Yeah, I’ve noticed this alarming development too:
Taking a look at some of the most popular firearms companies, I was honestly a bit shocked to see how the synthetic/polymer/laminate wood stocks have come to dominate the market. The vast majority of Ruger, Remington and Savage rifles and shotguns are stocked in something other than walnut. The Winchester Model 70 maintains a walnut stock advantage, as does the lineup of Winchester lever-action rifles, but synthetic-stocked lever-actions are popping up regularly these days; Marlin and Henry being two examples which come quickly to mind.
This bullshit is something I’ve bemoaned ever since I was first able to hold a gun. Here’s why:
A well-sealed walnut stock will actually stand up well to most hunting situations, though they aren’t as rigid or easy to produce as a synthetic stock. While the mass-produced stocks are created by machinery, the higher-end walnut stocks are finished by hand. Custom stocks are a work of art, and to watch a classically trained stockmaker hand-carve a stock is like watching Michelangelo work. Names like Ralf Martini, Todd Ramirez, D’Arcy Echols, Mark Renmant and JJ Perodeau, just to name a few, can make the stock of your dreams. And I firmly believe that, like a fine watch, everyone should own at least one gun with a stock they are truly proud of.
That’s part of it, but not all of it. I love the feel of a wooden stock in my hands, a feeling that is entirely absent when I hold a piece of fucking plastic. Wood is warm, it feels natural and somehow seems to form a bond between gun and man in a way that some synthetic material just… doesn’t.
And I don’t buy this “wood warps and pushes the barrel out of register” bullshit. I’ve shot rifles in some pretty damn extreme conditions (African heat and Wisconsin cold, not to mention Scotland windy and wet) and I have never experienced that, in any rifle. I suppose it could happen, if the stock is too tight against the metal (which it shouldn’t be to begin with); I’ve just never noticed it.
Frankly, I think the clue to this nonsense lies in here:
Those [wood] stocks—even the blanks from which they are made—are not cheap. The custom walnut stock is extremely labor-intensive, and the highly figured walnut, which was much more common a century ago, has become a rarity. Many of the hardwood stocks in use today are rather plain looking, and the figured stocks come at a premium, for certain.
Much easier, cheaper and more “efficient” (fuck, I’m starting to hate that word) just to pour some polymer crap into a mold and screw the rifle action in, ten seconds’ work and all done.
I have only two rifles with Tupperware stocks — my Marlin 880SQ and 882SSV rimfire rifles — simply because Marlin doesn’t offer those two models with wood stocks, and it’s a long-term project of mine to replace the soulless black plastic with wood, one day, even though the stocks will probably end up costing me more than the original rifles themselves.
Compare the above with the rifle below, and tell me I’m wrong.
Let’s not even GO here:
(I note, by the way, that fine shotguns seldom come with PoliGrip stocks, so that’s all I need to say about that.)
I know: yelling about this is like moaning about the wind-tunnel shape of modern cars — it’s pointless, and as a trend, plastic stocks are no doubt here forever.
But I’ll tell you this (and it’s a promise): the day that new rifles are ONLY offered with plastic stocks is the day I stop buying new rifles altogether.
I’ll note that Jeff Cooper (PBUH) specified a plastic stock on his Scout rifle. He wasn’t happy about it, but it was the only way it would make weight.
What are your thoughts on polymer grips on handguns?
Plastic belongs on guns like warts belong on a pretty girl’s face.
I’m always pleased by the quality of the wood – and metal work – on older military service rifles. Mausers built prior to WW1 and again in the 30s were high quality rifles, built to very strict specifications. One of my nicest military rifles is a 1940 production Swiss K31. The wood is in good shape (which isn’t always the case in these rifles) and the machining reminds me that the phrase “built like a fine Swiss watch” was taken for granted by my parents and grandparents. I know that the Swiss weren’t at war and could put a bit more time and money into their rifles than for example the English, but even my 1942 vintage number 4 mark 1 Enfield is a solid example of wood and steel. No plastic or aluminum in those days to defend the Empire!
We used to display our nice guns, rifles and shotguns in gun racks, 60 years ago in Jr. High shop class I made several and had them hanging in my bed room showing off my guns. Then as the years went by and I was a bit older and married with children I had a nice glass front gun case in the den that had a lock but you could see the nice wood on my guns. Today my guns live inside steel, locked up, never on display and most seldom see the light of day and I wish I had a safe place to hang them on the walls like we did in the good old days.
I think that is part of the trend plus the fact that the workmanship to finish out nice wood is expensive, we have traded craftsmanship and art finishing out metal and wood for affordable functionality, CNC machined metal and molded (moulded if you’re Brit) polymers that result in excellent firearms for decent prices that shoot minute of angle out of the box.
As for me I have some rather nice looking wood on most all of my long guns and once or twice each year bring them all out to clean, oil and make sure they are living well. I also make sure they are well ventilated and not completly sealed up, even for as long as a week.
I was most fortunate to spend my college years in Chico, CA. Long before I arrived, a large part of the agriculture in the area was walnuts. Time and circumstances changed, and walnuts were replaced by almonds and citrus. A couple of enterprising young lads got into the business of removing old walnut trees and stumps, and making gun stock blanks for the gun industry. Those AAA fancy grade stocks on Weatherby rifles, or at Reinhart Fajen, et al? From Chico.
At the local gun show, I met the two lads, then in their 70’s, and was invited to their warehouse. When I walked out on the floor, I nearly had the vapors.
I’m a woodworker and likes me sum wood. I have my grand pappy’s 1917 Winchester Model 12 12ga and it has a century of scars proving it’s capacity to put pheasants on the table. I also have my pappy’s 1957 Winchester Model 71 .348 with a half century of scars putting deer on the table. I also have several plastic stocked firearms and I likes all of them no matter the furniture. I’ve said it before here, I like ALL firearms and I like some even more. The only thing I don’t like about firearms is that I don’t have all of them that I want. (the impossible dream – same with guitars) Since proper shot placement is the goal of the shooter and his gun all this pissin and moanin about aesthetics is tiresome. I’m just not in a swollen labia bitch mode today.
One more thing, about 99% of ALL stocks these days are made with machines, yes, even the checkering and engraving (CNC). Hand made stuff is priced beyond the realm of common folk.
And many times the checkering isn’t even cut, it’s pressed.
A lot of checkering nowadays is done by laser, which has a very characteristic look, and can be ugly, especially when overdone.
Back in the ‘60’s I worked briefly in a lab that developed wood treating methods. One of their research projects was to azeotropically dehydrate the wood and react it with acetic anhydride to make cellulose acetate in situ. The result was a darkened, hard, dense, and durable wood. It was also impervious to water and oils. Unfortunately, the wood also expanded a little during treatment so, unless the sample was very small, it cracked. Could thin strips of that treated wood be laminated to make a beautiful, stable, and hard stock? I think it could be. It would also be significantly more expensive than most other woods.
There are some flooring materials available today made by impregnating wood with acrylates and polymerizing them inside the wood to give something that looks just like wood, is harder and more dense, and is impervious to water. That material could also be used to make exceptional stocks but at a premium price.
Or is combining wood and plastic in one material a way to assure the worst properties of both materials?
Boyd’s has a laminated thumb-hole stock for your Marlin 880SQ
They also do hardwoods. You might check them out.
I have probably discussed this before here, but I recall the first time I handled a plastic rifle.. in basic training.. and yes, that M16 was made by Mattel. I had shot (wooden rifles) competitively through high school, but I recall vividly feeling the M16 was a utilitarian tool for killing people, unlike anything I had handled before. It was not a tool that you loved due to its character, but valued because you might need it to make bad men go away.
On the other hand, I love my Mosin.. it is by far my favorite gun, not only because it’s accurate and makes a nice boom, but the wood stock connects me to the rifle in a way that plastic never can.
Slightly related, we used the M16 opponent weapon, the AK47, when doing OPFOR exercises.. they were heavier, but never jammed, and had a very satisfying earthy sound. Again, these things are ethereal, but as I get older and reflect on them, they seem to matter more.
After reading this, for a lark, I looked up whether or not one could obtain wood furniture for an AR-15. Wonder of wonders, you can. Some of them looked quite nice, and in some cases they even deleted the pistol grip. I suspect those last weren’t standard AR-15 lowers.
I have a CZ 527 Exclusive Ebony Edition in .223 (Wylde chambering). Luxurious hand sculptured and checked walnut stock with ebony forend (shnabel), blued hammer twist barrel and diamond polished bolt. Mini mauser action and absolutely the sweetest shooting rifle I own. It’s a damn work of art. I lucked into finding it, since it was never distributed in the US and only offered as a CZ dealer incentive. It is the ONLY gun I own that is not locked up 24/7/365 because it’s too damn good looking to cage.
The best part? I got it for $703. Probably a $2500 gun now. I might give it away, but I’ll never sell it.
My Mossberg MVP Varmint has a laminated and stained wood stock, and she gets a lot of nice comments at the range, partly because of that wood, and partly because the MVP is a bolt-action rifle that takes AR magazines.
(Something like this, but with a much cheaper scope)
THAT is a fine-looking piece.
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