Thursday, March 19, 2015

Smoothing a Walther PPK/S grip frame

The Walther PPK is the smaller brother of the Walther PP. The PP is short for the German Polizeipistole or Police Pistol in English. 
The PP was designed in 1929 and some of its features found their way onto the Walther P38 Service pistol, which replaced the P08 Luger as the German Army sidearm in 1938.

The K in PPK is German for Kurtz or Kriminalmodell (depending on who you ask), Kurtz meaning short and Kriminalmodell meaning "Investigator or Detective". The Kurtz moniker makes sense as it is basically a shorter, smaller version of the PP. Kriminalmodell perhaps indicates that the PPK was designed as the "undercover" gun. 

The PPK/s is a hybrid, using the longer grip frame of the PP and the barrel/slide of the PPK. The PPK/s was created to get around import restrictions that resulted from the unconstitutional 1968 Gun Control Act.

The gun has quite a history tied to it. Beyond the allure of being the "official" sidearm of MI6 Agent 007 James Bond

The gun (actually a PP) was also used by Adolph Hitler to commit suicide, on April 30th 1945, when he saw that his dreams of his master race ruling the world were lost. 

The Walther PP, PPK & PPK/S models are perhaps the most copied small pistol(s) of all time (see my blog post  here). I am guessing this is because the gun is easy to produce. The design is a blow back operation with a fixed barrel. It only has a few moving parts and a few springs.

The little Walther does have its detractors though. 
Author Stephen Hunter has some pretty strong feelings regarding the gun. He has given it plenty of colorful nicknames like "a hand full of Hell", "Nietzschean poetry in steel" and "a fist full of barbed wire".

 The following popular quote from him suggests he spent some time with the gun and suffered from it: “Its tragic flaw is that when it was designed, streamline was the hot lick, but nobody had heard of ergonomics; men adjusted to machines, not the other way around. And though it looks sleek, its edges are all razor sharp, while the trigger pull is like dragging a 75-pound rake across gravel. When you finally get the 10-pound lever far enough back to fire, the pipsqueak jumps like a snapping mousetrap as it recoils, the slide shooting back in supertime, then forward again as all those edges cut into your flesh"
Strong words indeed.......

I bought a PPK/S a few years back as a birthday present to myself. After handling it and shooting it I found what Stephen Hunter was referring to.

The gun has a lot of sharp edges. Perhaps these edges help with its sexy, racy lines, but it is a bastard to shoot. I wanted to do something about the back strap where it cut into the webbing of my hand, but I did not want to change the look by doing a full on "melt job".
My particular PPK/S was built under license in the U.S.A. by Smith & Wesson. 

The gun's frame is crafted from investment cast stainless steel (which I believe are made by Ruger's Pine Tree Casting division). Smith & Wesson changed the frame design to include a beavertail at the rear of the grip to help eliminate the infamous slide bite.
This picture shows the new S&W made PPK above an older PPK/S, you can see the added beavertail as well as the difference in grip frame lengths. One easy way to tell the PPK & PPK/S apart is the grip. On the smaller PPK the back strap is covered by the grip, on the PPK/S the back strap is exposed.

Perhaps it was part of the original design or a lack of finish work that left the sharp edges to cut into the shooter's hand.
S&W did add a larger "beaver tail" to help prevent slide bite, maybe this made things worse? 
Either way I wanted to make it more pleasurable to shoot, so I decided to try and round the edges. I did not take pictures of the process, but I am guessing you can imagine what sanding a rough edge looks like. Here are the finished results. From a distance you cannot tell the gun has been messed with. I removed just enough material to make it comfortable to shoot.

 I looked into installing a reduced power hammer spring. I have read that some people have had trouble with light strikes as a result. It is really only an issue on the double action (1st trigger pull). 
Remember, no gun is perfect and every part of the design is a result of a compromise. The PPK/S is far from perfect, but I like it anyway. 

Many of these pictures were found freely on the world wide web and are used under the guidelines of Fair Use, per Title 17 of the U.S. Code. Where possible the source has been credited.
If you own the copyright to any of these images and wish them to be credited or removed, please contact me immediately.

Washington Post


  1. The melt job that you did has nothing to do with the bad rep of the pistol. The blood comes from when the slide comes back the bottom edge of the slide will slice into the web of the hand between the thumb and first finger in 2 bloody grooves. the fix is to lower your grip hand or as S&W did was extend the beavertail to force a lower grip. your beveling of the beavertail is only cosmetic. it did not fix the PPK's notorious "Slide Bite".

  2. Mr. Anonymous,
    You are correct in your definition of "slide bite", but the pistol's reputation for being uncomfortable comes from more than just the tearing of the skin by the rear of the slide.
    These guns are just plain uncomfortable to shoot as they come from the factory, the sharp edges dig into the web of your hand. I don't know of any other automatic pistol that comes with 90 degree edges like that of the PPK. I believe S&W's beavertail, while fixing the slide bite issue, made it more uncomfortable than before.
    Perhaps you should try shooting one of the new ones to see what I mean.

  3. Heya TCB, good to see you are still doing great work. While Anonymous is right about the bite, that is actually fixed by holding it with your middle finger overlapping your thumb. that pulls the web down low enough that no bite yet your grip is still strong and secure. And the S&W made versions had some real problems with the roughness of the chamber and throat. almost like the mill they were cut on was messed up. glad yours didn't have that problem. Now that Walther has the manufacturing back hopefully the quality will go back up. S&W never had any incentive for these to do well. Looks great, hope it shoots as good as it looks.