Refinishing Fine Stocks

A detailed approach to handling and refurbishing vintage gun stocks to their original luster.

by Ray Ordorica

Many an old rifle or shotgun has splendid wood hidden under a collection of vast amounts of crud accumulated over the years. If you can recognize a jewel within the stock wood under all those signs of age, you might want to consider refinishing it. So you grab your paint remover, your belt sander or maybe an orbital, chuck the stock in a vise and have at it. Most likely the result of such treatment will be clean wood with absolutely none of the original quality of the stock’s shape or nicer attributes remaining. I’m sure you, like I, have seen plenty of examples of this sort of thing over the years.

Let’s say your great uncle left you a fine old shotgun with sound metal but with a thick coating of varnish on top of layers of lacquer with some questionable oil, wax, and what-have-you sprayed, brushed, or slathered onto the wood along the way. If you could make the wood look great the whole gun would then look great. How do you do it? I’ve refinished many dozens of gunstocks over many years, and these include extremely costly double rifles, fine British shotguns, excellent-quality bolt-action rifles, and quite a few relatively common firearms. Many times I’ve tried to write up how I do a stock finish but have always been stymied, because on each different stock I end up doing whatever it takes to get the right result. That seems to change with every stock. However, I’m finally going to try to explain here at least some of my basic procedure so others might benefit from my long experience.

If you have doubts as to my abilities, there’s a photo of me refinishing my $40,000 Churchill double .470 in my book, The Alaskan Retreater’s Notebook. There’s also a photo of me in that book refinishing a low-cost .22 target rifle with a birch stock. Been there, done that.

First, some advice…

Read more in the July 2017 issue.

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