There has never been a time in history where handgun consumers had more high-quality choices. Not all that long ago, you could count your options on two hands—some would argue one. But now there are dozens of quality products, providing years of reliable enjoyment, practical protection and personal satisfaction. Whether you’re looking for simple out-of-the-box usability or masterful customization, there is something out there for every buyer. Improvements in construction, machining and materials have never been better. Touring the floor of the SHOT Show earlier this year only solidified this belief, and I noticed a strong emphasis on personalization and customization.

Custom Touches

S&W Engraved 1911 markings
The vine-scroll engraving complements the fish-scale-like front and rear serrations. The pistol comes with an engraved, wooden presentation case.

Firearms have been customized at every level since they were first introduced to the world. Gun owners have altered their firearms’ stocks, grips and other aspects to personalize them. Manufacturers have also offered everything from custom coatings to masterpieces of artwork in the form of engraving. You might find rifle stocks with precise carvings and pistol grips sporting checkering, engraving, even jewels.

But custom metal engraving has been the most popular, and it’s often the most amazing enhancement. Touring personal and public museums, the level of craftsmanship can be astounding. Hunting scenes, landscapes or even simple scroll work often take firearms to a whole new level. Some are valued as works of art, and many are given as gifts to heads of state. For collectors and admirers alike, engraving remains a popular draw for many shooters.

Several masters are still out there, producing stunning engraving by hand. But, like many specialties requiring decades of training and experience, hand engraving is becoming a lost art with each passing year. Today, wait times for projects are often measured in years, and the finished guns cost several times what they originally cost. If you are looking for collector’s value and rarity, it’s worth it. Firearms like these are investments, with prices to match. Unfortunately, average gun owners have been left out of that market—at least until now.

Modern computer-aided machining has progressed exponentially in the last 10 years. While it lacks the touch of a master engraver, it remains pretty impressive and looks pretty good. Some of the early attempts handled by other manufacturers were less than impressive, but I recently got my hands on a machine-engraved gun that looks really nice. Just as importantly, you get that custom look at a fraction of the cost and without a lengthy wait time.

Smith & Wesson is now offering a few revolvers and a 1911 with quality machine engraving, making it easier for shooters to get their hands on a new gun to show off at their next BBQ.

Engraved 1911

S&W Engraved 1911 right profile
Along with its extensive machine engraving, this particular 1911 boasts an undercut triggerguard, a checkered frontstrap and mainspring housing, and an external extractor.

For what’s simply called the “Engraved 1911,” Smith & Wesson starts with one of its proven SW1911 E-Series pistols in .45 ACP. These 1911 pistols have proven very popular over the years, with many features often seen on custom pistols.

Made from stainless steel with a bead-blasted matte silver finish, the Engraved 1911’s slide features three-dot sights and serrations on top to reduce glare. You’ll also notice horizontal serrations on the rear of the slide for the same reason. Smith & Wesson’s fish-scale-like cocking serrations are found at the front and rear on both sides.

Both the frontstrap and mainspring housing are checkered for enhanced traction. The laminate E-Series grip panels also provide a nice look and another level of control. The frame also sports a now-common extended beavertail grip safety as well as a crisp, clean single-action trigger.

All together, the Engraved 1911 comes in an engraved wooden presentation case that would look good on display on any shelf, and Smith & Wesson includes two 8-round magazines.

Now for the engraving. You’ll notice scroll engraving on the slide flats as well as on a few small areas of the frame. And looking closely, this engraving is pretty impressive for being done by a machine. It’s clean with few imperfections and a consistent depth. Running my fingers across the engraving, I didn’t feel any burrs or imperfections.

While the overall pattern is similar, each side is adapted to the contours of the pistol. Even the small patterns on the frame are slightly different on each side, such as around the magazine release. This is significant because hand engraving is never precisely duplicated on both sides of a pistol—it’s part of the artist’s touch.

Several people handled my test pistols—some at my local gun shop and a few at the range—and they all commented on how nice the Engraved 1911 looked. Even a couple of collectors with many works of art already in their possession said it was a beautiful .45 ACP.

No Safe Queen

S&W Engraved 1911 test
At the range, the Engraved 1911 proved that it runs just as well as it looks.

It’s pretty rare to find a collector who will run one of their engraved pistols very hard. Some will carry them, and the pistols might get used on occasion, but most of these guns live in climate- controlled safes. However, thanks to machine engraving and the resulting low price for this pistol, you can work this pistol pretty hard without cringing too much.

At the range, the Engraved 1911’s accuracy was pretty solid—about what you’d expect from a factory pistol—with my best group measuring just outside 1.5 inches using Federal’s 230-grain HST ammunition. All of the self-defense ammunition I tested created groups tighter than 2 inches at 25 yards using a bench and a WieBad Tac Pad as a rest. Shooting groups at 10 yards off-hand, the Engraved 1911 created an ever-larger hole with all of the self-defense ammunition. The accuracy results were very similar using mostly 230-grain FMJs from Prime Ammunition, Remington and Federal.

My first Smith & Wesson E-Series .45 ACP has been a workhorse for years. Starting life with a laser, I’ve since replaced its sights, grips and a few internal components, but it’s run well over 10,000 rounds over the last few years. It remains one of the few box-stock 1911s in my collection that consistently passes Hilton Yam’s duty 1911 test protocol, thanks in part to its external extractor. While this feature is either loved or loathed by shooters today, one thing is certain for me: It works. And this gun often goes with me as a backup in training classes where a .45 ACP 1911 is required. This engraved model worked just as well, suffering no failures to feed, extract or eject with several types of ammunition.

I used several magazines along with those supplied by the factory. My eight-round magazines from Wilson Combat and D&L Sports proved the most reliable. Both are rugged and nearly bulletproof. With one of the factory magazines, the slide did not always lock back after firing the last round, but I never had this issue with the other factory mag during the testing. Both of the 10-round magazines I used from Chip McCormick and Wilson Combat worked fine, but they would sometimes stick in the magazine well on occasion rather than drop free.

After a few hundred rounds, the white-dot front sight tended to fade a bit, but I also have older eyes and tend to equip my 1911s with large orange-dot sights instead. This is something to consider as Smith & Wesson continues to use a proprietary front sight cut on its E-Series 1911s. It limits your choices, although most shooters won’t have any issues with the white-dot sights. Tritium sights are also available from the factory as well as Trijicon, XS Sight Systems and Dawson Precision.

One Of A Kind

S&W Engraved 1911 left engravings

While I didn’t exactly abuse the Engraved 1911, I also didn’t baby it. I carried it in a leather holster for several days and ran it from both nylon and Kydex rigs at the range. Nothing seemed to affect the engraving. After training with it, the slide and frame were very easy to polish and clean.

The thumb safety was a bit loose for my preferences, but I also prefer a safety that is a lot stiffer on carry pistols than most other shooters would want. The grip safety had just the right amount of tension, and the pistol never rattled when it was carried. The trigger pull weight was in the 5-pound range with proper take-up, allowing for solid sear engagement. Overall, the trigger was pretty crisp with very little overtravel. Finally, the aggressive frontstrap checkering really locks this pistol in your hands.

If you are looking for a proven 1911 that will also turn heads at the range, this is an excellent choice. Smith & Wesson’s E-Series has proven itself over years of use, and the engraving adds a really nice touch. The Engraved 1911’s stainless steel construction also makes it a great starting platform for further upgrades, and the MSRP of only $1,219 keeps it within just about anyone’s reach. If you are looking for something at a reasonable price with proven reliability and a touch of class, make sure you take a close look at the Smith & Wesson Engraved 1911.

Caliber: .45 ACP

Barrel: 5 inches

OA Length: 8.7 inches

Weight: 39.1 ounces (empty)

Grips: Wooden laminate E-Series

Sights: Three-dot

Action: SA

Finish: Matte silver

Capacity: 8+1

MSRP: $1,219

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This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” September/October 2017. To subscribe, visit

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