Front Sights
Front sights for 1911's are available in two different mounting configurations; dovetail or stake-in. Both methods have their place, although dovetail offers some advantages. The stake-in front sight is secured by a square shaft or "tenon" that extends downward from the sight blade, through a square hole or "mortise" in the top of the slide. The tenon is swaged from underneath to in effect rivet the sight to the slide. Not a bad system of attachment, but not large enough to always secure the larger front sights, when the manufacturers started making the sights larger, so as to be more visible. M-1911 pistols were originally designed with a very small set of sights, front and rear. Because the front sight was so small, it didn't need a very large tenon to secure it to the slide. The original size of the tenon was .058" x .058". When Colt began producing the Series '80 pistols, they enlarged the tenon size to .125" x .125" to strengthen the attachment.

Dovetail mounting became popular with the advent of custom ‘smiths installing compensators on the 1911 during the early days of IPSC competition in the 1980's. The front sights were relocated forward of the slide to ride on the compensator body and dovetails were used to attach the custom made sight. The dovetails used were both cross dovetails that were cut from side to side and front dovetails that were cut front to back or back to front and usually were left blind, not breaking through the other side. The front dovetails were very elegant and attractive, but the sights were more expensive to make and the installation was more complicated. The cross dovetail has become the standard front sight mounting system in use today.

The cross dovetail that we use today has never been standardized for size and placement on the slide by the industry. This has led to the creation half-dozen or more sizes for the pistolsmith to deal with. The two most popular sizes are Novak's .330" x .075" x 65 degree dovetail and Heinie's .300" x .060" x 60 degree tapered dovetail. Novak's sights come with the blade pre-drilled for a 1/16" roll pin. I think of the roll pin as more a way to center the blade in the slide, rather than to be the sole means of retaining the sight. My goal is to cut the dovetail to a size that allows the sight to freely enter the dovetail, but require a degree of force to move it to the center of the slide. At final assembly after test firing, I add a drop of Loc-Tite 272 to the dovetail to enhance the strength of the joint.

The front sight, regardless of it's mounting can be customized to suit the owners needs and tastes. In the majority of cases, I use a dovetail sight with an over-sized blade known as a "blank" to make these custom front sights from. I can machine the width, height and profile to dimensions specified by the customer or can make suggestions based on my experience. The height will be dictated by test firing the gun, but in general, I try to go no shorter than .175" tall. I machine the top with a slight slope towards the front to sharpen the sight picture and machine a radius on the front corner to reduce snagging. The normal width supplied on sights is .125" wide. I'm frequently asked to narrow the front sight to help the shooter acquire a quicker sight picture and see the sight more clearly. A commonly asked for width is .110", but narrower blades can be done on request. Profiles can be machined to an undercut post, a post, an improved ramp and a speed ramp. The profile that I recommend to most customers is an "improved ramp" which is cut at about 75 degrees. I also recommend serrating the rear face of the sight blade at 40 or 50 lines per inch to eliminate glare.

Fiber Optic Front Sights
We are all taught early-on that the front sight is of paramount importance in the sight picture. Of the three elements of the sight picture; target, front sight and rear sight; the front sight is what we are taught to focus on. As we get involved with sports that reward us for shooting quickly, we try to utilize any advantage that will let us see the sights quicker. The fiber optic front sight was developed with that in mind. For years, shooters and manufacturers painted different colored dots and inserted pieces of colored plastic or metal into the front sight blade to make it more noticeable. Some ideas worked better than others.

Thanks to the advent of light-transmitting fiber optic plastics, we now have a front sight illuminator that can really grab your attention. The fiber optic sight typically has a piece of .040 to .080" diameter fiber optic rod inserted into a hole drilled lengthwise through the sight blade. The center section of the sight blade is usually cut away to expose the fiber optic rod to light. The light enters the rod sides and is reflected toward each end. This gives a sight picture with a glowing red or green dot centered in the top of their front sight. The bigger the rod, the more exposed the center and the brighter the light, the brighter the dot glows. The color of the dot and the intensity in which it glows can be varied to suit the tastes of most shooters.

As with most things in life, you can also get too much of a good thing. It's possible to get the rod glowing to the point that you no longer have a distinct illuminated dot, but a burning glob of fuzzy color that obscures the sight picture, rather than enhances it. I'd suggest that you start with a smaller rod, around .040" to test the concept of a F/O sight. Fiber optic rods have a nasty habit of breaking and falling off the gun at the wrong time; generally while you're shooting. Treat them like batteries; change them before they break. They'll only last so long before they absorb enough residue from firing to become dim. They are not night sights; they only work from the ambient light present.

Dawson Precision and Brazos Custom are both heavily into fiber optic sights. They both make a variety of options in different dovetail sizes, different heights, widths, and rod sizes. Brazos also makes a F/O sight that really appeals to me, called the MicroDot Lightning Rod. It has an extra sight post at the rear with a small hole drilled through it for the glowing rod to be seen through. To me, this fixes a problem that I've always personally had with F/O sight; the size of the dot being inconsistent because you alter it when you melt in a replacement rod.

Tritium Night Sights
All of the players in the 1911 sight market make their product with tritium filled lamps in one configuration or another. Each lamp consists of a glass cylinder filled with tritium gas inside an aluminum cylinder. The glass cylinder's glow is seen through a sapphire lens. I use lamps supplied by Trijicon in my custom night sights, with the exception of the "bar" installation in rear sights.

There are two widely used patterns of lamp placement, three dot and bar-dot (Straight-8). I have a strong opinion about night sight patterns: bar-dot is better by far, than three dot. I believe that the three-dot pattern puts too many items into the sight picture, which all compete for your attention and focus. By putting the rear sight illuminator below the notch, you still have adequate points of reference for aiming in diminished light, but the daylight sight picture stays relatively uncluttered. The only part of the tritium lamps that you see in a daylight sight picture is the lamp in the front sight, which can be useful, even in daylight on targets that are very dark. Front night sights can be installed in one of two ways. You can have the front sight blade serrated and a plain lamp installed, or you can have a white ring around the lamp, but it can only be done to a non-serrated blade. You are also limited to how much you can have the front blade narrowed. Trijicon will not install a lamp in a sight with less than .015" wall thickness; therefore, I limit the width reduction to .115 with the plain lamp and no reduction if you want a white ring. Honestly, I’d rather open the notch width in the rear with night sights.

Gold Bead and White Dot sights
I install a lot of 14k Gold beads in front sights, as well as White dots made from pure white synthetic rod. I think they offer a way to give the shooter a contrasting bit of color in the front sight with none of the negatives of the fiber optic (breakage) or the tritium (doesn’t offer much contrast in daylight and has a limited lifespan). Either material will last forever and give good service. If pressed for my favorite, my eyes like the white dot (.062" diameter) better than the Gold Bead (.082" diameter). To me, the appearance of the White Dot stays more consistent in varying light conditions than the Gold Bead does.

The only thing your sights require to give years of service is to keep them clean. Avoid any use of harsh cleaners to any sight with fiber optic, tritium lamp, colored inserts as they are all retained by adhesives or made of a material that will dissolve in the harsh stuff. A rag wet with gun oil is all you need. Occasionally, check any setscrews to be sure they’ve not loosened. If you find one, remove it and put a drop of blue loctite in the hole, then run it back in and tighten securely.