By Dave Bennetts
Last month I wrote about stripping the old finish off of a stock and getting it ready for refinishing. Well, we have this perfectly sanded stock and now the question is, what are we going to do with it?
The first thing to consider is whether you want to stain the stock or not, and if you decide to go with stain, what is the best one to use. When deciding what to do, it’s a good idea to closely look at the wood in your stock. Does it have a lot of figure, or grain pattern in it? If so, the oil finishes will usually bring out that natural beauty without a stain. If you’re going to use a spray type of finish a good stain job will really make the stock look great. Spray finishes do not penetrate the wood as well as oil will and therefore, won’t show the grain as well. Is the wood a very light color? If that is the case, then a stain will enhance it and make it look even better.
A lot of the older Browning firearms used a very light colored French walnut that had little or no color to them and this type of wood benefits from stain. Also, quite a few of the new firearms are using birch and other light colored dense woods for their stocks and will look much better with a stain on them.
To select a stain it’s important to know what the different types are. Most can be broken into two different types based on how they color the wood, namely pigmented and dye types of stain. Those that contain pigments can be distinguished by the thick sludge that settles to the bottom of the can or bottle and must be stirred into a liquid form before it can be used. On the other hand, dye based stains can be used right out of the bottle or with just a little shaking to get it mixed up well. Personally, I try to avoid some of the pigmented stains because they tendency to make the finish cloudy.
For this stock I’ll just focus on dye type stains. These can also be broken into categories relating to what liquid they use to deliver the dye: oil, spirit or solvents, and water. I don’t often use the oil base dye stains since they take quite a while to dry, generally 24 hours or longer. The water based stains work great and can be thinned by adding water to which you can do to vary the colors. One drawback to the water based variety is if a person doesn’t do a good job of steaming and sanding, it will raise the grain and then you’ll have to re-sand the stock and redo the stain. I really like the spirit or solvent stains are my personal favorite as they are easy to apply and dry quickly. These dye stains provide very dark colors for those light colored, hard to stain stocks and they can provide vivid coloration to accent an already nice wood grain. Again, this depends which brand you choose.
We carry several excellent dye stains such as Pilkington’s , which has a beautiful color and is not too dark. The Gale Lock Co brands also have a great color and are a little darker. Peter Vanderhave stains are much darker yet and work very well on exceptionally light colored stocks. We also carry the Laurel Mountain Forge line of Antique Wood Stains, which have a medium coloration to them. I’ve had great results using all of these stains on various projects over the years and it all depends on the coloration you want to have on a stock.
For the application, use a lint free cloth to apply the stain; T-shirt Squares work great for this. They can be torn into any size you need and they won’t leave any fuzz and threads on the stock. To begin, tear off a chunk about 3” square and fold it into a pad about 1” square. Open the bottle and put the pad over the top and tip the bottle to allow the stain to soak into the pad. A good tip here is to wear thin latex gloves since the stain will color your hands and fingers just as easily as the wood! The idea isn’t to completely saturate the pad but to moisten the surface with enough stain so that it will go onto the stock freely but not to “flow.” It’s a good idea to be able to control the amount of stain you’re applying.
Apply the stain in long strokes on a large area such as the butt on one side, and then move over to the other side, then on to the forend. You want to overlap as little as possible since this will leave streaks. If you have any white spacers such as the ones on the grip cap, butt plate, or forend tip, you want to avoid getting stain on these areas because they’ll stain too and it’s hard to remove. When you start to run out of stain on the pad simply go back and wet it again.
After you’ve covered the entire stock take a good look at it. If it’s not as dark as you would like, cover it with stain one more time. I’d suggest using a new pad of cloth for each coat because the dyes will accumulate on the surface of the pad and will give you false colors. Now, at this point, I usually take a stiff brush and work the stain down into the checkering to make sure it’s the same color as the rest of the stock. If you happen to have sapwood in the stock you can very carefully apply the stain only to the sap wood area and darken it to blend this spot in with the rest of the stock. If you’re going to apply an English-style oil finish that requires working the wood surface, you’ll want to stain the stock a couple of shades darker than normal since the stain will lighten as you work the wood surface. If you’re using the modified linseed oil based finish such as Laurel Mountain Forge , Tru Oil , or Linspeed it’s important to stain as close to the final color as possible. Once you have the stock stained to you satisfaction, set it aside to dry. I usually let it sit overnight to make sure that any solvent left in the pores has evaporated. If you apply the finish to soon it will trap these solvents and your finish won’t dry properly.