CLAS­SIC GUNS: Guns with bro­ken stocks come into the work­shop

What should gun own­ers do if the worst should hap­pen and their gun suf­fers a cat­a­strophic stock break? Dig­gory Hadoke looks at the op­tions – from sim­ple re­pairs to to­tal re­stock jobs

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Gun stocks are weaker than you might think. Ac­tu­ally, it is fairer to say they are vul­ner­a­ble when sub­jected to stresses they were not de­signed to with­stand. There are plenty of ex­am­ples of stocks made a cen­tury and a half ago in reg­u­lar use that still do their job with con­fi­dence and ease. If rea­son­ably well cared for, a prop­erly made sport­ing gun stock will re­main in place and in­tact through hun­dreds of thou­sands of fired shots and decades of car­riage in the field.

What these stocks do not re­spond well to is be­ing dropped or sat upon. Any sharp blow in a lat­eral di­rec­tion, or lever­age of a sim­i­lar kind, will snap the stock at the wrist, typ­i­cally around the area where the hand-pin hole is drilled.

I have had guns brought in for re­stock­ing that have been put on the back seat of a Range Rover and sat on, or leaned back on while in a slip, only for the owner to un­slip it for the next drive and find it in two pieces. More than an in­con­ve­nience, this rep­re­sents a huge fi­nan­cial out­lay, of­ten one that will cost more than the mar­ket value of the gun.

Such prob­lems are not new. Gun­mak­ers and their cus­tomers have wres­tled with the prob­lem of stock break­age since the ear­li­est days of the sport­ing gun. It is bad enough if you break your game gun on a pheasant shoot in Sur­rey, imag­ine how much worse if you were an ex­plorer or hunter in Africa in the mid 1800s, your most vi­tal piece of equip­ment ru­ined and your life per­haps de­pen­dent on it. You cer­tainly would have no op­por­tu­nity to have a com­pe­tent gun­smith deal with the prob­lem for you.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, gun­mak­ers came up with a num­ber of novel so­lu­tions or, at least, de­signs in­tended to ren­der break­age less likely or de­bil­i­tat­ing. Some built in a longer top strap, ex­tend­ing over the comb, to pro­duce greater sta­bil­ity; this was some­times mir­rored by ex­tend­ing the guard strap in a sim­i­lar man­ner. An­other, less com­mon, fea­ture was to ex­tend the lock plates, which then be­come slim braces, right down the hand of the pis­tol grip and end­ing in a metal grip cap. These were some­times che­quered on the metal to match the che­quer on the wood.

Once smashed, his­tory shows that re­pairs could be, and were, made us­ing some novel ap­proaches and lo­cally avail­able ma­te­ri­als. Brass plates screwed onto and around the grip are com­mon and, in Africa, it was not un­usual to see wet buf­falo-gut straps wrapped around a cracked stock, shrink­ing tight as they dried and hold­ing the wood to­gether. It is a sur­pris­ingly re­li­able re­pair.

Re­turn­ing to the im­me­di­ate prob­lem of to­day’s sports­man with

a bro­ken stock, he is faced with a dilemma. A re­stock job on a boxlock will cost at least £3,500 and a side-lock prob­a­bly £5,000. It is very un­likely that most of the guns that suf­fer the dam­age to­day will be worth re­stock­ing, un­less sen­ti­men­tal value wins the day. If it is a fam­ily gun, then the cost is aca­demic (as long as you have the money).

I was faced with two such prob­lems re­cently. One, a Wil­liam Powell 16-bore I was given by an aged lo­cal chap, who had smashed the stock when he was a youth while fer­ret­ing. He learned the hard way that a gun stock is not the most ef­fec­tive club for despatch­ing wounded bun­nies.

The other (a Gibbs side-lock), em­bar­rass­ingly, be­longed to a client and, while en­trusted to Parcelforce and packed in a hard plas­tic gun trans­port case, ar­rived at its des­ti­na­tion in two pieces, clean bro­ken through the hand. In both cases, the value of the gun was about half of the cost of re­stock­ing.

So, in ex­tremis, we re­sorted to the ‘glue and screw’ tech­nique. Modern glues are very strong and they will do a good job as long as you can get them to ad­here well to the wood ei­ther side of ei­ther crack.

How­ever, the hand of the stock is sub­ject to a lot of flex­ing and stresses, so we of­ten take ex­tra steps. One method is to cut out a rec­tan­gle along the guard strap and trig­ger strap, then cut a new piece of wood to fit tightly into it. This is first glued into place, then the trig­ger plate, top strap and guard strap are screwed to the new wood, bind­ing new and old to­gether me­chan­i­cally as well as ad­he­sively.

This is not al­ways nec­es­sary – some­times screws or metal rods can be put in from un­der the guard strap, fac­ing di­ag­o­nally, pulling the two pieces to­gether and hold­ing firm when the gun flexes un­der fir­ing. With clever blend­ing in, colour­ing and fin­ish­ing, the ex­posed wood can be made to look un­dam­aged and a lit­tle reche­quer­ing at the hand will dis­guise any ob­vi­ous flaws there.

This is a bonus if it is your gun and you are try­ing to get it to look as good as pos­si­ble and work as well as it can. How­ever, if you are buy­ing a used gun, you need ea­gle eyes to spot the best work of a skilled re­pairer. Many a punter at the auc­tion has bought a gun with a clev­erly re­paired but cat­a­stroph­i­cally smashed stock and I have seen a good num­ber on the shelves of one or two deal­ers in my time, un­de­clared and await­ing a bar­gain hunter.

The Powell 16-bore is now in my per­sonal rack and has seen one sea­son through with some heavy shoot­ing, in­clud­ing a sim­u­lated driven day in which it fired over 300 shells in rapid suc­ces­sion. The Gibbs is be­ing re­paired at this very mo­ment. I’m hope­ful that it will prove ser­vice­able for years to come.

So, if you have a nice old gun with a bro­ken stock lurk­ing in the gun safe, there is a so­lu­tion; which is good news. If, how­ever, you are in the mar­ket, pay close at­ten­tion and make sure you don’t fall foul of some­one’s clever hand­i­work.

‘If you are buy­ing a used gun, you need ea­gle eyes to spot the best work of a skilled re­pairer’

Be­fore:

A de­cent re­pair can be well dis­guised and re­turn the gun to good health

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