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Getting a Grip: Part 1

September 19th, 2011 Posted in Art stuff, Pass the ammo, Pistol Grips

No, this isn’t a political posting, this is a gun and art posting.

So it’s like this, I have been ignoring my thesis for much too long because I have jumped into teaching myself how to make custom pistol grips.  I was actually inspired to start down this road by my friend Michael, maker of amazing custom holsters, to get into this for a few reasons; One, it could potentially be another source of income for us, and with a baby (and the wife wanting a few more) extra income would be nice.  Two, I’ve seen bunches of custom grips for .45’s but not much out there beyond that and I think with the proper tools, methods and practice I think I can provide a product that people will want. Three: Along with Michael’s  inspiration I also wanted to make a set of custom grips for my dad’s .45 Kimber for Christmas.

So, with all those in mind I decided to start with something that I already have, a Browning Hi-Power 9mm.  I actually figured this is a good one to start with because it is not a flat back grip, the grip actually curves into the back strap of the pistol and on the backside of the grip there are some cut outs that help hold the grip in place since it is only mounted with one screw.

So rather than just having to worry about shaping the sides and face of the grip I also had to do some carving and right angle work as well.  I figured if I could get this one to work then I could probably handle the flat back grips too.

Below the fold are pictures and narrative of what I started doing

OK, since you’re here I guess you are interested in it.

First thing I started with was a mock up with tape of the shape I want the new grips to be.  I never really liked the factory grips on my Browning, they are flat sided and never really seemed to go with the pistol.

This is a very good looking pistol with very square, boring grips that seem like an after thought to the design.  I had some Pachmayr grips on it for a while too, but they felt overly aggressive in how they held onto my hand.  Not sliding is good, but not being able to comfortably adjust your grip is not good.

So, with the tape up done, I then transferred the tape onto some Bristol board to do a cut out of the pattern.  Once the transfer was done I refit the pattern to the pistol to make sure that it still matched.  You can see in the image on the right the back of the factory grip, multiple levels and shapes – fun carving!

After finalizing the pattern and marking the areas on it where I was going to need to cut into the back to make the grips fit, I was ready to start shaping some wood.

I went with pine to start, no sense wasting good hardwood to practice and make mistakes.  Good thing too because I think I went through about five sets of grips before figuring out which bits on my Dremel would work best for what parts and what RPM wouldn’t be too aggressive and rip too much wood off at once.

For the grips that I actually got finished, I took a section of 1×2 pine and cut it to 4.5″ lengths and then used the Dremel’s cutting bit to rough chop the wood down to a basic shape.

Once that was done I switched to a burr bit and ripped them into the proper shape and then smoothed with a sanding bit.

After the shape was basically established I started carving the back sections out on the grips.  No sense spending any time making the side you can see if the side that is flush to the pistol isn’t correct, and it’s a good think I took that approach because this is where the screw-ups happened.  I messed up four sets of grips – that’s EIGHT individual pieces of perfectly good wood that never did anything to anyone – because I made one mistake or the other on the backs and it wouldn’t sit flush against the frame.

So, after condemning them to a pointless existence as floor scraps I finally got a set that fit flush and were centered correctly. Once that was done I flipped them over and began working on the grip faces so that they would be slightly rounded and flow with the frame design

While working on these grips, I primarily kept with only a few tools.  I used a handsaw, a  Dremel rotary tool with a burr bit, a tungsten carving bit and a sanding bit, the vice clamp, a shop vac and sandpaper.  That’s it.

On the front sides of the grips I mostly used the burr bit and the sanding bit.  It’s amazing how much work you can do with one simple tool and the proper bits.  For the most part I just roughly marked on the ends of the grips the basic shape I was going for and then began removing material until it looked and felt right to me.  Then I test fit them on the Browning, shaped them some more, fit them and continued on.

The last shot is the “close but not quite finished” image.  I adjusted the angle of the beaver tail curve so it matched a little closer to the curve on the pistol, and I (of course) haven’t checkered them yet.

As far as checkering goes, I am thinking of doing something different in that area but I am going to have to wait until I have either a checkering tool to work my designs with, or until some bits for my Dremel come in and I can see if I can make the pattern I am thinking of with some VERY tiny bits – and I mean really, really freaking small.

The other thing I am saving for is this wood burning kit.  This is what I want to do my dad’s grips with.  Burn the pattern into the wood and add color as well as texture to the design.

So, I have the basic tools down and I am able to do a basic job.  Now I just need the tools to continue on and make a basic job a professional one.





2 Responses to “Getting a Grip: Part 1”

  1. Evyl Robot Michael Says:

    Looking good! I’m glad that I could inspire!

  2. Instinct Says:

    It’s always better to be an inspiration than an example of what not to do 😀

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