It is interesting to note the differences in glove sizes and contrast this to the “one-size-fits-all” handgun grip frame.
The mechanics of a firearm in a useful caliber and mechanism functionality are limiting factors, but some handguns are better fits for most hands than others.
Despite the differences in handgun grip size and angles, I am able to fire a wide range of handguns reasonably well. My hands are average size and there are some handguns I simply do not handle well, such as the GLOCK 20/21 and the Beretta 92.
Some, such as the CZ 75, are fine if I use thin grips. Grip inserts for polymer-frame handguns largely accommodate the largest hand sizes—I never change them.
When you attempt to understand handgun geometry, you have to take a hard look at all dimensions. The grip width is one, but the total circumference, measured by running tape around the grips, is perhaps most important.
Trigger reach is the distance from the back of the grip to the trigger face. This differs with single-action, safe-action and double-action triggers. An important measurement seldom taken into consideration is grip angle.
Why Grip Angle Is Important
The angle of the grip compared to the bore centerline is important. This isn’t the same as bore axis, which is the height of the bore above the hand. The angle or pitch is the divergence of the grip from the centerline of the bore.
Few (if any) handguns have a flat pitch. In revolvers, a gentle rolling curve (such as the plow handled angle of the Colt Single Action Army) makes for an easy-shooting revolver.
A double-action revolver requires a step in the grip to stabilize the hand as the trigger finger operates a double-action trigger. A well-trained shooter is able to make allowances for less-than-ideal combinations of measurements.
But the same shooter will do much better, especially in rapid-fire, with a design that fits his hands well. The grip that fits your hand well just may fit most hands well. As I mentioned, there are guns I cannot shoot well.
I may handle them OK on the range, but in speed shooting or control situations, I am less than competent. If you have small hands, you need to look harder at handgun geometry.
As an example, if the GLOCK 48 9mm fits your hand well and the GLOCK 19 doesn’t, the smaller-grip frame is a better choice. Accuracy and control are more important than magazine capacity.
Other Important Factors
When handling different handguns in the gun shop, it is important to evaluate the grips, grip angle and trigger reach. There may be handguns that measure out with similar dimensions, but one will feel better than the other.
Grip texture is important. Given a grip that fits the hands well, it takes poor sights and a heavy trigger to mess up the equation. There are happy combinations for shooters. Watch for the backstrap pinching the web of the hand.
I have a permanent callous in the web of my right hand from long experience with the 1911—and it fits my hands very well. After trying several handgun grip frames, fire the handgun next. Find a good rental range.
If you are firing high and to the left, the handgun isn’t the ideal fit or your grip isn’t strong enough. Many polymer-frame handguns fire low because the slide is heavier than the frame.
Most modern polymer-frame handguns feature interchangeable grip straps. These are primarily useful for adapting to larger hand sizes. Remember this rule. A larger grip pitch presses the muzzle upward; the smaller grip pitch downward.
How We Choose Handguns
Shooters choose handguns based on looks, legend, reputation and even cultural factors. (My dad had a Colt, cops carry GLOCKs, grandpa had a Model 10 and so on.) It helps to understand other disciplines when choosing the grip and grip angle.
It should not be a painful inquiry. First, don’t assume the small guns are all good. The Walther PPK, as an example, is practically unusable by the author. My average-size hands are a bit fleshy in the web and the PPK slide eats my hand up.
The GLOCK 42, on the other hand, is a delightful fit. Some small handguns place the controls too close together and the hand is cramped. Some full-size guns are terrible. The 1911 is another matter.
This handgun features the ideal grip angle or pitch between the bore axis and grip. Interestingly, my hand feels much the same as when I am delivering a martial arts punch.
The GLOCK is similar, but not quite the same—a more concentrated punch, perhaps.
I am pretty certain we have been throwing punches as long as we have been eating and it is a logical thing to throw a punch in subjective terms when you draw the gun—you punch it toward the target.
This makes the 1911 and the GLOCK formidable with a minimal amount of training. You simply have to learn to throw the punch straight and not tilt the hand to one side. If you are firing for practice or a leisurely pursuit, this punch isn’t as noticeable.
In the stress of combat, it is a different matter. And that is the key. A handgun that doesn’t fit your hand well may be managed, but not well. Under stress, there is a great deal of difference.
What About Revolvers?
Revolvers were once neatly divided into frame sizes. They still are, but the major makers generally offer large-frame revolvers with smaller, more comfortable grips. The shape of the handle makes a great deal of difference.
Revolvers were once offered in square-butt and round-butt sizes. Smith and Wesson offers only one grip frame, the round butt, in modern revolvers while conversion grips allow the use of either round-butt or square-butt grips.
Understanding the how and why of grip design will allow you to make the best choice for different chores.
Square-Butt vs. Round-Butt Grips
When Smith and Wesson introduced the successful Military and Police double-action revolver, it was manufactured with a round-butt grip frame. The square butt was introduced later.
Eventually, the square-butt frame became more popular and the majority of Military and Police .38s were square-butt revolvers. I-frame revolvers were mostly round-butt designs, but the Regulation Police was a square-butt design.
The Colt New Police and the first Police Positive revolvers had among the most uncomfortable grip frames ever designed for a double-action revolver, in my opinion.
The Colt Police Positive Special and the treatment given the Detective Special were great improvements. In the small calibers used in the Police Positive, the grip frame didn’t matter as much. With the .38 Special, recoil was becoming uncomfortable.
The round butt is a good choice for fast-handling defensive revolvers. The square butt is best for target revolvers. The single-action press must be controlled and the larger square-butt grip allows that.
The hand remains in place when the thumb is used to cock the hammer for single-action fire. On the other hand, the Smith and Wesson, with a four-inch barrel and round-butt, handles quickly in double-action fire.
The round butt is less likely to print on covering garments when the revolver is worn concealed. The round butt is smaller and has less area, but also invites a very fast grip acquisition.
When firing heavy loads, the smaller grip frame of the round butt may transfer more energy to the palm, but that is a trade off—the trigger is more quickly manipulated, in my opinion, with the round-butt grip.
Another concern is heeling. This is when the handgun is gripped improperly too high on the grip. With this grip, the shooter will often fire for the heart and hit the head unless the bullet simply flies over the head of the target.
This is a product of hurried training and not taking time to affirm the grip. I believe that this type of problem is less likely with the round-butt grip frame.
Smaller grips may actually make for more encirclement with the fingers and a stronger hold. Trigger reach may be slightly shorter with the round butt (for most hand sizes). This is important when dealing with a double-action revolver.
Carefully consider your needs. Smith and Wesson began manufacturing their most successful double-action revolvers with a round butt and, today, the round butt may be the best choice for most of us.
Consider how the handgun may be used and choose accordingly.
There are high points of grip fit for most shooters. Some handguns are models of a good fit. The 1911, GLOCK 17 and Springfield XD are among them. Take a hard look at hand fit. You will find it as important as caliber and capacity—perhaps more so.
What is important to you when it comes to handgun grips? Let us know in the comments below.