USGI Rifle Stocks and Hand Guards: Walnut and Birch
Entry Level Care and Preservation Tips and Considerations for CMP Wood
(August 2005 Revision: Sections 6.1 and 6.7 have additions and Sections 6.4a and 6.4b are new.)
CMP surplus rifles such as the M1 Garand, M1903 Springfield, and the various .22 caliber target rifles are shipped with wooden stocks as originally utilized by the Armed Forces of the United States. The condition of these stocks varies from brand new wood that has been stored for a long time to wood that is basically sound but may have minor hairline cracks and may be well used with nicks, bruises and gouges. Where a rifle has more than one wood component, the two or three wood pieces may vary in type of wood including walnut and birch and in condition. Depending on the grade of rifle purchased, some stocks may have more character in the form of dings and dents under a dry chalky finish with imbedded dirt and rifle oil/lubricants. The wood may be coated in grease and cosmoline. Any combination of character marks from originalmilitary usage and subsequent storage is possible.
CMP customers have often inquired as to what might be done with the stocks and hand guards to preserve them and to improve the overall appearance of the wood. The customers’ inquiries might be how to wipe down a new stock with boiled linseed oil or pure tung oil to simply clean it up. Or the inquiry might be from a target shooter who feels the stock needs to be waterproofed against the elements. Or the inquiry might be from a shooter/collector who feels the stock needs to be redone cosmetically. A common inquiry concerns how to remove the dirt, dried oils and greases, dents, and other usage marks without damaging the wood.
The CMP’s mission is primarily about shooting and the support of shooters. The CMP, in an effort to address some of the above inquiries, does not wish to be refocused into collector’s issues concerning stocks and hand guards. There are experts available, web sites, and bulletin boards that can more properly address collector issues concerning stocks and their collectible qualities.
With that understanding, the CMP has added this web page to the main site. The emphasis is on the M1 Garand and its three piece stock set although the information is applicable to most walnut and birch rifle stocks. This new site addresses a number of issues concerning evaluation of a USGI stock as received. It provides some information to focus the new owner’s point of view as they decide what might, if anything, be appropriately done to enhance or preserve the new stock. There is some information on materials and techniques that may be helpful in addressing the customer’s need to know “how-to” so as to avoid many of the word of mouth techniques that are of questionable utility.
Please note that the tips and considerations which follow are intended to help an entry level woodworker and are by no means complete or absolutely foolproof. The manufacturer’s directions for various products should be reviewed and understood. Not all materials are compatible used in sequence. The results obtained depend upon the skill and attention to detail of the woodworker and are beyond the control of the CMP. For that reason, the CMP assumes or accepts no responsibility for the results of the customer’s efforts.
In the same manner, by providing some focus and information about these issues, the CMP is expressly not modifying, changing or altering in any manner any product or condition description appearing elsewhere concerning the surplus rifles being sold.
List of Topics
1. Nature of Original USGI Wood Finishes
2. Why USGI Walnut Takes On The “Springfield Arsenal Red” Color
3. Evaluating a Stock and Setting Priorities
4. Nature of Various Wood Finishes Commonly Used
5. Modern Wood Finishing Products and Sources
6. Procedures to Completely Refinish Stocks and Hand Guards If Desired To Do So
6.1 Stripping Off the Old Finish and Other Debris
6.2 Steaming Dents if Needed
6.3 Surface Texture Considerations
6.4 Alcohol Stains to Re-create Red, Brown, Walnut, and Dark Walnut Colors
6.4a Alcohol Stains to Duplicate Light Colored Walnut
6.4b Importance of Stain Drying Before Any Oil Finish Is Added
6.5 Staining Birch Such as Mossberg M44US Stocks and Garand Hand Guards To Match Buttstocks
6.6 Staining Techniques to Preserve Faint Cartouches
6.7 Optional Sealing of Alcohol Stains
6.8 Minwax Tung Oil Finish
7. Alternate Use of Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil as a Finish
8. Minimum Freshening Up of Old Chalky Wood
9. Cleaning a Dirty or Greasy or Dry Collector Stock
10. Time Frames Involved in Various Steps
11. Considerations Where New Boyd Stocks are Fitted
From the Trapdoor Springfield 45/70 era through the end of the M-14 era, the essential nature of manufacturer applied wood finishes included linseed oil, tung oil, boiled linseed oil, and what might be called boiled tung oil. While used by the Armed Forces of the United States, the rifles were usually cleaned and protected by the soldiers, sailors, and Marines using boiled linseed oil.
As to the M1 Garand Rifle, it is believed that the original manufacturer’s finish utilized boiled linseed oil into which the stocks were dipped and then dried. Subsequently, what might be called boiled tung oil was used instead. The boiled tung oil was a mixture of real tung oil, a carrier or solvent such as mineral spirits or turpentine, and driers similar to those added to boiled linseed oil to help cure the oil.
M1 Garand USGI wood was finished with boiled linseed oil at the beginning of manufacture and then with boiled tung oil later into the manufacturing era. Green can issue BLO was added on purpose along with dust, dirt, body oils, other petroleum oils and lubricants, Mil-Spec firearms lubricants and greases and rust preventatives. Plenty of the fluids got onto the wood. Dust and dirt tended to soak up a lot of oil coming out of the wood. Handling and field conditions got rid of the excess, if any. Periodic additions of well rubbed in BLO actually cleaned the dry dirt away and lightly re-oiled the wood.
The wood over time got smoother from handling, darker from dirt and oil and grease, and redder from the effects of oxidation of the Mil-Spec lubricants and rust preventatives, oxidation of boiled linseed oil, and oxidation of boiled tung oil. Oxidizing of the various oils in the soup is where the red color comes from in walnut after several years goes by of normal USGI care and handling.
The red is not a stain effect and not the color of walnut. It is the various oils oxidizing. It takes years for it to become the predominant color in the wood. Much conjecture about which component of the oil soup causes the most red could be voiced. One very quick gun oil to make a red shift is MILITEC Militec-1 Weapons Grade Synthetic Based Metal Conditioner, NSN 9150-01-415-9112. Left out in the light and opened repeatedly so that air got in, it has been seen to change from clear yellow to dark red in 6 months. The almost black color along the metalwood lines of firearms would indicate the gun oil has a large part to do with the red shift. Gun oil doesn't immediately hurt wood in small amounts on the surface of a good finish. Over time, gun oil dissolves the resins in wood and makes it mushy. For example, the compression effect of Garand receivers/trigger guards crushing the wood is in part caused by oil damage to the wood.
Much of the CMP wood being refinished is pretty well used before being released. It often needs cleaned and refinished. CMP customers don't often use the rifles intensely enough to recreate the USGI conditions that made them look like they looked in the first place color wise. It also may take years for the red color shift to enter the spectrum. Many new owners feel that a newly refinished stock needs something to make it look USGI "right." New rifle owners may also be interested in matching colors with new commercial stocks. The alcohol stain color matching information below is for the purpose of helping the customer who might want to refinish their wood, but want the end result to look like it would have during military service.
The CMP has no intention of giving any advice on when or if a rifle stock or hand guard should be altered or refinished. That is the owner’s business to evaluate before any changes are made. The surplus USGI rifles sold by the CMP are in their original condition as used and stored by the Armed Forces of the United States. That original condition is part of the history of the rifle. Stock maintenance as carried out by the individual serviceman would not seem to alter the essential nature of that originality. A complete refinishing of the stock would seem to alter the nature of that originality, but when tastefully and carefully done with modern materials may well enhance the looks of and preserve the existing wood.
The CMP customer upon receipt of a new rifle should spend some time inspecting and evaluating the newly received stock and establishing their own priorities if this discussion is of any concern at all to the individual. For instance, a newly received collector grade rifle with a nicely cartouched stock is not often converted into a “shooter.” Likewise, a newly received rifle with an unmarked rebuild/rebuilt stock is not usually a candidate for the attentions of a serious collector. In between these extremes are the many rebuild marked stocks and rebuilt original stocks, perhaps faintly marked, received with the rifles. The originality of the in between stocks takes careful consideration based on the customer’s desires.
Complicating these choices is the problem that the collectible qualities of some stocks are not readily obvious. The customer has to pay good attention to just what he does receive from the CMP wood wise. Any early Winchester stock with a cartouche remaining visible or not and some of the Springfield SPG era stocks are thought of as collector grade type stocks to some individuals because there are not very many left. A number of actually very nice later issue cartouched stocks come out daily from the CMP. A post war DAS stock should likewise clearly be preserved. An IHC stock with the wood pieces inserted in the butt are the rarest part of early IHC history. The customer should try to determine what was received before altering it if the collectible qualities of the CMP stock are of a concern to them. There are experts available, web sites, and bulletin boards that can more properly address collector issues concerning stocks and their collectible qualities.
Linseed Oil is a natural product best described as a yellowish oil extracted from the seeds of flax grown to make linen. Linseed oil does not dry well and does little to exclude moisture from wood.
Tung Oil is also a natural product best described as a yellow or brownish oil extracted from the seeds of the tung tree. It is also called Chinawood oil. Tung oil does not dry well either and is only slightly better at moisture exclusion than linseed oil.
Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO) is a mixture of linseed oil, a carrier or solvent, and driers. It is superior to pure linseed oil in that it will more completely dry over time and is slightly more waterproof. BLO does not completely cure or dry and multiple coats dry even less well. Boiled Tung Oil (BTO) is a mixture of tung oil, a carrier or solvent, and driers. It is superior to pure linseed oil, pure tung oil, and boiled linseed oil in that it will more likely cure or dry over time and is slightly more waterproof. The BTO finish is slightly harder and more resistant to gun oils and chemicals associated with firearms. None of these four products is really good at excluding moisture from wood.
Minwax Tung Oil Finish is an oil and varnish blend that is much more waterproof and will dry due to added driers. It can be built up into a gloss, but that is not usually done. It is best used as an in the wood finish rather than a built up on the wood finish. Minwax Tung Oil Finish resists scratches and is more resistant to gun oils and chemicals associated with firearms.
The best qualities of Minwax Tung Oil Finish allow it to be wiped on and wiped off properly prepared wood leaving an in the wood finish of a look similar to BLO, but far more stable and protective. A number of coats to clean and repair scratches can be applied without building up on the surface if rubbed in carefully and then rubbed dry. Other finish products with similar sounding names may have far more varnish and behave differently in use. Some are varnishes thinned out enough with carriers and solvents so that they will penetrate into wood and not quickly build a hard film.
Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil is a polymerized natural oil altered by chemicals and heat to produce a varnish like finish but with a few properties of oils. Tru-Oil builds a hard film on the surface of wood unless it is carefully and sparingly rubbed into the wood with none left on the surface. Tru-Oil quickly builds a gloss. Because of its hard film, Tru-Oil resists water penetration well. It also resists gun oils and chemicals associated with firearms better than any of the above products. Its chief virtues are also its chief problems. Repeated coats build up into a gloss which is often not desired.
Marine Spar Varnishes are the most waterproof and stable of the common wood finishes. They adhere well to the surface of wood and resist moisture and chemicals. As a varnish, it tends to build up a gloss and build up surface layers very quickly. Other than for a maximum effort to waterproof a stock, it has limited utility for rifle stock use.
One important consideration of surface finish is the frequency of potential use. Wood saturated with linseed oil, tung oil, boiled linseed oil, or boiled tung oil, does not absorb new applications of those same products well. The end result does not dry well sometimes leaving a sticky mess that will ooze when heated by sunlight or extended firing.
A second consideration is the order of potential use. Wood treated with linseed oil, tung oil, boiled linseed oil, or boiled tung oil can be coated with Minwax Tung Oil Finish or Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil with some success. Once the wood is finished with Minwax Tung Oil Finish or Tru-Oil, then linseed oil, tung oil, BLO or BTO will not penetrate the varnish layer and will not likely dry leaving only a sticky mess on the sealed surface of the wood. Phrased another way, once Minwax Tung Oil Finish or Tru-Oil is used, follow up applictions to repair scatches or damage to the stock or to simply freshen it should to be done with the same product. Linseed oil, tung oil, BLO, or BTO cannot successfully be applied over those more modern finishes because the varnish component seals out the older natural finishes and they will not dry.
Some stock finishing products that do work and last while the USGI look is being recreated during a complete refinishing job are noted here for reference. The following is a group of products that from actual experience work in a predictable manner and give a usually repeatable effect on USGI wood.
5.1 Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher- a dirt, oil, grease, and crud stripper. Use safety gloves and ventilation. (Formby's Conditioning Furniture Refinisher is the same or similar formula as the Minwax stripping product. Sometimes one can be found but not the other brand at stores here or there around the United States.)
5.2 3M Stripping Pads in the finest grades.
5.3 Minwax Wood Finish sealer/stain #209 Natural color.
5.4 Minwax Tung Oil Finish
5.5 Brownell's Catalog, 641-623-5401 or 800-741-0015, www.brownells.com, has some specialty alcohol stains available including:
- R. Gale Lock Company Gun Stain
- #346-069-004 Dark Walnut-"very dark, great on birch and maple stocks."
- #346-165-004 Early American Walnut- "a medium dark walnut with red highlights."
Each 4 ounce bottle would do about 4-5-6 Garand stocks. Either is very nice and they can be mixed before use to vary the color match of hard to match stock sets.
- Chestnut Ridge Military Stock Stain
- #214-100-004 Military Stock Stain
4 ounce bottles are available and mix well with the R. Gale Lock Company Stains
5.6 Birchwood Casey “Tru-Oil”
5.7 Pure real tung oil http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ or Brownell’s #586-501-016 100% Pure Tung Oil
5.8 Boiled Linseed Oil Brownell’s #083-040-016 double boiled, double filtered, driers for 4-6 hour curing
Consumer Warning: Any of the linseed oil or tung oil products in any form generate heat in the curing and drying process. Oily cloths, newspapers, paper towels or any other material saturated with such products has the potential and will on occasion spontaneously burst into open flames. Proper disposal would include air drying in a single layer on a noncombustible surface away from buildings. Alternatively, sealing such materials inside of an airtight metal container until later safe disposal might be done again placed on a non-combustible surface away from buildings. Once thoroughly dry and cured, the oil in the materials no longer generates heat.
The over all concept is simple. Each step is separate and not too complicated. The customer would get the wood bare with Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher. The wood is then stained to the customer’s own tastes knowing the specified alcohol stains can be overlaid layer by layer or mixed together while liquid to make a color or to match colors in mismatched wood such as a Garand butt stock and two separate hand guards. If the colors don’t come out correctly,the Refinisher will remove almost all of the stain so it can be redone.The Minwax Wood Finish #209 Natural sealer/stain seals in the stain colors and enhances the grain of the wood. The Minwax Tung Oil Finish makes a flat finish or shine finish based on what you do with it while it protects the wood. Each product in order does its own part. The end result is a USGI looking finish that is more durable.
6.1 Stripping Off the Old Finish and Other Debris: Walnut and birch are easily worked with, but not cheaply and take some labor if you want a nice job without making a chemical mess of the wood. Any product or procedure that includes water is not appropriate for refinishing rifle stocks. The oven cleaner and dishwasher versions of cleaning stocks are not appropriate. Water, chemicals, and hot water are the death of wood fibers and any cartouche marks on the wood. Wood in many respects is a bundle of straws held together by glue. The active ingredient in Easy-Off Oven Cleaner (sodium hydroxide) attacks the natural wood glue (hemicellulose) holding the wood fibers together. Left on long enough, it will even attack the individual wood fibers. Even more problematic when unintended is that Easy-Off requires rinsing with water which raises the grain of the wood and requires sanding to remove the feathers raised. A dishwasher’s water and heat have the potential to swell wood fibers so much that the metal will not fit back in. Oven cleaners and dishwasher detergents chemically alter the wood fibers and remove natural oils in the wood. A lye like compound may be left in the wood to later leach out if damp and attack the metal placed against it. Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher, synthetic stripping pads, a stiff toothbrush, and a kitchen vegetable brush will get all the old finish off of the hand guards and off of a walnut or birch stock while putting needed natural oils into the wood and keeping the grain flat. Every bit of the stock, inside and out, should be cleaned with the Refinisher including the butt stock kit holes. It is actually good for the wood. Use something like a 3” deep 4” by 10” steel pan to catch the Refinisher that runs off so that the customer can keep applying it. It will run down the wood as the work progresses into the pan to reuse. The directions on the can should be read carefully before use. The can clearly indicatesm the Refinisher must be used in a well ventilated area. The fumes should not be inhaled.
6.2 Steaming Dents If Needed: For easy dent steaming that does not need the spouse’s iron or the customer’s own iron, the following materials should be assembled. These items are all cheaper than ruining the family iron which can never be cleaned right and which will always spit melted varnish and old gun oil onto clothing being ironed.
6.2.1 Metal hot water pot with a whistling spout on a hinge and a round snout. A "tea pot" if you know the phrase. The metal pot with a round snout is the key.
6.2.2 White athletic tape, the old cotton heavy type
6.2.3 A 3' or 4' piece of automotive radiator hose sized so that you can wrap it with tape for a snug fit to put inside the diameter of the tea pot snout. The tape bushes up the OD of the hose to fit the ID of the snout. Size examples would be 5/8" ID and 3/4" OD type hose. The best fit to tea pot is the goal. Garden hose will almost melt from the steam heat and is useless.
6.2.4 Water. Assemble the hose into the snout with the tape after filling the pot with water. Put it on the stove. Heat the water to boiling and then put the burner on Medium Low or Medium depending on how hot the stove is. The customer, the discharge end of the hose, the stock, an oven mitt, and whatever else is wanted is located into the previously cleaned kitchen sink usually nearby the stove. After a couple of minutes of steam going through the hose, the hose will get so hot it quits condensing the steam into hot water and begins ejecting HOT steam where ever the open end is aimed. Thus the need for an oven mitt to hold the hose. Turn on the stove exhaust fan also. The steam will get hot around the customers head. Adjust the burner for the best steam level. The two quarts of water last longer than commonly thought, but will go dry. That is very hard on the pot. An alternative is a tea pot with a straight thin spout that you can slip a hose over tightly. Many of the raised dents will remain black showing through the subsequent stain applications. Some will never turn clean wood colored again no matter the amount of steam or wood stripper applied. Wood that is pressed in often responds to being raised. Wood fibers that are cut do not often raise up much. Gouged away wood will not fill the holes created by prior damage. In some cases, where there are only a few dents in the stock, it might be better to accept the character it affords the wood and not try to remove them.
6.3 Surface Texture Considerations: Surface finish/texture of the wood can be varied from smooth to rough. The synthetic pads smooth the wood very slightly when used with the Refinisher. After the Refinisher totally dries and before staining, the surface can be wetted to raise the grain. A damp cloth rubbed over the wood works. Not soaking the wood, just dampen.
The grain raises a little and opens the wood pores up a little. Left that way on purpose, the wood is more like the condition of most USGI stocks. They have a rough texture if newish. If they are well used and well worn, the wood takes on a very smooth texture. This would be the customer’s choice. Let the stock dry for several days in a warm dry place before staining the wood. In the alternative, once the grain is raised with a little moisture and then dried, the raised grain can be lightly sanded to remove the feathers and make the wood smoother. 100 or 150 grit sandpaper is about appropriate. It will leave the wood feeling rough instead of smooth like furniture. Experiment on a scrap to compare results between different grit sand papers. Sanding removes wood which may or may not be desired based on the customer’s viewpoint. An original USGI stock has a surface texture similar to about 100 grit sandpaper when manufactured and about 150 grit sandpaper after some use helps smooth it up. Finer grit sandpaper only makes the wood smoother and quicker to take a gloss like finish.
6.4 Alcohol Stains to Re-create Red, Brown, Walnut, and Dark Walnut and Color Matching: By use of the appropriate alcohol based stains, a customer’s new rifle stocks can be stained the desired color. Likewise, multiple pieces of wood such as a Garand butt stock and two hand guards can be color matched to enhance appearance. Brownell's R. Gale Lock Company Dark Walnut Gunstock Stain #69 AND Chestnut Ridge Dark Walnut Military Stock Stain "with a hint of red" will let you match the colors when used in the right combinations. Both are needed for the USGI red color, especially with birch. Most light birch stained with two heavy applications of Dark Walnut #69 followed by one light application of Chestnut Ridge will make the birch look like walnut with a touch of red. The Chestnut Ridge stain by itself turns light colored woods a bright red color and is not desirable to most users. It works nicely on dark walnut used sparingly and to a limited extent on medium walnut, but not at all on light birch or light walnut. It never turns the light colored wood walnut colored. The color just gets redder and redder on light woods. It does the same redder and redder color shift when used on light colored walnut also. If the customer has a birch butt stock and nicely colored walnut hand guards, do the butt stock first. Then stain the walnut hand guards with a light application of #69 and a very light application of Chestnut Ridge for red, if needed. The hand guards will come out about the same color as the birch butt stock. If the hand guard color is incorrect, strip it and do it over from the beginning. Leave the butt stock as is. Match the hand guards to the finished butt stock. That is much less work and one less variable. A hand guard is very easy to re-strip and re-do. With a three piece birch Garand stock set, do all three parts the same, but remember to do the butt stock first and match the hand guards to the butt stock. If you have an all walnut stock set, then one heavy coat of #69 and a light coat of Chestnut Ridge gives a very nice USGI color with no further to-do. The real way to figure out what color stains are attractive or matching is to get some pieces of wood and try the colors. Just 1/4" slivers that are smooth on a surface will work. Hobby shops, woodworking stores, big lumber yards, usually have little pieces to try or buy cheap. Put a color here and a second color there and a third color down the sliver. Let it dry and add or change colors so it can be seen what the stains do on a piece of walnut. Birch is hard to find, but an oak dowel or an ash dowel gives a good approximation. Oak is closer to birch than ash in accepting stains. Proceeding one stain step at a time. Let each step dry completely for a day or more so that the color changes are complete as each stain step dries. Then decide which or how much of the next color to do.The #69 has to dry for at least one and preferably two days before oiling the finish with an oxidizing finish such as Tung Oil Finish. Without waiting, the Tung Oil Finish draws out the wet alcohol based stain from the wood shifting the color. Once the stain dries, the alcohol stains are fairly permanent.
6.4a Alcohol Stains to Duplicate Light Colored Walnut: The full strength alcohol stains and mixes described above are stong and dark stains, especially over dark wood. They are attractive and mimic old walnut in color and tone. They tend to form the end color very quickly when used full strength. This section describes a mix of alcohol stains that is also attractive on walnut, but far less dark and far slower in attaining its end color. In that fashion it is easier to work with. The goal with this stain mix is to create a walnut “brown” color with a “red” shift. The base color is brown, but there is a red highlight. Mix the following: 2 (two) parts R.Gale Lock Dark Walnut #69 3 (three) parts Chestnut Ridge Dark Walnut Military Stock Stain
6 (six) parts drugstore “Isopropyl Alcohol 70%” alcohol or perhaps 7 parts. The #69 and the alcohol are fixed proportions and by themselves would form a walnut brown colored stain. The Chestnut Ridge stain is primarily a red colored stain, not brown. 3 (three) parts or perhaps a bit more is needed so that the mix goes to a red shift when tested on a piece of very light wood rather than staying brown colored . A test piece with a brown color means the #69 is still winning the battle of colors and tones. A slight red color is wanted here at the end of testing the mix.
The 3 parts Chestnut Ridge is at the starting point for a red shift in this mix. Add small amounts to the basic mix for a red shift if there is a brown color to start with when testing it. Stop the moment the red begins to show on a light piece of test wood like birch paneling backside. Keep putting a dab down the line on the test wood until there is the shift of color. It will go from brown to slightly red. Then stop. Or stop where the desired more brown or more red is achieved based on individual preference. The effect on clean new walnut, especially light toned walnut, is that of a light airy cheerful natural walnut tone that is warm and even while highlighting the grain. This mix lets the grain show through very nicely.
It is hard to tell the wood has been stained with this mix. It looks like natural wood. It applies very easily and evenly and is forgiving of slowness to rub it in. It dries the same color it looks when wet and never overpowers the natural color of the cleaned wood.
6.4b Importance of Stain Drying Before Any Oil Finish Is Added: Alcohol stains are for staining bare wood. Most alcohol stains have a basic color and a range of tones within that color if you know how to use them or mix them.
Oil type finishes by themselves bring out the grain of the wood and do in fact slightly darken the wood. Part of the darkening effect is from the oils being yellow in the first place, partly from the oil shifting the color balance over a period of time from oxidation, and partly from changing how light reflects back from the wood. The first oil layer usually gives the wood a perceptual "depth" compared to dry stain's "flat" look.
When alcohol stain is put onto bare properly prepared wood directly and as the first step, the alcohol stain dries and the color seen is the final color. Dries means let it set 24 hours in a warm dry place to be safe, but certainly at a bare minimum overnight. On the other hand, when alcohol stain is put over an existing oil finish, especially a recent oil finish, the alcohol stain penetrates the oil to a degree. The alcohol stain does not dry in an hour, overnight, or even soon especially when put into a recent oil finish. The alcohol stain applied into an existing oil finish locks in its color at about the same rate that the oil finish is itself drying. That might be a day, a week, a month, or never, depending on how saturated the wood is with the user's favorite oil.
Until the mix of alcohol stain and oil finish is completely dry, each new layer or application of oil just leeches off and dissolves away random and unknown amounts of the alcohol stain/finish oil mix. The end effect is to remove some or all of the alcohol stain applied through the oil finish. That is why there are color shifts, tone shifts, and major changes in the
finish color and tone when finish oil is used before the alcohol stain followed by more oil finish applications. The alcohol stain and the first applications of oil finish are just washed away, so to speak, and replaced by more fresh oil finish.
As a better practice, if you are trying to color match a set of Garand or other rifle wood with multiple pieces, the proper and predictable method is to apply the alcohol stains, match the colors, and let it dry thoroughly. Overnight at a bare minimum, preferably 24 hours or more. Then the oil or whatever finish coat does not change the color matching.
6.5 Staining Birch Such as Mossberg M44US Stocks and Garand Hand Guards: Where there is only one piece to the stock or you have three pieces in a Garand set that are all the same color to start with a color mix can be made. For a nice color, mix the Gale Lock and Chestnut Ridge colors. This is not the same effect as a coat of one and a coat of the other. Actually mix them in an airtight little bottle. The extra stores well for future use. Pure colors of each will be mixed well. No alcohol is used to dilute the mix.
3 or 4 parts of the Gale Lock dark walnut and 1 part of the Chestnut Ridge is a good mix. One coat will make a walnuty color with a little bit of reddish in it. For more walnut 4:1. For more red highlights 3:1. One coat will make birch very attractive. Usually it will all match if the tones were similar to begin with.
Some pieces of very dense birch with no grain showing defy staining. The alcohol stains expected to make the red color, make instead a medium to deep brown with no hint of red in them at all. When it happens, there is no question. One piece goes reddish and the others stay brownish. One solution is McCloskey’s “Tungseal Oil Based Wood Stain” which seems more like a true varnish in use. McCloskey’s has a color called “red mahogany” which when lightly rubbed into the alcohol stains turns a nice reddish immediately. Only a little should be carefully rubbed in to finish the color matching staining process. Too much will make the wrong red. Other brand red mahogany stains done very lightly may well have the same effect. As with any other varnish containing product, BLO and BTO will not go over the McCloskey’s varnish containing finish in the future.
6.6 Staining Techniques to Preserve Faint Cartouches: The first consideration after removing the dirt and old oil finish is to not cover up the remainder of the stamps on the wood if there are any with collectible qualities and yet give it some color. The faint stamps are often just dirt soaked into the wood where the original stamp was, rather than an actual indented stamp. The usual dark walnut stains or Chestnut Ridge "red" are two intense as they will cover the dirt image. Any walnut alcohol stain or Chestnut Ridge stain would ruin the remainder of the stamp image and can not be undone without also removing the stamps. The solution is to modify the end color sought.
Once steamed, de-dented, and cleaned with Minwax Furniture Refinisher, the basic color to use for preservation of the faint cartouches is Brownell's "R. Gale Lock Co." alcohol stain "1650 Early American Walnut." In order to go slow, the first application would be 1 part stain and 2 parts rubbing alcohol mixed and then spread all over and wiped dry for a day to see what happened. There is a thin red component in the Early American Walnut color. But not the red, red of Chestnut Ridge.
Next day see what the dry color is. Another coat of stronger solution 1:1 or the same 1:2 can be used again as you see the color develop. You have to get a feel for what the hand guards are doing so they end up about the same color. Get the butt stock right and never touch it again. Do the hand guards so they match. If the hand guard color goes wrong, strip it and start over on the hand guard.
Where trying to preserve faint cartouches, the next step for the butt stock is Minwax Wood Finish "Natural #209 Color" stain and sealer. It is neutral in color but brings out the grain and adds depth to whatever color you thought you had. It will usually highlight the faint cartouche. Then turn to the hand guards. If they match the butt stock in stain color, use the
Minwax #209 Natural color on them also.
If you are having trouble getting the hand guards dark enough, instead of the Minwax #209, use McCloskey's TungSeal Oil Base Wood Stain #1937 Walnut color. It is the functional equivalent of similar Minwax products, but is easier to control for color. It will darken the hand guards if needed. The wood with a faint cartouche is now stained without covering the faint
markings. Or hopefully so. If this procedure fails, little else was likely to work either.
6.7 Optional Sealing of Alcohol Stains: Minwax Wood Finish stain/sealer #209 Natural Color can be used to enhance the wood grain contrasts. It also locks in the alcohol stains and keeps the oxidizing finishes from changing the colors so much. It does this by sealing out the over penetration of finishes. It works well once all the old dirt and grease and oil and stain is off of and out of the wood. The #209 is used after the wood is newly stained to match and dried completely. Very completely dried. Make sure you do all the inside surfaces and up the butt stock kit holes with the #209.
The #209 isn't absolutely necessary but does help to waterproof the wood a small bit. It also brings out the wood grain color variations better than the stains do. Stain is for color and #209 is for contrast in the colors and sealing in the stain colors. It makes the wood ever so slightly darker and gives the wood color depth or translucency. The #209 helps to seal in the alcohol stains. The Tung Oil Finish would make the wood darker anyhow so it doesn't matter
darkness wise. The Tung Oil Finish does not bring out the grain color contrasts as well, however.
The #209 is a highly penetrative very dilute varnish mix that goes into the wood and dries. It is not suitable for use under BLO or BTO. The #209 works well under Minwax Tung Oil Finish for which it is intended.
6.8 Minwax Tung Oil Finish: Use the Tung Oil Finish either over the alcohol stain or over the #209. Minwax Tung Oil Finish rubbed in will complete a very nice military looking finish. Coat the wood, let it sit for a few minutes until the Tung Oil Finish starts to feel slightly sticky and thicken, but do not let it dry. Clean it off quickly with toweling material rubbing firmly with the grain of the wood until it looks "clean" on the wood surface. Do not leave it "on" the wood surface. It should be "in" the wood. Let it dry overnight. The next day, repeat for a military looking finish and then stop.
The Tung Oil Finish is intended to be used one of two ways. (1) Worked into the wood drop by drop stretching the finish and rubbing it into the wood just like you would BLO. (2) Quickly coated inside and out with a thick layer of wet Tung Oil Finish and then wiped dry with toweling material almost as soon as the entire stock or hand guard set is well wetted. With
experience the user might let it soak in/dry a bit for a minute or two, but the idea is to get it wiped down completely while still wet. What went into the wood dries and does its job. The excess on top of the wood is wiped off. Two coats are all that is needed. More than that just builds up on the surface. If by accident it dries too long, a cloth wetted with fresh Tung Oil
Finish will remove what was starting to dry out too quickly. The refinisher would be well advised not to let it dry too long.
The Tung Oil Finish, or the #209 for that matter, penetrates the wood. Either has the ability to “bleed” out of the wood after the refinisher thinks it is wiped down clean while the product is curing. This usually happens at the places where the end grain shows. The result is a little dot of finish or sealer coming out of the wood. If it dries in place, it makes a hard glossy
dot. The little spots should be wiped off before they dry to avoid the glossy spots on a dull finish.
If a shinny bright luster is wanted, hand rub and stretch the 3rd or 4th coat and the finish will shine. One drop at a time, inch by inch, rub it in for the look wanted. That is what stretching means.
As an alternate, more durable, much more waterproof finish which is not original and does not look original, Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil can be used instead of the Minwax Tung Oil Finish. The Tru-Oil is a way to make wood nearly waterproof. It is just used instead of the Minwax Tung Oil Finish stage. The Tru-Oil is rubbed in drop by drop over the stock, inch by
inch, and when it dries it is dry forever. If Tru-Oil is rubbed into the wood, it looks somewhat like oil, but a lot harder. If the Tru-Oil is allowed to build up on top of the wood, it has a sheen to a shine to a gloss depending on how many coats are used. Soldiers used it in the service, but it isn't really the USGI original BLO or BTO, just more durable.
Whether using the Tru-Oil or the Minwax Tung Oil Finish, the most important part of any stock is the end grain within the inletting, the buttplate, and the stock fittings. The end grain absorbs water far faster than the side aspect of the wood grain does. End grain wood fibers look like a box of drinking straws viewed from the open ends. Wood has holes with spaces between the tubes. Wood wetted by the end grain drawing water into it dries out in terms of weeks and months, not days. The interior of the stock needs as much or more waterproofing than does the exterior.
For a new to the customer stock that is simply dry, not too dinged up, and where it is desired to give the wood added protection, and the stock pieces match in colors well enough, one of a few things may work well:
8.1 Minwax "Tung Oil Finish" rubbed in so none is on top of the wood, but rubbed into the wood. This leaves a nice oil looking finish, protects the wood, cleans it of surface and embedded dirt some, and usually does a good job. For the minimum necessary, this is a good starting point.
8.2 McCloskey's "Tungseal Oil Based Wood Stain" "Natural #1969" gives protection like Minwax Tung Oil Finish and shows up the grain in the wood nicely without adding color.
8.3 McCloskey's "Tungseal Oil Based Wood Stain" "Walnut #1937" gives protection and adds color to the grain if desired.
Both Tungseal colors should be rubbed into the wood and none left of top of the wood. They penetrate well on walnut and some on birch. The two in combination can subtlely match colors. The natural will not darken a dark piece and the Walnut will darken a light piece, at least a little.
Please note that the Minwax and McCloskey products contain a varnish component. If they used for this purpose, BLO and BTO will not penetrate the varnish layer in the future as was discussed above.
8.4 If the future use of BLO or BTO is desired or contemplated, then either BLO or BTO can be used to rub down a dry old chalky stock to restore color and highlight the grain while removing dirt and old finish. The use of cheesecloth, the cotton open weave material, and a lot of elbow grease will do wonders to freshen an unattractive stock.
A collector stock should receive more careful care and three of the products listed in the "Freshening" section above all contain some varnish/resin/polymer content in addition to the Tung Oil base with yet some dryers added. Any of the three would work and look nice but multiple coats build up which is not wanted. Those products are not appropriate for a stock with collector qualities because of the varnish content. As a practical matter, the “formula” tung oils are not original and should not be used to clean a collector stock.
A better choice would be pure real tung oil. The new owner probably does not want to clean the wood or hand guards with anything else before using some pure, real, tung oil. No additives, no dryers, no polymers, no nothing besides pure tung oil. Tung oil will dissolve the dried crud and remove dirt on its own just fine.
All that the new owner needs to do to clean a collector stock of crud and whatever else is to get some cheese cloth, the funny open weave stuff, and use some pure tung oil to wet it. As the wood is rubbed with the cloth and tung oil, the new oil will dissolve the old crud that is dried and stuck on. The cheese cloth will collect the crud and carry it away as the cloth is turned.There is nothing more needed to clean a real USGI stock in near perfect condition. ANY complicated formula product that is used will take away finish, stain, wood and so on. The result will be other than original. Some collectors believe that any cleaning by any means creates a non-original result and that nothing should be done to that quality of stock so as to preserve its historical originality. Again, there are choices to be made by a new owner. What is very clear is that mineral spirits, turpentine, paint thinner, refinisher, strippers, sand paper, steel wool, abrasive pads, any thing besides soft cloth, will cut the wood and take the color and finish away. Most people feel these things should not be done to a collector grade stock.
Cheese cloth, pure tung oil, and a bit of elbow grease will clean the stock, leave it protected, and it will look perfect. Don't let the tung oil sit on the top of the wood wet or soak in forever or even worse dry on the surface. Clean the wood and then wipe it dry to cure as soon as the user is finished cleaning. What soaked in while rubbing and was left in the wood as wiped
dry is good enough. Stop there.
The best rule of collector wood is that the less you do the less can get messed up. BLO or BTO might be considered to work for this application, but pure real tung oil will clean wood well and is not as likely to dry up suddenly from rubbing generated heat.
If you counted day by day, about the minimum for what needs to be done to completely refinish a well used stock would be:
Day 1: Remove metal and use finish remover. Garand stock ferrules are usually just as well left attached.
Day 2: Let it dry well and let the finish remover's oils soak all the way in (Minwax Refinisher).
Day 3: Steam dents out which makes the wood wet to an extent.
Day 4, 5, 6: Let the steamed wood dry in a warm dry place with air circulation.
Day 7: Sand if desired or feather out the wood grain raised from the steaming.
Day 8: Let dry.
Day 9, 10, 11: Stain knowing each alcohol based color or application or new mix to color match needs 24 hours to dry so that the next color doesn't lift the first out of the wood.
Day 12: Sealer applied.
Day 13: Let sealer dry extra well.
Day 14, 15, 16: Two coats or perhaps three coats of finish each rubbed in and then a day to dry for each.
Often the customer will not know what the stains will look like for sure until they have had a day to dry. Oxidizing finishes remove much of the alcohol stains that are not completely dry down in the wood unless the alcohol stains are sealed into the wood. The alcohol stains may seem to dry fast, but the stain that penetrates deeply is not necessarily dry. It is better to wait. Likewise, the top finish "layers" and "coats" ideas often tossed about are sometimes done so soon or close together by some refinishers that the new wet coat just dissolves much of the prior partially dry coat off. This is where the sticky partially dry clumped oil often originates from. The new layer does look nice when wet and then partially dries before the next too soon wet coat goes on. The finish really doesn't build up or get thicker, it just keeps being changed if redone too soon.
The Boyd stocks can be difficult to deal with for a beginning woodworker. Some come with a very light colored walnut that had a black stain applied without a hint of brown or red in it. The stocks may not be nicely colored walnut, but frequently have a nice grain. The stocks may have a coating of linseed oil partially dried IN the wood. The wood may not seem sticky
when cool, but places can bleed out and dry on top of the wood in lumps. The stocks seem quite fat compared to the USGI ones. The corners of the wood seem too sharp. The trigger guards frequently sit so deep into the wood that the shooter can not get the trigger finger on the trigger correctly. Most Boyd stock users believe a number of these things can be improved upon cosmetically and functionally. This would include:
11.1 Make sure the trigger group will lock up. The wood trigger guard surfaces may need fitting ever so slightly. If it will lock up all the way, don't touch it. Tighter is better. Tight yes, but not destroying the trigger guard pins tight in a Garand. Fitting the trigger guard pads at the rear of the trigger guard inletting and fitting the magazine well flats is an art form. Such
work should only be attempted by a customer that thoroughly understands the mechanical relationships involved and has the advanced woodworking skills to artfully do the job. Other parts of the Boyd process are easier.
11.2 Adjust the contour of the area left and right of the trigger guard so that it follows the arc of the pistol grip opening up the trigger finger area and continues the arc back down to the front of the trigger guard blending the contours as needed. Sand slowly with 150 grit paper and check it often. It is work. Unless the customer is a pro with a Dremel Tool, sand slowly by hand.
11.3 Break the corners of the wood where they are too sharp or too square. Corners will just chip and dent if left square. A rounded corner is a lot stronger shape formed in the wood. On the hand guards, break the front and rear corners of each piece. Cover the metal with electrical tape so that the metal is not sanded by accident as the corners are given a radius. It
takes away the overly supple look of the hand guards.
11.4 Strip the whole stock set with the Minwax Furniture Refinisher. It is the only way to get the linseed oil and stain out of what was not sanded.
11.5 Lightly sand the whole stock with 100 or 150 grit paper so the surface is all the same, but NOT any of the top of the stock surfaces where any of the receiver sets. Keep that whole top area untouched. Also keep untouched the magazine well flats required for a tight lock up.
11.6 Take some of the Dark Walnut stain and mix it with some of the Chestnut Ridge stain. Make the mix about 3:1 or 4:1 Dark Walnut to Chestnut Ridge. Put one medium application on, stop, and let it sit for a day or two to dry out. See if the result is attractive. It should be close to a nice color.
11.7 If the color of the wood is attractive at this point, use the #209 Natural stain/sealer to seal the wood, inside and out. It will make the Boyd walnut grain look a lot nicer and bring out more color.
11.8. Use Minwax Tung Oil Finish to complete the job.
The foregoing has been furnished to assist most beginners in avoiding the many common mistakes that damage or devalue original USGI wood. By understanding the goals and priorities involved and by picking and choosing appropriate techniques to use modern materials, the stocks and hand guards from the CMP can be refinished in a manner to duplicate the look and feel of USGI original wood. Customers unsure of their skills who still desire an enhanced stock and hand guard set should consider consulting a professional refinisher on what to do and how to do it. For other stocks and hand guards, little or no change from the original as received condition would be appropriate, no matter who does the work. The customer must make his own decisions.