First, I need to get this out of the way: I am not a 1911 afficionado. While I do know the basics, I’m far from a pro regarding this platform. What I do have access to is a selection of two 1911’s from other manufacturers which I will be using for some comparison. For general build quality my comparison model is made by Kimber, of which the two share quite a few similarities from build quality to features to price point.
Roberts Defense is based out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin and was founded in 2011. Their goal is straightforward: Build 1911 style pistols with hand-fit components then include a transferrable lifetime warranty. I can certainly get on board with that.
Today I am examining their ‘Desert Ops’ 5″ Pro tactical edition pistol. As with all of their pistols it is based off of the Series 70 1911 and, I’m not going to lie here, it instantly gave me the impression of a hand-fit sidearm. There’s a certain elegance to full-steel framed pistols with large slide rails, and a certain impression which comes from that first rack of the slide. You can always tell if the fit had been rushed or cobbled together from a bin of parts, any machining marks or rough edges instantly translates to a rough and gritty action. With the Roberts Defense the first impression I had was of two pieces of glass gliding across a bed of ball bearings. The Kimber’s was very similar but there was a little something ‘extra’ in the Roberts. Even during disassembly everything felt so velvety smooth that I could tell that this was not rushed into completion on an assembly line.
The Desert Ops models features a smooth and brilliant black nitride finish on the slide, controls, and on the beveled magazine well. The frame is coated in a flat dark earth Cerakote finish which seems to have been professionally applied. Both the slide stop and magazine release appear to be of standard dimensions but it does have an extended ambidextrous safety lever and a beavertail grip safety.
The slide itself has wide front and back serrations and is vacant of markings with the exception of their company logo etched onto each side at the back. This makes for a very clean presentation, one which I happen to like. Looking closer at this component also reveals one of the tricks to this pistol’s smooth action, there is a small angled cut just beneath the breech which gradually pushes the disconnector down as the slide is drawn. This smooths out the slide draw quite a lot, particularly when the hammer is down. Stylistically, the Roberts has more notable edges while the Kimber has ‘gently melted’ contours.
Iron sights are dovetailed into place with two set screws within the rear. On their website these are listed as ‘Straight 8 Ledge Pro’ sights. As with the sights themselves, this proves to be an accurate name for them. Both pieces have a single Tritium insert for an ‘8’ pattern sight picture and the back sight is both serrated to reduce glare as well as gently hooked for racking the slide one-handed. In my opinion these are fantastic sights.
Grips are listed as ‘VZ Operator’ and are made of G10 material. Texture-wise they have small rounded indents up front and slanted grooves toward the back. Just like the Kimber, which has an almost identical set of grips, it seems to mold itself right into my hand and offers plenty of texture for a positive hold.
Both the hammer and trigger are silver in color and skeletonized, the former with an oval Commander-style cutout and the latter with three triangular cutouts which also provides access to a set screw.
The frame features an underbarrel Picatinny groove with a single slot cut near the front. Just as I was thinking that it would seem a lot better with a few more cuts I see that this same model listed on their website is shown with three slots instead of one. Perfect! I may be reviewing an older model of this pistol. Stippling has been machined into the front of the grip as well, a feature which the Kimber does not possess. The ejector also appears to be slightly longer than standard.
Disassembly for me required a bushing wrench as, while the bushing is slightly thicker up front compared to most 1911’s, it has an extremely snug fit to the slide thanks to it being hand-fit. Taking a look under the proverbial hood is a worthy venture however, as there’s much more to see under the skin.
When Roberts claims to use quality hand-fit parts I am fully inclined to believe them; Every component feels as though it is a solid piece of machined steel with a satiny finish. The barrel itself is almost a work of art, brightly polished inside and out with a subtle undercut just beneath the locking lugs which may not offer anything toward function but sure looks nice. The Kimber, being completely unbiased, has a satin black finish on the bushing and recoil spring plug but felt slightly gritty compared to the Roberts. Looking closer at the Kimber’s barrel it also has a high polish inside and out but is left matte within the locking lug grooves. The outside of the chamber is not quite as bright, though it is polished. This may be intentional on Kimber’s part to reduce some amount of glare. The Kimber also has a threaded muzzle while the Roberts does not.
Lastly, the barrel link on some 1911’s tend to feel like a tacked-on part, freely rolling to and fro without much thought. The Kimber’s is nice and snug but once again I have to give it to the Roberts, it only moves when it needs to and when it does I cannot feel any friction at all.
Factory magazines hold eight rounds and have the Roberts Defense printed onto the left side. Also of note is the follower, which is shaped slightly different from the norm. I’ve never encountered this design before but I can say from experience that it makes for easier cleaning compared to the traditional split design.
The trigger has very, very little movement including vertical play, very little take-up, a crisp and clean break, and a very short reset. Frankly, between the two they feel so similar that trying to find any differences would end up being a lot of effort for little reward. Summed up, this trigger is excellent.
Out on the firing line I have to switch the Kimber out with a Ruger 1911, changing my comparison point from a similar product to a more standard example. Putting a full magazine through each at 50 feet I can say without any surprise that the Roberts did much better, but in more ways than just accuracy. As a female shooter one of my biggest complaints with any 1911 is that many of them have extremely sharp edges on the triggers, something which is made all the more apparent by the sharp recoil. The Roberts, thankfully, does not have this problem. The trigger’s outer lines have been nicely contoured which, combined with the precise fit and the smoothness of the slide, left me feeling a little more confident shot to shot with what sure felt like a bit less recoil. This in turn led to much more consistent shot placement and tighter grouping as a whole. I’ve always been a fan of the vertical sight dot placement and the sights fitted to the Roberts offered a clear and positive view. Two of my eight shots went through the same hole so I must be doing something right.
Is the Roberts worth paying more for? In my situation, while accuracy is of course something of value, the first point to consider is that I couldn’t see buying any pistol which felt like it was punishing me after every pull of the trigger. In this regard the Roberts performed quite well; Once I stood away from the shooting block and took the last few shots on my feet I was quite pleased that, despite my trigger finger aching from the battering the Ruger had given it, I still had a very respectable group with the Roberts.
I really do like what they’ve done with this pistol and these smaller touches all give it that custom shop feeling inside and out, lending to a feeling of wholeness and completion with the design. This pistol feels like it could be perfectly at home anywhere from plinking to more serious applications. Holding it in my hand immediately gives me the impression of having a quality product, and I really do mean this. The pricing was slightly higher than the Kimber’s but with the Roberts I feel like I am owning a functioning piece of art. Knowing that so much of the human element has gone into its creation gives me a feeling of security, even a sense of pride, which just doesn’t come out of something mass produced.
I suppose the best thing I could say about this pistol is that I had been contemplating a 1911 of my own for many years but always found faults or reason to hold back. It wasn’t until I’ve experienced a 1911 made by Roberts Defense that I started thinking about buying one a lot more seriously.