Gun cleaning and maintenance – fix up your woodwork

This is the ideal time to renovate the battle-worn stock and fore-end on your clay gun. Richard Atkins explains how to do it in our bit of latest gun cleaning and maintenance advice.

This kit from Napier contains all you need to bring out the best in your gun stock

I’m sure many readers’ guns have never been so clean! You’ve probably taken out and cleaned your gun several times in the last few weeks. What a change from the usual cursory wipe over “because I’m out clay shooting again in a couple of days”! There’s only so much cleaning you can do, but this is a great time to go the next step and make your gun look a little more pristine.

Most clay target guns will have walnut stocks. It’s a great choice: it does the job, looks good and requires minimal maintenance. Of course we all take care to avoid unnecessary knocks and scrapes but it’s inevitable that over time your stock will acquire some signs of wear and tear.

Even putting your gun away in the security cabinet can result in tiny knocks with another gun or the cabinet itself. Regular handling transfers perspiration, after-shave and the like onto the stock which, combined with the odd dousing of rain will all degrade the surface finish of any wooden gun stock.

If you sometimes take your gun into the field for a game, pigeon or rough shoot day the chances of damage increase. One point worth remembering is to take care if you wear a cartridge belt.

Make sure you position the belt so that neither the buckle nor the cartridge rims come into contact with your stock. That’s a lesson I discovered the hard way as a youth!

Richard decided to tackle the woodwork on his 1970s Miroku, which has seen some action over the years

Refinishing walnut

The process involved in refinishing a walnut stock is fairly straightforward. You can do it yourself if you follow the basic instructions provided with suitable products.

Of course there is a learning curve that helps you get a better result when you have done it a few times, but if you proceed with care a home stock finish can produce very acceptable results. There are videos on YouTube that may help you, although full instructions should be supplied with the kit, as they are with the Napier London Finish kit we tried.

Richard decided to tackle the woodwork on his 1970s Miroku, which has seen some action over the years

Fortunately, with thought, preparation and modest care, you cannot go too wrong. And, in the event you are unhappy with the first finish achieved you can just polish it back a little, smooth it off, and apply another light finishing coat so all is not lost as no harm should have been done, provided you heeded the advice given here.

While most gun shops are closed, some still offer a range of gun care products, including stock care and refurbishment kits, by mail order. You can also find the kits through online sites such as Ebay.

Remember that the end result does depend on the quality of wood you start with. No amount of refinishing will make your old Baikal stock look like a Browning B25 – the results will depend upon the grade of wood, its present condition and the time you take.

Take off the butt pad and undo the stock bolt

It is possible to do the job with the stock attached to the action, if you take care and mask off the metal parts, but I suggest you remove the stock from the action. That way you will avoid scratching the bluing or blacking, or marking bright metalwork.

The long tangs found on earlier guns (and many side by sides) are particularly vulnerable. One word of advice before we start: do find a safe place for the wooden parts to dry without touching anything. That said, here we go!

This stock shows a few dents and scrapes that could be improved

First check the wood for damage and marks. Decide how far you wish to go and don’t be tempted to get too keen with the abrasive paper.

Bear in mind that taking care in the preparations, from reduction of bruises and blemishes, to filling open grain, enhancing colour and applying thin coats of finish rather than one or two thick ones, can all help achieve a better final result.

Raise as many as possible of the smaller scratches and bruising with the wet cloth and hot iron steaming process. Laying a wet patch over each mark or bruise, press down firmly with a hot iron which is hot enough to produce steam.

The steam is driven into the wood grain which swells up and reduces or removes the bruise. This may take several attempts for deeper bruises – keep the patch wet. The method cannot completely remove deep scratches but it can, with care, much reduce minor bruises with some disappearing completely.

Lightly smooth the entire stock, except for the chequering, with a very fine abrasive sheet; the Napier kit includes some 1200 grade abrasive paper.

To darken your stock slightly, a water or spirit based wood stain can be applied; alkanet root is a favourite. Apply it sparingly and check the effect. Remember the wood becomes darker as more layers of the oil finish are applied. Test a small less conspicuous area first if unsure.

If you have stripped the stock, or the grain appears open, apply the grain filler; allow this to dry overnight. Hard residues should be removed by careful rubbing with fine wire wool lubricated with a small amount of rubbing oil (both supplied in the kit and available individually).

Apply the first coat of London Gunstock Finish with the (pink) applicator cloth. If you prefer you can use a pair of surgical rubber gloves – most of us have a few of those lying around at the moment! The first coat will be absorbed quickly. 

Apply further, thin coats, using just a few drops of Gunstock Finish and spreading evenly. Lightly rub down to smooth any excess using fine steel wool lubricated with a little rubbing oil. It will take about two hours to dry between coats. This process is repeated until the desired level of colour and sheen is reached.

 The process is then completed by a thorough polishing of the stock using the (yellow) finishing cloth with finishing oil.

Polyurethane lacquer

Some guns may have a polyurethane lacquer finish to the woodwork – I have some guns like this that are 30 plus years old. They show many battle scars, and require a different approach.

Once you have raised any dents, sand lightly with the sandpaper provided

This involves removing the old finish, preferably with Nitromors or a similar solvent, that will help remove the lacquer without heavy sanding. Any relatively minor scratches, dents and bruises can be improved as described above using the hot iron steaming process. Then proceed as above.

Some polyurethane finished stocks might be lighter in colour than you prefer once the varnish is removed. This can be darkened by a wood stain, as above.

Kits and oils

I don’t seek a perfect finish as might be found on a ‘best London gun’ on a 30+ year old gun. I’m happy with a smart, easy care and durable finish where close inspection retains some evidence of the gun’s long working pedigree. Each to their own and, with the amount of time many of us now have on our hands, the opportunity is there to make a superb job of your stocks.

Note that a kit like the Napier demonstrated here contains sufficient to do four or five walnut stocks and the final Gunstock Finish bottle contains sufficient to keep all five topped up with an occasional application and rub down with finishing oil to last many years.

You’ll need to apply several coats of the finishing oil to achieve the desired finish

There are many suppliers of gun stock care including long established names like Napier, Clive Lemon and Birchwood Casey. If your gun shop is open for mail order sales they may be able to provide information on what is available.

Some people in the gun trade have their own recipes for the various oils required which they have developed over the years. The Napier kit here, and several of the long established names, are a distillation of the products proven to be easy and economical to use with a very high chance of achieving good results.

So there you have it. Happy stock renovating! Let’s hope it won’t be too long before we can meet at clubs and shooting grounds to compare how our gun stocks look after all the care we have lavished upon them!

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