Get a Grip

Yes, I’m playing with words again,, one of my favorite pastimes.

This is what may seem a rather mundane job. But the way it came about , what it’s for , when it’s needed, and possible future work I find fascinating. And a bit daunting. As usual my “stories” can be lengthy but this one needs telling…. as much as I’m allowed! What do I mean by allowed? Well my client is preparing a COMPLETELY  custom made gun. Due to the fact that this gun is slated for a grand unveiling and presentation and I can’t tell you where or when.  He represents a custom builder ,, has done all the market studies ( you wouldn’t believe what he’s told me the market is) Had pretty much every part on this gun custom made ( mostly by hand) this includes all the screws, ( all stainless , hand made , he sent me special ones for the grips) the barrel , trigger etc…EVERYTHING ,, as I said , custom and hand made.And he plans on a “production run” of this piece once completed and unveiled.And yes.. a piece like this commands a fair price.

So he needed a set of grips for this piece.That’s where I come in. He is based about 2500 miles from me . And due to a agreed upon “gag order” I’m limited to what I can say until after it’s unveiling,, only then will he fill me in on all the rest of the pertinent details beyond what I can say now. So…. he searched the web as he told me for two days looking for someone to build these special set of grips. And someone willing to fill future orders. He had already built a set of prototypes out of what seems to be a plastic type  material possibly a polymer of some sort. I like it, I want some. Now his business also has complete CNC capabilities,,,but since this is a hand built special edition piece,, he wanted hand made grips as well. So he decided not to do these in house. He contacted me instead from other articles I’d written about building gun grips. How he found these articles is beyond me,,but here we go.

Now many of our conversations took place fairly late at night. ( don’t guys like us ever sleep, it’s 2 AM?) Negotiating price,,wood,,time frames etc. that needed to be ironed out.  We ( he) decided on Cocobolo as it’s an incredible wood after a variety of suggestions.  The following day I caught up with him with a call and he was making a 3 hour round trip to select the piece of wood to send me. Now this is a bit unnerving as I’ll get this piece of wood,,and have basically only one shot at getting it right. No “do overs” . And I have less than a week to get it right,, and DONE! He’s working with a tight schedule to get this out by a particular time. If we miss this opportunity,, the next one is  almost a year or so away. So it’s now or nothing. And the market waits for no one! Now since he is with a major company,, and the time is within days,, and corporations usually bill on a 30 day schedule,, and I’m a new guy on the list ( like , last night,,new),, a corporate check wasn’t in the picture to get it cut for over night delivery with the  gun frame,parts, wood etc. that I’d be receiving SOOOO…” would it be OK with you if I just Fed-Ex all the parts, wood etc . and cash in the same package?”   “Well sure,, I’ll take that” as I told him I don’t work without a deposit. So he sent me the entire invoice.  OK,,, we’re good to go.

My heart is in my throat!

He,, as well as I ,, have quite a bit riding on all this.

Gun grips!

OK Mark,,, get a grip on YOURSELF!

I haven’t been able to relax since our first conversations ,,, and there isn’t much that intimidates me. But for some reason this was driving me insane. Pressure is one thing,  I don’t mind it. But for some reason this was weighing on my mind. I’ve built grips for many of my own guns but this is different. I can’t make a mistake. I have no time. I don’t have extra wood. I either do it right the first time or I don’t do it at all. And with a piece like this , as opposed to a carving,, you can’t hide anything , anywhere. Either the joints are correct or they aren’t. They either match exactly his prototype or they don’t. A piece this small and intricate is out there for all the world to see ( almost literally , once it’s unveiled photographed and published) and no mistakes are allowed simply because it’s all so visible.  If I’d be carving a flower there is really no right or wrong.  Here ,, it’s right ,, or it’s wrong. And there is too much riding on this for him,, as well as myself to allow a single flaw.Fun HUH?

Pressure,, isn’t it great! I was going nuts,, but I love it. Makes you feel alive. Focused. But I couldn’t focus. And it only got worse with my first move!

Oh great Mark,, now what did you do?

Screwed up is what I did.

Now this is a highly modified frame as a base. He also sent to me, along with his prototype grips,a set that are  a factory originals. Now these are old originals that I found out were not his after I screwed up. Now his prototypes were good,, but didn’t provide me with the necessary info that I needed to make a great set of grips that would fit better than his prototypes. So what did I do?  I modified the original grips to match the modified frame to see what the factory allowed for clearances. Seems logical right? Wrong! He borrowed the original grips,, didn’t want them changed,, and I went and changed them! A minor change to me,, but all he heard was that I cut the grips he sent me. A really big OOPS! Too late.Hearing the disappointment in his voice over the phone I could only cringe. But with the time constraints, lack of parts I needed to check for as clearance goes I needed to see what the factory allowed for. So,, modify the originals to see what I needed to see.

Turns out , once I sent him photo’s of what modifications I made he agreed that it was a good call and he would have made the same call himself. Maybe he was just being gracious,, but I think he meant it once he realized I didn’t have all the parts or information I needed. And the modification was so slight,,,but all he heard up to this point was CUT!  So what’s a carver to do? You want your grips,, this is what I have to do. And I did offer to find and replace the originals with a duplicate set at my expense.  Ahhh the cost of doing business. I really don’t care.

At the same time though,, I’ve been calling every gun shop in the area looking for the parts I need to check that my work fits the gun. Magazine,, slide, mag catch etc.

I want this to be PERFECT!  Nothing less will do.

And so the drama builds.

After getting his package and opening it, my heart was in my throat. Why , I don’t know. I left it sit for a day. I had to.I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t relax into the job.  I can’t relax until I start it though. So the only thing is to start. And my start as I said was my mistake. But I rectified my mistake. Once into the job I was hitting my stride. I first made a set of mock ups or prototypes that defined all the pertinent details that I needed to have. The outside insn’t important to me,, that’s the easy part. How they fit to the gun and locate themselves is what matters to me the most. To me if they don’t snap into place I’ve lost the race. They have to fit without using screws or anything to hold them there. They have to fit that tightly. And that’s no easy task. Especially when you’re fitting to a piece you can’t really make a pattern for. You’re building to parameters unknown. You know them only by speculation, intuition and a good guess. Nothing is measurable for all intent and purposes. You feel the carving,, you don’t measure it.

And the prototypes fit like the proverbial glove. I had a hard time getting them off the gun even one at a time. I like that. I now know I can do this without messing up his block of wood.I did these in Mahogany. If I messed up , I didn’t care. And if they came out fine,, I now know what to do and what areas to be attentive to. All the questions have been answered in my mind. I see the sequence of events that lead to a set of grips.

Now all I have to do is to do it a second time with the actual wood  to be used.

And I did it better than the first.Now I’m happy and having fun. This is going to be better than I thought. My grips look better than his. They are fitting great!  Yippeee..

Doesn’t take much to make me happy, but I am. A set of grips.

Follow along with some pictures to describe what I’ve been talking about. Yes, it looks simple enough.. and that’s the deception. But a couple of chisels, a router and saw and I have all I need to build these things. Planning and thought superseeds all the tools  you think you need.

Enough talk for now,,lets see some pictures.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dorisfiebig
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 19:56:06

    wow, mark, congratulations ! that was the most exciting story about carving a piece i ever had read… and, i am not a gun person, actually dislike them, but it was truely amazing to watch you fit that grip, with no seam showing. well done !! on to more ! thanks for sharing your excitement


    • markyundt
      Jun 04, 2009 @ 06:22:40

      Thanks Doris. That means a lot especially from a person who doesn’t like guns. At least you took the time to read the story, give it a chance and recognize it for what it is. Thank you again.


  2. Russ Lavigne
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 14:11:22


    Thanks for taking the time to tell & show this story. It’s better than fiction. What a great story of craft & skill.
    Your work really is “knock-out” stuff! The versatility and expertise leaves us all pretty much speechless.
    I could apprentice for the rest of my remaining years and still find you light years out in front.
    Thanks again for sharing it all so freely.



    • markyundt
      Jun 04, 2009 @ 16:22:56

      Russ,,thank you very much! Staying open to new possibilities is what makes it possible. As I’ve stated in some of my articles I never know what the next job will require.Rising to these challenges is what makes this line of work so much fun for me. It’s similar to standing in line at a buffet,,,you want to sample it all.And I do make a pig out of myself in both situations!
      But I never let the “work” become actual work. If and when it does, I’m doing something wrong. Work is something you HAVE to do,,play is something you WANT to do and that makes all the difference where creativity is concerned.I want to play at doing this work. Actually I haven’t worked a day in the last 17 yrs. There is no pressure in play..and this job I almost let slip into work mode. I had to start playing with it which allowed me to relax into it. Once you relax into a project your mind is set free to see everything at once.
      It’s almost like gathering light. The rays disperse everywhere illuminating everything in it’s reach. This is the knowledge we have about many things. Once you focus it and direct it at one specific thing as if through a magnifying glass all the “tricks in your bag” , Your knowledge,,gets focused on one point and can create a fire that burns with passion and becomes all consuming. That’s focus. Everything you need is right there in that one spot.

      Now I’m in no way suggesting I’m a master at anything but I’ve read recently in a wonderful book about mindfulness and meaningful work about the differences between an apprentice and a master.

      The apprentice tries to remember everything his master told him,, the master simply focuses on his craft.
      No thought,,just focus.

      And the fire is lit.


  3. john
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 10:58:40

    As an apprentice, 2nd. year I can only get to the idea of focus. Guns, well they seem to be used to kill. I worked and lived in a unpleasant part of Africa, while others carried I’d a German Shepherd. Enough said.


    • markyundt
      Jun 16, 2009 @ 15:00:53

      Hi John,
      Guns are a polarizing topic. It’s usually love ’em or hate ’em. I understand your position. I considered this when posting but thought the wood,, the techniques etc. might benefit a woodworker in some way regardless of their position. Then too there are many who enjoy guns just as a sport for plinking or targets. It’s all in the way we use things. And there are far too many things that man has created ,,,that creates misery.
      Focus on getting to focus.


  4. Leatherwood
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 12:18:02


    Your story is better than high-noon gunfight with all the tension and the key to being first is in this case, go S L O W! I found you on the woodcarvingillustrated site, you had made a comment to Stickman regarding making pistol grips. I’m in that process with Red Oak and Oystershell inlay. Been working weeks on the wood and shell, all by hand. So, I can get into the role of the reader as well as the writer of your story. I haven’t seen all the pics here yet, of the grips, just stopped to say Thanks and I’m going to the next pic.


  5. Mark
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 15:47:57

    Thanks Leatherwood! I’ve made quite a few grips for a variety of guns. This one, since it wasn’t for me had a bit more tension built into it. But once I started everything went just fine. I saw your post on the site and it looks interesting. Hope everything goes well as I’m sure it will. Don’t forget to post some pics of your final grips.
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It’s appreciated very much.


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