How to hand stipple the stocks of your polymer-framed pistol for a better grip.
Gun owners usually fall into two camps: those who keep their weapons just as they come from the factory and those who do not. Those who desire to keep a firearm in its original factory condition do so for purposes including faithfulness to the original intent of the firearm’s designers or protecting the factory warranty.
Those who customize their weapons probably desire to improve it in some way — to increase its functionality or even to personalize it. One camp asks: Why would you permanently change a perfectly good factory gun? The other side asks: Why wouldn’t you? In the interest of full disclosure, I’m in the first camp.
For years, handgun owners have modified their steel revolvers and pistols — shortening barrels, porting chambers, changing stocks, and more. With the advent of the polymer-framed pistol, the opportunity to make changes has only increased. One of the most popular modifications to polymer-framed pistols is to add to or change the stocks to improve purchase (the firmness or quality of one’s grip of the stocks). Some handgun owners add a rubber grip sleeve such as a Hogue Hand-All.
Others apply a sandpaper-like skateboard tape. Of course, grip sleeves and skateboard tape don’t require physically altering the weapon; those add-ons are easily removed. Other gun owners, however, resort to more drastic measures, including stippling—broadly defined as “drawing, engraving, or painting in dots or short strokes.” In this context, “engraving” seems to fit best as it involves melting the polymer and re-shaping it to improve purchase.
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While companies such as Robar offer custom stippling for polymer-framed pistols — at a cost, but with many advantages — many handgun owners have attempted to hand-stipple a polymer-framed pistol at home. In fact, the Internet abounds with stories, images, and videos of successful hand-stippling jobs as well as those that are, shall we say, less than successful.
After reviewing several positive hand-stippling reports, fanciful notions of “I can do that” started to run through my head. Moreover, I thought I could do a decent stippling job on a new Kel-Tec PF-9, a polymer-framed 9mm pistol, with just a hot soldering iron. Would I get a better grip on a pistol or did I need to get a grip on reality?
Since this was my first and possibly last hand-stippling job, I decided to start small in two ways: First, I chose a small, inexpensive weapon. The Kel-Tec PF-9 measures 4.3 inches tall, 5.85 inches long, and .88 inches wide and in a blued finish retails for $333. It would be an expensive lesson if I somehow managed to destroy it but not as expensive as some other polymer-framed pistols. This provided only a modest comfort to me.
Second, the Kel-Tec’s polymer frame offers stocks with a raised, checkerboard pattern (which, for the record, provide excellent purchase as is). Rather than attempt to stipple the entire grip area, I would only stipple the raised squares, borrowing from a design I had seen in an Internet gun forum. I figured the raised squares offered a little more depth of plastic and therefore greater margin for error.
At this point, I need to insert all appropriate disclaimers: What I’m about to do might be unwise, if not downright stupid, and probably voids the pistol’s warranty. Regardless, don’t try this at home. In fact, don’t try this anywhere or at any time. Proceed at your own risk. Neither Gun Digest the Magazine nor Kel-Tec is responsible for your foolishness. Consuming raw or undercooked meat, seafood or egg products can increase your risk of foodborne illness. And so on.
Working in my professional stippling shop — in my driveway with an upside-down five-gallon bucket (the gun bench) and a broken piece of 12×12 ceramic tile (a safe surface to work with hot tools and melting plastic) — I plugged in the soldering iron and set up the camera. Either I would capture pictures of a successful hand stippling job or provide some emergency room doctor with images of my burnt flesh. This was the point of no return. As soon as that hot soldering iron tip touched the plastic, I was committed.
Questions raced through my mind: How would the plastic react to the hot soldering iron? How long would I need to hold the soldering iron against the plastic to melt it? Should I melt grooves into the plastic or just push in some round craters? Questions raced through the minds of the neighbors, as well: Who’s the idiot sitting in the middle of his driveway in front of a five-gallon bucket when it’s 32 degrees out?
To test the effects of the hot soldering iron on Kel-Tec polymer, I swapped out the standard magazine floorplate for the extended magazine floorplate that was included with the pistol. Briefly touching the soldering iron to the side of the standard magazine floorplate as a test, the plastic melted instantly, leaving a small crater. I touched the soldering iron to it a few more times and was able to create a fairly consistent pattern of craters that measured about one millimeter in diameter. It took well under half a second for the soldering iron to create one crater in the plastic. Testing complete, it was time to stipple.
With the Kel-Tec lying on its side, I rested the heel of my hand on the tile while holding the soldering iron like a pen. I gently and briefly pressed the tip down into one of the squares. Just like the test, the soldering iron produced a neat little crater. I did it again, creating a crater right next to the first, and so on.
Following a pattern of creating rows of craters, I became proficient enough to complete an entire square in less than a minute. Once I completed one side of the gun, I continued to the other, this time stippling the outline of each square first and then filling in the middle. Stippling the stocks proved easier than I thought so I stippled a portion of the front strap as well. Total stippling time: 45 minutes.
While I would stop stippling every so often and pick up the pistol to see if I was creating any sharp or otherwise uncomfortable edges, I didn’t notice a major improvement in purchase until I completed the work. Using the magazine with the extended floorplate, the hand stippling job significantly increased purchase on the Kel-Tec PF-9. It felt great — rock solid, like no person or hot ammo was going to easily remove that gun from my hand.
Even though I consider the stippling job a wonderful success, I’m not going to be starting my own pistol customizing business. I’m just happy to have not ruined an excellent pistol, stippled my fingers, nor burnt down my house.
All in all, it was a good exercise, one that I hope is helpful to readers of Gun Digest the Magazine. After showing off the stippled Kel-Tec PF-9, a few friends have asked me why I would make permanent changes to a perfectly functional handgun. My response: “Why wouldn’t I?”