Cylinder and Slide
Browning Hi Power Modifications
How Cylinder and Slide Makes One of the World's Best Handguns Even Better
by Joe Gorman
Right out of the box I immediately field stripped it to examine all the meticulous work done to my Browning. Some aspects of the C&S makeover were apparent: the barrel crowning, the new trigger, the new thumb safety, the new hole in the slide for the improved sear lever. Other aspects of the work required more inspection: the breech face was smooth, I could see the center rail had the tool marks polished off of it and the feed ramp glistened.
In a previous article, I compared three popular 9mm semi-automatic pistols in a head-to-head shoot-out: The Browning Hi Power Standard, the SIG P26 SAO and the ubiquitous Glock G17 Gen4. While they each brought certain strengths to the defensive-handgun table, I personally felt most comfortable with the Browning. No big surprise, this is due to my familiarity with the Colt 1911 and the control layout etc.
While the graceful Browning felt the best to me with respect to how it pointed, admittedly, I had some issues with the stock pistol for use as an Every Day Carry gun. The stock trigger was really heavy: 8-pounds heavy. That's just too much. I prefer a wider trigger than the stock unit. I also dislike ambidextrous anything and I did not get along very well with the stock thumb safety. The stock sights, while actually easy to see in daylight suffered the typical non-tritium visibility issues in low light, I'd much prefer a set of Novak tritium night sights.
The walnut stocks, while beautiful and traditional, did not give me the purchase that I knew I could get with a pair of Pachmayrs. As stock combat guns go, out of the box, the Hi Power was combat accurate but I knew with a trigger job it could be even more accurate. And while it proved reliable over the course of my initial evaluation, I wanted to ensure that on combat-shoot days, in which I might shoot 500-rounds without the opportunity to clean the weapon, the Browning would go bang all the time, every time. This was especially important to me as I am literally in a sea of Glocks at shooting courses. Any hiccup by my "antique" weapon would draw the rest of the class to surround me and exhort me to join the 21st century and get a polymer striker-fired gun. More importantly, I wanted an everyday carry gun and I wanted to do everything possible to ensure reliability.
Finally, my entire family gets to qualify with my carry guns twice a year and my wife and youngest daughter could not rack the slide on the stock Browning with the hammer down. If I was not around and my wife or youngest was at home and had to deal with an intruder they'd have to be able to charge and use whatever weapon was available.
So I defined my ultimate carry gun: A high capacity 9 mm that can shoot accurately all day, reliable to a fault, with night sights and that points like I'm pointing a finger. I decided there was only one shop I could count on to make this dream a reality and that was Cylinder and Slide (C&S) in Freemont, Nebraska.
I spoke with Jon Tank, General Manager of C&S, about the requirements for my Browning Hi Power standard. As it turns out, C&S offers a package very close to what I was after. I tried to convince him to bundle up all the work I wanted done and call it the Gorman Special, but this suggestion never gained any traction.
C&S Perfection:Detailed handgun assembly
The C&S cure for my trigger pull weight was not as straight forward as it would have been with a 1911. I must admit to a painful level of ignorance with respect to the operation of the Hi Power trigger but as Jon explained it, the MK III (using a firing pin block) can benefit from installation of an improved sear lever. Jon talked me into installation of a C&S improved sear lever. The pivot point of the sear lever is moved roughly 1/4 inch back to increase leverage and this helps with a reduced-weight, yet safe trigger pull. Jon also recommended a wide C&S combat trigger and a C&S CNC machined sear. Who am I to argue with one of the world's most knowledgeable Hi Power mechanics?!? The end result was a 4.5-pound trigger pull that broke cleanly and snapped back very positively. Ok, my pistol came back with the best Hi Power trigger I'd ever experienced.
C&S installed one of its Combat Thumb Safeties with a ball detent for super positive feedback for flicking the safety on and off. This safety is not the super wide version but does offer a little larger platform than the stock Browning safety.
For my sight woes, I had C&S install a set of Novak tritium night sights. They are plenty visible in daylight and really shine in low light. They are bright and very solid. This was another recommendation from Jon. In course of my testing, my pistol accidentally fell roughly four feet onto a wooden deck landing directly on the Novak sights. Because of the precise milling that C&S does and the Allen-head set screws that help to secure them, the sights did not move and were totally unfazed by the drop. Doh.
My contribution to wrenching on this pistol consisted of installation of a set of Pachmayr Signature Grips. Well, to be honest, they were a little tough getting them installed. I actually had to enlist the help of my wife. And while the Pachmayrs will never win a beauty contest, they do allow me to have an excellent purchase of the Browning. For duty as a carry gun I think the Pachs are the answer.
When I explained how much I valued accuracy in a sidearm, Jon suggested a barrel re-crown. He explained that this is done to ensure that crown is as perfect as possible. Sometimes, he said, it is difficult to detect with the eye whether a factory crown is truly perpendicular to the axis of the bore and by re-crowning the barrel, that variability is eliminated. While the Hi Power was accurate out of the box, it was even more accurate when it came back from C&S. More on that later.
I explained my desire for rock solid reliability and Jon explained several improvements C&S could make to make the Hi Power meet that goal. The C&S reliability package included de-burring the breech face to remove any sharp edges there. Burrs and sharp edges on the breech face can gouge brass and cause the cartridge to hang up according to Jon. C&S also polished the center rail to reduce friction over the brass case on cycling. C&S throated the feed ramp and polished it until it resembled a mirror. I can't imagine any hollow point stumbling on that ramp. Jon suggested a new spring package to decrease the effort required to rack the slide without compromising reliability. As a final reliability improvement, I asked C&S to install one of its extractors as I wanted every advantage I could have when the pistol became fouled and I still needed it to work.
Getting my Hi Power back from C&S was like Christmas Day for a big kid. I immediately field stripped it to examine all the meticulous work done to my Browning.
Some aspects of the C&S makeover were apparent: the barrel crowning, the new trigger, the new thumb safety, the new hole in the slide for the improved sear lever. Other aspects of the work required more inspection: the breech face was smooth, I could see the center rail had the tool marks polished off of it and the feed ramp glistened. The C&S improvements became more apparent when I started shooting the pistol. (Wow Captain Obvious!)
The trigger, while not quite to the level of my Colt Custom shop Special Combat Government model, was nonetheless superb and easily allowed me to shoot to my ability with the Hi Power (something the stock trigger did not do). The wider trigger reduced felt pull weight and I could more easily manipulate the thumb safety. As I ran box after box of various hollow point and FMJ ammo through the pistol, I noticed that not only were my groups tighter than before, but even when mixing and matching ammunition in the magazine, I had no hiccups! So I let the pistol get dirty. And it kept working. Without failure.
I had the whole family shoot the C&S Hi Power and everyone could charge the pistol and everyone shot it well. My son had previously gravitated toward the SIG P226 but after shooting the C&S Hi Power he suddenly had a new favorite pistol. When we did 12-foot instinctive shooting drills, he noticed all his shots could be covered by a poker chip. It's a natural pointer and with a smooth trigger it's easy to point and have the bullet go where your brain thinks it should.
Moving back to the 15-yard line, we engaged a 3-inch steel spinner target and easily hit it as 124-grain FMJ ammo shot exactly to point of aim at that distance. I set up the shooting bench at the 25-yard line and fired several groups from sandbags for determining accuracy. (see the accuracy table) Amazing! This pistol is super precise and oh, how I love accurate guns.
While this gun could hold its own in a target competition, it is intended, primarily to be a carry gun. Accordingly, I geared up a with a Galco Combat Master holster, a Galco dual mag holder and a Galco SB5 sports belt (Yes, I've been very happy with Galco Gunleather) and I took my rig to an I.C.E. Combat Focus Shooting course to see how well it served the combat carry role. To make an 8-hour long story short, it did better than I could have hoped for. Of the fourteen students who attended this particular class, there were only two of us with non Glock weapons. I personally saw three Glocks malfunction during the course of the shooting day (450-500 rounds) but my C&S Hi Power didn't miss a beat! Not one failure. Now, I know Glocks are excellent weapons, and I don't mean to slam them by any means. But if my Hi Power would have malfunctioned I'd never have heard the end of it from the Glock guys.
During the first drill, which involved complete focus on a target twelve-feet away and pointing the pistol for one shot, then returning to a high, compressed ready, I managed to put six-rounds through the same hole. In other words, without checking my sights and just extending the weapon to a firing position and pointing it, firing, returning to ready and firing again, the Hi Power pointed so consistently for me that all my shots were in the same place (you could cover my six shots with a quarter). I couldn't do that if I was trying and you offered me $1000!
As we moved on to other drills the accuracy of the pistol and the smoothness of the trigger became apparent as the Instructor's commands to engage a particular 3" circle, even from the 15-yard line, were easily managed. Maintaining a good sight picture with the Novaks, a smooth press of the wide C&S combat trigger and I was rewarded with a strike in the three-inch circle called for. Magazine changes were made while moving and even though my Browning had an unmodified magazine well, I experienced no problems with rapid mag changes.
Drawing the pistol smoothly, quickly drawing fresh mags, returning the pistol to the holster and carrying the pistol and loaded magazines all day proved to be comfortable due to the robust Galco leather. The belt was stiff enough to keep all my gear close to my body even with everything fully loaded and yet managed to be comfortable!
So there you have it: a Browning pistol designed in the 1930s, sent off to C&S (the preeminent Browning Hi Power custom shop), topped with Novak night sights, wrapped in Pachmayr grips and carried with dead-sexy Galco gunleather and you have a totally relevant, reliable, accurate piece of "functional art" as my competitive-shooting and pediatrician friend William Renk remarked upon seeing pictures of the C&S Hi Power.