By Richard Mann
After disassembly, sand the riflestock including the grip, fore-end and cheekpiece with 400-grit sandpaper. You don’t have to sand completely through the stock finish; just rough it up. Masking and painting are next.
Many hunters take great pride in how their rifle performs and looks. I can live with an ugly rifle as long as it shoots well. Many riflestocks, after several years of use, start to look like they were scavenged from a battlefield or used as a club. With minimal effort and the proper tools, you can refinish a wood stock, often making it good as new. Or, you can paint the stock and give your rifle a new personality.
Painting a wood riflestock is a good option if your rifle has gouges and scratches that can’t be raised or repaired. Painting can also provide camouflage, which can be immensely beneficial if you get close to game. Whatever the reason, painting a stock is not difficult and can be completed in a couple of evenings.
Unless you are inclined to paint the metal surfaces of your rifle, your first step should be complete disassembly of the gun. Remove all parts from the stock with the exception of the recoil pad, which can be left on the stock and not interfere with the painting process. Next, take fine-grit sandpaper (400 works very well) and rough up the exposed surfaces of the stock. Then you can use Testors Contour Putty, available at hobby shops, to fill in all the dents and potholes your rough handling has created. Let this set up for a day or so and then smooth the surface of the stock with sandpaper. After sanding, wipe the dust and debris from the stock with a damp rag and let stand overnight.
This is a good place to interject something else you may want to consider. If the rifle is a bolt action, you might think about bedding the barreled action to the stock. You already have the rifle disassembled and are going to be applying a new exterior finish, so why not take some extra time and establish a perfect action to stock fit? As a minimum, you should take the time to seal all inner wood surfaces from moisture. This can be easily accomplished by applying a thin coat of Permalyn Stock Finish & Sealer, available from Brownells, with a small paint brush. Sealing a stock in this manner can go a long way toward helping a rifle maintain its zero in damp or humid conditions.
If you are painting a synthetic stock, the operation is very similar with one major exception: After you rough up the finish, you’ll need to degrease the synthetic stock to ensure a good bond with the paint. This can be done with rubbing alcohol. Wipe the alcohol on liberally, cleaning the debris from the sanding operation as you go, and then let it evaporate completely. You still might want to consider a complete bedding job, but there is no need to seal a synthetic stock.
For masking off the recoil pad or any other areas not to be painted, use automotive pin-stripe tape that is either 1/8- or 1/4-inch wide. Pin-stripe tape can be twisted and turned to provide a perfect mask. Regular painter’s masking tape can then be used to finish off the masking task.
The tools and materials needed to apply a camo paint finish to a stock are minimal and inexpensive.
You need to decide beforehand how you would like to paint the stock. Do you want a complex camo pattern or do you simply want to deaden the glare and break up the rifle’s lines or paint the stock to match your high school colors? Most likely, you will be looking to apply some form of camo, even if it is a simple two-color scheme. The best homemade camo designs start out with a base coat that is the lightest color of the pattern.
Contrary to what many people think, you do not need a fancy air-brush and compressor set up to apply a paint job to a hunting rifle. I like to use the Aluma-Hyde II paint from Brownells. It is a durable epoxy-based finish that will withstand solvents and cleaners and goes on smooth and even with a little practice.
When spraying paint from a can or from an airbrush, never stop moving the can and apply light, thin coats. Allow them to dry before applying subsequent coats. Start your spray away from the stock, move over the stock and stop after the flow of paint has passed off the stock. You can do the painting outside, but be prepared to pull a few bugs from the paint. You’re better off to paint indoors in as low humidity as possible. It should be noted that you can use various types of spray paint available at most hardware stores, but I have found they will generally not hold up over the long haul like Brownells Aluma-Hyde II.
After your base coat is complete (this may take several sprayings), pick your next color and make any stencils you might like to use for your camo pattern. I like a simple two- or three-color stripe system often used by my friend Melvin Forbes at New Ultra Light Arms. It’s not fancy, but is effective and easy to apply. You can also use real leaves or pine boughs for stencils. I have had my best results when I could apply whatever pattern I used in one spraying. This is another reason to apply the lightest color first.
After your paint has dried, you may want to add an overcoat of matte polyurethane to increase the durability of the finish. This will help some, but to get any real benefit from a clear coat, it has to be very thick and won’t provide any more protection than what you will get from the Brownells Aluma-Hyde II.
When the painting is done, don’t get in a hurry to assemble the rifle and show off your prize. Let the rifle cure for at least 72 hours to ensure the paint sets up well.
You can affordably revive your riflestock and have an ample supply of paint on hand for touch-up in the future, or for a complete do-over after your wife or buddies laugh at your first attempt. Remember, with hunting rifles, function is paramount. Good looks are just icing on the cake.
Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine