Brownells 75th Anniversary - A Shooting Heritage

Beginner's Bench - Cleaning A 1917 Enfield Stock

By: Bob Brownell

I was digging through some stuff here at Brownells the other day, some old things of my granddad’s and a wide variety of old and outdated gun type gear that have been hanging around in dusty boxes and forgotten corners for years. Over the decades as the company grew from grandpa’s back porch corner in the 1930’s on to several different, and always slightly larger locations around the square in Montezuma, and finally to our current location on Highway 63 here in Montezuma, a lot of things were moved around many times and some really cool items were kind of left alone in the dark. All of you know the best theory to house cleaning: out of sight out of mind! I have done a lot of research and digging into all kinds of history, especially the history of Brownells ever since I was a kid. I’m one of those lost souls who loves studying the past (especially military history from the 19th and 20th centuries) and what certain artifacts from the past can actually mean to those who take the time to really look at them. When I finally hitched up my britches, got my skull out of the proverbial butt (as grandpa loved to say and dad still does) and went to college at age 29, there was no doubt where my educational career would lead: History major. I also majored in English because I really love to write and besides, English and American Lit are in pieces of history from the perspective of a writer who lived in those times.

Anyway, while I was going through the bottom shelf of a dusty, and decidedly interesting smelling shelf, I came across some old gun stocks that had been the victims of some sporterizing, parts stripping, and perhaps a little curiosity on grandpa’s part. There was a pile of them covered in dust and sticky black crud and I really didn’t have any idea what most of them had once been a part of. However, way in the back in the hardest to reach place was a complete, one-piece stock. Not sure of what it was, I pulled it out. It was definitely military from the looks of it; it was short, heavy, and appeared to have been massed produced at one time or another because there was no real “finish” evident. It was clearly a good piece of walnut with just some kind of stain or even a linseed oil rub. Very basic, simple, but effective. It also had a cut milled out of the right side that indicated a bolt rifle of some kind. The shape reminded me of the Springfield and Enfield rifles that the U.S. military used during the Spanish-American War and throughout World War I. It has three distinct metal loops holding the entire stock together and there are three sling loops also. In addition, the front of the stock where the barrel would end is covered by another piece of wood on the top. Definitely military looking by my amateur standards and very interesting. I was certain I had stumbled upon a piece of history.

I thought that cleaning up this neat little stock would make a great subject for a Beginner’s Bench article. We’ve all seen, and owned some of those old “truck” guns that are just dirty as heck both inside and out (Steve Schmidt wrote a great Cleaning Clinic article about one such gun) and they can be saved. I’ve had friends ask me the best way to clean up a gunstock that has years of dirt and grime on it without damaging the finish. This stock definitely qualified as being dirty. With years of dirt, dust, linseed oil, Cosmo line, and even a little mold, this thing was almost black. And, it was sticky which reminded me of what the doorknobs in my house felt like after the kids got Popsicles. After pulling it out I trudged up the stairs to ask dad and some of our tech guys about its past, and most importantly, if it was a historical relic that should be left “as is” to preserve it’s value.

I spoke with Dave Bennett’s, one of our Tech guys who is very knowledgeable about stocks and their care. After carefully examining the stock he determined that was for a 1917 Enfield and wasn’t in good enough shape to be considered a collectors item. He suggested several different cleaning agents as well as the procedures involved. Originally, we discussed using Brownells Tank Solvent, which is a very powerful cleaning agent and is best used in a tank for cleaning up powder residue and rust. Dave cautioned me that it might damage or even take stock finishes right off. I decided against this because I wasn’t sure what kind of finish was underneath the grime and I just wanted something to clean up. Next we talked about Brownells TCE Cleaner/Degreaser and this sounded like the product to use. This is a great product we carry, I’ve used it on several different gun projects recently and it really cuts through grease, wax, and gunk in general. However, it can damage some stock finishes but with the amount of stuff on this stock, I figured I would need something with a little cutting power to get the initial layers off. I also decided to try out some d’Solve on a section of the stock as well just to see how these different products work.

After getting some #00 Steel Wool and some soft absorbent paper towels I headed for the workbench ready to start cleaning. Laying the stock down on my Bench Mat I tore off a handful of the steel wool and sprayed some Brownells TCE Cleaner/Degreaser directly on a small area of the stock. Rubbing this spot vigorously for a minute or so didn’t really have much of an effect, and all I was doing was just smearing the gunk around. Balling up the #00 Steel Wool a little tighter, I sprayed a little of the TCE directly onto it, grabbed a paper towel, and scrubbed some more. Once I had gone over a spot, I quickly wiped the mixture off with a paper towel while it was still liquid (TCE dries VERY quickly) and was amazed at the results. This small 2” by 6” area was a nice rich brown color, which was quite a contrast to the rest of the black covered stock. Clearly, I had a lot of work in front of me.

Before I go much further, I should also explain that the inletted part of the stock where the bolt, receiver, barrel, and trigger once were was completely jammed full of Cosmoline and grease. I decided to clean this out before going much further on the outside of the stock just to save myself more work later on if I would have stuck a finger in while working. Taking some wooden tongue depressors and scraping worked well, and once most of the grease was removed, some Q-tips allowed me to clean out the smaller nooks and crannies. With this done, I took some of my paper towels and simply wiped out as much as I could. Good enough for now.

Getting back to the stock, I kept spraying the TCE on the steel wool, rubbing outward from the original clean spot and wiping it down. The paper towels would get dirty very quickly so I kept having to grab a clean one from the pile next to me. This way, I could make certain that I was getting as much of the grime off as possible. The steel wool also needed to be changed every so often as well since it would get gummed up. With most of the flatter surfaces coming along nicely, it was time to get the TCE into some of the harder to reach spots. For this, I could mold some steel wool into the right shape to clean most of the dirt. On some of the smaller places, I used a nylon Super Toothbrush with just a small amount of TCE and this just worked great. On the metal parts, the loops and the buttstock, I simply wiped them down with one of the paper towels I had been using since they were still a bit damp and they came out pretty clean. I didn’t want to use the steel wool on any of these parts because I didn’t want to scratch them up and ruin any bluing that was on them.

At this point it was finally starting to look like a pretty nice stock without the black mess that had coated it. However, close examine revealed some smaller areas of dirt that hadn’t come off. Since I had used the TCE for the heavy-duty crud cutting, Dave recommended that I use something a little less aggressive so I wouldn’t damage the original finish or the wood. Brownells d’Solve was my choice here. This great cleaner comes pre-mixed in a handy little spray bottle so you can put it right where you want it. I’ve had some of this in my shop for years and it can be used on any part of a gun you want to clean really, really well. This stuff will cut through carbon powder inside a gun’s bore and action residue and you can also spray it directly onto a gunstock to brush and wipe off excess grime. With a clean nylon Super Toothbrush and some clean paper towels, I sprayed a little of the d’Solve right onto the stock and brushed vigorously for about a minute or so. After alternating between the brushing and wiping for about fifteen minutes I had gone over the entire stock. It looked like I was finally making progress on my project.
Wiping the stock down well with another clean paper towel, I took a fresh chunk of #00 Steel Wool and began to rub the stock with the grain as though I was sanding it with a piece of sandpaper. I was careful not to rub to hard and not too stay in the same spot for long either. What you want to do here is basically buff off any remaining dirt and residue and I was surprised at how much was still coming loose. But, this was pretty small considering what I had started with and wiping the stock down with a damp cloth removed the dust that was left behind.

The last procedure was to buff the stock with some Brownells Stock Rubbing Compound just to make sure the entire thing was really clean. I carefully read the instructions on the jar and shook it for a few minutes to get it stirred up. Taking one of our Sheet Felt Pads and making it damp under a faucet, I dipped one corner into the compound and began rubbing it onto the stock against the grain. With a small area covered, I then rubbed with the grain for about a minute taking care to keep the compound moist and malleable by running some more water on the pad. This, way you can continue to rub it smoothly on the stock which will get every last little grain of dirt and gunk out. Once the compound had turned gray and began to dry out, I simply took a clean, soft rag and wiped it off. I thought I’d cleaned the stock up pretty well by this time but the Stock Rubbing Compound did an incredible job getting the whole thing clean and looking good. On the other side of the stock I used some Brownells Triple F Stock Rubbing Compound which is a slightly less gritty than the regular Stock Rubbing Compound that I started with. I wasn’t disappointed with either product and both sides of the stock came out looking great.

To finish the project I got a jar of Lin-Speed and a clean rag and simply rubbed the entire stock with it, and set it aside to dry. A couple hours later, the stock was finally done and I was pleased with the results. Now, I’d really like to find some 1917 Enfield parts and try to put the entire rifle back together. Who knows, maybe I could do that for a future Beginners Bench!

While this stock was very dirty, and just plain nasty in places, it did eventually come exceptionally clean for me and I was amazed at the results. I hope that most of you out there with some crudded up gunstocks won’t have anything quite this bad, I wanted to find something that really needed a good scrubbing just to see how some of our products would perform. I can’t honestly say that I was disappointed with anything I used. Some had a pretty bad stench but they did the job that I set out to do: they cleaned up the stock without taking the original finish off. The thing to remember though is that no matter how dirty a stock can get, it can be cleaned without having to strip the whole works off and then try to completely restore it. That’s why our #00 Steel Wool works so well in tandem with a few of the cleaning compounds I tried out. Everything here depends on the amount of crud and how far a person really wants to go with this type of project. Generally, you can take a stock that looks like the devil and just do a little rubbing, a little sweating, and get some pretty awesome results. Again, it depends on the layers of stuff involved.

If you have any questions about cleaning, refinishing, or even buying a stock, give the guys in our Tech Group a call. They’ve got a lot of years of gunsmithing experience and they would be glad to hear from you. Until next time, have a great and safe holiday season this year and we hope to hear from you all soon.