Friday, August 26, 2011

The Great Rifle Stock Refinishing Project

What do you do when you have a $65.00 rifle that happens to be shall we say, rather homely? I decided that we should try to make it less ugly and refinish it. I had never done anything of the sort before and didn't know how to go about it but the worst that could happen is that we ended up with an even uglier rifle. But for $65.00, who really cares? Besides that, it would be an educational and interesting experience and it could even turn out to be fun.

For those of you that like to skip to the chase, that never bother to read directions and just tear open the package and start trying to assemble the item inside, I will humor you right now and show you pictures of before and after.

This is what the rifle stock looked like before:

 As you can see, it is several different shades of a putrid brown color that looks like some three year old globbed it on.

It is a Marlin model 60 wagon train commemorative, made sometime between the years of 1979 and 1983 and who knows how many owners it had previously. It looked like someone had tried to refinish it at some point by globbing on dark stain or varnish in three or four different spots. But after we we were fully done and had refinished the rifle stock here is what it looks like-

 Here is the right side.  It looks pretty good.

 The left side doesn't look quite so good.  You can still see part of the dark spots toward the butt stock.  And this entire side of the stock didn't look that great to start with.  The wood grain just looks messed up. I think maybe this was a factory reject that someone forgot to reject.

 And here you can see some of the dark spot on the bottom of the pistol grip.  We did not do a perfect job.

It certainly isn't perfect but I'm 80% happy with it. It looks a lot better than it did. And now I will detail the process just in case any of you are interested.

It turned out to be a four month project because my nephews and niece were supplying the labor and they are only here for one day a week. And some days they didn't even want to work on it. They wanted to get on the computer, swim, ride four wheelers and do other sorts of childish activities. How dare them want to do such things instead of important stuff, like refinishing rifle stocks.

We started out by stripping it. Guys on the internet talk about how Easy Off Oven Cleaner will take the old finish right off of the stock. That is a big load of horse crap. We sprayed it, waited 20 minutes and hosed it off. Nothing happened. We sprayed it again, waited an additional 45 minutes and hosed it off. Nothing. We sprayed it once more, waited a full hour and then scrubbed it with scotch bright pads. Only by scrubbing hard and long in one little spot were any results achievable. This wasn't going to work so I got some type of chemical stripper. It was a gel type and you were supposed to leave it on for half an hour and then scrape it off. We did this twice with little to moderate success. So it was all up to the sandpaper. The kids sanded until they got tired and went swimming. The next week they sanded on it more and announced they were finished sanding.

Here it is after we sanded it the first time and before applying any finish.

The ugly left side before any finish.

Since I'd never done it before we kept it simple and this is what we used.  It includes the finish, sandpaper, steel wool and most importantly, instructions.  From what I had read it would not change the color of the wood any but it would bring out any highlights that were there.  Sounded pretty simple.

 I watched lots of videos on the Internet and read the instructions with this kit.  We ended up mostly  following the instructions included. And this is what it looked like after one coat of Tru Oil.
This side isn't that bad.

This side is.  The Tru Oil really brought out the dark stain that we didn't sand enough.

And the bottom of the pistol grip here just looks terrible.
It looked pretty bad. It still had dark splotches and I asked the helpful guys over at Cast Boolits what I did wrong. They quickly pointed out that we had not sanded down through the old finish far enough. I had no idea what kind of wood the stock was made of and someone had apparently tried to stain parts of it and we had not sanded down through the stained part of the wood. Around the pistol grip area was very dark also and could easily have been discolored by sweat or oil from someone's hand. It was back to the drawing board. Or rather, back to the sandpaper.

The kids got busy sanding with 80 grit paper and did it until they were sick of it. But the dark splotches were still there. Then my buddy Jim took over. He sanded the crap out of it but the dark spots remained. Finally he got a power sander and got after it and got rid of most of the splotchng. He was still using 80 grit paper and he took off a lot of wood. Still there were some dark spots but he was tired of working on it, the kids didn't want to sand any more and I was kind of getting tired of the whole project. I knew it wasn't going to look great but enough was enough.  Jim smoothed it out with 120 grit and finished off with 200. I don't know if the wood is beech or birch or what but the more we sanded the blonder it got.

The Tru Oil was applied with fingertips, one thin layer at a time then the stock was hung to dry. 3 hours later it was fully dry and was buffed lightly with 0000 steel wool then another coat was applied. It has a total of five coats of Tru Oil, buffed lightly between each coat and after the final coat. I didn't really know what to expect and it is really blond but I think it looks fairly good. It was kind of neat to do and was educational to boot. But now I know why the professionals charge so much to refinish a rifle stock. It can take a month or so of applying finish, waiting for it to dry, buffing, polishing, sanding, etc, and then putting on another coat. It is not something for the impatient.

The finished product.

This is what it looks like after five coats of Tru oil.  It could have gone better I suppose, but like I said, it was a learning experience for all of us.

If you can learn anything from my experience, if I can impart any bit of wisdom upon you let it be this-when working with wood such as this take your time.  It is not rocket science but the wood preparation is critical.  Sand it well and do things right the first time instead of the way we did it.

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