In October of 2021, Springfield Armory surprised the industry by introducing the SA-35, an improved copy of the venerable Browning P-35 Hi-Power. I immediately contacted Springfield and purchased one for editorial review and testing. I was fortunate to receive my sample the same week as the release.
Major Improvements to the Springfield SA-35 Hi Power
Springfield was quick to point out that the SA-35 is not an exact copy of the Browning design. Rather, it is an updated and improved version of the classic design. The SA-35 comes with a great trigger, excellent sights, and lacks the magazine safety. Springfield also finishes the SA-35 Hi Power with an attractive and functional matte blue finish.
They also upgraded the magazine capacity by using a 15-round magazine and even beveled the magazine well. The majority of original Browning parts and after-market accessories will fit the SA-35 with little or no fitting.
One of the most common complaints from Hi-Power users is hammer bite. This is due in part to the small backstrap extension. This results in the web of the shooting hand riding up and getting pinched by the hammer spur.
Springfield solved this issue by redesigning the hammer and moving the loop higher on the spur. The elimination of the magazine safety gives the SA-35 a dramatically improved trigger over a Browning. The trigger on my pistol averaged 6 pounds, 5 ounces, with no creep or grit.
Both the frame and slide are forged from carbon steel. The slide-to-frame fit is significantly tighter than any of my other three Browning guns. Additionally, the stainless barrel is cold hammer-forged and was fitted properly, both at the lugs and the muzzle. The feed ramp is polished and contoured for modern service ammunition.
Finally, Springfield went to the extra effort of equipping the SA-35 with a set of nicely contoured, checkered walnut grips. I found the fit to the frame was very good, and the edges tapered to the frame.
A Deep Dive into Springfield’s Hi Power
I field-stripped the SA-35 and could not find any errant machining marks or burrs. In speaking with my friend Bill Laughridge, of Cylinder & Slide, he was interested in the heat treat on the SA-35. In his experience, Browning Hi-Powers and some import clones have not been heat-treated properly and can be “soft,” leading to accelerated wear and other issues.
I took the SA-35 to a local machine company that Rockwell tested major components for hardness. The results were 28.5 for the frame, 34.5 for the slide, and 33.5 for the barrel. Bill stated that this was well within specifications and the SA-35 would make a great gun to customize.
When it was launched, there was a lot of speculation about the SA-35. So, I spoke with Mike Humphries and Dave Williams, both of Springfield Armory. I learned that while some components are imported, the guns are fitted and assembled at Springfield’s plant in Geneseo, Illinois. Dave said that there was a great deal of care going into the SA-35s to make it right the first time!
There were also early reports of issues with reliability. In the first few weeks that I had the SA-35, I tested it extensively with more than 20 loads and ran a battery of reliability tests. In close to 800 rounds, I had one failure to feed with a round of Sig 124-grain V-Crown.
There was really no explanation because the V-Crown has a traditional-shaped projectile. I ran an additional 49 rounds of V-Crown with no other issues.
To Chestnut Mountain
Karl Sokol, the owner and sole employee of Chestnut Mountain Sports, has been in business for more than 40 years. My first contact with Karl came when in 2007 when I wrote a Hi-Power roundup article for sister publication Combat Handguns.
Karl’s was one of three custom Hi-Powers that I tested. I liked his pistol very much, but unfortunately, it had to be returned. However, we have kept in contact over the years, and I have been looking for a Hi-Power to send to him.
While a marked improvement over a Browning, the stock SA-35 had a few things that needed improvement. I knew that Karl was the perfect person for the job.
The Chestnut Mountain Sports website lists a standard Browning package that includes the following options:
- Install a Novak front and rear sight
- Crown the barrel
- Throat and polish the feed ramp/chamber, tune the extractor, de-burr the breech face and firing pin hole
- Fit and tune three magazines
- Modify the hammer to a semi-bob configuration
- Trigger job
- Stipple the front and rear of the frame
- Bevel the mag well
- Wolff 18.5 recoil spring and firing pin spring
- Refinish the entire pistol in black Mountain Tuff finish
Keeping the SA-35 Hi Power Upgrades Simple
The cost for the Hi-Power package is listed at a very reasonable $750. However, the SA-35 did not need this much work to meet my needs. The trigger was acceptable, as were the hammer configuration and the sights. The pistol already had a beveled magazine well, and the barrel was already throated and polished.
I asked Karl to address the following:
- Do a complete inspection to identify any internal issues that I had missed. This included cleaning up any machine marks, burrs, and inspecting the breech face and firing pin hole.
- Give the pistol a complete dehorning to eliminate any sharp edges, specifically the top of the backstrap and the thumb safety.
- Stipple the front and backstrap for a better purchase
- Recess crown the barrel flush with the slide
- Inspect the extractor and ejector for any issues
- Clean up the thumb safety for a more positive engagement/disengagement
- Refinish the pistol in Mountain Tuff
Receiving the Finished Product
When the SA-35 was returned, I was extremely pleased. Karl said that the gun was extremely clean inside and that he did not find any issues that needed correcting. He did a slight carry bevel that removed the offending sharp edges without altering the graceful lines of the Hi-Power design.
The stock safety was a little mushy, and Karl cleaned this up, where the safety is now very positive with a tactile click. He didn’t find any issues with the stock extractor or ejector, and the pistol was completely reliable during test firing.
On a standard SA-35, the barrel extends slightly from the front of the slide. Karl cut the barrel back with a recessed crown flush with the front of the slide. This protects the muzzle and is esthetically pleasing.
He applied his stippling pattern to the front and backstrap. Karl’s stippling is coarser than some shops. However, I find that it actually provides a better gripping surface than some other patterns. In addition, it is more resistant to deformation from knocks and impacts.
Karl stippled his traditional arrowhead pattern on the underside of the triggerguard. He finished up by refinishing the pistol in his durable Mountain Tuff finish, which is both durable and attractive.
Shooting the Finished Springfield SA-35 Hi Power
Back at the range, I selected three premium personal-defense loads for the formal evaluation. We put an additional 200-plus rounds through the SA-35 with zero issues. The gun was a dream to shoot!
I did find that the SA-35 tended to shoot slightly low with 115 grain and standard velocity loads. Even with 124-grain Federal HST, the SA-35 shot about 2 inches low at 10 to 15 yards. Other than this one issue, the SA-35 ate every load we shot.
I then shot a test for score. For those not familiar with this drill, it was popularized by both Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers. The drill is shot on a B-8 bullseye target from 10 yards. The shooter starts at a low ready and has 10 seconds to fire 10 shots.
Scoring is done using the B-8 scoring rings. I shot the drill cold and managed to shoot a 88/100 with most shots going low. While not my best score, it was reasonably respectable.
As shown in the accompanying photo, the SA-35 is capable of good groups at 25 yards when I did my part.
I definitely noticed the lack of the original sharp edges on both the backstrap and the thumb safety. The gold bead aided in tracking and re-acquiring the front sight during strings of fire.
While the trigger was not a 1911, it was a marked improvement over the original Browning. At the end of the evaluation, the cumulative round count was approaching 900 rounds with no significant issues.
I decided to carry the SA-35 on a couple of outings. I was fortunate to have a classic Milt Sparks 55BN holster and matching single magazine pouch. Carrying the SA-35 really brought back a retro 70s feeling. The pistol rode close against the body with no shifting.
As I write this, it has been eight months since Springfield launched the SA-35. If you measure success by demand outpacing supply, then the SA-35 is a stunning success. Springfield’s media relations manager and the editor of The Armory Life said that production is working hard to fill the demand.
It is my understanding that, at some point, Springfield plans to offer additional models of the SA-35. However, until that time, if you have an SA-35 or a Browning, give Karl a call. He will work with you to make your SA-35 all that you want it to be. He also does excellent 1911 and revolver work.
For more information, visit Springfield-Armory.com and ChestnutMountainSports.net.
Chestnut Mountain Sports Custom Springfield Armory SA-35 Hi Power Specs
Barrel: 4.7 inches
Overall Length: 7.8 inches
Weight: 31.5 ounces (with empty XX-round mag)
Grips: Checkered walnut
Sights: Tactical rack rear, gold bead front
Finish: Mountain Tuff
MSRP: $696 (base) + $700 (custom work)
|Federal HST 124||1,180||2.8|
|Hornady Critical Defense 115 XTP||1,160||3.5|
|Speer Gold Dot 124||1,156||3.3|
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 15 yards.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy today at OutdoorGroupStore.com.