The Basics Of This Art Should Be Among The First Perfected In Learning The Gunsmithing Crafts!
These two pieces of stock wood illustrate perfectly the differences between dense and porous woods. The stock at the left with the check piece is much more porous.
lHERE ARE THREE separate phases to finishing any stock, regardless of whether it is a new stock or an old stock being refinished. Each of these steps provide a definite and useful service and all should be included in every finishing job.
The first step is sealing the surface of the wood against moisture, grease and dirt. Preventing these and other outside elements from entering the fibers of the wood will increase the useful life of the stock indefinitely. If these elements are allowed to enter the fibers of the wood, they will slowly break down the fibers or change their structural shape and warp the stock.
The second step — filling — eliminates the pockmarked surface of the wood caused by the pores of the wood. Filling these pores until level with the surrounding surface of the stock will improve the appearance of the stock after the finish has been applied.
The final step is the finish itself. This is the main defense the stock has against all of the ills that befall a gun stock. Depending on the process being used, these three steps can be accomplished with three different materials or, in some cases two materials, while still other processes will use one material for all three steps. Yet, in every case, there are always three steps: seal, fill and finish.
The old classic finish is supposed to be linseed oil that has been kettle-boiled slowly, then lovingly rubbed into the wood with tender care, month after month, until a deep and wonderful finish is obtained.
When I was a youngster I read with awe the starry-eyed spiels by some of the old time writers about this classic finish. Deciding to re finish a favorite rifle this way, I made a trip into town and bought a half-gallon of the best linseed oil I could find. I figured that, like water, some it was going to boil away and I wanted to be sure I would have enough to carry me through those months of rubbing. I asked every paint dealer I could find just how to go about kettle boiling it and received some mighty strange and puzzled looks. I then searched through all of the glowing articles for this all-important detail. While the adjectives were many, the details on boiling were conspicously lacking. I plunged ahead to find the answer for myself.
A good look at the mess in one of her best boilers on her stove and Mom gave explicit instructions and directions to the back yard. Deprived of my heat source and container, I then built a roaring fire with some hardwood. When this was reduced to glowing redhot coals, I suspended the linseed oil over them in an old iron pot. Stirring the smoking oil with a spoon in one hand, fanning the coals with the other, presented a sight not soon forgotten. I ended up with the gosh-awfullest gooey mess you ever saw. The contents of the kettle didn't appear to be the best thing for a gun stock, but mixed with a bag of down, it would have served a good duty in a tar and feather outing.
It was years before I learned that so-called kettle-boiled linseed oil was actually raw linseed oil cleaned of impurities with acid, with a special ingredient added to it to speed up the drying. Just as the oldtimers wrote, you can finish a stock with good commercial boiled linseed oil if you have the time and patience. If you enjoy doing things the hard way, like brushing your teeth while standing in a hammock, then this is just the finish for you.
Raw linseed oil on a gun stock is slightly better than burned motor oil. You can rub a stock with raw linseed oil until you reduce it to the size of a toothpick and never get a decent finish. As for drying, there is no drying! You can settle this question in your mind once and for all with a simple little experiment. Hold any oil finished military stock next to a heat source and watch the oil ooze out of the stock. Remember that these stocks were submerged in boiling linseed oil hot enough to blister a brick and still, the oil is not dry.
Many of our present firearms writers, while guarding against cheapening guns through modern mass production, tend to develop a hide about six inches thick that nothing can penetrate. Mention a new modern stock finish to one of them and he draws up on his pedestal, head held high, his gray locks blowing in the breeze, and starts quoting from the opened pages of a book he wrote in the 1920s about how nothing compares with the "London Hand Rubbed Oil Finish." This is like saying that grandma has a better remedy for pneumonia with her blackstrap molasses and sulphur than any newfangled thing like penicillin.
If you want a good rubbed oil finish, all you have to do is buy a bottle of one of the new stock finishes designed specifically for this purpose. These products beat the old home-brewed finishes without even getting a light sweat. However, they must be applied slowly and with care following the manufacturer's directions to the letter, instead of following the advice of an armchair gunsmith.
The finished stock will be one of which you can be proud and the method of application is simplicity in itself. Just rub the thin finish in well, and let it dry thoroughly before applying the next coat. Time, patience and correct application are the keys to any good stock finish. There are no dark and mysterious secret methods known only to a select gray-headed few.
Another of the old, often touted finishes is known as "French polish," which at one time was used widely on fine furniture, then adapted to gun stocks. Shellac, a waterproof material, was used as the basic material in French polish. As shellac has a tendency to shrink and crack, boiled linseed oil was added to the shellac to prevent this and the serve as a lubricant when applying it to the stock. A French polish-finished stock is nice in appearance but lacking in wearability and it will water spot.
If you want to try a French polish finish on one of your stocks, first buy a can of orange shellac (its natural color) and a small can of commercial boiled linseed oil.
The applicator is made by placing a thumbnail size wad of cotton inside of a piece of discarded women's nylon hose. Twist the hose around the cotton wad and make a working pad about the size of a marble. Dip the pad lightly in the shellac and let the cotton absorb only a couple of drops. The pad now is dipped ever so lightly in the linseed oil. Only one drop of linseed oil is needed and, if you wish, it can be applied to the cotton pad with a medicine dropper.
Apply the soaked pad to the stock surface and work one spot at a time in a hard circular rubbing motion. The area covered should be about the size of a silver dollar; about IV2 inches in diameter. Your pad will soon stop dragging and start to slide easily over the area as the shellac dries under the constant circular rubbing. As soon as this happens, stop and prepare another pad as you did the first time, but in another section of the hose and with another wad of cotton. The second working circle should just touch and blend into the first complete circle on the stock. Keep repeating this procedure and interlocking the circles until the entire stock has been covered. Look at the finished surface closely in bright sunlight. If, while making the circles, you have caused some ridges to be formed, they can be eliminated and the surface smoothed by soaking a pad in alcohol and wiping the surface of the stock lightly. You may have to make two trips over the stock to get a high finish, but one trip usually is sufficient.
Another popular stock finish is lacquer. Many of the inexpensive modern guns have their stocks finished with this. When used with a spray gun it will cover a stock fast and, as it is fast drying, any missed sections can be covered quickly without runs. The speed of its drying time is the main factor that endears it to manufacturers. Although the finish is not as good as most gun buffs like, it is a serviceable finish that resists the elements quite well. There is a wide variety of lacquer types, most of which can be used on gun stocks.
I have experimented with automotive lacquer and it will do an acceptable job when used in a spray gun, but for those interested in a lacquer finish, I would recommend one of those available from the gunsmith supply houses that are designed especially for gun stocks. These are applied with a common paint brush and will give a nice finish to the stock. When shellac is thinned, it will go on evenly and, if cut extra thin, will serve as a good stock sealer. As a filler, it leaves a lot to be desired, as cutting off the excess with steel wool is a hard job.
Varnish is another widely used stock finishing material with the best of the bunch being spar varnish, specifically the type used for marine purposes. It is tough stuff and will resist scratches far better than regular furniture varnish.
While varnish can be applied directly to the stock with a brush, the results will be lacking in appearance. A much better way is to substitute varnish for shellac in the French polish method. If you want a faster finish, mix two parts varnish to one part of boiled linseed oil, add a bit of thinner and rub it into the stock in clean, even and long strokes. Spar varnish is one of the old favorite sealers and is still a good choice if it is cut thin with turpentine and brushed thoroughly into the wood.
The newest type of varnish is not a varnish but a plastic, and the name is retained only to avoid confused customers and make it sell faster. It is known by a variety of trade names but all are some form of polyurethane plastic. It is even tougher than spar varnish! Most major paint companies offer it in both a high gloss finish and a soft or satin finish. Its finest use on stocks is as a sealer and filler which requires that it be thinned with naphtha and brushed into the wood. When the stock has been covered, wait about fifteen minutes, then with a rag soaked in thinner, rub the stock cross-grain. This will remove the surface coat,
Stock hanging bracket is made from electrical conduit and affords a good handle for holding the stock, while the finish is being applied. Angle brackets hold up end.
but not harm the polyurethane that has soaked down into the wood. Follow this with a good overall rub down of the stock with a dry cloth and allow the sealer to dry for twenty-four hours before working on the stock again.
The Casey Chemical Company manufactures what I consider one of the best and most easily applied of all oil finishes, under the brand name of Tru-Oil. It is versatile and will forgive a multitude of errors and still produce a good finish. In fact, the stock can be sealed, filled and finished with Tru-Oil alone or the material can be used in conjunction with another type sealer and finisher. Several other companies manufacture a similar oil finish and, having tried some of them, I can find no fault. If you care to substitute one of these, the process will be about the same.
Wood has pores that are actually tiny holes in the wood similar to the pores of your skin. The number of pores and their size will depend on the closeness of the grain of the wood. In turn, the closeness of the grain is determined by the location of where the wood grew as a tree. If the tree grew high on a hill or in soil with a low water content, the growth rings of the tree will be close and tight. This results in close grain and few pores. If, however, the tree grew in a swamp, the growth rate was fast with big, fat growth rings and pores large enough for an ant to crawl in and out of. If the finish is applied without these pores being filled, the stock will look as though it has just recovered from a bad case of chicken pox.
Filler, as the name implies, is designed to fill these pores and in doing so, make the wood surface smooth and unbroken. Most fillers are composites of some holding agent and use fuller's earth as the actual filling substance. If you use one of these be sure it is designed for stock work and not general cabinet work. The latter often uses grains that are too large and some use other substitutes for fuller's earth. The wrong type can give the stock a rough finish and wreck a checkering tool in short order.
Your first reaction when opening a can of the average stock filler is to decide that some joker has sent you a can of mud. Reach in to the can, pull out about a tablespoon-full of the stuff and slap it on the stock. Rub it in, both with and across the grain, until the stock looks like something pulled out of the swamp.
This forend holder is fashioned from 1X1 wood. It has been rounded at the top, saw cut with wedge to secure the holder to the forend. It can be set in a brick to hold it upright out of dirt or it can be hung from top.
Wait about five minutes and, with a piece of old towel, wipe across the grain to remove the excess. Continue wiping hard until the stock takes on a light sheen. Check closely to determine whether the pores have been filled or will need another coat or two. When you are satisfied that the filler has done its job, set the stock aside and allow the filler to dry thoroughly before you start applying the regular finish. The main thing to remember, when using a filler that has fuller's earth or similar material in it, is that you apply it both across the grain and with the grain, but you only remove it by wiping cross grain. If you wipe with the grain you will remove the filler.
Polyurethane, in addition to serving as a sealer, is a good filler and can be applied in two different ways. The whole secret in using this stuff as a filler is not to allow it to dry completely, which it will do in about twenty-four hours.
When it is dry, it is so hard and slick that even other coats of polyurethane will not stick to it. If you use a thinned coat of polyurethane as a sealer, follow this in about four hours with a good thick coat for the polyurethane as a filler. Do not allow the thin sealer coat to dry.
Brush your thick filler coat straight out of the can and get it on solid, both cross grain and with the grain. Don't be stingy when you are using it for a filler, as all pores must be filled completely.
This coat is allowed to dry for the full twenty-four hours, then cut back down with steel wool to the bare wood surface. Every pore will be filled completely and you can follow up with your regular finish. The only trouble with this system is that getting that thick coat off is a tough job and calls for a lot of sweat and elbow grease.
The second method is identical in that a thick coat is applied over the thinner coat before the thinner coat dries, only this time don't wait for the thick to dry. Instead, wait only about ten minutes, then wipe the filler coat of polyurethane off cross-grain with an old bath towel. Note that I specify cross grain and not with the grain. If the pores have not been filled with this filler coat, apply a second coat and, after ten minutes, again wipe it cross-grain. This is a bit on the messy side as the polyurethane leels like thick syrup under the towel and you will have to apply a considerable amount of pressure. It does, however, cut the work time and is the easier of the two methods to use. You then will have to wait the full twenty-four hours for the filler coat to dry and you probably will have a small amount of polyurethane remaining on the wood that must be cut off with steel wool as in the first method. The only difference between the two methods is that the second method leaves a lot less excess polyurethane to be cut off after it is dry. Either way, polyurethane will fill the pores completely and provide a smooth foundation for the finish.
Polyurethane also can be used for the final finish. In fact, some manufacturers offer it in spray cans for this purpose. The spray cans are a bit expensive, but for a one-stock job, they are to be recommended. They give you more control than a paint brush and there is no excess material left over to dry out. The material also can be applied with a good camel hair brush if it is thinned about fifty-fifty. Apply the material in long even strokes distributing the material equally over the stock and avoiding buildups that will cause runs. One good thing about polyurethane is that, if you apply it even halfway correctly it will flow together and erase any brush marks.
If you use it as the final finish, be sure to wait no more than twelve hours between coats so that the second and following coats will stick to the coats already applied. If a satin finish is desired it is best to select a polyurethane that specifies a satin or soft finish on the can However, if you have only the gloss type on hand, this can be rubbed down with a good stock rubbing compound after it is dry, to produce a soft velvet finish, but it requires a lot of rubbing. I have used polyurethane on quite a few stocks and I think it makes a good finish. My only objection is* that it is too hard to control and there are easier ways!
The foregoing methods have been outlined to give a working knowledge of stock finishing by various methods. All of these and several others not mentioned will deliver good results provided you take your time and follow the manufacturer's recommendations. However, this book is for the hobbyist and not the professional, so we are interested in the simplest and easiest method that will produce good results.
Starting with a naked stock devoid of any sealing or filling, pour some Tru-Oil into the cap of a plastic pill bottle. Immediately put the cap back on the bottle of Tru-Oil, tighten it good and stand it upside down. The reason for this is that air will dry Tru-Oil rapidly and cause a film to cover the surface. Even if the bottle is sealed and stored upright, the small amount of air in the bottle will cause this film to appear.
If the bottle is stored upside down, this film will still appear, but when you turn the bottle right side up, the film will be on the bottom and only clear Tru-Oil will flow out of the bottle.
Always work with a small amount of Tru-Oil poured out in something like that pill bottle top instead of straight out of the bottle and not only will cut your material loss, but will avoid the film getting on the stock and spoiling the job.
Slop the first coat on cross-grain, with the grain, down the grain and any other way that you can get it on thickly and completely. This is no place to be stingy, for you are both sealing and filling with this coat. When the stock has been filled and will absorb no more oil, hang it outdoors and allow it to dry completely. The sunshine and the wind will dry the stock in short order. Take the stock back indoors and slop on a second coat as thick as the first one and again hang it out in the wind and sun to dry. Follow this with a third coat, with the wind-sunshine treatment. This time, allow the stock to dry for a full twelve hours. These three coats have sealed the stock and also filled the pores of the wood, but the finish leaves a lot to be desired in appearance.
With a handful of medium-cut steel wool, scrub the stock until all of the Tru-Oil is removed and you are back down to the bare wood. All of the pores should be filled and the surface of the stock is smooth and unbroken by dimples. If any dimples remain, repeat one or two more sloppy coats, allow it to dry and again cut the finish back to the wood with steel wool. Even the most porous woods should be filling by now. Never start the final finishing coats until all the pores of the wood are filled, for if any remain, you will never arrive at a smooth finish. When the stock is filled, wipe the stock thoroughly with a dry towel to be sure no tiny bits of steel wool are sticking to the wood.
The secret of a good Tru-Oil finish is not in the thickness of the final coats but the reverse. The thinner you can apply the coats, the better the finish! You will need to be a miser with the Tru-Oil from now on. Start by touching your finger tips in the oil and carrying only a drop or two to the stock. Some people prefer to smooth the oil on the stock with their finger tips and this works fine. I use the heel of my hand to spread it, as I can get it to flow and blend better this way. Stretch these drops to the absolute maximum and continue rubbing them in until the finish starts to "pull." At this point, dip back into the container for a couple of drops more and blend these in with the section you have just finished. Keep repeating this, going over the entire stock, but do not go back over the section you already have covered. If you do, the oil will start to streak and splotch. All of these strokes, made with the grain, should be as even and as long as possible to avoid lap marks. When you have finished with the first complete coat, check the stock to see if you have missed any spots.
If you are finishing a stock with the metal attached, pull the oil right up to the metal and over it. Oil that dries on the metal can be removed when you are through and, if you stop right at the metal, the oil will puddle and build up into a ridge.
Your hands will be sticky with the finish, but it can be removed by rinsing them in mineral spirits and finishing with soap and water. Mineral spirits will dry the oil nature
This drying room is 36 inches wide, 48 deep and six feet high, with plywood door. Hanging rod is from conduit; straightened wire clothes hangers are used for hanging; hotplate on floor with fan, aids drying.
provided in your skin and repeated use may cause your hands to crack. This can be avoided by applying hand lotion after washing.
With the first coat on the stock, hang it in the wind and sunshine to dry. Drying time will depend upon the temperature and the humidity.
You can make a good hanging rig for butt stocks with a small four-inch angle bracket from the hardware store. This should have holes in both ends, one to receive the butt stock screw attaching it to the stock, the other hole to accept a wire to support the bracket and the stock from an overhead bar or nail.
As explained more fully in the text, a hair dryer or even a vacuum cleaner can be used to speed drying of finish. With latter, be sure to empty vacuum bag first.
electrical conduit. Flatten one end of the conduit for about two inches and drill a hole in the flattened end. Now bend the flattened section at a ninety-degree angle. This section will attach to the butt stock. The other end is flattened and a hole drilled to accept the hanging wire.
A good hanging wire can be made from a clothes hanger that has been straightened and an open loop bent into each end. One loop goes through the'stock hanging jig and the other goes over any convenient overhead rod or nail. These conduit stock holding jigs also provide a good handle for the stock while you are applying the finish.
Separate holding jigs for the forearms such as those found on pump and automatic shotguns can be made from one-inch wooden dowels with a cross nail through the dowel about a foot from the end. The dowel slips through the forearm hole from the outside and the cross nail limits its passage to provide a convenient handle and holding jig. If no dowel is available, you can use square wood stock with the edges rounded slightly for the same purpose.
If you want to hang them overhead, all that is needed is a hole through the upper end to receive the hanging wire. Another good way to hold the forend out of the dirt is to pick up a common brick, the type with holes through the center. The bottom end of the dowel or square holding jig is inserted into one of the holes in the brick with the forend stopped by the cross nail. These simple jigs require only a couple of minutes to make, but save untold work if a stock slips and falls into the dirt and you have to do the entire job over again.
As any commercial shop has to turn out finished stocks regardless of the weather, we use a simple drying cabinet. This is nothing but an eight-foot high wooden box four feet square with a door and hanging racks inside. The racks are sections of electrical conduit inserted into blocks of two-by-four which are, in turn, nailed to the sides of the box. Down on the floor is a single unit electrical hot plate with a small portable electric fan blowing across it.
When the door is closed, the air inside is heated and circulated over the hanging stocks. Drying time is cut down about one-third over a similar stock out in the wind and sunshine. By keeping the drying cabinet clean, the finish does not pick up the dust particles it would if hanging in the open air.
The average hobbyist may not need such a large drying cabinet, but he can speed up stock drying with his wife's portable hair dryer. The machine set on high, the flexible hose is played up and down the stock, keeping the hose nozzle moving at all times. This heat and air will cut the
Walker feels that the best way of applying Tru-OH is to work it in with the heel of the hand, making the oil stretch. Note first coat on pistol grip already is dry.
drying time of the finish considerably, yet cause the oil to penetrate more deeply into the stock during the first three filling coats.
The hair dryer can be utilized better by constructing a simple, inexpensive drying cabinet. Most furniture and appliance stores receive their wares in large heavy cardboard boxes which are usually available for the asking. Select one long enough to hold your stock when it is in the vertical position, allowing about six inches of clearance on both ends of the stock.
The first step is to cut a small door in one side of the box leaving the door attached on one side. To keep the door closed, you will need several strips of common masking tape or similar. A short rod, conduit or discarded broom handle is run through two sides of the box at the very top to provide a support rod from which to hang the stocks.
Next, cut a small circular hole about two inches in diameter on one side of the box down about six inches from the floor to serve as the entrance hole for the hair dryer hose. The top of the box should have an air exit hole of approximately the same diameter, although the size is not critical.
With your stock hanging inside and the door secure, insert the dryer hose through the bottom entrance hole and set the machine on medium warmth. Allow it to run for about an hour, then shut it off and, at the same time, plug the top air exit hole. The warm air will remain in the box for a considerable length of time.
If you do not have a hair dryer, you can make a similar arrangement by cleaning the bag of the vacuum cleaner, then inserting the hose in the exit or blower hole. This will provide the circulating air which will not dry the stock quite as rapidly as warm air, but still will speed drying time. If you do not clean the vacuum cleaner bag before doing this, you will blow all of the junk and dust in the bag into your drying cabinet and over the stock! An abandoned refrigerator stripped of its cooling mechanism will serve as a good drying cabinet and is more dust free than the cardboard box. You can use a hair dryer for the forced warm air or a hot plate and small portable fan arrangement. If no hot plate is available, you can rig up a heating coil stretched over an insulated frame in front of the fan and, in a pinch, even a common heat lamp can be employed with a fan. Be sure to remove the regular catch and substitute a common screen door hook to secure the door from the outside. This will prevent the door from locking from the inside.
Even a common vinyl garment bag like your wife uses to store off-season clothing can also be used for a dust-free drying cabinet. Select one that will provide ample clearance on the sides as well as the top and bottom. Vinyl will not stand much heat, but you can use the hair dryer without harm to the bag. If your working area is confined to your house, the bag will serve also as a storage place to keep the kids' fingers off the stock, while you are sanding it and applying the finish.
When your stock is dry from the first coat, remove it from the cabinet and examine it closely. The first coat probably will have soaked completely into the wood. Apply another coat of finish as you did the first coat and put the stock back into the drying cabinet. Don't forget to stretch that Tru-Oil out as far as possible to assure a thin, even coat over the entire surface. When the finish is dry, remove the stock from the cabinet and apply a third thin coat of finish. This apply and dry procedure is repeated until your stock starts to take on a light sheen. Usually about five coats will be necessary to obtain a good finish. Some woods will require more and still others, particularly those with the close grain, will take a good finish with as few as two coats.
You can stop right here and have a good serviceable finish, but a bit more work will turn a good finish into a professional job. To do this you will need to use a special stock rubbing compound. At one time or another, I have used a dozen or so different types, usually with good results. I argue with no man that his favorite brand will not do a good job.
One of the oldest stock compounds is rotten stone and, in the hands of a skilled craftsman with patience, it is hard to beat. For the beginner, it is best left alone until he gains more experience. Automotive body compound in extra-fine grit also can be used, but even the extra fine grit size is a little on the coarse side for most stock work. Use it only when nothing else is available and go easy on the application.
Most of the companies that manufacture semi-inletted stocks, as well as all of the gunsmith supply houses, offer stock rubbing compound of one brand or another. Just follow their instructions and you should have little trouble. With all brands, a small amount is spread thinly over a piece of good clean cloth, like an old T-shirt. This then is rubbed lightly, and I do mean lightly, over the entire stock surface. The idea is to cut the finish down to the point that all irregularities are smoothed out until the surface is even and unbroken. If you rub one spot too hard or too long, the rubbing compound will cut completely through the finish and down to the bare stock underneath. However, if you do it right, the finish will just lose some of its gloss as the irregularities are evened out the stock will take on a soft, warm glow. The finish can be left alone at this point and you will have something on the order of the classic London Hand-Rubbed^ Oil Finish only it is about ten dozen times more efficient in protecting the wood.
If you prefer a high gloss, just wipe the stock clean of any rubbing compound and apply one last and final coat of Tru-Oil, stretching it to the utmost and taking great care to get it on evenly. When this coat is dry, rub the finish briskly with a good, clean bath towel and you have the high gloss finish that is so popular with many hobbyists.
In either case, the final step is to wax the new finish job thoroughly and completely. Any good household paste wax will highlight the finish, adding even more protection. Many good commercial stock waxes are available and you seldom will go wrong, regardless of the particular brand. The final touch is to rapidly buff the stock from one end to the other with a piece of soft flannel.
I have left explaining bleaching and staining a stock to a specific shade until the end. This is a detailed and involved subject that could cover an entire chapter by itself. Staining has a multitude of uses. You will remember that we used a new piece of wood to repair the split off toe of the stock. Seldom will such a patch be the same color and shade as the original wood and, if left alone, the patch will be quite obvious. With correct bleaching and staining, the two woods can be blended to an almost perfect match in color and shade. New plain figured stocks usually can be improved with a little careful staining to bring out the grain structure and beauty of the wood. Many of the new semi-inletted stocks of economy grade have light streaks or some sap wood in one section that color up nicely with careful staining.
Matching two different pieces of wood is accomplished by first bleaching the more colorful piece of wood, usually the patch, until the color is more that of the less colorful piece. Commercial wood bleaches are available from stock-makers, gunsmith supply houses and most cabinet supply shops. Most brands will turn out an acceptable job.
I prefer to use a good household bleach, as the strength can be regulated with water, while most of the commercial bleaches require a special thinner. With the strength of a household bleach cut down about one-third with water, apply the solution with a regular paint brush to the surface of the more colorful piece of wood. The bleach can be accelerated by exposing the wood to sunshine, but this is not a necessity.
When the wood is dry, the bleach will have turned the surface of the wood almost white and you will need to cut the surface down lightly with sandpaper to expose the clear wood underneath. Compare the two pieces of wood and decide whether a second application will be necessary. If the two colors are reasonably close, stop with one application. Seldom will more than one application be needed.
As the strength of household bleaches varies with the manufacturer, make a trial application to a similar colored piece of scrap wood. Cut the bleach concentration and make more than one application rather than apply a concentrated solution and bleach the wood more than necessary.
The color match can be made even closer by applying a stock stain to the two individual pieces and varying the strength of the solution used on the two pieces. As the actual strength and number of applications will vary with each piece of wood as well as with the brand of stain, it is a wise hobbyist who experiments on scrap wood first! Most gunsmith supply houses offer commercial wood stains in orange, brown, black, scarlet and yellow. Each can be diluted or mixed with others to form just about any color combination required. A few companies offer stains specifically designed for gun stocks and are usually available in walnut, cherry, mahogany and brown mahogany. These usually are diluted with water to obtain a shade, but you can mix several for a specific need. I have found that stains will work better if you double the amount of dilution specified by the manufacturer and make several, rather than one, application. This gives far better shade control. Again, use scrap wood for experimenting with shades before applying it to your stock.
One of the favorite oldtime stains is potassium permanganate, a common antiseptic available at most drug stores. When in solution it is a deep purple color, which remains when the stain first is applied to the stock. Your first reaction is one of horror and you say nasty things about the fellow who recommended its use.
The average hobby gunsmith will be eager to get into this type of work, but a firm training program in the basics is something of a requirement before advancing.
The color is in the solution and not in the wood. When the solution is wiped off, the purple color goes with it and the wood underneath will appear to have aged with a deep shade of walnut color. With just a small amount of sanding to remove the surface of the wood, the figure of the wood will be brought out in sharp detail. The amount of stain, or rather the degree of darkening, is controlled first by the strength of the solution and second by the length of time the stain remains on the wood. There is little that can be given in the way of instructions, as the orignial color of the wood, its texture and age all contribute to the final color.
The best advice is to have your druggist make up a concentrated solution for you and try this on a piece of scrap wood for just a few seconds. Quickly wipe the stain away and note the shade. Next time, allow the solution to remain for a longer period before wiping it away. Finally, try diluting the solution to different strengths and varying the length of time. With a little experimentation you will become quite proficient with this stain and I believe it will become a favorite of yours, also.
After a little practice with bleach and stains you will be able to match woods closely and the results will be hard to detect. Another stain is nitric acid which will give colors in the yellow range up to a deep brown, if a ten percent solution is used. This is a good solution for new stocks, but is most useful in bringing life back to badly aged stocks. Quite often, a plain stock can be brought into beautiful and colorful array with careful application of different types of stain.
The old gunsmiths of the percussion and flintlock era often used a hot flame played with the grain to bring out grain structure that otherwise would not be visible. If the wood did not have any grain structure, they made cross or herringbone patterns in the wood by playing the flame back and forth across the stock.
For example, maple has little or no figure in most grades and the careful application of a flame can be used to greatly accentuate the wood structure, turning a plain stock into a thing of beauty.
The best tool for this is a common propane torch with the flame turned to the lowest position. Use a piece of scrap wood for your lessons and apply the torch to a stock only when you have acquired the knack. Usually you will need to sand the stock lightly after the flame to remove any scorched sections of wood. A good beginning lesson is to use the torch on a common piece of plywood, moving the torch over the visible grain structure and following its turns.
Just as the recent years have given us finishes superior to those available in the 1920s and 1930s, the future will give us even better finishes than we have today. As new products come on the market, regardless of the intended use, try them on old scrap stocks or pieces of wood. Quite often, you will find a solution or product that can be used in a way that the manufacturer never dreamed of when he offered it on the market. Many products used in furniture manufacture can be utilized in gun stock work. I believe the future will provide stock finishes far superior to the best we have today and my guess would be that they will be one of the new plastics. The new finish will be the answer to our wish for a soft and attractive finish that is impervious to rot, water and the hundred and one other troubles that befall the handles of our favorite smokepoles.
Jt\ RECOIL PAD CAN be a graceful addition to a stock or it can stand out like a bluetick hound at a French poodle family reunion. If the right type is chosen and fitted correctly, the pad will perform its primary purpose of softening the recoil, as well as adding to the overall appearance of the stock.
The first type pad to eliminate is the slipover pad. These come in a wide variety of models with various methods of attachment. Some are laced on the stock and some are variations of a rubber boot. Mount a gun to your shoulder equipped with one of these, and it feels about as correct as wearing your left shoe on your right foot! As for appearance, they ruin the lines of the stock,' among other things. If left on a stock for any length of time, a slipover pad will destroy the stock finish under it. Their only use should be as a temporary stock adjustment.
The second type pad to eliminate is the cheap model that usually sells for about a dollar. These are made of a combination material with ground-up recap tires and tennis shoes as the main ingredients. They do a poor job of absorbing recoil. Some are about as soft as a rock and others spongy like foam rubber. When grinding one down, the material rolls off like sand and a smooth finish is impossible. It's money ahead, plus the saving of a lot of work, to buy a good pad to start with rather than pinching pennies for a pad that will have to be replaced after about a year's hard use.
Pads usually are designated as rifle or shotgun. I always have felt that three, rather than two, classifications are necessary. We will use three classifications.
The primary purpose of a rifle pad is not to absort recoil, but to provide a non-slip surface against the
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