Drying and Sawing Tips for Gun Stocks

Advice on how to dry and saw walnut for use as gun stock blanks. August 21, 2006

I have some walnut available, and I would like to explore cutting gun stocks, but I do not yet have a mill.

Two questions: It appears to me that a swing-blade mill would be more versatile in making the cuts needed for gun stocks than a band mill. Is that the case? How does one go about cutting gun stocks from the log? I have a number of logs with large limbs joining the bole. My presumption is that the forearm of the stock would come from the limb and the cheek end of the stock from the bole, with the pistol grip about where the limb joins the bole. Am I off base?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
I think you are off base a bit, although I have never even looked into cutting gun stocks. The wood needs to come from the trunk only. There is no reason to use a branch in any of it. If I'm not mistaken, the nicer stocks come from the root ball of the walnut as well.

From contributor B:
What size are you cutting your blanks?

From the original questioner:
The gun stock blanks will be 3" thick, 35" long, 7" wide at the cheek end, and 3" wide at the forearm tip.

From contributor C:
If you are cutting the logs for gunstocks, use a bandmill and slab the logs into cants as wide as you can, dry the cants and then cut the blanks from that. With wide cants you will be able to lay out your stocks for the best possible grain flow through the stock. Lay out your one-piece rifle blanks first for best grain flow and then areas in between the one-piece blanks can be laid out for two-piece blanks.

You will get some fancy grain where large limbs were cut of the trunk and also there will be extremely fancy wood in the crotches. If the logs were cut just above the crotch you will only be able to get two-piece blanks from the crotch area. There is usually fancy wood in the root ball but it is usually a lot of extra work to get it.

From the original questioner:
I have heard that the root ball will have fancy grain, but how does one go about cutting up a root ball?

From contributor C:
After you get the root ball out of the ground you will need to remove all the dirt and debris from it, then trim it up with a chainsaw.

From contributor D:
I'm also cutting some gun stocks. I've tried it on a band mill, but had the best success with a Logosol M7 Woodworker's mill. It lets you line up small and odd-shaped pieces, and is smooth and precise. I got some beautiful feathered grain, but drying is tricky.

From the original questioner:
How do you go about drying the gun stock blanks?

From contributor C:
If you cut the logs into cants they will need to be stacked and stickered and air dried for a couple of years or until the moister content of the wood is 20% or less. We let our cants air dry to 12% - 15% - this usually takes one year per one inch of thickness to air dry where we live but it could take longer or shorter depending on where you are at.

After the wood has air dried it must be put into a kiln and dried to 6%-8% - gunstock blanks must be dried to this percent. After the cants are kiln dried then they can be cut into gunstock blanks. The blanks should be kept in a controlled area so they do not acquire any moisture.

From the original questioner:
Is a vacuum kiln required to dry the 12/4 cants to 6% - 8%? Do you sticker 12/4 material any differently than 4/4 for air drying - for example, thicker stickers, closer spacing of stickers, lots of weight on the pile, etc.?

From contributor C:
A vacuum kiln is not required. We use 1" x 1" stickers at 24" intervals for the 12/4 cants.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor E:
As a gunsmith and sawmill worker I have sawn a few blanks and shaped a few stocks from blanks. You will definitely want to excavate the stump which is where most of the burl is. This wood is the most highly sought after in the stock making trade.

Pressure washing the stump will clean most of the debris off and then a chainsaw will finish that task. You can quarter-sawn the stump or slab cut it. I prefer to do all this within a week. I cut my blanks three inches thick and strive for 14 inch wide planks 34 inch long. You must have at least 2 and half inches if you want a cheek piece on the stock - two and quarter minimum for a non cheek piece. The goal is to have 6 and a half inches minimum at the butt and 2 and a half at the nose cap. More is better for the elaborate cheek pieces and high Monte Carlo style combs. You can get from other areas of the tree.

If you have a large limb going to the butt log you will probably get a nicely figured butt-stock. Two pieces are easy to get a high yield but try to keep them paired or else the grain won’t match well. Sapwood is a taboo sometimes it looks great and sometimes it doesn’t. As for drying every experienced stock maker I know will not use a blank unless it has air dried for 7 years minimum. You do not want to kiln dry gun stock lumber wet off the saw. These gunsmiths don't want to see a moisture meter reading they want to see a dust covered blank with an old magic marker date on it. They like the wood to be tempered by allowing it to be cooled and heated by nature’s seasons. Definitely seal the ends to slow the drying and reduce checking and splitting. I personally have shaped stocks from blanks that were 4 year old cherry blanks that were dehumidified, kiln dried and metered at 10 percent. These stocks have not warped or soaked in the finish whatsoever. But most other accomplished stock makers won’t take the risk of having a thousand dollar plus piece of wood along with a couple hundred hours of inletting, shaping, finishing, and checkering go awry to premature stock blanks. It is a lucrative market if you have the time and means to do it. Then it could produce some extra income.