by Paul Smeltzer,
Athens Gunsmith Service, Athens LA.
Part 3 of Paul’s Remington 11 restoration. Look for Parts 1 and 2 by selecting Paul Smeltzer in the Authors menu above.
Now that we have the forearm repaired, butt stock re-contoured, and butt plate installed it is on to re-checkering. Before sanding the wood the parts, I will re-cut the lines that form the borders on the checkered area. I then apply painters’ tape over the checkered area and do whatever sanding needs to be done avoiding as much as possible the checkered area. Even with the tape protection I want to avoid degrading the pattern any more than it already is.
You will see any level of checkering degradation from barely visible to only slightly worn. Naturally the more worn the more difficult the job. For someone who is interested in doing new checkering working on old worn checkering is good practice since the lines are already “drawn” in. Those who find checkering a daunting task, don’t panic yet re-checkering is not as difficult as laying a new pattern, except in those instances where the original pattern is worn down to only a sketch.
The first thing we need is a set of checkering tools, there are a couple of manufacturers of these specialty tools and are available from the usual sources. Brownells sells a nice checkering restoration kit for $70.00 that has the basic tools you will need. I actually still use the same set of tools with the addition of a C-1 (course – 1 line) tool, the kit comes with a F-1(fine- 1 line). Get extra inserts because they seem to wear fast and will only last a couple of stocks, few things more aggravating that a dull cutter.
The second thing you will need is patience, followed by good eye sight (augmented by an optivisor), a steady hand is also a useful thing. This is a time consuming process that requires close in work, make sure you have a comfortable work area. To begin I will start on the outside “boundary” lines, I like to start with cutting these lines because they provide a clear stopping/starting point for the checkering lines. Not only do they provide an outline to work from but also provide a ditch or barrier of sorts to catch the cutting tool if you happen to get a bit aggressive and bump into the boundary. If you are not going with too much force it will stop the cutter from jumping over the line. Always be careful and ease up when you approach the boundary lines, cutting outside the lines is going to require more time and work to fix it. Some patterns have a double boundary; I will cut both of these lines before starting on the checkering.
When I do the initial cleaning of the wood I take care not to get too aggressive with the checkering because I do not want to damage it anymore than I have to. This will leave you with some imbedded dirt, grime, oil, and most importantly old finish. The old finish or additional layers of some sort of finishing treatment that may have been applied to the wood over time has collected in the lines of the checkering. This build up can be quite hard and hard to cut through initially. Be aware that the initial cuts are going to have to cut through this mess, and may result with the cutting tool hitting the deposit and riding over the material and out of the line you were cutting in, not a good thing.
Before you start your first line examine the piece carefully and locate where the remaining lines are the deepest and faintest, and where there seems to be a build up of finish. You will notice that because of wear the pattern is more degraded in some areas than others. I want to start my first line in the area of least wear and work my cutter to the more worn areas. I will generally start in the middle of the pattern rather than starting from top or bottom. Once I find a line to start in, the cutting tool is pushed with gentle pressure slowly riding in the line and cutting out material, when the cutter approaches a worn area I let up a little to make sure I maintain that line through the worn area and connect with the line on the other side of the degraded area. This process is repeated in adjoining lines. I rarely work an entire line unless it is not worn at all and I can ride the line without issue. I usually will work maybe and inch or so patch at a time. I will run a few lines in one direction then start the cross lines through this area. I do this because as new lines are cut they become dominant and the cross lines that will form the diamond pattern become harder to see. By working in small patterns I don’t those the cross lines, as I move around the pattern I can retain a sense of direction for both sets of lines and not get lost. You will need a toothbrush to brush away the material cut from the lines so you can see where you are going.
I will go through the whole pattern the first run lightly making sure I stay in the lines and correct any skipping out of the line that I may have done, using a blade tool if necessary to make corrections. Doing this with light cuts is a whole lot easier to correct than if you gouged on it. Once I have completed my first run, I will go back and repeat, cutting a little deeper and little longer lines. The process is done as many times as necessary to bring up the points of the diamonds and construct straight clear lines. Sometimes this can be achieved for 3-4 runs sometimes it takes twice as many, I did say something about time consuming and patience.
After I am satisfied that the pattern looks good the piece is sealed with a thin finish that is provided in the Brownells kit. The finish material is designed to harden up the points and keep them from breaking off. The stuff works well and I continue to use the same product. It will take 2-3 coats to get good coverage, but don’t over do it or you will clog up the nice lines you just cut, and make it look like crap. I had mentioned earlier that I will use two different 1 line cutters a find cutter and a course cutter. For the inexperienced the fine cutter is what you will want to use, once you get some practice in and get more comfortable with the process you will find that the course cutter will save a little time on the second and third runs.
Now that all that is finished the final step is to refinish the wood. At this point there are probably more products and methodologies than you could shake a butt stock at. I am not going to do a review or pros and cons, there is more than one way to go about this process and many of them are good, I am just going to relate what I do.
I rarely ever use a stain of any kind unless the owner requires it or I have to match a replacement piece of wood. That not being the case I would rather let the natural wood show through the best I can. I will start with a hand-applied coat of boiled linseed oil. I do this to bring out the woods color and to help seal the wood some. I generally don’t use a wood sealer per say. I will see how the wood absorbs the linseed oil and apply a second coat if I feel it is necessary, it depends on how the wood absorbs the oil. As stated previously all woods are not the same even within the same species so you have to pay attention to how the wood looks and how it absorbs or doesn’t absorb whatever finish you put on it.
After I am good with how it looks with the linseed oil, I will start with a coat of Birchwood Casey’s Tru Oil. I will put 2-5 coats on, making the applications after each coat has completely dried. When the finish looks like it is starting to build up I will steel wool it with 0000 steel wool between coats. How many coats I put on and how many times I get out the steel wool again depends on how the wood is taking it. A very porous wood might take 5-6 coats with steel wool after every coat. Eventually I will get a smooth surface that I am happy with, it looks clean, smooth and will have a gloss coat to it. The next step is to use a Tru-oil mix that is cut 50-50 with mineral oil. This makes a more viscous coating. Prior to application I will steel wool the surface again and make the first application of the Tru-oil mix. After each application it is back to the steel wool. How many coats of the 50-50 mix I put on depends on if I want a satin, semi-gloss or gloss finish. The more coats the shiner it gets. Since it is a thin mixture you can apply several coats without a heavy build up. It usually only takes about two coats to do a satin finish, a high gloss might take 6-8. The final step is to polish it, I usually use a light bees wax. All of this is by hand, I will either use a bare hand or a small square of old t-shirt.
The extent of this process and the final outcome depends on that initial conversation with the owner as to what kind of finish he/she wanted. Obviously the more steps, the more time, the higher the cost. In the case of this old Remington Model 11 that is destined for the field a reasonably good wearing satin finish was applied.
The wood is ready, but the metal is just a pile of parts. Next time we start on the metal.