"Gently" removing old varnish?

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Some original antique stocks I have seen are stained in such a manner that mimics the striped figure of maple. I read somewhere that this was not an uncommon thing of the era.

If a varnish was applied later in time, and has since bubbled up, is there a way to safely remove the varnish without harm to the 'figuring' of the stain underneath?
 
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If unknown, how would you determine which type of varnish it is?
I would start with just looking at the finish. Then try Mineral spirits, it will not hurt any surface finish that has been on for a long time. If it looks better a good waxing may be good enough. That may be all that it needs.
If not I would ask myself:
Does it look like it is 10 yrs old or 75 ? More than 45 yrs and it is unlikely poly. Most varnishes before are a modified oil and are safe with refinishers. Next I would try a little of the refinisher on an inconspicuous place, using a small amount on a rag, maybe near the trigger. Refinishers dissolve some of the surface of the old finish and help in disguising normal wear. On poly they will most likely wrinkle the finish requiring total strip.
 

Feltwad

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You will find that most original stocks which are made of walnut and English or Continental are oil finished they just need a clean and apply over some months a odd coats of a few drops stock oil and rub well in which should be left for a few days then burr of the excess with a rough cloth. Always Remember a good oil finish does not happen overnight it takes months
Has for the black bands found on some stock of which I have come across several these were burnt on using plumbers corking rope or string leaving a space between each coil which is the burnt with a torch
Feltwad
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Some original antique stocks I have seen are stained in such a manner that mimics the striped figure of maple. I read somewhere that this was not an uncommon thing of the era.

If a varnish was applied later in time, and has since bubbled up, is there a way to safely remove the varnish without harm to the 'figuring' of the stain underneath?
Hi Dusty,

The first thing you have to TRY to do is determine what the "most recently applied" finish is, because a bubbled surface may indicate bad technique when applying a finish too much and too quickly OR it may indicate the firearm was around too much heat. The bubbling might also have been caused by wax on the surface before the last finish was put on it. Unfortunately for most of us with limited facilities, we have to figure out what finish we are dealing with by using solvents.

OK, to do that, step one is gentle cleaning of the finish with small wads of clean paper towels dipped in Dawn detergent and water solution, then wrung out and gently rubbed over the finish. Then dry with wads of clean paper towels. Old guns may have dirt, oils or grease on the finish and that should remove most of such foreign contaminants.

I like to try denatured alcohol next in an unobtrusive spot, as that will show whether someone used shellac as the "most recent finish." You might be surprised how many folks in the old days and who weren't trained in stock finishing, used shellac because they had it on hand.

After that, does it feel like there is wax on the finish? The use of mineral spirits the way Rich Pierce described above is also a good way to clean that and often all you need to "smooth out" the bubbled finish with enough gentle rubbing. But be gentle as mineral spirits will dissolve many finishes if applied "too wet" and wipe out the coloring under the bubbled finish.

If that won't do it, the next step is to try Acetone mildly wetted wads of paper towels. However, there is a big risk of wiping out the stain coloring under the bubbled finish.

Gus
 
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Well I did some cleaning on the old rifle in the OP today, and it sure did make a difference. Got all the old varnish off to reveal real curly maple. I was figuring it was faux, but its the real deal. With a little oil and a buff, I bet it is really going to come alive. I'll post some photos...

Before…
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Squirrel2.jpg Squirrel4.jpg
 
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I have a Savage 99 takedown rifle. When I got it the finish was in poor shape. I stripped it with Citerstrip. It didn't change the color of it, not removing patina. I steamed out the dents and refinished it. It still looks old and used, but it's clean and looks nice.

I believe you should never scrape or sand a stock. It's a sin. It removes the aged look, and destroys authenticity.
 

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