Review: Modifying and Stippling a Glock

Completed Glock 17

At the risk of starting a religious war, today I want to write about custom handgun modifications. I am of the mindset that once I have bought something, it is mine. I also believe that most things bought “off the shelf” are a great starting point, but rarely the final product I want to live with. That said, I like modifications to look “stock”, as if the product came from the factory that way.

I love my Glock 17. I’ve had it since 1999. I have truly put countless rounds through it. Over it’s life I have replaced a couple of slide springs, added an extended magazine and slide release, and a Clipdraw. I can recall only one failure-to-feed (and that was after running it for somewhere around five thousand rounds without cleaning it). It has been the most reliable piece of kit I have ever owned.

My one complaint is that the grip has always annoyed me just a little (which is something I’m sure many Glock owners can attest to; and a whole Glock-clone market has addressed). The one piece polymer frame is not something that can be easily modified with replaceable back-straps (until the Gen 4), and slip-on grip sleeves don’t really fix the problem either since they add more girth and mass.  I am by no means a competition shooter, so shaving time off of drills is really not something that is a huge concern of mine.  My interest is in improving functionality.

Enter the practice of stippling. I’ll admit that I briefly considered doing it myself. I read a bunch of articles on the web and watched some youtube videos. And then after a hearty laugh at myself I decided to consult an expert. Seriously, when you look at the sheer number of fails that people admit to (by taking and posting pictures; https://www.google.com/search?q=gun+stippling+fail&tbm=isch), and some of the hideous things people have done to their firearms, you should immediately start questioning what it takes to do it. Sure you can do it with a soldering iron and some sandpaper while drinking your favorite chilled beverage and watching a YouTube tutorial, but your results will likely be as noteworthy as in the previous link.

Given the potential to ruin a $500 plus piece of gear, or spend countless hours practicing on scrap plastic laying around, paying someone seemed to be a much better choice for me. It turned out that we have a local shop, here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that does a lot of custom work: BMC Tactical/Warrior Steel. They have a number of talented armorers and, quite frankly, artisans. Their services include anything from performance modifications to custom paint and enameling to, you guessed it, stippling. They also work on both local and out-of-state firearms. Their website really doesn’t do justice for what they offer (http://bmc-tactical.com/services/custom-stippling/).

So, taking a chance, I drove over to their shop for a visit and to inquire about stippling. I was referred to Luke Fraser, the guy that does the work. I let him know what I was looking for and I also voiced my concerns having seen warped frames, through-and-through holes, and general examples of poor work on the internet. He laughed and then invited me to come see the shop and some examples of his work–basically his artist’s portfolio, which he graciously allowed me to include below.

Glock 21

Glock 21

 

Glock 21

Glock 21 (Alternate)

 

Glock 36

Glock 36

Bodyguard

Bodyguard

 

Springfield XD

Springfield XD

 

Springfield XD

Springfield XD (alternate)

 

Crimson Trace Grip

Crimson Trace Grip

 

I asked Luke to explain the process and describe what set his work apart from DIYers. What he first explained was having a plan. Apparently you can’t just heat up a burner and start stippling away… Luke said that most of the work he does is to improve upon the frame while maintaining as “factory” a look as possible. A number of his standard modifications include removing edges and surfaces that interfere with holstering/unholstering, improving the ability to obtain a proper grip when drawing, and texturing surfaces to increase the friction of the grip.

Tips used with burner for stippling.

Tips used with burner for stippling.

The next key to doing customizations is using the right tools. Luke uses a wood burner tool (with adjustable heat) with a set of tips that he custom ground, a straight edge, a dremel, various grit levels of sandpaper, and the ubiquitous sharpie. The adjustable heat tool allows for working on a variety of different polymers (since not all frames are made of the same material), and the custom tips allow for cutting different shapes and textures. The dremel is for doing gross grinding and smoothing, while the sandpaper is for doing the fine tuning (and working on areas where a slip with a rotary tool could remove too much material). A simple straight edge, Luke explained, is also key. A lot of people use tape to delineate the areas for stippling, but the problem is that tape burns and requires you to maintain much more control (since the tape is just a visual indicator–not a physical barrier).

The final thing that identifies a functional and clean stippling job (and the thing lacking from most stippling work) is patience. Luke says that most jobs take him 8 to 10 hours. And given the clean looks of his work, and the attention to detail he applies, you can see the hours of practice he put in working on PMags and scraps of plastic to refine his skills.

BMC Tactical/Warrior Steel does about 40-50 stippling and modification jobs a year (in addition to other armorer jobs). The majority of work they do is pre-Gen 4 Glocks. Most people get the trigger guard “horn” removed, the trigger guard “undercut” deepened, a magazine release relief cut, back strap angle reduced, grip scalloping removed, and full texturing.

Luke’s openness and willingness to share his process and spend time discussing the rationale for why he makes the modifications he does convinced me to engage his services to modify my Glock. I have included the before and after photos.

Trigger Undercut Before

Trigger Undercut Before

Trigger Undercut After

Trigger Undercut After

 

Trigger Guard Horn

Trigger Guard Horn

Trigger Guard Horn Removed

Trigger Guard Horn Removed

Backstrap Before

Backstrap Before

Backstrap After

Backstrap After

Finger Grooves Removed

Finger Grooves Removed

Magazine Release Relief Cut

Magazine Release Relief Cut

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Completed Side View

Completed Side View

Completed Back

Completed Back

 

Now the real question. Did it make a difference? I didn’t really have anything objective to measure before hand (like running a shooting drill in the rain before and after having the work done), so I will relay my subjective experience. The grip was definitely more positive. The texture was rougher than I was used to, but was in no way made unpleasant to shoot. I found the overall form factor to be more comfortable with the reduced backstrap and the higher undercut at the rear of the trigger guard. The removal of the scalloping on the front of the grip allowed my fingers to rest more naturally–before my fingers would rest on top of the projections, not in the grooves. The magazine release relief cut (along with an extended button) made it easier to find and engage (I used to have to break my grip ever-so-slightly to drop the magazine).

One of the other armorers at BMC is a competitive three-gun shooter and he told me that the modifications Luke did actually improved his performance. He said he suffers from a sweaty grip (really, who doesn’t in the Southwest during the hot summer months?) and the texturing has enabled him to maintain a better grip. The undercuts and magazine release also contributed to a slight reduction in manipulation time which is important for competitions.

So, the moral of this little story. Can you modify your polymer frame yourself? Sure. And it may actually be functional and meet your needs. But will you have a weapon that “looks” like someone took a soldering iron to it? I like the fact that the modifications done by BMC Tactical/Warrior Steel did not detract from the “look” of my Glock. If I ever decided to sell it (yeah, right), I don’t think I would lose any value from this customization, and may even be able to add a little to the asking price.

I would say that having this work done has overall improved my Glock. I have always enjoyed shooting it; now it has some new life breathed into it. If you are thinking of stippling (or making mods to your frame) I would recommend going to a professional rather than doing it yourself unless you have the time to put in perfecting the technique. Personally I’d rather spend that time at the range.

* Disclaimer: I paid for this work with my own funds (this was not a comp) without any assumption of the direction of this review by BMC Tactical/Warrior Steel.


Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


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  • cutamerc

    It’s really not that hard.

    • Doc Rader

      It may not be at the end of the day, but I do think it would be important to practice technique before doing your gun, and I’d rather spend the time at the range. And the sheer amount that Luke did was well beyond what I would have done myself.

      • cutamerc

        Agreed, no question this is very clean work.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Alternate article names:

    “When you mess your gun up, Glock will replace it for $150″

    “Here is something people do that works well maybe 20% of the time”
    “Have a handgun? Suck with it? Let’s not train! Let’s modify it!!”
    “Stippling sure looks cool on the internet!”
    “Plastic melts! But you’ll probably make a mess of it.”

    :D

    I have nothing against stippling for people who really have reached a point where they run so fast a cadence they need extra control over the gun that grip along can’t provide. No issue at all.

    For most people, it’s just something they’ve seen on the internet that looks cool – but actually ruins the gun for a lot of people, I’ve seen people who have trouble adjusting their grip once they touch the gun. Guys who don’t grab the gun as tight anymore. As well as a handful of issues where clothing sticks to it, I’d absolutely stay away for concealed carry.

    • Doc Rader

      I agree with that, and I think that is why there is a bunch of poorly done jobs out there.

      For me, there were a number of things I just “lived” with. I don’t do competitions. I don’t shoot faster than I can miss… What I like about the modifications (more so than the stippling) are the things that truly increased my comfort–the reduction of the backstrap, trigger undercut, etc. I didn’t realize they annoyed me as much as they did until I no longer had to deal with them.

      I do agree that a lot of stippling could cause clothing to stick a little more. And it is not for everyone. YMMV. For me, I am happy with the changes. My Glock is a little more fun to shoot again, and I think the craftsmanship was top notch.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        The undercut I’d like to put on my Gen3 19, but I don’t shoot that one enough to really care a ton. Yea, farming it out was definitely the right idea here and it does look good.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          I didn;t think much about undercutting trigger guards (heck, on K-frame revolvers, I use grips that fill the space behind the trigger guard) until I bought a Colt Commander that had been noticeably undercut in the factory. Comparing it to “GI” profile 1911 frames, it’s a world of difference.

    • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

      Done correctly, stippling doesn’t make the gun “too sticky”.

      Done incorrectly (as most DIY attempts), it turns the gun into a mass of sharp points that could strip hull paint.

      THIS article is about having it done correctly, by someone who knows what he is doing.

      (By the way, the exactly same issues are involved with checkering on steel guns, like custom 1911s — MOST checkering jobs prize themselves on sharp, pointy checkering that acts like a cheese grater, shreds clothes, draws blood, and forces the shooter to live with whatever initial grip he snatches, ’cause he sure ain’t shifting it after he grips teh gun. . . but a GOOD checkering job makes the gun more stable WITHOUT all those downsides. Protip — if your checkering or stippling is sharp enough to use the gun as a wood rasp or a pot scrubber, it was done incorrectly.)

      As for the other mods, such as altering the backstrap, undercutting the trigger guard more, removing the finger grooves, and relieving the mag release area are things that can make a good gun better. . . again, if done correctly, and if it makes your gun fit your hands better. (For decades, we used to praise the fact that revolvers could have their grips easily modified to accomodate the individual shooter. . . now, the loud cries are “If your gun doesn’t fit your hands, it’s YOUR fault for having hands that aren’t proportioned exactly like the gun designer’s model! Obviously every human being should have hands exactly the same size and proportion! You should train more!” (As for taking the totally useless hook off the trigger guard, that isn’t so much a form or function mod, but an esthetic one. I wouldn’t bother paying good money to “dehook” a trigger guard, since I never touch the front of the trigger guard anyway except while wiping down a pistol.)

      • The other Fraser

        Rick-Thanks for the kind words. While it is aesthetically pleasing, the concept behind de-horning the trigger guard is to streamline the re holstering process. Luke, myself, and the rest of BMC Tactical certainly advocate using the best holster one can afford-i.e. a holster with a reinforced mouth-but the reality is there are a whole lot of guys who, for a number of reasons, use holsters that wont stay open after the draw. Should one find themselves needing to re-holster a “floppy mouth’d holster” with one hand, de-horning the spur seems to help. Again, thank you for your comments, they are appreciated.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          Hmm. . . I forgot some people still use floppy holsters. I gave up on them for anything other than cheap gun covers to keep them from getting scratched up in a range bag years ago. {chuckle}

  • JaxD

    Looks good. How much did it cost?

    • Doc Rader

      $180. I’m sure the price varies based on the specific work done.

      • JaxD

        For all the mods? Sounds reasonable. Thanks.

        • Doc Rader

          Yeah, I was way comfortable with that. I’m sure some would argue that $180 of polymer work on a ~$500 is like “pouring perfume on a pig”, but I have more than made up my initial investment and now have some mods that I am happy with.

      • JaxD

        Thanks. Sounds reasonable.

  • Blake

    Thanks for the nice review. Looks like they did a great job.

    Any indication how much the work cost you?

  • RickH

    I’ve had 4 Glocks in the past, two 17’s & two 19’s, 1st,2nd, and one 3rd generation. I love the functionality of the Glocks, but really have never enjoyed shooting them much just because of the design/angle of the grip. Some love the grip, but I hate the ergonomics. Even with modifications, for me it still just doesn’t work. You would think after all these years they might start offering an extra design to the line. It ain’t that hard!

    • Doc Rader

      It made a difference for me. It is like what Glock should have done with their design–IMHO.

      I’d highly recommend considering BMC, then (try it out on one; my wife is already asking me to get her G19 done).

  • patrickiv

    Disclaimer: that link to the failed stippling image search also brings up pictures of crime scenes/coroner examinations.

    • An Interested Person

      And some dude whose head looked like watermelon after a round of 12ga.

    • Doc Rader

      Doh! I had “safe-search” on, so I didn’t see those. Apologies to anyone offended.

    • Giolli Joker

      True, but quite informative as we discovered that the embedding of gunpowder particles in human skin after a close gunshot is called stippling as well.
      Nice, interesting article, BTW!

  • Ash

    I spent a weekend with my 17 year old Glock 30 and a soldering iron. I started small and didn’t rush things, used just the one fat soldering tip i pulled out of the junk drawer, and managed to not mangle the pistol. In fact, I think it looks pretty good and I’ve received compliments on the work. Again: slow, steady, and starting small is what worked for me.

    As far as it being an improvement, i’ve noticed a difference. I have a tactile point to help in consistently resting my off-side thumb when using a 2-handed grip, and while I don’t often shoot in the rain or while pouring sweat, it can get humid at the range in the NC summer and i can feel a difference as far as retention/improved contact. Were there problems with the way it was? No. Was it a fun project and provided some benefits? IMHO, yes.

  • jimmarch

    THAT isn’t a modified gun!

    This is:

    http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/03/03/maurice-frankenruger-magazine-fed-revolver/

    :)

    OK, I’ll go away now…

    • PatrickHenry1789

      I like this one better. The anti second amendment gun I believe it’s called.

  • Davidio Flavio

    I filled the hole at the rear of my mini with pc7 epoxy and recontoured it with a dremel and removed the entire hump at the rear of the grip, to flatten it out.

    Permanently blacked out the grey epoxy with permanent magic marker, and it looks fine.

    Five bucks in material and the satisfaction of doing it myself.

  • big daddy

    Great job, very professional looking. I think Glocks are great guns. But for me I cannot shoot one. Not only is it the most uncomfortable gun but the trigger guard digs into my finger right at the joint and is painful when I fire one. I went with a S&W M&P9, it’s just basically a Glock pretty much that more people are comfortable with, especially the GEN 3. I have no need to modify the M&P 9, even the trigger feels better after a few hundred rounds.

  • Jordansays

    What’s the secret to polishing the Glock plastic to make it look “stock” again? I’ve used 600/800 grit sand paper, a felt polishing wheel, etc… it always looks kind of… dull. Any tips?

    • Doc Rader

      No idea. I assume it is just patiently knocking it down with progressively finer grit. Luke could answer that ([email protected]).

  • Conrad Gabbard

    Robar was among the first to modify Glock frames. My two Glock 21s take G30 magazines. A Glock 23 was smoothed out to my specifications and added a single finger seperator, exactly where I wanted it. Robar does a lot more than Glocks – and does it well. Check their website.