by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
Today’s report is Part 4 of reader Vana’s excellent report on stock making.
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And now, over to you, Hank.
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:
- The Firewood stock
- Why firewood?
- How do we do this?
- Some design considerations
- Is your wood dry enough?
- What if I want to start right now?
- Microwaving wood – how does it work?
- Art or science?
- Microwaving wood summarized
- Working with the blocks
The Firewood stock
And now for something completely different – an additive construction stock made from firewood. I’ve made a couple of these and have been pleased with the results — there’s lots of artistic opportunity to make a stock that is special.
I’ve been experimenting with different wood finishes. Here I have used Howard Feed-N-Wax wood polish and conditioner and followed up with an application of paste wax. Howard’s is a blend of beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil that penetrates well and leaves a nice matte finish.
Firewood cut into slices and dressed into blocks for gluing.
Locally, a maple board large enough to make a stock (2 x 8 x 48 inches) is about $50.00. Firewood has a number of advantages over hardwood boards — it is readily available, inexpensive and comes in a size that can be managed with general shop tools. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, chances are that a friend or neighbor who does will gladly donate a couple of pieces just to see how your stock turns out.
How do we do this?
From chunks of firewood to a block of hardwood to a rifle forend – just add glue and remove the wood that is not needed.
Lumber is cut from a log by ripping with the grain; firewood is cut across the grain. For making a firewood stock, I continue to cut slices across the grain then cut them into suitable shapes.
To build the stock, I’ll place the blocks on the cardboard layout cutting the shapes as needed. Once I am satisfied with the arrangement I will number all the pieces and add alignment marks to use for reference when gluing. To speed the process, I’ll glue up adjacent pairs of blocks then glue those pairs together once the first joint has set.
Similar to the Try-Gun stock, I will glue up a block for the forend, machine that to fit the receiver; then I’ll glue on the grip section and shape that and then continue to add wood to complete the rest of the stock as I go. The nice thing about making a stock this way is if something is not right you can just cut it off and add another piece.
Here I have added the pieces for the grip area and am ready to start shaping. The cheek-piece and the butt section will be added in the same way.
In keeping with the “camo” theme for this stock, I have added blocks of contrasting color and grain in a random pattern. Another approach is to use rectangular blocks cut from a log and glued together in the same orientation. This creates regular repeating pattern that is very nice as well.
Some design considerations
Because the wood is cut across (at 90 degrees to) the grain, it is not going to be as strong as wood cut with the grain. Stocks made this way are fine for PCPs and rifles that do not take a large amount of force to cock/pump. If you want to make one for a magnum springer, though, I would recommend that you reinforce the high stress areas. I have never had one break but it is easy enough to reinforce the grip area with an imbedded pin (a dowel or screw) for added strength. One option is to cut the blocks at 45 degrees to the grain for increased strength in critical areas. I would not use cross-cut wood for a thumbhole stock design unless the sections in the grip area were reasonably thick and reinforced.
Is your wood dry enough?
In suggesting firewood as a stock material I need to talk about its moisture content. For stability, it is important that the blocks are well seasoned before they are used.
When people say dry firewood, it usually means that the logs have been cut and seasoned six months to a year. Considering that green wood air dries at a rate of about 1 inch of thickness per year, most dry firewood will still have a lot of moisture in it.
To have a supply of dry hardwood wood for my projects I keep a pile of selected firewood in the garage where there is good air circulation and it can dry naturally. I coat the end-grain of the logs with a sealant (wood glue or two coats of latex paint) and mark them with the date. It is best to keep the wood out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources, as drying wood too quickly will cause the pieces to check. Small checks are not a concern as they can be repaired with a drop of CA.
What if I want to start right now?
If you are in a hurry to dry some wood, the pieces can be seasoned using a microwave. Microwave drying is more of an art than a science (probably because there are so many variables) and there are many ways of doing it shown on the WEB. The two universally accepted rules about microwaving wood are, don’t use the kitchen microwave and don’t leave it unattended while heating the wood. I think that is good advice. I picked up my workshop microwave for 5 bucks at a garage-sale — if you go looking for one make sure it has a rotating table.
Microwaving wood – how does it work?
All you need is a microwave. The note book, scale and moisture meter are optional equipment.
Art or science?
In trying to make a science out of the art of microwaving wood, this is what I do. I sort the pieces by type (I’m using cherry and maple which dry at different rates) and by size. I will make groups of 6 and label them. Then the groups will be weighed (on a kitchen scale) and notes made.
With everything prepared, I will determine the initial heating time for the group by microwaving at 20 percent power with the timer set for 10 minutes — I’ll interrupt the heating every minute and check the temperature until I find the time to reach “very warm to touch”. This will give me a baseline for this group and an idea of how much time will be needed for the other groups.
To dry the wood I will load the microwave with a group, blocks on their edges (end-grain exposed) with the thin end of the pieces toward the center, thick ends to the perimeter like the spokes of a wheel. This is shown in the photo, above. The group is microwaved at 20% power for the appropriate time then left to cool in the high humidity environment inside the microwave to stabilize. Don’t open the microwave door for 30 minutes after you finish.
When the timer goes off I will remove the group, weigh it and make notes. Then I’ll wipe the inside of the microwave with a towel and do the next group. I repeat the cycle as needed (up to 5 times in a day) then rest the wood over night to let it stabilize. When it has 10 to 12 percent moisture content it is done. If you don’t have a moisture meter then it is considered to be dry when the weight of the group stops changing. As a good indicator, there will be a noticeable change in the amount of moisture condensing in the microwave as the groups dry out.
You have to be aware that as the wood loses moisture it will not take as long to heat. Some people rush the drying with a good blast near the end of the process. I prefer to be gentler and use shorter cycles (less heating time and a 15-minute cooling time between each heat).
Microwaving wood summarized
My detailed comments aside, microwave drying of wood is really a simple process. You heat the wood then let it cool and stabilize in the microwave. You want to do this gently and gradually and let the stresses in the wood relax.
Working with the blocks
The blocks of firewood can be any shape, the only thing that is important is that they are cut and prepared such that the edges to be glued are at 90 degrees to the slice. When cutting slices off the log (a cross-slide jig for the saw is recommend), it is difficult to keep the two surfaces parallel. To avoid an issue I mark an X one side to identify it as the reference plane.
These are the gluing steps I follow; please see the text for details. The red reference lines and black alignment marks are for the picture, they are usually lightly drawn in pencil.
Gluing the blocks together can be a bit challenging as their shape defies clamping. To get around the clamping problem I use a drop of cyanoacrylate (CA) to hold the blocks together while the wood glue sets.
If you are creating a pattern of blocks or grain, it’s a good idea to have alignment marks penciled on both blocks for reference. What works for me is to mask-off a small area on both surfaces with some tape, wipe the surfaces with a damp cloth to clean off any dust and take the dryness off the wood ( #1 above). Apply a thin, even layer of wood glue to both surfaces (you should be able to see the wood grain through the glue #2), then remove the tape and apply a drop of CA glue on the clear, bare wood and press the blocks together firmly, holding them tight until the CA glue grabs (#3). Given a couple of minutes to set up, multiple blocks can be glued together quickly. Properly made, there should be a small amount of glue squeezed from the joint to show there was enough there and the parts will cling together (#4).
So there you have it — a crash course in stock making. I’ve gone into enough detail to get you on your way and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have.
The best thing I can suggest is to grab a board and bash out a couple of spruce stocks. Don’t worry how they turn out, just carve wood until you are comfortable with the process. Learn your tools and what you can do with them. As experience accumulates there will be less mistakes and solutions are more obvious.
We are not finished with this report yet. Because you readers asked, I am adding Part 5 that includes surface preparation, checkering and such, and Part 6 that covers finishes and how to apply them.
If I have managed to convince a few people to try making their own stocks then I’ll feel that I succeeded in writing this blog. For those who do, please share pictures of your masterpieces so we can all admire them!