March 26, 2015
By James Tarr
Stippling the gripping surface of polymer-framed guns is usually done with a soldering iron, and it is getting more and more accepted and common—not just on competition guns but by the serious "tactical" crowd. There are several reasons for this. First, the nonslip gripping surface stippling provides can be as aggressive as the custom hand checkering you used to see on custom 1911s
. Second, it is not usually expensive to stipple a polymer gun, and it's so easy most people these days are doing it themselves.
Over the years I have seen Glocks and M&Ps stippled by hand by local shooters, and the results didn't just look good but felt good. However, I'd never shot one. After getting a new custom Glock from Taran Tactical this year with a lightly stippled grip—shown on the photo above—I realized what I was missing. It was so much easier to keep a firm grip on my gun at high-pressure USPSA matches that I couldn't believe the difference, and the mild stippling didn't tear up my shirts (I carry my competition gun).
Up until then I didn't own a soldering iron, but right now the gun on my hip sports a grip hand-stippled by yours truly, and trust me folks—if I can stipple a grip, anyone can. Here are some helpful hints.
About the only thing you'll need for do-it-yourself stippling is a soldering iron. A simple 25-watt iron—available at any hardware or home improvement store for $30 or less—will do everything you need. The Weller soldering iron I purchased came with three tips: large and small flathead screwdriver types, and the traditional pointer tip, which looks like a dull pencil end. I also bought some 10-24x1/2-inch brass machine screws. More on them later.
No one is good at something the first time they try it. Before you accidentally butcher the serialized frame of your pistol, practice on something you won't mind destroying first. I used spare AR-15 pistol grips sitting dusty in my parts bin and tried different techniques.
Don't have any extra plastic pieces around to practice on? If you're stippling the grip insert of a gun with interchangeable backstraps, grab the size you never use and experiment on that.
On Smith & Wesson M&Ps many people stipple only the textured area of the grip, in addition to the grip inserts. On Springfield XD(m) pistols I've seen people stipple the raised texture blocks on the frame or in between the raised blocks. On Glocks I've seen everything stippled: grip, trigger guard, front of the frame. The first grips I stippled were the plastic grips on a SIG P226SAO
The most common method of stippling is to use the standard "pencil" tip and, once the iron is properly heated, push it into the plastic and repeat as necessary. You'll feel resistance in the plastic as you push in the hot soldering iron and maybe hear a slight sizzle. Be careful not to push too hard (you don't want to go through the frame), and don't rush it. Depending on how far you push the iron into the plastic you can customize the roughness of the stippling. Your best bet is to follow the natural lines of the grip and keep your spacing regular.
I've seen people use the slot-head screwdriver attachments on soldering irons to create "tiger stripe"-like lines on their grips, but on my SIG grips I borrowed a technique I read about on the web. The tips on my soldering iron are threaded 10-24, so the 10-24x1/2-inch brass machine screws I bought threaded right in. Using a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel, I then checkered the round top of the screw, and used that to stipple the grips of my SIG.
Not only did the screwhead cover more real estate with each press of the iron, I wasn't worried about the head accidentally going through the thin grip panels because it wasn't pointy. The end result was much more aggressive than the factory surface of the grips but not so rough it will chew through my clothes.
So if you're looking for a little more purchase on your favorite polymer-framed semiauto, consider trying your hand at stippling. With just a few tools, a couple of bucks and a little practice, you'll wind up with a custom gun that will be a huge improvement over the factory grip surface.