Having decided to start a blog, I thought it appropriate to begin with the story of how Challis Grips got started…
It was late 2011 when my son-in-law asked if I would help him refinish a set of grips for his 1911. I gave him a questioning look and asked, “What is a 1911.” That was my intro to the 1911…and the beginning of an adventure.
I’ve had significant experience working with my hands. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the milk-box on the front porch, whittling a figure out of wood. I was about five years old and my mom was likely oblivious that I had borrowed a sharp knife from the kitchen. When I was fourteen a neighbor introduced me to the amazing world of wood turning. Not long afterwards, I built my first lathe in my parent’s basement. I’m still thrilled when I mount a chunk of fresh cut wood on my lathe and feel the cool stream of chips that flow from the sharpened steel like a crinkled moist ribbon as the tool touches the spinning mass.
I started building wooden circular stairs about a month after I was married in the fall of 1974. Eighteen years later I had 55 employees, a forty thousand square foot building and way too much administrative responsibility. When an Ohio based firm offered to buy my business, I accepted in order to get back to doing what I love…working with my hands. For the next fifteen years I immersed myself in another aspect of that “milk-box” memory, sculpture. Originals created in wood, clay, Bondo and stone were cast in bronze and imbued with a variety of patinas. In 2005-6 I was blessed with the opportunity of sculpting heroic sized monuments of John Stockton and Karl Malone for the Utah Jazz. The results stand thirteen and eighteen feet tall, respectively, on the southeast plaza of the team’s arena. I still do a little sculpture when I can get away from the grip business for awhile.
Which brings us back to my son-in-law asking me to help him refinish a set of 1911 stocks. After refinishing the grips, he came up with a fancy piece of burl and asked me if I would make him a new set. Pleased with the results, he suggested I make a few sets that he could post for sale online. About five years ago my first grips were posted on 1911forum.com and quickly sold. I enjoyed the challenge of finding beautiful wood to which I could add my touch of craftsmanship. I focused on precise fit, clean lines, crisp corners and a nearly flawless finish. The market responded favorably and Challis Grips was off to a start.
Coral, mammoth tooth, mammoth ivory and other exotic materials were soon added to the list of offered materials. Stabilization and reinforcement procedures were developed, enabling otherwise fragile materials to be used on a working gun. The patented Challis grip bushings were originally created as a better mounting system for fragile and heavy grips. Knowing that in order to conveniently change to the improved grip bushings, people would need an effective tool for removing the old-school bushings, I developed the Challis bushing extractors.
Three years ago my son Nate began working with me full time making custom grips. Served by his critical eye and quest for excellence, he has emerged as a master of the art. Nate is now crafting a significant majority of the grips we make.
So, there is my story in brief. I now know what a 1911 is and I have developed a deep appreciation for my neighbor John Moses Browning who created the masterpiece over 100 years ago (his shop was about forty miles north of my home). Shortly after creating the Challis grip bushing I stopped at the grave of JMB and asked if he approved of the design. He didn’t reply, but I’ve accepted his silence as an affirmation…