When the double action, swing-out cylinder revolver began to take shape in the late 1800s, it seemed like the designers had already used up all their energy by the time they got to the back end. The grip frames on these guns were universally small, and the grips (or “stocks,” in S&W parlance) almost looked like they were afterthoughts.
The tiny handles of wood or hard rubber used by Colt’s and Smith & Wesson on these early “Hand Ejectors” left a large part of the upper frame and recoil shoulder area completely exposed. They closely followed the lines of the skinny frames, giving nothing extra to hang onto. It was Peter Paul Mauser’s legendary autopistol that earned the sobriquet of “broomhandle” in this era for its unusual grip, but the Hand Ejectors didn’t lag far behind in terms of poor ergonomics.
Fixing the grip
These skinny grip frames didn’t give much purchase to control the gun during recoil, and they also didn’t work very well for shooters with normal-to-large sized hands, who quickly ran out of space to put all their digits. A better solution was obviously needed.
The fix came in the form of grip adapters, which were added to the skinny frames to change the shape of the gripping surface, and reposition the hand on the frame. These adapters were used in conjunction with the existing stocks to change the feel of the gun, and the idea was popular enough that they were made by many companies.
Smith & Wesson introduced their first grip adapter for the N-Frame guns around 1932, with a K-Frame version that followed around 1934. The Smith & Wesson grip adapter had two blued steel plates which fit under the stock panels, and held a rubber filler in place (which was secured to the plates by a screw) in the area forward of the front strap and behind the trigger guard. This adapter filled the area where the frame rests on the middle finger, in a similar manner to the Roper-style target stocks that were starting to become popular in this era.
Other companies, like Pachmayr, Mershon and Tyler produced their own versions of grip adapters in the post-WWII era with great success. These designs were different than the S&W adapter, because they were composed of a single, curved piece, instead of several parts. These adapters did the same job, however, and filled the gap behind the trigger guard.
The single-piece adapters had little metal tabs that extended on the backside of the adapter. These metal tabs gripped the front strap of the frame, and the grip/stock panels were placed over them and secured in place with the grip screw, which held the adapter in place.
Smith & Wesson developed their own copy of this design in the 1950s, and the collection of companies did a good business selling the adapters even after the improved (but still not great) S&W Magna-style stocks were introduced right before WWII.
The influence of Walter Roper’s target stock design was strong, and it wasn’t long before Colt’s and Smith & Wesson were making their own target-style handles, circa 1950s. The target stocks made grip adapters unnecessary, and as they became more popular in the 60s and 70s, the market for grip adapters began to fall off. By the time disco was being replaced by new wave, only the Tyler T-Grip remained in production.
Today, we’ve still got Tyler Manufacturing making grip adapters (after some interruptions, as the family business changed hands) and they’re joined by a new kid on the block, BK Grips. The Tyler units are made from either aluminum or bronze, and the BK Grips units are made from molded polymer, but they all perform the same function.
The grip adapters fill the area underneath the frame and behind the trigger guard, where the gun rests on your middle finger. As a result, your grasp on the gun is shifted downwards on the frame.
This was the design intent of the target stocks popularized by Roper in the 1930s. It was felt that forcing the hand lower on the frame would place the trigger finger in a better position to work the trigger straight to the rear. The in-line relationship between the trigger and finger would give better control and accuracy, particularly in the single-action fire that was popular at the time in the target shooting games.
I think the adapters accomplish this well, but with a big hand like mine, things can feel a little crowded behind the trigger guard, particularly with the smaller D-Frame Colts and J-Frame Smith & Wessons. Additionally, you can run out of grip frame really quick, and the bottom of your hand can be hanging off the bottom edge of the gun with nothing to hold onto.
As a result, I like the adapters better on the medium-frame guns (like the Smith & Wesson K-Frames) where they fill my hand better, without pushing fingers off the bottom of the gun, or making it feel crowded by the trigger guard.
The old Pachmayr units lacked finger grooves, but both the Tyler and BK Grips products incorporate a single finger groove on the front, to aid in control. This is one of those things that you’ll either love or hate, depending on how the adapter fits your hand. I personally find that the finger groove sometimes hits me in the wrong spot, and would prefer an adapter without one, but there are none in production without the groove, currently. If you search around on the internet, you can still find some old Pachmayr units without the finger groove, if you really want them.
From a practical standpoint, I think I’d rather have a good set of stocks on my gun than try to augment a poorly-designed set with a grip adapter. The adapters help to fill the hand a little more, but there’s a lot more material in a good set of stocks, and I find that I get a more comfortable and efficient fit with them.
However, every hand is unique, and for a lot of RevolverGuys out there, a grip adapter is the perfect solution. One benefit I have to concede is that the grip adapters allow better access for a speedloader than the vast majority of replacement stocks out there. If you stick with the “splinter grips,” and augment the frame with an adapter, your speedloader isn’t going to have to fight its way into the cylinder like it does with many stock designs. Score one for the grip adapter.
Plus, there’s something about a grip adapter that makes it look “right” on an older gun. You could put a modern set of stocks on an old Colt, but they would look out of place. It’s kinda like putting oversized rims on the family sedan—you could do it, but it just wouldn’t look right. Life’s too short to shoot an ugly or goofy looking revolver, so that’s not an inconsiderable benefit of the grip adapter.
The grip adapter seems like it still has legs, and I’m glad. It’s a neat way to carry on the RevolverGuy tradition!