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

Colouring brass inner barrels

A quick update to my Umarex Walther PPQ M2 review…

Regular readers (hello to you both!), may recall that I didn’t particularly like the very visible brass inner barrel on the PPQ M2, which slightly spoils what is otherwise a pretty decent looking replica. I had it in mind that I would try to make this a little less obtrusive, probably by painting it. However, painting brass can be tricky. Enamel and acrylic paints don’t stick very well to brass, tending to flake off. Folk who work with brass and need to mark it often use permanent marker pens. These pens apply a very fine layer of colour which is designed to be good at sticking to non-porous surfaces such as metal. So, it occurred to me that I might be able to use a permanent marker pen as a quick and easy means of covering up the brass inner barrel on my PPQ.


Nice replica. Nasty, shiny brass inner barrel.

Finding a pen is easy, there are lots about and they’re very cheap. My wife is a teacher and has a large selection of pens, so I didn’t have to search very far. But you do need to find a permanent marker – non-permanent versions are water soluble, and will likely rub off as you handle the gun. Once you have your pen, remove the outer and inner barrels from the slide. There is no need to remove the inner barrel – it projects far enough out of the front of the barrel to be accessible. Then, use the pen to carefully draw over the brass. It will take several coats, leaving it to dry for a few minutes between coats. I did four coats, and I was surprised at how dense, black and glossy the result was.

ppqpen2Minutes later – done!

Overall this is a very quick, very easy and very cheap job. It requires very little preparation and dries in minutes. It’s much easier than faffing about with paint and it really does tone down the glare from the brass barrel, making the pistol look (in my opinion) much better. It could be used to colour any exposed metal on a replica and if it goes horribly wrong, or you just don’t like the result, acetone (nail varnish remover – just ask your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother) will quickly remove all traces of marker.


The result. Better? I think so.

Will the colour flake off the first time I shoot the PPQ M2? Will my wife discover that I have been illicitly using her precious marker pen for gun stuff? Will I change my mind and end up painting it anyway? Anything is possible! Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode…

Related pages:

Umarex Walther PPQ M2 review

Refurbishing and repairing a Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker

44peaceI recently acquired a slightly weary Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker.  That’s the .22 calibre successor to the Crosman SA-6 and a replica of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army (SAA).  Produced between 1970 and 1981, the 44 Peacemaker is a pellet only gun (the .177 36 Peacemaker shoots both BBs and pellets).  I have always fancied one of these Crosman guns, but the prices for working models seem to be very high.   So, when I was offered a leaky and in need of refurbishment Model 44 at a reasonable price, I was happy to go along with it.  However, buying a non-working older gun is always a gamble – you never know quite what you’re getting, and spares can be fiendishly hard to find.


Here is the Crosman, as received  and pretty much as described by the seller.  Paint is flaking off the metal cylinder, the finish has rubbed off the hammer and trigger and there are a few areas where the paint on the body has chipped and discoloured.  However, the gun cocked and dry fired well with a nice positive action and the cylinder appeared to index correctly (though only shooting a pellet will show if this is actually true).  The plastic CO2 cover is missing, though I knew that when I agreed to buy.

Putting in a CO2 cartridge revealed a bad leak.  CO2 was venting continuously through the barrel, which suggested a failed main seal.  However, in the short time that it held CO2, it did seem to cock and fire properly (though I didn’t try it with a pellet).  My plan was to fix the leak and to do a general cosmetic refurbishment of the pistol.


First step was to strip down the 44 Peacemaker and try to find the cause of the leak.  Very few tools are needed – a couple of good quality screwdrivers will be used for dismantling and a pair of needle nosed pliers are useful for removing tiny springs without having them spring into the middle distance.  First the plastic grips were removed by releasing the slotted screw on the left grip.


Just four slotted screws hold the two halves of the 44 together.  Once these are removed from the right side, the upper (right) half is lifted clear.  Nothing pinged off – hurrah!  At a first glance, everything seemed to be there (even the tiny detent spring and ball bearing) and nothing looked broken.  I took lots of pictures for reference before doing anything else.


Next I removed the cylinder, complete with valve assembly (which just slides out of the front of the cylinder when this is removed).  This was followed by the barrel, CO2 tightening screw, main leaf spring and the hammer, trigger, trigger return spring, safety bar and indexing pawl.  All simply lift out when the halves are separated.  Finally the tiny détente spring and ball bearing were removed.

The only problem I immediately saw was that the hammer has clearly been rubbing on the inside of the frame – some sort of spacer may be required here.


Bright area (arrowed) where hammer has been rubbing

With the valve assembly out of the cylinder, I could see that one or two of the O-rings have nicks and marks (I’ll be replacing them all anyway), but there are no obvious problems.  Given that the leak is coming from the barrel, I suspect that the problem is the main seal.  This is accessed by unscrewing the top of the valve assembly.


Not much in there really.  Next step was to try to remove the main seal from the firing/piercing pin to see if I could fabricate a replacement for the nitrile seal.  This looked simple – just drift the seal and brass carrier off the pin.  What could possibly go wrong?

448And here’s the answer – overenthusiastic drifting led to a broken firing pin and the severe startling of my cat due to a sudden storm of expletives.  Few things are more irritating than a problem you have caused entirely by yourself.  And this was purely down to me.  The brass carrier was very tightly drifted on to the pin, and I should have been more careful.  Now, fabricating a new firing pin is beyond my meagre capabilities, but fortunately I know a man who can.  Nick at Magic 9 Design is a talented gunsmith who specialises in airguns (see link at bottom of this article).  Nick responded to my panicked e-mails with reassurance that he’d make me a new firing pin.  I posted off the broken parts of the pin and started working on the cosmetic refurb.

I had better say right here that I am not an expert on old air pistols.  However I have been restoring old motorcycles and sports cars for more than 25 years, so I do know something about making sad old bits of metal look shiny again.

First step was to re-paint the 44.  I know folk have lots of different views about this – some people think that repainting spoils the originality of a gun.  I go along with this to a degree, but I believe that the original paint on this 44 was so chipped and flaked that there wasn’t any alternative.  If you are going to paint a gun, the first thing to look at is the original finish – is it matt, semi-matt (sometimes called satin) or gloss?  On the 44 it’s a semi-matt finish for the body of the gun and the cylinder, with a matt finish on the hammer and trigger.  The first job on the 44 was to paint the cylinder.  This is fairly straightforward as it’s a metal cylinder on the 44 (the cylinder is plastic on the 36 Peacemaker). 449

Cylinder stripped and ready for paint

If you are painting a pistol, I’d strongly recommend spray rather than brush paint and you need the right colour and finish, obviously, but you also want something that’s resistant to chipping and which won’t dissolve if it’s exposed to solvents or oils.  There are lots of good paints out there, but over the years I have used the Hammerite range of spray paints with good results.  These paints seem to bond well with metal (they’re used without primer), they last well and they’re readily available at home improvement and car accessory outlets.


Left side, partly stripped.

Preparing the surface for painting is critical.  You need to get all traces of the old paint off.  If you use a good quality paint stripper, this isn’t too difficult, but you do need some patience to get into all the nooks and crannies.  If you find stubborn bits of paint which won’t come off easily, don’t scrape at them with anything metal (like a screwdriver blade), you’ll just mark the metal.  Instead, use a wooden spatula – an old ice lolly stick is ideal or a large kitchen style matchstick will do at a push.  Do check what you’re trying to get the old paint off – some aggressive paint strippers will dissolve plastic just as happily as paint, so check what it says on the tin before using paint stripper on plastic components.

When all the old paint is off, clean the item in warm water with some washing-up liquid in it.  This will help to get all the grease from years of use and your sticky finger marks off the metal.  Once the piece is clean, rinse it carefully with clean, warm water and don’t handle before it’s painted.

OK, now you’re ready to paint.  Almost.  Before you start, warm the paint.  Stand the aerosol can of paint in warm water for about 15 minutes before you start to spray.  This helps the paint to flow better, and gives a much better finish.  When you’re spraying, use light, even coats.  Don’t be tempted to try to put on lots of paint in one go.  I find that 2 – 3 light coats, with at least 30 minutes between coats works well.


Frame halves and cylinder painted.

Let the piece dry thoroughly before handling.  Most paints take at least 24 hours to cure properly.  Don’t panic if the finish doesn’t look right immediately.  Some paints take time to achieve their final finish – for example, the Hammerite paint looks gloss when it’s first sprayed, and it doesn’t turn semi-gloss for about 12 – 18 hours after application.

Initially I was happy with the finish on the 44 – it looked just about the right tone of semi-matt.  However, after leaving it to cure for a couple of days, I noticed some bubbling of the paint in small areas (circled, below).


It was obvious that I hadn’t removed all the old paint, and that these tiny traces of original paint had reacted with the new paint to cause the bubbling.  Unfortunately, when this happens, the only solution is to rub off all the new paint and start again, being especially careful to remove every trace of the old paint.


Stripped and ready for painting.  Again.


Painted, again.  No bubbling this time.

I also decided to repaint the hammer and trigger at this time.  I cleaned all traces of the finish off both, and painted using a matt-finish black.  You can see the result below (the wire is used to hang the piece during painting and drying).  The paint has reacted with something on the metal to cause bubbling and a gloss finish. The trigger was the same.   Beginning to wish I had never started the whole repainting job, I removed all the new paint and started again.


I tried using two different types of paint, and the result was the same both times.  There is clearly something impregnated into the hammer and trigger which no amount of cleaning will remove, and which reacts with paint.  I finally ordered a small bottle of Birchwood Casey Aluminium Black from Amazon.  This is supposed to provide cold blueing of light alloys, such as those in air pistols.


And… it worked!  After half a dozen applications, I ended up with a durable looking matt, very dark grey finish on the hammer and trigger.  Which is pretty much what I was hoping for.  I also tidied up the grip and frame screws.  The heads were badly marked.   The easiest way to do this is to stick them in the chuck of an electric drill, and use fine grade wet and dry paper on them as they rotate.  I could have tried to source new screws, but I imagine that finding identical fasteners for a gun of this age would be very difficult.  I also prefer to re-use original components wherever possible.  Poking the screws through holes in a piece of card gives good support for re-painting.


I also ran a wire brush over the CO2 tightening wheel to clean it up, and that finished the cosmetic side of the refurb.

4418At around this time the firing pin was returned from Magic 9 Design.  Nick had made, tempered and hardened a new firing pin to replace the one that I broke, and installed a new 90 Shore Hardness polyurethane stem seal.  And very nice it looked too.   The new stem seal should fix the leak.

4419All O-rings were replaced and all internal components were cleaned, checked and lubricated with appropriate oil and grease.  Reassembly is fairly straightforward as long as you notice that there is a locating pin on the frame (arrowed) which must fit into a hole on the cap of the valve assembly (arrowed, inset), or the frame halves won’t join properly.


The only really fiddly bit is installing the tiny detent ball and spring (arrowed below).  This isn’t a job to try if you have had more than your allotted daily ration of caffine!

4420With  the pistol back in one piece, it was time to try the action.  Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that the new paint on the front of the cylinder was causing the cylinder to bind.  So, I dismantled again, and sanded the new paint off the front of the cylinder before reassembling.


After second reassembly, the action was very good indeed – smooth, light, precise and creamy.  Interestingly, the hammer was no longer rubbing on the frame, even though I hadn’t installed a spacer.  One less thing to worry about.  Time to try CO2 in the pistol.  This 44 didn’t come with the plastic CO2 cover, so when spraying the pistol, I also sprayed a few CO2 cartridges, just to make them look a little less obtrusive.


Time for the moment of truth – I inserted an new CO2 and…


No leak!  Even better, it shoots very nicely indeed.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a full review sometime soon.

Final thoughts?  It was much harder to get a decent finish on this pistol than I had expected.  Breaking the firing pin was stupid and entirely my fault – some care is required when working on this part.  Internally, the metal parts of the gun showed no signs of wear at all, despite the pistol being more than 30 years old. Internally the 44 Peacemaker is pretty simple and requires no special tools to disassemble.




4425The Crosman Wild West revolvers are featured in my book, Classic American Air Pistols, avaiable on Amazon:


Related posts:

Classic Handguns – the Colt Single Action Army revolver

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver


Magic 9 Design