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Getting a grip on handguns.


Is there a shooter out there who is satisfied with any factory equipment? No matter what the firearm, they will tinker with it; changing this, modifying that, until the gun is uniquely their own.

Nowhere is this more evident than with handgun grips. Nobody, it seems, is ever satisfied with factory grips. If the grips, out of the box, are smooth, then the shooter wants checkering. If there is a straight grip, he wants finger grooves. If the wood is dark, he wants stag. If it's light, he wants rubber. And on and on it goes.

This, in part, explains the big market in custom and aftermarket grips. If there is a handgunner in your marketing area, you can sell him a new set of grips. Indeed, he'll sell himself, if he knows you have them for sale. So if you aren't tapped into the thriving replacement grips market, you are missing a bet!

Deacon Deason, at Bear Hug Grips, explains how replacement grips breakdown: "The lion's share of the aftermarket grip market belongs to the synthetic materials," he says. "Most of this is caused by pricing. These grips are made to a mold, and one size fits all.

"The next market biggie is the mass producer in wood grips. These grips are turned out on preset machines, that are set for a universal grip size. Again, one size fits all.

"Last in line is the custom grip maker. One unit at a time is made for the individual customer, and custom or tailor fitted to each hand. This is a slower process, and the prices reflect the time and effort of the custom grip maker."

Deason's rundown should be expanded a bit, because he implies that aftermarket grips are either synthetic materials or wood. Such is not the case. Grips are available in a myriad of materials, including rubber, synthetics, plastic, fiberglass, ivory, stag, exotic woods, and ceramic materials. And that just covers working grips.

Grips destined strictly for display or presentation can be made of any material, and are often made of precious or semiprecious metals. Pilgrim Pewter, for instance, offers a set of four Sid Bell designed presentation grips for .45 automatics. The designs are U.S. Marines, Mexican Eagle/Aztec Calendar, Buffalo, and Eagle. In addition, Pilgrim will do other designs on a contract basis. But these are all done in full relief, and are unsuitable for shooting.

"Rubber" grips are popular for two reasons. One, as Deason notes, is price. But for most shooters, they also provide a better feel, and increase gun control--especially on magnums and big bore handguns.

By far and away, the number one supplier in this field is Pachmayr. So much so, in fact, that the name is used almost generically by the shooting public to mean rubber grips. Pachmayr has the largest selection of styles and models, including the Gripper, Presentation, Compac, and Signature lines. These are all neoprene with steel inserts added for rigidity and strength.

Recently, Pachmayr introduced its "Bill Jordan Combat Grip," made of a harder synthetic. Available for the S&WK and N frames, new models will be introduced throughout 1989.

As noted, Pachmayr is used generically to describe these grips. But, in fact, there are a number of other suppliers, each with slightly different designs and materials. Supreme, for instance, has a soft neoprene material without inserts. It mounts with a set of interlocking pins, similar to model airplanes. Hogue has one-piece grips molded of fiberglass reinforced nylon that uses a special stirrup device for mounting. Bianchi has two versions of its Lightning Grip, one for .45 ACP pistols, that wraps around the grip frame, and one for wheel guns that has a unique top shroud which encloses the hammer spur to keep it from snagging. Safariland absorbed Rogers awhile back, and now sells the Rogers composition grips sporting the Safariland logo. Two styles of .45 auto grips are available, as well as wheel gun grips for S&W, Ruger, and Colt revolvers.

Until recently, Pachmayr was the only company offering a synthetic grip for the T/C Contender. That has changed, with Royal Arms International's introduction of a thumb-hole stock for the Contender. "We used the technology we developed making synthetic rifle stocks," notes R. J. Brill, "in designing and building this grip." Royal Arms also has a new silicon carbide polymer grip for Dan Wesson revolvers.

Trouble with most synthetic grips is that the shooter is stuck with what he gets. Manufacturing tolerances in either the gun, grips, or both could mean that the grips will not fit properly on a particular pistol. This is less true with the harder synthetics, as they can be shaped and sanded somewhat. But not to the degree of wood, stag, ivory, and other natural materials.

When it comes to natural grips, Ajax probably has more to offer than any other non-wood company. Ajax has ivery, stag, and ivory/stag combination designs for most American guns, both current production and obsolete. Unlike rubber, however, minor fitting problems can be corrected with files and sandpaper.

Ajax president Jack Rosenberg explains the popularity of his company's grips. "Most grips on new guns are horendous," he insists. Not only is the feel bad, so, too, are the looks. "People look for comfort in a grip. But they also look for cosmetics. A guy will personalize his gun with a set of ivory grips, for example. It will look good to him, and feel great in his hand."

When all is said and done, however, wood remains the most popular material among both shooters and grip makers. And there are many reasons for that. Wood is warm and beautiful. It is very plastic (meaning it is easy to shape). And wood replacement grips can be exactly fitted to the shooter's particular gun, even if such is not the case out of the box.

We have a set of Eagle grips, for instance, installed on a S&W Model 25. Due to manufacturing tolerances, our gun was rather different from the model used by Eagle. So the backstrap was recessed slightly, and the grips did not match edge to edge.

A few minutes with some sandpaper, however, rectified the problem, creating a perfect wood-to-wood and wood-to-metal fit, without altering the design or finish of the grips.

Wood grips also are available for the do-it-yourself from companies like Fajen and Western Gunstock, both of whom offer inletted and semi-inletted grips for the XP-100 and T/C Contender. If you act as ordering agent for these, make sure to up your sale with related items, such as stock refinish kits. Your customer will thank you for it!

Off the shelf wood grips are available from a number of companies. Eagle, because of aggressive marketing and price point, is perhaps the best known such company, and offers a broad range of styles. Many of them carry a suggested retail price for well under $20, which makes them appealing to many shooters.

But be sure to handle a better grade as well, so you can offer your customer grips at whatever price point is important to him. For our money, the higher grade means Herrett's, especially the line of "made-to-measure" semi-custom stocks.

Herrett's really shine in the specialty items. For instance, a couple of years back the company introduced the XP-100 system, which features a rear grip for the bolt action pistol, instead of the more usual center grip. For 1989, Herrett's has brought out a replacement grip for Dan Wesson revolvers; to our knowledge, the only aftermarket grips for these fine firearms made of wood.

Of even more interest is Herrett's work with laser engraving to really personalize a set of grips. Most of the time, laser engraving requires a special stencil, which is rather expensive to produce. Thus, laser engraving is confined to patterns designed by the grip maker. Custom work, in the past, required long runs to economically justify the carving.

Herrett's has changed all that. Its new system can copy any design, even one written on good quality paper with a ballpoint pen. A shooter could, for instance, have his own signature affordably engraved on his grips.

"But the machine makes an exact is not the smartest approach.

Using a point of purchase rack, says Bear Hug's Deacon Deason, is probably the best eye-catcher going. It also lets the customer try the fit right there.

Next best method is for the retailer to display a few of his own guns with aftermarket grips attached. If you go this route, install the grips on the most popular makes and models in your area. That way, a customer can pick up your gun and decide if that's what he wants on his own make and model.

Keep in mind that the aftermarket grip market exists for three reasons, all of them related to your customer's needs:

* He wants to get a better hand to gun fit.

* He wants to customize the looks of his gun.

* He wants to shop around for fit, looks, and recoil reduction.

He can only fulfill these needs if you provide a display that shows off the grips, and makes them accessible to him.

PHOTO : From Bear Hug Grips--the "Skeeter Skelton Style" zebrawood handgun grip.

PHOTO : Another "Skeeter Skelton Style" handgun grip, but in rosewood, from Bear Hug grips.

PHOTO : The McGrew Hunter handgun grip in rosewood from Bear Hug Grips.

PHOTO : Here is an open back custom combat finger groove rosewood handgun grip from Bear Hug Grips.

PHOTO : Hogue Monogrips are fiberglass reinforced nylon rather than neoprene, and feature nonslip "cobblestone" finish.

PHOTO : This handgun grip is a "Skeeter Skelton Style" Exhibition Rosewood, also from Bear Hug Grips.

PHOTO : Handgun grips from Bianchi.

PHOTO : Laminated wood handgun grips from Reinhart Fajen.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Elliott, Barbara; Elliott, Brook
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Previous Article:Accurate sighting arrangement on a shotgun will help zeroing problem.
Next Article:U.S. firearms imports, January through September 1988.

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