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Review: BlackSteel Grip Control for the Echelon

According to the ATF, “The term ‘Pistol’ means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand…”

Although handguns, by definition, are theoretically designed to be held and fired by one hand, seasoned pistol shooters know that the two-hand hold is the way to go in order to shoot not both accurately and quickly — especially when multiple shots are required. Even so, we ought to practice shooting both strong-hand-only and weak-hand-only from time to time, for some situations might require us to shoot one-handed.

[Be sure to read our Echelon 9mm pistol review.]

Unfortunately, there isn’t a singular way of doing two-handed gripping/holding style that works for everyone, so each of us must learn and try different styles and choose what works best. However, there is at least one thing in common, which is the importance of the support-hand gripping force.

The Solution?

A thumb rest for the support hand on a semi-automatic pistol can be a solution for this. In fact, it’s a very popular item in Open Class of IPSC/USPSA style pistol matches as well as STEEL CHALLENGE-style, high-speed shooting competition.

I forget exactly when and where I saw it for the first time, but I immediately realized its purpose and was thoroughly impressed with whoever came up with that idea. Inspired, I decided to modify the Slide Stop on one of my competition handguns by welding and grinding the part so that I can rest my left thumb during two-hand shooting. I used that gun at least once at the American Handgunner World Shootoff, which was held until 2008 in Montrose, Colorado, way before these parts became a somewhat common item in pistol matches.

Nowadays, you can purchase some factory guns that are equipped with the thumb rest for the support hand. Some of them have thumb rests screwed on the left-side of the frames, while others have larger-than-standard takedown/disassembly levers that are shaped so it can be used as a thumb rest.

In fact, the designer of the product covered in this article, Mr. Gary Coonan (yes, he is a distant relative of Dan Coonan, who created the unique semi-automatic pistol chambered in .357 Magnum), aka “Chief”, was inspired by one of those competition pistols equipped with a thumb-rest screwed on the left side of the frame.

This inspiration drove him to develop his invention called the “Grip Control”, a collapsible thumb-rest for semi-automatic pistols. Made by his company, BlackSteel, this is intended not only for competitive shooters but also law enforcement officers and civilian users who legally carry pistols concealed. The design is currently patent pending both in U.S. and international.

The Foundation

BlackSteel was established in 2012, becoming an engineering and manufacturing company with the purpose of developing new products. They have designed high-performance jet engine parts for the military, national electrical grid transformers, computers, medical devices, automotive parts, racing parts, food industry processing equipment, slot machines in Las Vegas, earth-moving equipment parts, large lithium-ion battery systems and more, with dozens of patents backing up many of those designs.

Chief also appreciates the mechanical aspect of all kinds of firearms as well as shooting them. He doesn’t compete in shooting matches, but attends pistol classes and tactical training events. It was at these that he realized the importance of the support hand gripping force. Of course, you want to shoot your pistol fast and accurately in competitions, but more so in real-life situations like defending your life.

In early 2020, he thought about creating a grip-aiding device and came up with the idea of a thumb rest with a pad designed in such a way as to reduce the width, which would enable the user to carry the pistol concealed. The first Grip Control he developed was for his personal 9mm pistol and was used outside of the lab for the first time in October 2020.

Chief is the kind of person who won’t be fully satisfied with his achievements and is always looking for an area of improvement. However, after many prototypes and testing, Chief got to the point that he felt Grip Control could be introduced to the public and sold to both civilian and Law Enforcement markets.

The Details

According to Chief, the material of Grip Control is “Aetheriumite” (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either), a proprietary special alloy of steel, aluminum, zinc and manganese, developed by BlackSteel. These elements and processes are combined to yield an alloy that offers high yield/tensile strength, extraordinary toughness, and exceptional resistance to wear, fatigue, and deformation. It will not react or gall with other metals. Derivatives of this alloy are widely used in chemical, marine, aircraft and machine tools such as gears, bushings, bearings, pumps, and valves.

During the development and pre-production of Grip Control, 3D printing technology was used extensively, but no printed parts are used in the actual production. Chief wouldn’t disclose the manufacturing process since it is proprietary to BlackSteel and must be kept confidential.

Besides its functionality as a thumb rest for support hand, there are some points worthwhile to mention about the Grip Control. One is that there is no need to modify the pistol permanently to install a Grip Control. That is one of the design concepts that Chief kept in mind from the beginning. Installation process varies from brand and/or model. The BlackSteel website has an Installation Rating System from 1 (Takes 10-15 seconds, no tools) to 4 (Takes five minutes and requires some dexterity).

Hands-On

As I saw that the Grip Control was offered for the Echelon, I jumped at the chance to try it out. To install on the Echelon, all you have to do is field strip the gun and replace its disassembly lever with the Grip Control (this would be “1” of the Installation Rating System).

A noteworthy point of Grip Control is that you don’t necessarily need to obtain a specially designed holster. Chief let me know that for Kydex and/or polymer-molded holsters, you can modify it by warming up the area where Grip Control is going to be with a heat gun or even a hair dryer. BlackSteel’s website has instruction videos for this process. According to Chief, you can stretch a Leather holster for a handgun equipped with Grip Control. I haven’t had a chance to try it, yet.

Grip Control doesn’t change how the gun functions, nor its performance. What it will change is the performance of the shooter by increasing the gripping force of the support hand. With the thumb of the support hand on the collapsible pad on the Grip Control, the shooter can hold the pistol much stronger to maintain a higher level of control during the recoil from firing, especially in rapid succession.

[Got this pistol, but need a carry rig? Check out our Echelon holster list.]

Grip Control for Springfield Armory Echelon just became available since 1/2/2024, and its MSRP is $110. If you want a Grip Control for a different handgun, go to the website blacksteelusa.com and check to see what models are available. Every Grip Control comes with a lifetime warranty. BlackSteel is constantly developing new models, so check back often to see what’s new.

BlackSteel is going to have a booth at the 153rd NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on May 17-19, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. Chief and his crew will be there to help give you a hands-on example of how the Grip Control works. For those who are planning to attend NRA Annual Exhibits, I highly recommend stopping by the booth of BlackSteel to check out the Grip Controls on various sample pistols.

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