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#415289 - 08/20/15 03:24 AM Damascuses traditional oil stock finish
damascus Offline
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Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 870
Loc: Cheshire England
Some of you folks may have read my posting “A heavier gun required” in which I renovated a rather old Baikal O/U shotgun that was fitted with a rather poor piece of Manchurian walnut for a stock, and the photographs in this posting are from that project.


There are many gun stock finishes out there! This is my version of the tradition British classic oil based hand rubbed gun stock finishing method that was used on higher quality gun stocks during the late Victorian and early Edwardian era and in various forms today. But like a lot of things in life we have to make some compromises and gun stock finishes are no exception due to some of the more traditional ingredients being now rather difficult to obtain, and in many cases not worth the effort or expense to obtain them anyway. So to start things off I will do through the basic ingredients used and in doing so put some of the pieces in the history jigsaw of why choices of the ingredients where made and then abandoned.
Linseed Oil or the other name it can be found under in the edible types is Flax Seed Oil. Paint store Linseed oil has some inbuilt problems firstly there is a lot of foreign bits and pieces floating in it which goes under the cover all name Mucilage which all stems from the production process used to maximise the seed oil yield, and if you store a bottle for a year or so you will see how much of this foreign matter drops out as sediment in the bottle also this grade of oil also has a tendency to darken quickly when dry. Edible versions are far purer oils and the cleanest and purest of all so they tell me so are the Art grades of Linseed Oil, I have used this grade of oil and as yet I am still of the opinion it is not worth the extra cash. So for me Food grade is the oil I prefer to use because it is of high quality and being extremely clean it does not darken very much when dry plus it is of reasonable cost.
Walnut oil I have only ever found this oil in food or Art grades and needless to say I use the Food grade because the Art grades are far too high a cost so very poor value.
Now the drawback to using food grade oil is that you cannot purchase it with added metallic dryers or what is sometimes known a siccative. Paint store Linseed oil with an added dryer is known in the UK and may be the US as boiled linseed oil though still having purity problems so I do not recommend it. Though having no dryers is easily remedied by purchasing metallic dryers separately which are available US I believe and called “Japan Dryers” here in the UK known as “Terebene Dryers” and follow the instructions very carefully.
Tung nut oil I have nothing to say about this oil only buy the best you can afford with or without dryers the choice is yours.
Now after all of the above here in Brit land there is a supplier of many types of wood finishing supplies including oils whose products I am assured are above the usual paint store quality, retailing under the name of Liberon, I have not personally used any of their products so maybe a member who has can let us know what they think of them.
Now a little explanation about the oils we use firstly they are called drying oils because even without our help Linseed, Tung, and Walnut Oils all interact with the oxygen in the air (and to keep things simple) can I say “dry” even though it is a more complicated type of reaction and who cares any way! The Oils dry!!! So Tung and linseed dry coatings but not Walnut can stand up to a reasonable amount of ware keep the damp out of the wood to a point also enhancing the woods grain by soaking in at differing rates making the changes in grain structure stand out.
But oils on their own the finish is still bland so it wasn’t long before a colouring agent was added to further enhance the woods grain (from now on my only knowledge is of what was used here in the UK) so artists colouring materials where used with some going far back into antiquity, though I feel that three deserve a mention because they still find their way in to those gun stock finishers potions that some folks collect as if it was a quest for the holy Grail.
MADDER ROOT which gives a red brown colour was one of the first gun stock stains to be used, first cousin to Alkanet and is still found in some finish mixtures though not so popular now.
DRAGON’S BLOOD a tree resin a strong vermillion colour also like Madder root can still be found in some of today’s finishes.
ASHPHELTUM (a posh name for Tar) brown to red colours can be obtained was also one of the first to be used, and worth experimenting with to match an exact colour in restoration work.
VANDYKE BROWN I only list this because it was very often mixed with the other colours in restoration or patch up work, can also be added to Alkanet (red oil) to tone down its red colour. A little explanation about this pigment is needed, here in the Brit Land artists Earth colours such as this one are actually Iron Ore and there are still small specialised mines producing many differing colours for the paint industry, also this type of colouring medium is extremely stable and not at all prone to colour change by exposure to sunlight.
ALKANET Ahhh! The Granddaddy of them all, has been used here in Brit Land since the time “Stone Henge” was a new build and “Druids” where colouring their skins blue with Woad, it was known in the past by such names as dyers Bugloss, Orchanet, and since Nicholas Culpeper’s “Complete Herbal” Alkanna Tinctora. It has many useful qualities but the main quality is it will give up its red colour in oil, mineral spirits and Alcohol so it became a dye colour every trade could use and of course it is cheap to produce you just grow it!
Finally because the surface finish using drying oils alone did not stand up to ware, acid sweat from hands over time tree resins and beetle lac where introduced to the mix this being the last ingredient of what we now call “Gunstock Finishing Oil”.
AMBER some finishers say the best producing the very finest finish of all, but is difficult to dissolve in oil unless treated and this treatment gives off toxic fumes so best left to the specialised varnish makers.
COPAL a tree resin another fine ingredient giving a fine finish but rather a purchasing minefield because of the multitude of types stick to finest art grades.
SHELLAC produced by a beetle rather than a tree, does not stand up to damp as well as Copal or Amber though Garnet shellac does have a use as a traditional finish.
COLOPHONY or ROSIN usually a pine resin this has been used in the gun trade since its early beginnings’ and still used today as flux for soldering and also as a constituent of some stock finishes in place of the more expensive Copal.
VENNICE TURPENTINE a form of resin made from boiling the highly resinous Larch tree sap, used by artists to give body to varnishes and oil colours sometime listed in old finishing oil formulas it does work but not that well and is mind stunningly expensive to purchase in artist’s grades.
CANADA BALSAM about the same as Venice turpentine but even more expensive you need to arrange a mortgage for its purchase here in the UK.
ALKYD RESIN this is the main corner stone used in modern paint and varnish manufacture and of course supersedes the other three resins I have little to say about it only that it is a good modern resin, and I am sure used in many modern stock finishing preparations that work exceedingly well.
THINERS not a lot to said about these they are either mineral or vegetable, such as true Turpentine or Turpentine substitute though the Artists versions are again far too expensive. Personally I do like to use true Turpentine but only for the smell because I just like it! The substitutes work just as well.
That’s the history bit over, now for how to make and apply my version of Brit vintage hand rubbed gun stock finishing oil that I used on my Baikal (a heavier gun required posting). But before you start this is a finish that is not applied today and the gun will be usable tomorrow, you must keep in mind that it is from an era where a man’s labour time was not as valuable as it is today so patience is required but the finish is I think worth it.
You will need the following to make my version of a traditional gun stock finishing oil:-

One Ounce of “Gum Copal Manila” Purchase artist quality only other random offerings can and will cause you great problems because some Copal’s will NOT dissolve in Alcohol.
Two Fluid ounces of Alcohol (Ethanol) bio Ethanol is fine though do not use alternatives such as Isopropyl Alcohol it won’t work!!!

One Fluid ounce of “Linseed Oil” food grade.

One Fluid ounce of “Alkanet red oil” your preference but I do use Andy’s version 50 50 edible Linseed and Walnut oils with Alkanet root pieces.

Red Oil is made by adding 60 grams (about 2 ounces) to half a pint (UK) of oil this makes a deep red oil whose colour can be lightened by adding more oil.

Half Fluid ounce of “Turpentine” or if you prefer a good quality “Turpentine substitute” I do use top quality versions of each. ** This quantity of half a fluid ounce is not set in stone but do not add more than one fluid ounce to the mix, it is there to prevent the oil becoming tacky too quickly as you rub.
As the quantities used are small use the best quality ingredients because I personally feel the cost is acceptable.
Now for the not so good news! I did say at the beginning that this finish comes from an era where time was not as valuable as it is today.
Firstly traditionally “Red Oil” is made from Alkanet root pieces soaking in oil for well over a year to enable it to reach that deep rich red colour, though I do believe if you use Alkanet root powder you can obtain the same effect after some months



Next comes turning the raw “Copal” pieces usually complete with its foreign bits and pieces into a usable ingredient. So firstly break up the Copal into small pieces then place in a well sealing screw toped jar then pour in the Alcohol and screw down the lid tightly leave in a warm but not hot place then agitate the jar every couple of days. Eventually the “Copal” will start to dissolve but in its own time and in doing so all the foreign bits and pieces that was trapped in it will sink to the bottom of the jar forming a sediment leaving the liquid clear having a warm yellow golden colour as in the photograph.


Then decant the liquid very carefully into a clean jar leaving the sediment un disturbed, a little help from pouring boiling water over the lid of the jar holding the Copal mixture will enable you to break the seal and remove its lid easily. At this point the alcohol is now no longer needed so we allow it to evaporate to the point that we are left with a thick syrup that we can use.
Now we add dryers to the “Red Oil” and the “linseed oil” but if you prefer to use a quality “boiled Linseed oil “only add dryers to the Red Oil, I use one level teaspoon 5ml of Terebene per ounce of oil. Then mix the Red Oil, Linseed Oil, Copal and Turpentine together this is my version of the traditional finish oil which you should store in a screw top bottle, now its shelf life is up to about two years and the reason for this is the oils and resin are contaminated with vegetable matter particles i.e. the Alkanet making things a little unpredictable you aren’t going to live for ever and Damascus’s finishing oil is no different!
Now a short cut that you can use rather than preparing the “Copal” though I think any purists reading should think of what I say next as making a twenty first century finishing oil along the lines of what is in common use today. So substitute the “Copal” with 1 fluid ounce of a quality satin finish spar varnish though definitely not one with the dreaded polyurethane listed as an ingredient. There will be a high chance the resin used in the varnish will be Alkyd and yes it works extremely well, and when the finish is dry it also looks good too.
Because this information is rather large it will be posted it in two parts
The next posting I will describe how to go about applying this traditional finish.



Edited by damascus (08/20/15 03:27 AM)
_________________________
The only lessons in my life I truly did learn from where the ones I paid for!

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#415340 - 08/20/15 12:57 PM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
craigd Offline
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Registered: 02/18/09
Posts: 6684
Thanks for taking the time damascus. I'm looking forward to the next part.

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#415408 - 08/21/15 05:58 AM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
damascus Offline
Sidelock
***

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 870
Loc: Cheshire England


Next is preparing the wood for finishing at this point if you are refinishing a stock remove the old finish using whatever method you prefer, then remove small dents and scratches and other blemishes using abrasive paper starting with coarse and finishing with fine but larger dents will require steaming, for this I use a mix of 75% Ethanol 25% water a very hot clothes smoothing iron and a piece of towelling saturated with the Alcohol mix. I have moved quickly over the preparation stages because most people have their own methods of preparing a gun stock to the point of finishing so I have no intention of boring you with something you can already accomplish. Also why should I reinvent the wheel! Though at this point I would like to give some information on my choice of abrasive papers firstly I prefer to use what we call on this side of the pond “Glass paper sometimes called Flint paper” rather than the “wet and dry” Aluminium oxide varieties where the abrasives used are usually dark in colour and can leave dark patches if abrasive particles get into the wood’s grain and can be be very difficult to remove, whereas the flint/glass particles seem to become invisible if lodged in the grain.
Next I use the same Alcohol /water mix to flood the surface of the wood to raise the grain, when completely dry sand the stock with the finest abrasive paper you can obtain, then repeat the process again and this will be the last time you will put abrasive paper on the wood. Then again flood the woods surface with the Alcohol/water mix allow the wood to completely dry, but this time you use the uncoloured skin side of a piece of leather as a burnisher and using a medium pressure burnish the wood with the leather all over. You will be surprised how the woods surface changes to a low sheen and having a glass like feel, put the stock to one side to ensure the surface is completely dry and I can’t stress this enough COMPLETELY DRY!! Then give the wood a final burnishing.
Next the magic action of Alkanet with Walnut (here you can use a wood stain colour of your choice but it must be soluble in Linseed oil because it will be added to the finishing oil in the quantity given) traditionally the red oil has no dryers added and to apply it I find that putting a small pool of oil in the palm of your hand and then rubbing it in to the wood’s surface then repeating the process until you obtain the depth of colour require THEN LET IT DRY!!!! Normally I allow a week.



At this point your stock should look something like this, ready for the finishing oil application. And in the words of that 1930s song T’aint what you do (it’s the way that you do it) because we can all slap on finishing oil and hope for the best! Take some time and do it this way and you may surprise yourself.
Now I am sure that some of you have been thinking and may be wondering what about filling the grain because you can’t get a smooth flawless finish without doing it, and of course you are right. Now I feel that some explanation is needed here, this system of oil finishing a gun stock was developed so a gun or rifle for that matter could be used in all temperatures and humidity found in any country the gun may end up in. So the filling of the grain was not a separate operation but more an integral part of the finish giving a greater temperature stability and flexibility. And what miracle substance did the Brit Victorian stock finishers come up with to fill the grain? Hydrated Magnesium Silicate!!! To us mere mortals “Talcum Powder” because of the following properties it’s soft, takes up colour extremely well, nonabrasive and in a very thin layer virtually transparent when saturated with finishing oil, it does not affect the quality of the final finish if some escapes from the base coats into the final finish coats. And for all of those reasons that is why we added some “Red Oil” with dryers to the finishing oil mix so it will colour and bind the Talc in the wood’s grain and the low level coats of the finish. The slight colour tint in the finishing oil also adds that translucency to the finish giving that optical effect you can see directly into the woods grain. As they say there is nothing new under the sun and in the words of that song “it’s the way that you do it.”
The method!!!
Using your hands or a felt pad covered with a fine weave cotton cloth apply a generous coat of finishing oil and allow to dry (I can only give drying times from my only experience here in Brit land, you will have to adjust times for your location) about 24 hours.
Then sprinkle the stock with Talc in the approximate amount as in the photograph.



Next apply a couple of drops of finishing oil and using your hands or pad then rub the oil talc mix into the wood’s grain do your best to keep the oil talc mix out of the chequering if you are refinishing a stock failing to do so means laborious cleaning the finish out of the chequering lines I use masking tape to cover the edge of the chequering. keep rubbing in a circular motion until you can feel the oil start to drag indicating that it is drying. Then start to remove the excess oil and talc from the stock by rubbing your hands on a piece of clean cloth (I use an old towel or if using a pad use a dry pad covered with a clean cloth to remove the excess. Finally rub the stock with clean dry hands you will start to feel the surface drag and your hands start to heat up continue until the surface sheen looks even then put the stock aside to dry.
Repeat the above and at this point we are just filling the wood pores not trying to build up a surface finish on the stock. You will find some areas of the stock’s grain will fill quite quickly, when this happens turn your attention with the Talc and oil to the parts of the stock that require further filling. I must stress here that the complete surface finish we are aiming for is thin flexible and the wood perfectly smooth with no grain pores visible like this photograph shows.





There will eventually come a point when all the grain is filled the surface of the wood is glass smooth this is the point where the Talc is no longer necessary so from now on it is finishing oil only. Though if you do find a patch of not so well filled grain just apply a little Talc and oil and work just that part of the stock as before. When you are satisfied that the grain is filled and the woods surface is completely smooth and glass like, it is now time to apply the final coats of finishing oil from my experience you should apply between six and eight further rubbed on coats keeping in mind that the finish should be thin to keep it flexible.
There are a number of benefits to using this finish firstly you can brighten up the stocks finish when it starts to look a little dull by putting a drop of finishing oil in the palm of your hand rubbing both your palms together then rubbing the thin film of oil quickly over the stock. This was very often done before a gun was returned to a customer after servicing, you may have sweated blood too mechanically repair his gun but a he only sees the fine looking stock that you only spent ten minutes to make it look good. And that is what the customer will judge his gun repair on. I can’t remember who wrote that but I am sure it was one of the large Birmingham trade gun repairers and never a truer word has been said.
If you require a higher gloss the application of a wax polish is the traditional way to achieve this.
Here is a wax wood polish recipe I use that is probably as old as time itself, it also works well on leather makes a dam good lip balm and keeps your hands soft as well as soothing them if they become chapped and not poisonous “what more could one want!”
One ounce of good quality Bees Wax (yellow or white)
One fluid ounce of Olive oil
To give a higher shine add a pea size piece of Carnauba Wax
Add the oil to the grated Bees Wax and Carnauba Wax warm gently in a glass jar surrounded by water, when all the wax has melted allow to cool. I add a couple of drops of lemon oil, it has no effect on the polish it just makes it smell nice apply sparingly with a soft cloth.

None of this posting is “Rocket Science” it just needs you to practice and refine your technique.
I do hope it works for you as well as it has done for me for the last forty years.
And finally to all those folks who religiously collect those hush hush secret not to be divulged antique formulas for gun stock finishes unless you also have the artisans how to use them information, they are just so much ink on paper. I am sure I would not be very wrong if I said that you did not expect the leather burnishing or the Talc to be used as a grain filler as a part of the final finish either Q.E.D.

Ernie.
Aka damascus

_________________________
The only lessons in my life I truly did learn from where the ones I paid for!

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#415434 - 08/21/15 10:14 AM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
Ken61 Offline
Sidelock
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Registered: 03/24/13
Posts: 2862
Loc: Iowa
damascus,

Thanks. I'll be using this as soon as my Copal arrives. Here's an Ebay source.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Robersons-Gum-Copal-Manila-500g-/230981226377?hash=item35c78dcf89

It's nice to see the Manila resin can be dissolved in spirit, as the East African stuff appeared to have been needed to be "run in" using high temperatures, the reason why I never experimented with it.

Regards
Ken
_________________________
I prefer wood to plastic, leather to nylon, waxed cotton to Gore-Tex, and split bamboo to graphite.

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#415629 - 08/22/15 07:16 PM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
Dave in Maine Offline
Sidelock
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Registered: 05/04/11
Posts: 1188
Loc: Maine
Brilliant!

Thank you so much, Damascus.
_________________________
fiery, dependable, occasionally transcendent

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#415925 - 08/24/15 04:52 PM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
David Williamson Offline
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Registered: 02/04/06
Posts: 3496
Loc: Eastern Pa
Damascus, thanks for sharing such a great article. Very nicely done.
_________________________
David


ADVICE TO DEMOCRATS, LIBERALS & LEFTIES:
WHEN YOUR HORSE DIES, IT’S TIME TO DISMOUNT (anonymous)



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#424229 - 10/30/15 07:58 AM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
damascus Offline
Sidelock
***

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 870
Loc: Cheshire England
Before this gunstock finishing posting of mine slips into oblivion I have had some questions directed to me by email possibly by non-board members. So I decided to answer some again now.
The one numerous question I had was did I work in the gun trade? The answer is no but there is always a but isn’t there, I was a sort of part time ghost worker in the 70s and 80s for a then large number of gun shops though now all ceased trading possibly due to gun ownership here in Brit land becoming more restrictive. My speciality was altering repairing and re-finishing gun stocks, I just did this one for my own amusement to re visit past times, and now more people at least will know how a vintage English oil gunstock finish was really done.
This finishing method and of course the oil mixture I used is only one of about six, though this mixture gives one the finest finishes with only one exception using Amber, it’s quite straight forward to apply and the finish is outstanding. Other mixtures I used where for guns manufactured earlier needing more elaborate colouring.
I did say that that putting red oil or a coloured stain in the finishing oil gives translucency to the finish and in doing so gives the optical effect that you can see directly into the woods grain. As some of you folks know myself and a camera are not very good work colleagues, but I have made an effort at photographing this effect using the sun at a very low angle and I think the outcome is reasonable.

_________________________
The only lessons in my life I truly did learn from where the ones I paid for!

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#427182 - 11/20/15 06:27 PM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
Edh Offline
Sidelock

Registered: 12/27/12
Posts: 34
Loc: New York
Okay, I dont know what I did wrong. I followed all your directions and everything seemed to be working. I got to the point to mix the oils, the copal, the turpentine and dryer, and what happened is I have a coagulated blob of stuff, with what appears to be the oil around it. Anything other than starting over that I can do?

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#427231 - 11/21/15 09:50 AM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
damascus Offline
Sidelock
***

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 870
Loc: Cheshire England
Hi Edh
Firstly did you put the dryers in the oil or oil’s first before mixing the rest of the ingredients? Though even if you didn’t I can’t see that making a problem. Now all of the ingredients have differing densities so you do have to physically mix them together I just usually shake the bottle.
As soon as your post came up I decided to mix each of the individual ingredients of the finishing oil in a glass for my own reassurance and photographed each step starting with the Copal and ending with the Turpentine and a final mix with a small spoon. Everything worked like clockwork as I expected it to do, with the final result looking like a glass of one of my favourite drinks Grenadine and Bison Grass Vodka.

Ernie Aka damascus









_________________________
The only lessons in my life I truly did learn from where the ones I paid for!

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#427236 - 11/21/15 10:51 AM Re: Damascuses traditional oil stock finish [Re: damascus]
Edh Offline
Sidelock

Registered: 12/27/12
Posts: 34
Loc: New York
I did mix with oil first. I tried to do exactly as you said. The copal turned a nice clear yellowish color and everything. I have been shaking it up, and that glob just hangs together. anything you can think of to thin it out? A little alcohol? A little more turpentine? I only used a half ounce of turpentine.

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