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Taking Stock

By Matthew Cameron

The stock of a rifle is the connection between the metallic components and the person pulling the trigger, the term appears to date from the 1500’s. Aside from any other considerations the stock needs to be functional.

 

Over time they have, like the mechanical parts of the rifle, evolved into different types for different shooting disciplines. Initially they were only made of wood, probably whatever was available.

 

Thus, the term is more than five hundred years old and seems to have come into common use with the Arquebus and/or Matchlock rifle designs, using the stock greatly improved accuracy. Perhaps initially the more common woods were used to make stocks, but it quickly became apparent that some were better suited to the task than others.

 

Modern stocks have evolved into one or two-piece types with the two-piece types easier to make as the individual pieces of wood are smaller, in addition two separate styles have evolved, either European or American.

 

“Over time they have, like the mechanical parts of the rifle, evolved into different types for different shooting disciplines. Initially they were only made of wood, probably whatever was available.”

 

Usually the stock extends to perhaps half the length of the barrel although some designs, particularly the Mannlicher, extend the whole length. Some stocks are of the folding type; usually they are of military origin and made of metal.

 

Over a long period of time many woods were used and tried as gunstocks, they include Walnut, Maple, Myrtle, Beech and Mesquite. Walnut has emerged as the wood of choice for several reasons, it is dense enough without being overly heavy, stable with sometimes exceptional grain and accepts fine line checkering in the better grades.

 

In addition, it can be finished with a beautiful sheen. Whilst basically a European tree walnut was grown in other parts of the world, perhaps the only issue with it as a stock wood is that it is both slow growing and slow to dry out to be useable in a stock.

 

Matthews switch barrel rifle on a Remington R-100 action and McMillan stock.

 

Good walnut is “graded” according to several criteria that I do not understand, what I do know is that should you desire a fine shotgun or rifle with a fine walnut stock that is classed as “Exhibition Grade” you will need very deep pockets! American walnut use goes back to the time when Kentucky pattern rifles were manufactured in Pennsylvania.

 

In relation to stocks on family rifles they might be considered plain but workable, there are some that are not walnut; perhaps my 1960’s Husqvarna in .270 Winchester has the most interesting background. Originally the stock was fitted with a typical high cheek piece stock, possibly of Silver Birch timber.

 

A good mate of mine was its second owner, as far as we could ascertain it probably entered Australia around 1965 when the import and financial restrictions were lifted. He is also left-handed to the point that when he fired the rifle it “belted him in the chops,” his words, not mine.

 

“Good walnut is “graded” according to several criteria that I do not understand, what I do know is that should you desire a fine shotgun or rifle with a fine walnut stock that is classed as “Exhibition Grade” you will need very deep pockets!”

 

Eventually it got the better of him and somewhat frustrated he placed the stock in a padded vice and using a wood rasp, he cut it down quite a bit in size. When it appeared to fit a bit better he sanded it smooth with sandpaper and ran a coat of clear epoxy over the whole stock. I think it is fair to say that the approach was a little less than scientific!

 

Fired again it was better but still not correct. Eventually I borrowed the rifle in an attempt to shoot a pig, indeed the mission was accomplished, the rifle fitted like it was custom made. Coin of the realm exchanged between the parties and it was mine!

 

That was more than thirty-five years ago; since those early days, the rifle has accounted for an untold number of pigs and still resides in the family gun safe and in use.

 

Modern Remington in .257 Weatherby Magnum - a nice piece of timber.

 

What was interesting was that all the right-handed shooters who have used the rifle have all commented that it fitted like the proverbial glove; all did good work with it! Much later the author literally had to pry it out of No. 2 Sons hands.

 

Along the way someone had bedded the action and it was certainly accurate, three shot groups with 130gr soft points would shoot into a neat inch all day long propelled with 54gr of AR2209.

 

Two other rifles that existed, and one still does in relation to wooden stocks in the family gun safe relate to Ruger’s, specifically a now departed Ruger No. 1-V Varminter in .22-250 Remington calibre that appeared in early 1983 and a Ruger 77V in .243 Winchester calibre that arrived in 1985 and is still there!

 

When developing both rifles in the 1960’s Bill Ruger used the services of stock maker Leonard Brownell, both stocks had classical good-looking lines, the 1-V also a nice piece of walnut.

 

“Although good walnut is pleasing to the eye like other types of wood it has one or two problems that must be addressed. The first is moisture which causes the wood fibres to change shape and thus affect the point of impact of the rifle plus its group accuracy.”

 

Eventually after several years I disposed of the 1-V simply because I could not get it to shoot to my standards, no matter what I tried, it was erratic.

 

As mentioned, the 77V is still going, the stock refurbished once to remove sundry dents, a new barrel is to be fitted in the near future, it’s comfortable to shoot, and Leonard Brownell certainly knew what he was doing. The only change to the stock, the barrel free floated and the wood resealed.

 

Although good walnut is pleasing to the eye like other types of wood it has one or two problems that must be addressed. The first is moisture which causes the wood fibres to change shape and thus affect the point of impact of the rifle plus its group accuracy.

 

To prevent this happening, it is important to seal the stock with a good epoxy whenever wood is removed. Many free float a barrel and forget to seal the new barrel channel - disaster!

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Will free floating a barrel improve rifle accuracy? Perhaps, it is certainly worth a try requiring minimum effort. Two other methods of improving accuracy in wooden stocks are to bed the action into an epoxy base or bed the action on two metal pillars that are surrounded by epoxy.

 

Either appears to work in my opinion; the combination of bedding the action and free floating the barrel also appears to improve accuracy. Bedding is possibly something that the home handy man can do but a personal preference would be to have the job done by a reputable gunsmith or stock maker.

 

Within the authors experience from a pure accuracy point of view any stock should be a good fit made of stable material and be properly bedded with a free-floating barrel. Such rifles within the family gun safe have proved to provide the best overall accuracy irrespective of calibre.

 

A good example of a pillar bedded stock done professionally, pay for the expertise, you will not be disappointed.

 

Bedding is something that a lot of rifle manufacturers have paid a considerable amount of attention to in recent years, once something that a custom gun smith attended to is now commercially common, just one more reason why the latest rifles are demonstrating better accuracy.

  

Perhaps the groups that looked further afield in relation to accuracy initially were the benchrest shooters, it may be claimed that they were only interested in shaving small numbers off group size, maybe but the principles of doing so were applicable elsewhere.

 

Possibly they achieved more than the expectations they started out with. There were some laminates in the USA about 1980 and benchrest shooters were using them by 1987, the idea was simple enough, thin layers of plywood coated in epoxy and presses together under intense pressure.

 

A more modern version of a Weatherby Vanguard in 7mm Remington Magnum.

 

There is some evidence and debate that the first laminated stocks were used by the German Army in 1937 due to a shortage of suitable wood to make conventional stocks, the model k98 issued in 1942 had a laminated stock.

 

Other laminates had thicker layers of wood, within Australia Victorian gun smith Jack Millar was selling an unfinished laminated stock in the mid 1980’s. One of the woods was Tasmanian Huon Pine and I think the other Maple, it was very attractive and I have no doubt very stable.

 

Fast forward to now and there are many laminated stocks available in just about any colour combination you can think of. Many rifle manufacturers offer laminates and there are many available as an aftermarket accessory, it is obvious that laminates have come a long way.

  

Certainly, wood stability would be the main reason over any other timber. Strength is another with overall light weight, within the family there is a singular example.

 

A relic from the past, WW1 SMLE No. 1 Mk 3, things have changed a bit! This is an ex sniper grade rifle in .303 calibre.

 

The action is pillar bedded into the stock and the barrel free floated, at this stage it is merely coated in clear epoxy to seal it, perhaps it may be colour painted in the long term. Certainly, it is stable for long range work which was the original intention.

 

The last type of stock to be considered is the so called “plastic” or fibreglass type. Up until the middle of the 1990’s perhaps the writer could be labelled a purist, all personal rifle stock were of wood and mainly walnut at that. Since then several rifles have come and gone; only one had a wooden stock!

  

The initial decision was arrived at after much research; finally, we bit the bullet so to speak and had a full-blown long-range custom rifle constructed to our specifications. Many hours were spent assessing all the possible combinations of cartridge action, stock, and telescopic sight plus of course the cartridge!

 

The end result was a switch barrelled rifle based on the Remington R-100 action, calibre .22-284 firing an 80gr JLK VLD projectile. The stock is a McMillan fibreglass model with a wide flat fore-end, with the action glued into the stock.

 

A typical benchrest stock - functional and stable.

 

The rifle is still in use with the addition of two more barrels added over time, for long range work it has performed flawlessly, accuracy is sub 0.05 MOA which could reasonably be expected of such a rifle.

 

Some eleven years ago it was decided that perhaps it was time to replace the previously mentioned .22-250 Remington which was in a Ruger 1-V and sold, personally we had always liked the cartridge.

 

Again, much time was spent on the internet assessing exactly what was available, eventually we settled on the Savage LRPV with the heavy barrel, we preferred it for several reasons. Its configuration was just slightly different with a right bolt associated with a left side reloading port.

 

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The action was mated to an H&S Precision stock that enclosed an aluminium bedding block, perhaps the ultimate in stability for a potential long-range rifle.

 

However, the main selling point that appealed personally was the optional barrel that came with a 1:9 twist; perfect for slightly heavier projectiles and thus better down range performance.

 

The short story is that this rifle is the most accurate factory rifle the author has ever owned, the best of ten different loads using projectiles ranging from Nosler’s 40gr Ballistic Tips to JLK’s 65gr flat based low drag model average 0.052” for three shot groups.

 

Unquestionably, the stock must be a major item in relation to this performance, factory rifles are not supposed to shoot with this level of accuracy! The barrel is treated with care, never allowed to get hot and cleaned on a regular basis. Removing the action from the stock has not occurred; there is no logical reason to do so, besides; would you want to upset such a tack driver?

 

Typical “plastic” stock on authors Tikka T3 in 6.5x55.

 

With a singular exception all the rifles that have followed have had “plastic” or fibreglass stocks! Two of the rifles were “entry level,” partially because we were interested in just what we could achieve with them in regard to accuracy, both had “plastic” stocks.

 

The Savage in .25-06 calibre is an honest 1.25” MOA rifle; quite often it will shoot three shot groups of 1 MOA when matched with selected handloads usually with 100gr projectiles. For a package deal I would suggest that it is punching above its weight, like other Savages.

 

The second was a Ruger in calibre 7mm-08. Again, it was at entry level and I thought that like the Savage, it was very good value for money and again it would shoot genuine MOA with the right load. Eventually one of my mates purchased it as a scrub rifle for pigs, he is not complaining!

 

Chapius in .30 R Blaser - classic stock design.

 

Once again with a “plastic” stock, perhaps my only complaint was that both fore ends were in my opinion a bit on the slim side; however, that is purely personal. Both rifles were fitted with the inevitable recoil pad and did what was required of them.

  

Personally, I like a nice piece of walnut but when it comes to practicality the author would choose a synthetic stock particularly in a varmint or long-range rifle every time. Overall, the problems are fewer and the whole package is inherently stable within my experience. In the bush you do not have to worry about scratches and other potential stock damage.

 

Over time timber stocks of whatever wood type will accumulate damage that eventually becomes unsightly. It is not all that difficult to completely strip a stock and refurbish it, the main issue is to take your time and initially strip all the old outer finish.

 

Older European stock on the authors L461 Sako, note the cheek piece. A comfortable rifle to shoot.

 

Paint stripper seems to work okay; a flat surface will remove most of it. You may require two applications to remove an old finish completely, with bare wood it is also possible to stain to a colour of choice, walnut perhaps?

  

Deep cuts may need to be filled with a filling compound and sanded smooth; you can buy fillers to match particular wood types. Most dents or knocks can be easily removed by the application of water and a wet cloth overlay and the application of a hot clothing iron, it swells the timber out to its original shape.

 

Be careful with sanding; only remove enough wood as is necessary to obtain a smooth surface. Personal preference is to use some type of hard-wearing epoxy preferably with a dull finish, allow plenty of time for it to dry completely. You may have to apply several thin coats to get the desired result, overall, it is not difficult.

 

“Perhaps we do not pay sufficient attention to stocks as such. We accept them for what they are without much thought, but in reality they are what unites the whole issue together and allow us to hit our target(s) whether distant or otherwise.”

 

A competent stock maker is literally worth his weight in gold, whatever your problems are he will literally fix them faster than you can think and in the long run save you money. I recently witnessed this in relation to a mate and his shotgun, for the uninitiated when it comes to shotguns and stocks; “fit” is literally everything.

 

The stock maker assessed in minutes what my mate had spent literally years trying to work out. Oddly enough we have had contact with two different stock makers over the past eighteen months. Both were emphatic, no publicity, we have enough work on our plates!

 

Perhaps we do not pay sufficient attention to stocks as such. We accept them for what they are without much thought, but in reality they are what unites the whole issue together and allow us to hit our target(s) whether distant or otherwise.

 

Shoot safe!

 

Matthew

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