Stock Refinishing

Why Would You?

Rifles with wooden stocks can look stunning. While there's no doubt that synthetic stocks are more durable - and can even help your rifle shoot better - a real wood stock is hard to beat.

But wood stocks aren't all collectors' grade claro walnut. Many are made of beech. Some are oiled, but most are either varnished or lacquered. And then of course some of them suffer general wear and tear, or get scratched or dented.

But don't despair. If you have a wooden stock that's not looking or feeling quite as good as it should, you can fairly easily refinish it yourself. The "skills" required are not especially skillful.

What you will need is plenty of space to work on your stock, eye protection, a facemask and plenty of time. The aim is to produce an oiled finish which is beautiful to look at, wonderful to touch and is easy to maintain.

If your wood stock already has an oiled finish, albeit worn or faded, then you're laughing. This is the easiest finish to restore. You can head straight down to the notes on oiling stocks below.

If your stock has a varnished finish you have a bit more work ahead, but it's still easy enough to do. However, if your stock has a lacquered finish, call in sick, send the wife and kids to the mother-in-law's and take a deep breath. This stuff is hard - but not impossible - to shift.

Bring on the Strippers

If your stock is varnished or lacquered then you need to strip off this old finish. Some people even like to strip off old oil finishes so they can start from scratch. To do some stripping you need a stripper - and in the UK one of the best products is NitroMors, which is available from most hardware shops.

NitroMors is very effective, but is truly horrible stuff to use - and good ventilation is a must. There are two types to consider when refinishing rifle stocks.

If you have a lot of detail work or chequering on the stock then you need NitroMors Craftsman's, which comes in a yellow tin, otherwise you can use the regular NitroMors which comes in a green tin.

A face mask is essential, especially if working indoors. Eye protection is also essential as you do not want to splash any NitroMors in your eyes. You'll also need gloves - the free ones from petrol stations are ideal. Rubber ones will just melt.

You need to ensure your work area is clean and clear - and you must protect any work surfaces. Black bin bags are perfect for protecting table tops if you spread them out. You also need to remove all metal fittings and the butt pad from your woodwork.

You can now use either a paintbrush or sponge to apply the NitroMors, and it needs to be worked into detailed areas like the chequering with a toothbrush.

Keep the NitroMors wet for about 20 minutes or so - wrap the whole stock in another bin liner so it doesn't dry out.

The stock will now be covered in a milky white goo. This is the old finish that's been pulled out of the stock by the NitroMors.

Afer you've finished, the Craftsman's has to be neutralised with white spirit. The regular stuff just needs water. As you might expect, this is very messy. You have been warned!

The whole process may need to be repeated several times, especially with a lacquer finish.
Now have a good look at the stock and see if there is any trace of varnish or lacquer left.

If there is ... you know what you have to do. Keep going until your wood stock is exactly that - wood - with none of the old finish still there. A lacquer finish is particularly stubborn, and you may need to sand off any stubborn patches that cannot be removed with stripper.

You Can Fix It

Now look again at your stock and check for any dings or dents. You'll probably find most minor damage will have been absorbed by the outer layer of varnish or lacquer, and your old stock is actually in better condition than you first thought.

Nevertheless, you may be left with some minor damage. Repairing major damage is beyond the scope of this article.

Dings and dents can usually be fixed by swelling the wood fibres with steam from a kettle. They will feel rough and may stand proud of the surrounding surface. This is good and will be dealt with later.

Any scratches or gouges will have to be filled. Options here are wood filler or Araldite Rapid, which is my favourite. This will end up looking like a thin streak of fat in a joint of beef. To my eye this is not unappealing, and is better than mismatched wood filler.

Make the Grade

Now it's time for lots of sanding - this should be done with wet & dry paper or a car body product called MicroMesh. If you're using wet & dry, then use it wet.

You need to raise the wood fibres slightly then sand them off. If you do all your sanding dry, when you come to add oil this will raise the fibres, leaving the stock looking and feeling rough.

This may sound ridiculous, but I like to do my heavy duty wet sanding by taking the stock (and myself!) in the shower. The stock will not soak up too much water. You'll be amazed by how quickly it dries off afterwards. To saturate wood, it needs to be immersed for days. Your shower will not take that long.

If you want to be really thorough you can wet sand. Let it dry. Then dry sand. Then wet sand with a finer grade. Then dry sand with that grade etc, finishing up with 1200 grade wt & dry paper used dry.

Halfords sells a multi-pack that has all the grades you need.

What grade? Well 1200 grade is fine enough for most people - however if you want it glass smooth then you need to go finer still. MicroMesh is perfect for this as it comes in numerous grades. Halfords may sell this as well, or a similar product, or you can try the internet.

To clean away the final sanding dust you can use white spirit applied with a sponge or lint-free cloth.

A Stock to Dye For

If your stock is walnut, or an exotic wood like Indonesian teak doreng or sono kembang, then don't dye it. The idea behind dyeing a wood is to make it look like something it's not - usually something more expensive.

If you have a beech stock, you may want to impart some colour, however beech can look nice left "au naturel". The choice is yours.

If you do want to use a wood dye, then beware - there are oil-based dyes and water-based dyes.
If you use an oil-based dye, then the dye will run when you oil the stock. You need to use a water-based dye.

The easiest way to apply a water-based dye is with a small piece of sponge. Try to build up the colour slowly, using lots of thin coats rather than a few thicker ones. Even coverage is crucial. The final colour will be slightly darker once you've oiled the stock.

Curvy Piece Needs Willing Oil Boys

Now you need to oil your stripped, repaired and sanded stock.

CCL stock conditioning oil is available from my local gun shop (so maybe yours too) or you can get it online from Avalon Guns. Numerous oils are used to finish stocks including tung oil, Danish oil, supermarket walnut oil and linseed oil. Whatever you use, it has to be a type of oil that dries hard. Olive oil is not suitable.

I like using my bare hands to apply the oil. Just a few drops of CCL should be rubbed inside the inletting as well as the outside.

CCL is fairly quick to dry and you can do one coat a day.

The key is to use only tiny amounts at a time so it all gets absorbed into the wood. Any excess oil will dry in puddles or show up fingerprints.
Keep going, a little at a time, over two or three weeks until you've got the desired sheen.

The good news is that you can't really go wrong.
If it's too shiny then just wait until the oil is hard, then sand it down a little with a very fine grade of wet & dry or MicroMesh.

Job done!
Hard work? Yes.

But worth it.

Author Mike