Grip stippling is a way to enhance the texture of slick or less aggressive synthetic grips for better purchase. It is a way to customize the feel of a firearm or knife providing more security and traction. Using the fine, broad or chisel point tips on a soldering iron, heat is applied, plastics or polymers are melted and with time and patience, a new surface is created. For scenarios where a slick or smooth finish can lead to a dropped tool, stippling is an excellent permanent fix. Unlike tapes that can lose adhesion or become gummy, stippling will be unaffected by extremes in temperature and environmental conditions. Following the steps here, anyone can improve the appearance, feel and performance of their survival and fighting tools.
Warning: If stippling a firearm, ensure it is unloaded by checking for an empty chamber. If stippling a knife handle, wrap the edge in tape.
Before any stippling can be done, the surface of the plastic or polymer should be completely clean. This will help with the application of the painter’s tape (for step 2). Also, if there is any residual substances on the handle or grip, they shouldn’t be burned into the polymer. Clean surfaces with isopropyl alcohol and cotton cloth. Wait for it to dry. If you are working with surface that has an existing pattern, you can stipple directly over it or use sandpaper to create a single uniform surface. Don’t worry about appearances or scratches at this point, the stipples will cover over your surface prep.
If you are looking to create a straight line or looking to prevent stippling an area of your grip/handle, you can tape it off with standard painter’s tape. The tape will prevent accidental marring but it will still burn if the soldering iron is on it long enough. A couple layers of tape can be applied to the clean surface. Tape a perimeter or whatever pattern you are looking for. The painter’s tape will act as a template and will help create symmetrical lines of stipple if that is the look you are going for.
Make sure you have a good soldering iron you can hold comfortably like a pen and it is set to the highest setting if it is adjustable. Clean off the tip prior to turning it on and make sure you have a clear, well-lit workspace. Make sure you have plenty of extra power cord length as this will make the process easier than wrestling over or playing tug-of-war with a cord. Have a place to rest your soldering iron if you wish to inspect your work. Keep flammables far from reach during the entire process.
Slow and Deliberate Work
There is no rush in grip stippling. Rushing leads to really sloppy work. Work methodically. If you are looking for a symmetrical appearance, work from the outside perimeter in. If you are less concerned with straight lines, create an imaginary 1”x1” box and sporadically tap the surface. What is important to note is how to achieve small stipple marks and how to create deeper marks. A very light tap of a fully heated soldering iron will affect the surface. It doesn’t take much pressure to indent the polymer or plastic. Experiment on an old piece of PVC, a scrap of kydex or random pieces of discarded plastic. You will notice it burns quickly and the desired size of each stipple is easy to achieve with practice. My personal preference is to vary the stippling for a custom grip. I will use very aggressive stippling in some places and less aggressive in others. On the ejection port side of my pistols, I am more liberal with the soldering iron where on the body contact side, I create smaller stipples for less of a cheese grater effect on my skin.
Lightly Sand and Finish
This last step is optional. If you find you have created any raised points that are relatively sharp, you can lightly sand them down. Avoid using a very coarse grit sandpaper favoring 400-800 grit wet/dry paper for the desired finish. Only remove the raised edges if they are an annoyance. Don’t sand too much and ruin the finish you just created. Remember it is easier to make smaller stipples into larger but not the other way around. Modify the surface to work best with your grip and you notice a definite difference in performance of the tool.
Stippling isn’t for everyone as some will argue it takes away from the appearance. For those who value function over form, get your gear, grab a soldering iron and get stippling!
About the Author
Kevin Estela is the Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education. He conducts private and semi-private wilderness and urban/suburban survival courses, tests and evaluates knives and equipment for various companies, is a Mountain Khakis Professional Ambassador, and is a life-long outdoors enthusiast with additional pastimes in canoeing/kayaking, fishing and cooking. Kevin's work has taken him from Los Angeles, CA to the United Kingdom and many points in between. Kevin is ranked in both Sayoc Kali and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a shooting enthusiast. Kevin is formerly the Lead Instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. When not teaching outdoor skills, he is a full-time High School History Teacher and Track and Field Coach who lives in Connecticut.