Designed from the ground up
Since I started making grips, I have read in forums and heard in conversation comments something like the following regarding grip hole spacing:
"Were only talking about a little over ten thousandths, its just a piece of wood. If it doesn't fit, I just use a little sandpaper or a rat-tail file to fix it." or,
"All these tolerances are probably close enough for grips. We are dealing with very small numbers on a very tolerant part machine wise. It is very likely that anything in the general ballpark will work just fine with a small percent needing some very minor hand finishing."
I cringe when I hear such comments. Its true that grips are often a piece of wood and slight errors can be corrected, but that is not the point. The point is that there is always a standard specification from which the craftsman should work. Neither I nor anyone else does perfect work, but knowing the theoretical perfect dimension and tolerance gives us a target to shoot for and the allowable deviation.
I made my first pair of grips at the request of my son-in-law who is a 1911 enthusiast. To get the size and shape, I simply copied an existing pair of his grips and fit them to his gun. That worked fine for a few pairs. When he suggested that I make several pairs to offer for sale, I agreed, but felt the need to obtain critical dimensions from a set of drawings rather than from an existing grip of unknown provenance. Fortunately, I found that ordnance drawings for the full size 1911 are readily available.
These drawings include specifications for the grip panels, but they are incomplete. They were probably adequate for mass producing functional grips for weapons of war. Beyond the obvious need for function, my grips are a blend of natural beauty and artistic craftsmanship intended to complement the gun and please the eye. I didn't want to base the missing dimensions on an arbitrary sample grip. Nor did I want to use a sample gun. Some might argue that a sample gun should be plenty accurate for making a pair of grips. I agree. But, my plan was to make many pairs that would need to fit guns made by several manufacturers. For that I needed to know the truth.
There are three reasons why a sample gun is inadequate. First, it is difficult to measure a gun accurately for anything except the hole spacing and plunger tube projection, and I already had those specifications. Second, even if the gun could be perfectly measured, you would still not know how far the measurements deviated from the actual specification. Third, you would not know the tolerance (the allowable deviation from the spec.). A grip I made from measuring a gun could easily be out of tolerance; a fact of which I would be blissfully unaware. But someone
out there would likely be frustrated as he used sandpaper or a rat-tail file to make his grips fit.
And so I spent several days poring over ordnance drawings, as well as service and repair manuals to glean all of the pertinent dimensions and tolerances. Then I spent several more days making my own drawings of the applicable parts of the frame and finally the shop drawings I use for making grips. Was all of this work necessary? Clearly that is a matter of opinion, but it is in my nature to understand things sufficiently to know that I am working from accurate specifications.
With all that said, it should be noted that I feel no commitment to make my grips according to all of the specifications gathered by days of study and drawing. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is really not. A thorough understanding has enabled me to know what is critical and must be maintained, and where I can take artistic license.
I meet or exceed all of the important specifications found in the ordnance drawings, and have established numerous others which modify or go beyond those drawings. I have spent a lot of time establishing specifications, but outstanding grips require more than outstanding specifications. I put considerable time into shaping and polishing every pair of grips I make to be sure they are not only dimensionally accurate, but aesthetically pleasing. My grips are made to a high standard of excellence for those who have an eye for and care about excellence.