In this Instructable, I'll go through the steps necessary to create custom hand grips for a revolver. As you can see in the beginning photo, we have a 1976 Colt Trooper MKIII revolver that had rubber "combat" grips on it because the old wooden ones wore out.
- Coping or scroll saw
- Dremel tool or chisels
- Drill or drill press
- Flat head screwdriver
- Belt sander
- Sand paper and thin wood block
- Steel wool
- Stain and clear coat applicator
- Digital caliper
- #2 Wood Pencil
- Wood glue
Total estimated time: 12+ hours.
Step 1: Step 1: Trace the Current Grip or Frame.
Usually the template used to make the grips comes from a tracing of the original grips. Here we're using the rubber grips that were on the gun to make a tracing to use on our wood.
If you no longer have the grips at all, trace the frame and estimate how much of the upper section will be covered by wood and allow the grips to either match the width of the frame or add extra space for things like contour grooves (finger grooves) or artistic encasement.
Step 2: Step 2: Transfer the Tracing to Wood.
Next we need to take the trace that we have and place it on the wood itself. Half inch wood is fine here, unless we want really oversized grips.
Most hardwoods are perfect for pistol grips and what you use really comes down to personal taste. There are many types that have various grain patterns and exotic colors even.
Some suggestions are:
There are many, many more - too many to list! But for this project, we are using some colorful oak wood to make our grips out of.
Oak was selected for several reasons, the first and foremost that we had a scrap piece that allowed us to fit a pair of grip traces onto perfectly. Secondly, oak is a very strong hardwood and it can take bumps, taps and hits without denting easily - perfect for an old rough and rugged revolver!
(It also has the added benefit of having a very tight but flowing grain pattern that often produces lovely results without being too "exotic" looking.)
Remember that we have two grips to make, the left and right half and that these will be mirrored pieces or opposites. Note in the above picture, a simple piece of scrap oak wood was able to be re-purposed for this project and the two halves just barely fit.
The butt end of the grips are being placed directly together like you see to create a mirrored grain pattern throughout the pair. We could also just as easily flip one of the pieces to create a flowing grain pattern between the two. There are many tricks and techniques to give interesting effects in wood grain and I recommend reviewing some of them to get a good idea of what you'd like to see in your final results.
Step 3: Step 3: Cutting Out the Blanks.
The wood grips need to be cut out from the wood we're using and this will form our grip blanks. They are without form, they don't fit the gun, but they now vaguely resemble the shape of pistol grips.
Take care when cutting them out - it's always best to leave a little more wood and have to remove it later than to leave too little wood and have to start all over again.
Step 4: Step 4: Mate the Two Halves and Shape.
For this step, it's easiest to lightly glue the two halves together (very very lightly - less is more! We need to be able to separate them later!) and then shape them into a smoother version of the blanks while making sure the edges match up - this will make our finish work much easier as we should only have minor adjustments that will need to be done.
Step 5: Step 5: Separating and Mating to the Frame.
To separate the two pieces, place one piece gently into a vice and give the other piece a light tap with a wooden or soft-head mallet. This should break the glue bonding easily and give you two identical pieces of wood, ready to be mated to the frame.
Frame mating is a slow process and takes patience and focus. Trace the location of the frame onto the wood and begin removing the wood a little bit at a time. Remember - it's always better to go back and remove a little more, than to take off a little too much and have to start all over again.
Pistol grips are all about precision and attention to detail.
Take care not to go out of bounds if you're encasing the metal (as shown with this grip, the bottom and front of the gun will be covered over with wood. The front has a very thin piece near the bottom that had to be carefully worked around so as to not damage it and go through the wood) and make sure you're not carving away too much wood.
Step 6: Step 6: Sanding, Measuring and Fitting.
For the next step we need to make sure the areas we've cut away are level and smooth. Flat sanding with a wood block (In this case, a paint stick was wrapped in sand paper to make a small wood block that would fit the contours of the grips) is preferred as this will give you the most level finish possible.
The grips must be measured for even depth (a digital caliper helps in this process but it can technically be done by hand and with just your eyes if you have a high attention to detail - these grips were put .300mm within tolerance before a digital caliper was used to zero out the variance) and then test fitted to the handgun.
It must be done repeatedly and slowly, so the gap (seen above) will slowly come together and you will have a very tight fitting, properly flush hand grip pair.
Step 7: Step 7: Final Fitting and Roughing.
We are now at the end of fitting where we make sure that we have a 100% fit all around the gun, even and smooth, no gaps or seams anywhere.
After that, we begin the transformation from blank to rough grip, by rounding off the sharp corners and we begin to put curves and shapes into our grips.
A pilot hole must also be drilled to set a screw into the wood to allow the two grips to be pulled together tightly to the frame. CARE MUST BE TAKEN to make sure you're drilling through the hollow part of the gun frame and nowhere near the frame or any working parts! Failure to do so will cause damage to your firearm and may make it unsafe or incapable of firing!
Step 8: Step 8: Escutcheon and Screw.
The escutcheon and screw must be countersunk into the wood, deep enough for the threads to catch comfortably and several turns of the screw are possible. The countersinking done in the above pictures was managed with a Dremel tool and a wood carving bit that was slowly used to round out the holes until both fit into the slots about 1/4" deep.
Step 9: Step 9: Gun Blank, Shaping and Sanding.
We test fit the grips on the gun once more to make sure the escutcheon and screw function properly and then remove them from the gun. We use a piece of wood the same thickness as the gun to brace the grips and join them together by the screw set.
Once that's done, we can now shape and sand the grips without any risk to the gun's finish. Note, this is a perfect time to place thumb grooves for left, right or both handedness, as well as any other contour features you'd like.
Attention to detail is critical at this point because we're nearly finished! If it doesn't "feel" right, it's not. Mark the location that's lumpy, too bulky or awkward and sand it smooth or make adjustments.
As an example, the grip sat far too low behind the trigger guard and was significantly raised by sanding down that section of the wood.
How it feels means everything at this stage - if it's not comfortable to hold, it's not going to be comfortable to shoot.
As an option, hand carving, checkering or grip grooves may be added to the grips at this time. Care must be taken not to damage any of the wood and detail sanding is required for more intricate carvings. Checkering may be kept a little rough, as the whole purpose is to add more grip to the handle's surface.
Step 10: Step 10: Final Smoothing.
In this step we're going to turn the surface of the wood into a glass-like smoothness.
This is achieved in two ways. One, we're going to take a lightly damp cloth (very very lightly, it should be difficult to get the wood wet at all) and rub it all over the outside of the grips. This will make the wood grain "pop" up and rough sections will leap out at you when you run your fingers over it.
Sand them smooth and repeat. Continue until there are no more surprise pops from the grain.
Finally, rub the outside of the grips with 000 steel wool. This will do two things - one, it will smooth out the wood beyond 120 or even 200 grit sandpaper. Two, it will collect sawdust that is trapped in the wood, showing off the beautiful grain hidden underneath.
Step 11: Step 11: Staining.
The staining process is a very personal one - what color do you want to use, do you want the wood to be natural or dark? Consider the color of the gun and what will look good on it.
I recommend taking a piece of scrap wood from the same piece you started off with and use that as a tester for stains to see what you like.
Once you find exactly what you're looking for, apply it carefully to the piece and let it dry fully before going onto the next step.
Nitrile gloves are handy at this stage to protect your skin from being stained accidentally and to protect the wood from the oils in your skin!
Step 12: Step 12: Clear Coat and Reassembly.
The wood grips may now be clear coated for the wood's protection from the elements, allowed to dry and then the whole gun may be reassembled.
Be sure to clean your gun as well before you put the grips on to ensure there's no stray sawdust sticking to the oil-coated pieces inside (from all the test fittings that were done!).
Now you can admire your work and take it to the range to test fire it and see how it feels!
Job well done!