Back in 1980, when I entered law enforcement and began extensive handgun training, handgun sights were much like the Model “T” Ford: You could get any color you wanted … as long as it was black.
Plain black front and rear sights dominated defensive handguns back then, which may be hard for some of you younger readers to believe. My first duty revolver — a beautifully blued Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum — was equipped with all-black, fully adjustable sights. I wasn’t at all concerned about it since there were few alternatives (Tritium sights were still several years down the road). Besides, my eyes only had 23 years of use on them at that time.
Some of the sheriff’s deputies with whom I was privileged to work modified the plain black sights on their blued Smith & Wesson revolvers or Colt .45 automatics by painting their front sights with a brand-new product: Liquid Paper (aka “White-Out”). Liquid Paper was intended to correct errors made on typewriters or on paper forms and reports, but the deputies found it to be a durable, cost-effective upgrade to their black sights. The best part about the Liquid Paper fix was that there was bound to be a bottle or two on the desk of any nearby secretary or clerk.
It was a decent fix — except in bright sunlight, where the plain white lost some of its contrast. But for the older deputies who were working second or third shift, it was a good fix that cost nothing. Smith & Wesson eventually upgraded their combat adjustable sights to include a white-outlined rear sight coupled with an orange nylon insert embedded in the front sight. That remained one of the best handgun sight systems for many years.
Today’s defensive handgun users have some really great sighting systems available to them. XS Sights DXT, DXW and new F8 sights are among my favorites. Additionally, most manufacturers offer optional night sights. But how can you upgrade your handgun’s sight visibility without spending a bunch of money or employing a gunsmith? The answer might be Birchwood Casey’s Super Bright Touch-Up Sight Pens.
If you aren’t familiar with Birchwood Casey, you should be. The company makes everything from “Shoot and See” targets to gun maintenance and refinishing products to eye and ear protection to clay bird throwers — the list goes on.
Regular readers might recall that I carry the Iver Johnson Hard Chrome .38 Super 1911 on duty. I upgraded this great pistol with Hogue “Laser Enhanced” grips and a Hogue aluminum arched mainspring housing. The only problem I have had with this otherwise exceptional gun is that the white dot popped out of the front sight, leaving a small hole in its place.
I carried the 1911 that way for several months while I mulled over my options. I was actually tempted to put a drop of Liquid Paper into the hole but decided to find a better solution that would add an improved contrasting dot and eliminate the need to replace the entire front sight.
I only needed something to put a tiny bit of color into the very small hole left by the missing dot without causing paint to slop over the rest of the sight. I wanted the original black of the front sight to make the new colored dot stand out.
That’s where Birchwood Casey’s Super Bright Touch-Up Pens come in. I ordered them in a three-color set: fluorescent red, green and white. While I was really only looking for bright red paint, I felt that a $19.99 MSRP for all three colors was still a great value.
Even with the option of bright green, I decided to stick with red for my Iver Johnson. The directions for use indicate you should first apply the white color as a base and let that dry before adding another color over it. The white base enhances the brightness of the red or green pen. However, since the hole where the white dot had been was so small, I decided not to apply the white base color and instead applied the fluorescent red paint by itself.
The pen applicator is the perfect tool for the paint. Pumping the applicator tip against a piece of scrap paper draws the paint up from the reservoir. Once the tip is primed with color, you can apply the paint to your sight. Of course, make sure the surface is clean and free of oil first.
I taped off the sides of the front sight in case I slipped. As it turned out, this step was unnecessary. I was able to dab away any excess paint by using a paper towel. I made several applications to fill the hole and then let it dry.
I was very impressed with the results. Now I have a bright red dot in the center of what was once a plain black sight. I’ve been wearing the Iver Johnson on duty over the last several weeks and recently qualified with it on a 50-round course. The sight hasn’t lost any of its color.
What is nice about the Birchwood Casey Touch-Up Pens is that they contain plenty of paint. Should any paint wear away, I can simply touch the sight up again or even change the color.
But these pens aren’t just for repair. Some newly manufactured guns still feature plain black sights. My oft-carried Smith & Wesson M&P .38 Special Bodyguard has a plain black front sight with the traditional topstrap channel that serves as a black rear sight. Since the red fluorescent color worked so well on my 1911, I thought a touch of color was in order for the Bodyguard.
The front sight of the Bodyguard is serrated to reduce glare. It also makes a great surface to capture and hold paint. I had no plan to paint the rear since the objective is to spot the front sight in a “flash sight picture” for a close-range shot. Perfect alignment with a rear sight is not needed in close-range situations with this type of handgun, so I kept the rear sight black.
After making sure the surface was clean, I applied an initial layer of white paint. I then covered it with a few thin coats of fluorescent red. The difference between the plain black front sight and the same sight with the bright red paint is remarkable.
Inside my home, with just some basic lighting, the now-red front ramp stands out vividly. It is still easily contrasted in bright light as well. I shouldn’t have waited this long to try it. The Super Bright Touch-Up Pens also work fine on stainless-steel or nickel-plated sights. I think my Colt Cobra might get an update next.
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