There are hundreds of ways to go about doing any of these. Everybody will have their own opinion on what works best for them. However, are their methods appropriate for the stock they're working on? Too often I see people using glue and oven cleaner on gunstocks, which makes me cry. So I thought i'd do a post on the basics of working on a gunstock. Lets go over some steps. For example, say we're working on stock for a Garand. This stock is very greasy, black with oil, and there are cracks in the side of the stock, missing pieces of wood or gouges. You want to refinish the stock, not throw it away. It can be saved!
Lets talk about some items most commonly used in working on gunstocks, i'm listing the items that are not appropriate to use, or items that must be used carefully.
-Purple Power, "Easy-Off" Oven Cleaner, or any other Kitchen degreaser.
These items are all INAPROPRIATE for working on a stock. They are grease cutters, and contain chemicals that are very harmful to wood. Oven cleaner is even worse. It contains LYE. LYE is very caustic stuff, just getting a whiff of it makes my lungs burn. This chemical attacks the wood fibers in a stock, breaking the natural glue found in wood down too. Not only that, but your stock then requires heavy soaking in water to get it out, and any that is left in the wood will continue to break it down, it may also attack the metal on your rifle when assembled.
The correct product to use for stripping is Klean Strip brand Strip X
Unlike the cleaners posted above, StripX is chemically designed to be safely used on wood stocks. It does not break down the fibers, or the natural glue found in the fibers of stocks. StripX removes all types of finishes, from that glossy black oil buildup, stains, polyurethanes, shellac, and any type of varnish, it also removes paint from those "bubba" rifles found at pawn shops. In the case of an M1, i'd dab it on heavily with a brush, let it work for 20 minutes in a cool area as heat will evaporate the stuff. Key is, if the stock is "wet", it's working. If It's dry, your need to apply more stripper or move to a cooler area. After sitting 20 minutes, use a plastic scraper tool to scrap off the loosened gunk into a disposal bin. After scraping, you need to wash off the stripper. It's not critical you get 100% out of the wood, StripX is designed to go completely innert once dry. Take the stock to a source of hot running water, I use a bathtub. While rinsing the stock, you should be using a stiff nylon brush or a soapless brillo pad to remove any more surface finish. Then sit the wet and cleaned stock in an area to dry for 30 minutes. In a cool area. Heat may crack the wood when it's wet. When the surface of the wood is dry after 30 minutes, you can tell if it may need stripping again. If so repeat the above instructions. If not, then allow your stock to dry for 2 days. Some say 24 hours, I like an extra day ontop of that.
Now we can move onto the next step. Oil removal. The surface of your stock is clean and oil free, making it much easier to leech out the loads more cosmoline deeper down in the stock. Like above, some people will use an oven cleaner, see the stock is clean, then put a finish on it. Yes, the SURFACE is clean, but just a little deeper down, there lies lots of cosmoline. HEAT is the absolute greatest way to remove cosmoline. It's what was used to put it into the wood, it's what can be used to remove it. If your oven is big enough, you can put your stock in the oven on LOW (around 175). Higher temperatures will not leech it out any faster, and may even cook the cosmoline, solidifying it. Let the stock sit in the oven 20 minutes, remove it, wipe it down with paper towels, put it back in. Repeat this cycle every 20 minutes until you notice no more oil is weeping to the surface.
At this time you can give the stock a good scrubbing with some steel wool
( 000,0000 grades) and denatured alcohol. It's found at any Wally World store for about $7 for a big can. A can lasts me a year. Scrub one area of the stock at a time, when you've scrubbed your area being worked on, quickly wipe off the oily mess with a paper towel. And simply repeat this process of scrubbing, wiping until the whole stock is clean. Now you will need to let the stock sit for up to 2 weeks.
This will allow the oil to weep it's way back to the surface. Even after just a few days you will notice your stock is a little darker from the oil weeping the to surface.
Yes i know, 2 weeks is along time to wait to simply refinish a piece of wood. But it's this long step that nearly everybody misses, they then wonder why their finishes don't go on right or dry later. Anyway. After this time, you'll want to put your stock in the oven again. Do the whole cycle until it stops weeping. Then take it to the shop and give it another cycle of the denatured alcohol and steel wool.
By now you should be ready to move onto the next step. Depending on how dirty your stock is you may need to let it sit again, giving it time to weep more oil.
So now your stock is stripped, the majority of the oil has been dripped out of the thing, and it's clean. This mythical M1 stock we're working on has "splits and cracks" in it, so this is the time to perform the repairs. Repairs will not hold up well on an oily stock, that's why I stress getting as much oil from the stock as possible.
Not only that, but oil soaked stocks over time get what I call "oil rot". The wood is so soaked that it begins to crumble away in the internals, leading to more damage and cracks. The oil litteraly turns the wood into hard mush.
Lets address the cracks in the stock. There is a split running full length down the middle of the top handguard, and there are 4 large and very deep gouges in the stock, as well as dome dents. There is a small chip near the buttplate too for the heck of it.
First, you'll want to remove dents. It's really easy! Take a soaking wet cloth, and lay it over the dent, let it soak for a minute or two. In the meantime, heat up an iron to the hottest it will get. If it's a steam iron, that's even better. Lay the hot iron ONTO the rag, pressing down good and working it back and forth. What will happen is the water soaked dent will start to get hot from the steam, and will pop out. Old dents may require multiple 20 second passes with the iron, new dents come out fairly quickly. Just keep the rag wet and it will not burn, it will turn brown but will not burn.
Dents are gone. Now we should take care of the little chip of wood near the buttplate. But I need to discuss 3 more items first, and their proper useage.
-Gorilla glue or super glue
First. Sandpaper. EVIL! Think of it as a LAST RESORT. Remember, not only does sanding deminish the value of a stock, once wood is gone, it's gone FOREVER!
On this particular mythical M1 stock, i'd use a 150 grit paper ALWAYS with a sanding block. To keep from rounding the sharp edges of the wood, and to apply even pressure to the stock. In this case we HAVE to use sandpaper for this stock. We need to get some sanding dust collected in a little cup for our gouge filler, and we'll need to lightly sand the stock to sand the filled and repaired gouges smooth with the stock. If done right you will hardly remove any surface wood.
Second, gorilla glues and super glues. Neither of these are appropriate for stock work. Why? Gorilla glue foams up during drying, so it looses the majority of it's structrual integrity, the slightest shock from recoil is enough to break a repair. Super glue, while very strong, will deteriorate over time with the oil from a stock. Plus, it's nowhere near as strong as fiberglass. The two products I have to whole heartedly recommend for stock work, is Brownells Acraglass , and in a pinch, Devcon 2 ton clear epoxy weld with a 30 minute dry time.
Both are very similar products, but the Acraglass comes with neat dyes and other things to help blend in repairs. They are both epoxie based, extremely strong and stand up to oil perfectly when cured.
Fiberglass cloth can be found in the auto body section at walmart, it's cheap and works extremely well for reinforcing high stress area's in a repaired stock. Like the action area of an Enfield or the inside of a thin handguard.
So lets address the chip on this mythical M1's buttstock. First the area should be cleaned with a q tip and denatured alcohol to remove any oil that might be there.
After that dries, use your sanding dust you got from a light sanding from your stock, and mix it with either the Devcon or Acraglass. Then use a toothpick or popsickle stick and dab on enough gouge filler to fill the gouge, if you find it runs or drips, you can tap on a little sanding dust ontop of it with your finger. It soaks it up and keeps it stable, and from dripping. Let this dry until completely rock hard.
Then use a small piece of sandpaper to lightly sand it away until flush and smooth with the stock.
Next lets tackle the biggest part. But by no means the hardest. The crack down the middle of the upper handguard. I'd use the Acraglas for this repair.
First make some preperations. You'll need some release agent like paste wax, some waxed string, a wide section of wood to hog tie the cracked handguard shut against.
First clean the area to be repaired with DA (denatured alcohol). Then use some paste wax around the edges of the crack (NOT IN YOUR CRACK) to keep the runover from the acraglass from sticking to unwanted places. Mix up some acraglass using the dye with it that matches in color with the look of your stock when wet with water, and put as much of it into the crack as you can without putting in too much to runover. Work the crack open and shut to get the stuff deep down in there, use a toothpick if necessary. The stuff starts to harden in 15 minutes, which gives it time to soak into the wood for a strong repair, but also gives you time to work with it. Wrap a sheet of wax paper around your wood block to keep it from sticking. Then put your wet handguard onto the block of wood, and a small sheet of wax paper over the crack too, then use your wax coated string to HOG TIE the thing as hard as you can to your block of wood. Do it in such a way that as you tighten it against the board it closes the crack from top pressure.
Once tight, knot it, and find it a place to dry for 2 hours or until fully hardened.
Then unwrap your handguard, the waxed string and paper will have kept anything from sticking to the glass. Carefully use some sandpaper to sand the repair smooth and flush with the handguard. DONE! On some handguards you have extra room under the handguard and the top of the barrel, in this case I like to employ the use of fiberglass cloth. After making the repair to the handguard and cleaning up the repair once dry, I use a dremel to shave down just a little hollow of wood to be filled in with the fiberglass cloth, I lay down a good layer of either Acraglass or Devcon into the bottom of the handguar, and lay on a cut to size sheet of fiberglass over that with a popsickle stick. Use enough resin as it takes to turn the cloth a clear color, while tapping the cloth to remove any air bubbles. Then let it dry until fully cured and hard, and use some sandpaper to clean the area up. The result should be a repair that will last longer than you will!
So now our mythical stock is clean, deoiled, repaired, and ready for a final surface prep. I use 220 or 250 grit paper to smooth it out a bit, then 0000 steel wool to buff it even more.
Now your ready for a stain or finish. Go straight to your finish of choice if you don't want to use stain. If you do want to stain, let me tell you that there are lots out there to choose from. Oil based, water based, and alcohol based stains. On this particular stock if I wanted to use an oil based stain, i'd brush the stain on and let it darken no more than 10 minutes, then i'd vigorously wipe off the excess. If you don't, the carrier in the stain (oil) will get super sticky on the stock and will NEVER dry. I let it dry for a few days, then repeat again until it's the color I want. Oil based stains most often require multiple treatings to get the color you desire.
Water based stain is good too, but will bead up on an oily stock, it's best used on new, clean stocks. My favorite is alcohol based stains. Alcohol based stains have a very very fine pigment to the stain, they dry in under an hour, and because it's alcohol based it will penetrate and DARKLY stain any type of wood and cut through any type of grease or surface oil. Brownells carries a product called Chestnut Ridge Military Stock Stain, it's dark walnut with a red hue. And i'm in love with the stuff. It can also be mixed with shellac to turn the amber stuff a red color.
When mixing stains with finishes, just remember, oil mixes with oil, water with water, and alcohol with alcohol. Mixing a water based food coloring die with a polyurethane does not work. There is one exception, you can mix water based food coloring die with alcohol. It' simply thins it out.
So as far as finishes go it's pretty simple and completely up to you. There's Tru Oil which is mainly boiled linseed oil (BLO) that's been heated and treated with dryers and polymers. There's BLO which is the correct finish for most military rifles.
Shellac which is used on alot of Russian Mosin rifles. And my least favorite, polyurethane. Which is best suited to new rifles and shotguns.
I hope this lengthly post has helped any of you with questions on stock refinishing or repairing. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, the basics. Should you have any questions just email me. Now i'm going to go soak my fingers in an ice bath for awhile.