Walnut stock blanks - not just beautiful
Part one - Walnut stock blanks, not just beautiful
When discussing a guns aesthetics people tend to fall into two categories. Some focus on the engraving and have specific ideas about customising their guns such as locations for initials, specific game scenes or personal iconography. The rest are admirers of wood and have dreamt of their perfect stock including its style, colouring and grain.
This is the first of three articles looking at Walnut stock blanks, part two and three look at stocking, gun stock shapes and finishing.
Major Sir Gerald Burrard wrote in his book, 'The Modern Shotgun', - "We have in Walnut an ideal wood which is not only tough, hard and not given to splitting, but is also frequently figured in a beautiful manner which is a joy to the eye."
The book was published in 1931 and it was amazing to see the following - "best-quality stocks cost on an average from £40 to £50 in the rough state, although much higher prices are asked" - these days best Walnut stocks range from £600 - £2500 for singles and significantly more for pairs.
Walnut receives its grain definition from changes in temperature and weather conditions, and countries with extreme changes tend to produce the best grades of Walnut.
In Burrard's book he names Southern France and Italy as the best producers of Walnut but these days the bulk of the supply comes from Turkey. It is interesting to note that we do receive Walnut from other countries as well including New Zealand and more recently Georgia.
The precise Walnut used for guns stocks is from the Juglans Regia tree - The Persian Walnut (or common Walnut). The tree is also known as the "English" Walnut as British sailors spread the tree around the world.
Walnut's colour results from the composition of the soil it's grown in. The below picture shows a piece from New Zealand which is dark compared to Turkish or French Walnut. The grain is also more uniform, possibly due to the age of the tree as Juglans Regia Walnut was not indigenous to New Zealand and must have been introduced to the island.
Where does the Walnut come from?
Although obvious, this question is more specific. A Walnut stock blank comes from the ball of the tree and is almost entirely underground during its (living) life. The base of the Walnut tree is used as it is denser as a result of the trunk's weight compressing the base.
The left and centre picture below show a Turkish Walnut tree before excavation on a hillside in Turkey, this tree is already dead and is a good example of the work required to attain the blank. The image on the right shows Boxall and Edmiston's Turkish Walnut supplier Yusuf with the excavated tree.
Once excavated, the Walnut is carefully cut into pieces that are 40-50% larger than those a gunmaker receives to compensate for shrinkage and distortion during the drying process. Once cut the ends of the blank have wax applied to prevent moisture escaping too quickly which can cause the wood to split or crack.
The Walnut is cut in a similar way to an orange's segments. Each piece ideally has straight grain from the trunk running through what will become the neck of the stock as this is the strongest figuring. The Walnut is stored for 4-7 years, or until it has stopped losing weight, before being sold for gun stocks. Some suppliers artificially dry the Walnut in kilns which causes it to shrink too quickly, weakening the wood.
Gun stock Walnut is expensive due to the complexity of its acquisition and the logistics of drying and transporting it. A harvested Walnut tree for gun stocks is on average 200 years old and the age contributes to the complexity of the grain and therefore it's beauty.