Most of the beauty of typical hunting rifles stems from the condition of the stock. If the stock has been maintained well, the rifle will look good. Normal stock care is the easy part. In this section we will start way before that and assume a bit of a stock refinisher’s role as it may be needed at times. For normal stock care, simply scroll down until you reach that heading.
- Chemicals: Thinners, mineral spirits/turpentine, varnish stripper, oven cleaner, TSP(Tri Sodium Phosphate), wood stain, varnish (matt or gloss) and commercial varnish stock finish (i.e. Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil)
- Natural material: Beeswax, Tung- or boiled Linseed oil
- Cotton wool
- Soldering iron
- Clothing iron
- Hand towel
- Paper towel roll
- Sanding paper in following grits US 400-grit, 600-grit and 800-grit (ISO P800, P1200, P1500)
- Steel wool (fine – #0000) or 3M type Nylon abrasive hand pads (very fine-maroon, extra fine-grey, ultra fine-white)
- Large-mouth mixing container with lid
- Wooden ladle
- Convenient extras: blow-torch, kitchen grater, masking tape, microwave, funnel, newspapers, surgical gloves (latex), toothbrushes.
Step 1: Strip the Old Finish
The wood must, of course, first be separated from the metal before any stock refinishing can commence. The biggest mistake made by most gun owners is to attack a rifle stock with sandpaper when they start the refinishing process. Apart from removing unnecessary wood, it often results in an uneven surface that just requires more and more sanding until the stock is damaged beyond repair. The old finish on the stock must first be chemically removed. There are three ways of doing this:
- Thinners and steel wool. This is the least intrusive method and works quite well on oil and traditional finishes. Liberally coat the stock with thinners and use very fine steel wool to softly rub the finish off. Use a stiff toothbrush to remove any of the old finish that may be imbedded in the checkering. Maintain the strokes in the direction of the wood grain. This process must be repeated until the old finish has been removed successfully.
- Varnish stripper. The method is harsher than the previous one. It is also important to ensure that all synthetic spacers, caps and other plastic paraphernalia have been removed from the stock, because varnish stripper (methylene chloride a.k.a dichloromethane) attacks these materials and dissolves them. Apply the varnish stripper, leave it on for about 10 minutes. Then wash the stock in dishwashing liquid and warm water to neutralize the stripper. Allow the stock to dry and repeat until the old finish has been successfully removed.
- Oven cleaner. Oven cleaner (sodium hydroxide) offers the advantage over varnish stripper that it does not attack any synthetics on the stock, but it does tend to raise some surface fibers because it removes all the natural oils close to the surface. The stripping procedure is the same as for varnish stripper. Apply the oven cleaner, leave it on for about 10 minutes. Then wash the stock in dishwashing liquid and warm water to neutralize the oven cleaner. Allow the stock to dry and repeat until the old finish has been successfully removed.
Step 2: Restore the Action Area
The most common problem found on stocks, is that the receiver area had been drenched in oil and darkened as a consequence of excessive oiling of the metal parts. The excess oil had seeped down onto the wood under the receiver area and had been absorbed by the wood fibers. This does not only mar the stock’s appearance, but it actually softens the fibers and can cause inaccuracy. There are two ways of approaching this problem.
- TSP. Mix TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate – NA304H20) as per instructions on the container and apply it to the affected internal section of the stock and even on other affected parts. TSP can generally be sourced through your local pharmacist or chemical company.The first coating will crystalize and acquire a brownish color. Wash these crystals off with water and repeat the process once a week until the mixture remains white when dried. Before re-applying TSP, oil-free acetone can be poured on the affected areas to dilute the oils and make it easier for them to migrate closer to the surface where it can be extracted. The stock should be allowed to dry completely between each application, with the barrel channel facing down. When the TSP comes up clean, all the oil which can be extracted from the stock with this process will have been extracted.
- Oven Cleaner. Since the affected areas are generally covered by the metal parts, oven cleaner can be used more aggressively on the affected parts. Masking the outer surfaces of the stock is recommended so that it is not marred by longer periods of activity. It is still recommended that even on these internal surfaces the oven cleaner should not be left for more than 15 minutes at a time.
The barrel channel and action area of the stock should by then be sufficiently oil-free to allow it to be sealed with some or other epoxy or varnish to prevent further seeping damage.
Step 3: Fix Obvious Surface Dents
Almost any dent in the stock can be repaired if no fiber had been lost. Take a piece of cotton wool and lightly soak it in water. Place the wet cotton wool in the dent in the stock and then compress the cotton wool with a preheated electric soldering iron or clothing iron tip to turn the water in the cotton wool into steam. Be careful not to touch the stock with the soldering iron or to allow the cotton wool to turn completely dry, as it will scorch the stock leaving an irreparable scar. Repeat the process the next day until the dent has swollen to its original level and disappeared.
Step 4: Iron the Stock
It is important to understand that the preparation of the stock prior to application of any finish is crucial to success. If short-cuts are taken, the final finish will never be satisfactory.
This step is undertaken to ensure that the absolute minimum of sanding and stock surface alteration is required. Take a damp hand towel and place it on the stock. Then use a clothing iron to iron the cloth, but take care to not overdo it on an single spot as it will scorch the stock. Do not do this on checkered areas. Rather use Step 3 to attend to dents in the checkered areas.
This step will not only raise somewhat recessed areas, but it will also raise surface fibers.
Step 5: Smooth the Surface
The most crucial piece of equipment from here on is a sanding block. Without it the stock surface will never be even and it will show up like an ink blot on a white shirt. Use the largest possible sanding block practical for any area of the stock. In some instances you may have to use an eraser. In round areas such as the hollow curves of cheekpieces, roll the sandpaper around a short (2” – 50mm long) dowel. If the stock is gouge- or mark-free, you can then begin sanding the stock with US 400-grit (ISO P600) sanding paper. If not, you may have to start with 200-grit (both US and ISO). Let’s hope it is not the case.
Make sure that all sanding strokes are executed along the line of the grain and not across it as it will leave marks. Once the stock has been sanded it is important to wipe all the stock dust off. Use a lint-free cloth dampened ever so slightly with mineral spirits (turpentine) and then let the stock dry. Progress to increasingly finer grits of sanding paper until you end up with a grit in the region of (US 700 / ISO P1200) until absolutely all sanding marks have been removed. Again, any remaining marks will show up badly once the finish is applied.
Step 6: Stain the Wood (if necessary)
It is hardly ever necessary to stain fine wood, but personal taste or practicality may at times require that it be done. Rather than overdo it and ending up with an overly dark stock, it is recommended that a light, medium and dark-colored stain be used progressively until the desired shade is achieved. It is easy to make something a bit darker, but undoing too dark a stain is a mission.
Step 7: Restore Oil in Fibers (if stock will receive an oil finish)
If the stock will be given a varnish or synthetic finish this step must be skipped. Go directly to Step 10.
The drastic finish-stripping has robbed the stock fibers of their natural oils. Most stockmakers proceed directly to sealing and finishing, but I believe that a deeper layer of oiling should first be effected to restore resilience and increase longevity. Assuming the use of Tung- or boiled Linseed oil for an oil finish, mix the oil and mineral spirits (such as turpentine) into a mixture containing 75% mineral spirits and 25% oil. Do the mixing with a wooden spoon in a glass or plastic container. You do not need much – 3 fl. oz. (90 ml) should suffice.
Heat the mixture to ±120°F (±50°C). Apply the mixture to one side of the stock and let it be absorbed by placing the stock with coated side up. Allow at least 24 hours absorption time. Then repeat the same process on the other side of the stock. Redo this three times and then let the stock dry for at least 48 hours between every coating.
Step 8: Select a Finish
There are two types of oil finishes as well as a varnish finish on stocks. The oil finishes are the so-called open-pore and the so-called filled-pore ones. Open pore finishes are reasonably dull finishes, whereas filled-pore finishes are shinier, albeit still matt rather than glossy. Glossy finishes are best achieved with varnish.
Step 9: Apply an Open-Pore Oil Finish (if preferred)
Open-pore finishes accept the oil or wax finish at this point. Open-pore finish stocks can simply be treated with wooden floor wax. Apply the wax, rub it in and then leave a thin layer on the surface. Wait 24 hours, rub the excess wax in and apply another thin layer to stand for 24 hours. Repeat this process daily for a week and thereafter once a month for 6 – 12 months.
If Tung- or boiled Linseed oil is preferred to wax, coat the stock with the oil mixed 50-50 with mineral spirits. Allow the mixture to soak in for ten minutes and then rub any excess into the pores.
Step 10: Apply a Varnish Finish (if preferred)
For this kind of finish you can use a commercial product such as Birchwood Casey’s Tru-Oil, or you can mix 50% varnish with 25% mineral spirits and 25% Tung- or boiled Linseed oil. Selecting glossy or non-glossy varnishes is a matter of taste.
Coat the stock with a fairly liberal layer. It is normally best to only apply it to one side of the stock at a time. As it becomes tacky spread it over absorbed areas with a flint-free towel. This towel can be cleaned from time to time with mineral spirits. If the mixture is too thick at any point, dampen the cloth with mineral spirits and rub it across the affected area to spread the varnish evenly and in a singularly thin, run-free coat. Once you have ensured that there are no areas of running or excess varnish, let the stock dry for 24 hours. Then take very fine steel wool and lightly sand the stock surface to remove any varnish on top of, rather than between the wood pores and fibers. Blow all steel particles from the stock and remove any remaining ones with a slightly damp cloth. Make sure all particles have been removed before repeating the process. Repeat the process 3-4 times until the desired finish is achieved.
Step 11: Apply a Filled-Pore Oil Finish (if preferred)
Mix Tung- or Linseed oil in equal parts with mineral spirits (turpentine). Using sanding blocks and fine grit sanding paper (≥US 800 / ≥ISO P1500), coat a section of the stock with the oil mixture and then sand it lightly down. Allow the oil mixture and dust particles to mix and to accumulate in the pores to fill them. Make very sure that you sand strictly along the grain of the wood. Let the stock dry for 24 hours after every sanding and then repeat the process until the desired level of filling has been achieved.
Normal Stock Care
Once a desirable stock finish has been achieved, all that remains is to maintain the stock. Once again, several methods are available.
- Oil. We recommend stock oils such as Schaftol, which literally means stock oil, but the manufacturer employs it as a brand name. There are three different colors of Schaftol on the market: clear/light, reddish-brown and dark. When first applying Schaftol, heat the oil up to ±120°F (±50°C) and apply a thin layer. When absorbed spots appear, simply rub the excess Schaftol from certain areas over the absorbed areas.
- Almonds. Mince almonds in a mincer or shredding machine. Capture all the spilt oil and throw the lot into a buffing bag made of flannel (old winter pajamas). Sew that closed. Rub the bag over the stock once a day for a week, then once a week for a month and thereafter once a month for ever. In time the stock will (especially if it has a filled-pore finish) acquire a deep luster. Save the almond bag in an airtight plastic container.
- Wax. Many hunters will be surprised at how well wooden floor wax works on gunstocks. Traditionally, however, gunstock wax comprises a mixture of 33.3% pure beeswax, 33.3% mineral spirits (turpentine) and 33.3% Tung- or boiled Linseed oil. Manufacture this by heating the oil up to ±120°F (±50°C). Grate the beeswax and melt it in a microwave. Pour the melted wax into the warm oil while stirring with a wooden spoon or dowel. Immediately after add the mineral spirits while stirring. Allow the mixture to cool down and solidify