Gunstocks and Stockmaking

Gunstocks and Metalwork

Creating a stock for a rifle or a shotgun is very time consuming and sometimes tedious, but strangely at the same time rewarding and therapeutic.

While a rationale can be made for starting with a semi-inlet or a pre-carved stock, I prefer to start with a blank.  The use of a blank allows several advantages. First, total control of the outcome, i.e. many semi-inletted stocks are over inlet or contain machining ‘dings’ when received. Second, a blank allows the use of a transparent template of the stock outline to utilize the best grain flow. Third, a blank allows the inclusion of specific dimensions such as drop at the nose of the comb and heel of the stock as well as cast-off or cast-on, pitch of the butt plate, length of pull and so on. 

The following is not intended to be an all inclusive treatise on stockmaking, rather I hope to illustrate the very basics and perhaps give a few tips.

When purchasing a blank, buy from a reputable source who can tell you when the wood was cut and how it was dried. Moisture content should be around 8%.  If you like fancy wood and are willing to pay that’s good, but remember whether fancy or plain, workmanship determines a fine stock. Also be aware that the fancier the wood, the more likely are interior surprises such as bark inclusions, voids, etc. which will require filling.

To start, make a template of the new stock from 1/8″ Plexiglas which is taken from an original stock or a paper pattern. Make the template about 1/4″ oversize in all dimensions.  Drill a hole at each end of the template. Every gun has a “starting place” from which everything else emanates, find it on your project. On a Mauser it is the bottom of the action and the recoil lug, on an American longrifle it is the breech end of the barrel and the tang (actually the starting place is the face of the breech plug because it relates to placement of the lock), on the Winchester High Wall shown here, the starting place is the bottom of the upper tang.

With the “starting place” located, approximate it’s position on your template. Put the template on your blank and move it around to best utilize the grain flow.  Remember to follow the flow of the grain in the area of the wrist, i.e. the flow should be parallel. Trace around the template with a bright Magic Marker or something that you will be able to readily see at the bandsaw.  Mark the stock through the two holes you drilled so that the template can be easily relocated.  Go over to your bandsaw and cut out the pattern toward the outside of the Magic Marker line, don’t worry you will have plenty of material if you got the template right. Once sawed out, establish a center line completely around the stock, be careful and accurate here as it pays big dividends. This is the time to consider ‘cast-off’ or ‘cast-on’, usually something in the area of 3/16″ at the heel and toe of the stock.

With the blank sawed out and center lines established, relocate your   template (align the two spots that relate to the drilled holes in the template) and transpose the “starting point” on the side of the blank.   If your layout is accurate (always double check), you are ready to start.

Make whatever cuts, by hand or machine to allow the wood “starting point” to approach fitting the mating metal “starting point”.  Use transfer bluing or candle soot on the metal, lightly press it down in the correct place so that the transfer indicates additional wood removal. Remember to keep center lines and horizontal/vertical axis in their correct perspective. 


Left picture illustrates the “starting Point” on a Winchester High Wall.  The tang which is flat on the bottom keeps going rearward in the preliminary mating flat cut. The surface of this cut is the “starting point” from which the rest of the buttstock evolves. As the larger portion to the action approaches the wood, all stock material indicated by the ink is removed. Finally an indication of a precise fit is shown by the remnants of a uniform blue transfer all around the mating surfaces. In this case, a good deal of preliminary wood removal has been done in the wrist area.  The brighter cuts (those not blurred by ink) in the front of the tang inlet allow clearance for the sear spring and its screw. Pieces such as these are re-installed and fitted to the wood one at a time.

The two  photos below show the center line of the buttstock. Watch and maintain these lines and their relationship to other parts. Later, the lines will be very helpful in shaping the stock.



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