Refinishing an Existing Stock

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Refinishing an old firearm stock enables one to remove or repair damages and enhance its appearance. There is also that 'I did it' factor that makes it fun. Some firearms though just are not meant to be tampered with. I have a model 89 Marlin in .38-.40 that would be greatly devalued if I changed it. Beside that it was handed down to me and I have no desire to erase any of its history. If I really wanted to I could restock it and keep the old (unchanged) stock in a safe place.

Before I ever built my first rifle stock I had tried refinishing one first. In fact I refinished that stock more than once. Not because it saw that much use between times but because it took that long (for me) to get it right. I think it good that I had achieved an idea of how much work would be involved before tackling a semi-inletted blank. If asked, I would advise learning on a lower value firearm before building or refinishing that prize family treasure.

Sand Paper or Chemical
All stocks I have stripped have been done the old fashioned way. Lots of sand paper, time and care in the stocks' original lines and general shape. Today there are chemicals available to ease your efforts and help preserve the stocks original form.

I will proceed as if we are sanding to the bare wood.

Removing Stock Components
Before stripping the wood remove all action components (barrel band, barreled action, floor plate, etc.).

A grip cap, forend tip, butt plate, recoil pad, and sling studs may be part of the stock to be stripped. Remove sling studs. The pistol grip cap and recoil pad may be permanent attachments (bonded to the stock), in which case they must remain. However, most recoil pads that appear to be bonded actually are not. The recoil pad may have two tiny slots hiding screw holes. You must pull on the edges of the recoil pad to see them. Unless your stock is Mannlicher in style or has a barrel band, the forend tip, if one, is probably permanent.

Sling studs should always be removed since they prevent proper sanding where they are attached. If not made of metal or if not thinly coated, I prefer leaving the grip cap, forend tip and butt plate, including recoil pad, on the stock. This is the best way of keeping the stock lines level with the parts. If removed rounding of edges is possible. Also, the wood may end up lower than the part it mates to. I do not worry about sanding on these parts but am careful to retain their original form and only use fine grit paper around and on them. Upon completion the stock is masked with tape where it mates with these parts. You can then carefully buff layers of oil finish off and sanding marks out with fine grit sand paper and steel wool. If these parts are of blued, anodized or plated metal or if coated plastic take them off . If they can not be removed, mask them with tape. I use masking tape, taking care to replace it as it wears. In such instances work carefully with fine grit paper around such areas so not to remove too much wood. You do not want the parts higher than the wood they mate to. Parts of solid brass such as a muzzle loader patch box can be left on and sanded as if part of the wood. This keeps the parts level with the wood . Polishing deep scratches out of metal requires a lot of elbow grease so use the finest grit paper as practical for the job.

Use a Sanding Block

Sand Papers

Removing The Old Finish
Start out with a relatively fine grit paper - say 220 grit and use a sanding block wherever permissable. Go to the next courser size if needed. The object is to remove the finish without cutting too much wood. The finest grit that works well for you is the one you want. Work carefully around checkering borders so not to flatten the points of the diamonds. If some become damaged they can later be pointed up with an inexpensive checkering tool that can be purchased from such places as Brownells . It is important though to damage the diamonds as little as possible since pointing them also deepens them. This causes the diamonds that you point to be lower than the diamonds in the rest of the pattern. You could point up the entire pattern, and you may want to, but cutting the pattern too deep will cause it to be lower than the wood bordering it. Also, go slowly with the checkering tool. Just about the time you think it's really working well is about when it slips outside the pattern and scars the stock. I would not point any diamonds until all sanding is complete and the stock grain has been filled.

Once all finish is removed nicks, scratches and dings can be attended to. All these can be sanded out if they are not so deep as to alter the shape of the stock and if they are not in places that mate with another component (floor plate, grip cap, butt plate, etc.). Such damage can be filled with epoxy. I do not like using the fast drying ones that are bought at the local department store. I use glass bedding epoxy sold by Brownells, specifically their original Acraglas. It comes with a packet of brown dye that can be used to help match it to the stock. Just a tiny amount will make it deep brown, so experiment first. A perfect match is highly unlikely since you won't know the exact shade of wood until the finish is applied. Another way to match the color is to mix wood dust from the stock with the epoxy. Once any exterior finish has been removed, save dust from sanding the area to be filled. Mix generously with the epoxy but do not include any dye. The flock (fiber glass) that comes with the kit is for added strength and is not used for surface repairs. I like to sand the stock smooth, removing all unwanted shallow marks, before filling deep problems with epoxy. It's really just a matter of choice I suppose and since the epoxy is so much harder than wood it may be better to apply it before sanding much wood off first. Regardless, remove the old finish before repairing the damage. Since the epoxy will soak into the grain keep it off other areas of the stock, otherwise it will have to be sanded out or these areas will be discolored. Allow the epoxy to cure before sanding. With Acraglas this will take at least 24 hours. If upon sanding the repaired area air holes appear in the epoxy two things can be done. If the hole is not too small it can be filled with more epoxy. Or, if not too large it can be filled during the wet sanding procedures to follow.

Mashed wood can be raised with a hot iron. Soak only that area with hot water and apply a hot iron. Buffer the iron from the wood with some paper. This does not work well on gauges.

After the old finish has been removed and deep damage filled it is time to smooth the stock with fine grit paper. This will remove shallow marks, scratches, etc. and prepare the stock for wet sanding. A 220 grit paper is as coarse as I would start with moving down to 320 or 400 grit for the final smoothing. Grits of 400 will be used during wet sanding, to follow. Always sand in the direction of the grain. If not, sanding marks and wiskers will show after applying finish. Sheen enhances imperfections. Watch to see how the grain runs. Highly figured woods can have grain running in various directions. It often runs one way and curls to another in different areas of the wood. This makes your job more time consuming but well worth the extra work.

Painting the stock with mineral spirits will highlight the stock by temporarily bringing out color and figure and help locate areas that need additional work. Mineral spirits will evaporate without leaving additional moisture behind. Do not allow water or water based liquids to contact the bare wood prior to sealing.

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Other Topics available:
Wood Stains and Gun Stocks
Floating the Barrel
Glass Bedding
Pillar Bedding
Barrel Bedding Block
Inlays, Tips, and Caps
What is M.O.A.?
Calculating Rifle Precision
Target Crowning a Muzzle
Building a Muzzle Loader from Kit
Eliminate Trigger Over-Travel
Attaching the Recoil Pad


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