Wooden stocks need protecting if they’re to carry on serving. Mike Morton shows you how to look after yours the easy way.
Rifles with wooden stocks can look absolutely stunning. While there’s no doubt that synthetic stocks are more durable – and can even help your rifle shoot better because they’re more resistant to warping – a real wood stock is hard to beat. Gunmakers know this too, which is why walnut has been the stock material of choice for centuries.
Walnut is light and strong, but is usually more expensive than other types of wood, not just because of the cost of the material itself, but also due to the time it takes to cure the wood before it can be shaped into an air rifle stock.
If you try to shape the wood too soon, it can warp and twist. For these reasons gun stocks aren’t all collector’s grade claro walnut. Many are made of beech. Some are laminated, being made from sheets of stained wood that have been bonded together under pressure using a special mix of resins.
Then there’s the finish. Most walnut stocks will be oiled, while other woods will usually be either varnished or lacquered. But whatever type of wooden stock your gun wears, they all need to repel rainwater, moisture, sweat, skin oil and sometimes even animal blood – which means they need an effective protective coating.
This coating will degrade over time, with the stock not looking as nice as it once did, but more importantly not offering the same degree of protection. If you do have a wooden stock that’s not looking or feeling quite as good as it should, you can easily refinish it yourself. The ‘skills’ required are not especially skillful. What you will need is plenty of space to work on your stock and time to carry out the job methodically.
It’s not just worn stocks that will benefit from this process as the handle on a brand new rifle can be treated too, after which a top-up coat once a year is usually more than adequate to keep your stock looking and feeling great, while shrugging off everything that’s thrown at it.
If you’ve decided to go ahead and treat your stock, you now need to choose what type of product to use to protect the wood and enhance the existing finish. There are two basic approaches to this: a traditional one and a more modern approach.
The traditional method to top up a finish is to apply a proprietary gun stock oil if it’s a walnut stock. Other oils, such as Danish, tung and linseed oil, can be used, but proper gun stock oils are specially blended so they offer the maximum amount of protection for the minimum amount of drying time. Any gun stock oil has to dry to a hard surface.
I’ve known people use olive oil on their stocks; but while it will certainly protect the stock, olive oil won’t dry properly and the wood will quickly turn into a sticky mess.
Wood has a grain that makes it semi-porous until it’s been filled and can absorb no more. The grain will drink gun stock oil like there’s no tomorrow, but you can apply a product called grain sealer first to speed up the process. Once the grain of the wood has been sealed, your choice of gun stock oil can be applied, being slowly built up in ultra-thin layers until the desired finishing sheen has been reached.
Even when using grain sealer to kick-start the process, it takes days, and sometimes even weeks depending on temperature and humidity, to oil a stock, because the finish must be built up from multiple coats – each one being allowed to thoroughly dry before the next can be applied. Oil cannot readily be used to top up varnished or lacquered stocks either, so stock oil is definitely not a cure-all when it comes to stock protection.
Enter the new-school range of modern finishes, including Napier Stock Shield. I’ve used this product on several gun stocks, for which it’s intended, as well as several other wooden items for which it’s not, such as a Stax headphone stand and even my well-worn office table. It’s very easy to use and produces a great finish.
Whether you chose to go old school or new, the aim is to produce a finish which is beautiful to look at, wonderful to touch, repels water and enhances the wood. The first step is to remove the rifle from its stock. Old hands may smile at this, but I know some people – and that included me in the distant past – who might be a bit fearful of taking their gun out of its stock in case they lose or damage something, or aren’t able to put it back on properly.
Rifles are usually mated to the stock with either a slotted bolt or a hex bolt, or sometimes a combination of the two. Some PCPs, such as the Daystate HR Huntsman Regal used as our testbed, are attached with just a single bolt.
Next, remove any sling swivel studs, and remove the butt pad if it will come off easily. Some are glued in place, and it’s really not worth breaking the seal and having to re-glue the pad afterwards for the fairly simple process that follows.
With the stock as naked as possible, run your fingers over the wood to determine if any areas feel slightly raised or coarse. If they do, this is an indication that the original finish is failing and the wood is absorbing moisture. This in turn means the stock may swell and twist, adversely affecting the bedding of the rifle and the way it shoots.
If you do find any areas like this, it’s necessary to level the surface with the surrounding wood in preparation for its Stock Shield or stock oil treatment – and this means sanding. The Huntsman in question is a relatively new gun and the wood felt perfectly smooth, but I decided to give it the full works anyway to help illustrate the steps involved. If your stock already feels smooth you can forgo the sanding and jump ahead to the finishing stage.
Restoring a damaged stock requires a different approach, which we will not go into this time. The aim here is to merely prepare the surface of a mildly swollen stock to accept the finish, with only very light sanding required.
I like to use fine- and super-fine foam sanding pads for the bulk of my sanding work because they won’t put flats on curved surfaces. Conversely, I like to use a semi-rigid sanding stick on flat areas to prevent these surfaces from becoming rounded off.
When you start sanding a stock, it’s tempting to try to cover the whole thing in one go, but this is a bit like putting someone who only drives automatic cars in a manual: they’ll stamp around at the pedals a lot, but end up achieving very little. It’s better to confine yourself to one area at a time before moving on.
Once the stock has been sanded perfectly smooth you can either stop, or go one step further for an ultra-smooth finish. I like to use a product called Micro-Mesh for this final sanding stage. This US-developed product was initially used to polish aircraft canopies, but has since become a firm favourite with car body and airgun stock restorers.
It’s a cloth-backed, mildly abrasive polishing product that can produce a mirror surface. It can be bought in some car accessory shops as well as on Amazon and eBay.
Some people like to use 000- or even 0000-grade steel wool. This certainly works well, but creates thousands of tiny metal fibres, some of which may embed themselves into the woodwork. If you don’t remove every fibre, they may start to rust, staining the stock.
If you’re happy to use a finishing product such as Stock Shield, the hard work is already over and the fun – but slightly messy – stage is about to begin. Stock Shield looks a bit like those liquid shoe polishes that you gently squeeze and work in with the supplied applicator pad.
As with the sanding process, take your time, be methodical and ensure everything is coated, especially the inletting. You may need to work this in with your fingers rather than the pad.
Once the whole stock has been covered it’s a case of leaving it to ‘dwell’ for a few minutes while the wood absorbs as much of the product as it can. I wait 30 minutes, but you can probably get away with less.
The stock will still look wet and feel sticky even after half an hour, but all you need do now is clean off the excess with a microfibre cloth and buff the ensuing finish. If your stock has been particularly neglected, you may want to repeat this process, but one coat is usually enough.
This process is pretty simple to carry out and will pay dividends in the field, where your well-protected stock can carry on doing its job for decades to come.
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