In this article, I want to try something a little different. As you will know if you have read my review of the Umarex Legends Luger (and you’ll find a link at the end of this article if you heven’t), it’s a great looking replica, with one exception: I think the black plastic grips look a little odd. Lugers were almost invariably provided with wood grips. During the last year or so, I have been doing some plastic kit building, and one of the things I have learned about is using model paints to achieve various effects. I want to see if it’s possible to use these techniques to paint the black plastic grips on the Umarex Luger to make them look more like wood.
I don’t have spare grips, so I’ll have to work on the original grips provided with this replica. If I make a complete mess of the painting, I can always just spray them black to get back to the starting point. I’ll show my approach step-by-step here and identify the paints I’m using in case anyone fancies doing the same thing. All the materials I’ll be using are readily available from any good model kit stockist. This technique could also be applied to any replica where you want to make the grips look more like wood.
Before starting a job like this, it’s always useful to have a clear idea of what you’re working towards. Here is an image of the wood grip on a 1937 Luger. These aren’t identical to the grips on the Umarex Luger and I’m not sure that they are original, but that doesn’t really matter.
If you look closely, you’ll note a couple of things. First, the grain on the wood is visible as darker stripes running down the grips. Second, this grip isn’t just one colour, it’s actually several different colours. If you simply paint a plastic grip brown, it will just look like brown plastic. Somehow, we need to replicate the kind of colour variation you see here.
Before you can start painting, you have to remove the grips from the replica. On the Umarex Luger, that couldn’t be simpler – just remove the slotted screws at the base of the grip frame and both grips lift off.
If parts of the grip surface are moulded in shiny plastic, you may need to sand with fine wet and dry paper to get a rougher finish that will give a better key for the paint. On this replica, even the plain parts of the grip have a slightly rough finish that should be ideal for painting, so I don’t need to do any sanding.
The next step is very important. You need to carefully wash the grips in warm water with a little washing-up liquid in it. This will remove any traces of lubricating oils or deposits left on the grips by handling. Make sure the grips are completely dry before you begin painting and handle them as little as possible after they have been washed.
Then, I start on the base colour. This is the lightest colour I’ll be using – it’s always best to begin any painting with the lightest colour and then work progressively darker. I’m using a spray paint here, simply because I have it to hand, but there is no reason you can’t brush-paint the base coat if you prefer.
I’m using an acrylic spray made by Japanese company Tamiya. When I built plastic kits when I was younger, I used enamel paints and I was initially a little sceptical about using water-based acrylics. However, in my experience, these paints are great – they cover well, dry quickly and brushes can be washed in water. I find that Tamiya acrylics bond particularly well with plastic and are resistant to chipping and scratching, which is why I’m using them here. The colour used is TS-3, Dark Yellow. I use three light coats until I have even coverage and then allow it to dry overnight.
Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look much like wood yet, does it? Don’t worry, we’ll get there. Next I want to paint something like looks like grain in the wood. I use another Tamiya Acrylic, XF-52, Flat Earth, a darker brown. This time, I’m using a broad brush to stipple on a pattern.
Then I give it all a coat of clear, matt acrylic varnish. This protects the base coat, and it’s also an essential prerequisite for the next step.
When the varnish is dry, I give the whole grip a coat of dark brown oil paint, well thinned. I’m using an oil paint produced by AK Interactive, 502 Abteilung, a paint developed specially for painting plastic kits, but you could probably use any good quality artist’s oil paint. Unlike the acrylics, this paint takes anything up to 24 hours to dry, so be prepared to be patient.
The next step may seem strange, but I’ll be using thinner and a broad brush to carefully remove some of this oil paint.
You must work carefully and use only a very little thinner on the brush. The coat of acrylic varnish protects the acrylic paint beneath, so all you’ll be removing is the oil paint. This gives interesting colour variation as it allows the acrylic paint beneath to show through the oil top coat. Here you can see one grip in progress and one still covered in oil paint.
Knowing how much oil to remove is an issue – it’s best to work slowly until you get something that you’re happy with and that is consistent. If you do find that you have removed too much, don’t worry, just apply another coat of the oil paint and start again. When I’m happy, it all gets another coat of acrylic clear matt varnish to cut down shine and help prevent chipping.
I hope that you’ll agree that these grips now look much more like wood. And the final test is to refit the grips and see how they look. Here it is before and after…
Overall, I’m happy with how these turned out. I never did like the black grips on the Umarex Luger and I think that these do look closer to wood. None of the techniques I have used are difficult and all the modelling paints I used are readily available. You could do the same thing to any replica with naff-looking plastic grips that are supposed to be wood.
So, what are you waiting for?