by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is Part 3 of reader Vana’s excellent report on stock making.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.

And now, over to you, Hank.

Part 1
Part 2

Slavia 618
This is my original 55 year old Slavia 618 in its new “firewood” stock. I made this one in a “camo” style, using cherry and maple blocks in a random arrangement of the pieces.

This report covers:

  • Parts of the hand
  • The model
  • Getting ready
  • About the grip
  • Carving the grip
  • The Try-Gun stock
  • Summary

Parts of the hand

parts of the hand
Legend: These are parts of the hand that I will reference in my discussion of the grip.

I made this legend so that it will be easier to follow my explanations. In the picture, my grip is relaxed and open so I can label the parts clearly. When actually holding the grip, my thumb (1st Digit) would wrap around the grip causing the Thenar region to move down to follow the top of the Palmar region perimeter (purple line), and the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers would be curled in more.

Try closing your hand as if holding the grip on your rifle and look inside you will see the relationship of the planes formed by the areas between the creases and the palmar region and the thumb. This is easiest to see if we make a model to work from.

The model

grip
To help visualize your grip it is useful to make a Plasticine clay model. The line colors match those used in the legend above.

The closer we can duplicate those angles and forms the more comfortable/consistent our grip will be because the grip conforms to the hand. We don’t need to carve every detail but a model will show you the size, shape and angles of the humps, hollows and planes that will be the most comfortable to hold.

When I was a kid I would spend hours sculpting Plasticine modeling clay. Don’t know if that company is still around but I bought two packages of modeling clay at the dollar store. So for those who missed using this clay as a child — here is your chance to correct that! My lump of clay is currently disguised as a large orange leopard frog!

If you make a model, work the modeling clay to warm it up, form it into a cylinder on a rigid base (like a coffee cup coaster) and squeeze it into shape. Keep in mind that the grip on the rifle will be more
relaxed than the one you used to form the clay so once you have the basic shape you will have to reform the model to your normal grip.

Getting ready

grip 2
Here I’ve rough cut the grip and installed a temporary tenon to hold things in alignment while shaping.

I will be making the grip larger (green line) than the original so I have left a generous amount of wood for shaping. The extra wood below and to the right of the actual grip is to give me somewhere to put my clamp.

clamping the grip
A solid non-slip surface makes shaping easier and safer.

About the grip

The grip is your most critical interface with the rifle. You can opt for a simple grip as found on commercial stocks or you can get creative. As an exercise for understanding how the shape influences the hold I will be carving a detailed grip for these stocks.

Since the shape of the grip has such a strong influence on how the rifle is held, I prepare several blocks of wood so I can experiment with different styles and shapes. A more vertical “target grip” encourages my arm to come closer to my body and increases stability. A more angled “hunting grip” causes me to raise my elbow which allows more freedom in stance and increases mobility. The angle on the “plinking grip” I made on the Try-Gun and firewood stocks is a compromise typical of many commercial stocks.

tracing and roughing out the grip
Tracing and roughing out the grip.

I prefer a relaxed grip on my rifle and rely on the shape of the grip to positively locate my hand and to hold everything firmly while I shoot. To achieve this I pay close attention to how I shape the hypolinear region of my palm, lower edge of my 5th finger and where my whole thumb fits to the stock (red dashed lines).

The positioning of the distal crease (yellow dashed line) relative to the proximal crease (not shown here) is important as that is the fulcrum from where the clamping pressure from the finger tips (which stops the rifle from canting) is applied.

In the picture above, the dashed yellow line shows the location of the distal crease for the 5th digit and the beginning of the curved area that blends into the fingertips of the 3rd and 4th digits. A correctly located middle crease allows the rifle to be held firmly with very little hand tension. Too thick or too thin a grip requires more effort to hold steady. On most of my angled grips I focus on the proximal and distal crease locations and don’t worry about the middle crease much.

Carving the grip

Carving the grip is the part that I like best. I use a “carving burr” mounted in an electric drill for most of the work but will also use a wood gouge chisel, a half-round file and 60-grit sandpaper for the shaping. I prefer a drill instead of a Dremel motor tool because I can easily change the speed and direction of rotation, forward or reverse to suit the wood grain – you want to be cutting down into the wood fibers, not lifting splinters.

I start the carving by rounding off the corners of the rough cut grip to make it easier to hold. To determine my hand position on the grip, I attach the grip to the forend (with tape) and install the
receiver (and scope if applicable) and raise the rifle to the shooting position. I’ll experiment with my hand and arm position until I find something comfortable and then trace my hand and fingers onto the wood.

Since the rough cut grip is much thicker that the finished one I have to approach the final shape slowly. All the shaping is done by feel, removing wood a bit at a time to bring your hand/arm into position – carving in one area will affect all the other areas. The sequence I follow is; the trigger finger (2nd digit); thenar and hypolinear regions and the thumb (1st digit) position. Once these areas are feeling ok (wrist angle and rotation are good, arm position is comfortable), I will start working on the proximal and distal creases paying particular attention to the lower edge of my “pinky” (5th digit). By carving the whole grip and checking frequently (with the forend attached) I can make the needed adjustments as I go.

I know when I am done shaping when I raise the rifle to the shooting position it feels natural and comfortable. When properly fitted, I can’t feel any high spots and the grip conforms to my hand so closely that I don’t notice it at all.

If you check the image (above) you can see how some of the carved portions are different from the original tracings. To me, the 5th digit is an important “key” and I carve it carefully, the areas for the 3rd and 4th fingers can be carved in detail as I prefer or just simplified. There is nothing wrong with carving one flat area for the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers as long as the angle and location of the distal crease is correct relative to the proximal crease.

The Try-Gun stock

Try Gun stock
Putting it all together and removing the rough edges.

With the forend and grip completed I’ll cut the blocks for the cheek-piece and butt. I like to cut a tongue & groove in the butt, cheek-piece and the back of the grip as it is easier to keep things aligned when I tape them together for fitting. I’ll use a straight cut if I plan to glue the parts to make a finished stock. The only things left to do are rounding the top edge of the cheek-piece and cutting a shoulder curve in the butt in preparation for fitting.

Now the receiver (and scope) can be assembled with the rest of the stock and the pieces positioned for a comfortable fit.

For a Try-Gun stock I tape the components together so they can be readjusted (or replaced with different pieces) as required. To make a permanent stock I’ll glue everything together, remove all the “rough edges” and finish the surface to the smoothness needed. The size and thickness of the cheek piece affects the balance of the rifle but other than that consideration the shape can be whatever you want. If I am making a template for a hardwood stock I will leave the spruce stock properly shaped but fairly rough. It’s starting to look like a nice little carbine!

Summary

In this part we have discussed and carved the grip and finished the Try-Gun stock. Because it influences the hold of the rifle so much I consider it to be the most important part of the stock.

With a bit of experience under your belt you may want to make a hardwood stock. We’ll talk about that in the next part.