Experienced shooters who begin building their own guns almost always turn to expensive, exceptional products because they’ve already spent so much time behind the trigger that they know how to discern what works and what doesn’t. After spending some time with Ed Brown’s Special Forces (SF) model, it’s obvious he’s building no-nonsense guns for this type of shooter, the kind who wants or needs a supremely functional 1911. These pistols will likely outlast their owners.
The Ed Brown business model is built around doing cutting-edge design using only the latest engineering techniques and systems. Once the design piece is done, the work continues in their company’s facility located in Perry, Missouri, where almost the entire pistol is built in-house. Each one feels the touch of a master pistolsmith for final fitting before it’s ultimately packaged up and sent to a loving home.
On receipt, you can’t help but notice that every surface the shooter interfaces with is crafted around functionality, with no part going untouched. These pistols appear impeccable with no obvious flaws whatsoever.
Built for Combat
Each Special Forces model begins life as a steel forging that gets machined into the shape of a 1911. The SF frame is full size and issued with the standard seven-round magazine. The frontstrap and flat mainspring housing are provided with Ed Brown’s Chainlink III pattern. Many of the custom 1911 shops are going to unique patterns on the fronstrap and mainspring housing, replacing the once-standard checkering. Most of these new patterns are much more durable and user-friendly than checkering. They are also only possible for mass-produced firearms, thanks to modern CNC manufacturing.
The Chainlink III pattern on the SF 1911 occurs when small overlapping circles are carved into the pistol’s surface. Where these shallow “bowls” intersect, little concave pyramids form. The surface is aggressive without being sharp and is very durable. The small pyramids that form are large enough that they won’t flatten where a finger’s ring might rest against the surface. This is not an uncommon phenomenon with traditional checkering, particularly where we see 30 lines per inch.
The bottom of the frame is beveled to form a small magazine well, and the fit of the mainspring housing to the lines on the frame is flawless. Ed Brown was one of the first custom 1911 pistolsmiths to develop a beavertail grip safety, and the SF model sports his Memory Groove model. The grip safety has no slop where it sits against the frame. The part of the grip safety that sits in the web of the hand is also fit extremely well with no perceptible gaps between safety and frame. Each seam has been beveled and smoothed so that it is imperceptible in the hand when firing. Activating and deactivating the thumb safety have no impact on the web of the hand no matter how high we grip the frame.
The extended thumb safety is low profile, so it won’t jab into your side should you carry it inside- the-waistband. The thumb safety is easy to activate and contoured to stay out of the way when not needed. The plunger tube is one of Ed Brown’s products, milled from barstock with extra-long studs that don’t come loose.
The slide release is also low profile, so it won’t accidentally get activated. It is serrated up top and concave down below. The concave shape on the underside of the release gives it an edge that makes it easier to manipulate when we’re in a hurry or if we have wet hands.
The frame and slide feature Ed Brown’s own Gen4 coating that he’s worked closely with the manufacturer to develop for use in the firearms industry. It is thermoset polymer, a new development in ceramic coatings. The Gen4 has increased wear resistance over previous coatings without sacrificing any of the corrosion resistance. The coating is beautifully applied and appears to be more of a finish than a bulky coating. SF models are available in a number of colors, with Battle Bronze on the pistol the Guns & Ammo staff evaluated.
The slide has a lowered and flared ejection port and dovetail cuts for the Trijicon night sights. The front sight has been machined so that the portion of the sight that sits in the frame matches the gentle curving profile of the slide. It is beautiful work.
Each edge has been beveled so that there are no sharp corners anywhere on the gun. There are cocking serrations at the rear of the slide, and the only engraving is “Custom By Ed Brown” on one side of the slide and “Special Forces” on the other. Very tasteful.
The Special Forces pistol is a well-executed no-frills 1911 that is also incredibly accurate. The trigger broke cleanly at 3 pounds, 11 ounces with no creep and minimal overtravel. We disassembled the pistol after testing to check wear patterns for consistency.
The portion of the slide stop that passes through the barrel link showed uniform wear, as did the area where the link housing contacts the slide stop. If any of these areas demonstrated uneven wear (they didn’t), it would mean that one area was more stressed than another and would likely experience premature failure. It’s difficult for pistolsmiths to get the geometry just right in these areas, so inspecting them will give us a good indicator of the type of performance we should expect from the pistol. Wear patterns said this was a good pistol, and its performance confirmed it.
The barrel bushing, barrel hood and lugs also showed very light and even wear, indicating that the relationship between barrel and slide is correct and that break-in is proceeding as planned. The barrel bushing fits snugly and tightly enough that it requires a bushing wrench to turn.
Accuracy from the Ed Brown pistol was exceptional, with a best five-shot group at 15 yards measuring a scant .62 inch with 230-grain Tactical Bonded ASYM Precision ammunition. The average group size for the ASYM load was 1.11 inches.
The other two loads tested were HPR’s 185-grain JHP and Black Hills’ 230-grain FMJ. The HPR had a best group of 1.31 inches and an average of 1.61 inches. The Black Hills ball ammo had a best group of 1.52 inches and an average of 1.88 inches. All shooting was done from a sandbagged shooting position.
The Special Forces pistol would make a good fit, even for the elite soldiers it’s named for. It is reliable, durable, accurate and looks cool to boot. There are not a lot of extras or cosmetic touches, but it is a pure performer.