There are few things as sweet as a handgun fresh from a stay with the gunsmith. Maybe it had a trigger job along with a precision fit between the slide and frame, or possibly a custom-fit bushing and barrel if you’re a 1911 shooter. But there’s a lot you can do to stock pistols of many makes and models that can ramp up the gun’s accuracy and your shooting pleasure without paying for the labor at the gun shop. Some help balance out a handgun, others add weight to light polymer handguns to help hold them steady and soak up recoil, while others improve the grip. Here are several DIY modifications that will do that and more without forcing you to shell out more dough than you paid for the gun itself.
Let’s start with the muzzle. Adding a compensator to a handgun is a great way to mitigate muzzle flip and recoil for faster, more accurate follow-up shots. It works by funneling gasses from the fired round upward, which pushes the muzzle down, helping to keep the muzzle on target through recoil.
It’s widely accepted that the best way to attach a comp is by screwing it directly onto the barrel. This allows for a diameter for the comp to be extremely close to that of the actual barrel, and ensures that all the discharge from the fired round is channeled through it. But, this requires an extended, threaded barrel and a gunsmith to marry them. This isn’t always practical, or legal, depending on where you live.
There are a number of inexpensive and easy to install alternatives that function much the same way. One type is a bushing compensator for a 1911-style pistol, like those sold by 1911compensator.com, though they call them muzzle brakes (MSRP: $34.95).
It differs from a threaded compensator in that it’s not physically attached to the barrel, but rather sits directly in front of it and shrouds it. These comps take the place of the normal barrel bushing and fit in most full-size 1911s, so technically it’s affixed to the slide and moves with it whereas a threaded compensator is screwed onto the barrel and is a static affair. Installing a barrel bushing compensator is as easy as breaking down a 1911 like you would for cleaning and swapping a drop-in part.
This video shows you how to install the Wilson Combat Multi-Comp, a popular bushing compensator that includes side ports:
Even though it’s not as efficient as a barrel comp, a bushing comp still channels plenty of gases from the fired rounds through the cuts in the top, but because it isn’t screwed onto the barrel, the diameter of the compensator has to be a bit larger than the barrel diameter. This allows some gas to escape rather than be channeled through the compensator’s ports, but shooters can still expect a felt recoil reduction of about 30 percent and less snap to the muzzle flip. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and could make a huge difference in your shooting and improve the accuracy of your follow-up shots.
Another option that will make for steadier shooting is a product like the match weight for HK pistols, sold by BrownBearGear.com.
Modeled after the original match weight for the H&K USP, It adds weight to the muzzle, helping to hold the gun steady and combat muzzle flip, but it also works in the same way as a compensator in that it channels gasses from the muzzle upward by the weight’s sides and open top.
Instead of attaching to the barrel or the slide, the match weight attaches to the rail on the frame on the P30, P30L, VP9, and HK45 via a stout bracket (MSRP: $195).
There are also match weights of various designs for various pistols. They are mounted in various ways, some to the slide, some to the muzzle, and some to the frame itself. There are even adjustable models that let target shooters tweak the balance.
It’s worth exploring to see if your home-defense handgun, or even your carry gun, could benefit from the addition of a little extra weight or some recoil reduction, but keep in mind, your holsters won’t find any longer.
Polymer-frame handguns have an inherent problem: They’re really light and thus rather top-heavy, since the weight of most polymer guns comes from the slide and the barrel, with the rest in the loaded magazine.
A lot of shooters find that adding a little extra weight to the floor plate of a magazine not only helps keep a light pistol balanced out as rounds from the magazine are expended, making it lighter and lighter, but it also helps ensure that the magazine positively falls from the grip when the release is pressed, making for quick, smooth reloads. This is especially important to competition shooters.
Even if you don’t need the extra weight, there are many magazine extensions that will increase the pistol’s capacity. Just make sure you thoroughly test any extended magazines at the range to make sure they feed properly.
Typically a weight such as this replaces a magazine’s floor plate without creating any extra room for more ammunition. The extra material also makes a magazine easier to grab and move from a mag carrier to the pistol (MSRP $32.95).
They’re not a great addition for a carry pistol, but it could be a valuable accessory on a range gun or home defense handgun.
New Grips or Grip Sleeves
While most handguns don’t lend themselves to a lot of user-customization once they’re out of the factory, many have grips that can be readily changed, or modified, with nothing more than a screwdriver and some replacement parts.
Companies like Hogue and TALON make a variety of products that help change or enhance a handgun’s grip in a few different ways.
If a grip is a bit small for your hands and it just doesn’t feel right, Hogue specializes in soft yet durable grips that often have a “sticky” surface that helps a shooter clamp down. Some have finger grooves or aggressive stippling too, which make a big difference when shooting with wet or gloved hands. A grip sleeve is an easy way to add some texture and shape to a polymer pistol grip that’s basically just a hunk of plastic, though getting it on will give your fingers a workout. The Hogue HandAll sleeve sells for about $10.
TALON’s products are a bit different. These add on to a polymer handgun’s grips, which are usually pretty unchangeable, aside from some models that let you swap backstraps. TALONG’s grips are self-adhesive and come with surfaces that range from rough to sandpaper, a lot like skateboard tape, if you ever rode a board. These adhesive sections come precision-cut for specific firearm models, so they add a grippy texture right where it’s supposed to be. A few passes with a hairdryer or heat gun and some pressing with your fingers and it takes on the exact contours of the gun, but adds tons of grip. TALON also offers “blank” sheets of material that can be custom-cut to any shape by the user (MSRP: about $18, depending on product).
By far, guns such as the 1911, Beretta 92FS, or any handgun with removable slab grips are the easiest to change and customize. Some products like these 1911 grips from Recover Tactical actually improve the capabilities of a firearm by adding a rail section to a pistol that would otherwise not have one, allowing for the attachment of accessories (MSRP: 49.95).
The desire for new sights will send a lot of people to the gunsmith, because replacing fixed sights can be slightly tricky and does require at least one special tool, but you can absolutely do it at home.
That one tool is called a sight pusher, which is basically a clamp with a screw sized for a particular handgun, but as this YouTube video shows, you can get by with a clamp and a vice in your workshop in a pinch.
No matter how you get it done, it’s a worthwhile upgrade. The big, white three-dot factory sights that come with most new handguns can be pretty abysmal. More precise, easy-to-see fiber-optic sights, like this set from TruGlo are a worthwhile upgrade to any pistol. TruGlo makes models with contrasting colors between front and back sights to make a sight picture faster to acquire. Other models have inserts made of tritium that will glow in the dark for a decade or so, making a handgun far more useful in low-light situations. Some give you both tritium and fiber optics, like the TruGlo TFO green and yellow sights. (MSRP: $129).
In a similar way, the rear sight can be replaced on some handguns with mini reflex sights like the Deltapoint Pro from Leupold, which will speed up your target acquisition and eliminate the need to even get a sight picture. Just put the red dot on the target, and squeeze. The Leupold is one of the top of the line sights, and it’s priced that way at about $550. But you can find far more inexpensive reflex sights that work perfectly well. A mini reflex sight from Doctor C will run you less than $300, and other products like the Burris FastFire III go for $250. For a quick guide to mini reflex sights, go here.