Gunstock Finishes, Getting Them Right
Many of our customers call us and say “I can’t get my gunstock finishes to come out looking right. What am I doing wrong” ? Probably nothing. The difference between a really fine finish and one that turns out just “so-so” is attention to detail and making sure each step in the stock finishing process is fully completed before going on to the next step. Each step is very important and vital to the overall quality of the finished job.
Sanding. Progressively finer grits up to about 400 or so are usually sufficient. As much as possible, sanding should be done with the grain of the wood to minimize surface scratches that can show as imperfections in the final finish. Some finishing techniques require “whiskering” to be done at this time. Whiskering is accomplished by slightly dampening the stock with a clean rag that’s been soaked with denatured alcohol or water. Alcohol dries faster than water, so it is preferred. The moisture raises the grain so you can sand off the whiskers left from preliminary sanding with coarser grades of sandpaper.
Care must be exercised here to make sure that all flats are dead flat, corners are sharp and edges don’t get rounded over. Sanding without a sanding block to back up the paper and not giving proper attention to the maintenance of edges and corners are the biggest problems that arise during this stage.
Sealing. Sealing the wood with a liquid sanding sealer prevents moisture from moving between the atmosphere and the wood. This is very important when the rifle may be subjected to rapid changes in environment, such as a hunting trip to a different part of the country. All surfaces of the wood must be sealed with a penetrating sealant that will be compatible with the final finish product to be applied to the wood.
Finishing. This is actually two processes. The first is applying the finish uniformly to the surface of the wood. Usually some type of varnish, oil or urethane finish is chosen for durability and coloring. This application can be done in different ways depending on the chosen finish and desired effect. A wide variety of wood finishing products is available from Brownells.
After the finish is applied and fully cured, it usually needs to be “rubbed” or “polished” out. This is done by making the surface uniform and polishing it to the desired “sheen”. Very fine sandpaper (1000 or 1200 grit) may be used to level the surface of the finish and remove any imperfections like dust specks. This must be done slowly and carefully. You must avoid cutting through the finish and into the wood. Then, the stock may be gone over with one of the stock rubbing compounds we offer to achieve a uniform low, medium or high-gloss finish.
Remember, the steps given here have been found to provide very acceptable results for most stock finishing applications. Because of differences in relative humidity, ambient temperature, wood density or composition, you may need to modify these techniques slightly to achieve the exact finish you’re looking for. If you find a particular technique that works best for you and produces the desired results, then that’s the one you should use. The end result is what’s most important.
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