Wizard of wood

Marta Jacyna

Marta Jacyna

Marta Jacyna is BASC’s communications officer. She is passionate about the countryside and enjoys deer stalking and foraging for food.

Gun stock making and restoration requires surgical-precision work as Marta Jacyna discovered when she met master stockmaker Greg Morris. This article first appeared in the March/April edition of Shooting & Conservation magazine.

Working with wood is a delicate art – even when you’re doing massive carvings with a chainsaw. So, gun stock making and restoration definitely fall into the surgical-precision work category – one which also requires an exquisitely gentle touch and an eye for detail.

It is a process that demands heaps of patience – it is labour intensive but also entails a lot of waiting during the processes which require time but not immediate involvement.

Whether it’s making a stock from scratch or restoring an old one to its former glory, the work is complex and takes, well, however long it takes. There are the mundane tasks like stripping old varnish or removing oil from the wood; there’s waiting for the stock to dry fully before work can continue.

There’s the cutting and shaping a stock from a slab of wood, sanding it all down once, twice, thrice… and then some more – until it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom. Then, the final touches to make this piece of art complete – checkering, carving, staining, oiling and polishing… all the bits that make guns beautiful.

Intrigued by this beautiful craft, but not knowing much about what’s involved, I took myself to YouTube to conduct a little research… and quickly realised that probably wasn’t the wisest decision!

Yes, there are many schools to this particular work, and a lot of the videos were truly impressive. But like with anything else in life, apart from the good, there was also plenty of the bad and the ugly in the mix. I decided to call it quits after coming across someone covering an entire antique stock on a musket with grey masking paint.

Learn from the best

The best way to learn about stockmaking is to find a reputable stockmaker and have a proper conversation, see their work first-hand and ask some questions. I was lucky enough to make an acquaintance at a BASC Ladies’ day not that long ago (I highly recommend all gals with guns out there to sign up to one in their area).

She was a lovely lady who turned out to be wife to a professional stockmaker, one Greg Morris, based on my doorstep in Shropshire. He’s well known in the area and some of my own friends and colleagues recommended I talk to him. I didn’t waste any time and got in touch…

Greg first worked as an apprentice at a Lincolnshire-based joinery company for six years from 1978, before moving to London at the age of 22. He learned the trade from an experienced cabinet maker who instilled in him the importance of precision and accuracy. Another useful skill Greg acquired was working with hand tools rather than automated machinery – the workshop was very traditional and nearly all the work was done by hand.

After Greg moved to Shropshire, his adventure with gun stock repairs and restoration began: “I built a name for myself as being somebody that was good with wood. When a local chap asked me if I could repair his gun stock, I agreed. But I then found it to be in too poor a condition to fix. So, I made him a new one (it was a sidelock). He was so happy with the finished product that he showed it to other people and the work started coming in.”

Greg has been repairing stocks for about 12 years and now has plenty of requests coming his way. He reckons he has probably repaired, finished or re-stocked over 1,000 guns so far. He has more than 60 in his register as an RFD, too. And it’s not just shotguns – several rifles and even airguns have benefited from Greg’s TLC.

One has to really admire Greg’s commitment and skill. He still does almost all the work by hand – the only machine he uses is a band saw to cut out a basic shape of the stock. His biggest, most time-consuming projects are re-stocking sidelock shotguns. And while he doesn’t have a favourite project, he did say he really enjoys the variety this work offers – from making and repairing gun stocks to finishing and checkering, as well as gun fitting and stock bending. Greg also gets to work with many different people, including some well-known names in the shooting world.

Greg sees some true gems at his workshop – antique firearms with a lot of tales to tell. “My oldest gun at the moment is a gentleman of fortune’s rifle – think pirates – dating from around 1740. Its name derives from a certain shape to the stock to help board ships (there is a hook in it for catching the rigging). This particular rifle is a flintlock with a 52″ barrel.”

Still curious?

Are you curious about the whole process of gun stock making?

Well, sadly we don’t have enough space to take you through every single step, but it all starts with selecting the right piece of wood.

Nearly all shotguns are made with walnut (cheaper ones can be beech). There are several different types of walnut, too – Greg is a bit of an expert on the subject:

“There is American black, European and Turkish walnut. All three can look great with the right finish but, generally, each will be chosen for a specific type of gun.

“Turkish walnut is most often used in high-end guns – it is favoured for its defined figuring. The grain of European walnut is much straighter, what I call reserved, which looks much better for English-made guns. Incidentally,

“English walnut also comes under this strain as it’s not indigenous to the UK – the Romans brought it over. American black walnut is mainly used on rifles. It’s very straight grained and dark.”

TLC is key

Greg has some useful tips for owners of guns with wooden stocks. Caring for them correctly will prevent, or at least minimise, damage and keep the gun in great condition for longer:

“A well-padded slip is a good place to start. Secondly, don’t store your guns in a damp place as this will ruin the finish, but also not near a heat source as this will dry it out,” said Greg.

“Storing your gun barrel down in the cabinet will also ensure any mineral oils left inside will simply run out rather than seep through into the wooden stock and discolour it. It is also worth remembering that stocks with an oil finish will need a light rub down with linseed oil at the end of each season.”

Greg also offers a gun fitting service. In the end, if you have that perfect gun of yours, whether it’s brand new or recently restored to its former glory, why wouldn’t you want to ensure it helps you achieve the best results? But that’s a subject for another article.

If you would like to find out more about Greg Morris, you can visit his website here or like his Facebook page or like his Facebook page here.

Don’t forget that BASC offers coaching and gun-fitting advice, so you can check whether your gun fits you well or whether you should visit someone like Greg to get it adjusted. Keep an eye out for BASC Fast Track emails promoting coaching and shotgun patterning events and opportunities. All upcoming events will also be listed here.  

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