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Thread: Best gloss finish for a rifle stock

  1. #21
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    I've always been a proponent of spar varnish on gun stocks. I spent half a lifetime in the yacht carpentry profession and came away with a lot respect for the stuff. I typically apply about 9 coats on a stock, sanding with 320-grit between coats, ending up with a glass smooth glossy finish. If a lower luster is desired, rub it out, then wax it. More than once I've had a rubbed out spar varnish finish mistaken for an oil finish. If anyone uses spar varnish, get the best you can find. I like Epifanes but it is admittedly hard to find and expensive, but OMG does it go on nicely. Gloss has a higher UV rating than semi-gloss or satin, that's why I use it and then rub it out.

    Another advantage good spar varnish has over polyurethane, aside from the generally better UV protection found in the hardware store brands of poly, is it's elasticy. It doesn't get as rock hard as poly and hence resists cracking/checking better IMO. Remember, it was originally formulated for use on wooden spars that bend a lot in use, in a salt environment.

    The thing with sprayed on hard clear automotive finishes is that they are formulated for use on steel which isn't as dynamic as wood, and may crack over time as the wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity (and it will, no matter what you use for a finish, to varying degrees). I may be all wet with that, but it's what I've been told by several professional finishers.
    Last edited by gnoahhh; 08-02-2011 at 02:44 PM.

  2. #22
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    WATCO Danish oil.

    Bill
    If it was easy, anybody could do it.

  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Molly View Post
    Spar varnishes are good choices for gun stocks. I've used them, and they work well. They were originally made to protect the wooden spars of ocean-going sailing ships, so you can be sure they are weather and water resistant. Any polyurethane finish will do well too, but chose a polymer based on "IPDI" (isophorone diisocyanate) instead of "TDI" (toluene diisocyanate) if you can. They will both give you great protective films, but the IPDI polymers are FAR more resistant to UV degradation from sunlight.

    NO oil based finish (linseed, tung, etc) will give really good moisture resistance. Adding a polyurethane to an oil finish will upgrade their water resistance in proportion to the percentage of polyurethane in the vehicle.

    Acrylics will also generally improve oil finishes, but not always. It depends on the choice of acrylic: Some are tough, some are brittle. Some are durable, some aren't. It all depends on what problem the chemist was trying to solve when he selected the acrylic.

    You can take the preceeding to the bank: I am a retired polymer chemist with about 45 years in the paint and coatings industry, and know whereof I speak.
    OK, I have a question here. The finishes talked about here and other posts are great info, but are they "hard"? What I mean by hard is, what I use a stock for is shooting off a rest, cordura bags front and back. If a finish isn't "hard" it feels sticky riding back and forth, and that's not good. There is not enough flex in one of these to worry about, so a hard finish is desired. One of the polyurethanes as apposed to a spar?

  4. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by B R Shooter View Post
    OK, I have a question here. The finishes talked about here and other posts are great info, but are they "hard"? What I mean by hard is, what I use a stock for is shooting off a rest, cordura bags front and back. If a finish isn't "hard" it feels sticky riding back and forth, and that's not good. There is not enough flex in one of these to worry about, so a hard finish is desired. One of the polyurethanes as apposed to a spar?
    After they dry several days, hardness of the spar varnishes is usually pretty darn good. They had to stand up to calloused feet running across them for months and sometimes years on end, even when softened by sea spray (water) which will soften almost any finish.

    Polyurethanes are a different breed of cat. Hardness will depend on the other ingredients in the formulation, depending on what the chemist was trying to do when he worked the formula up. Some of the 'artificial leather' surfaces are actually soft polyurethanes.

    But FWIW, the clear gloss and semigloss polyurethane aerosols from the big "box stores" like Home Depot usually dry down to a sort of gummy surface at first, with absolutely no slip to them. They feel more like a thin film of soft rubber. But after a week or so more drying, they will (in my experience) be as hard and slick as your fingernails! And if you can't wait that long, just wait a day or two to let the film toughen up, and get a can of good paste type auto wax and give it a coat of that. Not a bad thing to do in any case either.
    Last edited by Molly; 08-18-2011 at 02:45 PM.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  5. #25
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    Another warning is to never apply a coat of poly over a spar varnish base, hoping to get the best of both worlds. The different hardness characteristics of each will probably result in a crazed/cracked finish over time. The spar varnish will move with the wood (and it will move to one degree or another) while the harder poly wants to stay put. Something's gotta give. I tried that trick on the stock on a Martini target rifle and had it happen. I was bullheaded enough to do it again on a chess board I made. Same result.

  6. #26
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    WATCO is a hard finish when fully dried. Fill the wood grain by wet sanding with WATCO
    Danish oil and 400 grit wet or dry to make up a mud of sawdust and WATCO. Leave it dry
    like a mess, then dry sand with 400 grit again. Finally do the same with 600 grit for a real
    nice satin gloss. I've never tried for anything shinier than than, expect that 1000 grit
    would get you close and maybe a coat of wax for max glossy if that is what you want.

    Bill
    If it was easy, anybody could do it.

  7. #27
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    I have a Model 70 stock that I would love to refinish to a nice hard gloss like that of my 700 BDL. The Winchester stock has the checkering and the black tip forend but I am terrified of ruining it. The only stocks that I have any experience with were military and a couple older rifles like an ADL and a 340 Savage, nothing with a high gloss type finish.

    If I use a finish stripper on the Winchester stock will it ruin the black forend?

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by lead-1 View Post
    If I use a finish stripper on the Winchester stock will it ruin the black forend?
    Good question! The answer is "It depends."

    Paint strippers are very aggressive mixtures designed to attack and swell most organic materials like paint and plastics. I used to formulate them for one of my employers. If your black forend is made of plastic, you're really playing with fire. It could crack, craze and otherwise deteriorate under almost any paint stripper. Wood is another story. Wood won't degrade to any extent, and if your forearm is of some exotic black wood, it'll be all right. Even ordinary wood that is deeply stained shouldn't be affected much, though you may (or may not) need to touch it up afterwards.

    In any case, don't leave the stripper on any longer than it takes to do the job. You don't want it working through the wood and attacking any glue that's holding the forearm to the rest of the stock. Same considerations go for white spacers and anythiing else that might contain something plastic, like the clear cover over an inlaid compass, etc, etc.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  9. #29
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    One more dumb question. I see that there is water based polyurethane. I got some to coat a small room that has oak flooring. I seems to be holding up although it's not a real high traffic room. Is the solvent based better than the water based?

  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by B R Shooter View Post
    One more dumb question. I see that there is water based polyurethane. I got some to coat a small room that has oak flooring. I seems to be holding up although it's not a real high traffic room. Is the solvent based better than the water based?
    It isn't a question of which is 'better'. The technologies are just different. Sorry for the technicalities to follow, but some things simply can't be explained in simple language, though I'll do my best.

    Solvent based unreacted idocyanate polymers have terminal chemical functionality described as NCO groups. These NCO groups react with water, and with a vengance. They require especialy dried ingredients or they will gell in the container. If you open a can of this sort of polyurethane, you need to be able to flush it with something dry like nitrogen as you close the lid, or the moisture in the air will cause it to gell. It's a royal pain to make and to use. But it can deliver some really outstanding properties, which is why people will put up with it.

    Obviously, it's not possible to put something like this in water and hope to have it very long. Paint formulators get around this by reacting the NCO groups off with something else before they expose it to water. They can build polymers for almost any need by choosing what they react the NCO with, and they make a point of seeing to it that the polymer chain ends with some sort of acid functionality. Then they react the acid with a base to make a polymer salt. Like table salt, polymer salts will dissolve or emulsify in water, which gives you a water based polyurethane.

    When the water based polyurethane is spread out and dried, the base (which is chosen for volatility) will evaporate just like the water, leaving you with a very water resistant film. The properties obtainable with different combinations of either basic technology can range from glass hard to jello soft, and will depend on what the formulator was trying to achieve. You just need to be sure that the product you chose was intended for use as a hard, mar-resistant wood finish and you'll be fine.

    Next day edit: I realized I should have mentioned that solvent based polyurethanes can be also be made insensitive to moisture by reacting the NCO groups with something else that has an OH group. (besides water, which is H2O, or HOH). This will let you formulate a lacquer type finish, but due to the very high molecular weight of polyurethanes, you can still get very good performances. It is also possible to make poyurethanes with the capping OH group from something volatile like an alcohol. This will give good package stability, but as it dries, the alcohol will evaporate and allow the NCO to react with air moisture. Many of the commercial urethanes are of this type. (End of digression.)

    This is a VERY abbreviated explanation of a VERY complex subject on which many, many volumes have been written. There are all sorts of permutations of these technologies and the types of coatings they can be formulated into is almost literallly without number. I hope it is of some use to you.
    Last edited by Molly; 08-21-2011 at 11:48 AM.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  11. #31
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    Well, I just learned something today. I have a barn I was painting, bare wood, first time. I had some oil based exterior paint i decided to use as a primer/base coat. Well I ran out so I went to Sherwin Williams (that's what paint I started with) and found out my state plugged into EPA regulations against VOCs, and is phasing out oil paint! They are selling off old stock, but no more to be had!

    I'm old school, been in construction for 3 decades. Oil paint SOAKS IN to bare wood, it seals in, it doesn't flash off and dry in 5 minutes. Unbelievable. You can still get oil based PRIMER, but not oil based finish paint.

    So while I was in the store, there is no oil based polyurethane to be had. I can go to an adjacent state and get it, or maybe mail order it.

  12. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by B R Shooter View Post
    Well, I just learned something today. ... I'm old school, been in construction for 3 decades. Oil paint SOAKS IN to bare wood, it seals in, it doesn't flash off and dry in 5 minutes. ... Unbelievable. You can still get oil based PRIMER, but not oil based finish paint.
    OK, you've tickled the chemist in me about one time too many. Sorry if I come across a bit technical, but my career was in this stuff, and I think it's fascinating. On the chance you're interested, let me make a few comments that you probably aren't aware of.

    What you've observed is exactly right! Solvent based oil finishes WILL soak into something like wood much better than water based paints. But that's not because they're oil based. It's because the solvents are much better (lower) in surface tension than water is, and they flow better than water. They are (usually) also much slower evaporating, so they don't dry as fast as water. In fact, one of the problems of the guys who make water based paints is that water dries so darn fast! The paint film doesn't have time to form properly unless a little solvent is added to the formula, which is why water based paints still have some VOC in them.

    But that's the only real difference. Almost any solvent based polymer can also be made as a water based polymer, and will perform just as well when dried too. It's the darn high surface tension and the very small amount of VOC the government allows that really makes them different, not the type of polymer. (Is that too much information?)
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

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