Refinishing Techniques For Military Rifle Stocks
How To Refinish A Military Gun Stock,
By “The FInisher”
You will now attempt to steam these out.
- Remove all metal parts
- Get some Kleen-Kutter Varnish, Lacquer, and Shellac Remover, from “Home Depot”.
- Pour about 8 ounces into a 2 1/2 gallon metal bucket.
- Stand the stock in the bucket.
- Put on thick rubber gloves, and use a 2 1/2 inch paintbrush to coat the stock with the liquid. Coat the hand guards, too. Let sit for 30 minutes.
- Repeat the process with the paintbrush.
- Use fresh liquid, and use #1 steel wool instead of the paintbrush to scrub the stock. Do not scrub hard to smooth the surface, just enough force to get the liquid into the remaining finish.
- Let the stock dry overnight.
- Repeat this process 1 or more times until there is no finish remaining.
- Let it dry overnight.
- Look for any dents, dings or scratches.
Repeat the process until the dents are gone or you are tired of doing this. I do this about 6 times.
- Put the stock in the bathtub and cover it with water for 15 minutes.
- Put the stock on an ironing board. Heat up the iron so when it touches a damp cloth, the water will steam.
- Press the hot iron against the dents. This will heat up the water and create steam, which will expand and get rid of some of the dents. Leave the iron on the stock until the steam stops hissing.
- Put the stock back in the tub for 15 minutes.
The steaming process may have gotten rid of some of the dents. For those it didn't.
- You cannot replace missing wood by steaming.
- Let the stock dry for 1 day to get any water out.
If there are any dents too deep for sandpaper, it is now time to fill them in with a mixture of Brownell's Acraglas. Mix this up like the instructions, and mix some of the sawdust from sanding with the Acraglas. This will make the Acraglas look as close to the wood as possible, but it won't be a perfect match. When finished the Acraglas won't really stand out, but it won't be invisible, either.
- Sand the stock with 150 grit sandpaper. This will get rid of the shallow ones plus shallow scratches on dents that remain, sand them with 100 grit sandpaper only where the dents are. This can get rid of some deeper dents and scratches.
- If this works, go over the area with 150 grit after you're done with the 100 grit.
When the Acraglas is dry, sand the whole stock with 150 grit sandpaper. You may have to spread the Acraglasing out over several days, as there might be dents all over the stock which would require you to sit it a certain way so the Acraglas doesn't run, let dry, sit another way for more Acraglas, etc. Until all the dents are filled.
When sanding the stock, there may be dents that are too shallow for the acraglas to stick in, and it will sand out. Then the dent may be too deep to sand out with sandpaper. When this happens, leave the dent, and live with it. This would not have prevented the japs from falling over when hit with the bullets from the rifle.
Go to the Tandy leather craft store, and get some Fiebing's dark brown leather dye. Get the alcohol based, not the water based. This is the stain to use.
If they match go on to the next step. If they don't match, one is lighter than the other.Here is where the artistry comes in. If the stock is too light:
- Rub it on the stock using the rubber gloves and a bath towel (the one that came with the washcloth). Rub the dye over the inside and outside of the stock and hand guards. Do not apply a heavy coat.
- Let it and the hand guards dry overnight.
- Apply another coat of dye, and let it dry overnight. The stock should be completely covered with dye.
- Sand the stock and hand guards with #0000
steel wool compare the coloring of the stock and hand guards.
The process is now complete, and the stock should look better than when it began.
- Sand the dark hand guards with #0000 steel wool to lighten the color until they match the stock.
- If the stock is too dark, put another coat of dye on the hand guards rub with wool, and see if they match. If they are still too light, rub the stock with wool where the hand guards fit on the stock, and lighten the stock until it matches the hand guards. I have found that the color is not consistent in wood, and part of a stock can be lighter or darker from another part of it. With a little experimentation, you should be able to match the stock and hand guards.
- After this matching/rubbing is done, put 2 coats of Formby’s low gloss tung oil on the wood. This will seal in the dye.
M1 Stock Refinishing
By Walt Kuleck
As published on the Fulton Armory Website with permission of Walt. This can also be seen on the Fulton Armory Site along with some pictures of the results.
My CMP M1 stock has a few dings and is very sticky. What can I do to clean the stock? Do I sand it? What do I put on it after all is said and done?
The M1 Rifle was originally manufactured with one of two finishes: linseed oil or China/Tung oil. Towards the end of WWII the linseed oil was supplanted by Tung Oil, a finish which was used, I believe, during '50's production. Refinished stocks were, however, generally refinished with linseed oil.
In all cases the finished stock was simply dipped in a tank of linseed or Tung oil for a few minutes and then allowed to drain dry.
Stocks that come from the CMP, whether as parts or on a rifle, are often coated with that sticky goo called cosmoline. Even those that are not are likely to be oil soaked or stained in one area or another.
Here's what I do. To strip the old finish and remove oil & dirt, I use Easy-Off Oven Cleaner (the Heavy Duty variety). Spray it on, let it soak for 10-15 minutes, and then rinse off with very warm water while scrubbing with a Scotch-Brite pad. Usually one go with the EasyOff is sufficient, but I have had to repeat the treatment up to twice more.
When the stock has dried I follow up with a coat or two of Minwax Natural Stain (unless I'm getting creative) and finish with two or three coats of Minwax Tung Oil finish. Minwax Natural is clear; it simply seals the grain.
Except in extreme cases the strongest abrasive I will use is 00 steel wool. Usually a mild going-over with 00 before and after the first coat of Natural stain, then 0000 thereafter. I use my thumb to cover the cartouche and Proof stamp, in turn, to assure I don't further degrade it. I repeat the process with the Tung Oil; after buffing damp (10-15 minutes after application) with a balled-up nylon stocking or pantyhose (really!), allow drying for 24 hours then buff with 0000 steel wool. After the second coat, buff with 0000. After the last coat, buff with the stocking.
The result looks military but is more durable. I've done more than a dozen M1 and M14 stocks this way, with total satisfaction. If you're able to attend the OGCA shows (e-mail me if you wish to be sponsored as a guest), stop by the GCA booth. I generally have my CMP rifle and my wife's CMP rifle there, refinished with this method.
This method works for me! But for God's sake, don't sand it!!!!
Refurbishing Old M1 (or M1903) Stocks
By Dick Culver
There are a couple of ground rules here:
- If the stock is in reasonably good shape, and looks right for the rifle, sometimes it’s well to just leave it alone.
- If it definitely needs cleaning, Walt Kuleck recommends the use of oven cleaner (see Walt’s article in this dissertation). While I haven’t personally tried oven cleaner, I have seen the results and it does a most serviceable job. If you are gonna’ go that far, make sure you don’t screw up or degrade any remaining (existing) cartouche(s) (usually located on the left side of the stock, sorta’ below the rear sight and/or receiver horseshoe). The very early IHC stocks have an “Ordnance Wheel” cartouche on the RIGHT hand side of the stock and a small (un-circled) “p” on the BOTTOM of the pistol grip... DO NOT REMOVE THESE!
- Being a basically lazy character, instead of using oven cleaner, I usually take a really dirty and oily walnut stock down to the local furniture stripper and have them throw it in the hot tank (this works for Birch Stocks also). The hot tank boils all the old oil and dirt out of the stock, and at least partially steams the smaller dents out... It truly cleans a stock down to its “undernothings”. I usually wait a day or two before starting the finishing process if the stock was exceptionally oily, as sometimes a little bit of oil will bleed out after the initial treatment. These small oily “bleed outs” could probably be taken off/out handily using the oven cleaner treatment, or make a deal with the furniture stripper to dip the stock a second time after a week or so if it does start to get a little “after immersion seepage” if you arrange for it before hand, they will usually throw in the second dipping gratis. After using the furniture stripping method, I then refinish the stock as described below.
- Many dings and dents can be steamed out of the stock using a wet wash cloth and a steam iron. It’s par for the course to have to do this several times for each dent. If the edges of the dent are “broken”, the dent will usually not come all the way out.
- Once you have steamed out as many of the dents as possible, it’s time to “whisker” the stock. Filling the remaining small indentations that defy the “steaming out” method can be filled as outlined in “The Finisher's method above. “Whiskering” is best done with a sopping wet washcloth. Just thoroughly wet down the outside of the stock and let it dry. When the stock dries, it will leave a raised grain (usually known as “whiskers”). These can be gently taken off with very fine steel wool (OOO or OOOO) CAREFUL with those cartouches. This process should be repeated until the dry stock no longer has any raised grain. The stock should now be as smooth as a baby’s posterior, and ready for the application of the finish. I am told that the Scotch-Brite pads do an even better job than the steel fur’ (0000 steel wool) and doesn’t leave those pesky little metallic little pieces of the steel wool hanging in the irregularities of the stock grain.
- Once you have used the hot tank or oven cleaner treatment on the stock, it will probably be considerably lighter in color than it was when you started. If you wish to bring it back to its original (and traditional) color, I personally use Dixie Antique Gun Stock Stain (made for them by the Fiebing’s Dye Company and costs about $2.00 per bottle). This stuff is obtained from the Dixie Gun Works in Union City, Tennessee. One bottle will do several stocks! You will probably have to use several coats, but make sure to let each coat dry thoroughly! After you have attained the desired color, wipe the stock down with OOOO steel wool followed by a clean dry (old) skivvy shirt. This stock stain will come as close as any I have ever seen to exactly duplicating the Springfield Stock Color.
- If you have a very early M1, the original finish was RAW linseed oil. According to the story, the linseed oil tended to smoke under the heat of prolonged firing (from the handguards, I assume) which was seen as an undesirable trait in a combat rifle ('03s did not usually get hot enough to cause such problems). I once charred the handguards of an M1 during a live fire Squad-in-the Assault exercise and bubbled the Linspeed Oil finish I had applied to the handguards. It looked pretty, but wasn’t the most practical military finish I ever used (except for inspections!). The Springfield Armory solution to the “smoking problem” was to use a 5 minute submersion of the M1 stocks in “China-wood Oil” (vice Linseed Oil). China-wood Oil is/was sometimes called Japanese Dryer, (better known as “Tung Oil” today made from the nut of the Tung Tree). The Tung Oil finish was tested in early to mid 1941 and approved in the latter part of 1941. Using Tung Oil as the base coat is a really easy way to finish a walnut stock, as it dries rapidly and is essentially waterproof... “Tung Oil” can be rubbed in with the palm of the hand (until it starts to dry). If you wish to remove any shininess, this can be done with the 0000 Steel Wool, again wiped with an old towel. The end result can then be wiped down with a silicone cloth. This is the correct finish for an “as issued” stock (after 1941) from Springfield Armory... I will go through my personal “hand rubbed” finish below.
As far as I know, all stocks finished by Springfield (and others - Win, HRA and IHC) after 1941, were finished with Tung Oil including the post WWII production rifles (including the M14). It would be hard to pin an exact date on the total changeover to the new finish, but surely by early 1942, all stocks were Armory finished utilizing the TUNG Oil process. It was intended that all FIELD maintenance of rifle stocks would continue to be linseed oil (Boiled Linseed was the favorite since it contained a drying agent, and was much more practical for the individual soldier)
My personal advice is to make the stock finish fit the era and wear of the (individual) M1, and add a little character to the amount of remaining metal finish, rather than try to make a piece of furniture out of the stock. Doing too good a job is much like a gal who dyes her hair jet black when she’s in her '70s... It MAY be her natural color, but...
If you are doing a total restoration, then it’s OK to pull out the stops.
If you want a finish that rivals the most meticulous hand rubbed finish applied by the professional soldier (or Marine) in the days prior to WWII, you might want to try the following:
This is a finish I got from an old-timer at Perry back in the mid-50s who appeared to be old enough to have used it on his issue Trapdoor Springfield in the Indian Fighting Days. I went home and tried it and am still using it to this day:
This method works equally well with any military stock and is a really practical finish for your hunting or “head for the hills” stock.
- Go through the cleaning process described above, whisker the stock as outlined and apply the Dixie Antique Gun Stock Stain. Make sure all the dents are steamed out (or filled) and you are happy with the finish.
- Apply Tung Oil liberally to the inside of your stock and let dry (this is basically a “waterproofing” treatment. Apply a light hand rubbed coat of Tung Oil to the outside of the stock and allow to dry (this acts to do a preliminary sealing of the grain/pores of the wood.. Use the 0000 Steel Wool (or the Scotch Brite pads) to remove any evidence of the Tung Oil from the outside of the stock. Allow the dried Tung Oil to remain on the inside surfaces.
- The “magic finish formula” consists of equal parts of Boiled Linseed Oil, Turpentine (essentially a solvent) and Beeswax. (1/3rd Linseed, 1/3rd Turpentine, and 1/3rd Beeswax. Melt the mixture over a “flameless” heat source (hot plate, radiator or the manifold of your vehicle). Stir the concoction and allow to cool into a paste. Put the paste in a convenient container (I used to use a typewriter ribbon can when they still had such things). You might get a can of Brie Cheese in the Grocery Store, those round cans work well and will fit in your shooting stool most handily inside of a zip-lock bag.
- Take your prepared stock and start to rub the Beeswax mixture into the outside of the stock with the palm of your hand. Allow the friction (and generated heat) of your hand to melt the paste into the grain of the wood. You can do this while watching the “tube” and not screw anything up. After you have rubbed in the first coat, rub it down with an old towel. Repeat the process until you are satisfied (you can always add more, and this is one of the beauties of the finish, as it can be used until you get tired of rubbing). The last coat is always burnished with an old (Terrycloth) towel. The final “piece-d-resistance” is a quick final rubdown with a silicone cloth. The finish gives the appearance of a hand rubbed stock with 20 years of effort applied. The Beeswax imparts a waterproof finish to the stock, and any minor scrapes, or scratches can easily be rubbed out of it with a small addition of the Magic Paste. The finish looks good, has a non shiny military appearance, it’s waterproof, doesn’t smoke or bubble the finish in rapid fire and appears to be an original well rubbed rifle stock from the days prior to WWII. It truly IS a hand rubbed finish!
Beeswax can usually be found in shoe and saddle makers shops (they wax their sewing machine thread with it), leather stores (Tandy, The Leather Factory, etc.) or even from bee keepers... You ain’t gonna’ need a bunch. I’m still using a block I found 25 years ago.
The Rationale For Linseed Oil vs.Tung Oil
By Dick Culver
The Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil finish has been raging for years. If I were personally gonna’ advise anyone on which to use, I would have to know several things:
All of these questions enter into the final equation. I can give you the history, and rationale for the various finishes and you can make up your own mind. I have accumulated various finishing processes from some experts (or very experience folks) and will be posting the methods on the “Articles Page” shortly. In the meantime, here’s how it went in service as opposed to the cold pages of a history book
- Are you trying to restore your rifle to its ORIGINAL finish (as a collector’s piece)?
- Are you trying to simply put the best possible finish on your rifle from a practical aspect (protection from the elements, durability, etc.)?
- Are you trying to make your piece as “pretty” as possible?
For many years, certainly up to the early part of WWII, Linseed Oil was the ordnance preference. Why? Availability, lack of synthetics (for finishes), tradition AND (thank goodness) a lack of available satisfactory plastic stock materials made linseed the favorite Armory Finish.. Linseed Oil is easily obtainable, is friendly to wood (keeps it from drying out, and if you are a masochist, produces a “classic finish” on military rifles. During the time between WWI and WWII, the troops often had more time on their hands than the brass thought was good for them. My Dad who spent a number of years as an enlisted Marine during and after WWI, often told me of being issued two pair of shoes (high tops, in the custom of the time). During their off duty hours, they were required to “spit shine” the SOLES of the pair of shoes they were not wearing (to make sure they had something to keep them occupied). I’m sure that the continued rubbing of linseed oil into the stocks of their M1903s fell into the same category. Sure, it was good for the stock (or at least didn’t injure it), but best of all (from a standpoint of the NCOs and Officers), it kept idle hands out of mischief!
From a standpoint of tradition, the new stocks of the M1903s and the early M1s were dipped into a tank of linseed oil (no doubt boiled linseed oil after they figured out the advantages of a more rapidly drying finish) - Boiled linseed oil was the only thing my Dad would use on our personal ‘03. The Armory linseed “dip” was designed to preserve the stocks and to keep them from drying out prior to being issued. I have an August 1941 (Lend-Lease) gun with what would appear to have the original Armory “dipped” linseed oil finish. No effort was expended to highly polish the stock, and I rather imagine that the rifle sat in the rack in England for the duration of the war. I would say that the linseed dipping did its job well, although no one can say the stock is “pretty”... just has the appearance of being dipped in linseed oil in a time “long, long ago”, in a galaxy “far, far away” - but it amounts to a time capsule for early stock finishes, not degraded by some GI attempting to make points with his NCO or inspecting officer.
Supplies of linseed oil began to show signs of getting scarce during the early part of WWII, and in order to shade their bet and perhaps impart a more waterproof finish to newly manufactured M1s, Army Ordnance decided to go to the Chinawood or Tung Oil finish (also known as Japanese Dryer). It had the advantage of being as easy to apply as linseed in the Armory environment, and could be applied in the same manner (dipping the entire stock in Tung Oil) for a few minutes). The result was relatively waterproof, and durable... It was not chosen for its spiffy appearance, but it did the job well. The Tung Oil finish was the official finish for the M1 (and later the M14) from 1942 until the end of production of the M14.
Tung Oil is made from the “nut” of the Tung Tree, and for many years when driving along the lower parts of Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, I remember seeing large groves of Tung Trees with signs on the fence that indicated that the Tung Groves were maintained as a “ War Reserve” for National Defense” in time of War (I forget the exact wording, but that was the gist of the signs).I haven’t seen 'em for years, but I suppose the need for Tung Oil and Tung Groves has gone the way of the “Do-Do Bird”, what with the Matty Mattel Special Mouse Gun.
The Tung Oil finish was designed to put a weather proof finish on the “just finished” rifles and was NOT meant to be used on a continuing basis as the Linseed Oil had been in times gone by. It was a “base coat” and since the Government wasn’t planning on issuing little bottles of Tung Oil to the troops, the usage of linseed oil was specified for long term “troop maintenance. Why? Well it didn’t hurt anything and kept “idle hands” busy. Linseed, judiciously applied, DOES make an attractive finish, and serves to protect the weapon.
Don’t forget, tradition also played an important part in the equation, and traditions die hard - “By Gawd, I used linseed on MY ‘03, and you clowns are gonna’ use it on your M1s... Good stuff, and the Ordnance People KNOW what they’re doing!”
The nice thing was, that it served its purpose. The posting indicating “every hour for a day”, “every day for a week”, “every week for a month”, “every month for a year”, and “every year for the rest of your life” was an oft quoted truism passed down from generation to generation... It could and did produce a very nice finish if you kept with it. The tradition and indeed institution of the professional private died out after WWII however, and the rifle no longer had an owner that would keep and nurture him (her?) for the rest of its service life! As a result, very few M1s ever achieved the marvelous finish often seen on pre-WWII M1903s.
Speaking from personal experience, many “after market” finishes were used on M1 stocks, primarily to garner favor with inspecting officers and NCOs. Primo among such finishes that started appearing in the early 1950s were such as, “Linspeed Oil”, and “Tru-Oil”. Both gave a finish that can politely be described as artificial, and much to the delight of the troops, VERY SHINY! Much like a shellac or varnish finish. I personally always had an extra set of wood for my M1 with such a finish set up JUST for inspections! My “field stock” was a bit rougher... heh, heh, heh... The inspecting officer in one unit I served in referred to my stock as a “piece of furniture”... If I had only known what I was doing to future collectors?! Sigh.... Needless to say, no attention was paid to the cartouches or circle Ps, as a matter of fact, these were usually removed to improve the finish and appearance...
Sometimes units would issue (local) orders that prohibited the use of anything but linseed oil (not because of any ordnance objection, but because it made “stock maintenance” too easy for the troops - much like the appearance of “Corfam Shoes” were thought to be the bane of the traditional “spit shine” and no longer required any effort on the part of the individual Soldier or Marine). As a result, we would check out either Tru-Oil and Linspeed, and see which indicated a preponderance of linseed as its main ingredient and apply that one (I think Linspeed usually got the nod), lying in our teeth when asked if “THAT” was a “linseed finish”?... Well, it WAS, sorta’ anyway...
With a “Linspeeded Stock” I once “bubbled” the shiny finish and charred the inside of the handguards during a “squad in the assault problem” while laying down a base of fire for the advancing members of the squad. It looked great in garrison, but was not a terribly practical field finish.
When building Match Conditioned M14s at MTU Quantico, the armorers usually treated the INSIDE (and sometimes the outside) of the stocks with a polyurethane finish to make it weatherproof and prevent the possibility of warping during sudden rain squalls.. It wasn’t usually done to be pretty, and the finish often left something to be desired from the standpoint of a connoisseur, but it served its purpose nicely.
So you see, it wasn’t quite as cut and dried as the collectors think, nor did it always go as the manuals indicated that it should. Stock finishes were often a personal and subjective thing.
In answer to my original criteria, I would use the following guidelines:
I have a personal favorite that combines the traditional hand rubbed linseed oil finish with the weather proof qualities of the polymer finishes and looks like you spent your whole life working on the stock. It consists of a mixture of 1/3rd Linseed Oil, 1/3rd Turpentine (acting as a solvent), and 1/3rd Beeswax, gently melted together over something other than an open flame (an old-time radiator used to work well). When it is well melted, it should be stirred and left to congeal... It turns into a paste that makes a great (military style) finish that looks like it took a million years to apply. Repairs easily, even in the field. Got this one from an old gent at Perry back in the Mid-50s who looked like he had personally used it on his issued Trapdoor Springfield... I went home and tried it, and have been using it every since.
- If you want to restore the rifle to the (original) condition it left Springfield (or Winchester, WRA, or IHC), I’d check out the manufacturing date for my prize in the Duff Book Series, and apply the finish that is correct for the date.
- If I wanted to give the stock a look of a well maintained rifle of the period, as opposed to a rifle straight out of the Armory Packing Case, I’d go with the original finish from the Armory (linseed or tung oil), and then devote my time and effort to using the constantly rubbing in of many coats of (boiled) linseed oil (or my beeswax finish below).
- Pretty finishes are truly subjective. I personally HATE the glossy appearance of the “high gloss polyurethane” finishes, although the eggshell (or subdued finishes are ok and very serviceable). I also never cared for the Linspeed Oil or Tru-Oil finishes, but they kept the Inspecting Officers happy...
- If I were building a match rifle that might well be subjected to the Camp Perry rain storms, I would most definitely would use the polyurethane type finish on the inside of the stock, and put an attractive and waterproof finish on the outside.
As I said before, I will be posting the various finishing techniques shortly, and I will cover the exact method of applying my linseed/beeswax/turpentine finish in detail in the article.
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