by Paul Smeltzer,
Athens Gunsmith Service, Athens LA.
Part 2 of Paul’s Remington 11 restoration. Look for Part 1 by selecting Paul Smeltzer in the Authors menu above.
We left off last time with having made some repairs to the forearm that had the usual cracks seen in many semi-auto shotguns. Once the glass bedding material or epoxy has set, the barrel channel has to be sanded to allow for the barrel and moving parts. I prefer glass bedding material because I think it is easier to sand and shape and holds up better than epoxy.
The next order of business is to work on the exterior of the forearm and butt stock. The checkering is well worn on both pieces and I will be re-checkering them. Before I do that I want to do the first bit of sanding to get the rest of the old material off and any minor dents scratches and dings. What I don’t want to do is sand off the rest of the checkering, I want to re-checker not start over with new checkering. I am going to cover the checkered area with painters tape to protect what is left. Before I do that I am going to re-cut the outside edges. I will probably get closer to the checkered area than I want to while sanding. Getting good lines around the exterior of the checkered area will be a big help while sanding, and when I get to the re-checkering process.
One last thing before sanding is to install the new recoil pad, or in this case an original butt plate. I want to be able to sand the stock with the butt plate in place to get a perfect fit to the wood.
I am probably going to give some of you serious wood workers a heart attack at this point, because I am going to do most of the sanding with an electric orbital hand/palm sander. The objection to electric orbital sanders is the possibility of leaving swirl marks, or other stray “scratches” in the wood. While this is a possibility, even a probability in the hands of the inexperienced person, it is not necessarily true in all cases. There are a couple of considerations to ponder about the use of an orbital sander. The first is time, there is a big difference between the home gunsmith/tinker that has unlimited amount of time to expend on his/her project, and the gunsmith business that has twelve of these to do in a couple of weeks. I need speed greater than hand sanding is going to provide to stay in business. The customer is not going to want to pay for the time it takes to hand sand the wood unless it is a special project, high end gun. In this case the gun is going to be used to dove hunt. With that said the wood doesn’t have to look like crap if you pay attention to what you are doing.
One of the more important things to take into consideration is the speed of the sander, not all orbital sanders are created equal and you will find that there are a variety of sanses that have a variety of speeds. I prefer one that is slow to moderate in speed, the reason being that like most things speed kills. Going fast means that you can be gouging into the wood in an instant and not realize that you are doing so. Slower speed means less aggressiveness, which means less chance of tearing up the wood. The best orbit sanders I have found came from Northern Tools, they are cheap Chinese made sanders that are not industrial strength and will burn out, I bought six of them so I would have one on hand when it gave up the ghost. Don’t get me wrong they don’t instantly burn up, I use one up about once every two-three years.
The next thing to consider is the wood. Not all wood is created equal either, even within the same specie of wood. The grain patterns are different, the density is different, the “hardness” is different. As in most things in life extremes are more problematic than the middle. Too soft, or too hard is easier to scratch and swirl than something that is in the middle. It is more difficult to work with too hard, than too soft so be very careful with working stocks that are close grained, or “knotty” which means a very hard area. These type stocks are typically expensive because of the pattern and look, as well as the fact that it will probably have to be hand finished with very fine grits of paper and lots of time, thus adding to the cost, don’t use the orbital sander on these kinds of wood.
Speaking of sandpaper grits, all sandpaper is not created equal either, even with the same grit. You will find a variety of types of sandpaper and even those will not be consistent. I don’t have a great solution for you concerning what kind or type of sandpaper to get. It is a bit trial and error. I look in the wood working section of the local hardware supply house and pick the Goldilocks type, not too to aggressive and not too flimsy. I buy the contractor pack and cut the larger sheets to the appropriate size for my sander. I generally use the following grits: 60,80,100,150, and 220. I use the 60 grit for those pieces that are incredibly beat up, usually some old military rifle like a Nagant or SMLE. I will generally use a slightly worn 80 or a new 100 to start with; it will depend on the condition of the wood and the “hardness” of the wood. These are somewhat subjective calls – the benefit of experience. If you are new and trying to gain that experience go easy.
The last point to consider is the operator. This is a job for, patience and finesse, if you are one that your friends refer to as heavy handed, and gotta do it now, find someone else to do it. You need to have a light touch in that you don’t want to bear down on the wood, neither do you want to race over the piece or linger long in one area. As with everything that we have been talking about in working these wood pieces, think “Goldilocks”, you have to find that place in the middle that is “just right”.
Be careful not to change the original contours much, avoid running over the tape covering the checkering. I will run from 80-150 grit paper, sometimes all the way to 220 depending on the wood and use. Most times I will hand finish with 220. When doing the hand finishing look close at the wood and work out any swirl marks that may have been left, there should not be any or very few if you did it right, you will find them more in softer wood.
As I go through the sanding process I will hose down the pieces (rinse not power wash) and let the wood dry between changes in grit. This not only cleans out the dust but brings the nap up in the softer woods to be sanded down with the next grit. Overall this will produce a smoother finish in general with all wood. With this particular set of wood I am going to re-contour the pistol grip area that had a chunk missing. Much easier and economical to do this rather than try to piece it in or lay in epoxy or glass bedding material.
After I have completed sanding with the 150-grit sandpaper, I will do another rinse and dry then bring the pieces in to start re-checkering.
We will finish up the wood pieces next time completing the re-checkering and putting the finish on the forearm and butt stock.