Magazine well alterations for different purposes
The main purpose for altering the magazine well opening in your grip frame is to make is easier and quicker to insert a fresh magazine. If you shoot in competitive matches such as IPSC or IDPA, you will want to consider one of the add-on magazine wells to give you the largest opening possible. In the early days of IPSC, competitors using the M-1911 autopistol quickly discovered that since the scoring system was so heavily weighted to reward speed, the quicker they were able to reload their pistol; the better score they could achieve. One of the first changes made to enhance the speed at which magazines could be changed was to machine a bevel into the frame's opening. Soon after, add-on devices were developed to make the opening even larger. Of course, if bullets are flying in my direction and I have shot my gun dry, I can see that getting my pistol back in the fight would also be a good thing.

The beveled mag well
There is a lot of improvement to be had by simply removing metal from the existing opening. The simplest form of the mag well bevel is to machine a 60-degree bevel all the way around the mouth of the frame opening. I prefer to make this bevel as large as I can without cutting through the frame web, into the main spring housing. This will increase the opening size by approximately 15-20% and may be all you need. For concealed carry, it probably is all you need.

The next stage of beveling would be to make the rear end of the bevel, adjacent to the main spring housing larger by machining the bevel farther to the rear, all the way into the main spring housing. I accomplish this by first fitting a Chen MaxBevel main spring housing, made by Stan Chen Custom. This MSH has extra material built in that requires milling away some of the web of the frame that separates the mag well from the MSH. With the new Chen MSH in place, I can now machine the rear ramp way back into the MSH, creating a much larger opening without adding anything to the exterior of the frame, either it’s length or girth. The Chen MSH is available in carbon and stainless steel and is supplied smooth, allowing any traction enhancing treatment to be done.

It's also possible to open the sides up further, by letting the bevel run into the grip panels. I don't care for this concept because you are now getting into a size of opening that can be better delivered with an add-on mag well and you are stuck with one particular set of grips.

Add-on mag wells
The add-ons come in two basic flavors: those that are permanently attached by welding or brazing (silver soldering) and those that are removable.

Permanent mag wells are all installed by machining away the bottom-most .250" to .300" of the frame and fitting the add-on mag well to the frame. The two parts are then permanently fused together by either TIG welding or silver soldering. Once the parts have cooled, the exterior and interior are filed and machined to shape and the cross pin hole for the main spring housing pin is re-drilled. The grip panels have to be shortened to fit the mag well. Stan Chen again comes to the party with his mag well suite. The Chen suite consists of his previously mentioned MSH and a mag well plate. The mag well plate is .300” tall with a variable internal bevel that takes advantage of all interior area to give the largest opening possible. It features a tactically sound beveled area in the toe that allows access to the front of the magazine, should the mag get trapped in the frame, during a malfunction. The exterior of the Chen mag well adds no girth length to the bottom of the butt and very little weight, making it suitable for concealed carry.

Richard Heinie makes a similarly designed mag well that I consider being a permanently installed mag well. Instead of welding or brazing, it is attached with four screws that are concealed by special supplied grip panels. Unlike the shortened grips in the previously mentioned Chen Magwell Suite, the Heinie mag well uses special grip panels that wrap over the sides of the mag well. These grips are not easily replaced, due to internal cuts on the grip panels. The mag well is .300" tall and has a 60 degree bevel making it a good sized mag well, although it isn't as wide from side to side as the Chen. EGW and Briley also make weld-on mag well plates. Neither the Heinie, EGW or Briley magwells come with the special MaxBevel MSH like the Chen, although you could use the Chen part with the other magwells.

The after market is full of removable mag wells. One of the first on the market is Bill Wilson's #188 Custom Magazine Well. This part is attached to the gun by two thin "ears" that go under the grip panels and hook around the lower grip screw bushings. Compared to others, it's not particularly large and it's not used by many custom pistolsmiths. It is fairly inexpensive and often used by the do-it-yourselfer.

Another of the old timers is the Smith & Alexander Mag Guide. It's been around since the mid-80's and is still a very popular product. It is a casting that incorporates a mag well that is made as part of a main spring housing. The mag well is open at the front end, allowing one to strip out a stuck magazine by grabbing the toe of the floor plate. It's available is blue, stainless, flat, arched, checkered, plain, standard width, narrow width, aluminum, featuring a lanyard loop, for a full size 1911 frame or an Officer's ACP size frame.

Note that in many cases, these removable mag wells that are attached to or made as part of the main spring housing will leave a gap between the bottom of the grip frame and the mag well plate. An acceptably tight joint can usually achieved by either welding up and machining the bottom of the grip frame or plugging the cross pin hole in the main spring housing and machining it in a location that better closes up the gap. Neither of these “gap fixes” are included in the cost of fitting and blending the mag well and are extra cost work charged on a time and materials basis.

I offer some ergonomic/cosmetic enhancements for the S&A such as side bevels on the outside of the mag well and rear blending; both to make it more comfortable in concealed carry. The S&A mag wells are sized in manufacturing so that the inner edges will match up to a non-beveled mag well opening. To install an S&A (as well as most of the others) on frames that already have a beveled mag well opening, the mag well lips will have to be machined and shaped back to match. If you install it on a beveled frame, you will have a mis-match that prevents a smooth transition from the mag well to the frame. The S&A has cast-in checkering that is okay for traction, but short on appearance. I can sharpen the checkering into the conventional appearance, or use a smooth S&A and cut my own checkering, serrations or scallops.

A mag well with similar characteristics to the S&A is available from Ed Brown, called the Maxi-Well. The chief difference is that the lower part of the unit is bolted on to the main spring housing. The purpose of this feature is to allow the user to be able to remove the added on portion, when desired. To me, it's another bolt that can work loose. The checkering on the main spring housing is machine cut and is very nice. It's available in a variety of configurations for 1911's.

Wilson Combat also makes their version of the "part of the main spring housing and open at the front" mag well. The Wilson product is called a Speed Chute. It comes as a flat, checkered MSH with a mag well that is attached by two "fingers" that fit into interlocking slots in the bottom of the MSH and is retained by the MSH pin. Wilson promotes the ability to remove the funnel for concealed carry, much like the Ed Brown. If you have a gap at the frame with the Wilson product, it will have to be repaired by welding only.

All of these removable mag wells share the possibility of getting bent from impact into a doorjamb, floor, etc. and pinching the magazine in place until tools can be brought to bear. While okay for a match or plinking gun, I personally wouldn’t install one on a pistol that I carried to defend myself with. The weld-on mag wells or a plain beveled mag well are a much better solution.

The Techwell mag well has really caught on with the USPSA competitive shooters. It is an anodized aluminum mag well that is held to the pistol by to machined "ears" that reach up the sides of the frame and fit into machined slots in dedicated grip panels.It may actually be a more rugged option to the S&A style because the sides would be much harder to bend inward to trap a magazine, as a result of a fall because of the design of the retaining arms. I am testing this product in a configuration designed for concealed carry. This product may find it's way into the Harrison Design web store.

Pros and Cons
The removable mag wells that are open in the toe are fairly easy to strip a stuck magazine from. That's a plus, when you have an empty gun and the magazine won't fall free. The weld-on or brazed-on mag wells with a closed toe are a good bit more difficult to strip out a stuck magazine from, because you'll have to pinch the magazine's base pad by the sides to pull it out. The Chen mag well does not have this problem.

For mag wells that add length to the gun, you will need to use magazines that have base pads tall enough to consistent lock the magazine in, when inserted. Magazines that have no pad are difficult to seat quickly with any of the mag wells that add to the length of the frame. It's mostly a moot point because most premium magazines come with pads.

John's Picks
It’s hard to beat the Chen mag well suite anytime you want the biggest opening you can get. A good 60-degree bevel with a Chen MaxBevel MSH is all I need on my carry gun.

The single biggest gain in performance related to magazine changes is one that you'll have to give to yourself. Practise your magazine changes with your carry gear in a variety of cover positions. Without learning good magazine changing techniques and practicing them regularly, the biggest mag well on the market won't keep you from blowing a reload. The good thing is that a practiced person can do quite well with no more than a bevel.