Making Custom Handgun Stocks
This article will show my methods of making custom handgun stocks. Why make custom handgun stocks? Don't handguns already come with stocks? Yes - but in addition to poor fit to the gun and bland appearance, one-size-fits-all stocks likely won't fit YOUR hands! Having stocks that fit your hands is a major factor in controlling recoil. While the gun press acknowledges the importance of proper fit with rifle and shotgun stocks, the topic of handgun stocks gets very little coverage. Bottom line, some first class stocks that fit the shooter can be created with a small outlay of materials and time. Let's get started.
First, we need an appropriate wood. Walnut is never a bad choice. It's easy to work with, and a finely figured piece can be something to behold. My own habit is to pick up odds and ends of different types of wood and see what can be made of them. With some mind to the grain, saw off a piece and get started! It should be noted that plain wood with the grain running up the backstrap will probably be the strongest, and finely figured wood with the grain going every which way will likely be the weakest. This project, for a .44 Special, will not really stress the wood so a nice deorative piece was chosen. The initial work, by the way, was done on the tailgate of my truck. That might not seem like a very sophisticated environment, but having plenty of natural light is a bonus. Furthermore, it shows that an expensive shop is not really a requirement to get started.
Once the initial slab is cut, it is important to get it as flat as possible. A belt sander works fine with a light touch. Trace the outline of the stocks that came with the gun, and leave some extra wood outside the lines. The outline can be cut with a band saw, jig saw, scroll saw, or coping saw. Just leave a little extra wood to work with!
The most critical step is next. The stocks MUST be fitted to the frame! Not only for appearance, but because a loose set of stocks is going to crack under recoil - guaranteed. The Bisley frame is a bit of a challenge, because the rounded area is not any particular geometric shape that I've ever been able to figure out. First, drive out the roll pin in the heel of the grip frame so the stocks can be held flat against it. Rough out the top of the stocks with a sander, rasp, files, rotary drum sander in a Dremel tool (not shown but that's what I used), or chisels or whatever other tools you have. Coat the grip frame with some sort of marking agent (I used a dry erase marker, but traditional lamp black, lipstick, or practically anything else will work). Push the stock up against the frame, see where it's marked, and remove the small amount of wood that shows contact. Repeat - many times! An inexpensive set of wood chisels did most of the work here along with a piece of an old hacksaw blade that was made into a scraper. The tools are less important than the dilligence of the work! Note in the picure the recess which has been shaped to the frame, along with some dark spots from the marking agent. Repeat for the other side.
Now, the recess for the roll pin must be drilled if you are making stocks for a Ruger. This setup looks a little precarious, but actually works very well. Find the largest drill bit that will fit through the hole - Rugers seem to be about 0.150" for which a #25 or #26 drill bit works well. A 9/64" will be a touch small. Having a letter-number set of drills is a very good thing. Also note the mark on the drill bit for the depth - very important! Do not drill any deeper than necessary, about 1/8" for this gun. Repeat for the other side.
Reinstall the roll pin and see how they fit! Not really very handy at this point..... but we are making progress.
Even with the careful work of fitting them to the grip frame, I recommend bedding the stocks with a thin layer of epoxy. Wood will compress over time even if the fit is absolutely perfect. This is similar to the process of glass-bedding a rifle; make sure you put release agent over anything you don't want permanently glued together! This can of paste wax works well and for the purpose, I find that ordinary 2-ton Devon epoxy is adequate. Not shown is an old plastic plate for mixing the epoxy, covered with literally two decades worth of the stuff..... Did I mention that you should be sure and coat the grip frame well with paste wax!?!?!?!?!?
Here's a closeup of the fit to the frame. The matte appearance shows where the epoxy contacted the frame. Again, the purpose of the epoxy is not to overcome a poor fit, but to strengthen the wood at a critical juncture.
Next, the holes need to be drilled for the screw that holds the stocks to each other. The Ruger stocks have a hole through both pieces and so we'll make use of this. One of the factory stocks can hold a drill bit to show where the hole needs to be in the other. A drill bit, nail, or any other tool with a snug fit in the hole gets a light tap with a hammer to mark the opposite stock. Once the hole is marked, use a drill press to drill a hole STRAIGHT through the right panel. Then, repeat the process for the left panel using the hole just drilled in the right panel.
My own personal preference is to make the hole in the left panel 'blind,' that is, not all the way through. To give the screw something to attach to, I drill out a flat-bottomed recess with a 3/8" end mill after carefully aligning the stock in the drill press vise. A nut will be epoxied into this hole. While it is generally a poor practice to use end mills in a drill chuck (because the cutting forces can pull them out of the chuck), the light duty cut in wood is not a problem. Run the end mill into the stock a little deeper than the nut that will be used. For this set, a brass 6x32 screw was used. The threads of the screw should be well coated with the paste wax or release agent, however the release agent should not be on the outside of the nut. Mix up some more epoxy and put it in the recess in the stock, but also a little on the flats of the nut.
Carefully press it all together; note that the screw is too long at this point. For the screw head recess, a 1/4" endmill was perfect for this screw. While factory stocks have metal inserts, I've never found that necessary for custom stocks. Simply put if the stocks are subjected to any significant force where the screw attaches them together,then something else is wrong.
Once the epoxy sets, remove the screw and the right panel... with some luck this is what you'll see! The screw needs to be cut off to the correct length when done. Use an abrasive cut-off wheel in your Dremel tool. Trying to cut the screw with a hacksaw or wire cutters will just deform the threads to the point it will be unusable. Trust me!
Our stocks are still a bit on the awkward side, to say the least, and it may not seem that much progress has been made to this point. But, these steps are vitally important to the project. Now we can start trimming a bit. The factory stocks can be a little help in establishing the profile, both on the sides and end.
Next, some careful trimming with the band saw was attempted. This didn't look too impressive. The curly grain really made it difficult to follow the lines and almost cut too deep in several areas. Go slow and be careful!
The belt sander did much better work to be honest.... but do go slow.
Hey, these are almost useful - if my hands were about twice as large.....
In order to get a truly custom fit, the stocks need to be matched to the frame. But, in order to avoid destroying the frame, we need to protect it. The first step is a layer of aluminum tape. This stuff is amazingly tough and only about 0.002" - 0.003" thick. Any auto parts store sells it as "muffler tape" or similar. On top of that - put a layer of something thicker - such as athletic tape, masking tape, or whatever elase you have at hand.
The next step was to file on the stocks with a fine wood rasp, as close as possible to the frame. The most challenging area to work is right behind the trigger guard. A small round file, such as a chain saw file, can be very handy, then progress to needle files. Last, strips of 150 grit sandpaper are used. Hey, this is looking a lot more like a set of stocks....
The muffler tape is tough enough that strips of sandpaper can be used in a "shoe-shine" motion against both the front and back of the grip frame. Do this carefully and patch the tape as needed.... the athletic tape is looking a bit worse for wear in this picture. It should be noted that the shape of the stocks should be defined as how they fit in YOUR hands - stop once in a while and grip them tightly and see where it feels that more material should be removed. For myself, I've found that leaving the back of the stocks wider, with the front of the stocks much narrower, helps control recoil while keeping my knuckles away from the back of the trigger guard. Once the stocks are shaped to suit your hands, work up in progressively finer grits. I started with 150, moved to 220, and finally to 400 grit.
Ruger grip frames are cast and I haven't found one yet that wasn't warped on one or both sides. Minor imperfections can be filed out, but I ran out of ambition after filing on this one for a bit. Worse, the gaps were letting the stocks chip where the wood wasn't supported by the grip frame. So, these stocks were fitted to the grip frame with more expoy. While the gap was no more than 0.010" at most, it was unsightly, and as noted, the stocks were chipped. The very thin layer of epoxy will not only fill the gap, but strenthen the stocks where they are thin and can be easily damaged. Don't forget to coat the frame well with the release agent! Once all the tape has been removed from the grip frame, and any additional epoxy bedding done (if needed), then the final fitting can be done. Put the stocks on the frame, see where material needs removed, sand them a bit, and repeat... and repeat... and repeat! Don't forget to put a dab of cold blue where the frame has been nicked (yes, it will happend, I guarantee it).
Last, finish out the stocks with whatever pleases you... my own personal preference is Tru-Oil. Then head to the range and enjoy your new custom stocks!
Update: here are some pictures that a friend with a much better camera, and skills to match, took of the stocks.