GunGrips Custom Handgrips
Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis
Several months ago John Caradimas (owner and founder of The M1911 Pistols Organization) contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in participating in a long-term test and evaluation of a set of custom 1911 handgrips created by M1911.ORG forum sponsor GunGrips.net. I had no idea what I might be getting into, but I readily agreed, and John then instructed me to get in touch with Conrad Berry, the man behind GunGrips, to select “my” grips.
As it turns out, what Conrad does is start with high-quality grips on the material and pattern of your choice, and then add full-color artwork of the image of your choice. Whatever image you choose can be reproduced in mirror image for the two sides of the pistol. Conrad was interested in having us subject a pair of his grips to a long-term test as a demonstration of how they hold up in the real world.
Conrad’s first suggestions for artwork were clearly offered with a younger audience in mind than yours truly. Things like the Punisher, snakes, Harley-Davidsons, and the like are just not my taste. Once Conrad understood that I am an old fogey and a Vietnam veteran, he came back with several more patriotically-themed suggestions, from which I selected a design that incorporates the Liberty Bell, the American eagle, and the American flag. (If you’ve got it, flaunt it.) A couple of weeks later my grips arrived, I installed them on the El Comandante 9mm Commander prototype pistol (which I had begun carrying regularly), and we were off on a long-term wear test.
Where will it end?
I took several photos of the grips when they first arrived and were initially installed on the pistol. Unfortunately, my “before” photos have disappeared into a cyber black hole and I have no idea where they went. The good news, however, is that … it doesn’t matter, because the GunGrips custom grips look as good today as they did several months ago when I first opened the package.
By way of full disclosure I will acknowledge that I have not carried the pistol with the grips every day. My current work assignment is on a construction site that is owned by the state and subject to both state and federal security control. Firearms are not allowed on the site, not even stored in vehicles, with the result that on work days the pistol stays home. It’s sad, but that’s life. Aside from that, however, the pistol has been carried regularly. In addition, I am an NRA pistol instructor and, because the El Comandante is a 9mm 1911, I use it in the live fire exercise when I offer the Basic Pistol class, and on several occasions I have met up with a group of co-workers at the range on Friday evenings and allowed them to try the El Comandante to experience shooting a 1911 in 9mm. Despite my not being able to carry the pistol all day, every day, the GunGrips have not been exactly mollycoddled.
And they have held up extraordinarily well. The final transparent coating remains intact, with no bare spots or erosion anywhere. The colors of the artwork remain vibrant, and there is no flaking off or degradation of the image on either side. In a word, the grips still look new.
How do they DO that?
To begin with, GunGrips does not make grips. They buy the grips wholesale, then laser etch them and apply the custom image of your choice. The range of grip materials covers that spectrum, from traditional wood “double diamond” checkered 1911 grips (my choice) to modern polymer-based materials to AlumaGrips. You name it, and Conrad can probably put your image on it.
Once the base grip material has been selected, the image is laser etched into the material, the coloring is applied, and then the entire image is coated with a transparent overlay using a high-quality coating such as Duracoat, The specifics of the process vary somewhat depending on the actual material of the substrate, so the following description is reproduced directly from the GunGrips.net web site:
How durable is the image on your grips?
For wood and polymer grips with laser etched images, the durability comes mostly from the fact that the images are etched into the grip material, then the paint is added. The depth is around 0.025 inch, so it makes it hard for your hand to get into the crevices where the paint is, so it’s hard to rub off. Gun cleaners or other solvents WILL remove the paint. We have used this process for over 10 years. We have had a few customers ask that we refinish the grips after they soaked them in gun cleaner.
For aluminum grips with laser etched images, the durability is the result of the fact that the most part, there is nothing to wear. The grips are anodized and we use the laser to etch away the anodized surface to make the image. Since the anodized surface is removed, there’s nothing to wear away. One would have to wear away the remaining anodized surface for the image to go away—not likely.
For Aluminum grips with powder coat images, including natural aluminum colored grips with black images, the durability is built into the paint. Powder coat paint is very durable and is used in many industries because of its wear resistance, immunity to weather and in the case of the gun industry, resistance to most solvents and gun cleaners. We have used this material for over 2 years and have yet to have a customer comment that the image has worn or deteriorated. You can scrape it off with a knife if you try hard enough.
The Ultra Violet cured paint/ink process. Before adding our special processes, the image itself is pretty tough, but it can be removed with a wire brush. We add a special adhesive compound to the grip surface that makes the image adhere to the grips with a great deal of adhesion. This alone results in an image as durable as most any of the painted grips sold today. But after we print the image, we add a clear plastic overcoat to the image and the surrounding 0.020 to 0.030 inch for added protection. Again, one would think this would protect the image from damage in normal use, but we go one step further. Finally, we apply a clear coat of CeraKote or DuraCoat, which are the best material today for firearm coating and protection. We routinely apply one of these clear coats over either the image or the entire grip surface. The result is an image that is as durable or more so than powder coat paint.
Given the variety of base materials and image coloring processes used by GunGrips, it is simply not possible to render a blanket opinion on the basis of a single sample of one of the base materials and processes. All we can do is report what we found after living for several months with the set of grips sent to us for evaluation. The grips themselves are extremely high quality, well cut, and with good color and straight grain. The image applied by GunGrips is well-executed, the colors are bright and clear, and the image has held up well over the time we have had the grips installed. I do not know if the clear finish over the images is the same as that on the remainder of the double-diamond checkered wood surfaces, but the wood is beautifully finished, as can be seen in the close-up view of the upper diamond.
For those seeking a set of custom grips bearing imagery unique to them, we think GunGrips.net is certainly worth a look. Just send in your image (preferably in JPEG format) and they’ll take it from there.
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PO Box 1273
Patagonia, AZ 85624
19 Circulo Montana
Nogales, AZ 85621