Grip Hack Part 1: Modifying Crappy A2 Pistol Grips

A couple tools, an old grip and about 15 minutes…

If you’ve ever started down the road of building AR-patterned rifles, you end up with boxes of parts. A cast-off part that seems to just keep piling up is the A2 grip that comes with most lower-parts kits. It is one of the first things to go on most rifles. I feel like it is a placeholder on rifles, kind of like the piece-of-junk plastic sights that come on Glock pistols.

What if we could take that horrible piece of plastic and make a decent grip out of it though? Honestly, it isn’t hard and doesn’t take long. For this little project we need some sort of saw capable of cutting plastic, a file or rasp, some sandpaper and, if you want to take it to the next level, a wood burner.

Let’s look at the A2 grip as it stands. Whether you like the angle or not, we can’t change it, and it really isn’t that bad. But that finger nub? That thing is terrible in my experience and I have no idea who it actually fits. Probably some giant of a man somewhere, but it is totally misplaced for my hands. Too low for just my middle finger to sit above it (especially when getting a high firm grip) and too high to fit my middle and ring finger. Perfect for nothing.

Step one is to cut that off flush with the front of the grip. After we do this, we can use our rasp or file to round out the side of what was previously the finger nub, so that the front of the grip is uniform. We can save sanding it down till later.

Next up is the length. Grip the rifle and see where your hand sits. Unless you have gorilla hands, you probably have a good inch plus sticking out from the bottom of your hand. Use a sharpie, calibrated eye, or just wing it and cut the bottom of the grip off. You can cut it off at the angle of your hand when you grip it, or square to the rifle, dealer’s choice.

The ergonomics are greatly improved with a few easy modifications.

Now, we have a much more ergonomic, not to mention lighter, grip than we started with. Here we get into finishing it. How aggressive do you want this grip? Do you find yourself shooting bare handed from a bench? In which case it may make more sense to go through and smooth everything out.

Or do you run your rifle fast and hard, maybe wearing gloves? In this case you don’t need to be as concerned about how smooth the grip is. In fact, you can move in the other direction with a wood burner. By using the tip, you can melt and deform the plastic of the grip. Creating a more aggressive texture if you so desire. *If you’re new to this, experiment on a P-Mag first.*

As a final touch, using a file and then sandpaper, you can smooth out where the grip interfaces with your lower receiver. Creating nice clean lines that are aesthetically pleasing, but more importantly, don’t create hot spots when handling your weapon over prolonged periods of time.

Bam! We just created a custom grip, saved 15-plus bucks on an aftermarket grip and kept an otherwise useless piece of plastic from the landfill. Not bad for about 20 minutes of work on a weekend.

Depending on your preference, a wood burner can easily be used to add texturing to the grip.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss taking this grip to the next level with respect to customization.

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About the author: Ivan Loomis has spent a lot of time outdoors, backpacking and camping as well as extensive international travel. Eventually, he landed in the Marine Corps in the late 90’s. After a hiatus from the service to race the Baja 1000 a couple times, he reenlisted with the Air Force. Departing that he wound up in a large metropolitan Police Department for a spell before landing in the Security Contracting world.One constant through these experiences was gear and weapons. Having spent time in a lot of environments and with the opportunity to field a lot of equipment, he’s grown fond of well-made gear.He now shares those experiences, adventures, and knowledge through contributing articles and videos to various publications, including his own site: www.kitbadger.com

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • tirod3 July 27, 2021, 6:21 am

    No,it’s not too short, and an experienced AR15 gunsmith who assembles custom guns per a customers wish list would be more than knowledgeable about the dozens of shorter grips available on the market. Some are barely buttons, and I can say the OP’s hands aren’t all that small. There are plenty smaller when you train 5′ females in basic. That grip is an ergonomic average size with a slight tendency for lenght to suit the MARINES who shoot a lot of long distance competition. The MARINES specified the A2 furniture, and the Army had to take it. That’s another issue with A2’s – the longer lenght of pull on the stock, which many foreign soldiers who had been used to the A1 despise. Another group of people who average less than 5’10” and who don’t need supersizec McAR’s.

    Further tips for customization: If you dont cut the leading bump off the bottom of the grip, you can drill a hole horizontally and install a sling swivel, which was actually used on the very first M16’s. It as an attempt to reduce the sling length and apparently even that isn’t pleasant in the field, as pics usually show the sling removed entirely in VN.

    You can use a drum sander, the sand paper roll kind, chucked in a drill to make the upper flats thinner, similar to the grooves on pistols, so that the finger will lay closer to the grip allowing better reach and control. That’s often included in aftermarket grips now. Since the front to back lenght of pull for the grip is pretty short already, it’s still a viable mod for younger shooters.,

    Grooving the front and back straps for ventilation, instead of stippling, don’t let your dremel get away with you. Duplicating the pattern on the A2 handguards with grooves and holes, skip checkering, golf ball dimpling, etc – look at all the grips on pistols, if it works on them it works on this.

    And if you do buy a newer grip – they run less that $20 in a lot of cases – you get a different angle than the milspec 33 degrees, which was selected for shooting in the prone. That is too much when kneeling or standing, where 25 or even 15 degrees has become common, even dominant. Nonetheless, a lot of the same customization can be done to them, too.

    As if that isn’t enough, there are now aluminum extruded grips with all sorts of webs and voids in them, $100 up. That can be replicated by cutting some of the A2 grip out with diamond or triangular shaped holes, There is a structural limit, yet nobody questions the nearly empty frame grips with almost no side panels at all. And nobody exclaims they may be unsafe, either.

    Keep in mind that the grip on an AR is a hand rest, and how you hold it with the off hand against your shoulder is what really controls the acccuracy. That dampens the affects of squeezing the trigger, something that does cause issues with a handgun, and why a two hand grip on them has become standard. For all that, an AR doesn’t really need much in the way of high speed low drag tactical or competition grip – it’s the public who demand their gun be as decorative as possible to gain social points over their peers. Mine is cooler than yours. The standard grip may be an institutional compromise to suit a wide range of users, that doesn’t make it useless. It’s done quite well proving it works in combat for over 45 years, and that we can even put up with that stupid nub and still qualify expert despite it. I had to make the change from A1 to A2 and for the most part, it was a negative experience, but it wasn’t life threatening. Old Goretex is, keep your priorities in mind.

  • Aaron April 1, 2021, 10:44 am

    Boy oh boy you all must have some seriously small hands the a2 grip fits my hand almost perfect, and my hand is bigger then the grip, but of course I have a size 16 ring finger. I just think it is uncomfortable grip plane and lifeless, but what do you expect from a standard military grip. Remember the military always uses the cheapest parts by the cheapest bidder Mil-spec. SUCKS!!! Truth Hurts Huh!!!

  • FattyMcNeal May 12, 2019, 10:19 pm

    It’s been 6 months, is part 2 still coming? What other hacks for the A2 grip does the author have up his sleeve?

  • Fred November 16, 2018, 8:55 pm

    I am a gunsmith and I would never hack up an A-2 this badly. the finger groove at the top yes, stippling the front, yes, stippling the back yes, but never shortening the grip. I swore and oath never to do anything unsafe or to remove a safety.. this falls under the heading of doing something unsafe by shortening the pistol grip. the other mods do not seem unsafe, but shortening the grip? WTF!

    • Jason Sinatra December 27, 2020, 7:57 pm

      Could you go into more specifics regarding why shortening the grip on an A2 pistol grip on an AR would be unsafe, remove a safety or both? IMHO there’s been plenty of service and duty rifles through the years that have had shorter pistol grips than the A2 and that was never a reason they were found to be unsafe. Off the top of my head I’m can think of the M14, M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, the STG-44, the AK 47, the SKS the MAS 38 as well as the MAS 49/56…. there are likely others I didn’t mention. I know that on the AR pattern rifles the spring and detent for the safety selector lever is partially housed in the top portion of the pistol grip but he didnt got anywhere near close to compromising that safety at all. I don’t want to act like I know better though since I’m just a stranger off the Internet that builds AR’s for fun. Not a gunsmith. Is there something I’m missing? Thanks

  • sigmundsauer November 16, 2018, 1:02 pm

    I understand if this mod works for you, and it definitely has merit. However, the standard A2 grip is in fact quite useful. Perhaps not for you. There are circumstances where that finger notch has great utility.

  • Kevin McCarthy November 16, 2018, 12:04 pm

    My favorite grip hack – Replace the A2 with the model that accepts 1911 grips!! Now you instantly have thousands to choose from – or – you can surf to etsy.com and have some custom 1911 grips made.

  • AJ November 16, 2018, 11:47 am

    Always been a big fan of self-made mods. As long as they are safe, legal, and functional of course….

  • justjim November 16, 2018, 11:13 am

    Well, Mr. Slim (That was meant as a respectful address and not snark) were I to spend $40 I would just go and get a Magpul M.O.E. Save $15 and use that for one of their fancy inserts that allows you to stow a bolt and firing pin.
    Unless you have some other tupperware to stipple, a one time purchase of a kit for use on one kit doesn’t make much sense.

  • Stephen Graham November 16, 2018, 10:13 am

    I like it!

  • Tamara Scott November 16, 2018, 9:41 am

    I layered a few coats of rubber sealant (As Seen On TV!) onto an A2 and an aftermarket grip I bought that didn’t go on an AR, but was used on a Ruger Charger. It greatly improves grip purchase and texture, reminiscent of a Magpul MOE.

    • William L Roan November 16, 2018, 11:46 am

      Even works under woooter!

  • singleshotcajun November 16, 2018, 7:26 am

    Looks like it was shortened for Marco Rubio’s pleasure 😉

  • kyle November 16, 2018, 6:19 am

    This is seriously worth writing an article? It doesn’t even address the real problem with A2 pistol grips which is the fact that they are too small. And here they are making them smaller. Nice.

    • William L Roan November 16, 2018, 11:45 am

      My thoughts exactly! The author must have very dainty hands, because I’m just 5’10” and an a2 grip feels like gripping a pencil to me, and there is little to no real estate past my pinky. The sub-hilt protrusion is the ONLY saving grace for an a2, allowing me to index off of it and get a repeatable grip, but he does away with that. I dig the stipling(a soldering iron would be a better tool for it I think) but that’s it. And the advice to use a 15 dollar p-mag on which to practise? Are you smoking bath salts? A2 grips cab be found for a couple of dollars or FREE – if you know just about anyone who has built or modified an AR, they’ll be glad just to get rid of them.

  • Slim November 16, 2018, 5:22 am

    Don’t use a wood burner! Use a stippling kit that is pretty much a wood burner except it’s meant to do the job of stippling which is what your doing when you add a grip surface to any grip. You can buy different tips that screw in and out with just your fingers that makes different patterns/shapes with each bit. You can go to places like Brownell’s for this equipment. I bought a basic set for around $40 and came with a few tips and then bought a few more tips separately from ODT for $5-$15 per tip. It does a professional job.

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