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Get a Better Handgun Grip

By Eve Flanigan

A proper handgrip is one of the most important fundamentals of accurate handgun shooting. But even an ideal grip can be compromised by a slippery gun. Whether it’s moisture from sweat, precipitation, sunscreen or anything else, when traction on the gun’s grip is compromised, so, too, is the effectiveness of your grip. This is especially true for smaller handguns that have less mass to hang on to in the first place, as well as less mass for absorbing recoil.

There are numerous ways to enhance friction on a handgun’s grip to maintain optimum control. Here’s a look at several options available on the market today.

Non-Permanent Solutions

Need traction but aren’t sure if you’ll like a particular modification? Consider skateboard tape. With a sandpaper-like surface backed by adhesive, skateboard tape can be cut to exactly the size needed and placed exactly in the location you want. It usually sticks well for a long time, and if you dislike it, removal is easy.

Talon Grips

Talon Grips production Smith Wesson pistol.

Commercial adhesive products designed specifically for guns are available too. Talon Grips makes grip enhancements in three textures—sandpapery, rubbery or in a pebbled combination.  Another company, Arachnigrip, makes a “Slide Spider that fits over the top and sides of the slide behind the ejection port, with “legs” that match the manufacturer’s slide serrations. When carefully applied according to instructions, any of these accessories lend a subtle but unique look while improving traction for firing or slide manipulation.

Arachnigrip Slide Spider slide

Arachnigrip Slide Spider slide enhancement

Rubber and poly-substance slide-on grips are widely available, even for less-common semi-autos and revolvers. These grips can take some effort to put on or remove, but are technically simple to install, inexpensive and present a great option for some. Pachmayr and Hogue are the best-known makers of slip-on grips.

Pachmayr Grip

This Pachmayr slip-on grip secures with one screw.

These options are all quite durable, but removable. Being in the $20-or-less price range, they represent a great way to try out grip enhancements without regrets. 

Semi-permanent Options

Moving up the scale of permanence are options that change the shape of the grip itself. Gun makers have been listening to customers, and there is perhaps no better demonstration of this in the growing availability of modular grip components for polymer-lower handguns. Glock, as well as certain guns under the H&K, Walther, Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer and Canik flags come to mind. These pistols are sold with one or more choices of backstrap and, in some cases, side panels. Options like these are easy to install and can make a vast difference in the way a gun fills up the hand.

mainspring Grip

Two examples of mainspring housing.

Traditional platforms, like the 1911, have their own semi-permanent grip adjustment. The backstrap of the 1911 houses the mainspring, the internal mechanism that holds the hammer in the cocked position. Mainspring housings can have a flat, convex or V-shaped profile, with flat housings offering a shorter distance between the web of hand and trigger. Textures can vary too. These are subtle differences that can be important for anyone whose finger length is either too long or too short for optimal placement on the trigger. Note, though, that unlike changing modular backstraps or side panels on a polymer-lower gun, it’s best to have mainspring housing changes performed by a qualified gunsmith.

Mainspring housings vary in cost, but the average as of this writing is around $70. Well-known parts supplier Brownells has a good selection. Add the cost of skilled labor for a final cost of $150, more or less.

Aftermarket grip panels are another option for steel-frame handguns. Here, the choices of texture, width, appearance and price are virtually endless, everything from soft rubber, aluminum and a wild assortment of synthetics to exotic woods, turquoise, bison horn and even mammoth ivory. Of course, with such a wide variety of materials comes a wide variety of prices (and, let’s admit, some of those exotic pieces are more for looks than grip purchase, but to each their own), but none require a gunsmith to install.

Permanent options

Trigger undercutting and front- and backstrap stippling are popular, permanent changes that can be made to most guns, even polymer-framed. Why would someone want to make these changes?

Trigger undercutting is a matter of physics: The higher the handler’s grip is on a handgun, the less extreme the felt recoil will be. When the barrel’s bore is close to being on the same parallel line as the forearm of the person holding the gun, that’s called a “low bore axis,” a desirable trait in any centerfire handgun. Manufacturers are increasingly making semi-autos with a low bore axis design.

A gunsmith undercutting a trigger guard trims away excess material from the base of the trigger guard nearest the grip. This allows a little more room for anchoring fingers around the grip and reducing felt recoil in the process by allowing the bulk of the hand to be a bit higher on the gun. Recoil still happens, but recovery time is shortened slightly. Undercutting may also be done to offer a bit more room for large hands on a concealment-size handgun.

aggressive checking on Mainspring

Example of how aggressive checkering can be on mainspring housing.

Stippling creates texture on the grip by means of a soldering iron. For polymer-framed guns, this is done by melting a spot the size of one pinhead at a time with a soldering item, creating a dimple. Stippling and checkering to steel frame guns is accomplished through several different methods. Either way, repeat that pinhead-point process a few hundred or thousands of times, and a stippled or checkered grip is the result. Grip texturing like this can be shallow or deep, aggressive or mild.

In addition to the grip, stippling is often added to the upper frame to enhance thumb traction. Some people feel this provides an index point—like a touchstone—of where one or both thumbs should be while shooting. Textured slide serration points are also seeing popularity as they aid in press checks and slide manipulation

Starry Night - Donahoe Dynamics

Starry Night stippling and trigger guard work by Donahoe Dynamics

These are changes gun owners can make themselves with lots of practice and the right tools, but if you want to keep that expensive handgun you took months to save for looking good, it’s best to use a gunsmith for this task. A great example of a qualified artist is Chance Donahoe of Donahoe Dynamics. He offers a choice of artistic stippling patterns, including his most popular option, a dreamy pattern based on Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

The cost of stippling can vary widely. Expect to pay in the low hundreds for a high-quality job.

Make it Your Own

I’ve referred often here to making changes for the sake of a more secure grip, but there’s something to be said for expressing oneself via gun modifications too. Any of the changes discussed here will change the looks of a gun, some by just a little, others a lot as seen in the examples via the Donahoe Dynamics link. Such alteration can be a lot of fun, but if you intend to shoot the gun you’re modifying rather than keep it in a glass display case, safety comes first. That means choosing the modifications that aid your grip purchase and the ability to properly reach the trigger and manipulate the gun as needed above all others. It can be fun to toy with options. Start with non-permanent choices first and handle other firearms with various degrees of grip modifications when available. Once you understand the features that make for a good grip for you, you can make permanent changes as desired.

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