Review: DoubleStar PhD
June 19, 2017
DoubleStar is located in Winchester, Kentucky, and while you might not recognize the name, you may have heard of J&T Distributing, which has been selling AR-15 parts and accessories for more than 25 years—including many the company designed and manufactured itself. Soon just making parts wasn’t enough, and the firm began offering complete ARs and 1911s through its spinoff company, DoubleStar Corp.
The PHD is DoubleStar’s first complete 1911. PHD is a clever moniker for a pistol, and in this case the letters stand for Personal Home Defense. It is meant to provide defense shooters everything they need and nothing they don’t. The question, of course, is whether the company succeeded.
DoubleStar makes only .45 ACPs, and the PHD is a full-size, five-inch, all-steel pistol. It has a businesslike manganese phosphate Parkerized finish, and the first thing you’ll COMnotice is the slide. The rear of it features three wide, flat, aggressive serrations, and the front of the slide has a reduced Browning Hi Power-style cut in which the slide is narrowed forward of the frame. The narrowing on the PHD is minimal, and I would prefer forward slide serrations or a deeper Browning cut so it can more easily be used to work the slide from the front. “PHD” is engraved in big letters on the right side of the slide.
The slide has been flat-topped, and there are three attractive serrations running down the top of the slide. Fore and aft of them are XS Express sights—a big white outline tritium dot in the round-topped front sight teamed with a shallow V-notch rear sight featuring a vertical white line.
These sights are popular with a lot of folks, and the “lollipop” sight picture is quick to use at indoor distances. However, I’ve never been a fan of this design because it has limited utility when compared to traditional notch/post sights. And I’ve found the shallow V of the rear sight makes windage errors easy past 10 yards or so. However, I consider them usable for quick body shots inside seven yards—the distance for most but not all self-defense scenarios—and to work great for people who don’t practice much.
The PHD’s barrel is stainless steel and hand fit and mated to a National Match bushing. The bushing was finger tight (no wrench required for removal), and overall the fit of the PHD was excellent—honestly on par with most of the custom 1911’s I’ve handled. There was absolutely no play between the slide and frame.
The first complaint the tactical types might have upon seeing the PHD is it doesn’t feature a frame rail for mounting a weapon light. I understand their position, but rails add weight, cost and affect holster fit.
You’ll find a standard GI-type recoil system (short guide rod) in the PHD, but a heavier than standard recoil spring, making the slide a bit harder than usual to work. The standard recoil spring weight for an all-steel Government Model .45 ACP 1911 is 16 pounds, but many gunsmiths who build guns designed for carry use heavier springs to reduce battering of the frame when shooting +P carry loads, and that’s what I found in the PHD.
I don’t agree with this for several reasons. First, nobody shoots thousands of rounds of expensive premium defensive carry ammo. People practice with practice ammo and carry carry ammo. Second, the steel frame of a 1911 can take untold abuse.
My first gunsmith, the late Russ Carniak, owned a 1911 that had digested 175,000 rounds of ammo and only occasionally needed a little tightening. Russ was also in favor of lighter recoil springs because if you experienced a slightly under-loaded round there was a better chance the slide would cycle, and as an avid competition shooter, I’ve found heavy recoil springs make the muzzle dip as they slam the slide home, whereas lighter springs keep the muzzle flatter and could improve a defensive shooter’s ability to make accurate follow-up shots.
Enough soapbox. With regard to fit, the DoubleStar’s slide and frame were perfectly mated, and the single-sided extended thumb safety was perfectly installed—with loud clicks up and down and just the right amount of resistance. All the sharp edges and corners were also removed from the rear of the safety, something not done on factory guns (but desperately needed when you’re shooting with a thumb-high hold). When shooting a steel-framed gun chambered in .45 ACP, you’ll notice every edge and corner in the web of your hand, especially if you have thin, bony hands like I do.
The beavertail on the pistol is a Wilson Combat High Ride, and it is the highest-riding and best-fitting Wilson beavertail I’ve come across. The beavertail is paired with a Commander-style hammer.
The trigger is the ubiquitous extended aluminum type with three holes now seen on just about every 1911 except “retro” models. DoubleStar’s specs for this gun call for a trigger pull between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds. Trigger pull on my sample was 4.75 pounds.
The PHD employs a Series 80-type firing pin block safety. These safeties were introduced to prevent dropped 1911s from going off, which while unlikely was possible. They’re notorious for screwing up the traditionally excellent trigger pulls found on 1911s, so to DoubleStar’s credit, a 4.75-pound trigger pull on a Series 80 gun is rather impressive considering how many extra parts get thrown into both the frame and slide.
Still, I consider this design unnecessary, and the modern solution to preventing a dropped 1911 from firing is to install a heavier firing pin spring and a lighter (usually titanium) firing pin.
The mainspring housing on the PHD isn’t checkered but rather features three vertical ball radius cuts that serve as stylish serrations. At the bottom of the frame you’ll see the PHD features a round butt, although it’s the most minimal round-butt conversion I think I’ve ever seen. Designers rounded the corner of the frame and not a lot more, but it feels nice in the hand. The serrations on the mainspring housing don’t go all the way down, and my only complaint about this section of the frame is the round butt is too smooth.
The trigger guard comes straight back to meet with the frame—not as good as an undercut trigger guard for allowing you to choke up on the gun, but much better than the original GI radius. The magazine release is slightly longer than usual and is easily accessed thanks to the cutout in the Magpul grips.
A few years ago Magpul introduced its polymer 1911 grips, which I like. Not only are they inexpensive, they are thin and more aggressively textured than they appear. The left grip also features a substantial relief cut to ease access to the magazine release. Checkering or texturing on the frontstrap on the PHD would increase the secure handling of the pistol but would of course add cost to what is meant to be an entry-level 1911.
Supplied with the gun is one eight-hollow point round PSI ACT-Mag. I consider these to be the finest 1911 magazines on the market today, the spiritual successor to Jeff Cooper’s favored but now-discontinued Mag-Pak magazines. My only complaint is that the pistol comes with only one.
The magazine well in the frame is slightly beveled—so slightly, in fact, that I had to put on my reading glasses to double-check it had in fact been beveled. The edges of the magazine well opening had been smoothed, but that’s about it. A more aggressive bevel would have been welcome.
When I first picked up the PHD it felt so light I assumed it had an aluminum frame. A quick check with a magnet showed me the frame was, in fact, made of steel. My home scale put the gun’s weight at 34.5 ounces (the specs call for a 33-ounce weight), which is light for an all-steel full-size 1911.
But the weight isn’t the whole story. When it comes to pistols, size matters. In this case, we’re talking girth. The PHD’s grip simply felt slimmer in my hand, and so my brain automatically translated that into lighter weight. And I didn’t think it was all due to the small rounded butt, so I pulled out the calipers.
Measuring the PHD’s frame at the top of the mainspring housing square across the frame, the pistol measured 1.975 inches front to back. Width across the relatively slim Magpul grips was 1.295 inches. For comparison I pulled out a Springfield Armory Range Officer Operator. Springfield frames have always felt long to me (front to back), and the calipers showed the Operator was 2.15 inches — over a tenth of an inch longer. It also measured 1.325 inches across the wood grips—bigger in both dimensions.
Those tenths and hundredths of inches might not seem like much, but you can definitely feel them in your hand. Combine the slightly reduced dimensions with a rounded butt and you’ve got a pistol that feels surprisingly svelte in your hand.
This pistol got a lot of trigger time before, during and after a trip to Gunsite for filming last season’s “Handguns & Defensive Weapons” episodes. There is something very satisfying about shooting a 1911 at Gunsite, where Jeff Cooper expounded on this design’s merits. The pistol was fed via the provided magazine as well as a stainless seven-round Ed Brown magazine.
It never choked once even though it got a bit dusty and was fed a steady diet of Hornady’s 185-grain American Gunner ammo. This load features the XTP bullet, which has a flat point profile and a large cavity, and I’ve seen it jam up a few guns over the years, but the PHD ran on and on and on.
The PHD is probably a bit more inherently accurate than the accompanying chart would lead you to believe. That big XS round-topped front sight isn’t designed for precision work but rather for speed, and I did all my accuracy work off sandbags rather than locking the gun in a vise.
DoubleStar indicates the PHD is the first in a line of pistols designed to provide in a production gun the “features of a high-end 1911 without the lengthy wait or a high price tag.”
There might be some argument as to whether a $1,364 suggested retail price is “high” or not, but compared to the pistols most of the custom shops are putting out, the PHD is half the price. And when you consider that DoubleStar is small enough to be considered a custom shop, where every pistol is treated to hand fitting, it is no wonder the pistol is so well put together.