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Old 01-14-2015, 11:25 AM
SGW Gunsmith
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Join Date: 
Jan 2004
Northwestern Wisconsin
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100% (14)
Wood types for checkering

I am currently making 28 sets of grip panels for the Ruger Mark pistols, so just as I picked up my spacing cutter, another thought popped into my head. When I first started checkering there wasn't anybody within 1000 miles that I could consult. Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet, and I was basically unaware of anything written on the subject of checkering. So, I learned right off that soft wood was too frustrating to even deal with. That's when Pete's pellet gun with its American Walnut stock started looking like an unwilling candidate.

A couple of things. Don't waste your time and efforts with checkering crappy wood. American Walnut, Claro Walnut and some of the other more open pore, open grain wood used for gunstocks are OK to start out with. But consider this. Those open pore and open grain stock woods will absolutely need to have those pores and grain filled with finish that's allowed to harden up to the finishes full extent. Because of that wood being more course than some others, lines-per-inch (LPI) are best cut using 18, 20 and maybe 22 LPI cutters and then finished with a 90-degree finishing cutter. The more open grain wood will have the tops of the diamonds popping off if the LPI is any finer than 20 LPI. What I have done in some cases where the wood is a bit course, is to cut to 1/3rd depth and then add stock finish to strengthen the wood. That works MOST of the time, but it's not something I feel I can rely on. My preference when checkering is involved with the project is to ALWAYS use a finish that penetrates deeply into the stock wood. For that reason I use Permalyn gunstock finish and sealer. For stocks/grips that don't require checkering, a surface finish like lacquer works great and brings out the color and figure, if present, in the wood. Checkering a lacquer finished stock will have the finish chipping along the borders of your checkering pattern. and believe me, that is a real nightmare to try and fix.
My all around favorite gunstock wood is English, or California English wood, even in the low-end price range where there's little figure involved. Flame shell and fiddle-back maple makes for a gunstock that takes fine checkering up to 26 LPI. Bastogne walnut can have some awesome figure because it's a cross between Claro and English walnut, and Bastogne will take 22 or 24 LPI checkering very well. I have seen gunstocks checkered to 28 and even 32 LPI, but the checkering is so fine that when you pick the stock up, you need to squint to see that fine checkering, which is more cosmetic than functional. So, what I'm trying to impart here, is get some hardwood that won't have you throwing your arms up in despair. Checkering is supposed to be fun and rewarding to learn, not something the "principle" has inflicted on a naughty student.
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