How I made a half-way decent grip.
By Larry Lohkamp

Thin glove - latex or nitrile rubber that will fit the hand tightly.
Lipstick of a nice contrasting color or other spotting compound.
Hand grinder with a sanding drum, coarse and fine drums.
Dust mask
Medium and fine grit sand paper
AMU manual
Carving or grinding:

Working wood with chisels and gouges can be an inspirational experience, or a nightmare. I have used edge tools to shape grips, especially when starting from raw blocks of wood. The trouble with edge tools is getting them sharp and keeping them that way. It takes a fair amount of skill to keep the tools in good working order. Nothing destroys wood and fingers faster than a dull chisel. A hand grinder with an abrasive drum is slower and dirtier, but sharpening is as simple as changing the abrasive sleeve. Grinding out a whole grip from blocks would be a daunting experience. Fortunately for us, Baikal has done most of the heavy duty shaping. A modification project is really the domain of the grinder.

Before you start:

The IZH grips are big for most shooters. The Russians make them this way on purpose. They expect you to customize the way the grip fits your hand. Shoot the gun for a hundred or two rounds to get a feel for the grip. Note the parts of your hand that feel stretched, or pinched. Make notes so that you don't forget when you get home. Most of the fitting is done with the palm rest removed.

Pointing the gun:

The first task is to make the gun point. When you close your eyes and raise the pistol to your NPA, the pistol should point at the black AND the sights should be aligned (dot in the center of the tube). Iron sights work best for this. Taking any optical sight off during fitting is a good idea anyway. The entire process is dust intensive. Your scope doesn't need to be subjected to it. The gun will point too far to the right for nearly everyone. Moving the front sight to the left is accomplished by modifying the curved area where the fleshy part of the thumb fits and the vertical portion that rests against the heel of the palm.

Pull a glove onto the shooting hand and apply spotting compound to the heel of the hand and thumb. Assume a normal shooting position without the gun in your hand. Lower your arm without moving the wrist and fit the gun into your hand. Spread the thumb and trigger finger as described in the AMU manual. Keep the muzzle high so that the spotting compound will not touch the grip yet. Fit the grip into the web of the hand, being careful to have the angles of the gun, hand, and forearm in the correct relationship for how you shoot. Rotate the muzzle down to force the grip against the heel of the hand and transfer the spotting compound. Don't try to complete the grip. To do so will make your hand slip on the surface of the grip and smear the initial contact points. Remove the gun from your hand, set aside and carefully remove the glove, right side out. You will need the glove again.

Examine the grip. There will be marks from the spotting compound wherever your hand touched the grip. Use a hand grinder and coarse grits to grind away some of the wood where the spotting compound is. Remove only a small amount and be careful when working near exposed parts of the frame. You don't want to have to get the gun refinished just yet. Try the grip in your bare hand. It will very likely need more material removed. Put the glove back on and repeat the transfer and removal procedure. Repeat the process until the grip feels comfortable against the heel of the palm and thumb, and the gun points properly.

The thumb rest:

Part of the process of pointing the gun involves increasing the opening between frame extension that holds the rear sight and where the base of the thumb sits. You may have wondered why you shouldn't just grind away part of the grip extensions that run back along the frame to get the same effect. If you look at the shape of the area under the rear sight, you will notice that the wood and metal form a curved profile. The curve of the grip and frame match the shape of the fleshy area just behind the base joint of the thumb. Flattening the wood extensions to gain thumb clearance would change the contact with that part of the hand and make the gun less stable in the hand. The process of opening up thumb clearance from the bottom has the side effect of lowering where the thumb groove on the left grip panel needs to be. You will probably want to change the thumb groove anyway. Some shooters like their thumb to point up a bit while others like more of a pointy-down thumb. You can shoot a 22 reasonably effectively with no thumb pressure at all so I don't see why you shouldn't position the thumb groove wherever it feels comfortable.

Use a new glove if the old one is contaminated with chips and sawdust (washing is an option for lipstick). Put the glove on and apply spotting compound to the web of the hand and the part of the thumb that touches the grip. Fit the grip into the web of the hand as before and close the thumb and trigger finger to pinch the grip between them. Remove wood until the thumb feels comfortable against the side of the grip. Most of the wood should come off the thumb groove. Remove wood from the base of the thumb area only to avoid removing material from the area under the rear sight. Keep in mind that changing the contact of the base of the thumb will affect the way the gun points. You want to lower the contact points rather than move it sideways. Be careful not to remove so much material that you break through to the frame. The thumb should feel comfortable and the gun should point well. The grip will feel overly full in your hand until the trigger finger is done.

Trigger finger:

The frame extension should rest solidly against the top of the hand up to the first joint of the trigger finger. The rest of the trigger finger is a matter of taste. Some shooters will like the trigger finger to lightly touch the wood, while others will want no contact at all. I feel that it is more a matter of personal opinion than hard rule. If you are not sure which way to go, then it might be a good idea to leave some excess wood for now. The important thing to achieve before leaving the trigger finger area is to have the grip narrow enough that it feels comfortable. Use your glove and spotting compound to tell you where to take off wood. Now might also be a good time to play with the trigger position. Trigger position can have a large effect on where the bullets go and how much wood you will need to take off the grip to position the finger correctly. Keep in mind that the grip can not wrap over the top (see the rule book). At this point the grip should feel much better and almost want to sit on your hand.

The palm swell:

First things first. You will probably have to take care of that projection between your trigger finger and your middle finger. The middle finger should snug up against the bottom of the trigger guard. The projection can get in the way and produce blisters quite quickly.

Creating a palm swell is really creating depressions for the heel of the hand and the pads under the knuckles. Real grip makers seem to be able to do this from measurements, but I usually fail miserably when I try it that way. Get out your glove and apply compound to the heel and knuckle pads (is there a name for that part of the hand?). Grab the grip and take off a little wood. This is where having seen a Morinni grip or preferably picked one up will really help. If you can't get to a well-built grip to see what I'm talking about, then you should invest in something like grease clay or one of the polymer clays from a craft store. Apply a quarter inch or so to the grip and give it a good squeeze. Squeeze it hard enough to force the clay into the grooves between your fingers. Carefully remove your hand and examine the shape that is left. The crease where your fingers bend should be quite prominent. You want to recreate that shape in wood. These two depressions, along with area for the base of the thumb will suck your hand into the same position on the grip each time.

You are mostly done with removing wood. The grip should be feeling fairly secure. Now might be a good time to take the grip to the range and shoot a few rounds. Put the palm rest back and snug it up to your hand. My preference for the palm rest is to lay the pistol on its side, grasping the grip lightly, then slide the palm rest up until it slightly compresses the hand. Hold the palm rest in place with your free hand. Then tighten up the screw. When you re-grasp the pistol and squeeze it real good, the hand will be compressed between the upper frame extension and the palm rest. Check how the gun points for you and how well the trigger finger works. Go back and rework the parts of the grip that need changing.

Finger grooves:

This is really an optional part of shaping the grip. I like finger grooves. They help put you hand in the same place each time. Lots of other shooters feel the same way. Lots of others don't. The shape of the front of the IZH grip is usually close to ideal. The area that would be the front strap on a 45 should be flat and at a right angle to the bore. The area on either side of the front flat should angle back at a 45-degree angle, maybe a little less. Nygord's notes talks about this shape better than I do and you really should look up his web site. Running a pencil between your fingers marks the finger grooves. Wood is then removed to accommodate each finger. It is usually better to work each finger groove down a little, then go back, and take more off until it fits right. You do not want to disturb the depression that you previously cut along the front of the grip. You also want to leave enough wood so that the middle segment of your fingers applies pressure on the front of the grip.

Palm Shelf:

Okay! The gun should feel pretty good by now. Gripping the gun should be much more consistent and the sights should line up with little or no adjustment. The gun should just kind of sit there in your hand. As stated before the palm shelf should be set so that it provides solid support when you squeeze your hand. This is all you cand do with the shelf if you are shooting international style competitions. Those of us that shoot bullseye (conventional pistol) get a little bonus, actually a big bonus. The NRA conventional pistol rules allow a rise of 1-inch at the outside of the shelf. The rule book has a nice diagram that shows this. The rise makes your grip more like the ones the free pistol shooters use. It can be so solid that you can only hold your pistol one way. The Russian palm shelf is to wimpy to convert so you might as well save it as-is in case you ever want to shoot standard pistol. It is a royal pin to cut a new shelf unless you have a band saw, but it is well worth the effort. Use the original shelf a pattern to fit the new one to the grip and to get the general shape right. You want the new shelf to stick out farther from the grip - about half an inch. You also want area behind the screw hole to thicker (vertical direction) - half to three-quarters of an inch.

The fitting procedure is straight forward and more of the same. Grip the gun, put spotting material where the shelf will touch, push the shelf against the hand, then grind away some wood. Your hand will slowly sink into the shelf. You will have to relieve the inside rear corner so that the shelf doesn't dig into your hand. Be careful to keep the rear of the shelf away from the wrist. Screw the shelf down and try it out periodically so that you don't get off track. As the shelf starts to enclose the rear portion of your hand, you will find that you have to slide your hand into the grip instead of just grabbing it. shoot the gun for a while to see how things fit and remove wood where needed.

Making the darned thing bigger again:

I believe that it was the grip man that told me that he didn't like working with the stock russian grips. He felt that there wasn't enough wood to do the job right. I agree with him. The Russians left us with a bunch of wood to take off, but there are places where there could have been more to start with. You will also find that you have gotten carried away at times and removed too much. If the gun wants to twist on you, feels insecure, or feels loose in places, you need to add some bulk. There are many ideas about what material to use. I needed very little ad-on, so I used a little Sculpy-III polymer clay. Bondo, plastic wood, and Hamereli grip paste are good if you have quite a bit to add.

I like to use the polymer clay to build trial fills before I go through the trouble of adding the more permanent materials. Adding too much means that you have to grind more off, which can be a vicious circle if you don't think things through first. The polymer clays are also firm enough that you can shoot the gun for a while with them on, before committing to a more permanent solution.

[posted on 4/3/01 by permission of the author]