Grip Cleaning


by Art Buchanan 12-3-01

PREFACE: The method I will describe herein is based on more than 40 years experience working with wood and furniture refinishing and more than 20 years cleaning and restoring Luger grips. I have used this method on more than a hundred pair of grips ranging from almost gone and black as the proverbial ace to nice grips that just needed a little help. I also clean grips prior to touching up checkering. I find this method to be much less abusive to wood than soap and water and it will soak out some bad stuff with very little physical effort. The product used is common brushable paste paint and varnish remover.

MATERIALS: Brushable paste paint and varnish remover. A pint can will last forever. [I use Kleen Strip brand called StripX available at Wal-Mart]. A couple of tooth brushes [new or save some used ones]. A small plastic container about 5" square and 1" deep with or without lid. Soft paper towels. Newspapers [to protect work area]. Acetone [pint can lasts forever and at same counter in Wal-Mart]

METHOD: Place grips in plastic container. Some times when I don’t have the container at hand, I just make a small nest on the bench out of the Wal-Mart bag. Shake can of paste per instructions. Pour enough paste over the grips to completely immerse them. Let the grips soak in the paste. If grips are nice but just need a little help, 1 or 2 hours will do it. Real black and cruddy grips will need several hours. Don’t worry the paste will not damage the grips. Soak over night or all day. I frequently soak 2 pair at the same time. Remember, this paste will remove finish from wood and metal. Cover working area with newspaper.

Remove grips one at a time. Lay the grip flat surface and using a toothbrush, brush crud and paste off of the checkering. Brush in both directions with checkering grooves with long strokes. So not scrub. Wipe brush with paper towel after each stroke. Brush again with a second clean brush. Brush paste from back side of the grip. Soak a soft paper towel with acetone and wipe off backside. Soak another piece of towel with acetone and dab checkering. Don’t spare the acetone. No need to wipe across the checkering. This will just leave fuz in checkering anyway [which could brush out later with a dry brush]. A word of caution; I would recommend that you wear surgical gloves while handling the paste and acetone. Neither product is an acid and will not cause pain but prolonged exposure can be a health hazard. Grips will start to dry quickly. I sometimes blow them dry a bit with air hose, but not necessary. The StripX can says that paste can be flushed with water---this is not necessary. Water causes it to congeal a bit. A word of caution; on occasion you may have a left grip on which the small piece under the safety was just hanging by a thread. Brush carefully in that area. If the little piece comes off---not to fret---when wood has dried, carefully glue it back on with Super glue GEL. Do it carefully and you will not be able to tell if ever came off. I have replaced numerous missing pieces with new wood using Super Glue GEL. Better and faster than epoxy. You can hold the piece in place for a few seconds and it is set. Get the piece where you want it fairly quickly.

Within a few minutes you will be able to tell if you soaked grips long enough. If grips still appear too dark for your taste----soak again. The original color of wood in Luger grips varies. Some grips, particularly 1920s were very light and almost yellow when new. Some were dark to start with. Set the grips aside for a few days---put them back on the Luger--. After a few days a bit of remaining natural or added oils will leach out a bit and grips tend to darken and take on an aged look. It will be obvious that some grips, which came out very light in color, will not darken enough for your taste. Some grips begin to show darker grain streaks after a day or two.

FINAL FINISH: I have restored many grips that did not require any oil or stain after cleaning. Each Luger owner has a preference as to color. Some like them dark as the dickens others including me prefer a natural wood look. I do not use or particularly care for boiled linseed oil. I think it darkens grips too much. Sometimes a grip will have a light streak or area that is not pleasing. This occurs especially when touching up checkering on the edges or on a worn smooth area. I recommend 2 products, which I have used for some years that may be obtained from Brownell’s of Montezuma IA. One is Pilkington Classic Red Brown Linseed stock rubbing oil. It is thinner than usual linseed and has a bit of red brown stain in it. A Qtip dipped in the bottle and then dabbed on the grip works great. The oil spreads quickly and very little is required. Let the grip dry for a couple hours. If the grip is not dark enough---do it again. Pilkington also makes a Spirit stain called Pre64, which will darken grips even more. With use of a Qtip light streaks or spots in checkering can be touched up without staining entire grip. I caution against use of off the shelf furniture stains. They usually have a filler that tends to gum up checkering, does not penetrate well and may leave a dull look to the checkering. The Pilkington products are not cheap but the small bottle lasts forever. If your grips end up too dark after staining them–all is not lost---just soak them in the paste for a while and do it again.

NOTES AND FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS: Not all Luger people agree on when to clean grips. If you have a mint rare Luger but grips are too dark---think it over. This process will not damage grips. Pretty grips are like nice straw–it kind of makes the Luger. Try not to make the grips look 100% better than the rest of the Luger, just give them a little face lift. Of course if it is just your "shooter" make them look new if you can. You will be amazed what you can do with some of the bad looking wood grips found on import Lugers. Take the worst grips you have and experiment on them before working on a prize Luger. This is not a difficult process; don’t be afraid to try it. I have used the same paint and varnish remover to remove cosmoline from military gunstocks for years. Works great! From time to time I have experimented with Easy Off oven cleaner to clean Military gunstocks and Luger grips. It works, but is messy and hard on the hands. I plan to stick with the paint and varnish remover.


These pictures were created by scan and using Adobe PhotoDeluxe.

Top grip [uncleaned]. The second and third grips looked like this before all night soak in paste. They have not had any oil or stain added after soak and dry. Grips 4 and 5 from top were junk, black and full of crud. Number 4 was soaked in Easy Off oven cleaner for 2 hours as mentioned in text.

Grips before soak in paste.

Same pair of grips after 4 hour soak in paste and allowed to dry. No stain or oil added. The single grip at bottom is the same light color grip shown in the first picture that ended up light color after soak. This picture shows it after one application of Pilkington red brown rubbing oil[applied with a Qtip]. All of the grips shown came from import Lugers. The grips looked somewhat darker before cleaning and a bit lighter after than the scans indicate.