DIY: Install a Color Front Sight Insert

Turn a plain revolver ramp front sight into a bright contrasting color sight permanently.

handgun front sights
Contrasting color inserts in a front sight make aiming the handgun much easier than with a black on black sight.Bryce M. Towsley

Handguns sights, particularly revolver sights often are fixed to the gun in a way that makes replacement difficult. Black on black handgun sights are fine for shooting bullseye competition, but not for much else. With everything the same color they can be very hard to see, particularly in poor light and/or with a dark target. On a stainless steel gun, the grey color of both sights is even worse.

stock handgun front sight
This shows the common black, serrated ramp-style front sight.Bryce M. Towsley

The best solution for a ramp type sight, one that will be rugged and last, is to install a contrasting color insert into the front sight.

What You'll Need:

  • Brownells Front Sight Insert Kit
  • 1 safe side pillar file
  • 1 safe side dovetail triangle file
  • center punch
  • drill
  • #51 (.067-inch) or smaller drill bit
  • aerosol degreaser
  • 1 aluminum soda can
  • small parallel jaw pliers or parallel clamp
  • 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper
  • Brownells Oxpho-Blue cold bluing

Files and the Kit

brownells front sight insert kit
Brownells Front Sight Insert Kit. This kit contains all you need to modify several handgun sights. There are five color options included.Bryce M. Towsley

This is an easy DIY project using the Brownells Front Sight Insert Kit. There are five color options included and this kit contains all you need to modify several handgun sights. I have heard reports of using acrylic fingernail product to do this as well, but I have not confirmed if it will work.

safe side pillar file and dovetail file
This shows the two files needed for this job, a safe side pillar file (Brownells #360-312-121) for the initial cut and a safe side dovetail triangle file (#080-648-165) for the dovetail cuts.Bryce M. Towsley

This job requires that you modify the existing front sight and cut a dovetail into the metal for the insert. It’s pretty easy with the right tools.

The First Cut

filing handgun front sight for custom insert
Making the primary cut in the sight.Bryce M. Towsley

Clamp the barrel in a soft-jawed vise so that the sight is level. Using a pillar file (Brownells #360-312-121); make a cut as wide as the file, which is 17/64-inch and as deep as the file is thick, 1/8-inch.

This file is “safe” on the edges, which means there are no cutting teeth on the edges, so you can control the width of the cut easily. Make sure that the bottom of the cut is square and 90 degrees to the edges of the sight.

The top edge of the cut should be just below the top serration on the front sight.

You want the insert as close to the top of the sight as possible, but the dovetails will extend further, so you must leave enough room for that.

Making the Dovetails

filed handgun front sight for contrast insert
This shows the dovetail cuts partially completed. They need to be a little bit deeper.Bryce M. Towsley

Next it’s time to cut the dovetails. Switch to a sight base file (#080-648-165.) This is a parallel sided (no taper) triangle file with two sides safe, or non-cutting. It’s designed for making or enlarging dovetail cuts.

dovetail filing handgun front sight
This illustrates using a safe side dovetail file to make the dovetails deeper in the cut.Bryce M. Towsley

You will use it to add a dovetail to each end of the cut, to help hold the insert in place. Make sure the dovetail cuts are nice and square to the edge of the sight and that each dovetail is of equal depth. This is important because any misalignment will be apparent in the final product

Drilling

center punching handgun front sight
Using a center punch to make a mark for the drill to follow.Bryce M. Towsley

Use a center punch to make two marks on the bottom of the cut. These will guide the drill when you make the insert anchor holes. Using a #51 (.067-inch) or smaller drill bit, drill each of the holes about 1/8-inch deep. These will fill with the insert material and form two pegs off the bottom of the insert to help hold it in place against any lateral movement.

drilling anchor holes handgun front sight
Drilling the anchor holes in the front sight.Bryce M. Towsley

Prep Area

aerosol degreaser
Using an aerosol degreaser.Bryce M. Towsley

Degrease the sight with a solvent that dries without leaving any residue. Brownells TCE is a good choice, as is acetone or Brakleen, which can be purchased at any auto store.

Build a Dam

parallel clamps handgun front sight
Using a parallel clamp to hold the two metal dams made from a soda can.Bryce M. Towsley

You're going to be filling in the dovetail space you just cut, so you have to create some temporary sides on the blade of the sight so the liquid doesn't run out.

Cut a couple small pieces of metal from a soda can, about 3/8-inch by ¾-inch, sized to fit on the sides of the sight to form a dam. You might have to trim them a little for the best fit. Leave them slightly higher than the sight and clamp them to the sight. Brownells recommends parallel jaw pliers. I didn’t have any so I used a small parallel clamp.

Fill In The Color

brownell front sight contrast filler
Mix up the filler.Bryce M. Towsley

Make sure the gun is oriented so the blade of the sight is level. Mix up the acrylic powder, dye and activator according to the instructions supplied. You must work fast from now on as it hardens quickly.

handgun front sight filler
When applying the mix to the sight, it's better to have too much rather than not enough. However, this is a bit excessive. (I have never been good with sticky substances.)Bryce M. Towsley

Pick up a drop with a toothpick and leave it in the cut you made on the sight. Repeat until the slot you cut is filled. Make sure to work the mix into the anchor holes at the bottom and the dovetails. Fill the cut to slightly above the top of the sight. Overfill a little bit as it’s better to have too much than not enough. Let the mixture set up: 30 minutes is enough, but an hour is better.

Remove the Clamp

handgun front sight contrast filler insert
After removing the clamp. This shows the metal dams made from a soda can.Bryce M. Towsley

Remove the clamp and peel off the metal dams. The insert should fill the slot completely, be flush with the sides and higher than the top of the sight. Don't worry if some bluing has been removed or gets stripped off in the next step, that will be addressed later.

handgun front sight contrast filler insert
This shows the insert after removing the dams. This is a bit excessive, but it’s better to have too much than not enough. It just means a bit more time with clean up and fitting.Bryce M. Towsley

Clean it Up

File the top of the insert down with a flat file until it is flush with the top of the sight. Work very carefully as you do not want to mar the metal on the sight. Be very careful with the final cuts as that’s when accidents happen! Once gone, metal can’t be replaced, so watch where your file is contacting at all times.

handgun front sight with contrast insert
This shows the insert after filing it to shape. Note that the metal will need to be re-blued; however, this sight was badly abused before the project was started.Bryce M. Towsley

For a finer finish, use 400-grit wet or dry sandpaper with a drop of oil to polish the top of the insert. Wrap the paper around a flat stick or the file so that you keep the edges of the insert sharp. Using just your finger will round the edges. Clean up any overflow on the sides with a sharp knife, a file or sandpaper.

Note that the sight shown in the photos was abused before even starting this project. To repair this type of damage, use a needle file to carefully re-cut the serrations.

ReBluing the Metal

applyign cold blue to handgun metal
Applying cold blue to the metal. Keep it on the clean metal until the colors match and blend.Bryce M. Towsley

If you scratched the sight or hit the top with the file you may need to do some repairs. Degrease the metal and apply some cold blue with a Q-Tip. Once the color is correct, wipe off the sight and apply a few drops of oil to stop the bluing process and protect the metal.

contrasting color front sight finished
The finished product. This previously abused front sight was salvaged and is now a viable and useful sight.Bryce M. Towsley

Your gun is now ready to shoot.

The Way Simpler Option

While not as permanent, some shooters prefer to simply paint the surface on their existing sight. The key is to degrease the metal before applying the coatings.

The Birchwood Casey Super Bright Touch-Up Sight Pens come in a package of three. The colors are Neon Green, Flat White and Fluorescent Red. These are paint pens with a felt applicator. To use, push the felt applicator into the pen to charge it with paint and then apply. I found it very easy to control and put the coating precisely where I wanted it to be. Good coverage required two applications.

You can use these Birchwood Casey Super Bright Touch-Up Sight Pens for an easier, but far less permanent front sight coloring option.
You can use these Birchwood Casey Super Bright Touch-Up Sight Pens for an easier, but far less permanent front sight coloring option.Bryce M. Towsley

I used the Neon Green on a stainless steel Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special handgun and the Fluorescent Red on a S&W AirLite, .22 LR revolver. Both greatly improved the sight picture, but of course, they will wear off from use and from gun cleaning solvents and will require re-application.

For more do it yourself projects check out Towsley’s book, Gunsmithing Made Easy. Due out in early 2019 is his new book, Gunsmithing Modern Firearms. Find them at www.brycetowsley.com