January 26, 2022
Firearm addicts have certain milestones they hope to achieve. Yours might be the acquisition of a vintage firearm you’ve fantasized about for 40 years. Maybe it involves winning a shooting match with your father’s 1911. Or it might be chasing elk somewhere with a cherished big-game rifle. The point is: If you’re deep enough into firearms, you have a dream that involves a particular gun.
As with many of you, there’s no shortage of ideas percolating in my brain. Most fizzle out, but periodically one sticks with me until completion. Due to simplicity and cost, it usually involves ARs. However, last year I decided it was time to build a tricked-out, polymer-framed 9mm Glock.
Why Glock? Because Glock is the AR-15 of the pistol world. Parts are everywhere, assembly is straightforward, and the basic design is functional, highly reliable, practical, and affordable, making this the obvious starting point. When I stumbled upon a used Glock 23 in .40 S&W with a homemade stipple job at a local shop for just over $300, I began researching aftermarket slides, sights, and red-dot options.
Let the games begin.
Rock the Glock
The goal for this pistol was a flashy yet functional work of art that blurred the lines between a competition “race gun” and what might be found on the hip of a merc in a John Wick movie. I wanted a high-performance pistol that looked the part but wouldn’t sacrifice reliability. So I didn’t mess with the proven Glock innards yet tweaked pretty much everything else.
The first change was to switch calibers from the .40 S&W to the 9mm Luger. Nothing against the .40—it’s an underrated and effective round. However, the 9mm is the king of pistol cartridges for a multitude of reasons. While there are aftermarket 9mm barrels that work in .40 slides, I decided against using the factory slide and went full custom.
Eric Poole, the editor of Guns & Ammo, pointed me to Rival Arms, a Dallas, Texas, maker of USA-made aftermarket pistol and rifle accessories. Digging into what the company offers, I selected a Glock 19 RMR slide that features racy lines and three window cuts and is milled to accept a red dot with a Trijicon RMR footprint. It looked like the perfect upper to add to the G23 lower. Here’s where I realized the cost of the build wouldn’t be as pedestrian as I’d hoped. Oh, well. As my first and only tricked-out pistol, to heck with the budget. I say build it right.
Before leaving Rival Arms, I added a slide completion kit and a threaded 9mm barrel. Made from stainless steel and nitride coated, the barrel is a work of art and features spiral fluting that enhances the look of the pistol. Plus, it’s built to endure wear.
The barrel is threaded for a muzzle device or suppressor, but I have no plans to suppress it—I can’t find any practicality in carrying a suppressed pistol. At that length, I might as well carry the KelTec SUB2000. The threaded barrel was selected because it’s slightly longer and, let’s be honest, adds a bit of flair.
The total damage from Rival Arms came to nearly triple the cost of the donor firearm. Ouch. Little did I know that the costs had just begun.
- Glock 19 RMR Cut Slide: $471
- Glock 19 Threaded Barrel: $236
- Glock Slide Completion Kit: $142
On a custom pistol build, a red-dot sight (RDS) is a must. RDS-equipped pistols are no longer “the way of future”—they are the present. Anyone embarking upon a custom striker-fired project, no matter the size of the pistol, must realize that.
The RDS world is rapidly expanding as more and more manufacturers battle for a slice of the booming market. Sight quality is going up and prices are going down, both of which are good for consumers. For this project, however, I stuck with a brand I trusted. Trijicon is by far the most experienced manufacturer of slide-worthy sights.
Trijicon’s new Specialized Reflex Optic (SRO) is longer, taller, and wider than the company’s popular RMR sight, which has been the gold standard for over a decade. Unlike the RMR design, the SRO has a circular viewing window and a distortion-free image.
The SRO features a 2.5-MOA dot, 3-year battery life, and simple adjustments, and it’s waterproof down to 10 feet. While it may not be as durable as the RMR (what is?), I don’t plan on seeing combat any time soon. And if something were to happen to the red dot, I have backup sights from XS Sights to rely on.
We all know the sight snobs among us: people who refuse to use anything but aftermarket pistol sights. Well, I’m the polar opposite of that, the weirdo who gets along just fine with factory sights. However, adding an RDS to most pistols precludes the use of standard-height sights, so I needed an aftermarket set for this build. I turned to XS Sights.
My first XS product goes back over 20 years to my first rifle purchase. (I challenge you to come up with a worse rifle for a 120-pound boy than a Marlin 1895 Guide Gun in .45-70.) Since then, I’ve used dozens of XS’s excellent products on pistols and rifles and have had good experiences with all of them. For this custom Glock, I chose the Suppressor Height DXT Big Dot night sights.
Were this an iron-only pistol, I wouldn’t have selected the DXT Big Dot, as I don’t believe it offers the precision of other models. But for this build, the sights work perfectly. Not only are they tritium equipped for low-light visibility, but also they’re stupid-simple and fast to use—exactly what I was after for backup duty.
Fall River Arms
Having gone this far, I couldn’t leave the pistol boringly black, so I reached out to Aaron Steinberg at Fall River Arms in Meridian, Idaho, about a custom Cerakote paint job. I gave him free rein to have his way with the pistol.
Steinberg is full time with the U.S. National Guard. Fall River Arms is his side gig. He’s an artist when it comes to Cerakote application, and when one is dealing with any talented craftsman, especially a one-man show, a lengthy wait time is expected. However, Steinberg said Glocks are the easiest firearms to Cerakote, and to my surprise, I had my pistol back in less than two weeks.
Not only did Steinberg Cerakote the frame and slide, he restippled the shoddy work inflicted on the grip by the previous owner, undercut the trigger guard, and removed the stock finger grooves. The Glock now looks, feels, and performs like a custom pistol should.
Are custom builds worth the price? That depends. While they may or may not provide any performance gain over stock firearms, custom firearms exhibit their own personalities. They look great, perform well, and get attention from other shooters.
I couldn’t be happier with how my Glockenstein turned out. It’s sharp-looking, fits my hand like no other Glock I’ve ever held, and is so easy to shoot. And it’s adequately accurate for its purposes. With an overall average of 4.19 inches at 25 yards, it didn’t achieve match-winning accuracy, but it is well within the accepted standard for self-defense.
So what’s the catch? Besides price, which admittedly got quickly out of hand, I’d say the only negative is that I’m hesitant to use my custom Glock as much as I’d like. I know this is foolish thinking—after all, polymer pistols are the epitome of tools—but I’m worried about tarnishing it. As a result, the pistol often stays in a padded case, coming to the range only for special occasions.
I’ve been in this game long enough to accept certain realities. One is that custom firearms are like taxidermy. You will cringe at the upfront costs and wait impatiently for the project to reach completion. However, once the job is done, you’ll smile every time you see it and each time you use it. Plus, life is much too short for boring firearms.
Glockenstein Build Specifications
- Manufacturers: Glock, Rival Arms, Trijicon, XS Sights
- Type: Striker-fired, recoil-operated autoloader
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Magazine Capacity: 15 rounds
- Barrel: 4.38 in.
- Overall Length: 7.38 in.
- Width: 1.2 in.
- Height: 5.3 in. (from base of magazine to top of XS rear sight)
- Weight, Empty: 22.3 oz.
- Grips: Integral to polymer frame
- Finish: Cerakote by Fall River
- Sights: XS Suppressor Height DXT Big Dot Night Sights; Trijicon SRO
- Trigger: 6.75-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Safety trigger