I remember the experience of buying my first handgun. I went to the gun store and looked at everything they had in stock. Twice. I saw beautiful guns that had more features than I thought possible, but they were all very expensive. Even the regular production guns were beyond reach. I ended up buying a used production handgun. It served me well for many years, but it didn't have the features I wanted and since I didn't know much about customizing guns at that time (nor had resources to pull it off anyway), I ended up trading it in. But there's a smarter way to go about getting what you want out of a production handgun.

You can take your used handgun and customize it to be your dream gun. This is a tale of two handguns that went from mass produced model T's to custom handguns. In this article and accompanied pictures, you'll see the "after" pictures of two popular self-defense handguns--One from Springfield Armory and one from Kimber. The goal of this article is to show you how to get a new gun out of the one you already own. Think of it as a production gun makeover or custom handguns 101.

The first thing you need to decide on is which handgun to invest in. Turning a production handgun into a custom one isn't cheap. While it's possible to recoup your investment, in many cases it might not happen, so proceed with that in mind.

Next, you need to decide on the features that you want--both functional and aesthetic. Since you are going to customize your firearm, you can have anything you want done and it is important to be clear on what it is you want. Think about your last range session. What didn't feel just right? Was it the grip? The trigger? The sights? The slide stop? Magazine release? The list goes on.

Sometimes you can get ideas by looking at your favorite handgun or firearm magazine. Take a pen and paper and create your ideal wish list. Then add some priorities, which will come in handy when you get the initial cost for your wish list. Proper priorities will allow you to keep the features you really want and drop the ones you added on a whim. This is a fun task so take your time, do your research and think, think and think some more. Once you know what you want, it's time to hit the web in search of the best person for the job. I'll share two of my projects as examples to get your imagination going.

The Kimber handgun started its life as a Gold Combat Stainless II. It already had all the internal features I wanted, but after scratching it often I wanted it to look good again. Then, on second thought, I wanted it to look good but in a different way. I did lots of research and found a company that offered Cerakote firearm coating in pretty much any color I wanted. They even had an on-line tool that allowed me to see how the finished slide and frame will look in various color combinations.

I got a quote and shipping instructions, and in three weeks my handgun and a few magazines were shipped back to me. The Cerakote finish is extremely hard and gave me what looked like a new gun to enjoy all over again. You can look up NIC Industries and play with the firearm paint tool. Make sure you experiment with non-traditional color combinations--it's a custom paint job so do what's right for you. It might also be good to write down the color combination you want and come back to it a day or two later. See if that crazy pink on green is really what you want for your self-defense handgun. I'd also stay away from any color combination that could make your handgun look like a toy. Keep in mind why you own or carry a handgun.

The Springfield XD Tactical started life as an ordinary black XD. There were tens of thousands just like it, which wasn't a big deal in itself, but the gun didn't feel right in my hand and I didn't like the trigger and lack of night sights. I sat with a pen and paper and started writing down what an ideal XD Tactical would be like for me. I wanted the grip to be slim and fit right in my hand. I wanted the grip to have some texture to help me grip it better in the rain or under stress with sweaty hands. I wanted the trigger guard to be round, for better holster fit and better remote light switch fit. I wanted night sights for my XD Tactical, and I wanted a finish that will protect my handgun and make it easier to clean. And I wanted a match grade barrel, mostly because I wanted one for a while. I also wanted a crisp trigger with just the pressure weight that works best for me.

It was a long list of features that yielded a short list of qualified experts. From that short list I chose Robar Guns and shipped my handgun to them. It took several weeks for the handgun to return and, to my surprise; my very high expectations were exceeded by far. Robar did an outstanding job at fulfilling all my asks and it was well worth the wait and cost. The NP3 coating is amazing too, and makes gun cleaning easier and faster.

These two examples illustrate how easy it is to take a production handgun and customize it to your likings. The time spent thinking of the feature wish list is fun and the research for the would-be custom shop is educational and fun too. Even if you end up passing on the shipping process, it is still a fun exercise to do. I hope this opened an avenue of interest for you.

Until next time, stay safe by staying alert!