DIY Gunsmith: Achieving the best firearms finish

Kristian Reilly tells us how to achieve the best firearms finish

Kristian gets to work finishing a stock

There are a number of different types of finishes you can have for your gun and each has its own pros and cons when working to achieve a satisfactory finish. The main two types are oil and lacquer.

When modern techniques are used, lacquer wood finishes can range from clear to coloured. They dry by solvent evaporation in a curing process that produces a hard, durable finish.

The finish can be of any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss, which is sprayed on and allowed time to harden. The overall appearance of the lacquer is pleasing to the eye as long as it is not applied too thick. It seals the woodwork and helps to prevent the ingress of water and dirt.

Got some nice wood? An oil finish really gets the best out of it

There are, in my opinion, some drawbacks to this. When you use a lacquer on a nice piece of Turkish wood you do not get the best from the blank like you would with an oil finish. This is because the lacquer lays on the top of the wood, while the oil penetrates its top layer.

Further to that, once the lacquer has taken a scratch or dent from a falling piece of shot or clay it is impossible to repair to a satisfactory level. Once a scratch or dent occurs on the lacquer the best course of action is to remove it completely and start again. This is often a good opportunity to opt for an oil finish.

Oil finish

When you use a lacquer on a nice piece of Turkish wood you do not get the best from the blank

A traditional oil-based finish is a blend of many different elements. Most of these are present in generic brands of oil, and many craftsmen make their own blends according to the formulae that they feel give them the best results. There are a number of finishes available over the counter. Trade Secrets is very good, as are CCL, London Gunstock Finish and Tru-Oil to name a few.

The base of all traditional finishes is boiled linseed oil, with beeswax, carnauba wax and drying agents. Alkanet root oil is a common addition. Where alkanet oil is not present, it can be added to the stock as part of the preparation routine, just before the application of the finishing oil.

The boiled linseed is the main bulk of the oil and plays the largest part in the finish. The addition of waxes helps with lustre and shine, and the drying agents assist the craftsmen in drying the stock in a reasonable time period.

Here’s what can be done with just a bit of care and proper finishing products

The alkanet root oil, if present, adds depth of colour to the wood, making it richer and more often than not darker. However, when used sparingly it also allows lighter yellow colours to stand out better. As for the speed at which a satisfactory finish can be achieved, this varies from blank to blank, as some are more porous than others.

To assist in the sealing and filling of the grain, craftsmen use a knotting solution with ground pumice. This does speed up the sealing of the grain, but I feel the better finish is achieved by sealing the grain with your choice of finishing oil. Another benefit of using a traditional oil finish is that if you scratch or dent part of the finish it is much easier to repair and refinish.

If I had to choose which finish I would prefer, it would be a linseed oil based finish every time.

A selection of the oils available for stock finishing, each with a different effect

Top Tips for your stock

(Keep it in good condition!)

  • Oil-finished stocks need to be cleaned with an oil-based product. If you use a gun cleaning solution, you will ruin it.
  • Don’t neglect the working surfaces on your forend – for example, where the loop meets the forend and where the ejector work meets with the action
  • Less can be more. Only apply a small amount of grease on surfaces – excess will run into the forend work and cause staining
  • If it rains, be extra careful. Keeping the stock dry can save no end of hassle later on
  • Don’t scrimp! Be happy with your gun, even aesthetically, is important. If you’re not, you can start to blame it for bad scores. If it needs to go to a gunsmith, just take it.

More advice and tips from Clay Shooter Magazine

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