Custom stocks w/ Thomas Bristow

Thomas Bristow oversees the transformation of a laminate blank into a custom rifle stock for a friend, and reckons the end result is a thing of beauty

Tom makes good use of a ruler and pen when creating his initial design and working out how to tweak it to best suit the customer’s needs

In my recent articles you may have noticed that the majority of the airguns I have had to test were all dressed in unique and colourful stocks, specifically designed to enhance the shooter’s technique and accommodate their anatomy.

Having had the opportunity to play around with my Rapid Air Weapons TM1000, a close friend of mine decided to buy his own. Even though the stocks on the RAW series of rifles are beautifully made and finished, they do lack a certain level of adjustability compared with other high-end PCP target rifles – therefore, a custom stock would be an added benefit to get the most out of these world class-rifles.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of following this process as my friend enlisted the skilful hands of Tom Davies to transform a laminate blank into an alluring stock to complete his new competition setup.

The Design

The start of the process begins with the design brief. Each client has different requirements and specific things they would like to gain from a custom stock. Usually, clients aim to increase the level of adjustment over the standard stock supplied with the rifle, ensuring a correct and comfortable fit, although some may wish to simply personalise the rifle to make it their own. At this stage Tom takes into account the individual needs and wants of each client before coming up with a detailed design to suit. Once a design has been agreed, Tom begins work on the laminate blank.

Each stock maker has an individual approach to making their stocks. In conjunction with this they adopt different methods and techniques which results in a unique design. Tom tends to be pretty old school when laying out the initial design onto the laminate blank – he uses several patterns to achieve a general layout, but prefers to use a ruler and pen at this stage. 

Once the final design has been created, Tom will lay the outline onto the laminate blank, after which he’ll get to work on the inletting

Even this early on he begins to consider any tweaks in the design to suit the customer. In this instance the depth of the inletting and full-length accessory rail were his main concerns when shaping the forend, although Tom persisted with the design the customer wanted – eager to meet their needs. During this stage any specific measurements, like length of pull, are implemented – an important part of the design to ensure consistent trigger release and a genuine made-to-measure result.

Each shooter has different requirements, as well as having a different shooting technique and anatomy, therefore it’s important that Tom considers the balance and shape of the stock before making the first cut to ensure a comfortable fit.

Inletting

Once the customer’s final design is outlined onto the laminate blank, Tom can begin work on the inletting. Tom describes the process to be “quite tedious at times” due to the lack of artistic flair required during this stage. Nevertheless, this section is as important as any other – the same level of precision as any other geometric or ergonomic work required on the stock is paramount. Poor fit will lead to a stock being rendered useless. “I always take my time with the action inlet. This is a step which is essential for a good end result,” he explains.

Tom prefers to use hand tools for much of the inletting work as he believes this gives him a better feel for how the action will be seated

A range of tools are used throughout this stage – modern power tools remove material, while hand tools achieve a precise finish. Although Tom uses a large variety of both types, he is often inclined towards using hand tools as “every cut is considered” and he can get a feel for how the action will be seated in the stock. 

With several pieces of hardware like hamsters and butt hooks essential in the disciplines which the stock would be used for, Tom had to incorporate these into the design as part of the inletting process. A lot of the same key principles apply here, although a little more forward thinking is required now that the action is in. All the pieces of hardware need to be implemented in conjunction with the rest of the stock to create a suitable point of balance.

Just like the other stages, Tom continues to consult with the client throughout the process. Particularly at this point where the action inlet is clinical and needs to be carried out in a certain way. The positioning of the hamster and butt have more freedom, although much like the rest of the stock it depends entirely on the customer. 

Shaping

With the hardware and inletting completed, Tom moves onto the shaping. Unlike the previous stage where minimal artistic flair is used, the shaping process requires a large amount of creativity and craftsmanship – something that Tom prides himself on. 

Tom reconsiders the balance and weight of the stock, making the adjustments by removing small amounts of material. 

He begins with shaping the points of contact using modern power tools like routers and power sanders to remove material quickly and moves out from there. 

A combination of scrapers, rasps and files are used to form the shape of the stock, which requires a large amount of creativity and craftsmanship
The various pieces of hardware and the action itself are fitted into the stock for a thorough check, ensuring everything functions as it should

“At the end of the day function is everything, but I always favour a clean aesthetic and try my best to tie it all up in a good-looking package,” he said. While some may argue that hand tools are now outdated, Tom believes they are perfect for achieving a smooth and sleek finish. 

A combination of scrapers, rasps and files are used at this stage to form the stock’s shape. In his opinion, what sets a “true” custom stock apart from a factory offering is the time and craftsmanship that goes into the production of such a stock – giving it a real one-off feel.

Approaching the final stages of the process, a nice sleek look with clean lines starts to come through. As the colours of the laminate blank begin to show, Tom is delighted to see a good variety of colour and contrast throughout the stock. 

By this point Tom has now moved onto using a very coarse sandpaper to finalise the shape of the stock and to smooth everything out. As much as function is everything for a high-end stock, Tom likes to cater for what the customer wants visually as much as possible too. With the TM1000’s inletting being so simple, it allows for more wiggle room to really “dial in the aesthetics”.

Final Checks

Once Tom has reached the point where he is happy with the stock, he begins to make any final checks before applying oil to the stock. The hardware pieces and the action are fitted back to the stock to be checked over, ensuring they all function properly. 

At this point Tom can fully understand how the stock will feel for balance, weight and comfort before completion. 

In addition to this, any other final functionality tweaks are then made to the stock, such as removing any more of the unneeded material, or perhaps re-shaping part of the stock in order to iron out any new imperfections.

Thomas’s friend will be getting a custom stock adorned with adjustable hardware that can be finely tuned to meet his exact requirements

Sanding And Oiling

To prep the stock before oiling Tom sands it down, slowly working his way up through the various grits. This technique ensures a smooth finish with no contaminants which could spoil the finish as the layers of oil build up. 

Tom applies each layer of oil using his hand or a cloth to fully coat the surface of the stock, adding depth and colour to each layer. After this, Tom rebuilds the full stock, attaching the handwear and adjustable pieces before sending it off to the customer.

Collection

Despite the complications that Covid had brought, I was able to tag along with my friend to collect the stock. After having been sent various pictures throughout the four-week process, I eagerly anticipated the day I’d see the finished stock in person. 

On arrival Tom gave me a brief tour of his workspace, showing me the various tools and techniques used to create the stock. Now wearing its new outfit, I jumped at the opportunity of holding the rifle. 

Although the stock was not made to my exact specifications, my own bodily dimensions are not too dissimilar to the owner’s, so I was comfortable using the rifle – the point of balance worked to great effect for standing shots and is a huge improvement from the standard stock.

Complemented by the glossy finish Tom had applied, I was blown away by the quality of the laminate. The contrast of the two colours matched perfectly with the silver action of the TM1000. If executed properly, a custom stock made from a high-quality wood or laminate blank is a piece of art and I believe Tom Davies has done a good job of it.

Tom shows off his custom creation for the Rapid Air Weapons TM1000 following four weeks’ worth of work – it was well worth the effort!

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