Introduction: How to Refinish a Firearm's Furniture
Hello and welcome to this page. If you are here, I assume that you have expressed an interest in refinishing the furniture of your firearm. Note; this only applies to wooden furniture, if your firearm is equipped with synthetic furniture then you are out of luck here.
The stock in question is a piece of walnut off of a Remington 870 Wingmaster built in the 1970's. My instructable will mostly revolve around the open-pored nature of walnut, however, this can also be applied to other open-grained woods, and even more closed-grained woods, such as maple, if it so tickles your fancy. However, if you are working with something such as birdseye or tiger maple, I recommend looking into finishing the wood with an Aqua Fortis method of approach (which I will cover if I ever get wood with such a grain).
Before you begin this instructable, I would hope that you are a safe owner of firearms. Ensure that your weapon is unloaded and that all munitions are safely stored away before getting started. Always practice safe gun-handling procedures.
A brief overview. The shotgun I purchased was equipped with some decent looking walnut. The problem was, the shotgun in question is over 40 years old, and so is the wood. The finish was showing many signs of wear and tear (Not too visible in the photos) and many spots of the finish was simply missing. I wanted to refinish it to look more aesthetically pleasing. Note that this is not A, AA or Claro walnut, however this method can be used to great effect on the aforementioned grades to great effect.
Step 1: The Things You'll Need.
Here we'll look into what you need. This list can be custom tailored and should serve more as a guideline.
1) The wooden furniture off of a firearm. (This is not an optional item, unless you are looking to refinish an air-stock.) Remove all metal parts and set aside. If you have a recoil pad, keep it near, you will need it later.
2) Finish Stripper - Inspect the finish of your stock to determine the appropriate stripper. Shellac can also be removed with non-potable high proof alcohol (Rubbing, Isopropyl, Denatured) as a solvent (To test for shellac, put a few drops of alcohol on the finish, wait a moment then wipe away.) If you are unsure of the finish your stock has, get the most wide spectrum remover you can find.
2.1) A sidenote. The finish remover I am using is left-over from stripping the previous owner's attempt at finishing a Romanian PSL stock. He used black rubberized epoxy deck paint. I used Klean Strip Premium Stripper. I won after three applications. This stuff is noxious and will eat through just about any finish.
2.2) Have some mineral spirits handy too.
3) Chemical resistant gloves. These can typically be found near the solvents also. I can not recommend nitrile gloves from personal experience as they react with the chemicals unfavorably. If using nitrile because that's all you have available, be very careful to limit their contact with the stripper and change them often. Most strippers will leave unpleasant chemical burns.
-This also means you should probably wear long-sleeves and some sort of eye protection. Definitely eye protection.
4) A plastic scraper and/or scotchbrite pad. This is for scraping off the finish+remover after it has been applied and left to sit for the time on the directions.
5) A well ventilated workspace. Don't be like me and use the kitchen with the vent fans on. It works somewhat and I don't have a Mrs. to nag me about it.
6) A healthy supply of paper towels and a sink that dispense hot water.
7) Your finish of choice. My method will use French Red and Tru-Oil. Also, I use a can of Boiled Linseed Oil.
- You will also need a healthy supply of sandpaper (I use 400 and above. Anything courser is not necessary.), a sanding block and #0000 steel wool.
8) Time. A good job is time consuming. However, if you are like me, you might find this to be extremely relaxing.
Step 2: On to Stripping! (The Wood, That Is.)
Before you can apply a finish, you must remove the old finish.
That is a given.
Follow the instructions on the product you have purchased. This is fairly self explanatory.
1) Lay the items in question out.
2) Proceed to spray items down. Be judicious, but apply a thorough even coating. Some runs will happen.
3) Set timer. Leave the items alone. Don't touch them until the timer is done.
4) Once the timer is done, re-don your gloves, get your scotchbrite pad or scraper, turn the water on as hot as you can (Be warned, hot water + stripper will release fumes. Wear a respirator.) Begin rinsing the part while thoroughly scrubbing/scraping them to remove all finish. Multiple stripper applications might be needed. Repeat 1-4 as needed. We want as much of the finish gone as possible to facilitate later steps. I couldn't take pictures of this step as I do not have the third arm to handle my camera as I work.
4.1) Now this is where I might get some naysayers who say that water + wood = bad. This is a necessary step however, as it will raise the grain of the wood and many undesirable "hairs" in the grain for removal and smoothing.
5) Once your parts are thoroughly stripped and you are sure all traces of the stripper have been rinsed away, I recommend taking your mineral spirits and wiping the wood down thoroughly as a final wash.
6) Now set your parts aside to dry. This takes quite a while. You want them to be as dry as possible. Do not try to speed up this step in the oven. We want the water to slowly evaporate to facilitate making the wood "hairier". This is a good thing.
Step 3: On to the Good Stuff.
From here on out, I will not have many pictures. As of the time of writing (11 APR 2014), I found that my Klean Strip did not win against the varnish Remington used on their wood. Which strikes me as odd, because it did defeat epoxy based paint. Go figure. However, I did do this method to another stock and I will post the results later.
1) Now that you have let your stock dry, we can start to finish it. This is where things get time consuming.
2) Procure your finishing products. I am starting with French Red.
2.1) French Red is one of my favorite products for walnut. I am using the red French Red (Yes it also comes in other hues, to include Clear French Red, which is clear. Not red.) It acts as a sealant, stain and pore filler.
3) Apply French Red. Directions are provided on the product, and once again, be judicious in application. You want a nice, healthy coat applied though in order to fill the pores of the grain. Be sure to adequately coat the entirety of the stock, to include the end grain in order to ensure an even coloration as the finish soaks in. Do not be afraid to put some gloves on and "press" the finish in by rubbing and literally pressing it in.
4) Allow to dry for 24 hours. You will probably need to hang it up with something underneath to catch drips. I find that bent coat hangers work quite well.
5) This is where I start to use my method. One must be slow and patient in order to achieve the best effect.
6) Prepare your wet sanding block with 400 grit wet/dry paper. Have a dish of boiled linseed oil (henceforth called BLO) at the ready. This is our wet sanding liquid.
6.1) Before you get started, wipe away as much of the French Red from the end grain as possible. You may wet sand it briefly with the methods as in step 8 and beyond. However, step 7 requires the recoil pad to be reattached.
7) Reattach your recoil pad to the stock. This is to prevent rounding off the end grain where the stock meets the recoil pad, something that can be aesthetically detracting to someone looking closely. Just because I am using standard grade walnut does not mean I want it to look like I didn't care. You may choose to reattach the stock to the weapon in the case of an 870 or whatever shotgun of your choice in order to blend the stock with the receiver. If you choose to do this, mask off your receiver and be extremely careful to avoid sanding it as to prevent marring the finish. Unless you plan on also refinishing the metal, but we do want to avoid sanding marks.
8) Saturate the sandpaper with BLO and begin to sand the wood. Sand in all directions. With the grain (as little as possible), against the grain and in circles. The goal is to "press" more of the fillers in the French Red into the grain of the wood. Re-hang the parts and allow them to dry for another 48 hours.
8.1) BLO does not ever truly "dry" out. You may also use Tru-Oil for this, but I find Tru-Oil to be in poor taste in terms of cost efficiency.
8.2) If upon inspection, you feel that the pores are not filled in to your liking, return to steps 3 and 4. Do not try this if you used Tru-Oil or any true-"drying" oil as your wet sanding lubricant. However, later steps will entail filling pores with Tru-Oil also.
9) Begin sanding down the wood with finer and finer grains of sandpaper. You may wet-sand if you choose, but the goal here is to use as little pressure as possible in order to smooth the wood out. This sounds counter-intuitive as one would expect to use more pressure to smooth things, but less is more in this case.
10) Once you are pleased with the smoothness of your stock, and you feel that everything is prim and proper, you can begin to apply your top-coat. I am using Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil, a blended oil of BLO and something else that acts as an oxidative polymerizing agent. This means, that as it contacts air, it begins to "dry" into a hard finish.
11) This is the longest part, by far. Your choices include brushing on the finish, applying the finish with a lint-free towel, or rubbing the finish in by hand. I will be using the latter option as I find this prevents wasting finish unnecessarily since it is applied drop-by-drop.
12) Get a dropper bottle and fill it with Tru-Oil. Take your dry stock and remove the recoil pad. Don a pair of gloves (Nitrile is fine here. Tru-Oil is quite sticky on the skin.) Begin by applying 2-3 drops in an area and rubbing it in with the palms of your hand. Friction is your friend, as we want the finish to heat up and flow into the wood. Do not forget to also apply finish to the end grains of the wood.
13) Once the stock is coated in tru-oil, set aside to dry for 8-12 hours. This may sound like a very long time, but drier is better here. After the stock has dried, knock off the finish with the steel wool entirely and reapply the tru oil. Let dry again. Repeat this step several times. This seals the pores off entirely and will enhance the overall look and smoothness of the finish as we begin to build it up.
14) Now, repeat step 12, and let dry. Our goal now is to lightly scuff the Tru-Oil in order to build up on it with subsequent coats of Tru-Oil. Scuffing isn't always necessary, however, a good scuffing helps to even out the oil and prevent obvious areas of high spots or runs. I find that 6 applications builds into a nice finish.
15) Once you are done, you have a choice. In order to truly pursue a high-gloss finish, you might consider using extremely fine abrasives as a polish along with a final wax coat. This is great for highly figured grains. As I wanted a more utilitarian look, I did a final scuffing with steel wool in order to give me a slightly less glossy finish.
Something to note. The pictures of the finished stock I am including have been refinished with the exact steps I have listed here. There are some key differences though. One is, in order to accentuate the grain, I used a mixture of paper ash and BLO as a slurry, packed into the grains with the French Red to give it a very nice contrast. Two, I pre-stained the wood with Minwax "Gunstock" stain as this particular stock had a very uneven coloration due to sun exposure and age. Also, I used a different wood stripping product here, not Klean Strip, but something that I can not remember the name of. I did not use a pre-stain product to "balance" the wood. I did want some contrast and differentiation throughout to remind me of the age.
Once I get the appropriate stripping product that works, I will post many more pictures of the steps and those end results.