Aftermarket handgun grips can help improve your shooting, and LOK Grips are some of the best available.
Within the past decade, there’s been a significant trend toward both modularity and ergonomics—not just in relation to rifles, but all the way down to pocket pistols. The ability of the individual to quickly fit a gun to their hand—in the comfort of their home—is a relatively new field; until recently, it was the territory of custom houses and gunsmiths.
The science of grip making is on the upswing, and every day there are new materials being tested and new means of manufacture.
A Grip On History
Historically, there were only a few common types of grip materials. The most common of these was wood, the second being hard rubber. Of course, throughout the years, there were always grips made out of materials like ivory, bone and various early plastics, but for the most part, walnut was the go-to material. Wood grips are still, of course, very valid today, and it could be argued that they’re still the most attractive type of grip. They are, however, not exceptionally durable and are usually the first thing to break given enough time and wear.
The interesting thing about pistols is that, for much of history, there wasn’t a particular emphasis placed on how people interfaced with them. In previous issues of Gun Digest, I’ve talked about the fact that, despite the insistence of some individuals and supposed common knowledge, most pistols weren’t designed with the human hand in mind. Many guns, even ones such as the famous single-action army revolver, weren’t inherently designed to have the properties that were later assigned to them.
You’ve likely heard the whole “it rolls under recoil,” but this isn’t something that it was designed for as much as something it did spontaneously with powerful cartridges. Historically speaking, that grip shape is an evolution of Colt’s designs across decades—in a sense, it’s a highly refined appendix. It wasn’t until much later when the Bisley-style grip came out that significant emphasis was placed on how the gun fit in the hand.
Most of the designs that existed up until quite recently focused on the firing mechanism of the gun itself. This is why you see such a random disparity in grip shapes and the placement of those grips across the past 150 years. There have, of course, been very successful designs, such as the C96 “Broomhandle,” but you can’t really call that design a complete ergonomic masterpiece.
Really, what you see with these designs is an intentionally created feeding and firing mechanism that then has to be adapted to work in practicality … meaning that a person has to hold onto it and fire it. Sometimes, it appears that the designers simply added whatever grip they could onto their mechanism as opposed to designing a gun from the ground up around the hand.
Popular designs, such as the 1911, have always lent themselves to a bit more customization. However, because the frame is a relatively static set of dimensions, some people have a hard time with the size front-to-back, as opposed to just its width. These fixed dimensions essentially preclude a large amount of the population from being able to comfortably use this everyday firearm. I’ve heard it many times: “I shoot a 1911 well because I have large hands.”
Likewise, many service members I’ve known over the years have expressed disdain for the Beretta M9 due to its relatively large grip area. As women have become a major share of the gun market, we’ve seen a wide-reaching set of characteristic changes corresponding to the uptick in them carrying concealed, and their increased presence at the range and in competitions.
I’ve been paying close attention to this subset for more than 15 years, and I’ve noticed that not only are modular options increasing, but they’re also becoming much more common in far smaller guns. As a male-dominated industry for almost its entire existence, it cannot be coincidence that this change has come at the time when women are carrying guns in greater numbers than ever. In short, there are more hands than ever on more guns than ever, and those hands aren’t fond of one-size-fits-all solutions.
The advent of the “chassis pistol” has had a significant impact on handgun ergonomics. Sig Sauer has led the way on this type of gun; it could be described as a serialized internal module that can accept un-serialized grip frames. Without this, we wouldn’t be seeing what we have today. Not only can you change the grip size, but you can also change the entire shape of the lower half of the gun. You can also do it inexpensively and immediately. Guns like the P320 and P365 can be instantly modified with a few tools and no gunsmithing experience. It’s a drop-in proposition to change out the entire group module.
I recall when Sig released the metal AXG module. This design didn’t just have a metal construction, it had interchangeable parts on the module itself. This meant that not only could you swap it out instantly, but you could also swap out the parts on it to change the texture and thickness. This wasn’t just an attempt to make a crossover between the old P226 and P229 lines; it changed the game. The P320 is the most user-friendly pistol ever made, and lots of companies capitalize on that, surprisingly with Sig’s up-front support.
Kicking It Old School
Companies like Hogue and Pachmayr are the category mainstays of production gun grips. As polymers and rubbers became more feasible, the late 1970s and into the 1980s saw a widespread adoption of these materials. The first gun to benefit from rubber grips were models that had a large degree of recoil … especially the popular double-action revolvers of the day chambered in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and .41 Magnum. These groups featured a hard plastic core that rubber was molded over. Because the rubber had a degree of cushion, it could absorb some of the sharpness of recoil.
While various types of early plastics have been used for grips for decades, the 1980s saw this material reach a level of maturity and take over wood on virtually all military handguns. While not the first American military weapon to feature synthetic furniture, the Beretta M9 was the first pistol in widespread military use stateside without wood grips.
The 1980s would also see the explosion in popularity of guns that had one-piece frames, such as Glock and HK. Guns like the G17 and USP set the stage for virtually all pistols released from then on, and it’s only today that we’re seeing a return to metal frames.
Companies like Hogue have introduced many modern materials into their lineup, but they’re still one of the prominent makers of rubber-coated aftermarket grips. I’ve never cared for the cosmetics of rubber grips, though I do admit that whenever I’ve fired a big-bore revolver, I’m reminded that looks aren’t everything. There’s something to be said about the end-use of a gun, and while I probably wouldn’t make a point to show it off the same way I would fancy hardwood, I’d very much prefer a set of Hogue rubber grips on a field revolver.
LOK Grips And The New Frontier of Grip-Making
Started as a small, part-time shop making 1911 grips, LOK Grips has since grown into one of the industry’s premier grip makers and now boasts a sprawling production floor running two shifts to feed more than 100 dealers worldwide. They work closely with companies such as Sig Sauer, Kimber, Walther and more, as well as supporting grip production for smaller companies like Live Free Armory and Mischief Machine. They make grips for a massive number of guns and individual models including various IWI, Beretta, CZ, Laugo Arms and Taurus pistols, as well as mainstays like the 1911.
What separates LOK Grips from many others is that they employ a full design team, as well as a full inventory of the actual firearms they make grips for. Because of this, they’re able to quickly address the market and shooter demand, nearly in real time. The marketing and design team at LOK is constantly in touch with hundreds of competition shooters, industry professionals and influencers. It’s an ingenious strategy, and one that has played out well for them given that their products are in use by some of the best shooters in the world.
Because of how modular different types of guns are nowadays, the engineers at LOK are able to design various sizes of not just grip panels, but specific individual parts on the modular setups, meaning that you can custom order different shapes and swells that will allow your pistol of choice to conform closely to your hand. If you’re shooting competition, having a grip matched to your hand is of utmost importance, as you need to know exactly where it’s pointing without having to fight its rotation or torque under recoil.
G10 is the primary material used by LOK. Contrary to popular belief, this material isn’t plastic; rather, it’s an extremely strong form of layered fiberglass. It’s much stronger than simple polymer or Micarta, which itself is a tightly packed set of layers comprised of epoxy and cloth fabric. In regard to durability, G10 is far superior to wood or any of the other listed materials. It doesn’t swell or take on moisture, nor does it become tacky or easily rip or crack like rubber. Guns equipped with G10 grips will maintain their texture and feel, even in rain and mud. Because they’re not painted, the G10 colors last much longer and will not wear like wood or scuff like plastic.
In addition to making grips from the excellent G10 material, LOK also makes some very interesting and advanced metal grips. Of particular interest are their grips made of machined brass. A rather unique product, LOK introduced these in 2020. As a testament to their ability to quickly react to changes in the market when the USPSA guidelines changed the upper weight limit to 59 ounces for competition, LOK ordered brass that day and had prototypes ready almost immediately.
The extra weight of these metal grips has been a game changer for competitors, and the company has begun making brass grip parts for a large number of guns. In theory, if you were trying to stay within the weight limit, you could combine the brass elements with LOK’s aluminum parts to perfectly balance the gun and fit the grip to your hand. The possibilities are endless.
Adding to their portfolio is their hybridized grips that feature metal construction with G10 inlay, as well as a custom shop that allows you to design your own grips that can include anything from logos, pop-culture icons and text. The sky and your imagination are the limit on what you can do.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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