The making of a left-hand pistol grip
by B.B. Pelletier
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Today, blog reader CJr tells us about his first-time project of making a left-hand grip for his IZH 46m single-stroke pneumatic pistol. Enjoy!
I’d been looking for a suitable entry-level competition target pistol that I could use for the AirgunArena.com eMatch pistol events and finally decided on the IZH-46M match pistol from IZH-Baikal. Back in March 2006, BB said, “The 27.5cm (just a hair shy of 11”) barrel is world-class. No human can shoot as well as this barrel permits, which is true of every world-class target pistol.” That’s what I was looking for! The bold print was his. If these barrels still exist on today’s pistols I will be a happy camper. And the $379.50 price tag isn’t bad either, for a good entry level competition pistol.
This pistol had all the features I was looking for except one –- it didn’t have a left-hand grip option. Since this was the gun for me, that was sad news. But it wasn’t sad news for long. While Pyramyd Air didn’t offer left-hand grips, I hoped someone else might. I searched the web and queried this blog but came up with nothing to my satisfaction. It was then that I decided to make my own.
Now, mind you, I am not a woodworker, woodcarver or carpenter. My only previous experience working with wood was helping my sons build their Pinewood Derby cars for Cub Scouts. But I was determined to make my own grips. After all how hard could it be?
Let’s get started
I started by visiting the local big box hardware store. Without much searching, I found a piece of baseboard trim that was just the right size and for only $2.38 for a 3”x5”x1” slab. Perfect — almost. They were soft pine, but they were cheap and looked easy to work with; and if my idea fell through, I wouldn’t have much invested in my folly. I bought two –- one for each half of the pistol grip.
What follows is a step-by-step approach I used to fashion my grips. I took each step with the intent to determine if it was feasible to continue or if continuing was heading outside my comfort zone. My main objective, of course, was to not damage the pistol in any way. As you’ll see, there was never any danger and no airgun was killed or injured during the making of this grip. I did have to be careful not to get sawdust into the vital areas of the pistol.
Remove the grips from the pistol
My first step was to remove the old grip halves from the pistol. Each grip half is held to the pistol grip tang by one screw through the grip and into a threaded hole in the tang. There’s one screw below the tang that goes through both grip halves to hold them together at the bottom. I removed those three screws and separated the grip halves from the tang, thereby removing them from the pistol. There was also the adjustable wooden palm shelf at the bottom of the grip’s right half held by two bolts through the adjustment slots. I removed that, also. All the hardware I removed I put in a zippered plastic bag to prevent loss.
Trace the grip outline on paper, transfer to wood and cut out new grip halves
I laid the grip halves on a piece of 8.5″x11″ computer print paper and traced their outlines to make patterns. I cut out the patterns with scissors, laid them on the blocks of wood I bought, traced the outline onto the wood, and used a jigsaw to cut out the shape of both grip halves.
Trace the outline of the pistol’s tang inside both new grip halves
Now that I have the new grips cut out, I want to make sure they’ll mount on the pistol. Since the left-hand grip I’m making is made up of two separate halves, I’ll call them the left side and the right side.
I took the freshly cut right side, reversed it and set it on the table in the new left side orientation. I set the gun carefully down onto the now-new left side and traced the outline of the tang onto the wood.
Next, I had to make sure that when I traced the tang onto the new right side, both grip halves would be properly positioned with the tang and aligned with each other. With the left side still on the table and the pistol in the correct position on top of it, I placed the new right side on top of the tang, aligned the two grip sides flush with each other — making sure I didn’t move the one on the bottom — then, carefully picked up the pistol and only the right side together and, while holding this arrangement, traced the tang outline onto the right side. This procedure was tricky because I had to make sure the wood didn’t slip on the tang. Actually, the shape of the grips at the top helped stabilize them against the pistol.
I’m glad I had a free hand in this
I had a Dremel rotary tool, so I bought a plunge router attachment for it for $27 at Sears and a 1/2″ router bit to cut out the tang groves. It’s kind of a free-hand operation following the traced outlines with the router bit, but the depth is constant because of the router attachment. Besides, imperfections will be hidden from sight. The old standard grip was shimmed inside. If I cut too much, I could shim it. As it turned out, both fit snug and flush.
Drill, baby, drill!
The next step involved drilling the holes in the grips so they could be screwed onto the tang. I did this with a drill press by first drilling through the screw holes in the tang and into the new left side. Caution: Care must be taken so the threads in the tang are not damaged by the drill bit. To prevent tang thread damage, I first used a drill bit smaller than the hole in the tang. Next, I removed the grip and enlarged the hole with a bit the size of the original screw. I now knew that the left side would always match up with the tang using those holes.
I laid the left side on top of the right one, making sure they were flush with each other. With that larger drill bit, I drilled through the left side holes into the new right side. All the holes would line up and both grip sides would always properly align with each other on the tang and flush. The last step in this part of the process was to countersink the holes in the grips. With that done, I was ready to start carving.
Now, the real fun begins
Using the Dremel and router bit without the plunge router attachment, it was easy to make a free-hand rough carving of the grips. I had to always keep an eye on the original grips as a model while carving these.
At this juncture, use your imagination to visualize a lot of sanding and cutting and wood filler. I used a router bit, rasp files and 150 on up to (down to?) 320 grit sandpaper. What a beauty I finally turned out!
After carving, sanding, wood filler and a bit of drilling — this is what I was able to do. For proof of concept, I could have stopped here and used these but now I’ve been bit by the wood finishing bug.
Time to stain my reputation
I decided to stain the grips a dark wood grain color to resemble the original grips. I’ll tell you right off the bat that this part of the process was a complete failure. I read some stuff on the internet, watched a few videos and felt I knew enough to proceed. I bought a can of MinWax Wood Finish, Tung Oil Wipe-On Finish and mineral spirits. I followed to the letter the instructions printed on the can of Tung Oil Wipe-on Finish for producing a semi-gloss, uniform, wood-grain appearance but ended up with the ugliest, blotchy chunk of wood seen by man. I’d show you a picture, but my camera refuses to download it.
Changes made that differ from the standard grip
I rounded off the trailing edge of the palm shelf because the sharp edge was very uncomfortable. My grips are smaller than the originals, but that’s a given. My next pair will be even smaller. The originals are purposely made large to allow for customization to any hand size. On the next pair, I’ll move up the grip flare (at the bottom of the grip) a bit higher. I’m talking about the part of the grip that flares out at the bottom on my new right side and not the adjustable palm shelf. I believe this flare is supposed to be designed to minimize any yaw in the barrel, whereas the palm shelf is designed to minimize droop caused by the wrist. Because my hand is small, the current flare does not quite reach my hand, and the palm shelf is adjusted as far up as it will go. Finally, on my next pair, I will choose a wood that doesn’t need stain. I will need something to make them waterproof and sweatproof. Staining is not my forte.
Time to assess the results
My efforts were a success. These grips fit me like a glove — very comfortable, giving me a much more stable sight picture. I can’t wait for the stain to dry so I can start shooting. I wanted to make a set of left-hand grips that were suitable for competition shooting, and I succeeded. Can you do it? I believe you can.
I don’t think I possess any talents that you don’t have. Can I do it again? I think so. I’m emboldened, now. Would I do it for economic gain? I don’t think so. It’s too time-consuming the way I did it to make it affordable to a customer. However, I think I can make a set in about 4 hours, probably less with the proper equipment.