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« SKS Explained | Main | Homemade Magpuls »

February 07, 2005

Military Surplus Make-Over: Wood You Like To Refresh A Garand?

Let's discuss (& look at) some options for fixing up an old stock. I'll be focusing on the M1 Garand but most of what I'll write will be applicable to almost any surplus rifle that someone makes stocks & accessories for.

Walnut was the first choice for Garand stocks. In general it's a good serviceable wood. The Gub'mint treated them with boiled linseed oil then refreshed the finish with tongue oil periodically. This worked well for a while. It didn't protect against surface damage (nor was it meant to) but it did a good job of sealing the wood & keeping dirt out of the pores. But let's be honest; no mil-surp Garand is going to be less than 48 years old. Even if we take into account that some were rebuilt into the 1960's we're still talking about 40 years. That's a long time for any stick of wood to last. Couple that with abuse (hey - the military life is rough on rifles too) & less than ideal maintenance & you shouldn't be surprised if your stock has seen better days.

One of the worst things to happen to a stock was for it to be stored (along with the rifle). The military used a preservative called Cosmoline. It's great for protecting metal during long term storage but it tends to seep into & weaken the wood.

For a Garand stock fit is very important to accuracy. The trigger guard locks the receiver into the stock & if the wood is compressed then the fit will not be as tight as is desirable. Bedding & even shimming can correct this but why not have a rifle that looks good as well as shoots good?

There are two companies I know of that make stocks for the Garand. One is Dean's Gun Restorations. Dean's motto is "Life's too short to shoot an ugly gun". How can you not want to do business with him? Here are some samples of his work.

The other company is Boyd's Gunstock Industries. They sell stocks for a host of military arms (yes that was a pun; but unless you're a Hittite or a biblical scholar you probably didn't catch it) including the Garand. For most bolt action & some semi-auto mil-surp rifles they have sporterized stocks; but for the Garand we only have the military stock in three kinds of wood to choose from.

Before I get into what I chose for my Garand, let's look at some pics of the Garand before I did any work to it.

This is how it looked straight from the CMP:

Now the stock was oil soaked from years of storage. So what I did was take off all the metal & throw it in an oven at around 200 degrees. When it was warm to the touch I took it outside & sprayed it with Easy-Off oven cleaner. I let it sit for about 5 minutes then scrubbed it with a nylon pad & then rinsed it off in hot water. I repeated this a few times until I got most of the oil out of the wood. Then I refinished it using boiled linseed oil as a base (I rubbed it in by hand) then marine polyurethane as a top coat (actually two coats of the poly went on top). I ended up filling in some of the deeper dents with wood putty & tried (but failed miserably) to match the color of the putty to the color of the stock. Still it was a durable finish & didn't turn out too bad if you consider what it looked like beforehand.

Here's the refinished G.I. stock:

& here's a closer view:

If you noticed the little reddish-pink dots on the stock that's where I attempted to match the color of the wood putty to the stock. We shan't discuss that anymore.

Now there are all kinds of possibilities with the Garand. If you'll notice in the first picture I had a G.I. web sling on the Garand. In the last two I had put on a cheap 1907 sling I had lying around. There's nothing wrong with a web sling. Some top notch competitor's actually prefer it. I just like the leather 1907 style slings. & this has nothing to do with accuracy, but in order to scare the anti-gun lobby as effectively as possible, one simply must have a bayonet; especially if you intend on doing any drive-by's. I found a decent deal on an M1 bayonet (that's the model of bayonet, not just a generic reference). It has a ten inch spear point blade & was made between 1943 & 1945 - about the same time my rifle left Springfield Armory.

I also found a knock-off of the M1923 cartridge belt. Originally it held two 5 round stripper clips of .30-06 Springfield for the 1903 Springfield & 1917 rifles in each pocket, but it was found it would hold an 8 round en bloc clip for the Garand. As I said mine's an imitation as the originals are much pricier than when I gave one away as a kid (& yes I'm still kicking myself for that one). I also found some two pocket pouches. They would hold either two M1 Carbine magazines or two en bloc clips. & .30 ammo cans are a necessity for hauling around ammo.

They're all shown in this next pic (along with a K-bar I had laying around):

As far as stocks go there are all kinds of possibilities. You've already seen what Dean's Gun Restoration can do with wood. Here are three more pics of Garands that have been restocked:

This one was stocked with a laminate wood made by Fajen

This one has been sporterized. Not merely the stock but the gas system & sights as well. Notice how much closer the gas cylinder is to the receiver & the open sights on the barrel. There's also a scope mount offset to the left to facilitate loading & ejection.

This one has been altered to a "tanker" configuration with a Beretta BM-59 MK IV Nigerian stock added.

Reese Surplus has anohter stock option that always made me drool: BM-59 Paratrooper (folding) stocks. Now if you're thinking they wouldn't be the most stable (or comfortable) shooting platforms you're probably right. But what they rate on the "cool" scale would make it worth a try.

In case you're wondering the Beretta BM-59 is simply a Garand rechambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge; modified to accept a proprietary 20 round magazine; altered to selective fire (i.e. full auto or semi-auto at the flick of a switch) as well as a muzzle brake/flash hider & bi-pod. It's also a bit shorter than the Garand. But most parts are interchangeable. They were marketed as the BM-62 (semi-auto only) & later as the Ital-Alpine. One of my first gun culture related memories was seeing an ad for them in a Guns & Ammo magazine. I thought they were cool then. I think they're cool now.

But alas I didn't have the funds available for a folding stock. Nor did I have the cash to give to Dean's Gun Restorations. So I opted for a Boyd's stock & a bit of effort.

In the middle of WW2 the Nazi's realized that certain items were getting scarce - namely wood & skilled labor (not to mention time). So they started using laminated wood for their rifle stocks. It was not only a more efficient use of materials & labor but it turns out that laminated wood simply isn't as susceptible to changes in humidity as ordinary wood is. This wasn't a big concern of theirs at the time but it would prove very useful to gun owners decades later.

When a stock reacts to a change in the humidity it will affect the way the rifle shoots. Sometimes it'll make it shoot better. Other times it'll make it shoot worse. But every time it makes it shoot to a different point of aim. This is because the wood will either touch the barrel where it isn't supposed to or not touch the barrel where it's supposed to. If you have moving parts (like an operating rod on a Garand) this can compound the problem.

Synthetic stocks are impervious to this, but they're synthetic. Some people are fie with them but I prefer the feel of wood. I wanted a stock more stable than ordinary wood but not as prone to shifting with the humidity as ordinary wood without the plastic feeling that synthetics give me. So laminate is the obvious choice.

I ordered a laminate stock from Boyds; but not a finished stock. I ordered mine unfinished with only 98% of the inletting done (inletting is the process of fitting wood to metal). I did this to not only save a couple of bucks (actually in the long run it would have been cheaper to order one that was finished) but to make sure the fit was as tight as possible. Boyds stocks come a bit fatter than the G.I. stocks but I planned on doing some sanding anyway so it didn't bother me: I could shape it as thin as I dared if I wanted to (but actually I didn't slim it down that much).

In a nutshell here's what I did:

After I received the stock I let it sit for a week to ponder my options. Then I sanded it down with a few different grits of sandpaper till I got it nice & smooth (actually it came fairly smooth but I wanted to make sure it was as smooth as possible). I used 150, 220, 320, 400 & 600 grit wet/dry paper on it.

Then came the fun part. I tried using carbon soot (i.e. holding the metal up to a flame) but that didn't work well. I didn't have any inletting black on hand & didn't want to wait to get some so I went to the grocery store (in the middle of the night so as not to be seen) & bought the cheapest brightest red lipstick I could find. I coated the metal anyplace I thought it might come into contact with the stock (& several places where it wouldn't). Then I pressed it into the stock as far as it would go & I scraped away the wood that was bearing unevenly. (Actually I had to do some work just to get the receiver into the stock - it simply would not fit at first). I used a couple of hobby knives & some files I had laying around to take off as little wood as possible. Then I'd fit the receiver back into the stock & repeat. I didn't do it all in one shot so I have no idea of the time I spent on it but it took a while. I now understand why stock makers charges what they do & I won't argue that they're worth every penny.

After I could get the Garand to lock up in the stock I started looking for places where the op rod was hitting the wood & relieved those areas. When I was done the Garand would go into the stock with a little effort & lock up very tight when I clamped the trigger guard down. To disassemble it I need a screwdriver to help lift the trigger guard from its recess & a wood rod to separate the receiver from the stock. But that's how tight I want it to be. I simply cannot blame movement in the stock for any errors on a target now.

After the scraping was done I sanded it again using all the previously listed grits & brushed on a very thick coat of polyurethane. For the subsequent applications of polyurethane I'd brush it on fairly heavy then use a sponge to take off the excess & even things out. After each coat would dry I repeated the sanding; omitting the coarsest grit each time until I was left using the 400 & 600 grit respectively. After the very last coat I used 0000 steel wool to lightly polish the stock. I have five coats of polyurethane on the stock & I doubt humidity would have any effect on it whatsoever. (True, in Colorado the humidity isn't that big a deal, but North Carolina might need me one day & it's best to be prepared.)

I also ordered a few odds & ends for the Garand to compliment the new stock. To really ring the accuracy potential out of yourself you need a good quality sling. So I placed an order with Turner Slings. I opted for their National Match Sling seconds - which are more or less their rejects offered for less than their top of the line slings. If I'd have paid twice what they were asking I think I'd have walked away with the better end of the deal. Also the Garand stock always seemed a bit short for me. I'm not terribly tall (about 5'9") but another inch of stock wouldn't hurt, so I ordered a John Masen Recoil Pad from Midway USA. The Garand's recoil never bothered me much but the extra length of the Masen pad seemed like just the thing I was looking for.

Here are the results.

Left profile:

Right profile:

With accessories:

A close up of the Turner sling:

A close up of the Masen recoil pad:

& one more of the right profile:

Of course if it doesn't shoot worth a damn then all the effort I put into it will be for naught. But the Garand was giving me 2" groups when I'd do my part before I put the new stock on so I doubt it'd do much worse. I'll find out in the next week or so when I take it to the range & then (hopefully) to a High Power match.

With just about any surplus rifle that I can think of it's possible to dress them up & make them look & (hopefully) shoot better. But unless you like working with wood & know a little about the workings of the rifle (i.e. why it shoots good & why it doesn't). Then I'd recommend getting Dean's Gun Restorations or another competent stock maker to inlet your new stock to your receiver & barrel. For me it was rewarding - mainly because I don't think I did any serious or permanent damage to the receiver, stock or myself. But then again some say I'm a Garand fanatic & prone to spending too much time on activities involving a Garand.

Not adding up the hours I spent on it, I have around $400 into the Garand itself (being a Danish issue rifle I got from the CMP a few years ago), around $100 for the stock, $13 for the Masen recoil pad, $34 for the Turner sling & let's call it $20 for the sandpaper, brushes, sponges & polyurethane. For $567 I don't think I did to badly; but it's a Garand so as long as it shoots as good as it did I wouldn't think twice that was too much to sink into it.

For some related reading click the following links:

Now that you’ve bought your first firearm, what do you do with it?

Firing In Eights

The 5 Main Firing Positions For Rifle

The Proper Use of the Rifle Sling

My CMP Garand by The Smallest Minority

TO BE ALIVE UNDER A PERFECT SKY by James Rummel of Hell In A Handbasket

Surplus Rifles: The Best Bang for Your Buck by James Rummel of Hell In A Handbasket

Firearm Feature: What's this 'SKS' I keep hearing about? from Headsbunker

A Tough Little Rifle: the SKS from Mugwug of Moral-Flexibility

Civilian Marksmanship Program

Garand Collector's Association

John Cantius Garand

FM-23-5 (Army Field Manual for the M1)

The M1 Garand

The M1 Garand Rifle: An American Companion In Three Wars

Why I Own An M1 Garand Rifle by Oleg Volk

A tribute to the M1 Garand and the men who carried it in World War II

The Garand Page

& to add to your library:

"The U.S. .30 Caliber Gas Operated Service Rifles: A Shop Manual Volumes 1 & 2" by Jerry Kuhnhausen (this covers the M1 Garand as well as the M14/M-1A)

"Precision Shooting with the M1 Garand" by Roy Baumgardner

"The M1 Garand: Owner's Guide" by Scott A. Duff

"Gunsmithing: Rifles" by Patrick Sweeney

Posted by Publicola