Modifying Guns the Old-School Way

posted on September 23, 2017
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The advent of the polymer-framed, striker-fired automatic pistol brought about profound changes in the way handgunners go about things. No worries, I’m not here to bash these guns – there’s been plenty of that. As a matter of fact, though it took me a while, I’m a fan of these firearms and have had great success with many different models of striker-fired pistols. I’ve carried them extensively as a lawman and a civilian, with great success.

The polymer pistol undoubtedly has a place in our society. My only complaint is that the striker-fired concept has taken away a few key elements of handgunning that have been meaningful to shooters for decades. 

Guns often fall into the same category as other ventures such as cars, motorcycles, guitars and other stuff in that people love to customize them – make them their own. The revolver, and the 1911 automatic pistol, offers a perfect platform for the shooter to customize. This is a tradition that has fascinated many a handgunner over generations, sparking any number of craftsmen to offer various handgun customization services over the years. 

There once was a time that the purchase of a handgun, or long gun for that matter, was just the beginning stage of a project. Upon writing the check, the revolver shooter was already plotting the next move – custom grips, replacement sights, action job and in some cases a complete refinishing. 

Polymer pistol fans might stop me here to interject that similar customizations can be made on their handguns of choice. This is true, however, these changes can be rather inexpressive in my opinion. Cerakote finishes in wild colors, or the addition to one of these fancy hologram sights, and such, are commendable, but entirely different than the custom features I mention. 

The changes and customizations to a handgun reflect the need to make that gun into the finest, most accurate and attractive tool available. The order in which the customizations occur are based on the priorities of the shooter. Some handgunners would have all customizations done at the same time, while others chipped away a little at a time, depending on their pocketbook. 

One of the first modifications to be considered in a handgun customization are the grips. In past decades, good gripmakers weren’t too hard to find. Nowadays, they’re numbers have decreased. Mass-produced custom grips are still available, the hand-fitting of a set of custom grips to a revolver or pistol’s gripframe is becoming scarce, and when found can be quite costly. There are several factors in play when considering custom grips. The most important consideration, in my opinion, is the fit of the custom grip not only to the gun, but to the shooter’s hand. Making that firearm fit the shooter perfectly is one of the main reasons for grip replacement.

Of course, some shooters aren’t as concerned about how a set of grips fit their hand, necessarily, but rather how they look on the gun. Exotic woods such as American walnut, are sometimes used just to add a fancy touch. Of course, ivory accomplishes this quite well, too. 

In my book, a set of grips that fit the hand well and provide a handsome addition to the firearms would be the best choice. For good custom grips, look up Rob Rowen at Rowen Custom Grips, [email protected].

Once the handgun is dressed up with some suitable stocks, the next step in customization can be considered. Generally speaking, either a good action job or a set of replacement sights might be in order. 

For overall improvement of virtually any stock revolver or 1911, a trigger job is almost a necessity. Clearly, the facilitation of handgun shooting varies greatly depending on the pressure required to pull the trigger. A heavy trigger pull causes the shooter to use a good deal of muscle to cycle the trigger, and can cause significant deviation of the bullet as a result. For precision shooting, a lighter trigger is highly desirable. Many may argue that a very light trigger might be more dangerous to handle, but I believe it’s a matter of familiarization and practice. 

A good gunsmith isn’t always an expert on lightening a revolver trigger, but there are some good trigger-smiths around if you look. Even if the shooter shy’s away from a lighter trigger, a good smith can at least smooth the trigger out, making sure there is no creep or grinding in the trigger pull, which is as important as a light trigger for accurate shooting. For revolver action work, contact Clark Custom Guns, [email protected].

Another important consideration when customizing a revolver or auto pistol is that of the sight system. Good handgun sights has been a point of contention with shooters for decades, and a large selection was, and still is available. From decades ago, the Patridge and King sights were extremely popular, and for good reason. Variations of these designs are still in use today, though if you were to find a handgun with original versions of either of these they’re worth a premium. 

Various designs in the notch of the rear sight, along with different front sight setups makes for a long list. Front sight inserts of various colors, including just a gold or brass bead set into the blade, continue to be popular. Custom gun makers like John Gallagher or Hamilton Bowen can provide services or advice regarding custom revolver sights. Good sights can also be obtained from Midway or Brownells.   

I’ve seen some pretty fancy work on modern day, polymer-frame, striker-fired handguns. Various stippling patterns in the grip, various coatings and sights. This work makes for a good, utilitarian firearm. I still like wood and steel. 


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