The American pistolsmith” - A Hienie Gun
By Jason Burton
(Click on images for larger version...)

For many years now Richard Heinie has been thought of as one of the premier 1911 pistolsmiths... once referred to by Walt Rauch as “the American pistolsmith”. For the majority of his career Heinie has earned his reputation by producing full house guns, which many consider to be the pinnacle of 1911 perfection, while also staying busy with routine installations of his sights and within the last few years his scalloped front strap texturing as well as gun leather made to his spec’s by Lou Alessi and other 1911 related products. Gun periodicals have long touted Heinie as the reigning champion and master of the 1911 for as long as I have been reading them and as expected this has only added to the mystery that surrounds his pistols. Unfortunately for 1911 fans his pistols are seldom available for viewing so I thought I show a few pictures and try to showcase the details that make a 1911 a Heinie gun. 

For as long as I can remember (which actually isn’t all that long) Heinie has also been well known for his extraordinarily long waiting list, I’ve been told sometimes stretching into 7 years. As of this writing, there is currently a 10-month interim on his waiting list so he can get caught up on building guns. A friend once told me a story about a gentleman he shot IPSC with who waited, at the time, a full 5 years for a Heinie gun and when it was delivered the gun was no longer in step with the current IPSC flavor. Nonetheless he was still one of the few to have a Heinie gun... a valuable commodity to a 1911 collector. Needless to say Heinie has managed to keep his guns very exclusive and very rare. In his 30+ year history building 1911s I believe he has built somewhere around 400 numbered guns which figures at about 13 guns per year. Combine those limited production numbers with Heinie’s apparently well-deserved reputation and “legendary” status and what I had was a goal of sorts.

With all this in mind one would think that a savvy 1911 fan would jump at the chance to own a Heinie gun, especially if he found it listed at a price that was without a doubt a steal. Unfortunately I wasn’t that smart... well twice actually. Even though I had coveted a Heinie gun since discovering the mystique surrounding them and custom 1911s in general I, for whatever dumb reason, was stupid enough to pass up the first two Heinie guns I found. However, when I got a second chance to own one of them I decided that I wasn’t going to pass it up, good or bad. I wanted to find out what all the hubbub surrounding these Heinie guns was about.

 When I first got my hands on this gun I was actually a bit disappointed... or maybe actually less excited than I thought I would be. With all the hype that comes along with a Heinie gun I had expected to be more impressed with the gun at first glance. Truth be told I was expecting blinding rays of light to come gleaming out of the padded Heinie labeled gun bag... kind of like the ones that came shooting out of the Ark of the Covenant. It didn’t happen though and the gun, while no doubt extremely nice, simply didn’t have the kind of first impression on me I thought it would. In the past I had initially been more impressed with lesser guns and this gun was going to need some time before it really set in. The trigger was also a bit disappointing at first. In my opinion it had a bit of creep but as the gun was still unfired (so I was told) I was hoping this would resolve itself after a few hundred rounds. Also, the backside of the thumb safety lever was slightly wearing away the bluing on the plunger tube due to contact when the safety was operated. This may sound like a bit of nit picking but when a maker such as Heinie has received such glowing press and admiration over the course of 20+ years I fully expected a perfect gun devoid of the slightest flaw. I expected a gun that would literally “sing” to me right out of the box but as of my first impressions we weren’t quite there yet, but of course I had still not shot the gun.

Aside from those admittedly small complaints, upon my initial examination I was thoroughly impressed with the rest of the gun. No doubt about it Heinie can build a superb 1911. The machine work on this gun is nothing short of perfection! The fit of the S&A beavertail is exemplary and as good or better than anyone else in the industry.

 The thumb safety, an Ed Brown part, as well as the other controls are fit to perfection. The barrel, a Heinie marked part, is matted perfectly with the stainless bushing and shows no movement or slop when in battery. The gun is comprised of an old SA frame topped off with a new SA slide and the hand fitting of these parts was obvious and even throughout the length of the rails. There is no perceivable play between the frame and the slide at any point during the slides travel. As one would expect the sight cuts as well as the fitting and installation of Heinie’s Straight-Eight sights is flawless. Likewise the flat-topped and serrated slide is perfect in its uniformity and the serrations are precisely center atop the slide.

The scallops on the front strap and MSH provide a very positive grip with out the tendency to catch, snag, or tear up clothing that other front strap treatments may have. While I still like checkering or serrations for a traditional look, the scallops and their “gripability” have so far impressed me.

The gun has a subtle and very uniform dehorn and the bottom edge of the slide has a machine cut 45-degree bevel. The mag well is beveled on all four sides and the bottom edge of the MSH has been blended into the frame and beveled in manner that, as I understand, helps to reduce snagging and the tearing of clothes while the gun is worn in a concealed format. The gun also sports a GI recoil set up (which is my preference), standard size mag release, C&S ignition set, bar-stock extractor of unknown make, Colt style slide stop, Navidrex micarta stocks, and a carbon fiber trigger.

Aside from my previously mentioned grievances the only other gripe I had with the gun was the trigger itself. During my first months of owning the piece I really didn’t like carbon fiber trigger like the one used in this gun, although they are quite popular with Heinie as well as other makers. While the carbon fiber trigger performs just fine my initial impression was that they look cheap and I prefer the look of a solid or even “3-hole” aluminum trigger. I had originally considered swapping the party out for a long solid trigger but after a while (and a brief discussion about the part with Mr. Heinie) the look of the carbon fiber trigger no longer bothered me. It does its job very well and as it’s the part that Heinie choose I figured I’d leave it if for nothing else but to keep the gun origina.

So there it sat on my work bench, a Heinie gun, and after tearing it down and reassembling it as well as doing a fair bit of dry firing and general pawing some details about the gun started to stand out. First and foremost I began to notice how well this gun is put together because, believe it or not, it’s actually quite subdued. While one would expect a gun wearing Heinie’s makers mark to be of the highest quality it’s kind of funny how understated the quality of this gun really is. I showed this gun to my father, who generally can recognize quality rather quickly, and while he admitted the gun was nice he wasn’t taken aback by it and really thought it to be nothing special and quite boring saying “it’s just like all your others”. Shows you what I know. Another nice touch is how Heinie modified the upswept beavertail tang by shortening and rounding it a bit.

 The way the lines of the high cut front strap flow into the trigger guard make the gun almost look like it’s actually not high cut and it’s not a sharp 90 degree cut that one may often find on guns from other makers.

The barrel bushing has also had the ears that retain the spring cap tastefully beveled but I think the nicest detail, however, is the way Heinie marks these guns.

A classy one line maker’s mark to the right of the slide stop pin reads “R.HEINIE” and an even more discreet marking underneath the thumb safety shows the number of the gun listed after the initials “RH”.

So how’s it shoot? Very well indeed!! My first range session with the gun wasn’t that great. I had to shoot at an indoor range where the lighting is less than conducive and the inserts in the sights were throwing off my focus. Never the less I was able to place 5 shot clusters with all rounds touching at 15 yards. My second range session with the gun was much better and I got to see how the gun handled in a “practical” shooting scenario while practicing reloading techniques, withdrawal drills, and other target engagements. I now have about 1000 rounds through the gun and any creep I felt in the trigger has long gone down the road. The trigger on this gun is actually breaking very cleanly at 4lbs. and the proverbial “glass-break” feel has made it easy for me to pace headshots on an IDPA target at 25 yards. So far the gun has not had any malfunctions and the sights have shown to be well regulated with the rounds printing true to the sight picture.

So far that’s where I’m at with this gun. The trigger has set in well and any nit picking I had with the gun has fallen to the wayside. More importantly after getting acquainted with the piece throughout the two range sessions the gun has begun to sink in and it feels like the gun is now really starting to sing to me but the best was yet come.

Shortly after my initial review of the pistol I received a nice email from none other than Richard Heinie. In the email Mr. Heinie explained why the thumb safety may have been rubbing the plunger tube and also gave me a pretty detailed reasoning behind his choice of triggers. However the best part was that he extended an offer to fix the problem with the thumb safety/plunger tube, re-blue the pistol, and ship it back to me all free of charge.
While I was happy to be able correspond with Mr. Heinie and thought his offer very generous I initially decided not to send the pistol back for repair, so I thanked him, to which he replied that the offer was good for as long as I owned the pistol and that he would fix anything on the gun short of parts breakages which are out of his control. Fair enough... or in reality more than fair considering that I am not the original owner of the pistol.

Throughout the next couple of days I thought about whether or not I should send the pistol back and after relating this story to a few friends and after a good bit of prodding I was convinced by those who knew the gun to go without it for a bit. I contacted Mr. Heinie and he said that now would be a good time to send it in because he had some bluing to do and he thought he could have the gun done in short order. I also decided that while the gun was back with him I would have Heinie serrate the rear face of the slide, as it was not done when the original owner had the pistol built.

About two weeks after shipping the pistol back to Illinois the gun came back to me. The problem with the thumb safety and plunger tube was fixed, the rear face of the slide was serrated, and the entire gun was re-blued. The cost to serrate the rear of the slide only ran me $51.50. In addition to the aforementioned work Mr. Heinie replaced the extractor with a new part free of charge and commented that, while the original may have lasted, he had recently had a problem with two from the same manufacture and he swapped the old extractor out for a new part he apparently has more faith in. Needless to say I am a very happy camper!!!

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Revised: 02/13/08