My love affair with the Browning Hi Power began with a book. Fellow S.W.A.T. alumnus Marcus Wynne wrote a novel called No Other Option. It showcased a customized Hi Power, which in Wynne’s world was toted and employed handily by the JSOC-veteran hero of the story. I’ve lusted for one on and off since reading the story almost a decade ago.
Seemingly unrelated, several firearms wholesalers have recently begun selling off crates of Hi Powers at rock-bottom prices—we’re talking sub-$300 in some instances. Most of these guns are Argentinean or Israeli clones, but several lots of European police trade-ins are of genuine Belgian provenance.
This got me thinking: What kind of carry pistol can be built using an economical HP as a base frame? What follows is a way to bring one of these inexpensive relics up to standard as a thoroughly modern, and thoroughly capable, fighting pistol. As with any custom build, the only limits are your imagination and, more importantly, your wallet.
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Chad Reuben is the sole proprietor of Reuben’s Custom Blades. He’s a master artisan of automatic knives and produces some of the most unique knives I’ve ever seen. In addition to his blade work, he’s an avid shooter and gun collector. About the time I was reading No Other Option, Chad purchased a genuine 1980s era FN Hi Power that he found in a pawn shop. The shop wanted $150 for the pistol. Mr. Reuben brokered a trade for a couple of custom knives and walked away with a BHP coated in the most godawful knock-off digital camouflage.
That gun has been collecting dust in his safe ever since and, after I connected with Chad through my friend Tom Matturro—the lead instructor at One Chance Tactical Solutions—this elegant classic with the abominable paint job wound up in my possession.
The first stop was GH Coatings, which stripped the offensive digi-flage and replaced it with a much more fitting monochrome scheme. The frame and slide were coated with “Concrete,” a flat gray unique to the new Cerakote H line. Barrel and small parts were done in graphite black Cerakote. This gave our test gun a classier and more utilitarian look.
Even more noteworthy, GH turned the project around in 24 hours flat. This level of customer service is their norm, so if you have a project that can’t wait six weeks, give them a call.
The pistol next went to John at NW Custom Firearms. John worked a long list of improvements to the former safe queen, thanks in large part to a shipment from Brownells. If you decide to take on your own Hi Power build, the folks at Brownells carry just about all the aftermarket parts you’d need or want to breathe new life into the classic sidearm.
My shipment included a number of parts from Cylinder & Slide, including their wide combat trigger, spur hammer, and extended thumb safety. Here are some highlights from the extensive list of work that NW Custom Firearms performed on our project Hi Power:
- Trigger job with C&S trigger, including hand polish all moving parts.
- Cut hammer hooks to proper length and polish sear surfaces.
- Polish hammer spring and hammer stud assembly.
- Polish feed ramp and adjust feeding angle to ensure proper feeding (especially important with hollow-point ammunition).
- Polish moving parts and contact points.
- Replace recoil spring and polish guide rod.
This was my first experience with NW Customs. Their craftsmanship is excellent. This diamond in the rough required a lot of TLC to get her where she needed to be, and John executed admirably. Once his work was complete, the original plastic grip panels were replaced with a sturdier, more functional set of G10 panels from VZ Grips. They offer Hi Power grips in a number of color and texture patterns. I requested a plain black set to complete the gun’s monochrome theme.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Before we go any further, please pay particular attention to the following: Because Hi Powers have been built, rebuilt and cloned all over the world, there is a wide range of tolerances. Particularly when shopping in the surplus clone market, measurements like frame fit or sight dovetail size may vary significantly among manufacturers and sometimes even between individual guns from the same factory.
Most currently produced aftermarket parts are sized for the Mark III—the latest generation produced by FN. While our base gun was genuine FN, it was not a Mark III, and we ran into a few fit issues that required John to put in extra hours. The Heinie ledge sights we received did not fit the dovetail of our test gun. While an economical clone is not necessarily of poor quality, it may require some extra time and/or money to make all the parts fit together.
There’s also the question of sunk cost. Is buying an inexpensive base gun worth the effort if it requires gunsmithing costs of three to five times its purchase price to make it worth carrying? That decision is yours.
From an economical standpoint, it may actually make sense. Hi Power customization can run anywhere from $700 to over $2,000 depending on what shop you use and what specific upgrades you want. But many of the en vogue packages for Glocks, M&Ps or XDs are running about the same, with most of those base guns costing a couple hundred bucks more than a surplus Browning.
Some people like the historical lineage of the Hi Power. Others prefer a single-action handgun. The Hi Power’s heavier alloy frame and slightly longer sight radius offer some potential advantages in “shootability” over smaller, snappier plastic guns. Some of us just read a great book and thought, “Hell, if it’s good enough for that guy …”
On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Marcus Wynne is not only a no-holds-barred novelist, but also possesses a venerable background in real-world operations.
THE GOOD STUFF
How did this experiment turn out? To proof our worked-over combat classic, we ran it non-stop for several days in a Kydex holster produced by Kaluban Cloak Holsters. It pointed smoothly and shot-to-shot recovery was notably pleasant.
The Cylinder & Slide combat trigger broke at just over six pounds on a digital gauge. On paper, that may seem excessively heavy, but the pull was smooth and deceptively light. We ran trigger-gauge tests on three separate days because the six-pound result absolutely did not match what we were feeling. But the numbers don’t lie.
Despite the well-honed pull and crisp break, even NW Customs couldn’t completely overcome the Hi Power’s notoriously long reset. Every Browning Hi Power I’ve ever shot requires the trigger to be let all the way out before it resets. Anybody who’s accustomed to DA wheelguns—or who ascribes to the “full-stroke method” of trigger management—will do just fine behind a BHP.
Despite the idiosyncratic trigger, we printed cloverleaf groups at ten yards, and could cover groups with one hand at nearly double that distance. This level of accuracy is plenty adequate for defensive use.
Overall, I consider this project a success, albeit a somewhat costly one. With essentially no cost sunk into procuring the base gun, this particular project is still financially sound.
The Hi Power is an iconic combat pistol steeped in history around the world. But anybody looking to build one up into a modern fighting gun will have to shop smart for a base model that is not so out-of-spec as to spoil their allotted labor budget.
If you find your hidden gem at a pawn shop, gun show, or online auction, there’s no doubt that the Hi Power platform is perfectly capable of serving alongside its younger counterparts in any role you ask of it.
CYLINDER & SLIDE
KALUBAN CLOAK HOLSTERS
NW CUSTOM FIREARMS
ONE CHANCE TACTICAL SOLUTIONS