By Dave Bennetts
Now that the stain job has dried properly, it’s time for the fun part - applying the finish. This is the most rewarding part of the job to me, and is when you see the results of all your hard work. It’s always a thrill when your firearm begins to take on that warm glow that sets it apart from other guns. Having been a professional stock maker and refinisher for more years than I want to admit, I have used probably every commercially available stock finish on the market. They’ve all worked, some with good results, some excellent, and some that were just okay.
The finishes that I felt were the true English style oil finishes were generally quite good, but were difficult to use even by a person who had spent a number of years doing stock work. Being a member of Brownells technical staff gives me the opportunity to test quite a number of finishes that would like to make it into the market place. Again, some work okay but are no better than an existing finish that it would have to compete against. Early this spring, we received samples of an English style oil finish from a company in South Africa by the name of African Express. Well, I like the neat name, and the labels were pretty, but, I thought, “Here we go with another finish that no one wants, or will complain that it won’t work right, or the skill level required is beyond the average person.” I started reading the instructions, and everything sounded quite simple, but always being a skeptic, I figured I’d test it. Well surprise, surprise, surprise! This stuff was absolutely the easiest oil finish to apply that I have ever seen. I followed the instructions to the letter and it worked perfectly. Now, you have to understand that this type of finish requires a lot of patience to apply, due to drying time between coats. It’s not a put it on today, shoot tomorrow type of finish, but done correctly, you won’t find one more beautiful once you’re all done. The total time involved will vary from 3 to 4 weeks, but what else have you got to do in the middle of winter? All it takes is about an hour a day, so let’s get started.
Basically, the only supplies you will need will be the Stock Finishing Kit, a supply of 0000 Steel Wool, a soft throw away bristle brush, some T-Shirt Squares, and some 1200 Grit Wet or Dry Sand Paper. Before you begin, it’s a good idea to keep the stock in a warm area of the house to get it dried out properly. This will also allow the first coat to penetrate much better. Pour a small amount of the stock finish in a small dish then dip the brush in the finish and apply it liberally to the entire stock, except the checkering. If you’re careful, and work around the checkered areas, you’ll avoid having to go back and clean the finish out of it later on. You’ll see that the oil will soak in some areas quicker than others, so keep brushing the finish on these areas until the finish starts to build on the surface. This is a sign the wood will accept no more finish, so take a T-shirt square and wipe all the excess off the surface. Now, set the stock aside in a warm place to dry for 24 hours.
Once it’s dried thoroughly, you’ll begin to see shiny areas on the surface. Taking some 0000 steel wool, rub down the entire stock, which will remove any of the old finish that’s left on the surface. You want to take great care not to build up any surface finish at this time. Repeat the same cycle of oiling, wiping, drying, and steel wooling the surface, 6 more times.
At this point, we need to decide if we’re going to use the pore and grain filler that came with the finish kit. This is not a filler with silica as we discussed before, it’s a modified version of the same oil you were using that is thicker, and dries more quickly. If the wood is porous and the grain is still open, you’ll definitely want to use the filler. It goes on the same way you applied the oil, only the drying time is approximately 12 hours instead of 24. Once again, you want to apply the oil, wipe off the excess, and allow it to dry, then steel wool the surface to remove any surface buildup. Four applications should be enough, but if your wood surface is not dead flat at this point, take some Dry Sand Paper and lightly flatten the surface. You’re not trying to sand the wood, just flatten out the surface finish. Once that is done, usually one or two more coats of the filler will give you that perfect, flat surface, with no visible pores or grain showing.
Now comes the best part. We’re going to apply that beautiful surface finish that is so prized on firearms. To do this, take another 3 in. square of T-shirt fabric, and again fold it into a 1 in. pad. Put it over the top of the bottle, and tip the bottle up to apply some finish to the pad. Apply a thin layer of the finish to the stock with the pad, and continue rubbing with the pad until both the stock and pad are dry to the touch. At this time, set the stock aside to dry for between 12 and 16 hours. Continue to apply a new coat every 12 to 16 hours about 12 times. If you want even more depth, you can keep applying the finish with the same method for another week if so desired. Let your eyes be the judge as to when it finished to your satisfaction. Now, set it aside for 4 or 5 days to completely cure and admire what you have accomplished!
Stock Refinishing - Part II