Yes... Even You Can Do It!

Stippling Steps
1

Stipple handgun

If you have a family heirloom or just want some real high-speed looking work, it might be best to let a professional do it. Most offer multiple textures and other options, like this job from Delta Strategic.

Stippling is essentially the process of melting a polymer surface and reshaping the texture into what you desire in look and feel. While the term “melting” might sound scary, it’s not. Why would you want to “mess up” your GLOCK or XD? It’s kind of like a barber running a razor over your neck. A bad barber may leave you nicked, bleeding and fleeing for the door. But a practiced one will leave you smiling, and you’ll look sharp and clean. Just like a good stippling job can manage on a grip.

Essentially any polymer part, whether a knife handle, GLOCK, XD, Remington 870, a Magpul PMAG, an Accuracy International stock or a simple A2 grip can be stippled or textured. If it’s polymer, you can stipple it. But why would you take a perfectly good GLOCK or 870 grip and melt into it? Easy — some people want a better grip, some a pretty design and some both.

Just like most things in life, there are different ways to accomplish a goal, and stippling’s no exception. You can certainly send it off to an FFL/professional who specializes in stippling and have them do it for you. Prices range from $80 to $400 depending on just how fancy you want to get. Or, you could give it a try.

Options are many regarding designs. If you want extras like “accelerator cuts” and undercuts etc., a good professional stippler can do this for you. If you go the professional route, I’d advise you shop around and make sure you’re handing your firearm off to an active FFL holder and a shop having a good reputation, running a legit business. There are lots of folks out there running half-cocked, with a Facebook page and little else, so beware.

Slippling kit

This is a pretty much turn-key kit offered by OTDefense and will get you going easily. Newer kits may reflect changes in color or accessories.

Do It Yourself!

But, you really can do it yourself. I’m always looking for ways to save money and having more than two GLOCKs in my house it was well worth taking the time and effort to learn the art myself. Am I as good as some of the pro-stipplers out there? Nope. But now I’m saving cash doing my own stippling — and it grew into a business after getting out of the service — so I can buy more ammo, right?

With the right tools, a bit of patience and practice, just about anyone can do a good looking, effective stipple job. The key is to do your due diligence and research the process; decide whether it’s something interesting to you, and if it fits your skill sets. Good eyesight, dexterity and attention to detail are all part of the game. Then practice until you’re confident in your ability — before you start on an expensive gun! To get started you need a wood burner or soldering iron, tip or tips of your liking, and some material to practice on. Let’s get going, then.

slippling

Due to a wood burner’s length, Micah often puts his pinkie finger on the frame to help anchor his hand.

The Base Tool

Wood burners are generally what I recommend. Stick with 25 watts for beginners, and 30-watt models for more experienced users. Higher wattage = higher heat. I know all you .45 guys are thinking if this is the case you need a 50-watt unit because 25 watts must be for 9mm owners. But too much heat leaves little room for error and generally does not react as well across the range of most stippled items. Some experienced users get a rheostat so they can fine-tune the temperature for specific patterns and materials.

While soldering irons do work, most have a longer shaft and the tips are generally longer as well, leaving your hand farther from the work, with less control. If you already have a soldering iron, give it a try and see if you can use it effectively. That’s the point, figure out what works for you, don’t just take my word for it.

Tips are sold with most wood burner kits and after some testing on practice items (not your XDm right?), you can quickly figure out which tips you can use to get the design and feel you’re after. If you’re the creative type, a couple of hand files or even a Dremel tool can modify a tip and potentially come up with something you really like. Another option is to look at the lineup of the 20-some OTDefense tips (self-promotion here), that are all designed specifically for use on polymer firearms and accessories. There’s even an adapter for your soldering iron and an angle adapter for getting in tight spots.

Practice material: This is not an option! Trust me, I’ve gotten a bit overzealous and rushed onto a GLOCK with a new design just to realize I did not accomplish what I wanted. Yikes. Stippling can be redone and salvaged in all but extreme cases, but why not be patient and do it right the first time?

Practice on extra pistol backstraps you don’t use, A2 grips, old Clinton-era 10-round mags for your GLOCK 17, the case your GLOCK came in, practice sheets from OTDefense, your wife’s hairbrush, etc. There are endless polymer items in our lives costing far less than a pistol. It’s like the guy with a new lathe and a knurling tool. Pretty soon everything not nailed down gets knurled. Ditto for stippling.

slippling

Borders are important and can make or break a job. Micah says to draw the border lines on then take your time creating them using the proper tool.

Now What?

Before you do anything with melting polymers, remember they release noxious fumes that are respiratory and eye irritants. I recommend using a quality respirator and eye protection, and stippling in a very well ventilated area, or even outside. Some folks I know use a fan sucking air away from them, but whatever you do, remember you only have one set of lungs and eyeballs, so protect them! Don’t stipple in your kitchen, your house will stink for days and your wife will likely not forgive you as easily as she forgave you when you stippled her hairbrush!

Take the tip you like and practice on various materials to perfect a pattern you like. Check on-line for zillions of samples of people’s work. You need to work on depth control — not going too deep especially — and time on the material you’re stippling. Once you’ve got this down you can decide how to do your borders.

There are countless ways to make borders. Dremel tool bits, rounded burner tips, knife-shaped burner tips, hand-held wood carving tools, you name it. Let’s stick with the simplest option: stippled borders.

Draw a line with a pencil or non-permanent fine-tip marker where you want the stippling to stop. You have of course practiced and know if you should make large radii corners or 90-degree corners, and use the smallest tip you have to follow that line. If you are practiced you can even use the tip you’ve chosen as a pattern to do the edges. I prefer this method over the single point myself.

Once you’ve got this all down, you want to prep the grip. Some folks sand down all the factory texture with a Dremel-type tool before stippling, giving them a perfectly flat starting surface. I prefer to leave material on rather than remove, and simply move the material and flatten it out with a flat tip if need be. Given that all textures wear off over time/use I want to be able to touch-up my stippling in a few years when it starts to wear. 

slippling

Micah prefers to leave material on rather than remove it, and simply moves the material and flattens it out with a flat tip if needed. It’s easy to take off — but hard to put material back on!

Tips And Tricks

More aggressive stippling generally lasts longer, ultra fine (microdot) can wear down in under a year with steady use. The front and back straps seem to be the most helpful in terms of grip, but another often-overlooked portion is the body side of your carry gun. I essentially stipple half of my carry gun, leaving the part touching my skin smooth, whereas the other half is really aggressive. 

The number one rookie mistake? Sinking the tip in too deep. Start shallow, think 0.030" or about the thickness of two standard business cards at most.

Also, some tips are best used at an angle, while others, like many of the OTDefense tips, are designed to be used 90 degrees from the part being stippled. Practice will tell you.

With most materials you can let the burner do the majority of the work for you, and let it flow into the material without you pushing very hard. Don’t be in a hurry or greedy to move lots of material!

Different things use different polymers and different levels of glass fill — and stipple differently. Your Sig P320 is not going to stipple the same as your XD. Your M&P back straps will be buttery soft compared to the rest of the gun. Some materials just don’t hold certain patterns well. You’ll soon find differences, so start each job slowly, with a light touch.

Keep a brass or copper wire brush handy too. While not mandatory, it helps to keep the tip clean with a simple pass or two of the brush. A steel brush is harder than your brass tips, don’t use it unless you want to reduce the tip life. Tip cleaning is 100 percent necessary when doing colored frames. If you don’t, you’ll have black streaks in your tan material. Colored frames simply take more time.

Some tips are more beginner-friendly than others, allowing for some application error on your part, letting you touch up areas coming out less than perfect. Other tips or patterns may be a “one press” deal, with a misplaced press making your pattern not as pretty as you want. That’s why you practice, right?

slippling ammo

You can use a file or dremel to modify soldering iron or wood burning tips, or you can buy the pre-made tip set from OTDefense, specifically designed for stippling polymer. There’s an adaptor for soldering irons too.

Dive In

With plenty of “safe” things to practice on, and a cheap investment in a hobby shop wood burner, this is a fun, handy skill to learn. And trust me … if you get decent at it, you’ll never lack for work from your buddies! Now, find your wife’s hair brush and get to work.

For more info:
OTDefense
Ph: (541) 566-6908
[email protected]
https://www.otdefense.com

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