Need Input on my DIY Grips : Bersa Thunder 380


January 17, 2004, 02:16 AM
I don't know what I may have gotten myself into.

I decided early on to indulge in a pair of DIY wooden grips for my Bersa Thunder 380, as the factory grips make it impossible for my small strong-hand to easily/quickly manipulate the magazine release button.

As plain as the wood is, there's some poetry in the fact that it comes from a piece of scrap lumber I used to defend myself (in combination with a knife) against armed assault --the very experience that convinced me to purchase my first pistol, the Bersa Thunder 380 shown below with the grips in their present state:

To make the grips I used an NT safety cutter and sandpaper, with a power drill to execute the screwholes and pin recesses. Some of custom reliefs made to fit my hand(s) better resulted in severely thin sections of wood. The unlacquered grip panel viewed from above shows some of these thin sections --especially where the grip hovers over the slide-release lever's downward tang:
I had already tested the raw-wood grips live-fire to my satisfaction.

Here's the problem --without first asking around, I used a high-gloss, lacquer-type sanding sealer (it was what was on hand) for finishing. I did the workshop drill:
lacquer, dry, then sand... lacquer, dry, then sand... lacquer, dry, then nauseam.
I had to stop for fear of a THICK finish cracking under imagined recoil-flexure (is this a valid concern?), and out of concern that lacquer might not stand up to moisture, shock, etc...

My questions:

1. Did I screw up by choosing a lacquer-base finish? What finish(es) would normally be applied to wood grips?
2. If lacquer IS used on grips, is it a fairly thin deal, or can it be built up thick?
3. What's the downside to leaving the finish glossy vs. sanding it down to matte? Why?

I certainly will make another pair of grip panels, and I'm fairly sure it will go much faster for all the trial-and-error lessons learned the first time around.
But right now, this is my first pistol and my first attempt at DIY grips (heck, this was my first carving and lacquer project since a pencil holder way back in 6th grade shop) please go easy on the mistakes I must have made.


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January 17, 2004, 03:01 AM
Other than that I don't know :cuss:

January 17, 2004, 04:00 AM
I like birchwood casey's "tru oil "finish. It is a polyurethane finish that goes on easy and is almost indestructible. I put it on a ruger rifle 20 years ago, and it is still very shiny, and only two nicks show after all this time. If you do not want it shiny, just break the gloss with superfine steel wool.
There is only one person that needs to like it, and you can see him in the mirror in your bathroom, our opinions are just opinions.

Please yourself. your choice is what is right, for you.:)

January 17, 2004, 04:10 AM
Thanks for the thoughts, Ron and ksntm...

I wasn't worried about whether others might like or dislike the finish, though :)

I was concerned about whether lacquer is a practical finish for a wooden grip.
Doesn't sweat whiten lacquer?
Does it crack in the course of firearm use?
Is gloss more prone to fracture than buffed-matte?
That sort of thing.

Indeed, one mistake has already been uncovered thus far:
I feel miserable for not having opted to ask around first, and thus used polyurethane instead...

January 17, 2004, 06:40 AM
Get yourself a small bottle of guitar polish. That'll help protect the lacquer from wearing. It will also help prevent them from getting sticky with sweaty hands.

January 17, 2004, 09:56 AM
You did a mighty fine job. Looks good.

If you're ever in the mood for expanding your expierence, I have a need for a set of custom grips for my SA Micro .45.:p

January 17, 2004, 10:28 AM
These are some good questions horge. I've been thinking of taking on the same type of project for my Sig p239.

Artisticly, I like the lite colored wood with the stainless steel frame, but I think the high gloss demands all the attention. Maybe a mat finish on the grip would tie the pistol together as one piece of art.

You know as usual that's just my opinion.:D

Good job on those BTW.

January 17, 2004, 12:41 PM
Hi horge,

I don't know anything about wood so can't comment on that.

But, you did a beautiful job! I am greatly impressed!


January 17, 2004, 05:34 PM
Thanks for the comments.

Mr. Bear, my thanks.
I'm afraid I won't be able to find 'guitar polish' around here.
(I have an old Fender Telecaster, and frequent the music shops for stuff)
I'll try the web for info on it's composition, and then try to find an analog/equivalent material to use.

I also received a PM from Hal, who pointed out that sanding sealer is meant as just that: a sealer. A 'topcoat' of proper finishing lacquer is necessary --with regular waxing (like the guitar polish, perhaps?) for maintenance.

I've clearly missed a chance to use polyurethane :rolleyes:
That'll have to be for the next pair of grip panels
(and some nicer wood, I guess).
:banghead: :banghead: :banghead:


January 17, 2004, 08:27 PM
Yes good work. Can't help though.

January 18, 2004, 02:09 PM
If you can't get Guitar Polish just use Lemon Pledge.

January 18, 2004, 06:09 PM

:) :) :) :) :)
Mr. Bear,
Maraming salamat, po!
(Much thanks, sir!)

January 18, 2004, 09:17 PM
Horge – Outstanding work.
I used to run an office furniture repair and fabrication shop, so while I have some experience with wood, most of it is not firearms related.
Lacquer can turn milky with heat and moisture, protecting with wax will help.
The lacquer sanding sealer can be removed with solvent. This will cause the grain to rise so it will need to be smoothed. After removing the sealer let the wood set for a few days to a week or so to allow the volatiles to completely evaporate.
Urethane spar varnish is a finish that resists weather and contact well. Wax, usually carnuba, is often used for handgun stocks – I believe that this is the finish that Hogue uses. Oil - linseed, tung or one of the synthetics – is the traditional finish for long arms.
If the Bersa will be in an area with high humidity finishing all sides and edges will help to keep swelling and warping to a minimum.

January 18, 2004, 09:57 PM
My thanks to you, Maddock!

:) :) :)

I've already started carving two more pairs of grip panels,
and I've bought myself a small tin of polyurethane varnish.

I will eventually need to find a less painful carving tool, though.
The back of a safety-cutter blade, is too narrow for my supporting thumb
to bear comfortably for very long. I have to wrap a strip of rag around the thumb as padding to be able to work longer.

Tung oil is hard to obtain in small quantities here, but maybe I'll spring
for the big cans that are available.

Again, thanks


January 20, 2004, 09:51 PM
You did that with a “safety-cutter blade”? As in a box-cutter? Or Xacto knife?
I bow before you!

January 20, 2004, 10:30 PM
Yes, an NT " safety cutter" (like below)

and sandpaper, and lots of spare time :D

I start by sawing a small rectangular piece off a plank, and it's all whittling into the correct outline, and on to the correct shape, then sanding like my life depended on it. It takes awhile to do

The narrow rear of the blade is supported by the thumb during preliminary whittling, and after a while it can get real painful (hence the resort to a cloth padding strip wrapped around the thumb). But the sharpness of a safety cutter simply cannot be beaten for shaving finely on a curve.

Carving/sanding one pair of grips generates an unbelievable amount of shavings and wood-dust --something on the order of filling an 8 gallon bucket or two. I wish I had a drill press, because the reliefs for pins protruding from the frame can come dangerously close to punching through the grip panel. I also had to take the drill bit and break it for a flatter point --the tapered point would have punched through the grip panel, before the full diameter of the bit ever left a proper-width recess in the wood.

Ermmm....I think I should document the work on these two pairs I've just started. Might make an interesting webpage feature...hehehe.

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