The ins and outs of Beavertail Grip Safeties
Current production beavertail grip safeties can be divided into three main groups: those with a .250" frame radius, those with the Wilson pattern compound radius and the S&A's. The first group was originally made popular by the Ed Brown Memory Groove beavertail. This first group includes the Ed Brown, the STI Competition and the Chip McCormick. They are all similar in appearance to the Ed Brown. Also using a .250" frame radius is the Smith & Alexander (S&A), but is not included in the first group because it does not share the same external contours. Because of their unique characteristics, I'll treat the S&A's as a third group.
Group 1 beavertails all share the common trait of raising your hand appreciably higher on the frame of the pistol than most other grip safeties. Because these safeties all raise the firing hand so high, there are some peculiarities associated with their installation on certain pistols. The Group 1 beavertails all require a good bit more external metal removal than the other two groups. Because Group 1 beavertails all use a .250" radius, the initial installation can be done on a mill with special tooling and then hand filed to fit. Type 1 beavertails present their own installation challenge. Because the sides of the frame tangs need to be shaped in an arc that matches up to the "tail" part of the grip safety, the lower side of the "shield" part of the thumb safety must be raised to match, otherwise it will overhang the frame's edge (when it's in the "disengaged or down" position). When the shield is reshaped to not overhang, a small portion of the hole in the frame that is beneath the shield may be exposed to view when the safety is raised to the "engaged or up" position. If you have an objection to the hole being exposed, you'd be well advised to select a Group 3 safety, that doesn't raise the hand quite so high. In practice, this is rarely a problem.
Group 2 beavertails all use the compound frame radius developed by Wilson Combat. This group includes the Wilson #298, the Caspian, Clark and Springfield Armory. The Group 2 products take less work to blend the exterior to the frame than the Group 1 beavertails, but because the frame joint is a compound radius, it's initial installation to the frame tangs is not conducive to machine cutting. Group 2's are generally ground to rough shape, using a template, then filed to fit by hand. They all give you the advantage of raising your hand on the frame, but not quite as high as Group 1. Group 2 safeties are a little less likely to expose the hole than Group 1 safeties.
Group 3, the Smith and Alexander products, use either a .250" radius or a .220" radius. The smaller .220" radius was developed to solve a particular installation challenge found primarily on Springfield Armory frames (although it can be found on others). The S&A's need very little blending on the exterior, but in trade raise the hand little, if any. The Baer beavertail is very similar to the .250" S&A.
The majority of beavertails include a raised pad at the bottom of the grip safety. The pad's purpose is to ensure that the grip safety will be adequately depressed, thereby unblocking the trigger, allowing the pistol to be fired. Everyone's hands are different, but it's pretty uncommon for me to be asked to fit a grip safety that doesn't have the pad. The point at which the trigger is un-blocked is adjustable during installation. I offer tuning to aid shooters who have trouble with the grip safety not releasing. It should not be set too close, or you'll find yourself with a non-functioning safety down the road. I recommend having your beavertail “sensitized” in this manner.
The "tail" part of the beavertail can be fitted to join the top of the frame tangs a couple of different ways. You'll need to specify which way you want the "tail" registered, when you order.
- Top-Registered: The "tail" can be matched to the frame tang so it's flush with the top of the frame tangs when in the safety-engaged position, as it would be while not gripped in your hand.
- Bottom Registered: "tail" can also be matched to be flush with the frame tangs in the safety-disengaged position, as it would be while gripped in your hand.
The bottom face will always be matched to be flush in the safety-disengaged (gripped in hand) position, to give a comfortable grip.
Specific installation challenges
It's not uncommon to encounter a particular frame and beavertail combination (regardless of brand) that has a larger gap between the frame tangs than the width of the mating section of the beavertail. Without taking corrective action, you'll wind up with a custom beavertail that will wiggle from side to side. Some will wiggle enough to expose abrasive edges and corners. This looks and feels bad!
My solution is to correct the problem at its root cause, rather than to try to resolve it by shaping the exterior. I do this by calculating the amount of clearance existing and determining whether the frame needs to be welded on both sides or just one. Then using a TIG welder to minimize unnecessary heat, weld in a bead of steel on one or both internal faces of the frame, depending on the particular set of circumstances. I fixture the frame in the milling machine and re-machine the gap to allow a near-zero side-to-side clearance of .001" or less.
By centering the beavertail in the frame and fitting it to eliminate side-to-side movement, I'm able to grind and blend the exterior to its best appearance and most comfortable fit in your hand. If welding is needed to perfect the fit, the cost runs $75.00 and up, depending on the amount of welding required.
The Colt frame really matches up well with either the S&A or the Chip McCormick beavertail. Some frames may benefit from a bit of welding to correct any side-to-side movement, but normally, that’s all. If you want the highest grip, choose the CMC. If you want the most comfortable, the S&A is my pick.
The Kimber frame is cut to a .250" radius from the factory. Hopefully it's cut just a little on the shallow side to allow fitting a Group 1 safety without welding the frame radius and re-cutting. Group 2 or 3 beavertails will most likely need welding to make a proper fit. Replacing a Kimber factory beavertail with a CMC beavertail is a pretty popular modification and generally gives the best fit.
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about beavertail installations on Springfield pistols. First, there are two different frames to consider: the Mil-Spec / WW II frames with original style frame tangs and "Loaded" pistols that come with a factory beavertail.
Loaded model frames are cut for Wilson pattern beavertails and are usually over cut as they come from the factory. To get a nice tight joint, I usually weld the radius and re-fit the stock beavertail or a Wilson. A Group 1 beavertail can be fit, but will require a good bit of weld build up.
Early Loaded model frames are cut for Wilson pattern beavertails and later ones are cut for a .220” radius. Both are usually over cut as they come from the factory. To get a nice tight joint, I usually weld up the frame tang radii and re-fit either the stock beavertail or an S&A. A Group 1 beavertail can be fit, but will require a good bit of weld build up.
All factory frames not supplied with a beavertail can be fitted with a S&A .220” radius beavertail which will give a proper fit with little likelihood of needing any welding, other than maybe between the tangs to center the beavertail. A Group 1 beavertail can be fit, but will require welding to be done on the tops of the frame tangs, to be able to shape to a top register fit.
I prefer the Chip McCormick beavertail in most situations where the client wants to have a high grip and the frame tang configuration will allow it. Its dimensions are accurate and consistent. It does a great job getting your hand high on the grip and it’s proportions and exterior appearance makes for a good-looking installation. It’s a great fit on Colt frames and many others. Extra welding is required to install on Springfield.
I like the Wilson beavertails for situations where the client either specifies it, or the frame tang design requires it and welding is not an alternative. This beavertail is also available in a barstock version at extra cost. The barstock part has a ‘tail section that is a little “swoopier” than the original and probably needs a little trimming back to really look right.
S&A beavertails make a nice installation on many frames. They do not have the highest grip, but since the are very nicely rounded in the area adjacent to the web of your hand, may be as comfortable as you’ll find.
You may notice that there are brands of beavertails that I did not include in my “Picks”. That is because I have tried them and found them lacking. They have one issue or another that compromise the quality of the installation, so for that reason I don’t promote them.