A perfectly good pistol ... made even better.
A perfectly good pistol ... made even better.

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.

The Kel-Tec PF-9 is a thin, lightweight, single-stack 9mm pistol offering excellent purchase right out of the box.  Stippling the tops of each square made it even better.
The Kel-Tec PF-9 is a thin, lightweight, single-stack 9mm pistol offering excellent purchase right out of the box. Stippling the tops of each square made it even better.

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.

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.


  1. Nice how-to but what the author did not mention is that the grips on the Kel Tec PF-9 is easily replaced and does not void the warranty. The actual firearm part is the frame and not part of the handle. The grip costs about thirty dollars to replace and can be found in a few different colors. Modify away.

  2. Just curious if you’ve ever tried using that material that’s kind of like sandpaper? Skateboard riders attach a very coarse sandpaper-like material to their boards to help make it non-slip. You can buy this in hardware stores. Plus, it’s removable if you don’t like it…soldering irons are forever.

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