Stock Refinishing

Working with wood stocks can be very rewarding. There’s a lot of work involved but when you’re done you have something to really be proud of. There are a couple major types of finish grades the “hunter” and the “gunsmith” finish. There are several sub-grades involved but they have mostly to do with the grit of sandpaper used and the degree of gloss. I want to just hit the major categories for now. 

There is really only one major difference and that is weather or not the pores of the wood are filled and sealed. You will find the “hunter” finish on the Marlin and Savage stocks. The way you can tell this is by gently moving your pinkie nail across the stock. If it feels like driving down a washboard country road you know you have a “hunter” finish. The reason it feels like that is because the pores are wide open and can still absorb moisture. This is where you get the stock warping with increased humidity. Almost all the older rifles were done with this finish because it doesn’t take long to do and is therefore inexpensive.

With a “gunsmith” finish it takes several days longer to do and because of that it isn’t cheap. You will find these finishes on Kimber’s and the higher grades of Remington and Browning. To have this finish put on your rifle you are usually around the $200 mark because of the increased time and work involved. However, if sealed properly (inside and out) the pores are solidly filled and are unable to absorb moisture. A lot of manufactures skip the inside of the stock, meaning the barrel channel and mortise, so you still have concern there but very little. What you end up with is a stock that doesn’t warp unless you soak it in the creek for hours. That’s right, no humidity warping. If you’re saying to yourself,” that sounds like the reason I bought a synthetic stock”, then you are getting the point. Here comes the statement folks…a properly finished stock will weather virtually the same as a synthetic stock. The way you can tell a new rifle has a “gunsmith” finish is the same method we used for the “hunter” stock. Run your pinkie finger nail across the grain of the wood. It should feel like a sheet of glass. That’s how you can tell that the pores are filled and will not absorb moisture.

So, my friends, go out and impress everyone with your wealth of knowledge. Challenge the guy behind the gun counter that tells you that you will never have an accurate hunting gun without a synthetic stock. And by all means, if you want to do away with your “hunter” finish go see a local gunsmith or ask the right questions to the right gunsmith.

6 responses to “Stock Refinishing

  1. Jay

    What is the best way to refinish a gun at home I have an old .22 that needs the stock refinished, I don’t think it is worth paying someone to do it, & would really like to refinish the stock myself.

  2. Birchwood Casey makes a small Tru-Oil refinishing kit. It comes with enough product to do a decent job. I really think it needs more sand paper to really do it right though. You will be hard pressed to get the pores of the wood filled with the few sheets they provide you. It also comes directions. Tru-Oil is a very good finish.
    Give that a try and if you have any questions let me know, I’d be glad to help out.

  3. wardsurvival

    Hey guy’s,
    I have refinished alot of stocks over the years, especially chinese sks stocks. On some of them and old military rifles that were stained. I would soak them in the bath tub weighted down in really hot bleach water. then I take a heavy scraper and scrape the finish off. Then resoak the stock briefly. I have never had one warp, but the hot bleach water help pop out slight dings. I found it also helps lighten dark stains in the wood. Just be sure to completly dry the stock out BEFORE refinishing.

  4. I have to say, wardsurvival, you got lucky. That depends on how long it was soaked of coarse. I personally wouldn’t use that method to remove old finish. I think the stripping compound you can get at Walmart or any hardware store is the best way. It will get the finish and the stain out of the stock.
    I would use a variation of your method for another problem though. On these older stocks there is a lot of oils from shooter’s hands. You will notice it more around the grip area than any other. Some will almost look black. When the stock is stripped those areas will still look darkened. There is a soap we use for pre-bluing cleaning. It is used in a tank of boiling water. Soak the stock in that soap for no longer than 5 minutes at a time. Once you put the stock in you will instantly see oil floating to the top of the solution. You just have to be careful how long it is soaked, that it is completly dry, and how fast you dry it. Dry it too fast and the stock will warp and crack.
    Thanks for the comment, wardsurvival. Keep up the stock work. I think there are few other things that bring more satisfaction than that first look at a well finished stock.

  5. im a gunsmith a a 2010 cst grad. soaking a wood stock isnt a good idea but if it worked for him it worked for him. normally i use oven cleaner. till the finish starts to bubble then brush with a tooth brush and follow by a quick submerg in fresh water with soap to remove the sodium phosphate in the oven cleaner. this works on military finishes very well. but just a minute ago a brand new savage stock jsut laughed at it. thats some tough stuff. probably verathan or some weird sealer. either way brownells sells a product called certi strip. it will take anything off but about 10 min latter you will start to fill the tingle of the tiny droplets that have landed on your forearm. god help you if it gets in your evey. not even nitre gloves will protect you . i recomend strong kitchen style and eye protection. perhaps even a face shield. hahaha im a gun smith not a grammar expert so excuse the mis spellings.

    • That way wasn’t taught when I went through CST. Must have new instructors. Thanks for your comment. Hot soapy water really helps for military, Lin Seed Oil finishes. Not sure how I feel about oven cleaner though. There are other chemical stripping agents meant for use on wood that won’t leave the sodium phosphate residue behind. Seems like using something that adds another step to me but if it works well for you…more power to you.

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