Several years back, I took a class at the SIG SAUER Academy where one of the instructors made a brief statement that fundamentally changed my views on modifications made to firearms. The essence of it was, “Any modification should help you shoot the gun better. Anything that you have to fight has to go.” That advice slowed my urge to mod every gun I acquire unless that change was going to help the gun help me. Grip modifications for polymer framed handguns were relatively new to me at that time, but the more I’ve played with stippled pistols, the more I’ve found that I like a grippier texture. The problem was the price, the lack of customization, and the wait. For better or worse, Oregon Trail Defense has provided a solution to those problems . . .
For those not in the know, stippling is the process of creating divots or impressions in the surface of a material, usually the plastic frames of today’s defensive pistols. These are permanent modifications with the upside being that the newly stippled surface provides a bit more grip and purchase than the original molded texture. The downside is that if you go crazy, you can damage a firearm beyond hope. As such, there are several professional shops that will take your money and firearms and return a professionally stippled product. Wait times are anywhere from days to months and costs vary just as much.
Many DIY-ers elect to purchase the tools of the trade — in this case, a soldering iron or wood burning kit — and go at it alone. The Oregon Trail Defense tool kit doesn’t claim to be much different that those options. In fact, it still says Lenk WoodBurner on the side.
As far as I can tell, most of the Lenk WoodBurners on the internet differ from this package in three ways. First, they’re the thirty-watt version while this is the slightly lower power twenty-five-watt version. Second, they don’t come in a handy case that also does double duty as an awesome practice surface. And most importantly, they don’t include the waffle tip you see pictured on the right. More on that later.
Setup is supremely simple. Select the brass tip of your choice and screw it into the WoodBurner. Plug the WoodBurner in and let electricity do its thing. Mine got noticeably hot after thirty seconds and was up to max temperature in just a few minutes. From there, simply press the hot tip into the plastic of your gun, and start making patterns.
Oregon Trail includes two pointed tips, good for making circular pattern stipples, and a sharp blade and “notch” tip that are great for making aggressive divots. I spent the better part of thirty minutes burning all sorts of designs into a spare A2 grip. I found that a quick trip across the belt sander was a great way to knock down the high spots of the original texture, and then I could commence stippling to my heart’s desire. The relatively low wattage of the OT kit made sure that I didn’t plunge any of the tips straight through my practice pieces.
The last tip that I tried was the waffle tip, the one you see on the left above. The Oregon Trail team shows this tip being used to create deep circular impressions in the material of choice, but I elected to dab it on the surface in a quick and slightly random fashion. I was able to create a pretty nice, even, rough texture all over the A2 grip, but I found that the longer I worked, the hotter and more malleable it got. Eventually, I had a bit of mush on my hands, and my texture was lost.
At roughly the same time, I realized I was getting sick of the smell of burning plastic, so I placed a small fan near my work area. Once the A2 grip cooled, I got back to work and found that the fan also helped keep the piece cool and further defined the texture. Compared to the side I’d done without the fan, the texture was quite a bit more even and had a much more consistent, sandy feel to it. Feeling good about my skills, I plucked a handgun from the safe.
As you can see, my M&P9 had already gone under the iron, so to speak, prior to my ownership of it. The stippling was, shall we say, not great. Figuring that it couldn’t get worse, I started in with the waffle tip, the fan, and quite a bit of patience. Much like going over old tattoos, the waffle tip slowly covered up the prior owner’s work with something that was passably better. You can see the line above between old and new. And much like tattoo work or house painting, I had to go a bit further than the previous owner to cover up the previous job. The result was a gun covered in a sandy and very grippy texture.
Dry firing the gun, it became immediately apparent that parts of the grip were going to rub me raw unless I wore gloves. Specifically, the area around the backstrap. Out came the Dremel and a bit of sandpaper. A few minutes later I had it smoothed down a bit so as not to chew up my hands.
The end result is admittedly not pretty, but to be fair, it wasn’t great to start with. If your ultimate goal is to make really aesthetically pleasing designs, I have no doubt that the Oregon Trail kit will help you get it done. You’ll also likely ruin some items along the way.
If you want your gun to be beautiful, remember the only way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. If artistic flair isn’t that important to you, but function is, the Oregon Trail Defense kit is still a good bet. You’ll have a grippy gun (or several) and you can adjust the location and texture to your individual liking. Just beware, it might not look good when the smoke clears.
Specifications: Oregon Trail Defense Firearms Stippling Kit
- 25W WoodBurner
- 5 Tips
- Hard Case (doubles as practice medium)
- Price: $48.95
Rating (out of five stars):
Overall Rating * * * * *
Short of having a rheostat to control the heat at the tip, I think this kit is ideal. I played with the pointed tips a bit, but the real star of the show is the waffle tip which creates a nice, even, sandy texture that does great things for your grip…wet, dry, muddy, or bloody. As someone who’s prone to losing the little bits like those that come in the kit, the included hard case is a great touch on an otherwise fine American-made product. At $50, it’s much less expensive than paying someone else to do the work, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll be the only person to blame if the job doesn’t turn out well.