Gunsmithing Q&A With Ken Brooks

kenBrooksKen Brooks is owner of PISCO Gunsmithing in Oregon.
He is also an instructor for AGI and the Gun Club of America.


I’m installing a recoil Pad on a new rifle. The stock is wood with many layers of glossy finish. Almost like plastic. What is the best saw blade (teeth per inch) to use in my cut off saw to cut a stock like this? I do not want to chip the finish. I will be using masking tape around the area to be cut.


A really thin kerf non-carbide laminate blade (80-100 teeth in 10-12”) will give the smoothest cut because tool steel is sharper than carbide, it just won’t last more than a few stocks w/o re-sharpening. Other wise a thin kerf carbide with ~80+ teeth is your best bet.



Am I correct in that stainless steel is a softer and more malleable steel than the alloy steel used in most blued guns? If this is correct, then buying a stainless steel gun for a greater price has few advantages.


You are correct. Many companies claim their stainless parts are hardened etc. but stainless is softer than regular steel and will not last as long.


How much faster will the stainless wear?


Since stainless steel is softer it will start right from the get go. Now this doesn’t mean that stainless steel won’t work for guns because if it never did then all of the stainless guns would be wrecked and no one could or would sell any more. BUT stainless steel is not as hard and will not last as long as a regular steel gun. Most people don’t shoot their guns enough to wear them out and most hunters definitely don’t shoot their super zapper ultra range must have elk killer magnums enough to wear them out.

11 Responses to Gunsmithing Q&A With Ken Brooks

  1. Back in the day, it was always said that stainless was harder to machine than carbon steel because it was so tough. I guess I am confused between the term “hardness” and “toughness”. Can you elaborate?

    PS. I find your website to be of great value, entertaining, and well done. Thank you!

    • Ron–here is one technical answer to your question courtesy of an article on the Quora website by Alessandro Fais, MoS and BD in Materials Engineering, PHD in Metallurgical Engineering.

      Hardness is the measurement of how much a material resists to penetration from a semi-static force. It is tested for with an indenter hardness machine usually (but not solely) by measuring the size of the indentation after releasing the load.

      Toughness is the ability of a material to absorb energy when impacted. It is tested with impact Charpy or Izod testing machines by measuring how much a predetermined weight will rise after impacting and breaking on the piece under test. The hight correlates to how much energy the weight has left in its motion so it is an indication of how much energy the material can absorb.

      Materials known to be very tough are stainless steels and titanium alloys. Materials known to be very fragile (the opposite of tough) are ceramics such as glasses or porcelain. The reason a ceramic plate shatters when dropped while your spoon will maybe only bend, is the difference in toughness between the two materials.

      Toughness usually goes in the opposite direction of hardness, that is if a material is very hard it is usually very fragile. Diamonds are fragile even though they are hard. Aluminum is tough but not hard at all. The goal of every metallurgist would be to obtain a tough yet hard material. It is the most sought upon dream of structural materials.

      • By the definitions given above, then, wouldn’t you want a “tough” material over a “hard” material in a firearm? Something that can take a pounding and keep on ticking? [Think a semi-auto slide/frame slamming together, or the barrel link of a 1911.]

        I buy stainless (when I have the extra money) because (a) with very few exceptions–a royal blue Python being one such example–stainless looks nicer that modern day finishes, and (b) better corrosion resistence… although the latter is arguable with some of the high-tech coatings that some guns get today; but coatings can still scratch and wear down, so ultimately it’s the metal that is the last point of resistence.

        Or am I completely off base here? 🙂

        • The “stainless vs. carbon steel” debate has been going on for a looooong time. I’m going to give a chance for others to weigh in with their opinions. If you do, please try to be factual, not anecdotal. Thanks.

  2. Having owned both stainless and carbon steel guns for more years than I care to admit, I find that (a) stainless looks cool and resists normal handling affects like rust and slight mars (dings, nicks) can be restored easily, (b) carbon steel guns outlive their owners if given properly attention, and (c) there’s a place for both in my armory!!

  3. It depends on the composition of the steels involved. IE. 304 stainless is a bitch to machine, where 303 is a piece of cake.

  4. Arguing hardness vs toughness is sooo short-sighted! Even 200 years ago gunsmiths knew the difference and used various means to optimize physical properties. Hard surfaces resist wear, but are relatively fragile (breakable). Tough materials resist mechanical failure (breakage, but may deform (bend/dent)). What if a tough material had a hard surface? Almost all guns today use this, as have many from way long ago. Surface hardening is easily done by carburizing (heating in a carbon-rich environment causing carbon to diffuse into the surface). Carrying this further we have case hardening. With or without colors (actually thin oxide layers), and done properly, a hard case results to resist wear, while retaining the toughness of the bulk of the steel. Nitriding of surfaces is similar, but nitrogen is the hardening agent within the surface. Works well on stainless steels, too. Combinations of materials, reduced to gaseous form under high temperatures exist in a bewildering variety.

  5. When shortening a wood stock,we have to get a correct same angle,or pitch. This was given to me
    a Master stock maker. A deck of cards is the answer.Build up your angles to be precise.
    Use Quality tape ,2 layers + over the finish,NO chips

  6. Recently I read about stainless being softer so when I looked up Rockwell hardness ratings that was true but here is my question.

    When sharpening old fashioned 1950’s pocket knives that were not stainless the steel was so soft it was very easy to sharpen quickly and I could get it much shaper than the more modern pocket knives made of stainless. The Stainless knives were very hard to sharpen and I have never been able to get them as sharp as non-stainless knives but the stainless knives seem to keep their edge longer. This is the opposite of what I have recently read about in regards to knives. I think my experience seems to prove quite the opposite. Perhaps the carbon steel used in the old pocket knives was of a very soft cheap grade.

    Also it is interesting to note that the Shilen Barrel Company hand laps all their stainless barrels because they will not shoot accurately if they do not but the Shilen Company does not hand lap their non-stainless barrels because they claim it is not needed to make them shoot accurately so I would imagine your chances of getting a stainless barrel that does not shoot is much greater than getting a bad non-stainless barrel simply because if the person hand lapping the barrel does not do a good job then your stainless barrel is not going to shoot very well.

    • The reason for the hand lapping is that SS has a tendency tear and not cut cleanly ass dose 4140 or other carbon steals. The thing that has to remembered is that 4140 which is a chrome moly steel was first being used in the 1920 they had trouble with it not cutting well. The problem with SS barrels is that you have to use a softer form and it has a tendency to tear instead of cut cleanly when they develop a system that can make a smooth interior like maybe a hammer forged barrel that should eliminate most of the rough rifling but then you have a problem with setting up extreme stresses that will have to be normalized out.

  7. So when I go to hand crown a SS barrel it will cut easier then a normal carbon steel barrel? I’ve hand crowned several carbon steel barrels but I have one in SS that I will be hand crowning soon. (hand crowning meaning no powertools envolved)


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