... long post … but with pictures at the end!Intro:
I purchased a set of PSL stocks (SVD forend, Panther buttstock with cheekpiece) in tiger striped maple from Rhineland Arms and this is my attempt to document the coloration and finish process for you and also to give you some ideas for any firearm woodworking project you may try.Wood Stains and Dyes: Stains:
FYI, most wood 'stains' used today, or available at your local hardware store, are pigmented, which means that actual colored pigments, solids really, that are in suspension within the colored carrier agent. The carrier is used to carry (uhhhh, duh!) the stain pigments into the pores of the wood to give it the color, but NOTE
these same pigments can actually mask and hide
(gasp!) the grain and figure on an otherwise beautiful and highly figured piece of expen$ive wood. Which is why you find furniture makers and custom gunstock makers rarely using pigmented stains on figured woods, if at all. Note some stains are actually a combination of a pigmented stain with a dye used as the carrier.Dyes:
FYI, for really wild color combinations and results, some use an aniline dye on wood. Such dyes were first made in the 19th century for use on textiles. Dyes greatly differ from stains, as the colorant is a chemical within the base liquid (water or alcohol) itself – meaning that if you leave the container to sit, the colorant will not precipitate out and settle to the bottom.
A neat trick for wood working, and one that I had considered for this custom build, was to first apply black dye (to darken the stripes), then lightly sand it back with 220-grit (leaving the black in the darkened stripes). Then I’d apply a 2nd dye coat of a brownish-red or reddish-brown color (to establish the ‘base’ color), again sand it back, and then apply a yellow-orangey (sp?) top dye coat. The intent there is to have dark stripes, a base color of a medium brown-red (so often seen on Com Bloc arms) and finally a light ‘top color’ that adds some highlights to the lighter colored wood. Think contrast here … just remember, for highly figured woods, dyes or chemicals (see to follow) allow the grain and figure to be seen, without hiding or masking the inherent characteristics and beauty that lies within the wood. Making Figured Maple Really ‘POP’!
Maple is somewhat unique in its growth tendency, as whereas some woods have nothing but straight grain, maple (particularly the ‘hard’ species) produce some of the most figured variations in grain structure and figure, like birds eye, tiger stripe, fiddleback, and curly or flame maple, but most are variations found mostly in sugar or red maples. It is the combination of soft wood and hard wood intermixed that give these maples their contrast and figure.
However, there is a more traditional method used on highly figured maple (think muzzleloading flintlock longrifles) and that is Aqua Fortis
, which I’ll refer to as simply AF. AF is Latin for 'strong water' and it is nitric acid, though some add muriatic acid to it, or make their own mix from old rusty nails and acid. Without going in the formulation too much, suffice it to say that AF has iron or ferrite dissolved within it and those chemicals penetrate the softest parts (which form the stripes on tiger maple) of the wood the deepest and then when heat is applied, the AF oxidizes (think 'controlled burn').
AF not only gives wood contrast, but incredible depth, as in a 3-D effect, which is called ‘chatoyance’. When you look at a treated piece through varying angles, some colors and figure will jump out at you, while others appear to go away, but then look at it from another angle or slowly turn the piece around in front of you and the wood will appear to be alive!
And that’s the coloration and effect I’m going for on this PSL build. Please keep in mind working with acids is inherently DANGEROUS (by fumes and/or handling) so proper precautions and personal safety gear needs to be adhered to!Wood Preparation:
FYI, I used a pre-made AF, sold by http://www.trackofthewolf.com/
or TOW, at $8 for a bottle that will do 2-3 longrifles, which are full-stocked arms, though very light and delicate in the 3’ to 4’ long upper forends by the way. Off topic, but I make custom muzzleloaders from metal parts kits and rough sawn blanks, as that is my ‘other’ hobby.
Now get this? Figured wood to be treated, by AF or dyes, can be sanded TOO smooth!
As received, I was greatly impressed with the machining and finish on the Rhineland stock set (some of the best I’ve seen on gun stocks, and I’ve restocked many a gun, as I used to be a gunsmith), but this wood as received was just too smooth! So much so that I knew my results wouldn’t be as good as they can be, as the colorant treatments wouldn’t adequately penetrate. There’s a lesson here, if the wood is finished too smooth, you won’t achieve any depth of color penetration. So after I fit the pieces to my action and receiver, I made sure to give them all a good thorough sanding using 150 (lightly) and then 220-grit, new paper to boot. I’m certainly no expert, but the custom flintlock ‘artisans’ (they truly are!) I admire typically use a ~220-grit sanding finish as to when they’ll color the wood. Note they typically don’t sand stocks anyway, as some still use the scraping method, which doesn’t require one to take care of whiskers. If you’re not familiar why the need to ‘whisker’ on wood or gunstocks, please read up on it … sorry, but I’m getting off track … and this post is quite long enough! I just always document my latest ‘toy’ projects.Using AquaFortis:
Once sanded and wiped free with a tack cloth, and while wearing gloves, long sleeves, and eye shield/protection, just apply the AF to the wood piece and ‘paint’ it on for one good coat. I used one of those cotton balls on a small twisted wire handle. If I put it down, I use wax paper or old clean metal (old cookie pan, etc.) to rest the piece on. Now the TOW instructions tell you to just apply heat (use a hair dryer on high or an industrial heat gun) without regard to how long one should or even let it sit and soak in. Rhineland (to their credit!) includes a scrap piece from the stock set or wood batch they send you, for you to experiment on. I had tried the AF on the test piece by wetting and heating, but it took me 5-coats !!! and yet the stripes didn’t darken but to 1/2-way of the really dark tone I wanted and the base color was already a medium brown.
So … for this cheekpiece (1st of the 3-piece set to be treated), this time I let the AF dry overnight. I think drying overnight is a little too much, as the wood seemed really dry; too dry. However, it did react when hit with the heat gun. Oh, and you cannot screw up with AF, or even dyes. Don’t like the result? Knock it back with paper, or my preference with finishes – green (medium) or gray (fine) ScotchBrite-type pads.
Rhineland Stocks (less buttstock), with the UNtreated SVD handguard above the wetted and dried (overnight) cheekpiece AF treated: NOTE -
The SVD forend shown above is significantly lighter in color than my cellphone camera depicts it. It really is as beautiful a figured piece I've ever handled ... so I just hope I don't screw it up!
Cheekpiece treated with AF, after drying out overnight:
Partial heat treatment of the AF’d cheekpiece, see the colors starting to change?
Color Test – wait for the wood to cool (after only 1 overnight application):
Uhhhhhhhh … you should STILL be wearing gloves at this point!
Don’t touch the wood with bare hands until you reach the color you want and you neutralize the AF acid by a wash of a baking soda paste lightly rubbed on the wood. At this stage the acid is unlikely to burn you, but it is a bright yellow and if it stains your skin … it’ll be there until it grows out! Note, the TOW AF acid doesn’t appear as strong as other AF brands or home-brews, and their instructions don’t mention anything about neutralizing the AF, but note if AF is not properly neutralized, then 2 things can happen. One, the acid could adversely affect and pit any metal it touches and two, at worse – the stock could continue to darken over time. FYI, that is believed why old flintlocks from the late 1700s almost appear ‘black’ as viewed today, as the wood and finish continued to oxidize.
I just gave this cheekpiece a second coat of AF, will let it penetrate for just a few hours today and then will activate it with the heat gun. If I like the color, I will stop there and then once cooled, will wash it off to neutralize the acid by the light baking soda paste rub/wash. I may add a slight orangey-red top-coat of an analine dye (not pigmented), before finishing, as the Eastern Bloc arms tend to be of that coloration ... but in the end, I just want the stripes to be really dark and for the wood to have wicked, kick-ass contrast!Going Forward:
I’ll continue to work on these pieces and I’ll add pictures when there’s anything of interest to show. But stay tuned … as I’ll post the final result here too when completed!