Designing Custom Sights

8-Feb-15 – 21:45 by ToddG


One of the best parts about building a pistol from the ground up with Jason Burton was designing a set of truly bespoke sights. Instead of figuring out which set of sights currently on the market that I liked best, I got to tell Jason what I wanted out of a set of sights and he just, you know, built them from scratch.

My goal was pretty straightforward. I wanted high-visibility sights that would allow speed and precision under all possible lighting conditions. For me there were four primary aspects of achieving this:

  1. A permanent orange high-visibility front sight blade that wouldn’t wear off from use or cleaning.
  2. A rear sight notch wide enough to see plenty of “light bar” on either side of the front blade.
  3. 3-dot tritium sights.
  4. A point of impact that corresponded with using the front tritium dot as my point of aim.

So why?

The orange front sight is something I’ve been doing for quite a while now and started out by following John Stewart’s advice from many years ago. The high contrast sight is very easy to pick up quickly and track easily. It stands out clearly when using a so-called “soft front sight focus.” For me at least, it provides most of the benefits of a fiber optic front sight but doesn’t require a lot of light to be useful.

The sight widths are primarily a function of putting a tritium capsule in the front sight and knowing it’s held in place strongly enough to last tens of thousands of rounds of shooting. While narrower rear sights and coming into popularity again, I’ve always liked the balance of speed (gross sight picture) and finesse (finer sight picture) that I can achieve with the wider rear notch. Plenty of people find it easier to align the sights when there is very little extra space between the front post and rear notch. But I’ve never found that to be true. Much like the concept behind ghost ring sights on subguns, carbines, and rifles the eyes tend to center things very naturally. While I may be giving something up in slow fire marksmanship it’s not nearly as important to me (except for bragging rights at the practice range) as being able to make acceptable hits at speed. If that means my slowfire is a little slower than someone else’s I can live with it.

Although I used to be a big fan of 2-dot sights I began gravitating back to the more traditional 3-dot night sight setup after contemplating some of the things that Tim Chandler said in his Handgun Lowlight Essentials write-up a few years ago. The idea behind the 2-dot was that the rear sight was “less busy,” which is technically true. But a 2-dot sight only lets you align the gun horizontally with your eyes. The vertical alignment depends totally on your index (or your guesstimate of the distance between the upper and lower dot). So people sacrifice a true two-dimensional aiming reference under realistic low light conditions to get a little less busy sight picture when it’s daylight bright.

Of course some people eschew tritium on the rear sight at all and insist on using all-black rears because those tiny little capsules are just too darned distracting for them. First of all, I think you’re in trouble if a little blurry dot in your sight picture distracts you so much that you can’t shoot well because — and I’m just going on stories from friends here — being shot at or hit over the head with a baseball is significantly more distracting. Also, there are all sorts of lighting conditions in which having no tritium in your rear sight leaves you with little more than an index and a glowing bouncing ball in space for aiming. The common response is “I’ll have a flashlight” but there are times when you may not want to identify your position with a light though you do still want to aim your gun.

Finally, I use the front dot as my POA/POI because (a) I learned to shoot that way so it’s very natural for me and (b) it means my daylight POA/POI is the same as my lowlight POA/POI. It’s often referred to as “driving the dot” and it just works for me. It requires a little bit of a 3D mental picture when you’re shooting for maximum accuracy at distance but with practice it’s doable. At the end of the day it’s really little different than using a fiber optic or red dot. You put the dot over the spot. Ta-da.

Obviously, given how many different sight designs are on the market there is a wide variety of tastes and needs. Being able to specify exactly what I wanted and then having a set of sights custom built & regulated just for my gun was an experience I’ll greatly miss the next time I have to buy off-the-shelf sights.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Thanks as always to the Heirloom Project sponsors:


  1. 14 Responses to “Designing Custom Sights”

  2. How do these compare with HD Sights?

    By Mitchell, Esq. on Feb 8, 2015

  3. Todd/Jason, the rest of us NEED these sights.

    Okie John

    By okie john on Feb 9, 2015

  4. Mitchell — Similar but smaller front sight. Instead of having a big round dot you’ve got a normal post, simply one that is VERY high viz/high contrast.

    okie john — Serious question because I’m trying to convince Jason he’s dumb for not making some for Glocks at least: what would you pay for a set?

    By ToddG on Feb 9, 2015

  5. Hard to say. As you point out, these sights are built by hand with a man whose skill is close to that of a watchmaker, and I don’t want to insult him.

    Given that, I’d say up to $150-200. It would probably make sense for the front post to be available in custom heights since Glocks don’t always regulate as they should, but that’s another thread.

    By Okie John on Feb 9, 2015

  6. I shot the standard sights (target on top of front sight) for years, and even had and carried a few guns, mostly Glocks, that were more like a 6 o’clock target hold at 25. I recently started shooting the front dot – forcing me to purchase a front trijicon night sight two sizes taller than the one that came with the set. Trijicon said ‘they shoot like Glock sights are supposed to’ which was 4-6″ high with various weights of 9mm at 25yds. Point of this story is that a lot of guys shoot the traditional picture vice shooting the front dot, and your explanation about it being the same as a RDS or even crosshairs made a lot of sense to me when I sell this.

    By CVPD167 on Feb 9, 2015

  7. I’m intrigued. I’d be interesting in trying these a try on one of my Glocks. What are the dimensions of the front sight (width) and rear sight notch?

    By JSGlock34 on Feb 9, 2015

  8. I am very interested in these sights (specifically that front sight) and I think the price that Okie John posted sounds fair.

    However, for me, I would still prefer to have only the one dot up front or a maximum of two dots total. When I had young eyes, three dots never troubled me but, nowadays, the dots in the rear (much closer to my face) have made even a soft focus on the front sight difficult (as in my eyes want to have a hard focus on the rear dots) to the extent that twice, I think, during the low light portion of a class (enough light to id the target, not enough light to be without tritium) I simply couldn’t find the front sight and missed easy targets at about ten yards.

    The Trijicon HDs have been an improvement but it’s still too many dots for me. If one has no problems with three dots that’s great but it’s not for me anymore.

    By Terry on Feb 10, 2015

  9. What if there was a pistol sighting system that was:

    • Simple to use
    • Not based on a 19th century bulls eye sight design
    • Works congruently with the biomechanics of the body (kinesthetically) when the firearm is pointed towards a target in a dynamic critical incident
    • Allows binocular vision for accurate target identification and rapidly bringing the weapon onto the target at typical defensive distances
    • Allows for rapid tracking of moving targets
    • Works seamlessly with the body’s focal and ambient visual systems
    • Decreases unnecessary saccades (quick eye movements from one fixated or tracked location to another)
    • Decreases the problem of not being able to focus on a close object (accommodation) during the Body Alarm Reaction (BAR) in response to a threat
    • Works in any lighting condition where the target is of a higher light value
    • Allows for precision sighted shots when needed

    This sighting system exists, and if anyone wants to give this sighting system a fair, unbiased evaluation, I can post the contact information for the inventor and manufacturer of this sighting system.

    By Alan on Feb 10, 2015

  10. Alan,

    That system wouldn’t happen to consist of a hair roller hot-glued to the top of the slide, would it?

    By Tanner on Feb 11, 2015

  11. Todd,

    “1. A permanent orange high-visibility front sight blade that wouldn’t wear off from use or cleaning.”

    Is the orange a chemical resistant paint?


    By Franky2shoes on Feb 11, 2015

  12. JGGlock — My recollection is that it’s a .125 front and .165 rear.

    Terry — I have discussed this exact issue with Jason already. Personally I believe the better solution is to use dimmer and/or different color rear dots rather than going to just a single rear dot. We’ll see how that works out.

    Frank2shoes — I’m not sure how resistant they are to strong chemicals. It’s a paint that is essentially lacquered to improve resistance to wear. I just keep mine clean with some normal water on a q-tip which seems to have been perfectly sufficient so far.

    By ToddG on Feb 11, 2015

  13. Dimmer AND different color would be much better.

    If there is sufficient demand, maybe he could expand the choices further down the road.

    By Terry on Feb 12, 2015

  14. Wider rear notch much easier on older eyes. Dots, if they’re “appropriate” (dim) and the user understands how they relate to POI (Todd specifically stated how he wanted them).
    I think this is good.

    But I cant believe you convinced Jason to do an orange front. Did he try and talk you down to a gold bead or line?

    By mer on Feb 13, 2015

  15. mer — He tried many different ways to accomplish a gold front sight with a tritium dot and none of them worked to his satisfaction.

    By ToddG on Feb 13, 2015

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