One day, your grandkids may ask if gunstocks were actually made out of wood. They may also ask you what a gun was. We’ll talk more about the second part after the first week in November, but the first part we can deal with now.
You can make a good wood stock out of other trees besides walnut. Here are some of them:
Wild cherry. Nice, tight-grained, light, but tends to be bland. When the old Herter’s company sold semi-finished stock blanks, they specialized in wild cherry.
Birch. Light, strong, tight-grained but even less figure than cherry, birch has been popular in Europe for a long time, and I suspect that a lot of American rifles have birch stocks stained to look like walnut.
Maple. There are three or four varieties of figure, of which I can remember only fiddleback and tiger-stripe. Maple makes a spectacular looking stock if it’s properly handled. To bring out the figure, you toast it lightly with a blowtorch, which is called suigi finish. The wood has admirable properties, but it can be stringy and hard to checker, and it’s not as strong as some of the others. The master of the maple stock was a gunmaker named Hal Hartley, who worked in Lenoir, NC, and used only that wood. A Hal Hartley rifle is unmistakable.
Mesquite. Very heavy, very, very strong, and very difficult to find a blank that isn’t peppered with knotholes and pinholes. It’s pale blonde with dark black and brown streaks. The first .460 Weatherbys had mesquite stocks, and they were something to behold. The wood is dead stable and hard as rock, but working with it is a pain in the ass.
Yama. Who the hell ever heard of yama? I did. It’s an exotic wood from, I think, Hawaii, and is super-light while being adequately strong. Back in the 50s and 60s, if you wanted an ultra-light rifle, you looked for a nice yama blank.
Laminated.** Laminated stocks go back at least to World War II when the Germans stocked Mauser 98s with them. Strong, stable, and heavy. The most recent development in laminated wood is blanks with fancy veneer glued to the outer surfaces, so that your laminated stock looks like a homogeneous hunk of walnut for which you paid a fortune. With the best of these, you have to look very, very hard to see that it’s actually a glue job.
Myrtle. Not used much these days. If you get a good blank it can have spectacular grain that can be mistaken for fine walnut. However, it’s not all that strong, tends to absorb oil, and is tough to checker. I haven’t seen a new myrtle-stocked rifle in a long time.
Mahogany. Very light, no figure whatsoever, but otherwise OK. Used in guitar backs a lot.
And, speaking of guitars, there was a time when luthiers used only mahogany and rosewood for the backs and sides of their instruments, and spruce for the faces. Now, they’re using all kinds of exotic woods, and it’s quite likely that stockmakers of the future will be using something neither you nor I have ever heard of.