Inspiring thought for gunsmiths on how they can add or improve stippling services to their customers. Labor + Simple Tooling = Profits!
by Micah Huyett
I started my modest home-based business (Oregon Trail Defense, OTDefense.com, 541/566-6908) after retiring as a Marine Scout Sniper and as a sideline to my career as a medical professional. I love helping people learn how to do things more efficiently. OT Defense started with the invention of a small part fixing a problem I had with Safariland ALS holsters. All my buddies wanted me to fix their holsters as well, so that spawned the idea of making a bunch and selling them. That little idea, called the Nub Mod, started off well on our newly-made website.
At the time, I was also stippling my Glocks, primarily to provide a better grip and playing with enhancing their looks by using a waffle tip I had hand-made with a file. I liked the texture and the fact I could rapidly apply it to my Glock instead of taking a single point and spending four hours on one gun like others were doing. I thought, “Surely I’m not the only one sick of hand-filing tips?”
So, we started with a small run of 20 Line Per Inch Waffle Tips to test the waters, then another and so on. Three years later, OT Defense offers about 30 tips designed specifically for melting polymers with more in the works all the time. We also sell our own burners, practice material, etc. All of our products are made in the USA – from the product itself to the packaging. We are constantly getting feedback from both gunsmiths and DIY gun owners who use our products and strive to provide our customers with what they want.
Your Own Customers
Hopefully this bit of back-story on OT Defense will help show you what we learned about polymer stippling from the ground-up and how we based our tools around real world needs as a gunsmith and business owner. It’s about giving people what they want. A goal of any business is to fill a niche where the demand exists and the fulfillment doesn’t. Stippling is one of those niches and it’s relatively simple and cost effective to venture into.
For any gun store or gunsmith, stippling may be something you can add to your services. If you’re already offering stippling, consider tools that allow your to create more value for your customers or reduce your cost and time per gun as a gunsmith. Stippling requires decent fine motor skills, attention to detail, and varying levels of creativity. Even if you’re not overly creative, it is still possible to offer a valuable service. You may not be known for the most intricate patterns that flood the web but you can still offer quality work with good texture simply by using a variety of tips.
Quite a few stippling tips can apply a functional texture and a clean look without having to create a flowing, intricate pattern. This doesn’t mean you can just mash a wood burner on a gun’s frame and it will turn out well. You must still use attention to detail and fine motor skills to ensure you have a good stippling job. I tell this to every potential customer: If you are not willing to practice until you get the look you want, don’t do it on an actual gun. The same applies extra to gunsmiths offering this as a job for customer guns.
The edges are what will get you, especially if you get an easy-to-apply tip and the pattern down but never take the time to practice how you stop said pattern. I have done quite a few guns and just stippled up to the lines I had drawn or simply imagined on the frame. Using a practiced touch has gotten a clean looking end point to the stippling job. A Cutting Tip offers a method of making cut borders but with the intent of stippling right up to the border. It simply puts the finished stipple pattern on the same plane as the factory finish.
If you are going to go for the “recessed borders” you better be ready to practice countless hours and get it right. I’ve seen it done with a small round tip, a Dremel tool, and even hand carving tools. While I see the draw to it, and admit that it does add a certain appealing look, I personally don’t have the time to do such, so I am not going to tell you how to do something I am not well versed in.
OTD’s waffle tips, the X, Wagon Wheel Railroad, and Microdiamond tips in 20,16 and 12 LPI can all be used at random and provide vastly different looking options which are easy to apply since the application can be varied and overlapping. These lend themselves to the less creative user, can be used to salvage bad stipple jobs (which only exist because folks did not practice or admit they do not have the patience and/or dexterity).
Pro tip: Don’t over stipple! As with most gunsmithing jobs, you can always go further from the center point of the frame later on, so don’t start off by stippling too much. Nobody I’ve talked to likes a gun that has every portion of it’s polymer frame stippled.
If you’re one of those super-creative types, you can use one of our tips or make your own by hand and practice until you get a “signature” pattern you can call your own. There are many gunsmiths who have one or two textures they offer and stay busy with just those. There are also a few stippling shops offering four or more patterns. It takes quite a bit of practice to have any pattern down well and more so the more intricate patterns become. While I see the draw to be known for a specific, unique pattern, I believe offering a wide variety of patterns will broaden your market and make you more likely to have something turning a site or store visitor into a purchasing customer.
The Diamond, Hourglass, Rectangle, Fang, Hive, Basket Weave and Dual Basket tips take a bit more work to get pretty and are not as forgiving to a misplaced press of the tip, however, they can offer some great looking guns in the end. The key is to get the basics down and then decide if you want to expand your palate of offerings to more difficult textures such as these. Every customer is different and will have different tastes. If you can accommodate as many tastes as possible you will have more customers!
No Slowing Down
I’ve yet to talk to a gunsmith who has seen stippling demand slow down since I’ve been bringing these products to the market. Shops around the country tell me our kits have helped them create and grow an often-significant part of their custom business. Retail shops are also offering kits for sale to their DIY customers. There are, of course, folks who would much rather buy our products and do it themselves but there are just as many who only have one gun to do, don’t have time, or don’t feel confident in doing their own work.
Keep in mind that the key to a successful business is to provide customers with what they want. If a customer calls me and says he wants such-and-such pattern and asks if it’s possible to do it himself, I run him through a list of questions. The answers sometimes reveal he is better off not buying my products to get said pattern on his one pistol and I always say as such. I’d rather have a happy gun owner that gave business to someone else then an unhappy customer that I made a few bucks off.
On the other end of this small spectrum, I am aware of a few stippling shops who belittle and decry any DIY stipplers as the “guys who will ruin their gun and bring it to me to fix anyways.” Let’s remember we are talking about folks who carry something in/on their pants that could blow a hole through their flesh. If one is mature enough to carry around such a device for duty, sport, or defense, they should be able to determine if they need someone else to stipple their firearm or if they can delve into stippling themselves. Point being, being honest and helpful to customers, even if it means the loss of a sale, seems to always result in customers getting what they want and respecting me and the business in the end.
A final thought I’d like you to ponder as you consider how to add or increase stippling work is the longevity of the texture. No, I’m not referring to if the look is going to go out of style on Instagram but rather how long the texture will last. Textures on the less aggressive side, or having little depth to them, can wear out fast depending on the user. A buddy of mine did a really light pattern on his carry gun and he re-did said gun every year… Great for business if your customer is willing to come back every year I suppose but if it’s to have his gun redone in a super time consuming pattern, he might get a bit reluctant to have you work on it for more cash. To some, money is no issue; others may need you, as the professional, to guide them and recommend what you think is best in their interest, both as a shooter and financially. I am confident that this attitude will grow your stippling and gunsmithing business!
Read more in the April 2019 issue.