Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Remodeling a BRNO Mauser, Part 7: Checkering

This post has been longer in getting up than I anticipated.  Put the delay down to the holidays and a tough winter combined with taking on a new Lab puppy.  But now I can return to the BRNO 7x57 sporter and  suggest some ways to make checkering its stock easier and less error-prone.  This post could be entitled "An Ode to Blue Tape," using the BRNO as an example.

Remember the old quip:  "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"  The answer of course is, "Practice, practice, practice!"  How do you avoid the most common error in checkering: over-runs, those pesky little cuts that extend just beyond the border that's supposed to contain them?  Practice checkering!  After you've checkered a dozen or so stocks, you almost certainly will have gained much more control of the checkering tool.  While you're gaining control in the interim, however, and perhaps even afterwards, the solution to avoiding over-runs is Scotch Blue Painter's Tape.  I use the 0.94 inch x 60 yard size.

Available at any hardware store, this painter's tape has many uses for checkering.  I use a template cut out of aluminum foil to scribe in the borders on the pistol grip for a checkering panel. How do I hold down the template as I scribe?  Scotch blue painter's tape.

A strip of Scotch blue painter's tape laid carefully along the stock will give you a straight line to follow with a scribe or cutter (if you have difficulty following its thin edge, add another strip on top of it).  A strip can extend a line along a compound curve like a pistol grip.  By tearing off small sections and layering them tangent to a line, you can even tape a compound curve, as on this pistol grip.

So, when checkering, how do we avoid over-running a border?  All together, now:  Scotch blue painter's tape.

How do I make one side of checkering begin and end at the same point of the stock as the other side?  Run a piece of tape from one side to the other, checking it to make sure the curvature of, say, the grip doesn't throw it off. 

How do I know my points will end up aligned?  I simply put a strip of tape where I want the points to go:  I checker to the edge of the tape, and no farther.  This photo shows the grip after I've completed the first set of cuts.  The curled piece of tape visible on the right is from lining up the points on the other side:
As some of us have learned the hard way, tape on a gunstock can lift the finish off when it is removed.  3M says this tape is safe for finishes "up to" fourteen days, but I don't like pushing my luck.  I've kept it in place for a week, with no problems on removal.  If I haven't finished checkering the stock in a week, I re-tape.

As the proverb has it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If you resent the time taken to tape a curved panel (or re-tape it after a week), take a  moment to consider how much time it takes to fix a mistake:  scraping out the cut, sanding it with several grades of sandpaper, re-staining, refinishing--a number of days, in short, by the time it can pass inspection.  Wouldn't taping the panel in the first place have been preferable to spending all this time and effort?

Here's a shot of the checkered grip "in the white":
If you look closely at the middle point, you can see where I overran the border and had to scrape out and sand the cut.  This will disappear after dyeing when I apply a coat of TruOil thinned by 50% with mineral spirits.

The checkering on the fore end wraps around.  Given the relatively short fore end (14 1/4" from the trigger to the tip) to have the 21 1/2" barrel look in proportion, I decided to terminate the front end not with points but with an English-styled square border that affords more checkering for my forward hand's fingers.
I then dyed the checkering with the dye mix I'd saved for this purpose (see Part 6), applied a coat of alkanet oil to the checkering and then a thinned coat of TruOil, brushing it in with a toothbrush, and carefully wiped up any overflow.  The stock is now finished, literally speaking.  The remodeled stock without pad weighs 25 ounces, or one pound nine ounces.  Even with its minimal length of fore end and no fore end tip, this is unusually light for walnut. 

After letting the TruOil dry overnight, I screwed on the sling stud and recoil pad, which brings its weight to just under two pounds.

As a parting note, I've checkered something on the order of two dozen stocks.  As I admitted above, I still make mistakes.  To checker, you need to exercise patience.  You need to take your time.  And the way to minimize mistakes is straightforward:  Use 3M's Scotch blue painter's tape!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stippling a Gun Stock

Faithful readers may remember my series of posts in July, 2013, about putting together a Scout or a Woods rifle, as I preferred to call it.  Following the suggestions of Jeff Cooper in To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth (Gunsite Press, 1988) and of Finn Aagaard in Selected Works (Wolfe Publishing, 2007), I took a DWM 1908 Mauser action with a commercial stainless barrel in 7x57mm, asked Fred Cornell (Custom Shooting Accessories, 570 888-9236) to turn down the barrel and shorten it to 20", and then fitted it to a Boyds laminated stock.   I trimmed Boyds' generous stock dimensions down and used aniline dyes to darken it.  I then epoxied on a XS Systems sleeve and mounted a Leupold Scout 2.5x28 scope just ahead of the magazine. 

The result was a handy rifle indeed.  Including the scope and a new recoil pad, it weighs seven and one half pounds.  If some malign fate confined me to only one rifle, the legendary reliability of the Mauser action, the versatile range of bullet weights available in 7mm, and the quick handling qualities of this Scout rifle would almost certainly make me choose this one.

One problem remained:  while hunting with it, the oil-finished stock felt a bit slippery in my hands.  I'd read that the glue in laminated stocks quickly dulls checkering cutters (carbide cutters might have worked, but I didn't have any:  they're expensive), so checkering was not an option.  What to do to get a non-slip surface?

Following a tip I'd picked up from a chat room on the web, I first tried truckbed paint.  This black paint is formulated to be non-skid, and that sounded like just what I needed.  Fortunately, I decided to test it on a junked stock.  It turns out that truckbed paint is indeed less slippery than regular paint, but it drips, runs, and sags when sprayed on the smoothly curving surfaces of a gun stock (see below):

So truckbed paint was out.  I then read about using an electric woodburning tool to create a non-slip surface on pistol grips.  Off I went to a hobby store and purchased a Weller Woodburning and Hobby Kit.  Once again, I decided on a test run.  It did work, after a fashion (see below):
It's not that easy to get your dots in a row for a border--and you also need a lot of them to fill a given space.  Checkering involves a lot of repetition, but this technique is really boring.  To my eye, it doesn't look that great, either.
I then thought of commercial Mauser sporting rifles I had seen:  many of them had the metal of the receiver ring stippled, presumably to cut down glare.  I wondered, are there stippling tools for wood as well as for metal?  There are indeed, and Brownell's carries them.  I ordered the Medium size (16 per inch) and the Fine (20 per inch) stippling punches.  I preferred the Medium size, so I tried to get the hang of stippling on another discarded stock.  Guess what?  Brownell's instructions are much to the point: practicing first does lead to a better result.
What I discovered, however, is that the stippling looks much better when set off by incised lines, just like a checkering pattern.  Given that the punches themselves are about 1/4" in diameter, the borders can't end in the V's traditional to checkering.  I decided simply to round off the panels, the one exception being the bottom of the grip panels, where I followed the typical line parallel to the grip cap.  Several sizes of washers gave me the arcs I wanted to end the panels close to the receiver and on the fore end.
After cutting those border lines, stippling was straightforward.  Just as I do when checkering, I taped all around the borders to prevent an overrun.  If you want to try stippling, I suggest you use light blows with the hammer.  Keep turning the punch so the dots form a random pattern.  If it looks a bit sparse, just do it some more until it looks filled up.  In other words, your eye will tell you when it's right. 
The stippling punches created just enough texture to keep my hands from slipping.  Here's the end result after re-staining and finishing the stippling: