By Bob Londrigan, First Published in Front Sight Magazine, November 2006
Picture this: You’re practicing for that big match coming up next weekend and suddenly your gun starts throwing brass all over the place instead of in the nice little pile like it had been. When you check your pistol you find that the hook on the extractor has a big chip in it. Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew how to install a new extractor yourself instead of having to send the gun to your pistolsmith? Installing and adjusting an extractor is one of those skills you need to have if you are going to be a putting a lot of rounds down range, and you want to keep your gun in good shape.
I have seen very few extractors break with fewer than 25,000 rounds of use. However, once past that round count the odds of breakage increase. The odds of it breaking are still small but you know it will happen at the worst time so it would not hurt to have a backup already fitted (and tested). Also, extractors need to be adjusted periodically. Therefore, you need to know how to evaluate extractor tension and how to adjust accordingly. We will cover how to adjust the tension as part of the installation procedure.
I’ll approach this procedure as if you were building a gun from scratch because the tasks are almost the same as if you are installing a replacement in your present gun. Depending on how your gun is set up, you might be able to skip a couple of steps.
To begin, we must fit the firing pin stop. The firing pin stop should fit in the slide with a minimum of effort. First prep the slide by removing any burrs in the firing pin slot. Burrs can give you a false fit. Now prep the firing pin stop by chamfering the outside edges that ride in the firing pin slot in the slide.
This is important because the cuts in the slide and the cut in the extractor have corners that often are not exactly square and we are going to fit the middle of the stop to the middle of the slot.
Once you have done this, measure your slot and your firing pin stop to see how close they are in dimension. Aftermarket firing pin stops are made oversize to fit the slot better and to allow for only a minimum amount of rotation of the extractor (this is called “clocking”). However, some stops are more oversize than others – you will find measurements varying from 0.476 to 0.484 inches. Once you have measured your slot, take a little off each side of the firing pin stop until it slides snugly into place in the slide. Make sure it goes all the way up into the slide. Test for this by inserting the firing pin and then sliding the stop in place. The firing pin should snap into the firing pin stop and there should be no drag on the firing pin. Sometimes the center raised portion of the firing pin stop (the place the hammer hits) is too wide for the slide and causes problems. Other times it is the top of the stop that prevents full insertion. If you tap the stop in with a punch a few times you will usually see a bright spot where the contact is occurring. In either case, locate the appropriate surface and file off a little bit of the material. Go slow if it does not fit and make sure you are taking off material in the proper place.
Once the firing pin stop has been fit to the slide it’s time to fit the extractor. Again, you must first do some prep work. Check to see that the firing pin stop slides in the slot in the extractor. It should not bind. If it does, take a little material off each side of the slot. Next, check to see if the extractor will fit into the hole in the slide. Often there are burrs in this hole that will bind the extractor. Clean them up so that the extractor fits the hole. Now prep the extractor hook. The bottom of the hook should be radiused both on the bottom side of the hook and on the inside underside of the hook so that a round can cam up underneath the hook easily.
Once this is done, insert the extractor into place in the slide and see if the firing pin stop will fit. If it does not, take a little material off the side of the firing pin stop and re-check. Keep doing this until the firing pin stop fits. You want a snug fit, yet you should be able to slide it back and forth with finger pressure.
Now check the hook to breechface clearance – you want approximately 0.062 inch. You can use a 1/16 drill bit to check this. This clearance is needed so that the rim of the case can cam up under the hook without binding as it moves out of the magazine and up the breechface. If you do not have enough clearance take material off the back of the firing pin slot in the extractor until you have enough clearance. Too much clearance can lead to the extractor contacting the extractor bevel on the brass. You need just the right amount. Do not take material off the hook to solve this problem – you will thin the hook and this will lead to breakage later on.
Next check the extractor tension. A round should slide up under the hook smoothly but it should be held firmly by the extractor. Too much tension is better than too little. If you get too much tension rounds will not feed completely under the extractor. Not enough breechface clearance or cam up angle on the hook can also cause this. Back off the tension a little by bending the extractor a little at a time until you get the right tension. Bend mostly towards the front half of the extractor. Reassemble the gun and check for extractor contact with the barrel. If this occurs take material off the end of the extractor or remove a little from the barrel.
The Brazos Performance Tuned Extractor simplifies this process. The bearing surfaces on this extractor have been polished and radiused for proper fit, and it has been pre-tensioned to where it should work in most guns (although some fitting may be required).
Once you have everything setup properly, take the gun out and test fire it. Remember that you may also have to adjust the ejector a little after installing a new extractor.