Trails and misadventures of making and ebony tip

SwampTrooper

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Part 1-

In every hobby, among all groups, there are those with experience and good fortune that have earned the right to call things easy. They give their knowing smirks, cock their eyebrows and let out that “oh shucks” chuckle to voice their amusement, slight disapproval, and above all, to assert their station of “been there and done that much better than you are”. I have no doubt that some of you may be among us and I also have no doubt that in making a custom rifle, the task of placing an ebony tip on the end of a piece of walnut is as simple as making a grilled cheese sandwich. The fact remains, that is not the case with me and I ask you to be kind. Everyone has to start somewhere, and here I am. As both a sort of cathartic exercise, and just because I love sharing my progress with anyone who is remotely interested in hunting rifles, I have decided to chronicle the project here. About six months ago, I purchased an old push feed Winchester model 770 for almost nothing. The bores is perfect, as is the crown. The rest of the gun is ugly as hell. I decided to transform the gun into a plains game rifle with the aesthetics and features that I would enjoy and document the process here, beginning with installing an ebony tip. I write in a fairly literary style, so I hope you enjoy the journey.



Step 1- What the heck is that black thing on the end of gun stocks and why is it there?

The ebony tip on a rifle stock has always caught my eye since I was a kid. It’s a bold choice when it comes to aesthetics, isn’t it? A jarring interruption from the flowing grain of walnut to a vertical or at times, 45 degree line. The first time I dealt with ebony was a rifle my grandfather left his son when he died quite young. In the late 1960s kit guns were popular. He died long before he could explain his decision making on the gun, but it was decidedly modern for the time. He took a left handed Savage .308 action and dropped into a curly maple stock blank and carved out some strange shape right out of the jet age. .308 in the 1960s? That was cutting edge. It had almost a triangular forend with a sharp ergonomic pistol grip and the highest Monte Carlo stock I had ever seen. He also tuned the trigger to an insane 1.5 lbs (we were afraid of how light it was). It lacked checkering as he was just a hobbiest but it distinctly had a wide and tubular black piece of wood on the front, cut wide and angular like the nose of a WWII fight plane. What is that for? Moreover, why don’t we see it anymore? These were the thoughts I shared with my dad some twenty years ago (to date myself) when I was about ten years old and turning to guns the way some other boys turn to trucks or dinosaurs. “We’ll that’s usually ebony” my dad said. “But not always, sometimes it’s rosewood or something else that’s pretty.” Pretty? That’s an interesting idea for a gun. But he was right, guns are pretty sometimes. I wonder why? Already at ten I have realized that objects can have beauty the way that people sometimes do. Ultimately, he explained, the ebony tip is there to protect the end-grain of the wooden stock. Dark woods have very dense fibers, so it provides a sort of protection over the exposed end. Okay, that makes sense. But why do you essentially never see it anymore on factory made rifles? Simple, time and money. It’s cheaper not to do it, and at the end of the day, the likelihood that the average person has an issue with the end-grain of their stock is essentially zero. But the fact remains, it’s pretty. And modern production rifles, if they are even stocked in wood, are uglier for want of ebony. As the legend Larry Potterfield says, it adds a touch of class. Well if a billionaire calls something classy, he’s probably right. But wait! Rigby, of universal safari fame never puts ebony on their rifles! Instead they have that signature stumpy forend, cut a wee short for American tastes but enough to create the signature rigby lines of a classic safari or deer stalking rifle. What about that? Well I guess some people like to be different, and at the end of the day it is really a matter of taste. My project is going to have the ebony tip on it. Time to find some ebony.



Step 2- Ebony is actually pretty hard to find.

It’s called African Blackwood and it’s harder than your concrete driveway. Ebony on the other hand is about 30 percent softer on the wood hardness scale (whatever that’s called). Naturally, woodworkers prefer to work with real ebony because it’s not the hardest wood in the world but pretty darn hard. For an ebony tip you need a decent size block. Something around a two inch by two inch cube. Doesn’t exist. Long ago brownells sold them almost in those exact dimensions, but like every project of my life, the convenient thing that is perfect for the job went out of stock about ten years ago and no one has ever bothered to do another production run. But what you can get is African Blackwood. It’s a slow growing tree with minimal sapwood, dark grain, but still a swirling flow that is pleasant to the eye. Apparently, there is wet and dry wood, and for any woodworking, you need dry wood. It can take up to five years for a piece of wood to dry out, so finding it in stock is rare. But I got the hookup and it came in the mail covered in wax in a 4 inches by two inches block. Time to saw it in half for one side to try, and the other side in case of disaster.



Step 3- The Plan


Should be pretty easy right? I’ll cut off the front end of my stock at a certain length, about two inches because it’s a big long, and glue on a block of ebony, pinned in place with wooden dowels. Then I’ll a grinder to bring the block into the lines of the stock. Then after a sort of tubular shape is made, I’ll use the grinder to round off the front. After than, I’ll use sandpaper by hand to round out the cut marks and polish it up to a fine finish. Then I’ll refinish the stock and presto the ebony tip should be affixed in a pleasing way. Sounds easy enough.



Step 3- Sawing off the tip of the XX grade Turkish walnut stock.

A $400 piece of wood should give anyone pause when you lay the sucker down on the deck of a table saw. The replacement stock is made by Boyd’s and I definitely took a risk in getting Model 70 replacement stock from them. Some have had spotty results, especially in their more “premium” grades. However, after looking at a couple YouTube videos, it was clear the grade was not the grade 2 wood you would see at Rigby or Mauser. It was still better than the pine firewood that came with my original stock. The wood is so porous, you can use it as a sink sponge, and the grain is wide open. It melts away under sand paper and the checker has that abomination of pressed checkering that I am certain looked horrendous even in its first condition. Like grandpa, I’d have to checker this thing but that’s a misadventure for another day. I take my calipers and measure two inches from the front. This stock is so oversized, it feels like I’m holding up a boat. After this ebony business there needs to be a lot of shaping if I’m going to make this thing look good.

Be aware if you purchase from Boyd’s its barely a “custom” replacement stock. My rifle will have a safari style barrel band, so I called customer service and asked them to delete the foreword swivel screw hole. “We don’t do that”, the lady said. “But my project doesn’t need it and you make the stock from scratch. When it comes the time to add that screw, can you just skip this step?” Mind you, I am paying hundreds of dollars for this stock. I know in the gun world that’s not a lot of money relatively, but still. “Yeah no we can’t.” “I see. So you make the stocks then out of CNC and it’s already programmed into the computer to cut the whole?” “Yeah, exactly” “And it’s not worth your time to edit the code for me?” “Yeah, exactly” “Fine, I’ll probably just cut it off anyway.” And that’s exactly what I did.

After tapering the front end of the Boyd’s to a pleasant round and thin shape that even Rigby would be proud of, it was time to make the cut. Using the sliding jig on the saw, I had to make sure the stock was sitting perfectly straight in the cradle, or else the front cut would be at an angle. I wanted a perfect 90 degree cut to the foreword rails of the gun. The problem was that there was no real way to hold the stock in place. If I put pressure on the stock, it would slide to a position where it was tilted toward me, or away from me, throwing the margin of error wildly off. No real solution to this without making a custom saw cradle, and that I do not have the time or experience to do. I’ll just hold it in position as best I can and make the cut.

….

It’s sort of straight? I’ll try it up with my belt sander, that’s do it. Except when I true it up in the grinder, millimeters of stock are taken off. How short do I want this to be? I made sure to give my self some wiggle room but cutting the tip off higher than I actually wanted, but now we are cutting it close. Oh well, no going back now. Time to do some drilling.
 
Looking forward to following you along in your adventure!
 
Well you have started the fun of restocking a rifle.

The ebony question is easy. just order a 2x2x12 turning blank from Woodcraft.

On a boyds I have just unscrewed the front sling screw and drilled it out with a 3/8 bit and pot a ebony or walnut dowel rod in place and taken a rasp to the stock to get the look and feel you prefer.

I usually just built a small jig to hold the stock square for cutting on a , table saw, chop saw, or radial arm saw depending on what you have access to.

To attach the ebony blank to the end of the stock I pre-drill two holes in the stock face for a short dowel rods. Use Center-Locating Punches for Unthreaded Closed-End Holes https://www.mcmaster.com/products/c...ng-punches-for-unthreaded-closed-end-holes-7/

This will ensure you get the holes in both pieces lined up before you glue them up. I use wood glue on both wood faces and in the dowel rod holes.
 

Attachments

  • McMaster-Carr.pdf
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  • Woodcraft Woodshop Ebony, Macassar 1.5%22 x 1.5%22 x 12%22 , (1.5%22 X 1.5%22 X 12%22).pdf
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Anyone who talks down to someone who wants to learn is themselves an idiot.
Those centre locating punches ( we call them dowel points ) are a good thing. maccasar ebony is a nice timber to work, although it can be hit and miss with the stripes running through it, I have used an Australian timber called buloak, an allocasurina with dark brown /black colour, very hard slow growing tree, I have them growing on my farm.
Looking forward to how this turns out
gumpy
 
Well you have started the fun of restocking a rifle.

The ebony question is easy. just order a 2x2x12 turning blank from Woodcraft.

On a boyds I have just unscrewed the front sling screw and drilled it out with a 3/8 bit and pot a ebony or walnut dowel rod in place and taken a rasp to the stock to get the look and feel you prefer.

I usually just built a small jig to hold the stock square for cutting on a , table saw, chop saw, or radial arm saw depending on what you have access to.

To attach the ebony blank to the end of the stock I pre-drill two holes in the stock face for a short dowel rods. Use Center-Locating Punches for Unthreaded Closed-End Holes https://www.mcmaster.com/products/c...ng-punches-for-unthreaded-closed-end-holes-7/

This will ensure you get the holes in both pieces lined up before you glue them up. I use wood glue on both wood faces and in the dowel rod holes.
Hey hey hey no spoilers! Hahaha. A lot of progress, I’ll post an update soon and thanks for the advice!
 
Step 3.5

In my prior post, i mentioned that Boyd’s puts in a foreward swivel screw wether you like it or not. Worse off, it’s coutersunk for the bezel of the the swivel. AZDAVE mentioned that a walnut plug would work, and that’s exactly what I did. I knew I wanted to put on an Orange decelerator pad. Again, I’m cosplaying as a London shop gun and was going for the traditional look. So I sawed off the back end of the Boyd’s to shorten the length of pull to compensate for the now longer 1” pad. I amazing “pulled” this off (see what I did there?) and was left with a bit of walnut scrape wood. I went on amazon and purchased some wood plug cutters, you know, the cheap Chinese made crap, with the hope of cutting a plug with a hand-held electric drill. I measured the inside diameter of the hole with some calipers and ordered the appropriate drill bit, praying it would be in spec.

I really wish I had a drill press because this was not easy to do by hand. the drill wanted to walk all over, and I had to really muscle it into the scrape wood. I used this wood to cut a plug to fill the foreword hole and after considerable sanding, the countersink disappeared and all was left was the bore hole for the wood screw. The foreword screw placement was in an inauspicious location. It was essentially right on the saw line for where I wanted to cut the stock. I cannot overstate how massive the stock is in every dimension. I wrote the dimensions down somewhere but it is essentially half an inch bigger in every dimension for the original stock. To their credit, the inside bit of the stock where the action sits is perfectly tight and well fitted. It is within spec where it counts, so to speak. They also do an in-house pillar job which is decent, so I was overall happy with it.

The little walnut plug came out perfectly shaped, and I was quite proud of my work. I drove into place soaked in wood glue, and after curing, sanded it flush with the stock body. I was so perfectly fitted, I doubt anyone would notice. It was even in the same grain direction.

However, this little side job was really only just practice. As I explained in my first post, after the cut off the front for the ebony tip, cut was was not exactly square. By the time I trued up saw cut, so much material was taken off, only a tiny sliver of the plug remained. However, I am quite proud that it held up to the saw and acted essentially as if it melded into the original wood. It didn’t splinter of pop out as a standard dowel would.

You can see below the piece of scrap wood with the two screw holes, the plug cut hole and the scars from the drill bit walking out. As well as the plug installed then sanded to fit.

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Disaster strikes!

Step 4:

Like I said, I get two shots at this before I need to buy more wood.

In shaping the forend of the stock, I gave myself very little real estate for the wooden dowels. The inside of the Boyd’s stock has a deep channel to accommodate the free floated barrel and perhaps to allow for a steel bar to fix a warped fore-end. This means there is precious little space for dowels to fit into the stock. Almost none really. 1/4” dowels are too big. I have to go smaller. This is like trying to park a SUV in a compact space.

Since I cannot just put two 1/4” dowels right in the center line, I’ll have to go for smaller pegs, and space them in three locations. Two on the sides and one on the bottom. I start with very small bore holes and work up to the right size, each time making the holes a little bit bigger. There is probably only a few millimeters between the sides of the drilled hole and the inside walls of the stock. This is so scary. If this gets messed up, I will have to cut the front again and try again (with a shorter and possibly stranger looking stock). In the final drilling, the edge of the wood gives way. What I have feared happens and the drill breaks the edge. However, it’s the inside edge of the stock. With the barrel in place no one can see it! I can proceed and maybe sand it a little to clean it up. I feel like I’m pressing my luck. The pegs will have to fit the holes, not the other way around. Pegs are cheap, this wood is expensive. I go to ace hardware, and bring my last drill bit and pick the right size pegs.

I wood glue the pegs and African blackwood in place and leave it clamped in place. The next day, I’ll start shaping.

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I am no expert but have fitted about 8 forend tips , so some suggestions i have a 80 tooth thin kurf cut off blade in my miter saw to cut off the tip , clamp the stock down on the saw table shim it up square & level with thin ply & card board do not try to hold it with your hands , cut it on the long side in case you screw it up . Cut the tip material square & oversize , i use a bench drill with a 1/4 shank router cutter that will cut an undersize round bottom Chanel in the tip for the barrel , the tip is held in a cross slide drill vice bolted to the drill press table . you have a centered Channel for bbl before gluing tip on . 1 1/4 inch dowel is all that is required to hold the tip in place use a dowel center to align the dowel in the stock , drill the dowel hole in the tip with a drill press to get it square & a drill guide to get hole in the stock square i have used both 2 part epoxey & quality wood glue to glue the tips on with good results , clamp tip on & check it is properly aligned ,shape tip & file out the undersize bbl Channel . when glue is dry i have always refinished the whole stock at this point use a straight edge along the sides & bottom & top of stock when shaping tip. one other thing the eboney timber is sort of oiley so clean off the face you are gluing with some sort of solvent.
 
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I am no expert but have fitted about 8 forend tips , so some suggestions i have a 80 tooth thin kurf cut off blade in my miter saw to cut off the tip , clamp the stock down on the saw table shim it up square & level with thin ply & card board do not try to hold it with your hands , cut it on the long side in case you screw it up . Cut the tip material square & oversize , i use a bench drill with a 1/4 shank router cutter that will cut an undersize round bottom Chanel in the tip for the barrel , the tip is held in a cross slide drill vice bolted to the drill press table . you have a centered Channel for bbl before gluing tip on . 1 1/4 inch dowel is all that is required to hold the tip in place use a dowel center to align the dowel in the stock , drill the dowel hole in the tip with a drill press to get it square & a drill guide to get hole in the stock square i have used both 2 part epoxey & quality wood glue to glue the tips on with good results , clamp tip on & check it is properly aligned ,shape tip & file out the undersize bbl Channel . when glue is dry i have always refinished the whole stock at this point use a straight edge along the sides & bottom & top of stock when shaping tip. one other thing the eboney timber is sort of oiley so clean off the face you are gluing with some sort of solvent.
Nice advice for the next project! I have no doubt I’ll do it again.
 

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