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

  • Company   
  • Calibers   
  • Frame Material   
  • Frame Sizes   
  • Finishing Notes   
  • Appearance   
  • Availability   
  • Base Price   
  • Full Kit Price   

  • Stealth Arms

  • .45 ACP

  • 7075 Aluminum

  • Government (5"), Commander (4.25")

  • Can use Phantom Jig to cut rails without a milling machine

  • Very clean cuts and even bead blasting

  • All frames, jigs, and kits available as of 5/6/16

  • Frames are $165-170 (railed)

  • $1095

  • 1911 Builders

  • .45 ACP, 9mm (small frame)

  • 4140 Steel, 416R Stainless, 7075 Aluminum

  • Government (5"), Commander (4.25"), Officer (3" & 3.5")

  • Can use hand cutter jig to cut rails without milling machine. Steel and stainless frames require decking.

  • No first-hand experience

  • Some steel/stainless frames out of stock as of 5/6/16

  • Steel ($200), Stainless ($175-230), Aluminum ($150-230)

  • $800-1200

  • Tactical Machining

  • .45 ACP

  • 4140 Steel

  • Government (5")

  • Can possibly use rail cutting tools of other companies, but was made for milling machine or careful drill press.

  • First production batch had minor cosmetic blemishes

  • Rarely in stock and almost immediately sold out

  • Steel ($160)

  • NA, 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


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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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… Read more »


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… Read more »


Hey Eric, Just wanted to point out a typo. Under the 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… Read more »