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Choosing a wood finish for bare wood - oil vs. varnish vs. other?

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing and Repairs' started by Z-Michigan, Aug 17, 2010.

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  1. Z-Michigan

    Z-Michigan Member

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    I have some new unfinished furniture coming in from Ironwood Designs, a mix of birch and walnut. I want to finish it so it both looks nice and holds up really well, even if I use the gun for hunting and get it wet and freezing cold.

    I have read dfariswheel's long and helpful "sticky" post on his method of oil finishing with Minwax antique oil. That looks like one good option. I also did a search of this forum and read several other finishing/refinishing discussions.

    I also have some personal experience refinishing several stocks with Watco oil (a different brand of oil/varnish blend). All three had some sort of finish to start, and I don't know exactly what. One of the three turned out wonderful, one pretty good, one only fair (dull finish even after numerous coats and sanding in between coats, which is the same technique I used with the others). None of those have been exposed to hard use so I don't know how that finish will hold up over time.

    I have also used pure tung oil with great results on some other woodworking projects, but not on a rifle stock or anything exposed to weather.

    Basically, I want a finish that is very durable and won't need repair or replacement for quite a long time. Looks are good too, but durability is #1. I will probably want a satin or semigloss final product, and the oil finish look is fine but not a requirement. I also want the ability to put the finish on over a stain.

    At the same time I'm aware that a stain/varnish process is quite involved and time consuming, and really difficult to repair if it gets damaged. The oil finishes I know are simpler and harder to screw up, just a lot of repetition in the process.

    So here's what I'm considering:
    1) Minwax antique oil finish following dfariswheel's method.
    2) Watco oil, roughly the same method.
    3) Pure tung oil, ditto
    4) Spar varnish - most likely Minwax "Helmsman" spar urethane - as top coat (several thin coats) over a stain.

    Can anyone comment on durability of those finishes when used for real-world hunting, etc. over several years? I am especially interested in moisture resistance, resistance to common gun oils and cleaners, and any issues with cracking, flaking, or fading.
     
  2. hoghunting

    hoghunting Member

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    While I haven't used all the methods you listed, I have used one that works very well. I use a filler and stain mix by Art's - www.brownells.com carries it. Then I use the Minwax spar urethane and thin it to a 50/50 mix with paint thinner so it has a consistency like water. Brush one coat at a time - including the interior of the stock - and the thinned mix will soak into the wood. Let it dry, and brush on another coat. Keep repeating the process until the stock won't absorb any more. Using the same mix, wet sand using 400 grit paper to smooth out the finish.

    Then I put on 4 coats of the full strength spar urethane - only one at a time though - and let it dry for a week after the last coat. I polish the finish to complete the stock.

    The stock is completely sealed, and I have been in some nasty rains and have never had any problems. Some of the other finishes might work just as well, but this method works for me.
     
  3. Thedub88

    Thedub88 Member

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    I used to refinish furniture. Helsman is you best bet. Hoghunting's process iscorrect
     
  4. Z-Michigan

    Z-Michigan Member

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    Thanks for the two replies so far. Does anyone else want to chime in? Have to be more people with some experience on this.

    I was leaning towards varnish when I wrote it, now the simplicity of oil is calling me. Maybe I'll have to do two stocks and compare?
     
  5. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    Tru-Oil (linseed oil with dryer additives) is a long time proven stock finish.

    I like it because it can be easily touched up at any point in the future by just hand rubbing another coat on.

    rc
     
  6. Dave P

    Dave P Member

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    Tru Oil is my fave. Fast, easy, tough, cheap. No muss, no fuss. You can be done in one day (if humidity is low) with multiple coats.
     
  7. 61chalk

    61chalk Member

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    I have done my Garands with a stain of my liking, then 2 or 3 coats of Pure Tung Oil, an then a few coats of Forbes Tung Oil Finish, Low Gloss. After that you can use the Forbes, for more coats in the future....what you get is a pretty much waterproof seal for any rainy or humid days. The Garand to the far right only has stain, the other two were done as above.
     

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    Last edited: Aug 22, 2010
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