GUN­SMITHING: A guide to the art of che­quer­ing

This month, the Bot­ley boys fo­cus on the fine art of che­quer­ing, pro­vid­ing a ‘how-to’ guide and dis­cussing the mer­its of lasers ver­sus good old-fash­ioned hand-cut­ting

Sporting Shooter - - CONTENTS -

Try as I might, I can­not find any con­fir­ma­tion of the spell­ing of a word I use on an al­most hourly ba­sis! Check­er­ing, or che­quer­ing? As far as I can make out, ‘che­quer­ing’ is the cor­rect Bri­tish spell­ing, although var­i­ous sources seem to dis­pute this in favour of ‘check­er­ing’. I pre­fer the ‘qu’ spell­ing; it spells out and reads with a much higher level of sat­is­fac­tion than the ‘ck’ op­tion.

De­spite the spell­ing, the fact re­mains the same – che­quer­ing is the for­ma­tion of little square di­a­monds (or more in­creas­ingly, any shape that gives you some grip) on the parts of a gun to which your hands con­nect.

‘Proper’ che­quer­ing

By ‘proper’ I mean the truest type of che­quer­ing, which is little di­a­monds cut into wood by hand. This is an art form in it­self, and in its purest, most ex­quis­ite for­mat can make a gun truly spec­tac­u­lar. The con­cept is sim­ple:

1. Buy or make che­quer­ing tools. There is lim­ited avail­abil­ity of off-the-shelf tools, with only one or two man­u­fac­tur­ers on hand. The tools are ac­tu­ally of a very good qual­ity, but the abil­ity to ob­tain the nec­es­sary tool for the job from the UK can be dif­fi­cult. This, along with the oc­ca­sional need for a tool that sim­ply doesn’t ex­ist off-theshelf, leaves us with the op­tion of mak­ing our own tools. This is sim­ply done – as long as the re­quired tools and nec­es­sary abil­ity are avail­able. Se­lect­ing the re­quired metal and shap­ing it into a che­quer­ing tool can be rather en­ter­tain­ing, and as these tools last a fair while, it is a worth­while in­vest­ment to the work­shop tool stock. The fi­nal op­tion is for a more mod­ern ap­proach, that of the ro­tary che­quer­ing cut­ter; this is some­thing that I am not fa­mil­iar with in use, but have wit­nessed be­ing used. They pro­duce re­sults ex­tremely fast with a sat­is­fac­tory, if not a touch coarse, fin­ish.

2. De­cide on a pat­tern. For all of the overly flam­boy­ant de­signs in the world, there is some­one who will love them. Per­son­ally, I don’t think that you can beat a nice sim­ple pat­tern with some sharp, clear lines and edges. Overly fancy che­quer­ing, of­ten mixed with carved bor­ders, is an art, but serves no real pur­pose other than to look fancy and break your heart when one day, rather in­evitably, an ac­ci­dent hap­pens.

3. De­cide on the line den­sity. Che­quer­ing is mea­sured in lines per inch (LPI), mean­ing the amount of cut lines inside of an inch. The range is ob­vi­ously lim­it­less, with most guns be­ing 16-32 LPI, but much more com­monly 22-28. There are pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives to all den­si­ties: the coarser cuts, such as 16-18, of­fer fan­tas­tic grip but can be overly rough to the touch and a little

‘There are very few mak­ers of masspro­duced guns that still use hand-cut che­quer­ing, as most have moved on to the laser-cut op­tion’

crude to the eye; the su­perfine 34 LPI guns look ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic, although the shal­low cuts fill quickly with mud, dust and sweat which can set like con­crete. Then there is flat point – a type of che­quer­ing that doesn’t bring your di­a­monds to a point – which is very un­fash­ion­able nowa­days but does al­low you the plea­sure of see­ing your wood grain through the cuts, and you can’t break off any points be­cause there aren’t any there to snap off! Per­son­ally, I think 24 LPI is ad­e­quate in all de­part­ments – it looks good, isn’t too frag­ile, and feels good. Plus, as prac­ti­cal as flat point is, it just doesn’t do it for me on a pis­tol-grip stock.

4. Mark your pat­tern. Make sure it’s even and sen­si­ble-look­ing – which is harder than it seems. Once you cut, you can’t un­cut, so make sure you are happy. Then, lightly cut your bor­ders. Push­ing your way through the wood on this first set of cuts can be rather en­joy­able, as your plan­ning starts to be­come re­al­ity. Some like to pre-cut their lines with a scalpel blade; this can help pre­vent the cut­ter from skip­ping its way across the stock leav­ing a nice set of scars in its wake. With prac­tice and at­ten­tion this can be avoided en­tirely, but there is no harm in be­ing cau­tious.

5. Make sure the lines are straight. Cut­ting straight lines across curved ma­te­rial is eas­ier said than done!

6. Cut and con­cen­trate. Once you have the ini­tial lines cut it’s time to fill in the gaps. Con­cen­tra­tion is key; slip­ping is very bad, in fact the car­di­nal sin, so know­ing the lim­its of your con­cen­tra­tion span is im­por­tant.

7. Fin­ish up. Once the main part of the pat­tern is cut a fin­ish­ing cut­ter is run through. This is a su­perfine cut­ter, in slightly wider an­gle than be­fore, that smoothes the in­ner sur­face of the cuts and sharp­ens the points. Sit back and look at your work. Have a cup of tea, leave it for a day, come back to it with an­other cup of tea. In this time you will clock any is­sues, and any­thing that didn’t bother you be­fore will now bother you im­mensely, and you can rec­tify the is­sue.

That may have been the vaguest ‘how-to’ pos­si­ble! It’s such a skill, re­quir­ing so much prac­tice, that try­ing to write ‘A Guide To Che­quer­ing’ in this many words would be an in­sult to the true mas­ters of the art. The key is to prac­tise, first on flat sur­faces, learn­ing the tools and how they cut, and then on a curve, and see how dif­fi­cult it then be­comes!

Of course, op­por­tu­ni­ties to che­quer a stock from scratch come few and far be­tween. What we find our­selves do­ing much more com­monly is re-cut­ting old or worn che­quer­ing. This is a slightly dif­fer­ent process, which can ac­tu­ally be vastly harder. Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the sweat/mud/ dust ‘ce­ment’ I men­tioned ear­lier. In su­perfine pat­terns this can be one of the most men­tally ex­haust­ing jobs go­ing, and is one that is best dipped in and out of, or per­haps bet­ter not started! Of course, the op­tion to erase what is

there and start again is avail­able, but most peo­ple like to keep their guns as orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble, so re-cut­ting re­mains the bane of our ex­is­tence!

The mod­ern world

There are very few mak­ers of mass-pro­duced guns that still use hand-cut che­quer­ing (Brown­ing/ Miroku come to mind), as most have moved on to the laser-cut op­tion.

This al­lows for greater speed and ac­cu­racy, with a fan­tas­tic ar­ray of pat­terns that can be repli­cated again and again and again. How­ever, if you pick up a laser-cut gun, they lack the same feel that any­thing hand­made gives you. Not only that, but the prac­ti­cal abil­ity of the laser-cut che­quer­ing doesn’t quite stand up to its hand-cut cousin. This is be­cause, while push­ing the cut­ters through the wood, you also con­dense the wood in the che­quer­ing, not only with the force of the cut­ter but with the dust that the cut­ter cre­ates. This leaves a denser, harder point in the che­quer­ing that out-looks and out­lasts the laser-cut op­tion, which of­ten leaves a very open grain that can be sus­cep­ti­ble to is­sues.

Ma­chines can make ex­quis­ite stocks, solid ac­tions and ex­tremely true bar­rels, but in my hum­ble opinion, there is no re­place­ment for old-fash­ioned, hand­crafted che­quer­ing.

Che­quer­ing, and es­pe­cially re-cut­ting, by hand re­quires in­tense con­cen­tra­tion

Che­quer­ing tools are dif­fi­cult to get hold of, so it is com­mon for gun­smiths to make their own

Che­quer­ing in­volves cut­ting small shapes into the wood to aid grip

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