Is Stippling your Firearm Worth It? My Thoughts on DIY Stippling - ITS Tactical

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Is Stippling your Firearm Worth It? My Thoughts on DIY Stippling

By Bryan Black

DIY Stippling

If you’re not familiar with stippling, or as our friends from Method Burn say, “burning tiny dots into things you love.”

Burning these dots into polymer handgun frames, grips, fore ends, rail panels and even magazines like PMAGs, is typically done using a soldering iron and a lot of patience. Why do this? As the soldering iron burns a dot or other pattern into the polymer, it leaves behind a raised surface that enhances the texture and aids in your ability to “grip” the stippled product.

I’d never been entirely convinced of the effectiveness of stippling, that is until I gave it a shot myself. Here’s my thoughts on what I found when I attempted my first DIY stippling on a set of Sig grips for my P225/P6 and why next time I’ll probably call our friends at Method Burn to use their services!

DIY Stippling

As mentioned, the typical tool in stippling is the old standby soldering iron. While it’s purpose has always been electrically heating up solder to connect electrical components. Stipplers have found another use for them in our industry which is similar to pyrography (burning designs into wood and plastic). In addition to the textured surface stippling provides, it’s truly art as well. I’ve seen many stippled patterns that I’d certainly classify as artistic.

The root of stippling isn’t to make a gun pretty though, it’s to provide a better grip. As mentioned, I’ve never been thoroughly convinced stippling is truly beneficial, until I tried it myself. I’d shot friend’s guns that had it done and while it was nice I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

A few weeks back I ordered a spare set of grips for my P225/P6 from Top Gun Supply and decided to give Stippling a shot. I started off with a soldering iron I already had and was immediately discouraged. The iron I had is a traditional one that has a long distance from the handle to the actual heated tip. This caused a problem with having to be far away from the surface I was working with and almost stupidly burning myself wanting to hold it lower on the iron, which would have burned quite a bit. I’ll admit I’ve even done this in the past too and it took quite awhile to heal.

DIY Stippling

So after almost burning myself like that again and realizing the iron I had was melting the grips too much and melting the dot too deep, I opted for a better soldering iron that featured some things I like. The first was being able to hold it like a pen, closer to the tip. This gave me better balance and allowed me to work closer to the grips and more efficiently burn the dots. The second benefit was it being wireless. Battery powered meant not worrying about a cord getting in the way or needing to be close to an outlet or hooked to an extension cord. The final and most important feature of my new soldering iron was variable temperature. As mentioned my original iron was burning too deep into the polymer as it got hotter, this led to stringy plastic all over the place and crappy results.

The iron I finally went with was a Weller BP860MP. It was only about $20 and I used it on the low power setting for these grips. Even a surface as small as a set of grips will make your hand worn out after awhile and made me have even more respect for Method Burn and the stippling jobs they do for others. There’s really nothing to stippling other than coming up with whatever pattern you’d like to try. As you can see I just burned dots, but other techniques I’ve seen is angling the iron so that it’s more of a “teardrop” pattern or getting more aggressive with the iron and leaving a heavily textured surface.

Something I’ve also seen with polymer framed handguns like Glocks is grip reductions, where a section of the polymer frame is taken away to conform the grip better to the individual shooter’s hand size. Let’s face it, the possibilities on polymer framed guns are really endless in regard to what kind of stippling/reductions are possible. This is one of the benefits I see to having a gun with removable/replaceable polymer grips. I can just switch out the grips if I don’t want the stippling any longer, but with a Glock or other polymer frame, you’re stuck with it unless you want to buy a new frame. That’s considerably more costly than a set of grips too. There are certainly benefits of a polymer frame though too, such as stippling other areas your fingers rest, etc.

As I carry IWB (In the Waistband) with my 225, I lightly hit my stippling with some 220 grit sandpaper and have been comfortably carrying it for the last few days. The stippling isn’t very aggressive, but in shooting with it this past weekend I really noticed an increased performance in my shooting both with gloves and without. Before hitting it with sandpaper, the grips seemed to catch my shirt more and I knew if I didn’t hit them with some sandpaper it would wear down my shirts. As mentioned, I’ve just started to carry like this and shoot with stippling. I’m looking forward to running my 225 from concealment during the Haley Strategic Adaptive Handgun course this week that ITS is hosting and updating this post with my thoughts after running a few hundred rounds through my gun.

I hope this article has given you some ideas to consider if you’re up for getting into stippling, or just want to pay someone else do it for you. Since I wasn’t worried too much about messing up a set of grips I started in on those, but before you attempt stippling your polymer framed handgun, you might want to consider practicing on something like an inexpensive PMAG first.

Have you already been stippling? What are your results like and do you see a benefit to it?

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  • Jon

    I started off stippling the backstraps of my M&P pistols and, after that practice, moved on to the rest of the frame on my full-size M&P9. Besides durability, the big advantage of stippling over grip tape is the ability to modulate the pattern or texture. You can beef up the traction in strategic areas to provide more grip as well as highlight reference areas. For instance, in a limited area of the front strap of the grip, I made a more aggressive texture that corresponds with where my fingertips are when I have an ideal grip on the pistol. This provides a positive tactile index which makes it easy to acquire a perfect master grip from the draw. Grip tape is kind of binary. Either it’s applied or its not. In order to apply grip tape strategically, you would have to forego grip-tape in other areas, otherwise nothing would stand out as unique to the touch. With stippling, you can modulate the amount of stipple, providing increased traction AND tactile features.

    • Anthony Coltrin

      Yep it can be troublesome if you have never done it before and you should practice stippling on a peice of plastic scrap , like a rail cover first. Stippling can provide a great grip enhancement, not only for shooting but drawing as well. If you’ve ever been in a siutuation to get your weapon out fast your palms are already sweating from adrenalin, you will be happy to have a stippled gun, It works even more so when your wearing gloves in Maritime operations as well! Just my 2 cents….

  • Doc “GC” Grant

    I recently (about 2mos ago) picked up a grip kit from Powder River Precision for my XDM. Just a simple alcohol prep wipe down and laid on the adhesive sand grip tape, pre-cut for my exact model. I also wear IWB, and while there was some initial skin irritation, that’s subsided now. It gets a little clingy with Under Armour type shirts, but beyond that, it’s an awesome add-on! Seems to do the exact thing as the stipping, but not permanent and not as thermally taxing on the digits… great draw/grip with this.

  • Derek

    I’ve always been interested in trying this out, just like you, I really did’t think it would make a large difference, or worse make the feel of the weapon worse. In the case of Glock…that could get expensive. Oh and I hope you get some video footage of your classes with Travis. I’ll look forward to it.

  • Ryan

    Many years ago I started out with grip tape that improved my Sig’s grip greatly. After I was forced to switch to Glocks through work I found that grip tape was a MUST due to the frame wearing quickly and no positive grip truly found with Glock’s own pattern. The weapon I was issued upon switching departments a few years back was so worn that it looked shiny so I started with grip tape all over again. After having to replace the tape just shy of yearly I decided to try out the stippling I read about online. I used a standard point on a cheap Harbor Freight iron and it worked great. I have since stippled all my weapons and most of my other polymer accessories (5.11 light for life – yep). I enjoy the fact you can control what surface gets the texture and to what degree. I am in the process of upgrading my personal AR and plan on stippling the Pmags and probably the Larue hand stops and clips I’ve got enroute.

    It may be time consuming and boring to some but I find it oddly cathartic.

  • fastmover

    Krylon paint jobs and soldering iron stippling makes me cringe 99% of the time.

  • I think I might try doing the grips on my old Ruger P89 just to see if I can do it. Thanks for the info on something to try.

    PS Does anyone use grip tape anymore? I just to use it on my 1911’s for years.

  • I did it on my generic iPhone case and it works amazingly well. Not sure I’d try it on my Glocks though.

  • D. Hide

    It’s the holes that get me. So many tiny, tiny holes. Makes my skin crawl.

    Not a bad project for DIY, though. Been meaning to pick up a solder iron anyway. Soon as I get a new forend for the AK, I’ll practice on the old one and see if I can’t get a more… Palatable pattern.

  • tim

    You can use tape to mask out an area to work in, it keeps things neat. I practiced on pmags and on a couple of AK pistol grips. Have had great luck, but I would practice before burning holes in a $500 gun.

  • R3D R3IGN S1X

    I started off stippling my Xbox 360 controllers (4 – getting steadier one after the other) – then I felt comfortable enough to move onto my M&P 9MM. I agree it does take quite awhile – but it gives me a better grip.

  • gossipininja

    I have always worried about these sort of DIY conversions in regards to ccw pieces, due to the potential legal ramifications. A scumbag lawyer could say I “modified my gun to make it extra lethal”

  • cawcaptain

    A scumbag lawyer could also say you used glaser safety slugs because your true intentions were to kidnap, rape, and torture whoever you ended up having to shoot. Worry more about whether you live through the gunfight than what the lawyer might say afterwards, or the lawyer won’t matter at all.

  • R3D R3IGN S1X

    “A scumbag lawyer could also say you used glaser safety slugs because your true intentions were to kidnap, rape, and torture whoever you ended up having to shoot. Worry more about whether you live through the gunfight than what the lawyer might say afterwards, or the lawyer won’t matter at all. ”

    Now, is a damn good point!

  • There’s hasn’t been any legal issue yet revolving around a gun that has been stippled, since your only changing the look and feel of the frame of the gun in most cases and not the firing pin, springs, trigger, etc.. The only thing legally you have to worry about when it comes to stippling a gun is that you can’t do it on a polymer frame gun for money, without a firearms manufacturer’s license from the ATF. The ATF looks at stippling a gun as, “Altering the frame,” which is the part that’s serialized. I know because I’m working on getting mine for this reason. Your in the free and clear if you’ve got a knack for it and want to stipple up some old grips and sell them to your buddies though. If you want you can check out some of our stuff go to

  • Ken

    In regards to “hand me down” Glocks and being in a department who prohibits any modification to equipment, I’ve found bicycle inner tube works really well. I turn inside out to hide the mold joints. It provides a nice sticky grip. Plus, inner tubes are free if you much riding as you’re going to go through at least one every year or so. One will provide several grips. You can get them for free if you ask nicely at your local bicycle shop.

    Another plus? While technically a modification, this is very low key and will come off in about 5 seconds if you need to take them off for some reason.

  • Ryan

    I have all my glock’s (21, 30, 17, 19) stippled, trigger guard undercut an finger grooves removed. I love the way I feels and for me improves the gun considerably. I live in Fort Worth and have Lone Star Armory work on all of mine. He does great work, fast turn around time and low price compared to others. Always was worried about shipping my guns off somewhere so it’s nice having a local place!

  • Dewane

    I like stippling on glocks but have not done it because of all the reasons above. The thing that I have found that will improve the grip on your glock and is cheap and easy is some black athletic tape. Just wrap the grip area and your done. It gives you good grip, and doesnt dig into your clothes or love handles like skate board tape.

  • Craig

    I’ve become interested in stippling as well after reading article in Recoil. Went and bought an ironbut haven’t given it a shot yet. Checked out Method Burn previously and they’re work looks great. Keep in mind besides the expense of ruining a Glock frame, it will void warranty as well.

  • Paul J Schonbrun DO

    Retired CMC ‘Snake’ from DevGru stippled my Glock 21 as a favor and I couldn’t be happier. It doesn’t slide around in my hand in any environment, the result is an aggressive, functional improvement in either gloved hands or bare and it looks great. Use the smallest tip available.


  • loyola

    If a stippling job does not prevent the polymer from becoming slippery when wet then it is far better to get grip decals. The biggest flaw in all polymer pistols is that the plastic gets extremely slippery when wet and I find that to be horrid for a gun and why I do not buy polymer pistols at all.

  • gage

    I did it and love it but I got a little too excited and did too much on the backstrap and managed to cut my hand while shooting so I had to file it down further.


    From my own personal experince:
    I have been stippling things for a few years now after deciding to break away from the good ole’ “grip tape” method of grip enhancement. Having been around and using grip tape extensively for over a decade for “extreme sports” and then applying it to firearms I formed sort of a love hate relationship through time.
    Yes its gritty, not permanent and customizable but it tends to chafe and eventually makes for some really grainy hands. Sweat, blood and other elements also can compromise the grit and can make for a slippery, rashy surface that is not freindly. If you wear gloves, the grip tape tends to “lint up” with particles from the glove material which also compromises the grit and the gloves integrity. I do still use grip tape on metal surfaces that can use a texture for gripping purposes. Certain grip tape is more gritty than others “Mob grip” being one of the better ones IMHO(they all wear down eventually).

    Stippling is something that takes the right tool, allot of patience and some balls. There is a technique to it and if you are not careful you can burn some big ugly craters in your rig and you will hate yourself for it. Its not taboo though and there is no magic to it. I started on items that wouldnt make me regret f****** them up first and then moved to my Surefire G2, knife handles, rockers on my Insight lights and so on, then to my firearms. I began using the basic soldering iron from walmart then I went through various different brands including some wood burning kits before settling on 2 different types. I use a basic pen style iron for detailed stippling and I use a pistol grip dual temperature iron for removing mistakes, reducing or reshaping the surface. This model has a “turbo button” :). Certain irons come with a plethora of attachments that can be used to really customize things. There are soldering guns and there are soldering irons… guns have more wattage and may end up destroying s*** so I always shoot for a soldering iron. The outcome depends on the tool and the level of patience. There is a level of art to it as well but you dont have to be an artist to be good at it. If you can trace a picture you can stipple.
    I try to keep the craters all going in the same direction and right next to each other so they all bleed in and are uniform. There are different attachments that give different patterns. Some provide only directional traction, like going with or against the grain. I prefer the “crater” pattern becuase its simple, effective, provides omni directional grit and easy to go over if there is a mistake or a change of heart.
    After the job is complete I do a “dawn test” were I rub Dawn dish soap on the surface and seek to disrupt my grip in various ways. I figure a little dish soap and water is slippery enough to test the texture effectively.
    Stippling also will keep the hands in a more pleasant condition to touch so the wife or that special someone doesnt shriek every time you touch their soft skin with those sand paper hands. Its also friendly on gloves and all other materials.
    Stippling is a very interesting subject that I have spent many hours on and I could ramble forever but I am going to pull the plug…. great topic of discussion guys.

  • JT Holden

    I work for Boeing and we use a Weller heat stake for certain plastic forming tasks. they are very easy to control.

  • I stipple all of my P-mags, I adjust the depth of the stippling by the amount of pressure I apply to the sodering iron using the pointed tip. The more pressure will give you a cats tongue like texture, a lighter pressure will give you a sand paper like quaility.

  • tom

    I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a while and just thought about it so if I’m behind……
    I have a wood burning kit, which has a heat control on the cord and several different tips with different patterns and points that probably would be better to work on plastic with than a soldering iron. I think you can get a plastic welding kit for it also. Similar to this Weller:

    I haven’t tried it on any plastic yet since my XDM is pre-stipled and I camo’ed the plastic on my AR. I have done some wood burning which came out really nice. THe ability to control the heat is key, though.

  • Thomas Benson

    I use a wood burning iron with many tips and before i did my Hi-Point 40 i did 2 pmags, a broken Playstation, 4 controllers for different systems, both the remote controls for my TV and Cable box, and pretty much any other piece of plastic that was cheap and replaceable.  After that i also used white nail polish to fill in all the factory engraving in the slide and mag,  and i also stippled the funky looking mag butt.  While i do agree that the Hi-Point is kind of an ugly beast,  after the 2 hours i put into the gun it looks freaking awesome.  Everyone that has seen it has offered me at least $300 for it.  Right now i am saving for more guns and collecting broken video game systems for practice and am sure my future guns will be just that much more awesome!!   BTW, good lighting, good ventilation, and 160 grit sand paper is HIGHLY recommended.  You don’t want to have to hold your face right over the work to see it,  and the fumes are burnt plastic,  and after your done, fondle it for a while and use the sand paper to ensure that the whole surface are as grippy as you want,  also if you mess up or decide you want it more grippy you can redo it, but I don’t recommend it as it will get kind of burnt and feel funky.  if your scared to customize your $600+ pistol’s frame,  get the Hi-Point and stipple that one,  you can easily find one used for under $200 and after you stipple it, fire hot loads through it and you shouldn’t have trouble, and if you do, mail it to the factory and they will fix it no questions asked.  And to those of you that are thinking im stupid and saying to never get a Hi-Point, check some reviews from people that have actually FIRED one, not just gun snobs.  They are not a glock or smith, but will get the job done in a pinch, and I strongly believe that EVERYONE that hasn’t lost the right to should have a gun for self defense.

  • Travis Kibel

    I did my own stippling on my G22 and it came out every bit as good as any professional service out there. I also did a high grip cut using a Dremel and it came out just as good as any professional job. I reduced the hump on the backstrap as well. The grip is much better than any factory grip on polymer framed pistols. I sanded all existing grip off of the gun just to be thorough. I got the gun to a smooth surface on the grip using 120, 220, 800, 1000, and then 2000 grit sandpaper. I did that so I was working on a suface that was the same on the entire frame. I did not need to sand anywhere that there was no existing grip. I then mapped out exactly where I wanted stippling and used a colored pencil to outline those areas. Then it was just stippling. I used a piece of thin metal to get my lines perfect on the bordering. The key to doing this is to practice alot on polymer material before ever doing the gun. I have alot of polymer gun cases so that is what I practiced on. I practiced for a week doing tons of different designs such as dragonscales, snakeskin, hexagons, bursts, and simple dots that were of varying degrees of agressiveness. This gave me a good idea of what design I wanted for the texture I was looking for. Some designs are more aggressive than others. Also, I bought 6 different tips because having the right tips is a key to doing more advanced designs. It took me 2 day’s to complete. That was with a lot of breaks, which is something I would suggest. If you burn too long, you tend to lose focus, and that is when mistakes happen. You have a one time shot at this. Also, my soldering iron was at over 900 degrees. As long as you use good touch, you will be fine. Keep that tip down too long and you will put a hole straight through your frame. If you are not comfortable with the thought of doing it yourself, don’t attempt it. I was quite comfortable after practicing.

  • Medic Matt

    Any dummy can poke holes in plastic and improve the grip. It takes patience, practice, and a steady hand to turn out quality work. I did this for a buddy recently.

  • bhizzle306

    Well I just started stippling and the first thing I did was the grip on my Russian SKS in the ATI dark earth strikeforce stock and it’s not perfect but hey it’s my first one and it’s better then grip tape.

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