The story of Ed Brown Products is the American dream! For over 50 years, Ed Brown has been a leader in the 1911 market in both premium components as well as superbly built pistols. Running a one-man show, Ed opened Brown’s Gun Shop in 1968 as a part time gunsmith, full-time tool and die maker; and later he became a CNC programmer and CAD/CAM designer. These skills would become critical in the future. In 1980, Ed entered the competition arena and began shooting in IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) and the Bianchi Cup. At one time, he was ranked in the top 16 combat shooters worldwide.
Gunsmithing part time and competing allowed Ed to see what was needed to build a high-quality 1911 that was reliable and accurate. Firsthand, he witnessed what inferior and poorly designed parts failed. As an engineer, he knew he could do better. Ed quit his tool and die job in 1988 and opened up his own machine shop. He began designing and manufacturing his world-famous beavertail grip safety, magazine well and hammer. He hit it big when Brownells started selling his parts. Ed was now managing a growing parts business along with a successful gunsmithing business. In 1991, Ed was selected by the American Pistolsmiths Guild as their Pistolsmith of the Year. Shortly thereafter, Ed closed the gunsmithing portion of the business to solely concentrate on parts and accessories.
By 1998, the business had continued to grow and Ed’s sons, Travis and Wade, joined the team. With their assistance, Ed Brown set out to expand manufacturing with a goal of producing an Ed Brown 1911. Not content with existing blueprints, the company utilized their extensive engineering experience to improve on parts with an emphasis on tolerances, materials and design. By 2001, the company produced its own complete 1911.
According to their website, “Brown’s parts are engineered for performance.” The company has over $15 million invested in their CNC capability to ensure vertical integration, eliminating the need for outside vendors for critical components. Frames and slides are machined from forgings on multiple 5-axis CNC machines. Hammers, sears, disconnects and other internal parts are CNC machined from bar stock. The company even has a Swiss screw machine to make their screws in house. However, a bin of parts is just that without the skill to fit and assemble the parts into a pistol. The only parts not produced in house are the springs and magazines. Every pistol is assembled by a master craftsman to ensure that each one meets Ed’s high standards. Ed Brown retired from the business in 2010 at age 65 and left the business operations in the hands of his sons. Today, Ed Brown Products is located in a 20,000 square foot production facility in Perry, Missouri.
Ed Brown’s Ergonomics
I have been writing for over 35 years and until this project I’ve never owned or shot an Ed Brown 1911. When I contacted Ed Brown Products, I requested the Ed Brown Special Forces model, which has been the anchor of their pistols lineup for many years. If their base duty/personal-defense handgun was up to par, the other models would be also. I was not disappointed. Every Ed Brown pistol ships in a pistol case that is embroidered with the company’s name. Included with the pistol is a detailed instruction manual, a bushing wrench and a bottle of Ed Brown lubricant.
- Cartridges: 9mm, .38 Super, .45 ACP (tested)
- Capacity: 7+1rds.
- OAL Length 7 in.
- Barrel Length 5 in.
- Weight: 32 oz.
- Grips: VZ G10
- Finish: Brown Gen4 Black
- Sights: Red fiber optic (front); fixed Novak-style (rear)
- MSRP: $2,695
- Manufacturer: Ed Brown
Unpacking the Special Forces (SF) model, I was immediately attracted to the traditional lines and business appearance of the pistol. There are no gaudy markings on the slide and no forward cocking serrations, features we shot without for over 80 years. Instead, the model is indicated with small block lettering on the left side of the slide. The right side of the slide is marked in a smaller font: “Custom by Ed Brown.” Even the manufacturer’s markings on the frame are tastefully rolled.
Our test 1911 was the standard 5-inch Government model. The rear sight is a black Novak-style Ed Brown rear sight with side serrations. The front sight is a standard red fiber optic. Slanted square-cut cocking serrations and an expanded ejection port are the only other machining on the slide. The 5-inch match-grade barrel is precisely fitted to a match bushing. Upon close examination, I noted that the prongs of the bushing had been beveled, removing the sharp edge. In addition, the outer edges of the muzzle have been rounded and the crown is slightly recessed to provide protection during hard duty use. As expected, there is absolutely no frame to slide play.
The frame of the SF model features a nicely fitted and evenly contoured beavertail with a speed bump and Brown’s legendary memory groove. The single side, extended thumb safety, is serrated and contoured to lay parallel to the slide when in the off position. The Brown style slide stop is serrated to match the thumb safety. A three-hole match trigger has an adjustable over-travel stop and broke cleanly at 4 pounds, 4 ounces. While void of an extended magazine well, the edges of the frame and mainspring housing are nicely beveled. Another nice touch, which is easily overlooked, is the finely checkered magazine release button. The grips on the SF model are gray G10 with a snake skin pattern manufactured by VZ. Each Brown pistol comes with two, seven-round, OEM magazines.
Brown offers five metal treatments for the frontstrap and mainspring housing. These include traditional 25 LPI (lines per inch) checkering, skip-line checkering, Snakeskin and Chainlink I and III. Our test pistol came with the Chainlink III texture. This consists of offset rows of small round dimples that are machined in a 21 lpi pattern. This texture is applied to the frontstrap and mainspring housing.
Ed Brown Products also engineers their own coatings. The Gen4 coating is Brown’s fourth advance in “thermoset polymer coating” and provides exceptional corrosion protection and wear resistance. The black Gen4 finish has the appearance that is very similar to a fine bead blast bluing. The matte finish is both attractive and functional. While tough, Gen4 will show wear over time but is significantly more durable than bluing and other spray and bake finishes. It is also available in Stealth Gray and Battle Bronze.
I recently joined Strongpoint Shooting Complex. It’s located in Waverly Hall, Georgia, and the range is only a 25-minute drive from my home. The range has eight individual pistol bays that are 50-yards in length and allow for private shooting without interruption. They also rent steel targets, which greatly enhances the fun factor when running a new pistol.
I started out pinging an IPSC steel silhouette at 45-yards with Federal’s new 230-grain American Eagle Syntech. This is a great training load that offers significant advantages over traditional lead core, copper-jacketed rounds. The steel silhouette took a beating as it was hard to miss with the Special Forces.
Then it was time to get serious with four premium duty/personal-defense loads with varied bullet weights. The first load was Federal’s 230-grain HST. This is perhaps the most effective, traditional lead core/copper jacketed duty round on the market today.
We also tested Gorilla’s 230-grain Silverback load. The Silverback load consists of a CNC Swiss Turned solid copper hollowpoint (hp) bullet that is pre-scored for consistent expansion. The pre-scored bullet provides more consistent expansion and retains almost 100 percent of its original weight. In addition, the petals are thicker than a jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) and will not over expand or fold back. The Silverback load averaged a very mild 793 fps, making it the softest shooting round of the test. In previous tests, I found the Silverback will reliably expand to .7 inch or better.
In addition, I tried out some of Hornady Critical Defense 185-grain Flex Tip ammo in the Ed Brown. It shot well, delivering groups in the 1.75-inch range at the 25 yard distance I was shooting.
The final load was the 185-grain +P JHP from Super Vel. Cameron Hopkins recently revived the brand that became somewhat of a legend with law enforcement in the 1970s. The Super Vel traditional lead core, copper JHP round is designed to offer maximum expansion and energy transfer. The hot 185-grain +P load averaged 1,188 fps out of the 5-inch barrel. In my informal testing, the jacket fragmented while the lead core remained largely intact.
The mandatory 25-yard accuracy testing is generally the least fun part of the range trip. As with most quality pistols, the Ed Brown Special Forces model is far more capable that I am. I also find that I have difficulty shooting groups with a fiber optic. Even so, I managed to produce groups with each load that were all sub 2 inches. I then shot a modified Hackathorn 10-10-10 drill. The basic drill is 10 shots from 10 yards in 10 seconds. It is shot on a NRA (National Rifle Association) Bullseye target and is a true test of the shooter’s trigger control and mental discipline. I modified the drill to seven shots in seven seconds. I started out pushing my shots low and my first attempt was an 85. I scored 90 on subsequent attempts. I also had fun routinely ringing a small IPSC steel silhouette from 45 yards.
A Pillar of the 1911 Community
Over the years, I have owned and have evaluated a lot of 1911s. Each has its own personality that reflects the manufacturer. In some ways, Ed Brown’s Special Forces model is a throwback to earlier days when things were a lot simpler. To borrow an appropriate, and often overused phrase, it has all you need and nothing that you don’t. It is a serious pistol for serious people. To do otherwise would be a sin!
While Ed is retired, the company still operates on the guiding principles that he established many years ago. Those principles, known as the “Ed Brown Way” consist of three pillars. They are: “Engineered for performance”, Precision machined in America”, and “Hand crafted to perfection.” These pillars will continue to guide the company in the future, as they have in the past. If you have not looked at Ed Brown recently, I encourage you to visit their website. There are some new models in the works that you would not want to miss.
For more information, visit http://www.edbrown.com/specialforces.htm .
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