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Is a wooden or synthetic rifle stock best? And what about laminates?

Your rifle stock is so much part of your rifle, make sure you are choosing the best for your purposes, says Mat Manning

Anschütz 1761 Classic Whisper

Bruce is able to get a second rabbit while it is still trying to work out where the noise came from

Rifle stocks come in a choice of material – wood, synthetic or laminate. Which you choose for your particular rifle depends on a variety of things. To make things easier I have listed the pros and cons of wood vs synthetic rifle stocks here and included some info on laminates.

rifle stocks wood

A wooden rifle stock certainly looks good

Wood rifle stocks

Wood is a natural material designed by nature to conduct sap up a tree. So even when a wooden rifle stock is well varnished or oiled it can draw moisture from the atmosphere, expand, and then shed the water in dry conditions, resulting in shrinkage. (Read how to choose the wood for your gun stock.)

Wooden stocks can warp too.

In a well-seasoned, good quality wooden rifle stock these movements are extremely tiny. But they can affect absolute pinpoint accuracy.

So whilst a good walnut stock rifle certainly looks nice, it does have its disadvantages on a very accurate rifle, particularly if you plan to use it in all weathers.

However walnut is quite hard and dense and if properly seasoned is relatively resistant to warping and splitting.

The Russians are reported to have made potentially millions of military rifle stocks out of birch – and there’s plenty of that in Siberia.  (Read how can I restore my gun stock shine?)

rifle stocks synthetic

Synthetic rifle stocks don’t shrink

Synthetic rifle stocks

Synthetic stocks, which are plastics of various types, do not draw in moisture, expand or shrink. They don’t warp either.

Their stability in all conditions of heat, cold and humidity ensures constant accuracy once the rifle has been properly zeroed to your chosen load. (Read more on zeroing your rifle here.)

rifle stocks laminate

Laminate rifle stocks are more elegant

But if you really don’t like the idea of a synthetic rifle stock consider a laminated wooden stock. It’s just about as stable as a synthetic stock but a lot more elegant.

Laminate vs synthetic stock

There are many benefits of a laminate gun stock, which comprises many layers of hardwood pressed together using heat, pressure and resin to form a uniform material.

It allows for an internal and external stock design that is far stronger than any standard factory wood or plastic stock on offer. Laminated stocks also have the benefit of being highly resistant to climatic changes and are virtually impregnable to water or moisture.

They retain their rigidity, which is ideal to maintain consistent bedding between the stock and the barrelled action. These stocks are also very good in hot weather as the UV rays from the sun do not degrade them and humidity in tropical climes doesn’t affect them. This makes them good for overseas stalking trips. (Read why did the Browning 525 Laminate leave our reviewer breathless?)

Rigby Highland rifle

Rigby Highland rifle

So which is better?

We asked Diggory Hadoke, Shooting Times contributor and managing director of Vintage Guns for his thoughts. He said:

“For some sportsmen, the pleasure of ownership, and of participation in their sport, is enhanced by their appreciation of traditional rifle-building aesthetics. A well built traditional rife is a very practical and beautiful object but there is no doubt that for those who demand ultimate performance, weather-resistance and inherent strength, the modern synthetic rifle is the best tool for the job.

Traditionalists, like Rigby customers buying the Highland Stalker, have no interest in ‘modern’ rifles and new developments but for those who view their rifle purely in practical terms and expect them to soak up abuse in rough terrain, the stainless steel and modern composites used today provide a level of dependability and confidence that cannot be matched by traditional wooden-stocked rifles of comparable price.”

lightweight rifles

The stock of a Haenel Jaeger 10 Sporter Synthetic (.223 Rem)

A word on warranties and rifle stocks

When you buy a new gun the law requires that it is fit for purpose. So if you, for example, notice that the stock has split you are entitled to have it replaced or have a replacement gun. Go back to the shop you bought it from and ask for a repair or replacement. Any warranty given by the manufacturer/importer is over and above your ordinary rights under consumer law and does not replace them.

However, if the split is your fault and the result of careless use then you will have no redress. So, if for example, you allow the wooden stock to become damp and don’t dry it off after a day’s stalking in the rain, resulting in warping and splitting, then the warranty almost certainly won’t cover you. (Read more on cleaning your rifle here.)

Wood to metal fit on a gun – what does it mean?

What is ‘wood-to-metal’ fit on a gun? It means that the wood is in contact with the metal in every place it should be, with no gaps.

This is particularly important at the head of the stock, which is where the recoil forces are transmitted from the metal of the action into the wood. A sloppy fit in this region can over-stress the parts of the wood where the metal touches, and cracks can result.

Usually, a visual inspection is all that is required to discover whether the wood-to-metal fit is good or bad.

It is desirable to have the wood standing slightly proud of the metal. Then, if the wood gets slightly damaged, marks or very small chips can be sanded out without causing unsightly low spots.


This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.