One thing that nearly every shooter will encounter at some point in their shooting career is the need to recondition or restore a wooden stock on a long gun. Most long guns made before 1960 have a wooden stock by default.
With use over time, wooden gun stocks can get to a point where the finish is dull and damaged. While some aging is considered normal and can add to the aesthetic of the gun, it is not practical to allow the finish to deteriorate. At that point, you need to look into refinishing the stock. But, before you do, make sure you are aware of how it may affect the collector value and resale value of your gun. Once you’re 100% comfortable with the idea of refinishing your gun, it’s time to get into it! Read on for a step-by-step description of how to refinish a standard wooden rifle stock.
First, remove the stock from the firearm if possible. This makes it easier to work with and lessens the chance that you accidentally damage the finish while you are working. Once you have the stock on its own, you can begin.
Next, remove the existing finish from the wood. There are two main methods to accomplish this: sanding and chemical stripping. Hand sanding is the most common option, as it’s relatively simple and effective, and it allows the most control over the process. You can follow the grain of the wood, work on dents and dings, and decide how much or little of the finish is removed. Start with a fine grit and work your way up to a coarser grit as needed. If hand sanding sounds like a lot of work, you can also use a power sander. Power sanders aren’t as precise, however, so take that into account when determining the best way to sand your gun’s stock.
The alternate method to remove your gun’s finish - and one that has become much more popular in recent years - is to use some form of chemical stripper. This method is much faster than using sandpaper, as it will typically remove finish down to the bare wood in just one application. However, it has to be used very carefully in order to avoid potentially damaging the wood underneath the finish. Many of the stripping compounds are quite caustic as well, so you should use them in a well-ventilated area with proper protective gear.
Once you have removed the old finish to your desired level, you should inspect the underlying wood for damage. Minor scratches can be filled in with wood filler. On higher end stocks you may want to use specialized scratch-filling materials, which chemically bond to the wood and blend colors to match the grain perfectly, leaving no trace of the scratch.
Dents and dings can also be repaired during this step. As long as the dent is not too deep, it can usually be removed using a steam iron. This steam iron trick can be done both with and without removing the existing finish. The process is straightforward: wet the dented area, then apply a wet cloth over it. Using the iron in a circular motion, press lightly to apply steam and heat liberally to the dent. Check your progress regularly to avoid overheating the towel or burning the wood. After a few minutes, the dent should be lifted out and the wood will look like new. Allow the repaired area to dry thoroughly before using the stock or refinishing over it. It should be noted that this won't fix a gouge in the wood; it only works where the wood has been compressed - not totally removed.
Once you have dings, dents, and scratches taken care of, it’s time to put a new finish on your stock. You have multiple options here as well. You can use old standbys such as boiled linseed oil, any number of different oil stain coatings, or one of many different types of varnish or shellac that are specially formulated for use on wood stock. A quick internet search will give you more information on these options. Before you apply any stain or finish, test it out first on a piece of scrap wood to make sure you like it.
It’s a good idea to use a wood conditioner as a first coat, as this will remoisturize the wood correctly and help prevent dry rot under the finish. Once the conditioner has dried properly, you can apply your chosen finish. A clean rag or new soft brush is the best method. Apply the finish in multiple light coats for best results. Be sure to leave ample time to dry between coats, which gives you an accurate idea of what your stock will look like at various stages of the coating process. You may decide to stop sooner or later than you initially planned.
Once your chosen finish is applied, you may also want to apply a sealer. A sealer will act as a final protective layer to defend your new finish, as well as the underlying wood. Once you have completed this step and allowed your stock to dry, you are done. At this point, reassemble your rifle and admire your handiwork! If applied properly, your new finish should last for years to come.
By the way: If you’re looking for a quick way to gather everything needed to refinish your gun stock, we carry gun stock finish kits which come with everything you’ll need, including step-by-step instructions.