Custom Oak Grips for Astra A-100 - Pistolsmith

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Old 04-15-2019, 03:27 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 6
Question Custom Oak Grips for Astra A-100

Hi, I hope this is the right place in the forum to ask about this; if not, my apologies.

Brief overview (can skip if TL;DR):
I have an Astra A-100, which, if anyone is familiar with, is no longer produced as Astra went bankrupt in 1998.
As it's kind of a conversation starter at the range, and actually really fun to shoot, I wish to customize it.
While I really love the feel of this boat anchor of a pistol in my hands, I'm wanting to customize it, but without
ruining its collectable value (no permanent alterations).
I figure a good way would be to class it up by replacing the plastic grip scales with custom made oak scales.
I chose oak, because it's a hard wood, has a clean and elegant looking grain,
and it's both relatively cheap and readily available to me.

My Questions:
Should I avoid certain types of wood stains and/or finishing materials?
What would be the recommended finishing material to use that is safe to have prolonged skin contact,
but will also last and not tarnish easily?
What materials do manufacturers like Sig Sauer and custom shops use when finishing wood grips?

My main concern is toxicity to skin. My secondary concern is how well the finish can withstand skin oil, gun oil,
powder residue, moisture (not too concerned, as I live and shoot in a desert), and general scuffing/wear-and-tear.
My third concern is how easy the material is to keep clean and repel grime.

Closing thoughts:
Any guidance would be appreciated.
I'm also making sure the wood fibers run parallel and lengthwise with the grip to guard against splitting;
a little trick I picked up from making wood bows without lamination.

Thanks in advance for any help, even if it's pointing me to external help resources.
Figured I'd ask here, as the best way to gain correct knowledge is to ask those who already know.
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Old 04-15-2019, 05:34 PM   #2
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,801
If you want oak you need to decide whether you want standard oak or a red oak. Both look very nice.
My personal preference is Red Oak.

Some woods, especially the exotic Asian, African, and South American hard woods can cause skin reactions.
This is due to the oils in the wood that cause sometimes serious skin reactions, and often because of the oils, most wood finishes won't adhere. Often these are finished with wax or lacquer, or the surface is simply buffed to a gloss.
Most polyurethanes will not work on oily wood.
I've never heard of anyone having a reaction to oak.

Stains are a matter of what you like.
You can do an over all stain or you can do a grain fill where a brown oil type stain is applied then quickly wiped off to leave stain down in the open grain but not on the surface.
This makes the grain "pop" more but keeps the oak color.

An overall stain colors all the wood the same color.
For a grain fill use a hardware store oil stain.
For a full stain only an alcohol or water stain will penetrate.
I've often used leather dye from Tandy or Springfield Leather as a wood stain.
These can be mixed for other colors or shades, are easily thinned with water or alcohol, and penetrate FAST and deep.
They dry fast and can be force dried with a hair dryer, although usually in a couple of hours they're dry.
You can also buy various solvent and water based wood stains from Brownell's and Midway.
Many wood workers supply houses sell water and alcohol based wood dyes
Note that hardware store water based stains are more like latex paint than a penetrating stain and just don't work.

A finish depends on whether you want the grain left open to help with keeping a good grip, or you can totally fill the grain so you have an even smooth coating over all the surface.
The open grain is easy to do, just apply a couple of coats.
A total fill takes more time and effort because you have to apply a coat, let TOTALLY dry, sand off what's left on the surface and apply another coat. Repeat until ALL the grain is level with the surface.

Finishes are generally a modern synthetic oil type, polyurethane, or lacquer.
There are also older finishes in the organic oils like Linseed oil or Tung oil. These are nowhere near as durable as modern finishes.

Modern synthetic oil finishes are like Danish oils or Min-Wax Antique Oil.
These are applied, allowed to get tacky then buffed completely off with a lint free cloth. This usually takes about 15 minutes to tack up.
The key is fully buffing the surface off.
If you start getting a build up, use 0000 steel wool or possible a synthetic buffing pad like the green pot scrubber pads sold in grocery stores to buff after the coat is dry.
If you let it go too long, simply apply a little more and rub in with your hand then allow to tack properly and buff off.
After it's dried apply another coat, buff, let dry, and continue until the grain is totally full and level with the surface.
Application is with your hand, although you can apply with a piece of paper towel.
These finishes typically take a long time for the first coat or two to dry, and sometimes the first coat never really seems to dry.
However, as the grain fills the coats dry faster and faster.
The advantage for these is the finish is IN the wood not ON it.

If you want you can apply a thin last coat and let dry for a gloss finish, but you get the old "egg shell" luster by steel wooling the last coat off, allow the wood to age a couple of days to cure then buff with a piece of clean burlap.
The disadvantage is this coat takes as much as a week to complete, but the advantage is since the finish is in the wood, you can overhaul the finish if it's damaged by simply applying another coat and letting it dry.
This type of finish is usually a once in a lifetime job and it lasts forever with an occasional reapplication to repair scratches and scrapes.
It's very resistant to skin oils and dirt, especially with a coat of wax.

Another way to do a modern synthetic oil finish is to apply a thin coat and just let it dry.
Use 0000 steel wool to buff all the surface finish off, then reapply.
Continue until the grain is full.
The down side of this is you have to be careful to prevent particles of steel wool from embedding in the grain and possibly rusting later.
Also, as above, the first coat or two never seems to dry and it's a chore to get the sticky coats off.
As it fills the grain it drys faster, but also harder, and getting the hardened coats off takes some effort.

As you buff with the 0000 steel wool the surface coat will turn "muddy" and is easy to see where it's still on the surface.
The real up side is the synthetic oils are virtually bullet proof. I've never found a solvent that will quickly attack these synthetic oils.
Even lacquer thinner won't touch most of them.
Left uncoated on the surface, the wood has a silky smooth feel, and a wax repels any stains or dirt.

After buffing the bare wood when the grain is completely full, apply a coat of Johnson's Paste Wax and buff.
There is no finish on the surface, but the wood is so filled that dirt isn't a problem. Since there is no finish on the surface there's nothing but the wood to affect skin.
I've had the most experience with Min-Wax Antique Oil Finish. You may need to order this online if a local hardware store doesn't carry it.
Most local hardware stores sell various brands of Danish Oil, usually the Watco brand.

Lacquer is a very fast drying coating that comes in flat, semi-gloss, and full gloss. Most stores that carry it usually sell the gloss but some of the big chain hardware sell all three. However, they usually only sell it in bigger cans.
Lacquer is tough and proof against many solvents, but NOT lacquer thinner and some others.
You can do a surface coat or two to leave an open grain, or thin it slightly for penetration and after it dries sand it off and apply again until it fills the grain.
This finish is done with a full surface finish whether full grain fill or not.
It's easily stripped with lacquer thinner and redone if damaged. It usually can't be touched up.
It's a tough finish and doesn't react with skin.
The big advantage is it's very fast to apply because it dries so fast.
It can be thinned and sprayed on for a final ultra smooth surface coat.
It needs to age for a week before applying wax or putting it to real use.
It needs to be slightly thinned to slow drying a little otherwise it tacks up so fast brushing over an area will leave brush marks.
Lacquer works very well if sprayed.
It's what most custom grip makers use.

Polyurethane is today's major wood finish.
It comes in flat, semi-gloss, and full gloss. It's available in a solvent base or as an Acrylic water based type.
The Acrylic dries fast and can be speed dried with a hair dryer.
(Note: Hair dryer, not torch, oven, or heat gun).
The Acrylic is a somewhat harder finish but may not be quite as tough as the solvent based.

The solvent based also dries fairly fast, but not as fast as the Acrylic.
The solvent based type is also available as a stain-finish.
These are a stain mixed with the finish so you can stain and finish at the same time. A popular brand is Min-Wax PolyShades that come in many colors.
Usually these aren't used for a full grain fill, three coats of either solvent or water based is usually enough for a surface finish.

With lacquer or polyurethane thinning the first coat at least 5% to 10% will allow better penetration, and thinning at least 3% will improve brushing without brush marks for the other coats.

After deciding about the stain, I'd go with either a synthetic oil or a polyurethane.
The oil finishes take a lot more time but lasts a life time.
The polys are much faster and offer good durability but will wear and will require a strip and refinish if seriously damaged. Lesser damage can often be lightly sanded and recoated.
Many custom grip makers use a lacquer finish for the speed of application, good looks, and durability. The crystal clear lacquer makes the wood "pop" better.
However, if damaged there's no patching possible. You usually have to do a strip and refinish.

Last edited by dfariswheel; 04-15-2019 at 06:07 PM.
Old 04-15-2019, 09:22 PM   #3
Junior Member
Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 6
Thanks, that's great info!

I think I'll try a combo of wiping to make the grain pop,
then go over it for a full stain.

For the finish, it sounds like the antique oil is the option I want.

I'll definitely practice on scrap wood cut from the same plank to
make sure it looks and feels the way I want it to.
Might even spray on a light layer of clear lacquer to see how that
makes it look and feel.

Whenever I finish the project, I'll be sure to upload the pictures
in this thread. Fingers crossed!

Thanks again!
Old 04-17-2019, 04:08 PM   #4
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,801
In this case you might consider using an oil based dark brown stain to get into the grain, then after allowing it to TOTALLY dry use a water based dye to dye the surface.

If you use the same types of dye or stain for both steps they might dissolve each other and make a mess.
Old 04-29-2019, 05:35 PM   #5
Junior Member
Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 6
Right hand scale is nearly completed!
I used Cabernet Red Varathane wood stain (oil based), applied as a light first coat, wiped it after a few minutes, let it dry,
then applied a thick, rich coat. After the 2nd coat dried, I buffed it with jewler's rouge, then carefully removed excess rouge with a soft rotor tool polishing brush.

I then lightly sanded it with 6,000 grit cloth sand paper. I then cleaned the excess wood dust again by dabbing with alcohol.

Finally, I applied a generous coat of Minwax Antique Oil Finish, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then gently buffed it with 0000 extra-fine steel wool.
After which, I gently wiped it with an extra fine microfiber cloth.

I have to wait 24 hours between oil coats, so it isn't quite finished yet.

As for the detail/design, I intend to utilize a wood burning kit to draw whatever design I decide upon.
I'm thinking along the upper bevel parallel to the slide, I will write "Astra A-100" using the same retro font that the name "Astra" uses on the left side of the slide.
As for the grip texture pattern, I'm considering a design hybrid between some really nice Sig Sauer grips I saw,
and an old 1930s Zenith radio (that classic use of parallel lines, ornate curves, and concentric circles).

I mostly want to keep the design fairly simple, yet elegant, but also not detract from the comfort of the grip.

I apologize for the huge photos. Hold "Left Ctrl" and use your mouse's scroll wheel to adjust the page zoom to see them better...

Not too shabby for my first time making anything for a firearm. I could have done better with the fit, but it does fit, so I'll take it.
I also don't have a good wood working set up at my new place yet. No vice other than a jeweler's engraving vice which isn't even bolted down.

This took quite a while to make, as I free-handed the whole thing using router burrs and sanding stones on a rotor tool.

I also need to clean up and re-paint the screws.
Old 04-30-2019, 04:11 PM   #6
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,801
Nice job and great appearance.
Old 05-03-2019, 02:06 PM   #7
Junior Member
Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 6
Left scale is just awaiting a second coat of finishing oil.
It was a bit tedious to make due to the decocker shield,
but I think it came out pretty nice.

It's actually the same shade as the right scale, but looks lighter
due to the daylight lighting. Looks even better in person.

All that's left to do is figure out a design and pattern.


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