The Stippling Experiment

“Strive for perfection in everything we do.  Take the best that exists and make it better.  When it does not exist, design it.” – Sir Henry Royce of Rolls Royce Motor Cars

Sir Royce’s quote applies to any tool used by professionals.  If we acknowledge that each shooter will have an individual style based on their personal body mechanics, size, weight, and physical condition, we can acknowledge that no single firearm will meet the needs of every shooter.  Innovation is a product of necessity, and a warrior should never shy away from altering a tool to support the mission.  When balanced with the safety of loved ones or the public, would anyone not wish for more effective and efficient life-saving equipment?

It took me ten years to commit to the “mutilation” of one of my firearms.  I like Glock pistols.  I’ve been carrying them for years and prefer them to other service weapons on the market.  However, there aren’t many options available for modifying the grip of a Glock pistol.  If you don’t want to stipple your gun, you’re limited to the RTF factory grip option or after-market grip tapes.  I’d shied away from stippling because I was hesitant to remove or alter the material of my frame.  Depending on who you talk to, stippling either destroys the integrity of the frame, or makes the firearm more versatile and combat ready.  In spite of the folks saying that stippled guns aren’t reliable or serviceable, companies like Taran Tactical Innovations, Salient Arms, Agency Arms, Zev Technologies, and others are making a tidy profit selling customized pistols.  I’ve also seen many top-shelf instructors who use “burned” guns on the range and in the field.

I decided it was time to venture into the world of the stippled gun to see if the process really made a difference to an end user like me.  I received frame work quotes from a number of companies.  The cost breakdown was $175.00 for Taran Tactical, $1500.00 (minimum) for Salient Arms, $400.00 for Agency Arms, and $200.00 for Zev Technologies.  Each of the companies had a return shipping cost between $35 - $60.  On top of that, the shortest wait time for the work varied from 10 weeks to 6 months.  It would be one thing if I could put my name in the queue and wait for my turn to send in the frame of my weapon, but each of those companies wanted me to send my frame immediately and then wait for the work to be completed.  The thought of being without my firearm for an extended time wasn’t appealing.

Luckily, with the growing appeal of stippling, there are a number of individuals in my area who have taken it up as a side job.  After comparing the work of several, I selected Justin Bupp, who manages The Trading Place Pawn and Indoor Gun Range in Monroe, Georgia, to perform the work on my pistol.  I looked through pictures of his demo guns, handled some of his worked firearms, and thought he’d be a solid choice.  His price was in line with the larger companies, and he promised me a turn-around time of a week.  I met him on a Sunday afternoon and handed him my gun with the hope that I wasn’t going to have serious buyer’s remorse in a few days.

Justin sent me updates as the work progressed.  His first step was to smooth and reduce the grip of my pistol.  Using a variety of sand papers and a Dremel tool, he took off the finger grooves, reduced the backstrap, and relieved the area where the trigger guard met the grip.  He then undercut the trigger guard using a Dremel tool to give me a reference point for the index finger of my support hand.  He then outlined the borders of the stipple work to come.  These steps were the least time consuming part of the work and took approximately three hours to complete.


Justin began the project using the fine tip of a wood burner.  He explained that he considered wood burners superior to soldering irons as they gave him the ability to control the heat and the size of the pattern by switching out the attachments.  Additionally, the wood burners lasted longer.  After an hour of making small individual dimples in the frame of my firearm, the project was 20% complete.  The following afternoon I received a text reading “I’ve started the mind numbing part of the process now.”  It accompanied a picture of my firearm stippled a third of the way down one side of the grip.


As the job proceeded, a tin-foil wrapped magazine was inserted into the magazine well.  This provided support and ensured that the application of heat did not cause the frame to shrink and cause magazines to bind within the frame.  The stippling of the grip took approximately four hours.  Four hours of slow, monotonous poking.

 

The final touch was adding reference points on each side of the frame just above the front of the trigger guard.  I shoot with my thumbs driven forward along the frame, so the stippling on the left side allows me to check that my support hand grip is in the proper location.  On the right side of the frame, I can reference the home position when my finger is off the trigger.


From start to finish, the work on the gun took eight hours.  I was excited to get it back in my hands, and it didn’t disappoint by any means.  The fine stippling pattern provides an additional measure of grip, but isn’t so aggressive that it’s torn or damaged my clothing when carrying concealed.  In the past month I’ve carried appendix IWB under my t-shirt, strong side OWB on the range, and have run the gun on a plate carrier.  I’ve noticed no additional wear on my equipment or abrasion to my skin.  The pattern tends to pull against clothing slightly, but not to the extent that it’s dislodging a tucked in shirt or causing fabric piling.

My fears concerning the frame being weakened by the process have also proved unfounded.  Upon comparison to an unmodified Glock frame, I’ve found no difference in strength or function on any part of the weapon.  The weapon stands up to strong grip pressure as well as its factory siblings.  I’ve done my best to gorilla-grip the gun into flexing or cracking, but I’ve been unable to damage it that way.

Additionally, I’ve been lucky to compare my firearm to out of the box works from Zev Technologies and Salient Solutions.  While the Salient gun felt amazing in the hand, the $2500 price tag associated with that particular gun was a bit more than I was willing to commit.  Salient will only do work on the full gun as part of their packages, so no picking and choosing what you want done.  While Zev Technologies will allow you to order off their customization menu, I found the wide checkered square pattern of their stippling to be a bit crude.  The pattern seemed haphazard and didn’t provide as much traction as the small stippling pattern when compared side by side.  That’s a personal preference though, and I’m sure some shooters would prefer the wider pattern.  Variety is the spice of life.

During a recent class in Americus, Georgia with John "Shrek" McPhee (The Sheriff of Baghdad), I observed that he had a stippled gun.  When I asked him about it , he gave me this advice: "Stippling the grip is awesome for a range or duty gun. It's only really needed on the grip. Working the front of the frame for your thumb and under the trigger are a waste of time. Also be careful not to go too high on the beavertail or other areas where your hands have soft skin.  I tell guys to go to Home Depot and buy a wood burning kit for $14 and practice on the mag loader that comes in the Glock box. I don't do pretty. I do functional.  Stippling is NOT good for concealed or jamming a gun in your pants! This requires sanding the grip after the stippling process.  160 to 400 grit sandpaper makes the grip feel a soft rubber Hogue grip."

Shrek's gun had a large stippling pattern that looked like it gripped well and removed a fair amount of DNA.  I can understand why he doesn't tote that close to the skin in a concealed fashion.  I've found that the smaller stippling pattern of mine isn't really that bothersome.  Individual comfort thresholds will vary.

If agency policy didn’t forbid me to carry a stippled firearm, I’d have already completed this work on my Glock 34 and 43.  As it is, I run the 17 whenever possible and have taken it to multiple classes and sport shooting events, including Shrek's .  I’ve seen no decrease in reliability since the stippling was performed.  The bottom line is that “burning” the frame of my plastic gun gave me a more comfortable firearm that doesn’t slip in my hand when it’s muddy or sweaty (and I presume bloody).  It looks good, feels good, shoots good, and hasn’t shown any signs of being less functional on the battlefield.  I’ve found that I acquire a master grip faster than before, and the trigger guard relief makes the gun more comfortable to shoot as my middle finger has more room under the trigger guard.  I've enjoyed the gun so much that I added a few accessories to it:  Zev match grade barrel, Zev Ultimate Trigger Kit, and a SureFire X300 Ultra that I received courtesy of Jamie Wiedeman of SureFire, LLC.  I'm currently toting the entire rig in a Veil Solutions Appendix IWB holster.

 

 

With all that said, people do stupid things to guns.  In every group, there’s someone who thinks putting their gun in the dishwasher is a great idea, so of course there will be people who will make poor judgment in regards to modifying their pistol.  Just as a good stipple job enhances the firearm, a bad one will render it useless.  Any alteration of an agency firearm can invite the specter of liability.   Who can be allowed to stipple a firearm?  Is there a specific pattern that must be utilized?  How much material can be removed?  How will accidental damage to the firearm be addressed?  How would a policy be written in a way to give clear guidelines to officers and armorers?  How does it affect the factory warranty?  These are valid concerns for an agency considering the implementation of a frame alteration policy.

I myself find it hard to define “good stippling”.  I know the difference between good and bad work when I see it.  The guideline I would focus on would be ensuring that any alteration does not measurably diminish function of the firearm or weaken the frame.  Note that I use the term “measurably” because it is associated with facts rather than opinion or hearsay.  Minimum dimension thresholds would be one way of ensuring enough material is left on the firearm.  A specific “Do Not” list could also be compiled, to limit things such as burning holes completely through the frame.  The work could also be outsourced to professional gunsmiths who have proven their ability to complete the work without damaging the gun.  If form and function are maintained or enhanced, the stippling argument becomes one of cosmetic preference.  Cosmetic preference has little to do with winning a fight.

My thanks to Justin Bupp for the pistol work and to the many individuals who let me fondle their guns during the decision making phase.  Your help was appreciated.  Anyone interested in having Justin perform frame work or dipping / cerakote work can reach him at The Trading Place Pawn & Indoor Gun Range 770-266-1008 ext.3 or tradingplaceindoorrange@gmail.com.

No comments (Add your own)

Add a New Comment


code
 

Comment Guidelines: No HTML is allowed. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Thanks.