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Gentlemen (and Ladies). Hi, I'm brand new here, but a long time woodworker though I made a shift some years ago to blacksmithing and only do woodworking occasionally now days. Anyway, I am also fond of shooting sports (the kind that punches holes in paper, not animals) and also of restoring old firearms and rifle stocks to good working order. Recently over in firearms land, a trend has developed that is disturbing to me and I thought I would contact some active woodworkers (you all) and get their feedback and perhaps some specific links that might either confirm or refute the position I have taken on the subject. Here it is:

A lot of old rifle stocks, particularly old military arms like Mosin Nagants, K31s etc. get a lot of abuse over the years. They get dented up and the wood gets heavily soaked in gun oils, cosmoline and the like. Now when I attack the problem of restoring these stocks myself, I try to get as much of this crap out of the wood as possible, but using fairly benign techniques and materials, things like mineral spirits and perhaps a final rub down with a rag soaked in acetone.

On some of the firearms forums of late, there have been a lot of proponents of much harsher and more bizarre methods of dealing with this problem. One of them is to treat the stock repeatedly with conventional oven cleaner, which as I understand, is essentially sodium hydroxide, aka Lye. Now this method of oil removal seems very ill advised to me .... it just feels wrong and I'm quite certain it will damage the wood. Am I off base on this, or is this indeed a very bad thing to do to wood?

The other disturbing method that is being proposed is even more bizarre. People are taking their 50 and 60 year old rifle stocks and running them through repeated cycles in their dishwashers, with detergent and dry cycles included. Now I have seen pictures of stocks treated like this, and they do indeed come out fairly clean with dents removed or reduced after this treatment, but I cannot help but feel that this too is a very bad thing to do to a piece of wood.

Most of the stocks in question, in addition to the grease and oil that gets on them from storage, originally probably had just a raw or boiled linseed oil finish applied to them. The last application could be as long as 30 or 40 years in their past.

So what do you all think about these methods? Any links to specific INFORMED opinion on this subject would be greatly appreciated as well. I will likely link this discussion, if such takes place, to the forum on which I am most active, and on which I have been battling with the forces of darkness who are proponents of these methods. I will be most grateful for any help.
 

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From the 25 or so years of dealing with vintage guitars one thing I learned is,no matter how bad the finish is....LEAVE IT ALONE!!! I don't know about rifle stocks but the original finish is preferred by collectors,no?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Indeed, original finish is desireable, if it is in good enough shape

but what we are talking about here are rifle stocks that are in really sad condition, at least visually. It's all about taking an ugly duckling and making it into something very nice. These are not really valuble collectors arms, these are ugly shooters grade guns, that we want to fix up into attractive shooters grade guns. We just want to do it in a way that is respectful of the wood and will not compromise it somewhere down the line.
 

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Well if that's the case...sand off what you can and steam out the dents with a soldering iron and a wet paper towel...sand again and if there's STILL crud in the wood....I really don't know what to say. Flat black with flames????:huh: :laughing:

Sorry,....what can I say....I like old hot rods!!!!!:thumbsup:
 

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I am going to have to go with Geoff here on this. Just because they are not "collectible" today, doesn't mean they be won't some day. Taking off 40+ years of patina is not going to help that.

I cannot give an "informed" opinion about gun stocks in specific. But can about wood. They are probably made of walnut or maple? Do be honest with you, a trip or 2 through the dishwasher will not hurt them. Boiling them in water will not hurt them either. I have dried green (fresh cut) hardwood in boiling water. I think the dents are lessened because of the hot water in the stocks you have mentioned. That is an old flooring trick, saturate a dent/scratch and cover it with a Styrofoam cup. The wood cells expand and pop out the dent some times. I have done it in resto/repair of furniture, to lift dents on the surface or even a dented corner on a table top can be saturated and it will lessen the dent.

I am not personally telling you to run them through the dish washer, but I would bet it would not ruin them. Maybe the people over there in the "gun world" know what they are doing. Of course this exposure to water will raise the grain of the wood and it will need to be sanded smooth again, that is where part of the magic of their technique is. They are swelling the wood, removing the oils and then sanding them and refinishing.
 

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I will give an example, just because I have the pictures handy. I got this busted up table someone paid me to refinish (why I don't know, but it was $ ;)). It had laid in a barn for years and was covered with chicken poo and other gross stuff. Whatever finish it had on it the harshest chemicals I had in the shop (strippers) would not touch the little bit of finish it had left. I went out and got some "marine varnish" remover, basically acid I think. That loosened it some, but did not remove it all. I finished taking the stains out with about 50/50 bleach and water. I soaked it for an hour or so, them scrubbed on it with steel wool while it was still submersed.

This table was made form walnut, all the acid-bleach-water...did not hurt it a bit. It turned out just fine.

:disclaimer: I am a professional, do not try anything you see here at home. (Or rebroadcast without the expressed written consent of Major League baseball :laughing:.)
 

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Dust Bunny
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The "soap" used in the dishwasher is TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate), a well regarded cleaner in the paint biz. It by itself will not hurt the wood, but a caustic substance, like Easy-Off can damage the wood fibers. The scale of damage I would think would be dependent upon the length of exposure. I have seen (and I think we still sell it) furniture strippers use Caustic Soda Beads. This stuff will flat eat you up if you get it on your skin, but it does the job well.

You might give Simple Green a shot also.
 

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I alway revert back to my old stand-by if a finish is being stubborn...
"GoGaaM".


Gallon of Gas and a Match!!!!!!!:laughing:
 

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I'm a collector of firearms myself and have been messing around with making a couple of stocks of late.

Most of the wooden stocked rifles will have been treated, repeatedly, with Tru-oil, linseed oil or tung oil primarily. Rubbing oil into a stock was a daily practice for many guys and I'd imagine that there's an eighty year old man who just had a heart attack upon reading of people putting maybe his old M1's stock into a dishwasher.

You can dry wood by boiling it, that's an old trick. You can harden wood by boiling it in oil, that's an older trick. But subjecting a dry piece of wood to the hot water cycles and then heated drying of a dishwasher is a bit chancy at least. The reason why the dents come out is because the moisture swells the fibers on the outer layers of the wood but when you're saturating the whole stock, you're swelling the outer layers of the whole stock, why do this? Bedding a stock is hard enough, why make it any harder? You're also introducing moisture into a piece of wood that is stable and you're only adding moisture to a certain depth taking a wood that was dry throughout, but now you have a dry center and a wet exterior. If wood like that was delivered to my shop, I'd have them put it back on the truck.

If you need to take dents out, take a damp rag, lay it on the dent and use an iron on low-medium heat to raise that one spot. Or on bare wood, put a few drops of denatured alcohol on the dent and light the alcohol, the dent will raise.

Personally I'd consider it a crime to strip a military firearm's stock, especially if it's scratched or beat up. It received those bruises honorably and should be remembered so.
 

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Interesting thread over there at the shooter's forum... kicked over a beehive, didya? :laughing:

My dad was a well-respected furniture refinisher/antique restorer back in the 60's and 70's. I could be totally wrong here, but something in the back of my head makes me recall that he occasionally used lye on furniture. I recall it because I remember him b*itching up a storm whenever the job called for it. He hated working with the stuff. If I'm right though, it was pure lye, it wasn't EZ-Off.

However, a quick 'net search returns a simple explanation of what oven cleaners (and the lye that's in them) do:
Oven cleaners (and lye by itself) work by converting built up grease (fats and oils) into soap, which can then be dissolved and wiped off with a wet sponge.

SO, if the EZ-Off is chemically turning the gun oil, cosmo, etc into a soap that can be easily rinsed away, it makes me wonder if it's as harmful to the wood as one might guess.

But one would have to make sure to thoroughly rinse, and be wary of everything else that's in EZ-Off, besides the lye... and what issues those other ingredients would pose.

I think the biggest thing to consider is what effect any remaining lye or chemicals would have on your new finish. It might not show up right away, but months or years down the road when the residue manages to leech its way back to the surface.

Yes? No?

Regarding dishwashers, my take is that a 50 to 70 year old military gun stock has probably seen a heck of a lot worse than a few minutes in a soapy hot-water bath. That's old-growth wood, a lot denser than what we find ourselves working with today, and therefore a lot more stable.

I understand what you're saying Scotty, and I'm not saying your wrong. Would I break out the EZ-Off and the Maytag to clean a stock? For me it'd be a matter of what kind of firearm I had and how much I paid for it in order to determine the best way to go. (in other words, "opportunity cost"... what's the worst that could happen, and could I live with that?)

In any case, I think it's a longshot that either of those one-time treatments would ultimately destroy the integrity of the stock.
 

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There are lots of ways to skin a cat. My guess is the steps above will work and will not damage wood that is sound. However, my guess is there are going to be other methods which will work just as well that you may be more comfortable with.
 

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Galoot & Ephemerist
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Seems to me that there are two parts to the question. How to reduce or get rid of grease / cosmoline / oil and then what to do about the remaining film finish?

All those drastic methods will still only attack the surface fibers of the wood. Anything that has sunk deep will remain there. If you do get to it with any deep penetrating whatever... you will most likely also degrade the wood. Lye will do this with gusto. I've used a trick picked up from working in a leather shop years ago (the leather making type, not the leather selling type). Get some unscented corn starch, apply it to the oil or grease stain and leave it for a while. Clean it off and then do it again. And again until the surface won't leach anymore. Wipe it down with your thinner of choice and then apply a new film finish.

Anything that is deeply engrained will simply have to be encased by whatever film finish you apply. By film I mean shellac, varnish, etc, not wipe on oil finishes. If you are not concerned about the historic value of the remaining film finish, just strip it and apply a new varnish or lacquer finish. I'ld stay away from wiping oil finishes as they do tend to get sticky in hot wet weather. Or hot wet hands.

Gary
 
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