When the Glock handgun hit the market in the mid-1980s, it was unprecedented for its use of polymer (a fancy name for plastic) in the frame. Just about every other handgun maker followed Glock’s lead, and now polymer-frame handguns are the most popular style on the market.
This opened the door to a lot of modifications by the gun owner. In the past, if we wanted to modify a metal-frame handgun, it meant using expensive and complicated equipment, like a milling machine. Or a file and a lot of courage. The polymer frame of the Glock simplifies the process. You still need a bit of courage, but the tools and techniques are much simpler.
These techniques will work with any polymer frame handgun, as indicated by the Glock, FNH X-45, and the Springfield XD shown here. Just keep in mind that they do not all use the same polymer. What works on one gun in terms of temperature and technique may not work well on another, so approach each new project with caution and maybe a bit of practice.
I picked up a nasty old Glock G22 in a trade. The gun was beat up, worn out and it looked like road kill. My intention was to use it for a project gun for a book I am writing on gunsmithing. I intended to breathe new life into the gun and make it an “Oh Wow!” pistol…you know, the kind of gun that gets that reaction when you pull it out of the case at the range.
Here is how to reshape and stipple the grip. My friend Mike Brookman taught me how to do this, and he did the all the work shown here. He says the key is to work slowly and to stay focused.
The first step is to take the gun apart and then strip the frame of its parts. Remember that you will be working with plastic and it can melt very quickly. Modifying the grip with a sanding disk or other abrasive tool generates heat, so turn down the RPMs and work slowly and carefully. If you go too fast or push too hard the plastic can melt and flow ahead of the tool. The result is not pretty, and can be very hard or even impossible to repair.
Never forget that you are making modifications. That means you are removing material, which is easy, but is almost impossible to replace if you take off too much. Also be aware when you begin stippling that you will be using a hot metal tip that can easily melt right through the frame of a handgun. It all requires a light touch. Work slowly and be careful.
It’s a good idea to practice on something less expensive other than the serial numbered handgun frame. The polymer in some AR-15 magazines is similar to that used in handgun frames, so try stippling a few of those before you start on your pistol. A$20 magazine is a far better practice piece than a $500 handgun.
Start with a sanding drum on a Dremel tool to modify the grip’s shape to your liking. Many shooters like to remove the finger grooves because they find the spacing less than ideal for their hand size. I elected to simply make them smaller and less prominent.
A common complaint about Glocks is that the ring finger of the shooting hand hits the trigger guard, often making that finger sore after an extended shooting session. A common modification is to cut a crescent into the trigger guard to allow clearance for the finger.
You may also want to put a radius on the edges of the trigger guard. This is smoother overall on your fingers and gives the gun a “softer,” less industrial look. Some like to round out the front of the trigger guard so it looks more like a conventional pistol. I chose to leave mine alone because I feel that rounding it removes a lot of the Glock look. Also, it might make finding a holster that will fit the gun a bit more difficult.
Before Brookman and I began the stippling process, we smoothed up the back and sides of the grip, which included removing the textured surface. This makes the grip a bit smaller, which is an advantage for most people. Be very careful to not go past the bottom of the existing “terrain” on the grip. We also sculpted around the magazine release to make the release easier to activate.
Smooth out the worked areas by hand with sandpaper. Remember, this will be your final finish on the areas that you are not going to stipple, so don’t rush.
The stippling tool can be a wood burner or a soldering iron, but it’s best to find one on which you can control the heat. If it’s too cool it will not properly melt the plastic. Too hot and you risk burning through, or having strings of plastic follow the tip out when you remove it from the grip.
It’s best not to get too ambitious for your first stippling project. A simple stippling over the grip area, and perhaps a few other carefully selected sections for aesthetic balance, is a good way to start. On my pistol we kept it simple. The entire grip area was stippled for a better gripping surface as well as the “look.” Mike added a small stippled section on the front of the trigger guard. We did not stipple the bottom of the tang where it hits the web of the hand. Instead we kept that smooth so it won’t gouge a hole in my skin every time the gun recoils.
Lay out the pattern you are planning to stipple with a pencil. Once you have it in place, you can use masking tape to give you nice straight lines. You also can cut and shape tape to give you curved borders to follow. Lay the tape on the grip and stipple along its edge to create the border, then fill in the space inside the borders. It’s as simple as that.
For this simple pattern we used the pointed tip for the wood-burning tool and adjusted the heat to the proper setting by experimenting on a practice piece. To stipple, touch the tip to the grip and allow it to very slightly melt into the plastic. This raises an edge around the point. Pull it out, move over a little and do it again, keeping the penetration the same each time.
Repeat while keeping the tight pattern so that you wind up with a rough surface with holes or “stipples” that are even and closely spaced. Make sure you keep the tip clean as you work. Of course you can experiment with different tips and patterns, but the standard pointed tip is a good one to start with. It provides a rough texture for gripping, and it looks good.
Once you are done, you can simply leave it as us and have a very nice looking and very practical handgun. Or you can finish the gun with a spray coating as we did with my Glock.
Brookman and I traveled to Fairport Harbor, Ohio to spend some time with the good folks at Viktor’s Legacy Gunsmithing.
Owners Jim and Jamey Majoros taught me several new gunsmithing techniques for pistols, rifles and shotguns that I will cover in my new book. You can see a lot of those incorporated in the project gun shown here, such as the Cerakote camo pattern and slide cuts.
We also added a new Lone Wolf barrel and trigger kit. Finished with Trijicon HD night sights, it’s an “Oh Wow” gun now for sure—and it all started with reshaping and stippling the grip. If you are not a DIY kind of person, I highly recommend Jim and Jamey for any gunsmithing work.
Bryce M. Towsley is the author of Gunsmithing Made Easy Prepper Guns, and several other books. His second book on gunsmithing, which will have a large section featuring this Glock, will be out mid-2017. Go here for details.