The grip of your handgun is arguably one of its most important parts. It is the point at which you hold, control, and reload your firearm. A poor grip can mean malfunctions, poor accuracy, slow follow up shots, or the loss of your firearm in a struggle. If the gripping surface of the firearm doesn’t fit the shooter, a solid shooter’s grip can be harder to obtain and maintain.

Off-the-shelf modifications to the gripping surfaces of polymer framed handguns can include adding grip sleeves, changing back straps (if your handgun comes equipped with that option), or adding textured adhesives. There are numerous opinions on how to best customize your grip to your handgun, and different shooters need different things.

Another option is to permanently alter your firearm’s grip to better suit your hand. One method to accomplish that is through a professional grip reduction modification.

Bowie Tactical
Custom grip reductions by Bowie Tactical for a Glock 19 and Glock 42.

I spoke with David Bowie, the gunsmith behind Bowie Tactical Concepts who has been doing reduction work since 2000. He explained that a grip reduction is essentially what it sounds like: the removal of excess material on the gripping surface of a handgun, particularly the large hump on the lower backstrap of Glocks, though he’s also done reductions on Kahrs and XDs.

The empty space in the backstrap is filled in and then the grip is shaved down, rounded and re-textured. Some smiths add an additional coating to the gun, but not always. This process can accomplish several goals, many of them positive. If you’ve been considering having it done, here are some pros and cons of the procedure.

grip reduction bottom view
The backstrap area behind the magazine well on Glock pistols is an empty cavity(top). To reduce the overall grip size, that gap is filled with a compound that hardens to roughly the same consistency as the Glock frame. Then the original backstrap can be shaved away and the grip re-contoured to better fit the shooter. (bottom)

Handgun Grip Reduction Benefits

Better Fit For All Hands

Pistol manufacturers have caught on to the reality that not all of their customers have large hands. They have reduced the sizes of their grips and added interchangeable back straps to their handguns for the further customization of those who have medium to large hands.

There are those who still find the smallest models of particular handguns too large. Large palm swells can also compromise grips of shooters with large hands. The choice then becomes purchasing another firearm altogether or having a modification like a grip reduction done. If you are happy with all of the other aspects of a firearm such as controls, capacity, sights, maintenance and accessory selection, then perhaps a grip reduction is for you. It can certainly cost less than purchasing a whole new firearm.

Eliminate Finger Groves

Elimination of finger grooves can be part of a grip reduction modification, though its not technically “reducing” the grip. Not all firearms have finger grooves, and not all finger grooves are created equal. The ridges of Glock’s finger grooves are far more pronounced and pointed than H&Ks, which are more rounded and subtle.

The finger grooves on firearms–no matter the manufacturer–are notoriously over-sized, leaving people with average sized and small fingers to stack their fingers uncomfortably on bumps and grooves that don’t fit. Removing the finger grooves, as part of the grip reduction, in exchange for a smooth front strap can make for a far more comfortable shooting experience and better purchase on the grip.

HK P30
The finger grooves on the HK P30 are fairly subtle, but may still interfere with a good grip if your fingers don’t happen to line up with the grooves.

Change Natural Point Of Aim

The arguments surrounding back straps will likely be going on as long as we have handguns. Some who have very large hands feel more secure with greater surface area of the grip in contact with hands and the backstrap pressing into their palms. Others feel a large swell in the backstrap pushes off a natural point of aim and makes them shoot too high. One thing is for sure, removing a bulbous backstrap can certainly change the way a firearm sits in the hand. The grip can be narrowed out, giving it a more slender and cylindrical gripping surface, allowing the hand to roll around the back of the firearm for a more preferable shooting grip.

M&P Backstraps
Handgun manufacturers have recently begun incorporating interchangable backstraps into grip designs. These options allow the guns to fit a broader range of hand sizes, but some people will still find that aftermarket modifications are necessary.

Improve Trigger Finger Reach

Trigger finger reach is one of the most important factors in making sure a firearm fits correctly. With the center of the backstrap in the middle of the web of your shooting hand, and the slide lined up with the bones of the forearm, a shooter should be able to place the pad of his or her finger on the center of the trigger with some room to spare between the frame of the gun and the trigger finger. This allows the trigger finger to work the trigger smoothly without pushing the firearm.

The unmodified Glock grip (left) might look like a good fit, but the trigger reach is too far. The modified grip (right) allows for a more sure grip and proper placement of the finger on the trigger.

If the finger is too short or the grip too thick, the shooter can push the firearm or compromise the grip, leading to a breakdown in the stability of the shooting platform and malfunctions with the firearm–particularly lightweight firearms. This breakdown of the shooting platform is often called “limp wristing”, and the common advice to shooters is simply to hang on tighter.

Though that may help, shooters must also evaluate the alignment of the firearm in the hand in relation to the arm bones. If the shooter cannot reach the trigger with room to spare with the proper alignment, a smaller firearm may be necessary, or you may want to consider a grip reduction.

Allow for a more secure grip

The further away from the palm, the weaker your fingers become. In other words, it’s a lot harder to take a marble out of someone’s hand than a baseball. The same can be said of firearms. Narrow grips that let the fingers close more completely around the grip allow for better control than large grips that force the fingers away from their source of power–the palm.

Of course, if you want the most control you could go to a smaller, single stack firearm, or you may be able reduce the grip of one you already own.

grip reduction width comparison
A professional grip reduction can be tailored for each individual customer. The grip on the right still has some bulk on the backstrap for an overall circumference of 6 inches while the grip on the right has been reduced to a smaller 5.5 inches.

Custom Re-texturing

Any polymer firearm that has a grip reduction must have texture added to it again. Texture adds friction which can increase control by decreasing movement of the firearm in the hand. Depending on your needs and the services provided by whoever does your reduction, you can customize the aggressiveness of the texture.

Potential Negatives of Grip Reduction

While a grip reduction may have a lot of benefits for someone who wants to customize the grip of a gun they like, there are also some concerns one must think of before sending their gun off to a gunsmith or breaking out the dremel.  Here are the cons of a grip reduction.

Voided Warranty

If you alter the factory grip of your firearm, it will void your factory warranty. For some firearms and their owners, that’s a significant loss in the protection of the product. Good gunsmiths who perform reductions may guarantee their work, however, making the risk more palatable.

Damaged Frame and Shoddy Work

Despite guaranteed work, there is some risk in performing reductions, mostly in the way of frame structure and stability. More common is the lack of any real reduction having been done. Depending on the process a particular gunsmith uses, he may fill the backstrap, shave it down, and then add a textured coating that builds the back of the firearm back up to size of the standard firearm. In other reductions, the frame is not prepped properly, causing filler and coating materials to separate over time and risk the frame cracking with continued use.

1911 backstraps

Resale Value

Some people are lucky enough to find guns they want to keep forever, but many people revolve through their guns on a pretty regular basis. Having a grip reduction done by yourself or an unknown gunsmith will likely decrease the value of the firearm. On the other hand, there are gunsmiths out there–Bowie Tactical Concepts, Boresight Solutions and Robar–who do such quality work that their reductions may increase the value of the gun.

Wait Time/Price

If you aren’t brave enough to take on a grip reduction on your own, you’ll have to send your firearm off to a qualified gunsmith to do the work for you. This will cost you at least $100-$200 and won’t include any additional work you might want to get done in the process. It may cost less than a new gun, but its still not cheap, and, depending on who you send it to, you might have to wait several weeks to get it back again. It can be worth the investment, but, to some, the time spent away from their competition or carry gun is not worth the wait.

Bowie recommends fully vetting your potential reduction smith by looking at their business history, talking to individuals who own and shoot guns they’ve worked on, and scrutinizing photos of performed reductions. Photos that claim reductions have been done but large backstraps are still visible should be a warning sign that you might not be getting the work you are paying for.

A grip reduction isn’t for everyone, and not all firearms can be reduced. Some believe it’s a waste of time and money, and others have an almost religious fervor that particular firearms be left as stock as the day they left the factory. However, if you’re feeling your grip a little lacking or your point of aim a little high, a grip reduction might be something to consider.

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6 thoughts on “The Skinny on Handgun Grip Reductions

  1. Good article.

    To paraphrase OJ’s lawyer, “If the grip don’t fit, the target you will not hit”.

  2. on polymer framed guns does the reduction significantly weaken the frame so it is more easily damaged? like the trending acrtile of police department g22s with cracks in frame

  3. If you have to do so much work to a frame to get it to fit you, maybe you bought the wrong gun to start with.

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