I have a very rare gunstock from WWI that I am refinishing. It was coated with a heavy coat of shellac at one point in its history. The dents appear dark, likely from lubricating oil seeping into the wood.
I want to strip the shellac and then remove the darkened oil from the dents. In the past I have used a very light alkalide called Oil Eater that doesn’t darken walnut so I am not sure exactly what is in it. However, this wood appears to be Elm ( I don’t think it is oak) of some sort.
Couple of questions
Since it is very hot here in Sacramento, alcohol evaporates too fast to soften the shellac much. So, should I just keep at it or is there a better stripper that won’t affect the color of the elm?
I am going to steam out the dents and then sand very lightly as there are stampings in the wood I want to preserve. Since the elm is very pourous, I figure I won’t be able to get it out of some pores and a few of the tears/dents. Will steaming the wood after stripping most of the shellac cause any sort of problems?
Lastly, I plan on putting an oil finish on the piece once I am done, any compatability issues? Same with staining, as I might stain it.
Thanks for any and all imput. This is a very valuable peice from an important client and I don’t want to make a mess of it.
I don't know enough to talk about the finishing part of a valuable piece but the alcohol will definately take off the shelac and do it safely.
Edit: Just an after-thought, are you sure it's shelac? Alcohol will normally soften it very quickly. Could it be laquer?
"WISH IN ONE HAND, #### IN THE OTHER AND SEE WHICH FILLS UP FIRST"
Edited 7/2/2004 12:38 am ET by Mack
Wrap it in rags to hold the alcohol next to the finish.
Wrap it in rags or paper towels, then soak with alcohol and put it into a plastic bag and burp the air out. This will soften the shellac.
It's almost as hot in Woodland, but not all that hot recently. Weird weather - not that weather isn't always weird!
If it is shellac, the alcohol should begin to melt the finish almost immediately. I would suggest holding the stock upright on its butt, with a dish of alcohol on the table. Using steel wool of Scotch Brite, just keep dipping and wiping.
As another suggested, the finish might be lacquer. If so, you could use the same technique -- only substitute lacquer thinner for the alcohol.
Assuming it is either shellac or lacquer, and you bring the stock down to bare wood, there will be no compatibility issues.
If you try both, and neither works, then I would imagine you are dealing with a finish that was originally oiled. There is another technique you could use if that does turn out to be the case.
I can't contribute anything about potential problems with steaming out the dents.
When refinishing a gun stock, do you normally removing it from the gun?
Edited 7/2/2004 1:37 am ET by nikkiwood
The finish softens pretty quickly with alcohol so I figured it was shellac. The only problem is the stuff must have slothered on with a trowel as it is really thick. The problem is it makes a sludge and then the steel wool just seems to cram it into the pores and dents.
I will try the rags and a bad trick, that sounds pretty logical. I might try an electric toothbrush with lots of alchohol.
As for the stock, yes, it is off the rifle although rifle barely describes this monster. It is a wwI German anti-tank gun that was built like a giant rifle, I looks like a prop for some movie.
Sacramento cannot be hotter than Carolina and I have stripped a good bit of shellac without too much problem. Open out your steel wool into a strip--not a pad. Dip it into denatured alcohol and, in your case, wipe it hard one way. Then start back at the top on a new area and wipe again, dipping into alcohol again. Just keep at it until most is off. then get fresh alcohol and do it some more. I use 00 steel wool for the first part and 0000 for the final removal. Finally, use some paper towels and alcohol until no more color comes off. If there are any nooks and crannies be sure alcohol/sludge residue hasn't been left--it looks awful when refinished.Gretchen
I've restored a hundred or three stocks. A typical stock has been refinished a few times before by arsenals and owners. The finish will be a number of things; shellac, lacquer, varnish, oil. Usually some of each plus a lot of cosmoline and oil and powder solvent. Do this outdoors only. Mix acetone and alcohol, half and half. Soak some paper towels in the mixture and wrap the stock with them. Wrap the whole mess with aluminum foil to keep the solvent from evaporating. After a half hour or more, unwrap and rub off most of the old finish. Repeat the process with mineral spirits. Get the stock well soaked with mineral spirits and bury it in cat litter for a week. (not USED cat litter, of course). This will extract a lot of the lubricating oils. Don't sand it ever. It should not have a fine smooth finish like a sporting rifle. A little 4/0 steel wool if absolutely necessary or better yet, the white scotchbrite pads.
Make sure it is dry. If you can smell solvent, its not dry. The areas where you want to steam out dents - wrap in a wet paper towel (water). Wrap with a layer of aluminum foil. This keeps the steam in. Iron with a household iron set to highest temp. I also use a tacking iron or soldering iron for small tight spots. The sort of iron used for photographic dry-mount tissue works best. Carpet installers have a similar tool. The ones made for model airplanes don't usually get hot enough. Needs to be about 350 degrees. Any shellac in the pores will melt. Often it gets absorbed into the paper towel. Varnish will get gummy and granular and can be wiped away.
Elm (unlikely) or birch (probably) do not take stain well. Your stock will probably be blotchy. If it were new wood, the traditional stain is roofing tar highly diluted with mineral spirits. Since it is old wood, well soaked with oil, don't stain it. The old lubricating oil will interfere with curing of most drying oils or oil varnishes. A wash coat of shellac (1-pound or 1/2 pound cut) , dyed with the color of your choice, will act as a barrier and even out the color. Do not sand. Apply whatever oil or varnish you want as a top coat. Military stocks were most often very plain. Maybe a coat of tung oil. No linseed oil. The metal salts will turn it dark. Sometimes I just leave it virtually unfinished. You don't want to go into battle with a nice shiny stock that's easy to spot. No gloss. Military rifles are not showpieces. Some other idiot can always slap on a coat of poly.
Be careful. Less is better. You can knock a thousand dollars off the value if you go too far. Do not do anything that cannot be undone. No synthetics. Do NOT use cold blue. better to have a little honest bare metal than an amateur repair that stands out from 50 feet away. When you finish restoring it, it should not look like it was restored.
If this is a "very rare ... very valuable" piece "from an important client", might it be better to demur and suggest a trained professional conservator?
Gee, thanks for the faith in my skills!
There are no trained "consevators" for military weapons. Just us hicks with 40 grit sandpaper and satin poly.
How about paint remover that washes off with water?
Would it be OK?
There are trained conservators for everything!
How often do you see the experts on shows like The Antiques Roadshow despairing about the thousands of dollars of value lost through messed-up restorations!?
Once, with the ignorance of youth, I 'restored' a tallcase clock for a client in the UK.
I still cringe when I think about it, and I've never attempted a restoration since. I've also been fortunate to be a member of the board of a major regional museum, and have seen the difference between 'restoration' and the work of an expert conservator.
If it's worth any money, and you're not sure what will happen when you change the existing finish, I'd stop and think twice. You may still decide to go ahead, but at least ask the question first!
There are various kinds of restorations and there are various starting points.
Taking a well preserved piece and refinishing it so it looks new very often ruins its value.
Taking a piece that has been "restored" by a hack and doing a quality job of refinishing never destroys value.
In the case of this piece it is the latter. At some point someone stripped whatever original finish it had and then put a ton of shellac on it.
I am doing some research to assertain what the original finish was but information on anti-tank rifles is scarse, especially on the cosmetic end of things. In addition, since color pictures were not around, that makes it even harder.
As an aside, this is the gun that led us to develop the .50 cal round that is still in use by our troops in Iraq and will likely be around till we drop projectile weapons.
Removing paint remover with water will raise the grain to high heaven requiring inordinate sanding. Use strippers that remove with mineral spirits. And yes, it will remove shellac but alcohol is so much easier. Gretchen
I've got an old copy of a book called the NRA Gunsmithing Guide, a collection of articles from the 50's and 60's American Rifleman Magazine. An article in the book on refinishing old military stocks recommends making up a mixture of painter's whiting and chlorthene, which seems to be a drycleaners' spot remover. This is mixed up to a syrupy consistancy, and painted over the stripped stock to dissolve and absorb the oil and grease that have soaked into the wood. When dry, the residue id brushed off the stock. Author claims that a blackened stock can be restored to good condition with the procedure.Dents are then steamed out with damp cloth and a hot soldering iron.
Note that this info is at least 40+ yrs old and may or may not be appropriate to todays accepted conservation practices. I wouldn't think that any solvent that will evaporate away will darken the wood of the stock. However, it may be worth a try on a less valuable piece, before using on the real thing.
I'd be careful of steaming around the armorer's stamps, as you probably don't want to swell them back out!!
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I mainly make new stocks and only take on restoration work if it interest me as I can never charge enough to make it worthwhile. I took this on for several reasons, good client, neat piece, and it is an ideal candidate for restoration and will enhance my reputation.
I have used the whiting with mixed results. It is a good method on used military stocks that are black with out. Someone has already done that in this case I think. The dark stains remain in the dents and gouges due to the broken and damaged wood. If I decide to stain it, I may bleach out the dark spots but otherwise I shall leave them alone.
As for the proof marks, they will be carefully preserved but thanks for the tip.
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