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Hold Up! – Atlas Gunworks 2011 EDC 3.5

The Carry Gun That Thinks it’s a Race Gun

Atlas Gunworks is a newish venture started by competitive shooter Adam Nilson and his machinist buddy, Tod West. Nilson wrangled West into building him a few pistols when he couldn’t endure the wait times 2011 shops were quoting him for a new gun.

Nilson started shooting competitions with a Glock, then wanted to move up, and so began his relationship with the 2011. “The wait time for a 2011 was like a year and half to two years,” says Nilson. So he bought a used STI, then an Infinity. By the time he was ready to get a new gun, wait times weren’t any better, so he did what any enterprising American would, he decided to make his own gun.

Nilson says, “The path looked like it was going to be buy a gun, wait six months, a year, or two years for it, then send it to someone else to have the trigger done, wait for it, then send it somebody else for coating … and on and on.” He couldn’t find a one-stop shop that’d build his gun and build it quickly. He sensed an opportunity in the gun market and within a few years, Nilson and West were running a full-time gun manufacturing operation that specializes in custom 1911 and 2011s with delivery times that range from days for semi-customs, to four to six months for full custom, open-class guns.

Atlas Gunworks’ co-owner Tod West works on a magwell for one of the company’s race guns. The operation grew quickly over the past few years and continues to grow as Atlas expands it’s catalog of self-manufactured parts.

Atlas Gunworks’ co-owner Tod West works on a magwell for one of the company’s race guns. The operation grew quickly over the past few years and continues to grow as Atlas expands it’s catalog of self-manufactured parts.

What’s a 2011
We’ll take a second to explain what a 2011 is, in case you’re one of those people who like guns that work without constant attention. A good 1911 is an incredibly accurate firearm. By way of gross oversimplification, this is thanks to the pistol’s inherently crisp, single-action trigger and the way the barrel is held in the slide. But one of the longstanding gripes against the single-stack platform is that it’s limited to a 7- to 9-round magazine capacity, depending on caliber.

In 1993, Virgil Tripp and Sandy Strayer addressed the mag capacity issue by introducing a double-stack version of the gun, calling it the 2011. Their design left the 1911’s top end and fire controls pretty much unchanged, but turned John Browning’s receiver into two separate parts, a wide, plastic grip and the serialized frame, comprising the slide rails and fire control group. Strayer and Tripp called their company STI, and it continues to make well-regarded 2011 pattern pistols today.

STI’s patent protection on the 2011 modular receiver expired in 2012. This released a swell of 2011 development and products. Gunsmiths immediately began working on ways to improve the original plastic grip, known to crack. Aluminum 2011 grips were developed … or redeveloped. STI tried to make them years back, but they cracked too and weren’t enough of an improvement on the original plastic grips to gain acceptance.

That brings us to Atlas Gunworks and its 7075 aluminum-gripped 2011 EDC 3.5.

Atlas matches the surface hardness of the hammer and sear at 50RC so the parts wear evenly and have a 50K-100K round lifespan.

Atlas matches the surface hardness of the hammer and sear at 50RC so the parts wear evenly and have a 50K-100K round lifespan.

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Sizable Advantages
2011s are big and heavy. It’s actually one of the platform’s benefits, and why it’s the choice of so many pistol competitors … and so few concealed carriers. Combine a heavy gun with a light caliber, and it’s not hard to understand the competitor’s attraction to 9mm 2011s. The pistol tracks like a bloodhound and holds a squad’s worth of rounds. But the size and weight makes them impractical when it comes to carrying concealed for self-defense. That’s why the promise of a lightweight, compact 2011 from an up-and-coming custom house piqued our interest, and likely the interest of competitive shooters already well aware of the 2011’s blessings that are on the lookout for a carry piece too.

So the Atlas EDC 3.5 is a pistol with the DNA of a race gun and the balls of a carry gun. It provides the top end accuracy and legendary trigger of the 1911 and the capacity of a service pistol with the footprint of a carry gun.

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Controls
The EDC’s trigger is miles ahead of any carry gun we’ve fingered. We averaged the break at 3.65 pounds after 30 pulls. We usually only need 10 pulls to get an average reading, but with 10 pulls in a row varying by only an ounce, we kept going until we got bored. Even then, we only found a 4-ounce spread between the highest and lowest pulls. That’s impressive. Swings of 8 ounces or more are common with factory triggers.

We suspect that level of consistency has something to do with the highly polished sear and disconnector. When we pulled the guts out of the gun, the EGW sear and disco nearly blinded us — now we know why there’s a wall of rotary tools on the bench in the Atlas workshop.

As we looked, we realized every single edge on the pistol was attended to, inside and out. The parts were all hand-engraved with numbers, evidence that all these bits of metal were hand-fit to work as one. When you think about all the parts of a 2011, every edge that meets another has the potential to produce a burr. And one burr in those 50-plus, close-fitting parts is all it takes to stop the show in the 1911/2011 platform.

The trigger itself is a German Geppert X-Line Vario trigger with a curved face, and adjustable pretravel, overtravel, and length of pull. That last one is pretty cool. The trigger shoe is connected to the bow by a screw, allowing you to set the length of pull so the shoe and finger connect exactly where you want them without needing to buy a longer or shorter shoe. Out of the box, the trigger has 0.04 inch of take-up with another 0.05 inch to the end of the stroke.

The ambidextrous thumb safety falls exactly under our thumb and feels rock solid when run from either side of the slide. There’s no slop and no play. It’s wide and easy to sweep up and down, though it’s a little heavier than a flick-and-forget race gun safety, as it should be on a carry gun. The beavertail is disabled but not pinned, and we’re fine with that. Its extended, non-ambi mag release works and doesn’t get in the way of our support hand grip.

Ergos
As big as it is, the aluminum grip is damned comfortable, though. The pistol included an A-Zone custom laser-cut rubberized overlay we felt was overkill after a few range sessions. At 1.34 inches with the tape, the grip felt like a beer can. We pulled it off, rubbed the newly exposed grip with some Goo Gone, and relished the control we gained with the now 1.25-inch-wide grip. We hoped to find 20 LPI checkering underneath the grip tape on the front strap, but no dice. Still, the reduced girth gave us a better grip … and that’s fine as long as we don’t get heavy palm sweats.

Accuracy
The EDC shone during paper and steel sessions. We printed under an inch at 20 yards with two of our four test loads. But the racegun fun came out when we wanted to test how the gun tracks and returns when run hard. The EDC didn’t disappoint. We dumped the mag into a 12-inch steel square at 10 yards and felt like we couldn’t miss no matter how fast we shot.

Oh, and this was with +P ammo; +P in the heavy, but well-balanced pistol feels like shooting subsonic loads. The zippy Black Hills 115 +Ps take our Glock 19 for a ride, but the EDC 3.5 shrugs and quickly falls back on target with little input. Driving this gun is easy.

The sights contributed to our confidence. Shooting IPSC targets on walk-back drills no matter how far we went was like shooting the broadside of a barn. The fiber optic up front is as fast to pick up as anything, and the U-notch 10-8 rear is flawless, but by the time you read this, Atlas will be shipping guns with its own, in-house manufactured sight.

We should also mention the hand-fit KKM 3.5-inch barrel. Atlas custom angles and polishes the feed ramp. Nilson says it takes about 20 hours to build one of these guns, and three of those hours are spent fitting the barrel. The tight groups we saw tell us that’s time well spent.

performance

Extraction
It’s a 1911 operating system. We expected some issues. We had a couple. We uncovered an extraction/ejection issue with our mag-out firing test. It’s standard practice to load the chamber, drop the mag and fire the gun to evaluate the extractor tension. With no round beneath for a buddy carry assist, the extractor has to hang on to that empty case like a big boy and get it all the way to the ejector on its own. When that doesn’t happen, it generally causes a 1911-signature stovepipe malfunction. That’s what we found with the EDC 3.5 when we shot our Black Hills 115 +P ammo. It didn’t exhibit this issue with any standard pressure loads.

The commonly advocated fix is to treat the pistol like a bad dog and show it who’s boss before it thinks it rules you. You pull the extractor on the spot and bend it until it behaves itself. Finding the sweet spot by tweaking that rod a tiny bit at a time means applying all of your senses, patience, and remaining ammo as you break down the pistol, reassemble, shoot, and repeat. It’s a uniquely 1911 thing. Some might think it’s a pain in the ass, but 1911 proponents know in their hearts that John Browning made it this way so they could fix their guns in the field with minimal tools.

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We spoke with Atlas’s Nilson, and he wasn’t surprised to hear our report. He said the +P ammo is increasing slide velocity, so slowing it a bit would help the extractor hang on to the case under recoil. He said he’d up the stock Wilson flat wire recoil spring from 13 pounds to 14 pounds to run +P ammo instead of adjusting the extractor.

His reasoning is that the range of 9mm case measurements vary enough that Atlas wants to err on the side that has the best chance of working with the most ammo. That means running the extractor a little on the forgiving end. They make up for it by tuning the recoil spring to slow the slide. This makes it less likely for the spent case to get jarred out from under the ejector claw on the way back and miss the ejector. John Browning gives no free lunch, though. This approach leaves the pistol vulnerable to short stroking with less powerful ammunition. Choose your poison, but we’d rather adjust the extractor to fit a range of good ammo and skip the cheap stuff. Who spends $5K on a pistol and runs steel-cased crap through it, anyway?

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Mag Drama
The other problem we ran into was two rounds of our 600-round eval hanging up on the feed ramp. Nilson says it’s a known issue with the recently released second generation STI 2011 mag and followers. According to Nilson, STI stopped making its original mags, forcing him to figure out how to tune the updated mags on the fly. STI mag necks have to be narrowed to run reliably. This is called mag “tuning,” and if you own a 2011, you may tune your mags as often as Glock owners don’t clean their guns. When Atlas gets STI mags, it tunes the neck to a set width that prevents rounds of that caliber from stalling in the neck as two side-by-side rounds cam against each other and the mag walls.

Nilson says the mags often come from STI, measuring 0.610 inch, and Atlas sized the original, Gen 1 mags to 0.580. After testing, the company now sizes the Gen 2 mags to 0.560. Stay with us … it’ll all make sense in a sec.

To make matters worse, the initial follower design in the updated STI mag was a little loose, causing inconsistent spring pressure as it rose in the mag. STI put out a redesigned follower a few weeks after we got our test pistol. So, it turns out we’re using the STI Gen 2 mag with the initial, flawed follower and Atlas’s older, 0.580-sized neck value. Nilson says the mags with the updated follower and 0.560 neck are running 9mm fine.

Wrap Up
Look. It’s a $5,000 hand-fit pistol. It shoots great. Well, better than great, actually. A carry gun that prints groups like a race gun and carries a combat load of ammo? Yes, please. Sure, it’s porky but we’ve all got our winter carry guns, right?

It comes with a serviceable IWB holster from Red Hill Tactical that we ran AIWB for a few weeks without spilling the gun. It’s hefty, no sugar coating the nearly 3 pounds (loaded) of metal you’re toting, but that weight falls away when the gun comes out and we have the confidence to aim small as can be.

We weren’t happy, or surprised, about the stovepiping and failure-to-load issues that cropped up. But, we’re confident a little extractor or recoil spring tuning will cure the gun’s fear of +P ammo, and hopeful that the mag update will remedy the issue that caused the two misfed rounds we logged.

We’re practical here at RECOIL. We have bills to pay and guns to feed, so the decision to drop $5K on a carry gun is going to fall flat on the bathroom floor every time. There are just too many capable sub $1K guns in the display case to walk past before we’d get to the EDC 3.5. But, if money wasn’t a concern, and/or your racegun’s been begging for a sibling, we can tell you that shooting this Atlas has ruined all those fine $800 pistols for us.

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Atlas Gunworks 3.5 EDC
Caliber: 9mm
Barrel Length: 3.5 inches
Overall Length: 7.2 inches
Weight Unloaded: 36.5 ounces
Magazine Capacity: 17+1
Trigger Pull Weight: 3.6 pounds
MSRP: $4,750
URL: atlasgunworks.com

Light: SureFire XC1 $299
Price as featured: $5,049


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