People love to modify their handguns, to personalize them and adapt them to their shooting needs. With the possible exception of sights, there’s no more-common way to do this than by changing the grip (also called stocks) of the handgun.
Oftentimes this was done just for appearance’s sake. Fancy wood or materials like ivory, mother-of-pearl or pewter being used to add a bit of bling to a handgun goes back a long way.
Even some of these historical grips weren’t as purely appearance-oriented as they seem. Mother-of-pearl is surprisingly grippy in a sweaty hand, and the raised-relief steer heads and eagles often seen on old ivory Peacemaker grips offer better purchase than a smooth surface.
In more recent decades, an entire industry has sprung up selling aftermarket grips or grip modifications designed almost solely with an eye toward enhancing performance. Not all aftermarket solutions are good for all applications, however.
For instance, as far back as the Nineties, I thought Pachmayr’s revolver grips seemed kinda quaint and retro, with their harder, checkered rubber and lack of aggressive finger grooves. Hogue’s Monogrips, I thought, were the new hotness. They looked so modern with their lack of visible grip screws and the swoopy finger grooves. Oh, and that soft neoprene rubber was so comfy in the hand, standing there at the gun counter, and it was so grippy it was almost sticky.
Of course, “so grippy it was almost sticky” is a good thing on the firing line, or standing there at the gun counter, and less of a good thing when it’s on a concealed-carry gun and your cover garment is binding up against it like your grip is made of flypaper and not rubber. The stickiness of the rubber can even come back to bite, literally, on the firing line if you’re shooting a violently recoiling, lightweight magnum.
I still like the squishy Hogues for a range gun, but have come full circle in favor of the old-school Pachmayrs for mounting on a carry piece.
Hard plastic, rubber and wood are far from the only choices anymore, though. There are a host of various synthetic materials, many of which can combine the aesthetics of wood with the durability and texture that you’ll never get from walnut, cocobolo or Goncalo Alves.
Synthetic laminates like G10 and Micarta are composed of sheets of fiber in a resin matrix. Unlike wood, they are unaffected by moisture and won’t swell or warp, and they’re extremely tough. An aggressively checkered wooden pistol grip will suffer from getting the individual diamonds of the checkering all blunted and splintered from rough handling, whereas the much tougher synthetic laminates are practically impervious to ordinary damage.
Well-known as handle materials for years in the knife world, VZ Grips popularized the use of these materials for handgun grips. Part of their appeal as a grip material is that they can be machined and sculpted into a variety of textures, from various aggressive, pointy shapes to the gently ridged, high-purchase surfaces VZ refers to as “Gatorback.”
The texture of Micarta can be further modulated by varying the fabric used within the matrix of the binding resin. In order from least grippy to most, Micarta can be had in paper, linen and canvas varieties, with further fine-tuning of the grip accomplished by how aggressively smoothed or blasted the surface is on the finished grip panels. Basic paper Micarta feels like satin-finished wood, and blasted-canvas Micarta is almost like fine sandpaper. G10, perhaps the most treasured of the synthetic laminates, is layered fiberglass cloth.
Again, however, a given texture may not fit all one’s needs. A super-aggressive texture on the grip panels may keep the gun from shifting in the hand during a string of fire, but it could also leave the shooter looking for moleskin and medical tape by the end of day one of the three-day training class.
Another often-overlooked effect of a too-aggressive grip treatment on a carry gun is what it does to clothes. Although the G10 VZ grips on my current Langdon Tactical Beretta carry gun don’t chew through the fabric of a cover garment the way the 20-lpi checkering on my 1911s used to, they still do wear noticeably.
Make a change to your EDC setup and more than likely you’ll have to tweak one or more of the other components. As with everything else, there are trade-offs to be made, and it’s up to the end user to decide how many new shirts they’re willing to buy every year in exchange for having a grippier gun.