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The Guns of Dan Wesson

The Guns of Dan Wesson
A line of high-quality pistols that does an iconic brand proud.

The Dan Wesson name is synonymous with switch-barrel revolvers. After all, that's all it made for as long as I can remember, in good times and in bad. And there were plenty of bad times.

Dan Wesson struggled through much of its existence. Not surprisingly, quality rose and fell with the company's bottom line, and the company changed hands several times over the years. The first 1911s that rolled off the production line in 1997 were a product of the bad times. Quality had improved a bit by 2004, but when CZ-USA purchased Dan Wesson in January of 2005, things got better fast.

The main differences between the guns of old and today's Dan Wesson 1911s are the quality of the individual parts and the hand-fitting that goes into each gun.


Dan Wesson
VALOR
Type: 1911 semiautomatic
Caliber: 45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1
Barrel Length: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.8 in.
Height: 5.5 in.
Width: 1.5 in.
Weight: 2.4 lb.
Frame/ Slide: stainless
Sights: low-profile adjustable Novak night sights
Finish: black matte ceramic
Trigger pull: 4lb. 9oz.
Grips: VZ slim line micarta
Price: $1,494
Manufacturer: Dan Wesson Firearms, 800.955.4486


Every Dan Wesson pistol is built on a forged slide and cast frame, with the exception of the new Valor, which is built on a forged frame. Each frame and slide is run through Dan Wesson's state-of-the-art CNC machines, then sent to the polishing department to be de-burred.

Those same folks then hand-fit the barrel, frame and slide. Finally, they hand-radius every sharp edge, blend the rear of the slide and frame, sandblast every radius, polish the flats, and throat and polish the feed ramp. This is all done by hand.

Next, they stake the plunger tube, pin the ejector and thoroughly clean the gun before sending it to the assembly department. There, the small parts are polished and fitted to each pistol. Dan Wesson does not use any drop-in parts on its 1911s, which is one reason they are so accurate and reliable.

Every trigger job is tuned by hand with the use of a Power Custom Jig. The extractor hooks are polished and tuned, and the match barrel bushing, oversized firing pin stop, grip safety, thumb safety and slide stop are all fitted. After assembly and function testing, each gun is test fired in the test tunnel before a final quality-control check.


The parts used on today's Dan Wessons are also superior to those made in the pre-CZ days. Ed Brown makes the tactical thumb safety, slide stop and beavertail grip safety. Greider makes the trigger. The stainless barrels and bushings are match-grade parts made by Dan Wesson, as are the tool steel ignition parts. The springs are by Wolff.

Back in 2006, I tested the Pointman Seven, a stainless steel, full-size 1911 with Bomar adjustable sights. It was nicely fitted, accurate and totally reliable. But I was not surprised given the quality of the parts and the overall fit and finish of the pistol.

Another gun I tested, the Commander Classic Bobtail is aimed at the concealed carry market. The 4.25-inch barreled pistol adds frontstrap checkering, Ed Brown's bobtail mainspring housing and fixed, Novak-style sights with three-dot tritium inserts. Its polished slide flats and rich, figured cocobolo grips give it a classy look. My test gun was beautifully fitted and shot great. In fact, I liked it so much I bought it.


As much as I like my Commander Classic Bobtail, when I wrote the review I mentioned that I thought the company should change the 20 lines-per-inch checkering. Well, the powers that be must have agreed because a much smoother 25 lpi checkering is one of the many improvements on current-production Commanders and the new Valor, which I recently tested.

The low-profile extended safety has a wide enough shelf to ride with the thumb, but it's not so wide it digs into your side or would be inadvertently deactivated. The Valor's 25 lines-per-inch, machine-cut checkering is nicely done and gives plenty of traction without being abrasive to the hands during firing.

The Valor boasts several upgrades--a forged frame, a durable new finish and even more hand-fitting among them. During fitting, the Valor is built tighter than its brethren, and the hand-fitted extractor and grip safety are blended flawlessly.

Once

the fitting is complete, the pistol is finished in a durable, matte black Cerakote (which the company calls Duty Coat). This finish is very corrosion-resistant and tough as nails. It is also applied very evenly and smoothly, which I cannot say about some companies' spray-on finishes. When the pistol comes back from finishing, every part has to be fitted once again to deal with the added thickness of the coating.

The Valor is built on Dan Wesson's forged slide and frame of 416 stainless steel. The frame sports an undercut trigger guard, 25 lpi checkering on the front- and backstrap, and a beveled magazine. The magazine release and forged Greider slide stop are slightly extended.

The trigger is Greider's solid, aluminum model. It is adjustable for overtravel. The slick trigger, Wolff springs and the hand-fitted, match-grade, tool-steel ignition parts combined to give the pistol a crisp, clean trigger pull that measured four pounds, nine ounces and felt even lighter.

The Valor's linen micarta slim-line stocks are by VZ Grips. They have a fair amount of texture but are not abrasive. The slim grips feel great in my small hands, and the gray color looks sexy against the matte black pistol.

The hand-fitting is very evident in the beautifully blended Ed Brown beavertail grip safety. There were no uneven gaps or sharp edges between the grip safety and the frame, and the raised bump made it easy to engage the grip safety every time, even with a less-than-perfect firing grip.

Ed Brown's tactical thumb safety is my favorite. It has a wide enough shelf for me to ride with my thumb, but it is not so wide that it digs into my side nor so large that it is prone to inadvertent deactivation. The safety engaged smoothly and positively, as I expected it would given the amount of hand-fitting involved.

The Valor's forged, five-inch slide is also a stainless steel part. It is devoid of the front cocking serrations that are so en vogue. That smooth slide and the tasteful Valor logo give it a classic, all-business look. Like all Dan Wesson pistols, the Valor's ejection port is flared, and the barrel and bushing are Dan Wesson-made, stainless steel, match-grade parts.

The front sight is neatly dovetailed into the slide. It has a green tritium insert with a white outline that the company refers to as a target ring. The adjustable Novak rear sight has two identical dots that glow white. The dual-colored dots are a pretty ingenious way to avoid confusing the front and rear sights in a low-light, life-or-death situation.

The slide-to-frame fit on my sample was exceptionally tight. The barrel locked up bank-vault solid, and the controls were smooth and positive. All that hand-fitting really showed.

As pleased as I was to see the amount of human attention given the Valor, I reserved judgment on the pistol because, in my experience, such tightly fitted pistols are hit-or-miss in the reliability department. Though they are usually incredibly accurate, tight pistols don't always run so great right out of the box. I had only 400 rounds to run through the Valor, so I was hoping it wouldn't require a lengthy break-in period to hit its stride.

The Valor was tightly fitted, and it showed - firing groups that would be tough to beat with even the most expensive custom pistol.

I started at the seven-yard line, where I fired a few magazines to get a feel for the Valor and make sure everything worked as it should. I was thrilled to see my first few rounds fall into a nice, tight group, just a hair below the center of the three-inch bullseye. I quickly adjusted the Novak sight and brought the groups up and into the bull, then fired for effect. The Valor felt great in my hand, and it fed, fired, and ejected as flawlessly as I hoped.

I did my accuracy testing with the Valor from a sandbag rest at 25-yards. Because it was so tightly fitted, I was expecting good accuracy, but I confess that my first bughole group blew me away. I shot that incredible, .954-inch, five-shot group with Hornady's 185-grain XTP load.

But as good as that group was, it wasn't a fluke. In fact, my next two groups measured .925 inch and .974 inch. Nerves caused me to open things up a bit, but the five-group average of just 1.18 inches ranked right up there with my best full-house-custom 1911s.

It would be unfair to expect another load to match the accuracy of that Hornady load, but Federal's 230-grain Hydra Shoks came close. With a best group right at one inch and a five-group average of just 1.57 inches, that gun and load combination proved downright impressive.

I also tested ammo from Black Hills and Winchester. Both averaged over two inches, but the Black Hills load turned in a best group of 1.5 inches and probably would have averaged a bit better than the 2.2 inches I got had I shot it first, when I was a bit less fatigued.

A few days later I headed back to the range with two friends, Mike Ambrose and James Jeffrey, to complete my reliability testing. Mike, a Vietnam-era Navy SEAL, fired 60 rounds through the Valor. He raved about the Valor's trigger and accuracy.

James, who has a great deal of experience with high-end 1911s, also fired 60 rounds. He loved the Valor, too. He particularly liked the feel of the checkering and grips, and he thought the Valor might be the most accurate pistol he'd ever shot.

Once we were done with that, I loaded up a bunch of magazines and rapid-fired the last 160 rounds through the Valor. I really liked the match-grade accuracy and crisp, clean trigger, and because of my small hands I loved the combination of the slim grips and 25 lpi checkering. The grip was easy to wrap my hands around, and the checkering locked the gun into my hands during rapid-fire drills.

At the conclusion of my testing, I called Dan Wesson's Keith Lawton to brag about the Valor's accuracy. He was not surprised. "I know you expected me to be surprised about the groups you shot with the Valor," Lawton said, "but accuracy like that is not uncommon."

Lawton said the hand-fitting described earlier and the high-quality, name-brand parts Dan Wesson uses led to increased consistency and quality. He went on to say that by 2009, all Dan Wesson pistols will be completely free of metal-injection-molded parts, which are not held in high regard by many.

Under CZ-USA, Dan Wesson has endeavored to improve the quality of its 1911 line. Based on the Valor I tested, I would have to say the company has succeeded. I couldn't find a thing to complaint about. In fact, I was so impressed with the new Valor I bought it. I can't think of any higher praise than that.

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