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Gunstock Blanks

More than you want to know ... c/;?)

Following are quite a few paragraphs of depressing realities as they relate to figured wood and gunstocks. BUT!!! There is hope at the bottom of the page. If you must - read that part first - then brace for the truth of the text above as we discuss what goes into the making of a figured stock.

Clarification added 1-23-03 -
There's a part that everybody forgets when discussing the cost of stock wood. That's this: Somebody has to take the blank and MAKE it into a stock. The prices I charge INCLUDE this highly specialized labor. Therefore; when you find a chunk of wood on the net for $500, you get just that ... A CHUNK of wood ... period. Then, all you need is a highly skilled craftsman with a shop full of tools and the time/skills to design, profile, inlet, shape, grind, sand, and finish your chunk into a stock. When you see where I've listed an optional stock at $500 .... the skilled craftsman, and the tools, and the time are INCLUDED. Additionally; if I've told you I'll use your own blank for a surcharge, that's for the skilled craftsman, tools, and labor. It's the DIFFERENCE between working a softer pc. of predictable straight grained walnut and working a temperamental blank of unknown origin.

There's a heck of a difference between a "blank" and a "stock".

No matter the industry you are in, there will be an issue which comes up constantly which is difficult to explain to your clients. After you've explained it ...... it won't matter. It will continue to come up on a regular basis.

If you are in the home improvement business, it will be "homeowners who want to help". If you are NASA, it will be Rock Stars who want a ride on the Space Shuttle. You'll immediately know what your issue is. If you make rifles, it will be "gunstock blanks". Obviously ... every rifle has one. However; what it's made from is not a simple choice.

Ahhhh ... the internet. You can punch up sites all day which show pretty pics of knock 'yer eye out grain and color. No ... those are not priced ... it's POR (price on request). And, if you e-mail or call, you are likely to get nowhere. The prices actually listed (blanks not shown) go something like ... Grade Super Duper ... (excellent color and grain throughout) ... $100. Permit me to laugh. Just isn't true.

Sites will vary from those with pics that look like they were shot through a pr. of pantyhose, to those with color straight from Disney. You'll go nuts trying to determine if these are actual serial numbered, inventoried blanks or if they are "representative" of blanks they think they can match (or once had). And, then who's problem is it when the blank arrives with serious flaws, or is otherwise not as represented?

When I explain the nature of figured woods to folks, it's much like explaining the nature of a high maintenance blond to an 80 year old multi-billionaire. Still, it's true. Like the blonde ... the more highly figured ... the higher the maintenance. ;?)

But ... back to wood ...

The figure is caused by a tortured grain structure. This means it's under stress.

But ... back to wood ...

When you machine figured wood, it will stress relieve. That can mean warps, cracks, twists, splits and shrinkage. What you machine today can be banana shaped tomorrow. You must sneak up on the blank veeeeery carrrrefully. Machine it some and then run away (hoping it didn't see you) and then let it "normalize" for awhile. I'm quite serious. If you plough a deep groove the length of it, and grind it down to profile, and you'll never get the action in that long winding groove a week later.

About this time, you're probably wondering ... "what's the matter with this guy? .... doesn't he like pretty stocks .... I just want a nice stock ... good grief..." Right ... I understand ... I'm explaining what that involves. Please understand that since wood is a natural product - every pc. is different. One thing that's universal though ... the blanks which everyone want, are an absolute nightmare to work.

I'll hit you with the punch line here 'cause some are fading now. I'll explain more on the bottom of the page. Here's the deal: I'm regularly sent url's from folks who find them. They hope they've solved all my wood problems. I appreciate the thought, but it hasn't been that way so far. However; if you must, go ahead and buy your blank and send it to me. I'll charge you a flat fee to use yours. $450-750, depending upon what it is, so budget that in. Why on earth? I have to use a pc. of wood anyway ... why not just use yours?

Reason: Because it's not a simple swap out of wood for wood. It's complicating this stockmaking phase of the project ten fold. That's dealing with the initial blank. It is flawed, is it dry, does it fit, is it cracked, is there bug damage, even ... is there foreign matter into it? The fee is to cover having the thing in the way for all the endless normalizing sessions during machining. It's for the repeated set-ups because I'm not going to let the blank on the machines for weeks on end. In short ... it's for the pain of the whole thing.

Now ... I am highly qualified to work the blank (28 years professionally and many more before that working woods). However; ... if the blank has flaws in it, cracks, worm holes, voids, etc. Or; if the grain runs across the wrist, or pops out when machined properly with extremely sharp tools ... Or; if the whole thing twists into an unusable state after machining ... it's simply a loss. Sounds cold but ... what else can I do? I didn't grow the stuff.

Let's continue with the "Whys?" for those interested.

The old timers looked for the lightest, strongest, straightest wood from which to make stocks. It's stable that way. You can shave it with planes and hand cutters. Woodworking 101 tells you to never run a cutter "against the grain". Figured woods have the grain running every way to Sunday. You can't run a cutter any way "but" against the grain in figured wood. Tools must be extra, extra sharp. Spindle speeds must be exactly right or you'll pop out chunks of wood where the figured grain changes direction. Clamping must be done very carefully or you'll break hollow areas.

Some figured woods have all the structural integrity of an oatmeal cookie. They'll break, unless you have them stabilized (turning them into plasticized wood fiber). If you read the print on the wood net sites, they'll tell you the same thing. You must allow the wood to "normalize" between operations. You sneak it down to the final size and profile. You machine it some and then let it go ahead and warp. You true it up about a week later from the oversized waste you left in place. You machine it some more and let it warp again. Sound like fun? You machine a groove (praying all the while), and then slowly back away and let it "normalize" again. Of course, you take it out of the machine and trip over it for a week in between each operation. It goes on like this. You do "nothing" as you would when working with a regular straight grained blank. Every edge or corner is just waiting to pop off. But ... it sure is pretty, I can see that.

Just to drive you over the edge with a final example ... we're gonna mow your yard in the same way you make a figured stock. It's Monday. Let's get the mower out. Ok good. Whoaaaa there .... that's it for today. Just let it "normalize" now. Wednesday ... we fill the tank with gas. Nope ... let it sit. Thursday ... nope. Fri-Sun... nope. Monday again ... we trim around the trees in the yard. Wait!! We'll come back Friday and start up and down the flat areas. That's unless you want all the trees to die ... they have to "normalize" ya know. Friday ... now, put it in low, low forward and run the engine really fast. You go about five yards down the lawn, make a sharp left, go three yards, double back, stop, reverse, then left ten yards, now turn right and stop. OK ... let it there - it has to normalize again. Well, you can't just mow along in high gear right across the grain ya know. You'll have nothing but splinters and mulch behind you. And we certainly can't finish before dark ... no. You get the idea. I know ... I'm no fun at all. People just want a nice stock and I'm being truthful again. I apologize for it being so. But, I can't turn it into a cake walk just because everyone wants a it to be.

Yet ... there's hope! ..... Finally!!!

A couple of times a year, I hand pick a bunch of stock blanks. I have to sort through tens of tons of planks. I choose what I think I can work. I offer them, when I have them. I don't deal with some mill that's in the business of churning out blanks for the net. You'll find that you actually pay about a grand for the ones you think you want there. But then, you might want to go price custom trophy stocks on the net too ... that will clear your sinus.

My trophy wood stocks will cost you about another $500-1,000US BUT ... that INCLUDES making it!! That's NOT just a chunk of wood.

I've made some stocks with gorgeous grain. The people were pleased. I can't duplicate any given stock. That's why I have no simple answers for everyone and no simple add on accessory item listed. It's also why, I can't tell many folks what I'm going to have in inventory three years from now when I'm building their rifle. I usually have some inventory. If not, I'll go get it.

Understand too please: I'll spend hundreds of hours on your rifle's steel parts. I sweat bullets (pun intended) to make sure the thing is safe, accurate, dependable, etc. That's the rifle. That's the living, breathing soul of the thing. I have no idea what sort of blank someone is going to sell you to send to me. And, I strongly discourage you to dig thru the pile, under the rotted tarp, next to the old shed. Not having seen it, I can't judge (in advance) if a blank is gonna have problems, be annoying to work, really annoying to work, really-really-really annoying to work, etc. I can't have a price for each bracket. Also, every time I add on another long phase to your project, I have to cut into the time of the next guy on the ledger. This is happening more and more. Everyone must be patient with that. So, if you have your heart set on something like a trophy stock blank someone sold you, I'll have to be paid to use it and I can't guarantee the results. Those that I offer - I feel better about - I picked them.

I know it sounds grumpy and it's not fun. You'd just have to spend a few weeks fighting a blank of wood to gain an appreciation for the whole topic. Anybody can wax the thing after it's finished. It's been 29 years since I expected figured wood to co-operate. ;?) However; I will tell you what I have in inventory. I will make a great stock for you. I will charge you for the fun. ;?)



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