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How to maintain your air rifle stock

Mike Morton runs through some maintenance tips to help protect your air rifle stock

Ask someone to think about the features of an air rifle, then sidelevers, regulated actions and multi-shot magazines may well spring to mind. But none of these will be of much use without the air rifle stock.

An air rifle stock is more than just a handle. If a telescopic sight is an aiming device, then a stock is a pointing device, which will, quite literally, point the barrel in the right direction. And just as a rifle’s action, barrel and scope need care and attention to keep them doing their jobs properly, then so does a stock.

How much care and attention required will of course depend upon the type of working life the air rifle stock has had, but it will also depend on the material the air rifle stock is made from. I’ll briefly describe the types of air rifle stock that are commonly found on a modern air rifle, how to care for them and, when necessary, correct any minor damage.

(Looking for more advice on airgun shooting? Check out our thoughts on rifle and ammo compatibility, things to consider when buying a scope, top tips for stalking rabbits with an air rifle and buying your first air rifle).


Synthetic air rifle stock

air rifle stock

A synthetic stock requires minimal maintenance. Just make sure it’s kept clean and is stored away from direct sunlight

Although some traditionalists dislike plastic or polymer stocks, there’s no denying their practicality. A synthetic air rifle stock is impervious to water and is unlikely to warp, and if the stock picks up a scratch then the only real damage is to the way it looks, not how it performs. A synthetic stock requires minimal maintenance, the most obvious being to keep it clean, which will not only make it look better, but will assist grip if the stock has accumulated layers of dirt, skin oil and gun oil.

The entire air rifle stock can even be submerged for a thorough clean in soapy water, provided all metal fixings have been removed so they won’t rust or trap water, and the air rifle stock is completely dry before being reattached to the rifle.

Synthetic stocks can benefit from a protective coating. I have a book written by BASC director of firearms Bill Harriman in which he recommends using a car plastic trim restorer, as this can add some lustre to a tired synthetic stock while offering some protection against ultraviolet light, cracking and premature ageing. I was sceptical at first, but tracked down a bottle of Armour All protectant so I could try this method on one of my own rifle stocks. I was worried this product would make the stock slippery, but in fact it worked really well.


Soft-touch air rifle stock

air rifle stock

This HW100 BP has a soft-touch stock that feels pleasantly warm to the touch, and just requires wiping with a soapy cloth to keep clean

In the powder-burning world, an overmoulded stock is constructed by producing a strong, rigid skeleton that fits the rifle’s action, often being made from fibreglass. This is then overmoulded with a durable, synthetic material. Airgun stock manufacturers have modified this concept by making the stock from wood and overmoulding it with a soft rubbery compound, creating a stock with a very different look and feel to an all-wood handle.

A soft-touch stock that’s in good shape can be treated much like a synthetic stock, merely requiring a gentle wipe with a moistened cloth to keep it clean. Don’t completely immerse it though, because if the rubber does not have 100 per cent coverage, the wood underneath may absorb some water and start to swell up. Similarly, if the rubber has been gouged deep enough to expose the wood underneath, it can also swell. If your stock has been damaged in this manner, it’s best to seal the area, with waterproof tape being an inelegant, but perfectly functional fix.

One other potential area of concern is degradation of the rubber compound due to exposure to ultraviolet light, or sometimes just general wear and tear. This can take years to develop – if indeed it ever happens at all – but one soft-touch stock I had degraded within a few months. This made it not only unsightly, but unpleasantly sticky to the touch, attracting grit and dirt like a magnet. No amount of cleaning fixed this, and I ended up having to get a replacement stock.


Air rifle stock removal

air rifle stock

Synthetic stocks are waterproof, but the mounting hardware probably won’t be rustproof, so remove any washers, screws and sling studs

In order to give a stock a thorough inspection, it’s necessary to take it off the rifle. It might seem daunting, but it’s generally a simple task requiring very few tools.

Safety always comes first, so it’s vital to confirm the rifle is neither cocked, nor loaded and the magazine, if it has one, has been taken out before work starts on removing the stock. Although not essential, it’s a good idea to support the gun while it’s being worked on. One I’ve used for many years is the Shooting Range Box from MTM. This features two removable plastic forks with moulded-on rubber pads to protect the rifle, which can hold the rifle upside-down for stock removal.

Rifles are usually mated to the stock with a slotted or hex bolt or screw, or sometimes a combination of the two. Some rifles are trickier to separate from their stocks, a good example being the Weihrauch HW100 BP, which requires the additional step of removing a pin with a punch.

Whatever tool you need, please use the correct one for the job. That means not using a slotted screwdriver that’s either too big or too small for the screw being removed, and not using an Imperial hex key when you should have been using metric.

Any sling swivel studs or Picatinny accessory rail sections should also be unscrewed so you can check the condition of the stock underneath. You can also remove the butt pad if it will come off easily. Some are glued in place, and it’s not worth breaking the seal and having to re-glue the pad afterwards if the seal looks intact and the pad is still in good condition.


Laminate stocks

air rifle stock

This Daystate Red Wolf wears a laminated stock with a high-gloss finish, which isn’t all that practical in the field, but does look gorgeous

Laminate stocks were originally seen as a cost-cutting method of supplying stocks for military bolt-action rifles, using strips of veneer rather than expensive solid hardwood. But these stocks were actually found to offer superior performance to traditional materials like walnut as they don’t tend to swell or warp, and these attributes are relevant for modern air rifle stocks too.

Laminate stocks are generally built up of numerous strips of wood veneer, which are pressure-treated with wood dyes. The veneers are then layered and pressed together with hot resin to create a stable material. I’ve heard of one stock-maker who finishes his laminates with stock oil, but I do not really understand why, because that hard resin finish will not absorb the oil. At best, all the oil will do is dry on the surface, and it could end up creating a sticky mess.

Protective maintenance on laminate stocks therefore follows the same pattern as before – just keeping everything nice and clean. Some laminates will have a matt or eggshell finish, while others will have a high gloss. This type of finish can be enhanced by something as simple as furniture polish or even car wax.

The performance of a laminate stock will not be affected if the stock picks up any mild to moderate damage, as the use of glues and resins makes the laminated wood virtually waterproof. However, there is no easy way to repair any aesthetic damage at home.


Lacquered or varnished stocks

air rifle stock

This Daystate Red Wolf wears a laminated stock with a high-gloss finish, which isn’t all that practical in the field, but does look gorgeous

These types of stocks are usually made with a wood such as beech, with either the wood being stained then the finish applied over the top, or a mix of stain and varnish/lacquer being applied together. Untreated beech is quite pale, and the idea of adding a stain is to make the wood darker, more closely resembling a more premium wood, notably walnut. In terms of performance, beech is still a decent option.

A hard coat like varnish or lacquer is prone to damage, typically by being knocked or scratched. If this happens and the wood is exposed, it’s again prone to absorbing moisture and swelling. This can upset the geometry of the stock, messing up point of aim relative to the pellet’s point of impact, and if the stock is left in this condition the damage will get worse as the wood swells further and cracks more of the top coat.

Minor touch-ups can be applied to damaged areas, using more varnish or lacquer applied with a small paintbrush, and you can even use gun stock oil to cover the exposed wood. Ultimately, the best option would be to strip and refinish the stock completely, a task that is far easier to accomplish with varnish rather than lacquer, as the latter can be incredibly hard to shift.


Stained, oil-finished stocks

Conventional gun stock oils have been joined by more modern products that are easier to apply and dry faster

You’ll find some beech stocks, and even walnut on occasion, that have been stained and oiled. The beech will have been stained to make it look like walnut, while the walnut will have been stained to make it look like a more expensive grade.

The maintenance required here is exactly the same as for a regular walnut stock as described above, requiring just one or two coats of gun stock oil. When repairing minor damage, however, you may need to stain any exposed wood to match the rest. It’s very easy to add more wood stain to darken the colour, but quite difficult to lighten it, especially on a spot repair, so I’d advise several thin coats rather than one or two heavy ones.

You’ll also have to decide whether the wood was stained with a water-based dye then oiled, or whether an oil-based dye was mixed into the stock oil and the two applied together, adapting your technique accordingly.


Walnut air rifle stock

Oiled walnut is fairly easy to care for as the finish can be refreshed with minimal effort, as long as it’s done on a regular basis

Walnut has been the traditional stock material of choice for hundreds of years, being light and strong as well as beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold. It also happens to be the easiest of the natural stock materials to maintain.

Walnut stocks are usually treated with grain sealer followed by gun stock oil. The wood will absorb some of the oil, and the excess will dry, giving the wood a wonderful look and feel as well as protecting it. Different finishes can be created depending on the smoothness of the wood and the number of coats of oil that have been applied.

An oil finish will get worn and dull over time and will need to be refreshed, typically once a year. This is a simple process, with the trick being to use far less oil than you might expect. It’s all too easy to think that if a little oil is good, then a lot of oil will help protect the stock even more, but it’s essential to apply only a very thin coat of oil and allow it to dry thoroughly before adding another coat if needed. Refreshing a stock is not the same as refinishing it, and two coats should be plenty. Minor damage can also be covered up with a little oil, which can often be rubbed into the surrounding wood for an almost invisible repair.

More modern products that behave like traditional gun stock oil but dry far faster are now available, a good example being Stock Shield from Napier. This doesn’t leave quite as fine a finish, so if you have a deep high-shine shotgun-style look then you’re better off with a traditional oil. However Stock Shield is very easy to apply and dries exceedingly quickly.


Summing up the stocks

A little bit of time spent inspecting your stock, cleaning it and applying a protective coating where appropriate will ensure the stock continues to perform to its best, and that means when you pull the trigger you’ll be able to do the same.