• Applying a London Best Oil Finish

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    The question arises regarding the method to achieve a Best Grade London finish on either a new stock, or one that is being refinished. Because the removal of an old finish, either lacquer, oil, or polyurethane, is a separate process, I'll keep the discussion to the actual application of the oil finish after the stock has been prepped to receive it.

    This method was taught to me by a stockmaker who works for a very reputable firm whose history is well known and respected among the best in the industry. The wet sanding finish is used by the best stockmakers with some differences from maker to maker.

    The first decision is what oil finish to use. The worst choice would be raw boiled linseed oil. BOL does not have the correct dryers in the oil and, if you get in a hurry, you will have a mess. A better choice would be a commercially prepared finish from Napier, CCL, or Purdey's Warthog. The important ingredient in these formulas is Tung oil. Linseed oil does not have the waterproofing properties that Tung oil has. There is no doubt that Linseed oil gives a beautiful finish and we will use some in our finish. When finishing stocks for use in Alaska, use Waterlox as the filler base and then apply the finish over the Waterlox. You can also use Waterlox for a complete finish and the results can be very nice.

    At this point, your stock should be sanded and all of the whiskers raised and sanded. Make sure all damaged wood is removed during this process and all marks completely sanded. The finish will not hide tool marks; it will accentuate them.
    The purpose of wet sanding is to fill the pores. Most Walnut and most other gunstocks have fairly large pores. We will fill the pores with finish and sanding debris. Wet sanding is done using 320 grit wet or dry sandpaper. Before you start, you need to cut up the sandpaper into 1.5" x 2" pieces. Make sure you cut the paper with scissors instead of tearing. Now, mix some of your finish with mineral spirits at a ratio of 1 to 2. Wet a small portion of the stock with the mixed finish; something along the lines of a 4" to 6" section.

    The sanding is done very lightly in a straight line. Never sand in circles. You just glide the sandpaper over the stock. You will feel the paper cutting. My favorite backing is a rubber eraser that is 1" wide and 3" long and about 3/4" thick. Using this as a backing, I can sand flats and the difficult areas around the pistol grip with no problems. If you sand too hard, you will pull the finish out of the pores instead of filling them. This is a key factor. Sand just hard enough to feel the paper cutting. Always use a backing when sanding two different materials that butt up together like the recoil pad or the grip cap. As you sand, you will see the sanding dust and the finish combining to for a "muck". You just want to see a small amount of muck that just looks like a dirty finish. Before using a new piece of paper, wet it first in the finish so you are never sanding a dry area of the stock. Change sandpaper very often and keep it wet with the mixture. This process should feel like rubbing down the stock with a rag.

    Sanding a complete stock will take less than an hour and, with experience, you can sand one in 40 minutes. When you are finished sanding, the stock will have some areas still wet, but the first sanded parts may be quite dry. Now, cover the complete stock with your mixed finish using only your fingers. Don't rub it; just wet it down so all the sanding muck is wet and the stock is gleaming. Now, set it aside for the finish to start drying out again. You don't want it dry, but you want the finish to thicken to a paste consistency. This will take 5 to 15 minutes according to how hot it is in your workshop.

    After the stock has set and the muck is starting to firm up but not dry, we will remove the muck using paper towels. Do not use the type you use in your kitchen because they are much too absorbent. the best towels are the brown/tan shop towels used to wipe grease off your hands. The cheaper towels are better because they are less absorbent. Take the towel and wad it up so it is all wrinkled and start rubbing in a circular pattern rubbing the muck from the stock. Do not rub hard and do not polish the stock. Just wipe off the stock and turn the paer towel so new sections are used. Don't be concerned if a little muck is missed because any bit left will be removed with the next wet sanding. Do try to get 99% of the muck off if possible. Now, set the stock aside and let dry for 24 hours.

    Repeat this process agian using the same 320 grit sandpaper. This time, be careful to remove all of the muck. This is where you have to use reflected light to view every bit of the stock looking for any residue and that all of the pores are full. If you don't have a dull glass smooth surface, with all pores filled, then repeat this process again until you do. Usually three wet sandings with 320 grit is all that is needed.
    Repeat this process with 400 grit and 600 grit sandpaper. Again, be very careful to sand very lightly and avoid rubbing too hard when removing the muck with your paper towel to avoid pulling the finish out of the pores. When using the 600 grit sandpaper, simply float the paper over the stock.

    Now, let the stock sit for four days. I mentioned earlier about using Linseed oil on the stock and we are at that stage now. Linseed oil will add a nice satin shine to your finish. This is the oil you will use in future years to renew your finish. Apply the Linseed oil and let it set for 30 minutes. Wipe the oil off with a clean flannel cloth. Wait four days and repeat the step again with the rubbing oil. This four day waiting period between the Linseed oil applications is important in order to let each coat dry.
    Now, here is where some of the masters get that London Shine that we all see on guns like Purdey and Holland & Holland. When the stock is completely dry and is has set for a couple weeks or more, burnish the surface of the stock with a leather chamois cloth and good old-fashioned spit and vigorous rubbing. This will add a nice satin burnishing to the surface that will look incredible.

    There you have it Forum members. This is the process I use when turning my Mark V Deluxe models into an oil finished beauty. If you are trying to decide whether to go through the arduous and time-consuming process of stripping off a polyurethane finish, please make double sure that the grain of the wood is fancy enough to warrant this process. An oil finish will not turn a plain grained stock into a deep exhibition grade stock. A correctly applied oil finish will enhance good grain structure and bring out amazing colors in the wood. An oil finish is actually a part of the wood and seems to reach deep below it's surface to bring out the beauty. Also, an oil finish builds and matures over time and begins to develope that beautiful patina we all like when we see it in the Best guns. This process of applying the rubbing oil over the years is a great way to spend those long winter days.

    Good luck!! My woodshop is open for business

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