
There were RACKS full of fresh bar stock steel for small parts sitting and waiting to be made into extractors or other parts. Tons of all the materials needed to run the job in a very efficient and lean manner.
Assembly: You should all know that EVERY Colt, yes EVERY Colt is fired for accuracy and function before it leaves the factory. EVERY GUN. That should dispel any myths there. Colt also does not believe one should have to "break a gun in with hundreds of rounds." It is their philosophy that it should work out of the box. Period. With a LESS THAN ONE PERCENT, YES, LESS THAN ONE PERCENT WARRANTY RETURN RATE on all firearms, I would say that is how Colt operates. In fact, it is always how they have modeled their business with the exception of some tough past times, the legacy carries on. I suggest you Defender owners whining lately to literally get a grip....it ain't the gun, it's YOU.
To give you an idea of how tight they run things, guns sometimes have to wait for things as simple as grips from outside vendors so there they sit, patiently waiting to be fit with grips, fired, cleaned and inspected again before packaging.
Phew, there is so much more but ask and I'll try to fill in any blanks as best as I can.
On to the Custom Shop and also a stop by to watch master scrimshaw and engraving artists at work. I watched a guy scrimshaw a SAA ivory stock with Sam Colt's face off of a picture with stunning accuracy and detail. I honestly do not know how the heck one could work so perfectly with such small tools and delicate surfaces so perfectly. Also, I saw a man engraving a SAA frame freehand like he was simply writing a note. Undeniable talent and experience.
The Custom Shop, yeah, that's right. A totally intimate affair that seems to run exactly as said, it's a shop withing the shop. It has it's own machine shop and all customizing is done with Bridgeports, lathes and other regular machine shop equipment. It should be stated that the master smiths in this shop REALLY know their stuff and will be the first to tell you it's done a certain way because it just plain creates the most enduring product possible. Whether it's a custom build job like my Rail Gun will get or a decked out new SCG or SAA, they are fit and done by only these people and they are good...REAL good. Browning would be proud of the whole factory IMHO.
A neat item of interest was the O1918's....edges sharp? Of course, they are the same as back in the first days of the 1911. Cut hard and crisp and FULLY adhering to the original prints.
I got the idea that when you buy a Colt, you are buying something made to way outlast you. They even do trigger work as Browning intended..there is a for lack of better terms, a "sweet spot" that a 1911 trigger job should be performed