Best 1911 80%: Stealth Arms, 1911 Builders, Tactical Machining

Almost every firearms hobbyist has owned or at least fired a 1911. But how many of us have built one?

What used to require complex machining and a gunsmith to fit together, can now be done at home by anyone brave enough to try – thanks to 80% frames and kits.

Here we’ll give you a comparison of three popular 1911 80% products from Stealth Arms, 1911 Builders, and Tactical Machining.  Everything from pricing to difficulty, calibers, frame materials, and more.  We’ll start with a comparison chart before diving deeper into each company’s offerings.

Need the quick picks? Here is the rundown:

Comparison Chart

CompanyStealth Arms1911 BuildersTactical Machining
Calibers.45 ACP.45 ACP, 9mm.45 ACP
Frame Material7075 Aluminum4140 Steel, 416R Stainless, 7075 Aluminum
4140 Steel
Frame Sizes Government (5"), Commander (4.25")Government (5"), Commander (4.25"), Officer (3" & 3.5")Government (5")
Finishing Notes
Can use Phantom Jig to cut rails without a milling machine
Can use hand cutter jig to cut rails without milling machine. Steel and stainless frames require decking.
Can possibly use rail cutting tools of other companies, but was made for milling machine or careful drill press.
Appearance
Very clean cuts and even bead blasting
No first-hand experience
First production batch had minor cosmetic blemishes
Availability
All frames, jigs, and kits available as of 5/6/16
Some steel/stainless frames out of stock as of 5/6/16
Rarely in stock and almost immediately sold out
Base Price
Frames are $165-170 (railed)
Steel ($200), Stainless ($175-230), Aluminum ($150-230)
Steel ($160)
Full Kit Price$1095$800-1200NA, only frames sold

Stealth Arms 1911 80%

  • Calibers: Right now they only offer .45 ACP frames but should have ramped 9mm frames coming out soon.
  • Frame Materials: Aluminum for now which is much lighter than standard steel 1911 frames.  Here’s a comparison to an 80% Stealth Arms sample, and a completed steel frame Tactical Machining.  It is 4.5 vs 12.9 oz which will equate to the ~30 oz completed weight of an aluminum 1911 and ~40 oz of a steel one.  The weight difference will make carrying easier but also result in slightly more felt recoil.
Stealth Arms 1911 Tactical Weight
Stealth Arms 1911 Tactical Weight
TM 1911 Steel Frame Weight
TM 1911 Steel Frame Weight
  • Frame Sizes: Government (5″) and Commander (4.25″).  Bobtail versions and also 30 LPI front strap checkering options coming out in Summer 2016.
  • Finishing Notes: I have not completed a Stealth Arms kit but since the frame is aluminum, I would likely use the Phantom Jig which cuts the rail without the use of a milling machine.  Definitely the hardest part of completing a 1911 80%.  You can see how I did it with a drill press for my Tactical Machining one (not fun).
Phantom Jig
Phantom Jig
Cutting 1911 Rails
Cutting 1911 Rails
  • Appearance: Looks great…I couldn’t find any cosmetic blemishes on either the standard Government model or the Tactical railed model they sent me.  Also love how you can choose for the surface to be bead blasted so you can more easily paint it yourself later, which is why they look a little white.
Stealth Arms 1911 Top View
Stealth Arms 1911 Top View
Stealth Arms 1911 Back View
Stealth Arms 1911 Back View
Stealth Arms 1911 Side View
Stealth Arms 1911 Side View
  • Availability: As of the writing of this article on 5/6/16, they have everything in stock including the frames, jigs, and parts kits.
  • Base Price: Their 1911 80% frames vary from $165 for the Government model to $170 for the Tactical railed model.
  • Full Kit Price: The complete kit will run you $1095 and contains all the parts you need to build a 1911. If you get their Phantom Jig that will run you another $200 so it’s probably best to split with a friend.  My original Tactical Machining 1911 build ended up costing ~$1300 so this is comparable.
  • Other:  All their parts are made in-house and I know you can’t see it in the picture, but they state that because of that they maintain the ease of drop-in fit with their frames and slides.  Plus they have a “one screw up” policy where you can turn in a messed up frame for a new one at a lower cost.
Stealth Arms 1911 Full Kit
Stealth Arms 1911 Full Kit

1911 Builders 1911 80%

  • Calibers: .45 ACP and 9mm for some of the stainless steel Officer (3″) kits
  • Frame Materials: Three to choose from!  Standard steel, stainless steel, and aluminum.
  • Frame Sizes: Several sizes for each of the frame materials.  Steel (Government, Commander), Stainless (Government, Commander, Officer), Aluminum (Government, Commander).
  • Finishing Notes: Also comes with a hand cutting rail jig (picture looks to have the Stealth Arms logo) that will likely easily cut through the aluminum but might require extra bits to get through the steel and stainless.   Also stainless and steel frames require some “decking” either manually or with another jig.  This means that you need to remove some material from the top of the frame.
1911 Rail Hand Cutter
1911 Rail Hand Cutter
1911 Builders Decking Jig
1911 Builders Decking Jig
  • Appearance: Haven’t had firsthand experience with them.
  • Availability: As of 5/6/2016, some steel/stainless frames look to be out of stock
  • Base Price: Steel ($200), Stainless ($175-230), Aluminum ($150-230).  Ranges occur since some have rails, checking, or bobtail grip.
  • Full Kit Price: Ranges from $800-1200 based on quality, sights, and frame size.  Some kits include the rail cutter which makes those cheaper than Stealth Arms.
1911 Builders Full Kit
1911 Builders Full Kit

Tactical Machining 1911 80%

  • Calibers: .45 ACP
  • Frame Materials: 4140 Steel
  • Frame Sizes: Government (5″)
  • Finishing Notes: Might be able to use Stealth Arms’ rail cutting jig, but was originally intended for milling or careful drill pressing.
Tactical Machining 1911 80% and Drill Bits
Tactical Machining 1911 80% and Drill Bits
  • Appearance: I got two in their first batch and both had some minor cosmetic blemishes that I had to file away.
  • Availability: Currently sold out and I rarely see them back in stock.  They spurred the whole 1911 80% game but have seemed to let it die out.
  • Base Price: $160 for the frame, no kits

Conclusion

I’ve only had first-hand experience with the Tactical Machining 1911 80%, but considering they are almost always sold out, you’ve got your choices of Stealth Arms or 1911 Builders.  I haven’t built any of them yet but each has their merits based on frame materials, pricing differences, finish, and calibers.

Don’t want to build your own? Here are our Best 1911s For The Money review – updated for 2018!

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12 Leave a Reply

  • Bradley Thompson

    I just bought my 80% lower from stealth arms. Did all the cutting ( slide rails and barrel seat) and for some reason the slide doesn't go forward all the way without some force and gets stuck . I have no idea what to do. Any help would b much appreciated.

    6 months ago
    • Dan

      You need to measure the inside of the slide from one end to the other. Some where along it you will find the smallest dimension. Your frame has to be .003" smaller to allow it to move freely.

      3 months ago
  • John

    There is another company offering 80% 1911 frames, from which I would like to steer potential purchasers away: The Buffalo, in Ventura, CA. I ordered an 80% frame from The Buffalo online, using my debit card. After several days of no email confirming the order, I began to wonder what was up. I sent 2 emails to the 2 different email addresses listed on the site. No reply to either. Looking at the website again, It seemed rather... sparse. Not a lot of information on it - not really that well done. I did some research and discovered Better Business Bureau had several complaints on them for not filling orders and extreme refund hassles. I also found a complaint on ripoffreport.com to the same effect. The bottom line is that I had failed to do my homework, so I'm out that money unless I file a complaint with my bank, but I really don't have time to do that. So stay away from The Buffalo.

    1 year ago
    • Marc McDowell

      They also violate Federal trade laws due to lack of correspondence. I filed a complaint with the FTC a month ago, but haven't heard anything back yet. My suggestion is don't wait more than 120 days to file a complaint with your bank.

      1 year ago
    • Marc McDowell

      Same here. Purchased 17Oct2018. Haven't received anything as of 20Apr2019. Still trying to get money back. They don't answer calls, e-mails, nothing. Worst business I've ever dealt with.

      1 year ago
  • Kenneth

    Sealth Arms was my first 80% build. The use of their Jig was straight forward and the directions very clear. The frame did not initially fit the slide after using the jig: which was good as I was interested in a tight fit. 30 minutes with a stone (done slowly and deliberately) I went from putting the frame to slide with a rubber mallet to barely being able to get it on. With some polishing compound and elbow grease I achieved a very nice fit. Other parts needed some fitting especially the extractor, grip safety and thumb safety. However, most importantly the barrel and lug needed almost no fitting. It locked up nicely and was very tight. On the range there were no malfuncitons and it shot very nicely. All in all very high quality and extremely entertaining to build. Definitely 5 star service, comunication and quality.

    2 years ago
  • Ryan

    Stealth Arms frames are great aluminum builds, just wish they offered an officer size. 1911builders frames are great, no blemishes like the TM frames, and are available in stainless, 4140 or aluminum, full size, officers size "ultra" size, commander, and commander with a bobtail, light rail/no light rail. I built my first 2 1911s with the stealth arms frame and phantom jig and it was super easy. Almost no parts fitting and it all went together and they just worked. I bought a stainless steel officers size from 1911builders next. The only fitting I did was for the beavertail because i wanted some fancy wilson combat part and some slight polishing of the magazine catch just to make it go in easier. the final product came out 3x better IMO after i polished the gun. The Stealth Arms package was great for starting out and learning how to make these guns. Since they don't offer steel frames or many sizes, 1911builders is a good place to go for options. I haven't used one of their aluminum frames yet, but their pictures look very similar to stealth arms frames. Next build is going to be an aluminum officers in 9mm. (as far as 1911s anyway. also working on a sig p228 and polymer80 glock project on top of my 3 other 1911 builds) The biggest difference i noticed was that 1911builders frames have a space cut out for the plunger tube feet to mushroom into when staking where Stealth Arms frames did not give the extra space. It hasn't fallen out yet but it always in my mind when i look at it. 1911builders now have frames with ramped barrels, which is pretty much the only difference in a 9mm and standard stealth arms frame. My officers size is a 45 acp with a ramped barrel and it works great. A lot of their frames also have a ".250 radius beavertail giving more beavertail options. They can be cut using the stealth arms phantom after being decked but i prefer the MatrixPrecisionParts rail cutter. Pretty much the only downside to 1911 builders for me is that their aluminum frames are priced higher than stealth arms frames and the downside to stealth arms is they only offer a commander or a full size with or without light rail. And only in aluminum. (at the time im writing this, 1911builders is having a sale and their aluminum frames are actually cheaper than stealth arms) Because of the aluminum frame my commander 1911 (stealth arms) is a bit snappier than my officers (1911builders). Although its still very manageable. Basically, in my opinion, 1911builders frames are better. Tools used Stealth arms build: phantom jig, files, sandpaper, drill press 1911builders build: matrix rail cutter, decking jig, wilson combat beavertail jig, files, sandpaper, hand drill, phantom jig (for drilling pin holes) Frame + parts costs stealth arms build with e-sarco inc parts kit total cost $375 Stealth arms build with wilson and stealth arms parts, ed brown barrel and para slide ~$900 1911builders build with all wilson parts, para slide and barrel ~$1200 Tools Prices matrix rail cutter $200-250 ($250 version also works for 80% sigs) matrix decking jig $65-95 ($95 version has drilling holes for pins) Phantom jig $200 wilson beavertail jig $25 (most beavertail jigs around this price) plunger tube staking tool $30 Random files, sandpaper, misc tools ~$100 drill press $160

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Wow, thanks for the write-up of your experiences with both, Ryan!

      3 years ago
  • Kevin

    I just finished a Stealth Arms kit and as someone with zero experience in gunsmithing or machining it couldn't have been easier. They indicate in their instructions that hand fitting will be required with the beavertail grip safety and the thumb safety but I also filed an undercut in the slide stop to make it easier to snap over the plunger tube pin. The Chip McCormick magazine they sent would not insert or extract from the frame without a good deal of force applied so I spent a lot of time polishing the inside of the frame and also removed 1 1/4 coils from the magazine catch spring as well as some polishing of the mag catch bump that holds the magazine in place. Other than that all of the rest of their parts drop in and fit great. I did do some polishing on the trigger bow and ignition parts for a smoother trigger and all of those instructions are also included. I think its a great kit and when they come out with a 9mm I will probably be in for one of those too.

    4 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks Kevin for your insight, I think a lot of people will benefit from your experience in the fitting. I'm patiently waiting for their 9mm kit too!

      4 years ago
  • Steve

    Hey Eric, Just wanted to point out a typo. Under the 1911builders.com complete kit picture, you captioned it as "Stealth Arms Build Kit." It would also be nice if you mentioned that Stealth Arms parts are all made "in-house", and that they guarantee everything they sell. Also, Stealth Arms offers an industry exclusive "1 screw up guarantee" meaning if you botch your frame during the finishing process, they will replace it with a brand new one for a very small fee, no questions asked. If you would like more information to add to your write-up, please feel free to email me. Yiur article is a bit under-researched, but I would be glad to help you out with it. I have experience with all 3 companies. I will try to stay as unbiased as possible, as you can tell from my email address that it may be tough. Haha. Thanks!

    4 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks Steve, will be reaching out!

      4 years ago
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