Q I am really confused over stock finishes: lots of my friends talk about the finish on their stocks, most say that an oil finish is best, others say a varnish or lacquer. I was told when I bought my gun that it had an oil finish, but it has now gone very dull and there are lots of pores showing in the wood. What is the best finish to have on my gun?
Holly Fletcher, Lancaster
A Most stockers or gunsmiths I know have their own way of finishing a stock and their own formula for the oils they use – and they guard their secrets like the crown jewels!
Without giving away too many trade secrets away, let me start with saying that the reason your stock has gone dull after being shiny is almost certainly because the last couple of coats applied to it were either an oil with a hardener, such as Tru-Oil, or it has been French Polished.
Most customers do not want to wait for a proper oil finish to be applied; this takes weeks if not months of work and is not very shiny to begin with.
First of all, the grain of the wood is wetted, left to dry then sanded smooth with increasingly fine sanding paper between each wetting. This is called ‘raising t
he grain’. Oil is then applied to the stock – my preference is always Boiled Linseed oil – and once again after a few thin coats, this is cut back again with very fine sanding paper to help fill the grain.
The mellow shine that you see on old, well-handled guns is produced by years of the oil and friction from the skin, not in a workshop. Look at the chequering on an old gun, how it is worn smooth and shiny by years of handling.
To speed up this process, finishers tend to rub a few coats of thin oil, such as Walnut into the wood then because of time and cost restraints, finish with a few coats of
oil with a hardener or French polish. This looks good for a time, but as you have found, soon wears off.
Lacquers or varnishes are much more hard wearing and although are harder to repair if damaged will generally keep your gun looking much better for far longer.
The best option and one that I use a lot is a sealant for the wood, which is much harder than French polish or oil with hardener, but looks like an oil finish and will develop a higher shine when it is rubbed with Boiled Linseed oil.