Do It Yourself Handgun Stippling: Level I
Stippling is a process of retexturing a grip surface, typically using abrasion or heat to add scoring, dimpling, or otherwise disruptive and raised elements to a formerly smooth surface. It’s intended to make more positive and reliable contact with the user’s hand, improve grip and secure the firearm to the shooter more effectively. Some custom shops charge for the service, and have honed their craft well enough to be able to market a reliable outcome, but it’s a fairly easy skill to learn. This guide details my foray into the world of grip texturing, and what I’ve learned along the way. All-in, this is a very inexpensive and entertaining skill to learn if you’re interested, and the Sig Sauer P320 may be the absolute best training platform currently on the market.
The simple fact is that in my experience, holding a pistol that has been stippled effectively is entirely more comfortable and grip-positive than one lacking stippling. This could be because my hands sweat like a 16 year old’s on prom night, or because it’s simply a better grip surface than a smoother one. In any moist conditions, stippling gives a shooter good purchase on their firearm. Depending on the firearm, the risks could be high. If you just purchased a $600 polymer pistol that has a serialized frame, you’d be understandably cautious to attack it with hot metal. On the other hand, there are so many useful tools and practice materials that you’d likely be able to develop the skill you need in order to feel comfortable doing so.
Tools of the Trade
I’ve found that the best way to buy tools is to buy the right one first. Wood burning kits often have “deluxe editions” that come with a heat adjustment knob and multiple heads, which afford the user control over heat output and a number of sizes and patterning options that will come in useful later down the road. Other than practice material, the only other thing you’ll need is some fine sandpaper; (we used 220 grit). As for practice material, polymer AR15 magazines are great. Another option that will get you familiar with the contour of a handgun grip are the licensed BB/Airsoft versions of popular handguns. All in, you’re probably looking at a maximum of $60 in materials. If you happen to be the proud and discerning owner of a Sig Sauer P320, then you’re in luck. You can stipple, spray paint, Dremel, engrave, bedazzle, vajazzle, or otherwise mutilate the frame of your pistol with near impunity. Since the P320’s easily removable trigger housing is the serialized part on this handgun, Sig sells replacement frames of different colors and sizes for under $50.
You Don’t Need to Work on Max Heat: Before you start, remember that you’ll be melting plastic. Ideally, you won’t have a tool so hot that you’ll be making a goopy mess of your practice material. You want the tip to be hot enough to predictably deform the polymer, not hot enough to annihilate the surface.
Learn Boundaries: This is part of why many magazines, PMAGs in particular, are a good starting point. The little recessed windows give you plotted practice surfaces that, when stippled carefully, look good and stay functional. Raised surfaces are a good natural stopping point for the tip of your burning tool, and are very helpful in “freehanding” lines. Use multiple layers of duct tape to delineate boundaries to start with, and improvise with other straight edge objects from there.
Random > Patterned: At least to start with, avoid trying for a cohesive pattern with your stippling. It’s not going to work out. The best beginner patterns to learn are random or “flowering” points. If you need order, try the daisy method: make a dot, then make dots around it, then dots around those, etc.
Small is Fine, Large is Rough: When it comes to “pointillism” stippling, the smaller the dot, the finer the grip texture (after light sanding). The larger and deeper the dot, the more aggressive the lines.
Take Your Time: You don’t need to do all of this in one sitting. This project took a few days, just about half an hour at a time.
Don’t Overcorrect: Another reason not to rush is that you don’t want to keep revisiting and “correcting” your pattern. Chances are it’s fine, and you just need to take another look.
Get into a well ventilated area, ideally outside. If you’re planning on doing this for any extended period of time, wear a respirator. I’ll be buying one before my next project.
1. Lines: If you’re planning on stippling within a specific area, make your borders. This is best accomplished with whatever tool you’re best at making a straight line with. Duct tape, or even a Dremel will suffice. These lines will be important, because if they’re well made, they’ll stop your stippling tool as you carefully dot along them. Don’t forget to figure out what you’re doing all the way around, including under the trigger guard and along the magazine well. You can even widen them into your working area after your initial pass to make things easier. Don’t worry at all about cosmetics other than keeping those lines straight (for now).
2. Surface Prep: If your gun already came with some factory stippling and a logo on the grip (and you’re going for the look pictured here), you’ll want to smooth things out a little bit. Here’s where buying the right toolkit to begin with was helpful for me: that disc head was very useful in smoothing out my working surface. The reason I did this was to ensure that I could start fresh with my pattern, and leave it unaffected by preexisting surface dimensions.
3. Stippling: This is the easy part. If you practiced, you’ll have a good idea of how to get the pattern you want. Don’t rush it, and remember that you’re probably way too focused on the square inch of plastic you’re looking at, and losing sight of the whole project. Don’t overthink it. When you’re done, make sure to hold it up to the light and stipple out any flat areas that shouldn’t be there. While this is easy, it’s also important to be careful and go slow. When stippling along the lines you created, make sure to go lightly towards the groove and stop quickly when you feel any mild resistance. I recommend going around your lines first and making a nice little centimeter of buffer area, then filling in the blank space between.
4. Finishing: Look closely at your work, and when you’re satisfied, get some 220 grit sandpaper. This will help you take care of those pesky little spikes that are just a tad overzealous in gripping (stabbing) your hands. Tread lightly though, you don’t want to totally undermine the primary purpose of stippling to begin with.
5. Operate: Go protect your local shopping mall.
We hope you found this guide helpful. We’ll be sure to post more content like this as we hone our craft: remember, we’re beginners too! Please share any advice, tips, or techniques that we missed here in the comments section- we definitely appreciate you checking out Red Hatchet Outdoors.