Ironwood Stocks

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By Jeff John

Years ago, after hearing DS Arms discontinued their wood-stocked FAL, I managed to purchase one of the last ones. I lived in California and had it sent to my brother’s house in the Free World until I moved.

The rifle was billed as a reproduction of the US T48, which our country tested prior to adopting the M14. But enough details were just enough off, I couldn’t quite see a way to make it a T48 replica without some major work. Unfortunately, this would’ve included the fabrication of several important parts (translation: really expensive). So I decided to enjoy it the way it was.

I made one sojourn to Arizona to visit and shoot my rifle while living in Calif. Within 100 rounds, a big chip had blown off the top of the butt, and I didn’t notice it. By the time I did, I was 200 miles from the rifle range, since I had taken it along to shoot with friends north of my brother’s place.

The FAL buttplate is a stamped piece of sheetmetal and the butt itself is cut for the buttplate’s rolled edges to fit over the wood. For this to work, the stock’s buttplate relief cut must be long enough so the large flat of the buttplate rests solidly against the end of the stock, without the sharp edges of the buttplate’s lip touching any wood itself. In this case, the thin rolled edges of the buttplate were in contact with the wood and the large flat part was not. Thus the lips of the buttplate acted as a “splitting maul”— blowing off a chip on top, where, of course, it is most obvious.

Thoroughly depressed, I looked over the fit of the buttplate-to-stock closely (now) and discovered the buttplate fit poorly all the way around, touching wood on one side and hanging over the wood on the opposite side. There was really no good way to repair the stock chip, although I relieved the wood so no further damage would occur and I could still shoot the gun. The stock was an ugly, knotty thing anyway. The fore-end and pistol grip were beautiful, however.

The rifle shot very low, too, so I had another problem to ponder. My next big mistake was not buying the tool set necessary to disassemble the gun and adjust the sights and gas system. By the time I really needed the tools, the 1st Great Obama Ammo & Gun Scare dried up everything associated with firearms, including the three specialty tools the FAL needs. These include a gas nut wrench (almost easy to do without), a front sight-adjusting tool (not so easy to do without) and a stock nut removing tool (best have one if you want to take the stock off).

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The finished stock sporting a hand-rubbed oil finish. Perhaps too pretty for
a military weapon, but you can never own too nice a rifle!

The original FAL stock underwent many changes to strengthen and improve it, ending with the rifle entirely stocked with synthetic materials. The last wood-stock versions had a reinforcing ferrule fitting over wood at the stock/receiver junction to strengthen the joint, and is the version fitted to the DS Arms (one hurdle recreating the T48, since it uses the earlier style). I prefer the slimmer, more attractive earlier 1950’s-style stock. The book The FAL Rifle, Classic Edition from Collector Publications describes the interchangeability of the variants.

After moving to Nevada, I casually searched out wood and tools on the Internet to no avail until discovering Ironwood Stocks located (of all places) smack in the bluest part of Calif. And, of course, we were in the midst of another ObamaScare and their backorder list was so high they weren’t taking new orders.

One day bright and sunny when Obama was probably golfing, and everything was calm (in the US at least), I saw the tools in stock again at Brownells. More good news, Ironwood’s backorder time had plunged to a reasonable 6 weeks. So checks sent and everything arrived exactly as hoped. Things were looking up!

Sometime during the wait, I stumbled across a Canadian surplus buttplate with a trap for the cleaning kit (the DS Arms stock had neither), and it came with an oiler and pull-through.

The Ironwood stock is about 98 percent shaped and sanded to 150 grit, which is just about perfect for a military gun. The grain runs straight and true and is pleasing to the eye. The sanding is expertly done and has no ripples or other mistakes. It took about 2 hours to spot-and-scrape the butt to the receiver. I perhaps could’ve done it faster, but I wanted good wood-to-metal fit here because the recoil shoulder is so small. Besides, it was a nice cool Sunday, and there was a good race on TV. So why rush? Tools required were inletting black, a Swiss file and Jerry Fisher scrapers (Brownells has ’em). I fit the buttplate so a piece of paper could run easily around the edge between metal and wood. This plate won’t chip out the stock. Even better, the new wood is proud all around the edge. The stock was a hair wider than I liked, so I spent another hour with a file trimming it on both sides, and sanding to 220. A military stock doesn’t really need such careful fitting, but I was enjoying the work.

The interior dimensions of the DS Arms stock were different from the Ironwood stock, and its recoil spring nut—which is also threaded for the buttplate screw—sat a full inch higher in the tunnel. The DS Arms buttplate screw proved an inch short. Looking through the FAL book, the schematic showed the buttplate screw should be 2 inches (or at least it looked to be twice as long), so it would need a washer stack or a new screw.

At Apex Gun Parts I found the 2-inch screw for peanuts (it even came with its peculiar lock washer!). The shipping was three times the part’s cost, so I surfed around and found a rounded triggerguard (the T48’s is square) and a reasonably-priced wooden carry handle. The elusive wood handle was high on my list and had been expensive elsewhere. It wasn’t perfect—it’s used and they do get knocked around—but cleaned up well enough after stripping it of oil, steaming the dents and refinishing.

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The DS Arms stock (above) chipped badly due to a poor fitting buttplate and was replaced
by new a stock from Ironwood Stocks. The new one came 98 percent fitted and sanded to 150
grit. During shooting, the sharp lip of the buttplate acted as a “splitting maul” on the
top of the stock (below) and took a huge chip off the end where it is most noticeable.

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I stripped the old fore-end and pistol-grip finish with Brownells’ CertiStrip, since I had no idea what was present. I cleaned up the original contours a little, stained and finished the wood with Pilkington’s Oil Finish. A sanded-in oil finish is the lazy man’s way to fill wood pores. It takes time but little else. Oil finishing a stock in this manner takes about an hour every other day for about two weeks. But then I was awaiting the new buttplate screw, handle and triggerguard anyway.

I mix up stock finish in a baby food jar. Since it will begin hardening after a couple of days, if any is left, I spritz a little propane from a plumber’s torch in the mouth of the jar before putting the lid on. The propane keeps oxygen from starting the hardening process.

After the final coat sets, the stock needs rubbing out. Unhappy with the method I had been using, I experimented a bit on this one. My usual method calls for mixing Pilkington’s Stock Rubbing Oil (clear linseed oil) with Rottenstone (a Brownells brand which I had on hand) on a felt pad and rubbing out the stock. This time I thinned 1-part Stock Rubbing Oil with 2-parts mineral spirits and used a cotton 12-gauge cleaning patch. I put a small amount of Rottenstone on the patch and added enough rubbing oil mixture, using an eyedropper to make a paste. I had the whole stock rubbed out in an hour or so and I’m very pleased with the results.

The complex swivel base dropped into its inlet perfectly. A small manual drill was used to drill the three holes for the buttplate swivel and forward stock screw.

The Ironwood stock is very well crafted, has enough wood everywhere and not too much anywhere. The grain layout was excellent. Incidentally, my experience with Ironwood was excellent (owner Matt works to ensure you are buying the correct patterns).

Ironwood also makes wood for most of the Com-Bloc guns should you want to replace a ratty set of surplus wood, or upgrade a rifle imported into the country disguised as a “sporting” arm.

PEX Gun Parts
3105 North Stone Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
(719) 481-2050
www.apexgunparts.com

Brownells
200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171
(641) 623-4000
www.brownells.com

DS Arms
P.O. Box 370
Lake Barrington, IL 60011
(847) 277-7258
www.dsarms.com

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