I wrote most of this some time back but have recently editied it a little and thought it might bear a posting here. The Custom Rifle Stock By Garry Keown Rifle stocks. General. Selecting your blank. Walnut species and log cuts, grain flow and blank layout. Hunting - shooting style and design paremeters. Balance and handling. Stock Making. Inletting and shaping. Stock finishing. Rifle Stocks in general. Rifle stocks are the simple yet ergonomically complicated means by which we can hold onto the barrelled action and direct the bullet to a desired point of impact, and so the better the stock is suited to the particular hunter, the greater the degree of certainty there is that the bullet will get to the intended target impact point. While this may seem a simplistic statment, it is anything but, as there are almost an infinite number of variations of the rifle stock, from the purest hunting designs to the specialist target and benchrest items made from the traditional wood's through to laminates of wood or layers of spaceage carbon fibres with various resins plus fiberglass either solid or over hollow core or foam base, through aluminium and combinations of one or more of these materials. Leaving aside all the specialised rifle uses and stock materials, the hunting rifle in its more traditional form will be the focus of this piece. What distuingishes a good hunting stock from the myriad of poor to average factory stocks( and many so called custom stocks) is for the hunter to able to throw the rifle to his (or her) shoulder and imediatly have the butt tuck into the shoulder pocket with hands comfortably griping the wrist and forearm and the eye alligned with the sights. A properly balanced rifle will have a very large degree of influence in how the rifle comes to the shoulder and onto target with a correspondingly important part to play in how pointable it may be and how steady it sits in hand. The metal work as far as the barrel contour which effects weight and balance will be explored elsewhere but does contribute to the rifle's balance, pointability, and tracking virtues ( or otherwise) so cant be entirely dismissed when the traits of a good hunting rifle stock are being discussed. There should be no adjusting of posture or position and the finger should fall naturally, without stretching or cramping, to the triger as the target is comfirmed and the shot is ready to be released. Any adjustment of body or rifle will naturally effect the initial aim point and inevitably effect the accuracy of the shot. It is the hunters responsibility to identify the target, (LEAVING NO DOUBT) before the rifle is lifted and he should already be looking at the desired point of impact when the rifle is raised and be comfortably and strategically alligned with the sights allowing him to be imediatly ready to release the shot. Without getting into shooting technicalities, it is a given fact that the first few seconds of a rifles hold on target are the steadiest when shooting off hand (with no external support) so it is naturally best to have a rifle stock that gives the hunter the imediate and natural positioning of the body and the rifle so as to take advantage of this. The longer a hunter holds the rifle in the un-suported aiming position while trying to get comfortable with any aspect of the stock design, then his chances of a sucessfull shot diminish quite rapidly. A hunter who uses an external suport for the rifle, (and he would do this for a longer shot at an undisturbed animal especially if he can not stalk closer) whether it be a a sling aid or resting on a day pack, the side of a tree, a natural ground feature or a set of shooting sticks can often be well suited by a stock that is less than a perfect "fit" simply because he has time to adjust to the position. However, having said that, if a rifle stock is being made for a stalking hunter, and we all like to think of ourselves as stalking hunters, then the better the rifle stock is suited to the individual hunter then the probaility of a sucesfull hunt if a desirable animal is sudenly encountered is so much higher. This is the prime reason that hunters have had custom stocks made that fitted them properly, rather than taking one off the rack that is designed for everybody but rarely fits anyone other than with the wonderfull adaptability of our body. A rifle stock has not only to afford the hunter with a comfortable device to hold onto while aiming the barrelled action, but should also hold the barrelled action in a non movable and non stressed position so that there are no external factors that efect the point of impact for the bullet. This is another area that mass produced stocks can not always be relied on to do and so the need for a custom stock arises, or at the least customising of the factory stock to better acomplish the necessary primary function in a reliable manner. This can bring about a lengthy discussion on what a custom stock actually is but for the purposes of this exercise I will define a custom stock as one that is made with the particular hunters body shape and hunting style in mind, from a billet or blank of well dried and stable stock wood. Walnut species. Log cuts. Selecting your blank. Walnut species. The walnut trees that have originated in Persia came to England via the early Romans because the nut was so highly prised.The thin shelled walnut, Juglans Regia is Persian or common walnut and is also known as English walnut because of the English sailors who then spread it round the world on thier travels and so it is also known as Royal, Circassian, French, Turkish and by the place names of many other areas it has been propogated with the soil types, climate and growing conditions of many places in the new world like New Zealand and Australia producing some exceptional stockwood blanks. American black walnut or claro is another major walnut species used for stockwood along with the English - American black walnut hybrid which is known as Bastogne from bastard walnut. English walnut is generally known to be hard and is often thought to be more easily worked but the growing conditions have an enormous effect of the grain structure and colour, from golds through to chocolates with mineral streaking of greens and blacks, marble cake, mottling, feathered crotch, fiddleback being some of the many grain types and colourings which influences desirability and therefore price. Black and Bastogne are generally said to have a shorter and more chip prone grain structure which can make the use of English walnut and its derivitives less problematic when checkering and other finisheing touches are being atended to. Log cuts. The cutting of a walnut tree to get the best from the available wood is a most thought provoking process for the sawyers. There is much study of the tree to asertain where to make the initial cuts as the difference between cutting it right and just citting it can be many thousands of dollars worth of gunstocks, either superb blanks bringing out the very best the log has to offer against getting more blanks that have much less appeal and subsequent value. Logs that produce the most spectacular blanks have large root structures and heavy branches and sometimes forked trunks where the grain can have the most spectacular patterns. Selecting your blank. A big difference in value and cost is atributed to the various log cuts that become rifle blanks and the beauty of the blank is often very much in the buyers eye so is a very personal choice. A board or flat sawn blank is generally a stronger cut in that there is the longets grain structures and the colour and graining that may be less than spectacular in the full blank may come alive when the shaping is done and even those blanks that are on the verge of being rift cut can have some very good appeal as well. A little more care needs to be taken when selecting a rift cut blank though as the quartering grain may run out in the wrist area and the forearm can cause uneven stability. A quartersawn blank is more often taken from the straight grained part of the tree and while it can provide a very stable stock there is often much less in the way of grain patterns with the dark and light stripes of the anular rings more in evidence. There are a numbers of areas where grain flow is very important in the rifle stock especially where a heavier recoiling rifle may be concerned. This is ,where the board sawn blank really shines but the grain flow in the wrist and the forearm must be a high priority and the flow into the toe is where it really needs to be following the bottom line of the stock as a heavy blow on the toe of the butt plate can cause the stock to break away through this area in some cases. The cartridge the rifle will be chambered for, the style of hunting the shooter intends his or her intended rifle for, and of course, the monetry reserve will have the deciding influence in the choice of the grade of the blank, however it must be stated that in the heavier recoiling rifles that fancy grain must be of secondary importance to the grain flow to withstand the recoil stresses. Hunting - shooting style and design paremeters. It may be apropriate to briefly touch on the begining of the common aproach to custom rifle stocks and rifles in general before we delve into specifics. If we leave aside the muzzle loaders and black powder cartridge rifles and concentrate on the smokless powdered cartridge bolt rifles from the turn to the first quarter of the 20th century we can look at the transition of the rifle from a military use to a purely sporting or hunting aplication. The modern rifle stock has differed little from these early stocks except for the provision of comb line to suit the predominent sighting equipment that is destined to be used. When the first hunting rifles were produced, they were generally offshoots of military development that were initially used in the military configuration for use in the hunting fields in a protective or food gathering manner where thier somewhat heavy military style made them solidly dependable, reasonably afordable, widely available and well suited for the food gathering purposes rather than specifically a sporting use to which they were now being put, and with the sporting amunitiion being generally reliable although there were many instances then as now of amunition being used that is inapropriate to the species being hunted and inevitaby some failure occured with either a lost animal or in dangerous game hunts catastrophic resuts for the hunter. When the rifles began to be adapted for the less sever conditions of the sporting hunt by very skilled craftsmen they also began to take on a svelte form that feedback from the hunting fields was showing to be well suited to the particular hunting style of the majority of clients. It must be understood that here I am talking of the begining of the split in the English gunmaking industry that branched from the cuntomised military rifle into the custom gunmakers that has left us with the famous names of the "London Trade" that are held to be the epitome of the sporting or custom rifle makers. Some of the Military rifle manufacturers like BSA in England and Mauser in Germany also had sporting rifles made in house that were adapted from the strict military style but by and large many of the custom gunmakers would buy in the barrelled action from the makers and with little or minimal metalwork being done, simply stock said barrelled actions. The Lee Speed and the Plesier Mauser were two early examples of the factory sporting rifle adapted in the makers factory for the sporting elite. There have been other European and to a lessor extent an American streams of influence in gun stock design, but it was the English custom gunmakers who bought about the style of hunting rifle stock that has come down to todays exceptional makers who have retained many of the early findings while developing expanded design types as trends in shooting style have changed over the years. Where once it was a walking, stalking style of hunting that required a rifle to be dimensioned for rapid shouldering and offhand shooting, many of todays rifles are more inclined to be suited to suported shooting , from prone through to standing over a set of sticks, and so the designs have changed in minor ways to acomadate the shooters needs.