A fun woodworking project is to change out the grips on a pistol with a new handmade set from an exotic wood species. In this case, the wood is not very exotic, but the figure is very good, and the pistol looks far better than with the stock grips. The process will vary a little from pistol to pistol, though the basics will almost all be the same.
To begin this process, remove the grips from the pistil that is destined for a new set, and bring them to the hardwood store to measure with. Select a nice piece of exotic or heavily figured wood to use, and make sure there is enough material to make the set. It is best to use wood that carves easily, because much of the shaping will be done by hand and with power sanders.
Trace out the shape and the other pertinent information onto the new piece of wood using the old grips as a template. Be sure to locate important things like screw holes and flat planes in their correct places, otherwise the completed grips will not fit. Begin on the band saw by roughing out the shapes, and then refine them with files and sandpaper by hand. Test fit the grips from time to time if possible, which will help avoid mistakes along the way. Once the basic fit is established, begin carving them with a power sander or with files and sanding sticks by hand.
This is a long process, and not something that can be rushed through, so take your time and know that persistence will overcome resistance. Over time, the wood will begin to take shape, and the grips will be ready for finish. Since pistol grips have to contend with sweat and dirt, it is best to use a film finish to protect the wood, which can be as simple as applying a few coats of varnish. Polish the grips on a buffing wheel after finishing to bring out the gloss, and install them back on the pistol.
A nice new set of grips is a great way to make an old pistol look like new again, and with such small pieces of wood to buy for the project, everyone should give it a try in their shop at least once. For some tips on finishing this and any other wood project quickly and easily, look at my 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing, which is a free PDF file where I teach the secrets to applying a great finish.
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