Herter’s Revolver “Earns” A Purple Heart!

After the grand experiment of rust browning the cylinder frame on my old (1966) Herter’s .44 magnum single action revolver, I began having ideas of fitting a set of grips that complimented the purplish, “plum brown” hue of that part of the gun. I liked the look of the oak grips I previously made for it, just began to wonder what might look even better.

My

My old friend and mentor, “Uncle Vic Roy”, always cautioned that “the enemy of good, is better!” But whom am I to take advice?

I didn’t really have to look far for something to try. Many years ago I was buying a good quantity of teak to use as covering boards on my old Bertram 31, BLACKSHEEP, and I stumbled on a bin of purple heart boards in the lumber store. The color of this wood was so deep and unusual that I have often pondered what it would be really good for? Since then I have actually seen a set of purple heart grips on a custom revolver or two. After making the decision to go this way, I shopped online and found a business, WOODCRAFT, that not only stocked this wood, but sold in small quantities – and shipped!

First try at a set of grips made from purple heart, which is a hard wood to "carve".

First try at a set of grips made from purple heart, which is a hard wood to “carve”.

On my first attempt, I cut the grip pattern out with my jigsaw, then began shaping with first a dremel tool, then a palm sander. I finished with hand sanding, then added about 10 coats of polyurethane varnish, burnishing with steel wool between coats.

The purple heart is an attention-getter, and does compliment the plum colored cylinder frame, I think.

The purple heart is an attention-getter, and does compliment the plum colored cylinder frame, I think.

When I began to “show off” the grip photos, a friend suggested maybe a more subdued finish might be better, something that looked like a more tradition oil finish? I had sort of been thinking that myself, so I first tried going over the varnish with Birchwood Casey’s Stock Sheen. That did look better, but in the process I was trying to make the fit “perfect”, and of course messed up one side! At the same time, I thought I’d like to have one side with a “blind” screw, so the grip was smooth, with no holes. Tombstone grips had experience in this, and sent me the hardware to do it, but unfortunately I had forgotten to tell Dave what I was working on, and the setup he sent would probably fit a Ruger, but would have needed modification to work on the Herter’s. About this time I did some fine tuning on one side and messed that one up, so I started over on a new grip set, having ordered enough wood to get through such a problem.

This time, I broke down and bought scroll blades for the saw to make cuts easier and more precise, and also acquired a “mouse” sander to replace the Dremel for shaping. This time I also decided to do something to make the finish look more like an oil finish – by actually using Linseed oil!

After the first coat of linseed oil has dried, the color is similar to what I got  with varnish, and it isn't as "shiny".

After the first coat of linseed oil has dried, the color is similar to what I got with varnish, and it isn’t as “shiny”.

From previous work with oil finishes on rifle stocks, I think after several coats, hand rubbing and burnishing with steel wool between each, the finish should get a nice, natural shine. The oil also seems to bring out the character of the wood, rather than over-power it. I think I will be happy, and will post progress here.

Think I'll stop here with the linseed oil. This is maybe 5 coats, hand rubbed with both a soft colth and fine steel wool between coats.

Think I’ll stop here with the linseed oil. This is maybe 5 coats, hand rubbed with both a soft colth and fine steel wool between coats.

Now we go back to fit and fastening. With my oak grips, I had discovered that the locator “post” on the Herter’s grip frame did not really do the job, so I fashioned blocks that glued to the backs of the grips to hold then in place – and they really worked!

  • Small blocks of poly board glued to the back on the grips nest inside the frame and keep them from rotating on the single axis formed by a normal grip screw.

    Small blocks of poly board glued to the back on the grips nest inside the frame and keep them from rotating on the single axis formed by a normal grip screw.

    When discussing how to modify the hardware I had for a blind screw set-up, Dave of Tombstone grips mentioned he had once fitted grips on a Ruger to be held in place by small, but strong magnets (steel grip frame, obviously!). This idea appeals to me very much, as it will result in both grips being un-marred by screw holes. I have magnets on order, and will begin this phase as soon as they arrive.

    Small rare earth magnets will be used to hold the grip panels on - with no holes in the grips!

    Small rare earth magnets will be used to hold the grip panels on - with no holes in the grips!

    A magnetic appeal? Got my small rare earth magnets today from K&J Magnetics (www.kjmagnetics.com). Next step will be to drill small holes in the back of the grip frame and glue the magnets at the correct depth!

    The best source I found for small, strong magnets of assorted shapes and sizes was K&J Magnetics

    The best source I found for small, strong magnets of assorted shapes and sizes was K&J Magnetics

    Small, but strong magnets of various sizes were combined with spacer blocks to align and hold grips to the heavy steel grip frame of the big Herters revolver

    Small, but strong magnets of various sizes were combined with spacer blocks to align and hold grips to the heavy steel grip frame of the big Herters revolver

    The cylindrical magnets were set in drilled holes and then epoxied, the rectangular ones simply held in place with epoxy putty.

    The cylindrical magnets were set in drilled holes and then epoxied, the rectangular ones simply held in place with epoxy putty.

    The final step on the magnetic grips is a coat of flat black paint on the back side, to give them a more "professional" look.

    The final step on the magnetic grips is a coat of flat black paint on the back side, to give them a more "professional" look.

    With magnets holding the grip on, there are no unsightly screws showing or rubbing on the shooters hand.

    With magnets holding the grip on, there are no unsightly screws showing or rubbing on the shooters hand.

    The Herter's grip frame is much larger than that of a Ruger Super Blackhawk, meaning the grips will also be larger. This set was made thick, which actually gives the shooter a more solid "hold" on the gun when firing.

    The Herter's grip frame is much larger than that of a Ruger Super Blackhawk, meaning the grips will also be larger. This set was made thick, which actually gives the shooter a more solid "hold" on the gun when firing.

    More to come .... but I have already decided to risk a lawsuit and "name" this revolver "Deep Purple" after the old rock song "Smoke On The Water" by the band of the same name. If I fired it from a boat, the on the water part would probably be appropriate, as well as the next line about "fire in the sky". My previous Herter's, when fired at night, created quite an impressive flame out the muzzle!

    (I am searching for another Herter's gun or two to try more of these ideas on, so I don't resort to messing around with my treasured Rugers!)

    About MikeH

    Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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