Making the grips on the Umarex Luger look like wood

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?

Related Posts

Umarex Legends Parabellum-Pistole P.08 review

Why I like replica pistols (and most people don’t)

Something I’m occasionally asked is why I like replicas, or indeed guns at all? Usually by people who are horrified to discover that I have what look like firearms in the house. In fact, I’m so used to my interest in replica guns causing reactions ranging from outrage to a suggestion that I’m too old to be playing with toys, that I rarely mention it. I sometimes wonder if I should take up a more socially acceptable hobby. Like, I don’t know, puppy strangling or something which might draw less flak from the general public?

Which led me to thinking about why I like guns and replicas. And why that seems baffling or even threatening to some people.


Not my collection. Sadly.

The first bit is probably the easiest to answer. Like many men, I’m fascinated by machines. How they work, how they’re designed and the history of their use. For this reason, I spent many years building, racing, restoring and riding motorcycles. However, at over 55 years of age, I find that I don’t bounce as well as I used to. And it becomes discouraging after spending several months labouring in an unheated garage to build some new bike, only to stuff it in a ditch first time out as you round a corner to discover a bemused little old lady doing a fifty-two point turn in the middle of the road in her ageing Fiat Panda.


Working on replica pistols gives me much the same pleasure as working on bikes, but in the heated comfort of my living room and without the possibility of taking part in another Fiat Panda/Motorcycle interface scenario. I also like the historical aspects of handguns. I can’t think of any other technological artefact which, 100 years or more after it was designed, can still be capable of satisfactorily fulfilling the purpose for which it was originally intended. And yes, I do realise that my Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness isn’t really 100 years old. But it allows me to appreciate the design, construction, intent and function of the original in a way that no photograph or non-shooting replica could.

I also like shooting. I find handgun shooting difficult, challenging, satisfying and occasionally frustrating but also strangely soothing. An hour spent pointlessly making holes in paper targets is a great way to unwind and relax. Though I’m sometimes asked if I wouldn’t rather be shooting “real” guns (usually by the same people who make “playing with toys” comments). For the record, the first part of the answer is no. I have shot a number of cartridge firing pistols, and they’re great fun. But in most parts of the world, the ownership and use of firearms is tightly controlled and I just can’t be bothered with having to go to a range every time I want to shoot. I like the fact that I can shoot my replicas whenever I want: in the garden, garage or even bedroom safely, legally, cheaply and without endangering or disturbing anyone. And the second part of the answer is that replica air guns are “real” guns. The fact that they use compressed air rather than the explosive power of gunpowder doesn’t make them toys. Replica guns must be treated with the same respect as their cartridge firing counterparts and accurate target shooting with a replica air pistol requires the development of precisely the same skills and techniques as any other handgun.


So, that’s why I like replicas. Which leads us on to the second part of the original question: why many people seem to be anti guns generally and by extension, anti replicas. I can’t be the only person who finds admitting that I collect and shoot replicas faintly embarrassing. But I don’t know why. I’m not doing anything illegal, immoral or which could endanger anyone else. I’m very careful about the safe and secure storage of my replicas and I certainly wouldn’t think of brandishing a replica in public. And yet most of my neighbours are unaware that I own and shoot replicas, mainly because I choose not to mention it. My wife is an intelligent and thoughtful person, but she treats my interest in guns with a sort of bemused tolerance and (I guess) probably doesn’t mention it to her friends. She will occasionally say something like “Hmm, yes, that’s nice dear” as I enthuse over some new pistol, but I know that she has no real idea of why I’m so excited and would probably be happier if I collected vintage Dinky toys or Star Wars memorabilia. Though I suspect that she also regards replicas as less likely to add to my already extensive scar collection than my previous passion for motorcycles, so perhaps that’s why she’s keen not to be too discouraging?

Now, I can understand people who don’t share my interest in replica air guns. It’s a fairly niche interest after all. What I don’t understand is people who actively seem to loathe all guns. Is a handgun an intrinsically evil thing? If pressed, I might be persuaded to agree that the world would be a better place if it contained no firearms, though that simply isn’t possible – we can’t put the genie back into the bottle. And I’d be forced to point out that wars, violence and all forms of general inhumanity were being successfully conducted long before there were any guns. And note that for every instance where guns have been used as tools of oppression, they have also been used to confront that oppression. My father fought throughout World War Two, standing up to Hitler and the might of the Wehrmacht with his trusty Webley revolver. So I’d probably contend that it’s a mistake to regard guns themselves as either good nor bad. They are simply tools that reflect the intent and morality of their users. Guns don’t cause violence. They can be used by evil and violently inclined people, but so can a baseball bat or a broken bottle. Don’t confuse the use for which an item is designed with the intent of its ultimate user.


UN Soldiers deployed in Kibati as part of a peacekeeping force. Good guns? Bad guns?

Some people also seem to believe that there is a connection between an interest in guns and extreme political views, especially those of the Conservative right. Which is kind of odd when you think about it. In the last hundred or so years, Che Guevara, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung all successfully used lots of guns, and none were especially noted for their reactionary, right-wing views. Certainly there are people with extreme views who believe that a zombie holocaust/end of the world/attack by black helicopters is approaching and who horde and even bury guns in preparation. But these people generally aren’t gun-nuts. They’re just nuts. And shouldn’t be taken to represent those of us with an interest in guns. In my experience, those interested in guns and replicas span a range of nationalities, social and ethnic backgrounds and political views. A few are even balanced and intelligent people.


Nice hat. Sensible precaution against alien mind control. Probably.

Fear and loathing of all guns (hoplophobia) seems to be fairly common, but it’s no more rational than a fear of spiders or open spaces. I can see why people would be afraid of a violently inclined person carrying a firearm, but I am at a loss to explain why anyone should be afraid of or opposed to responsibly used replicas.

So, what’s the purpose of this rant? Well, I suppose it’s principally to say don’t be embarrassed about your hobby. Don’t be afraid to say that you enjoy replica air guns. It’s legal, harmless, cheap, fun and there are much, much worse things you could be doing with your spare time. And who knows, if you talk about it, you may even find that you get other people interested. Just don’t expect them to admit it in public!

Shoot proud.

Related pages:

Air Pistol Safety