For drop-in precision, improved ergonomics, and numerous custom options, these stocks are just what the 21st century sportsman has been waiting for.
by Wayne van Zwoll for ShootingDaily; promoted by Boyds Gunstocks
Name your rifle, and Boyds Gunstocks almost surely has a stock to fit. I don’t mean it can furnish one in a month or so. Figure a week. These people are darn close to their ultimate goal of same-day shipping.
“You might say this business took me by the collar, and I haven’t been able to shake loose!” But that “aw-shucks” response from Randy Boyd veiled talent, drive, and enduring optimism. After just 20 years into the market (the company’s now going on 37 years), Boyds Gunstock Industries became the biggest supplier of hardwood gunstocks in the U.S., crafting and shipping its products from a 50,000-square-foot plant in Mitchell, South Dakota. Its growth hasn’t slowed. A tractor-trailer empties tons of walnut and laminated hardwood at Boyds every week from mills in Iowa, Missouri, and California. Brightly colored wood laminates arrive from suppliers that emerged to fill demand after a catastrophic fire at Rutland Plywood.
The son of a gunsmith, Randy grew up in Geddes, SD, a small community 70 miles from Mitchell. He traded a tired Plymouth for two Mauser rifles, which he refurbished “and sold back for a small profit.” His father’s heart attack gave Randy the reins to the business. “Our shop was a grainery, its wood stove our solution to winter’s sub-zero chill.” He bought a two-spindle duplicating machine and began turning gunstocks. “One per day!”
In 1986, after fielding a request to supply the makers of Chipmunk rifles with 100 stocks a week, Randy and his new bride Sheila bought three high-volume duplicators. CNC machines followed. In 1997, Reinhard Fajen and E.C. Bishop closed their doors. Randy and company ramped up production to fill the void. “Besides offering replacement stocks, we designed our own, with new profiles, colored laminates.” Close machining tolerances enabled Boyds to ensure drop-in fit for a growing number of rifles. “We kept prices reasonable by increasing volume.”
OEM stocks supplied to firearms manufacturers helped boost output. As Boyds delivered many thousands of gunstocks to all major gun firms in the U.S., the Mitchell crew kept adding rifle and shotgun models to its “drop-in fit” list.
“We now make stocks for 255 brands and 1,200 models,” Dustin Knutson told me last fall in an elk camp. As General Manager, he’s relieving Randy of some day-to-day pressure. Still CEO and company president, Randy is “due a few vacation days” after 34 years at the Boyds helm.
Dustin, 35, has been at the company 12 years. With a Paul Bunyan build and a laugh to match, he seemed at home with our camp ax, but quickly proved himself with a rifle, too. In a thick layer of Montana snow, he and guide Rich Vetsch found a bull drifting onto November range. Firing a Winchester Model 70 equipped with Boyds’ new At-One adjustable stock, he hit the elk through the lungs at nearly 370 yards. The Barnes TSX from the 7mm Magnum staggered the animal; a follow-up through the heart finished it.
A true zealot for Boyds, Dustin praised the At-One—a stock I had used on a Savage rifle in .308 to take a whitetail the week before. “Push-button adjustments instantly deliver your choice of comb height and length of pull. Polymer grip panels are interchangeable.
“There’s a range of colors in laminates.” He grinned. “OK. I pampered myself with AA Claro. Heck, I work there!”
Oddly enough, solid walnut stocks still account for nearly 20 percent of Boyds’ business. Dustin told me these include target and even benchrest styles.
In the 13th century, Marco Polo is said to have brought walnuts from their native Persia to Italy. Nuts and seedlings found their way north to other parts of Continental Europe and to England. Though Juglans regia varies in grain structure and color by region, it bears that same scientific name world-wide. Common names denote location, not genetic differences. English walnut is J. regia, as is French. English grown in California from imported nuts has a tawny background with black streaks and less “marblecake” than England’s English. Classic French shows more red or orange. Circassian walnut (after a region in the northwest Caucasus) typically has a dark, smoky character.
American or black walnut, J. nigra, has been the mainstay of the firearms industry. It can be plain as a post or strikingly patterned, depending on the tree’s age and origin, and on the cut. Quarter-sawn blanks have tight color bands because the saw runs across growth rings. Plane-sawed walnut has wide bands, the saw running tangent to growth rings. Either cut can yield a sturdy, handsome rifle-stock.
Claro walnut, J. hindsii, was discovered in California around 1840. Open-grained and of reddish hue, Claro was crossed with English to yield Bastogne walnut. Nuts from these shade trees are infertile, but Bastogne grows fast, and its tight grain endears it to stock-makers. It handles recoil well and checkers more cleanly than Claro. These qualities, with fetching color and figure, have hiked demand for Bastogne. It’s becoming more costly. As with J. regia, the best Bastogne comes from trees at least 150 years old.
If I had to name a walnut guru, it would be the late Don Allen. Before founding Dakota Arms and while finishing a career as a commercial pilot, he earned a reputation as an ace stock-maker. Don traveled world-wide to find exceptional wood. Not long before his untimely death, Don told me top-quality walnut was rapidly diminishing. “Fine regia is scarce in England and France. Old trees in Turkey and Morocco are being cut at an unsustainable pace. Figured Turkish wood at market today may be 400 years old!” In other words, we’re inletting walnut from trees maturing before the Declaration of Independence!
When I was a lad, I paid $7.50 for the plain semi-inletted blank I hung on my first deer rifle. Now I see raw slabs of regia tagged at $1,000—and up! Cheaper wood, like walnut-stained birch, has become commonplace on entry-level firearms.
Walnut must be dried before you attack it with stock-making tools. “Immediately after a blank is cut,” said Don Allen, “free water starts to escape. Think of a soaked sponge dripping. If water leaves too fast, the wood can crack and check. The surface can crust, inhibiting movement of bound water from the core.” Thus, a kiln can throttle release of water. “Most drying damage happens soon after the slab is cut. After moisture stabilizes, at around 20 percent, the blank can be air-dried or kiln-dried without damage.” Don told me no special environment is needed to air-dry wood properly. “Simply avoid temperature and humidity extremes, and weigh the blank periodically. When weight stabilizes, the blank is dry enough to work.” Some stock-makers turn blanks to rough profile at this point, then let them dry another six months.
In France, walnut growers once steamed logs before cutting them into slabs (also called flitches). Steaming eliminated resident insects. It also colored the sap, turning it from white to amber.
“Even with kiln-drying after air-drying by suppliers,” said Dustin Knutson at Boyds, “we must plan ahead to allow a cure time of 16 to 18 months from felling a tree to inletting a stock.”
Layout is a critical step in stock-making. Viewed from the side, grain that parallels the grip gives it greatest strength. From above, grain in the forend best resists warping when it parallels the bore. Even very dense figured wood often falls shy of straight-grained wood with regard to strength and stability.
Glass bedding strengthens wood (but won’t prevent warping). I sometimes add glass or epoxy in the recoil lug mortise to prevent stock splits and to afford the metal firm and unchanging contact. A small bedding patch under the tang makes sense, too. “We get an occasional request to glass-bed a customer rifle into one of our stocks,” Dustin said. “But we don’t offer that service. We’re not a gunsmithing shop and really don’t want such work. Our job is producing handsome, serviceable gunstocks closely machined for drop-in fit. At reasonable prices.”
Boyds does that through a network of 100 dealers, and from a website that prompts you through myriad options toward what’s really a custom gunstock. Prepare for tough decisions. “If memory serves,” said Dustin, “we list 11 shapes and 20 color combinations for Remington’s SPS alone. Then you specify stock length and let us know what you prefer in grip and forend tips, recoil pads, checkering patterns.”
Explore the options at Boydsgunstocks.com. You deserve an upgrade!
article copyright © 2017 ShootingDaily.com; promoted by Boyds Gunstocks.
Although Boyds Gunstocks is among our sponsors, the views expressed in this article are those of the author. ShootingDaily.com receives compensation from Boyds Gunstocks in various forms to help promote their products.