With deer season at its end, it’s time to look to winter projects. Since your rifle won’t be needed, you might consider putting a little work into it, treating yourself to an oil finished stock. More durable than most factory stains, the nicks and scratches you inevitably pick up in the woods will be less noticeable, keeping your rifle all the more attractive. And having done it yourself, the rifle will become all the more yours, a part of you, and not just something you picked up off a rack. It’s well within the capabilities of most people. It’s a fun project to pass the winter months.
The right rifle for this is something common, used, and perhaps even a little damaged. While it’s fine for something with some sentimental value, you don’t want to do it to anything with any real collector value. I have an old Marlin 30AS that was perfect. Being the cheap, Sears version of the 336, it was a perfectly functional rifle, but wasn’t anything especially rare or desirable. The birch stock looked amazing though once redone. A 10/22 is fine as well. You see them all over the place, and they and will never be worth more than the parts you put into them. Discarded wooden stocks for them are easy to pick up too as many people upgrade to something tactical. You might also consider an old, dinged up, single shot shotgun. You can pick one up at a gun show for $100 on any day of the week. The idea is that you’ll be taking something ordinary that might be past its prime, but you’re breathing new life into it and making it unique. Just don’t go defacing an antique.
The process is fairly straightforward. After taking a screwdriver and removing the wooden parts, you’ll want to first remove all the old finish. On the rifles that I’ve worked on, Easy Off oven cleaner was the thing. Just spray it on liberally and the old stain will turn to goo to be scraped and rinsed off. Other products may give similar or better results. After getting all the chemicals off and letting it dry thoroughly, you’ll then want to put a little work into sanding. This will take off what’s left of the old finish and get rid of any nicks and scratches. Be careful here not to round off any sharp edges on the wood. From there, you’ll want to start applying the oil.
For the oil, I’ve always used a 50/50 mix of linseed oil and turpentine. It’s what’s commonly used and will give you a good result. People who are more knowledgable than me will often suggest tung oil. I’ve never used it. From what I’ve gathered, the advantages are that tung oil is a little darker and dries a little faster. Linseed oil is also said to attract wood worms. If you live in an area where they’re a problem, tung oil may be preferable for that reason. Just be sure, if you use it, that you are buying actual tung oil. There is a product commonly sold called Tung Oil Finish. Please know that that’s not the stuff.
The oiling itself is a long and drawn out process. If you’re one for instant gratification, this may not be your thing. The idea is that you’re putting layer upon layer of thin little coats. Each coat should be dry before the next. If you screw it up and try to put on too much, you end up with a black gummy mess. You’ll have to strip it off with turpentine and then start over. What you want to do is apply a little bit with a rag, a dime sized blot is fine, give it a good five minutes to soak in, and then wipe off all the excess. If you want, rubbing it with the heel of your hand will help drive the oil into the wood. Just sit down while you’re watching TV, rub one spot until the friction makes it too hot to touch, then move on to another. Then leave it in a warm place to dry. Next to the fireplace is good. Once it’s dry, do it all again. And again. The rule of thumb is that you want to do this every day for a week, every week for a month, every month for a year, and then once a year for as long as you own it. Again, thin layers are what you’re looking for. Each time, a dime sized dab should coat the whole thing.
We live in a homogenized, mass produced society that’s filled with expendable goods. One thing looks just like another. We sacrifice durability and utility for economy and efficiency. Modern day gun finishes, like so many things, were made to be applied, dried, and then sent off to market and sold. Get the things made and then get them to the stores. It’s part of the constant growth mentality that leads to so much that’s wrong in the world. Things are made cheap and we’re encouraged to replace instead of repair. In a world of finite resources, follow that mentality to its end. What if we instead treated everything as precious? What if we understood that the product of our labor is an extension of ourselves, and that the things we make are part of us as well? And what if we truly understood that we, as humans, are finite? Would we give more thought to how we consume? Would we throw away as much? Would we fix things when they break? It’s definitely got me thinking.