AUSTRALIAN CLASSIC RIFLE STOCKS
BLOG News and Views
2021 Blog Index
1 - Cradle Time - Eyes Wide Open
2 - Fitting-Up ACRS Machined Stocks
3 - Appropriate Use of Exhibition Grade Walnut Blanks
4 - Underneath The Glamour ?
5 - Observations: Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) As A Stock Wood
Scroll down to read entries.
Cradle Time - Eyes Wide Open
Cradle Time - Eyes Wide Open
As is often the case, recently I have been working at my checkering cradle which for the most part, I enjoy. With some checkering jobs the concentration required can be much more than is usual - and those cases often for longer than normal. Reliably predicting what will be involved in each job, why, and how to make the best of it is not so easy because there are many subtle factors at play. Good checkering tools. A a properly lit cradle that functions well. Those go a good way towards making the work as easy as it can be. People tend to judge checkering based on the perceived difficulty of the pattern itself. More is involved than those concerns: For me just how difficult a good checkering job is to accomplish is also dependent on how well each particular blank takes the checkering asked of it.
The stock in the below photos was made from an "outside" blank of uncertain Himalayan heritage, which was made to the customers "taste" and fit. The blank showed good layout, was fairly hard, and I on-seasoned it for a number of years. I'd tested how the blank reacted to chisel and gouge several times over the years, and I knew in advance the blank would be difficult to work (including checkering) and if I picked the wrong job for it, I'd be in for a long and tedious test. Despite being a simple checkering pattern, as expected, it took me much longer than normal to checker this rascal. Making a stock from it reinforced what I learned early on: The quality of the walnut I'm using can greatly affect the time taken to accomplish a checkering job. I'm talking about the wood quality in relation to how it works, not its beauty.
Good checkering is easier to accomplish if the texture of the walnut is about as even as it gets. Slowly and evenly grown, fine-pored, tough, firm but leathery walnut that holds sharp, fine detail is the go for me.
For example, I'd generally class walnut is a Semi Ring-Porous wood. However, I have found that there is a very wide range of porosity traits displayed in European Walnut. Good walnut for stocks is fine pored and slowly, evenly grown - almost Diffuse-Porous - but walnut like this is not easy to find in my experience. Some is much closer to being Ring-Porous. Blanks taken from trees with distinct ring-porosity, I find those more challenging to checker because of the abrupt change in porosity between each annular rings Early Wood and Late Wood. If the tree was quickly grown this is exacerbated. The texture of distinctly ring-porous walnut is not as consistent, and running a checkering tool through wood of inconsistent texture will be increasingly more difficult the more porous and/or variable the wood grew to be. Nor do I enjoy checkering stocks that are cut from more brittle walnut, such as Tension Wood, or steamed or kilned walnut. It's texture is not conducive to fine checkering and I avoid it as much as possible. I assume a stock maker or boffin of whatever ilk would have an interest in knowing at least a little about the terms above identified by capitols at the start of each word in the term, so I'm not going to explain them.
I also avoid milling trees in growing conditions and locations that I know tend to produce walnut I don't like making stocks from. Genetic strains that tend to produce the quality of walnut I don't enjoy working, I learned to avoid. I bear in mind that environmental factors affect the wood quality, as does the cutting, handling and seasoning of the blanks. All aspects require careful consideration to get the best potential in stock blanks cut from walnut trees. Kilned blanks? No, thanks. I test a blank before use and especially avoid brittle or crumbly walnut. On "outside" blanks not cut by myself, this is especially important. Brittle, crumbly walnut is much more difficult to point up and won't hold fine checkering under service - the diamonds won't stat sharp long. It's also mongrel stuff to inlet, shape or sand to a fine edge without it mysteriously crumbling and falling away. Intense fiddle-back I find not too bad to hold a straight line in, provided the walnut is of otherwise good texture. On top of the above, there are other important considerations to factor in when it comes to choosing a blank. Careful selection of a blank that works well is just as important when it comes to the other manual tasks when making a stock; inletting, shaping, sanding and finishing fine crisp edges. Working lesser quality walnut, no matter how pretty, will cost time (money) and quite possibly job quality too. Here I am mainly commenting on a blanks ability to hold good checkering.
This post might seem to some to be irrelevant for a machined stock supplier like ACRS, but I think it is very relevant. Walnut is very variable and how a blank works is especially important to me, no matter whether myself or a customer works it after machining. A worthwhile amount of experience in most and preferably all aspects of stock work is vital to be able to assess and recommend a blank, especially for those new to checkering and other aspects of the work. A knowledge of how the blank will work with most of the various types of tools is also a huge boon. There are plenty of wild blanks to tame, if you are apt to do so. However it sure helps if they can be identified before working them. Then, a much more informed decision can be made as to whether to proceed and on which project - or instead find and use a blank that is of better texture and workability for the job at hand.
When placing an order for a machined stock, it is wise to discuss future checkering requirements so that the blank chosen for the job is suitable for the checkering that will be cut on it. In my experience, customers do not always consider the choosing of a blank from all perspectives, nor the most important one(s).
8 March 2021
Fitting-Up ACRS Machined Stocks
Fitting-Up ACRS Machined Stocks
Based on recent enquiries, I've written the following background notes on the subject of fitting machined stocks. It is not a how-to article. That would require a book. The purpose of this entry is to give folk a bit of information to a complex FAQ:
I get asked a lot; How much work is required to fit up a machined stock from Australian Classic Rifle Stocks? And many more associated queries. It's a good question but the answer is often very hard to give. Normally it's inexperienced folk asking the question. If you are not experienced, the short answer is "I don't know......." followed by "lots of rabbit holes do go down - what sort of work do you intend doing, and to what quality?"
No crystal ball hereabouts. I don't know your skill set and aptitude for learning, your workspace setup - bench, tools et cetera ad infinitum. Ultimately, like anything, you won't know until you've tried, and tried again many times. How long it takes is strongly influenced by the quality of work that is to be done. Fine quality inletting takes considerable time to accomplish. It also varies greatly depending on the difficulty or complexity of the job (firearm design complexities and specifications vary significantly, particularly in custom work). How well the stock blank works affects things. Plus of course, the skill and experience of the stocker is a big factor. Oh - and is the metalwork properly prepared and ready for stocking up?
When it comes to machined stocks, the work that remains to be done also depends heavily on how close the machined stock is to allowing the metalwork of the firearm into it. Just how close that fit must be, where it really counts, and why it counts varies somewhat according to the quality desired. A quick, rough job might take an hour or so if the inlet is open enough for the metalwork to just "drop in" or be close to it. Plus the work required to glass bed it, pretty much essential with such loose inlets. I'll be polite - I do not regard that type of work as custom quality, or anything close to it. But they do serve a purpose and have a place for some. At the other end of the scale a fine, good quality job can take from a day right up to even a week or more, even from the best quality machining! Very fine quality jobs are a rarity, because they are difficult to accomplish, fewer people have the skills, and they also take time - lots of it. Some workers are quicker than others. I've noticed many of the quicker stockers cut corners on the inlet, where it is largely hidden from view, but do very good "outside work".
Many stocks sold by the various machined stock manufacturers are machined with some gap allowance, to make the actions go close to dropping in, or to be an "easy fit". Conversely, some suppliers machine with some excess of wood in the inlet (0.025") or so is common, leaving the customer with a lot of wood to remove internally. I've seen as much as 1/16". Such excess wood, a real stock maker ought to be able to handle pretty well, but the average punter thinks he's been left with a dugout canoe project. There is nowt wrong with either approach, so long as the appropriate one is selected. The drop-in-fit suppliers compromise between an easy fit, and gaps. Suppliers who provide an excess of wood in an inlet leave it up to the skill of the fitter to guarantee a perfect fit, every time.
Problems arise when expectations and/or skill sets don't match up with the product (assuming the product is good). Increasingly, folk expect a world-class custom stock to be spat out of a CNC, with drop in fit, no gaps, checkered, finished and at a bargain price. The dimensional tolerances that most classic and vintage actions were manufactured to largely prohibits this, and individual custom work complicates it further. Many of the modern "CNC'd" actions and aftermarket parts used in custom rifles are not so consistent, either.
I try and avoid both the above scenarios. Some years ago, I gravitated away from "easy fit" and near "drop-in-fit" stocks. They are far removed from my stock making interests. For a long time, I have had near ZERO interest in them. Ditto for those with a gross excess of wood left in the inlet. There are plenty of sources for machined stocks with such inlets. Instead, I have found it best to supply a machined stock which is a little different. I do this in three different ways. The first two ways give the customer some choices concerning inletting, and the third revolves around the outside shape.
The first category of machined stock service I offer is a dedicated pattern, 100% glassed in to the customers metalwork at extra cost to the customer. If you expect a "custom" level of Inlet Fit with "no gaps" and a minimum of excess wood in the inlet, this is the only way to go in my opinion. In my own custom work, one of my aims is to have the inletting so close (within reason) that it looks like the wood actually grew around the metal. I much prefer to glass in each firearms metalwork 100% for a mirror inlet, than machine the inlet grossly undersized and have to dig out another canoe (I've done enough of that). The end result is not a given - the stocker must still have a full skill set to do the fitting. With a custom job, and a dedicated pattern fitted to the customer, it works best for me. It's also the most demanding pattern making and stock machining I have found.
The second category of machined stocks I supply, are aimed at the small percentage of professionals and amateurs who aspire to achieve a "semi-custom" level of Inlet Fit, which involves a lot more skill and time. I machine the inlets out as far as is practical, after talking to the customer about his/her expectations and experience level. I can vary the amount of wood left in the inlet, and on the outside, to suit. There is a risk of fine gaps if I machine a true 1:1 inlet, because metalwork tolerances vary, but such an inlet is a nice compromise all the same because any gaps left are normally very fine and far better than a factory inlet (and many of the "custom" jobs I see out there). For the die-hards I can leave a slight excess of wood and the amount left to be removed. The amount nominated depends upon just how much the tolerances vary in each manufacturers model - and the customers skills, experience and expectations it's hard to match aftermarket barrel profiles, and sometimes the best option is to leave a flat-top forend (no barrel inlet) or more often, and undersized one. Very occasionally, I'll allow my arm to be twisted and provide a more open inlet. Be warned, if you expect me to do this on a special blank, you'll get a negative response - rare blanks deserve a much better destiny!
The third option I offer in a machined stock relates to it's shape, more particularly how it fits the individual. Other than various stock designs, I offer a range of options that tailor the fit of the stock to the shooter. From a simple Length of Pull change, with or without a change of drop and/or cast etc - right up to a bespoke pattern built to fit the customer. After all, what point is there in making a stock for a gun or rifle, when it does not fit? When a pattern becomes a try-stock, we can suddenly get an extra and great advantage - even if the fitting is only static (no live firing). This can be combined with either of the two categories of inletting.
There are not too many folk doing fitting and finishing work to a high standard. Such work remains a rarity. If you wish to begin learning these skills, I suggest purchasing the following reference material and working hard at it:
- Professional Stockmaking by Dave Wesbrook
- Checkering & Carving of Gunstocks by Monte Kennedy
- The Final Touch - A complete course in gunstock checkering by Joel Shaefer.
- Gunstock Checkering With Joe Balickie (possibly no longer available)
At this point (and also when ordering/purchasing ACRS machined stocks or products), I'll assume you have read and digested Professional Stockmaking as a minimum, and feel comfortable with the information, skills and processes within it - or are committed to learning them. Like any writing, it doesn't cover everything - but it is a very good resource.
One thing I'll mention that is not commonly realised in my experience: Fitting machined stocks requires a slightly different approach and modified skill set compared to stocking from the block, particularly when inletting. When stocking from the block, the stock is first inlet, and then shaped. The job is thus relatively rigid because the outside shape is more or less, a "block". With a machined stock the outside is shaped before inletting is finalised. The more dainty the stock, well the more flexible it is, particularly one-piece rifle stocks. Extra finesse is required to ensure the machined stock is not bent or twisted when fitting the metalwork.
For example, if the stock is bent out of true when inletting, the witness marks left my the smoke or blue will be a false indication of the fit that actually exists between the two parts. If wood is removed from "prints" left by a false "smoking" - you WILL GET GAPS!!! Occasionally I see folk blame the machined stock, the machinist, or the accuracy potential of the duplicating machine. Yet I can often tell from their work and talking to them that they don't even realise they are flexing the stock - often an alarming amount. Often the metalwork was distorted, too! I've seen a few guys holding their stocks in a vise with a death grip around the inletting when attempting to get a smoke print. When the stock is removed from the vise jaws, the stock springs out. The witness marks are false in such a case and removing them can cause gaps, Machining patterns made or prepped by others can sometimes be eye-opening, and if a job is copied from a pattern that is not right, debate will follow as to where the error began. It pays to be very thorough.
For what it's worth, I believe the same finesse results in a far better job inletting from the block, but nothing teaches it like working with machined stocks. It's easy enough to demonstrate this: Place a correctly mounted dial gauge or indicator on your next job, whether machined or from the block. Then touch it progressively harder and note the indicated deflection. Try different positions and directions of deflection. Then, do the same with the metalwork. If you have not ever done this, I suggest it's a great idea to do so - and learn from it. If you want to chase inletting as fine as a layer of smoke, and don't understand the above and false smoke-prints, or have the will to learn about them, well good luck with that. The best machined stock in the world won't help you much if the person doing the fitting isn't capable. If you are a frustrated bang-it-and-bodge-it type, maybe just hit it a bit harder and keep on swearing. If it ain't right then, hit it again! Grin.
Inletting, or "inside work" is as demanding as you want to make it. I don't work for the "drop in fit" crowd.
Folk often call or email me with myriad queries about stock work. I am happy to provide a realistic level of after-sales service for ACRS products. Be aware that there is a limit to what I can be expected to provide free of charge. If questions do not relate to a firm order or purchase from ACRS, please consider that anticipating or expecting a business to provide a charitable donation of time and knowledge might be somewhat offensive. A prime example of this would be the numerous calls and emails I've received from entities asking for help in setting up in the business of machining stocks and/or stock making in general as a business. If a person or business seeks such contact, have the manners to ask me if I'd consider helping - and if the time spent is anything but brief and general also expect to pay for my time, knowledge and experience because it has been very, very hard won. People with professional aspirations who cannot show licensing, and demonstrate commitment, accomplishment and ability that is impressive to me, are wasting my time.
Understand your respective govt. laws and regulations for this work.
15 May 2021
Appropriate Use Of
Exhibition Grade Walnut Blanks
Appropriate Use Of
Exhibition Grade Walnut Blanks
The below has been written in response to the many enquiries from punters seeking "best grade" walnut blanks for their machined stocks. It is a brief statement of my thoughts on such blanks and their use in making gun and rifle stocks.
In my experience, such blanks comprise (roughly) the top 5 percent or so of blanks cut. It depends partly on the quality of the trees being milled. Too, how good the miller/ blank cutter is/was at getting the best gems out of the trees and seasoning them successfully plays a huge role in maximising the percentages that are realised. Finally, peoples opinions vary a fair bit as to just what constitutes an "Exhibition Grade" blank. Really fine blanks are definitely in the sub-1% category. Ideally they are held in proper storage and seasoned for a very long time which, increasingly, makes blanks so treated all the more of a rarity.
The very finest blanks are thus supplied to customers willing to pay appropriately for the rarity of such blanks - but also those that understand the blanks must see an appropriate and fitting end use. I suppose in brief that means contiguous, harmonious design and suitably fine workmanship of all aspects of the custom gun or rifle. Accomplished such that no one aspect of the job over-powers another, or lets the rest of it down. It is quite difficult to accomplish for a number of complex reasons, but the better makers strive for it.
When exhibition grade blanks are used on factory, or sub-standard "custom" metalwork, we wind up with a "more is less" scenario. I notice a lot of folk get dazzled by really fancy walnut, and reckon it's a grand way of tarting "Old Betsy" up. I won't make any analogy to cosmetic plastic surgery fashions. Often, onlookers and owners fail to differentiate between how pretty the walnut is, and the actual quality of the stock design, fit, balance and workmanship. Inletting, which is so important (which is takes much time and skill to do well), tends to be almost totally ignored.
In the past decade, I've witnessed a huge shift in what folk expect, wood-grade wise. I see an awful lot of very fancy walnut being used on mediocre factory guns and rifles - often with pretty mediocre workmanship that is sometimes worse than the original factory job! Increasingly that all gets forgotten, ignored and mostly not even considered - so long as the wood is wild.
In the past, on rare occasions I have supplied blanks that were "a bit too much" for a given job. Many of these blanks were damaged, or skimpy, non-commercial blanks that I knew would recover a good job and I made exceptions to nice customers that seemed to respect what they were getting. There are always exceptions, and I try hard to supply good walnut, but I have my own limits as to what I think constitutes a complete waste of a fine blank.
Am I saying the majority of jobs ought to be done in plainer grades?
Yes. Most definitely.
I'll admit that walnut in the plainer grades is pretty boring to look at in the raw, but if of good quality it's an amazing wood from which to make stocks. There is, however, a flip-side - and it's pretty exciting, for me a least: A really good stocker can take a very plain walnut blank, of otherwise fine quality, and produce an exhibition piece. When handling such a job, all of a sudden the senses are drawn to the fit and finish work - the form of the stock, it's handling and balance. Design and workmanship are stripped bare, and judged only on their merits while considering the context of the job - with no chance of hiding behind flashy walnut. Best quality work transcends the wood grade and soon makes "less" into more. Those plainer blanks nearly always make the strongest and most stable stocks, too!
I always held the opinion that a stocker must be able to accomplish the above reasonably well, before butchering rare blanks. With time and experience, that conviction has grown stronger. Please think about this before asking for exhibition grade walnut from me. To use rare blanks on anything but a good, solid effort is asinine, in my opinion. I'm somewhat protective of the rarest blanks and like to see them go to suitable jobs.
29 June 2021
Underneath The Glamour?
It Might Just Be Exhibition Grade Junk!
Underneath The Glamour?
It Might Just Be Exhibition Grade Junk!
There are a few very fine and knowledgeable blank sellers out there. I enjoy working blanks from them when a customer asks me to do so.
However, look at the below example of what some people get offered as an Exhibition Grade stock blank. The blank was cut/sold by an outside supplier, purchased by a customer and sent to me for a particular job. Note that the flaws were highlighted by myself with a black marker before the photographs were taken, to illustrate what was going on. The layout template and blank code are otherwise as-received:
Those "pin knots" through the grip have very open cores (pipes). They form a cluster, running straight through the grip from top-to-bottom, and they are much more a concern for a right-hander than a south-paw. In a critical area like a grip, such flaws can weaken it substantially. Solid pin knots are not great, but the open cores make them weaker. Not good!
I don't have time to discuss general stock blank grain flow here, so I assume readers know the basics. In general terms, the forend of the blank shown in the photos has poor grain flow, which is discussed below:
The "spine" (thin top edge) and "belly" (bottom thin edge) of the blank also have a fair bit of run-out in some areas. By this, I mean it has grain flow which slants across the spine and belly, instead of running more or less along the spines. Slanting grain makes the thin sections of the stock, such as the action side walls, more prone to breaks. Ditto dainty grips. This is simply because the wood will break along it's "splitting grain", and if it runs across the width of a thin stock sidewall instead of along it - well it's easier to split. It's much more apt to warp, too.
The run-out on this blanks spine and belly is also variable, rather than consistent. In some places it's OK. In other places, it's really not ideal. The photos don't show the whole extent of the problems that this blank actually has. I marked it with the black texta "arrow" on the belly of the blank, to show some of the slanted grain flow. Inconsistent, wavering and/or slanted grain flow is apt to be less stable and far less consistent in service (all else being equal). In lay terms, the blank is "all over the place".
An extreme example of this wavering grain can be seen in the forend. I've highlighted it's flow in black texta, too, on the LHS face side of the forend and on the top spine/belly at (4). The texta lines should be straight, or nearly so, running straight ahead or slightly uphill on the side faces and as close to straight ahead as possible on the spine and belly. The really wild grain at the LHS front of the forend is the result of a branchlet or sucker growing in that area. It would create a potential "hinge" point in the sensitive barrel bedding of a stock cut from wood that included the "hinge". A forend needs straighter, more consistent grain flow - it critical to stability and therefore consistent accuracy. Sudden weather changes, or seasonal variation - and the wood in this one will be apt to move and "hinge" about the curve in the grain flow. This wild grain flow might be pleasing to some peoples eyes, but I'd be surprised to find too many stockers who wanted to see it.
We can't always get perfection, and it takes experience and good instinct to read a blank and sort out what is a satisfactory risk over what is actually junk. Opinions vary, but I'll call the forend on this one fairly woeful. Free-floating a forend with grain flow like this might seem like a wise solution, but it will not stop the forend wagging like a hounds tail. Who wants to go looking for that to happen (even if it doesn't affect the barrel bedding) - just because the wood is so pretty? If a solid carbon fibre rod was epoxied hidden in the forends length to stiffen it, that won't take the grip flaws away.
Some blank suppliers are quick to advise punters about the various aspects of stock making and blank requirements, including what actions/applications their individual blanks suit best. Such advice is always welcome, if the seller is also an accomplished stocker. Very few of them are. It's a bit much when the usual type of blank hawker advises how a "good stocker" can work around flaws, or fix or repair them. Particularly if they are telling the stocker!
Flaws in walnut - particularly fancy walnut - are a fact of life. Flaws are perfectly fine if they can be patched nicely and with no meaningful affect on strength or stability. People need to remember wood is an imperfect, natural product. If you expect perfection, by whatever measure it is to be judged by, it's going to cost you dearly because that perfection is so very rare. The tricky thing is "reading" each blank, and looking at the grain flow, growth structure and any defects, using every trick learned to get the best from a good blank, and avoiding the troublesome ones wherever possible. Read about it all you want, theorise etc. - but experience making stocks counts for a great deal.
The blank shown is a great example of what I am talking about. It should not ever have been sold as a sound blank, because it contained visible external flaws in a critical area. It most certainly should not have been sold at the Exhibition Grade and price the owner told me he paid for it.
I have seen this sort of thing many, many times. I've noticed that customers are becoming ever-more fixated on the beauty of blanks, before practical considerations. Internet sales based on photographic representations, only make this trend ever more popular. When I cut my own blanks, I pay a lot of attention to such issues. I end up with a lot of two-piece blanks or even forends cut from flawed one-piece rifle blanks that I felt needed to be culled. I inspect all blanks the same, whether my own or cut by another supplier. It would be entirely fair to cull this blank as a one-piece blank, due to both the grip flaws and forend flaws. It would not make a good full-size two piece blank due to the grip flaws - but it might just cut a stunning flaw-free stock for a martini cadet. I think many suppliers are un-willing to do such, because they either lack the knowledge, and/or don't want to take the price cut that comes with culling blanks or cutting them down to two-piece or smaller blanks which are normally sold cheaper. If a stocker won't buy it, a punter probably will. I've seen this so many times that I'm convinced some suppliers just don't care what the stocker has to put up with.
Please look to quality first, and appearances second. Junk will always be junk, even if a bloke gets talked into making a pretty stock from it. A grand job of making a stock from a very plain but good blank, will result in a grand stock.
31 July 2021
Observations: Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)
As A Stock Wood
Observations: Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)
As A Stock Wood
When I was younger, I was very enthusiastic about finding Australian native hardwoods that could be used for making stocks. I devoted a lot of time and energy to it. Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is at the top of many Aussie custom gun enthusiasts shortlist as a potential substitute for walnut, and has been for a long time. I've been asked about blackwood many times, hence this blog entry.
Blackwood has seen some scrutiny from overseas gunmakers, and from a fairly long time ago. For example, James Virgil Howe (of Griffin and Howe fame), in Volume I of The Modern Gunsmith (vols. I & II are very fine books) discusses the timber on page 87:
"....in colour it varies from a rich reddish-brown to nearly black, banded with golden brown; sometimes it is brown and red with dark streaks, and may show a metallic luster. Its grain is close and often curly, and it appears to be often cross-grained, so that the wood shows a beautiful figure and mottle. This class of wood is used more for fine cabinet work when one wishes a dark wood in an exceptionally fine product. This is one of the strongest woods, and can be successfully used in many ways when strength is required."
This description of the colour is spot-on, and blackwood is rightly noted as a very good cabinet timber, so I reckon he was probably writing about genuine AU blackwood.
The density range of blackwood is also suitable for gun and rifle stocks. However, the wood has a number of drawbacks, which I'll discuss:
Blackwood has a long history as a proven sensitiser which is relatively well documented. This applies to many other timbers. I'll let individuals make their own mind up, as to how the risks stack up against other woods.
Acacia melanoxylon trees can be found over a fairly wide range in south-eastern mainland Australia, and Tasmania. In Tasmania it grows well in a wide range of micro-climates. It's the Tasmanian-grown blackwood which seems to be the best quality for stocks that I have observed thus far. Blackwood timber is extremely variable in density, pore size, figure and colouration. This is likely due to a wide variance in genetics as well as growing conditions. Some trees from certain areas produce wood that is distinctly better for stock making. It's true walnut is also very variable in it's physical qualities (workability, brittleness, pore size etc) - but blackwood is far more variable in this regard. I've found good blanks quite difficult to get. Looks aside and considering stability, workability, finishing, checkering etc, I rate the desirability of the best blackwood I've ever worked about the same as the worst walnut I've ever milled - but better than the worst walnut I've ever worked. So "gunstock quality trees" are in the minority.
On top of that, it's not uncommon for mature trees to have very convoluted logs (which always yield poorly), and the route boule and lower trunk areas (where the best blanks generally come from) are often plagued by gummy, bark-like flaws that are hard to see in freshly milled (wet) timber. Milling walnut trees for stock blanks is a hard game - and getting good quality stock blanks from blackwood trees is no easier. Walnut trees do grow quite a bit bigger than blackwood in my experience, but such trees are rare - so the average mature tree sizes are near enough the same, in Tasmania at least. Recovery percentages are generally quite poor when milling blackwood for stock blanks, no better than walnut.
Blackwood is fairly easy to air dry, and season using the same process as I developed for walnut stock blanks, which is not a bad thing. However, I regard it as only moderately stable - in my experience it simply is not as stable in service as Juglans regia (European Walnut).J. V. Howe made no mention of how it inlets and checkers when making a stock - both factors any good stock maker would be itching to know. This suggests he may not have made many (or any) stocks from the wood - but was instead quoting from some other source of more generalised information (i.e. as the wood related to cabinet making). His comments about "Australian Blackbean" are fewer (pp 87, 89), yet he comments on just how well that wood works, finishes and checkers, it's close-grained texture and handsome appearance. So, why not comment about these very important considerations in relation to blackwood? I've thought about this for years, and I think he had experience making stocks from Blackbean - but probably not blackwood. I disagree with Howe's statement that it is "one of the strongest woods" - in Australia it is nothing like coming close to being regarded as such.
Most blackwood is quite open-pored. Good quality stock blanks have relatively fine pores. Fine pores make the job of pore-filling much easier and far quicker, though this depends in part on the methods and materials used. Fine-pored wood is easier to checker, and if the wood is hard enough it will also take finer checkering. Some people are drawn to the appearance of very open-pored timbers. I am not one of them, particularly in a stock. It's true walnut can be open-pored - but blackwood is more so in my experience.
Blackwood is noticeably more brittle than the walnut I work with. In general, it doesn't inlet well because of this trait. As an example, an action like a Remington 700 has an inlet a bit like a bomb crater, no matter how nicely done. I mean, it's about as simple as a magazine rifle stock can get. In nice walnut that is. It gets noticeably more difficult when done with blackwood, but doing the average side-lock double would be a bane. Shaping it is also more testing and time consuming. It won't take as fine checkering as walnut, it's brittleness and pore size means those diamonds are more likely to shell off during checkering and/or during service. Not the best when the stock must be checkered.
In short, blackwood is a substitute for walnut, and on many levels not a great one. The very best of it is useable, but it's not something I generally complicate my life with. It just doesn't compare with walnut as a stock wood. Walnut would have to be in very short supply, and the blackwood very good quality, for me to bother making more stocks from it. Nor does any other native timber I've tried, come close to rivalling walnut. My opinion is that a dead plain, but otherwise superb European Walnut blank will always make a far superior stock than the fanciest piece of blackwood I'll ever see.
Solid, quality workmanship using the finest materials ought to come before fancy wood, but increasingly in Australia, this maxim has been forsaken.