What to do with an ugly aluminum XR3-RED grip-frame:

Jeff H

NW Ohio
I've been through a fair number of Ruger revolvers in my time, both DA and SA, OM and NM. An OM Super Blackhawk was the first handgun I ever shot, fifty years ago, or more. It was a stout cast load (Ideal 429-303) and I was hooked. Just over ten years ago, I'd "settled" for an OM 45 Colt I'd bought cheap and did some work to to get it where I wanted my ONE single-action - at least the one I used most, like all the time. It had been messed with" and NOT collectible, so I cut it to 5.5", and had an eminently wonderfully handling big bore. I did this because I couldn't afford a 44 Special conversion, but there still ain't no flies on the 45 Colt by any means.

Along comes Lipseys and the 44 Special Flat Top. A Ruger collector brought it to my attention because I had turned him onto the 'Special, and he had a custom done by a famous fella an hour-plus east of us. It was/is a gem. So, to truncate the long thread, I offered him my 45 Colt OM in trade for a new Lipseys 44 Special - IF he could find one. Boy, he found one, and fast. We traded and I was pretty please. In the intervening years, I couldn't get that pig to shoot and sent it back to Ruger after trying for five years. I told the nice lady that I don't shoot like I USED TO, but I don't suck THAT bad. When they got the gun back, they agreed that it was wrong, but further decided it was unfixable and replaced it with a production version, with which I was even happier.

THEN, once I knew I had a "keeper," I started taking care of the necessary little tweaks. I added a NM SBH hammer, for which I also had to replace the trigger, because the trigger was too long - couldn't get the hammer back far enough for the sear to engage the hammer notch. Found a "short" trigger in the scant parts cache and worked with it until I got it functioning better than any one I'd had in the past. Swapped the steel grip frame (heresy, I know) for 500 rounds of Starline 357 brass, and bought a beat up XR3-RED from Numrich. NOW, this gun feels like the old OM 45 Colt, and the custom 44 Special OM BH ny dad just up and GAVE me one day. The weight distribution was prefect - what I was used to. I was lucky that I had just enough "meat" on the aluminum grip frame to fit it to the Flat Top 44 Special. It was CLOSE.

For several years now, I've had this skanky-looking grip frame on my favorite SA of all time, but it SHOOTS and I love the way it handles. I was able to put up with the ugliness because it was so perfect otherwise. To make it worse, I've had the original walnut panels left from the OM 45 Colt on it too, which had been very neatly, cleanly and completely drilled THROUGH the FRONT for the left panel's locator pin hole. NO idea how or why that would have happened, but there it is. I have been messing with the new Service Six lately and an stopped waiting for the grips I want. Started eyeballing this ugly situation and decided, what the heck, I'm going to sand that paint off and see how it looks!

I did NOT like the look of the BRIGHT aluminum on the blued gun and started wondering what to do about it. It doesn't have to be a pefect match to the gun's color, but so mething darker would be nice. It was like a new pair of white sneakers that flash before your eyes every step you take until they start to get a little soiled. Then, it hit me! I;d just tested a mil pasteurizer for a neighbor. This thing was made in 1952 and someone had prettied it up with a 320 grit foam sanding pad, inside and out and it's ALL aluminum. Running the pasteurizer through its paces, I heated softened well-water for the lack of that much milk, which is about cheaper than well-water these days. I filled the pasteurizer half full of water and ran it through a cycle. When I was done testing, I noticed the pot had a deep, even dull gray appearance where someone had taken the abrasives to it, and the top half was still bright and sort of shiny.

After I dealt (GENTLY) with the paint on the grip frame, starting with 220 grit, then putting some definition back into edges with some 320, followed by a Scotch-Bright pad, this thing was just too bright. I know it woould have toned down in time, but it had been too long, too ugly already. I suspended the bare grip frame in a stainless pot of well-water and boiled it for thirty minutes. It came out with that same dark, even gray and looked anodized, though I seriously doubt the "finish" will be anywhere near as durable. I waxed it heavily after it was dry, but still hot, and buffer it with a rag and installed it on the gun. I'm pleased with it, but if it fails to keep me happy over time, I'll have it bead-blasted and "paint" it or have it "painted. I'll decide what/how when that time comes.

From what I've read, this process sort of emulates passivation, and I've read that you can't actually passivate aluminum. Supposedly, you can "passivate" aluminum (even though it can't be passivated) with a citric acid bath too, but I was looking for this color and anxious to see how it looks after some handling and use. I've cleaned high-carbon steel using citric acid and it blackens it, but the "finish" is very fragile and ephemeral - literally rubbing off onto your hands.

I have better photos floating around in lala-land, between my phone and e-mail, but I think USPS must be involved in that particular digital delivery, because they can take hours or days to show up in my e-mail.


XR3-RED-001 (Copy).jpg
 

Ian

Notorious member
Nice. I have simmered a few aluminum bullet moulds in well water plus a little liquid dish detergent and they turn a nice dark grey like that. You can't passivate aluminum but you can anodize it. The dye will eventually fade though.

Best thing I can think of is Duracoat, they make rattle-can blue in several shades and sheens and the catalyst is inside the can. Pop the catalyst, shake, and spray. Pot life is long enough for at least two coats. Expensive and one can is enough for a couple of long guns.

Powder coat is another good option but the color, sheen, and depth are hard to match and it would need masking in a lot of places.
 

CWLONGSHOT

Residing in New England
On one of mine the finish was badly scuffed. I tried this and that but it always bothered me. (Before the internet) I decided to strip it a d found the surface wrought with tooling and mold marks. So I took the dremil to them and then added the grip panels and fit them better. I bought the brownels finish but didnt have a good way to heat so just kept polishing finishing with Flitz. So now its super shiny aluminum. I like the results.
CW
 

david s

Active Member
Polish it and fit the grips then Dura or Cerakoat it. You can get any color you want. I haven't tried this but maybe someone here has, could you powder coat it like you would some cast bullets?
 

Jeff H

NW Ohio
:)Lots of good options! Thanks all.

My primary interest was less to make it really pretty and more just to mitigate some of the excess ugly. The old grip frame was beyond a "patina" or "honest wear." The bare spots were distracting. I'm inclined to leave it as-is, liking the muted aesthetic, but I appreciate the ideas in case I change my mind.

CW, you're not kidding about what's under the paint! That stuff covers a lot of ugly. Overall, the surface was very uneven and corners were undefined. There were "low spots" where the finish filled in and it wasn't from someone leaning on the grinder, at least where they were located. It tool some careful sanding with a number of different backers to make it look like I always thought they looked under that paint.

I think the not-so-shiny luster to the paint fools the eye quite a bit. A full blown polish on this one would have made several little eyesores really pop and make it look even worse.

@Ian , did the surface coloration on the moulds have any benefit in casting, or was the color simply a by-product of degreasing a new mould? I have poured boiling well water on new aluminum moulds (with no coloration occurring) to degrease, but not have submerged on in a pot and boiled it.
 

JustJim

Active Member
THEN, once I knew I had a "keeper," I started taking care of the necessary little tweaks. I added a NM SBH hammer, for which I also had to replace the trigger, because the trigger was too long - couldn't get the hammer back far enough for the sear to engage the hammer notch. Found a "short" trigger in the scant parts cache and worked with it until I got it functioning better than any one I'd had in the past. Swapped the steel grip frame (heresy, I know) for 500 rounds of Starline 357 brass, and bought a beat up XR3-RED from Numrich. NOW, this gun feels like the old OM 45 Colt, and the custom 44 Special OM BH ny dad just up and GAVE me one day. The weight distribution was prefect - what I was used to. I was lucky that I had just enough "meat" on the aluminum grip frame to fit it to the Flat Top 44 Special. It was CLOSE.
I've always thought the best-balanced Blackhawk was with a 5 1/2" barrel and aluminum grip frame. I've cut a couple of 41 mags and OM 44 Flattops to this, and was quickly traded out of each. Currently I'm shooting a Bisley 44 Special Flattop with 5 1/2" barrel, and. . . the only thing I don't like is the balance. I'm about halfway looking for the parts to convert it to a regular SAA w/XR3-RED (since I have a spare on my desk). Balance might be OK with a 6 1/2" barrel, or even 7 1/2"; with a 5 1/2" and a steel Bisley frame, it is just too butt-heavy. Shoots like a house afire though.

As for refinishing ratty XR3s, I've used rattle can VHT epoxy paint ("Satin Black") several times. Fit the grips. Remove the frame from the gun. Degrease the frame (toothbrush and acetone), then spray. I usually (i.e. "when I remember") mask the parts that contact the frame of the gun, and most of the interior of the grip. Seems to hold up well--those done 6-7 years ago still look like new.

When you paint, have something else handy to paint too, as the dang nozzles tend to get plugged after one use no matter what you do.

Another option I've considered but not yet tried is powder coating. Thought about doing it at home, but the local guy said he'd do it for $20. At that price, I'll let him.
 

Ian

Notorious member
The grey "finish" on the moulds seemed to make the lead stick less. Didn't make up for burrs at the cavity edges or plugging the vent lines, but kept the "tinning" that can start in a fresh, new, shiny mould from getting started. Don't use a lemon-flavored detergent, regular Palmolive or Dawn works fine. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, boiling will make a volcano! By the way, your grip frame looks good to me and about what my boiled moulds look like. The grey finish is pretty durable and I bet yours will last quite a while since you waxed it.
 

Jeff H

NW Ohio
Thanks, @Ian , I think, volcanoes aside, the "simmer" in lieu of the boil would have been just as effective. The pasteurizer I was testing never got past about 170F - never boiled and took that same appearance.

I wonder if this provides any protection at all against corrosion. I don't oil or grease my moulds and they don't corrode, nor do my grip frames, but that pasteurizer pot had a few nasty pits in it.

@JustJim , if that "balance" works for you, I'd go ahead and swap out for a XR3-RED. You wouldn't have to fit it or finish it to try it out. Seems we have a common appreciation for a specific weight distribution, even though everyone's tastes and preferences differ, I feel the steel ERH and aluminum grip frame on the 5.5" barrels work very nicely. While the OM 45 Colt was bigger, it also had slightly bigger holes and felt about the same. The Custom my dad commissioned on an OM 357 got a 6" barrel, but "feels" the same to me. That barrel was a Bisley SBH barrel that had some ugliness in the bore under the front sight. They replaced the barrel and returned the old one as well, so it went onto the custom. I BELIEVE it had to be turned down slightly because all the text on the barre is gone.
 

Ian

Notorious member
I don't rub sweaty palms on my moulds or store them in leather holsters, so I couldn't say. However, I think you could degrease and re-treat your grip frame dozens of times without damaging it, which isn't really true of most coatings and finishes. Also, while it will scratch, it won't chip or flake.
 

JustJim

Active Member
@JustJim , if that "balance" works for you, I'd go ahead and swap out for a XR3-RED. You wouldn't have to fit it or finish it to try it out. Seems we have a common appreciation for a specific weight distribution, even though everyone's tastes and preferences differ, I feel the steel ERH and aluminum grip frame on the 5.5" barrels work very nicely. While the OM 45 Colt was bigger, it also had slightly bigger holes and felt about the same. The Custom my dad commissioned on an OM 357 got a 6" barrel, but "feels" the same to me. That barrel was a Bisley SBH barrel that had some ugliness in the bore under the front sight. They replaced the barrel and returned the old one as well, so it went onto the custom. I BELIEVE it had to be turned down slightly because all the text on the barre is gone.
I should, but probably won't get around to it. De-bislification involves trigger and hammer swap and a few other headaches. OTOH, it might be worth it: the aluminum XR3RED is several ounces (5? 6?) lighter than the steel Bisley. I've been thinking about it since my earlier post in this thread, and came up with a few ideas.

I used to have a .475 Linebaugh I could swap a SBH frame etc onto. That was manageable for 50 shots or so of full-power loads. I even shot it with an XR3RED but not as much (worried about breaking the frame). I think the thing that made both options an improvement was that I had Pachmayr grips on them, more importantly, the Pachs filled in the area behind the trigger guard, giving me a better hold. The balance of this 44 mid-frame reminds me of that .475 with Bisley grips.

My second 475 had been fitted with Fishpaw grips (I suspect before it was sent to Linebaugh, but I didn't get a history when I traded into it). The grips differed some in the taper, and seemed to fit my hands better so the balance was (at least subjectively) better. I used to think if it had been fitted with something like a Tyler T-grip, it might have been even better.

The problem of course is that no one makes an aftermarket grip that hits on these two points. No Pachs, no Hogues. When I couldn't sleep last night I went out to the shop and dug through my shelf of assorted hardwoods and picked out some stock that might work for protyping something along the lines I have in mind. Maybe I'll get started after this next heatwave. . . .
 

Jeff H

NW Ohio
I should, but probably won't get around to it. ........................

When I couldn't sleep last night I went out to the shop and dug through my shelf of assorted hardwoods and picked out some stock that might work for protyping something along the lines I have in mind. Maybe I'll get started after this next heatwave. . . .

That sounds like the thought process I went through, except that on anything 44 Mag and down, the XR3-RED actually FITS me, so I don't have those worries - on a single-action. I'll never break the XR3-RED with my loads in the 44 Special, which are between the original factory stuff and Elmer's favorite. Usually keep them between 850 and 1kfps.

I weigh stuff - all kinds of stuff, and write down what it weighs. Sadly, it never even occurred to me to weigh the steel grip-frame (XR3, "gen II?") grip frame, and the aluminum XR3-RED when I had them both in my possession. I've never weighed a Bisley grip frame, even though I'd had two on SBHs and a Flat Top 44 Special I never even shot. I got that one because it was beautiful, available and I had the money, but I get lost on all that grip and can't hold it the same way twice. A married-in uncle, who didn't even shoot just had to have it and I moved it.

I DO have two DAs I am struggling with for grips - one, a 3" Charter 357, and there are very few aftermarket options which suit me for those. Those that ARE available are almost always too big or a "boot grip." I need something like the Pachmayr Compac PROFESSIONAL, with the exposed back strap, like they make for the Smith J-frames. The regular Compac grip they make has way too much meat on the back, covering the backstrap. For now, I've ground down the original (miserable) stock rubber grips set so that the rubber covering the back strap is very thin. One of the later skimpy sets of wooden (checkered vintage) panels, which were more "squarish," like some of Smith's grips, with a Tyler T-Grip may be the ticket.

The other is a Service Six, for which options are narrowing, but I bought the Pachmayr Compac for that, and it too has too much meat on the back strap. Into the unused holster/grip box they have gone. I finally found a set of Compac PROFESSIONAL for it, and they are supposed to be here tomorrow. Here's hoping that one works. I "round-butted" the Service Six, so SPEED Six grips will fit. The Compac Pachmayrs were only made for the Speed Six, as far as I can tell.

As for DAs, the most absolutely perfectly fitting grip I've ever used on one - ANY of them, is the one Rossi put on the 720s. It's smaller at the bottom, unlike anyone else's rubber grips and fits me perfectly. If I had a set, I'd consider hogging them out and refitting them by means of bedding compound to the Charter. It would be worth the effort, but I'll wait until they do a fixed sight 3" before I went to that trouble.

That leaves me sorting through my shelves for a small piece of wood for the Flat Top. If I'm going to go to the trouble, I'm going to want it to be nice wood. Now, I have to run through the same thought process which would ultimately leave me without excuses to not do it, so it might be another couple years before I make some grips for the Flat Top.

If you make a set, don't forget us. Pictures would be great.
 

JustJim

Active Member
Did some shooting today, ran into an old friend. One of the guys had picked up a shortened OM 44 Flattop and was whining that it kicked, and wouldn't take half his factory ammo. I made an offer, we'll see if he takes me up on it. That gun was optimized for cast bullets, and never did like factory ammo after it was fit with our best approximation of "match chambers" in the new line-bored cylinder.

Got an idea for my Bisley. I'm going to make up some blank grip panels from whatever 1/4" hardwood I've got on the shelf, then build it all up with epoxy putty. That should give me a pattern of what I need to carve.

Charter used to make a rubber-ish grip very much like the Pach Professional you described: I had a set on a Bulldog that I liked. Might be worth watching for a set, or for a gun you can swap the grips out on and move down the road. Hope the Compac Professionals work out for you. The Speed Six was always a headache to find grips for. If it comes down to needing to carve grips, shoot me a PM. I've got lots of relatively small pieces of hardwoods on hand.
 

Jeff H

NW Ohio
Did some shooting today, ran into an old friend. One of the guys had picked up a shortened OM 44 Flattop and was whining that it kicked, and wouldn't take half his factory ammo. I made an offer, we'll see if he takes me up on it. That gun was optimized for cast bullets, and never did like factory ammo after it was fit with our best approximation of "match chambers" in the new line-bored cylinder.
That sounds like an exciting possibility. I have a friend, who will disparage and complain about a knife or a gun, and if it interests me, I'll offer to buy it. I always offer a reasonable price, so I know that's not the reason he ALWAYS declines and stops complaining about it. Once he realizes someone else wants it, he shuts up and wants to keep it. Sometimes, I'll offer to buy something I DON'T want just so he won't complain about it any more. I love the guy like a brother, but sometimes the "mute button" needs to get pressed. If I talk about something he doesn't want to hear about, he just up and leaves. :) Good luck! I hope you can make the exchange.
Got an idea for my Bisley. I'm going to make up some blank grip panels from whatever 1/4" hardwood I've got on the shelf, then build it all up with epoxy putty. That should give me a pattern of what I need to carve.
That may be the trick. I'm OK doing 3D, but I'm more "angular," and can imagine a piece of furniture or cabinet-work, but even a simple-looking set of grips would try me, but that doesn't mean I won't do it. It'll just take a while to get it "right."
Charter used to make a rubber-ish grip very much like the Pach Professional you described: I had a set on a Bulldog that I liked. Might be worth watching for a set, or for a gun you can swap the grips out on and move down the road. Hope the Compac Professionals work out for you. The Speed Six was always a headache to find grips for. If it comes down to needing to carve grips, shoot me a PM. I've got lots of relatively small pieces of hardwoods on hand.
Well, the Compac "Professionals" were NOT. Guy posted the wrong photo. Found another set and paid dearly for them and will be returning these as soon as I get a new ink cartridge.

I haven't missed much in the way of Charter over the years - up until the current century. I've seen their
"boot grip," which has no back strap, but they are two-fingered grips - too short. If there's something else out there, I haven't seen it but I'll surely look. I think t hey get ignored because most people buy them because they're cheap (the gun) and don't fuss over them or "accessorize," as the younger crowd tends to say. I'll step up my game and see if I can locate such a Charter grip. I've considered taking an old set of the bulbous "Bulldog" grips and paring them down to what I want, but even those are getting pricey. Waiting for a show in October to see what my local fellow shooters have in their "junk boxes," too.