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December 15, 2008

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Petzal: A Little Touch Of Home

A knifemaker friend of mine who specializes in re-creating frontier-era weapons not long ago began making breeching axes for an American special ops group. The axes are actually tomahawk size, ground from S-7 impact-resisting steel. The head and the shaft are one piece, and the handle is completed by slabs, or scales, pinned and epoxied to either side of the shaft. These little axes would have been at home at Agincourt or Crecy; they are quite heavy for their size and are perfect for bashing in a door or cracking a skull. They also have a calming effect on indigenous personnel who are not intimidated by the sight of a gun.

The very first ones were made with handle scales of fiddleback maple and black walnut. When the knifemaker showed them to the purchasing officer, he said that he could offer higher-tech, more durable scales made of rubber (actually, the matting used in horse stalls, which makes an excellent knife handle), or micarta, or G-10. The answer he got was forget about the other stuff—we want wood.

In a world of steel and aluminum and titanium that is gray or black or camo, the wood provides a little touch of beauty. “Sometimes,” he was told, “we are in situations so bad that a little reminder of home makes the difference between sanity and insanity. The warmth of the wood is a reminder of who we are and where we come from. Plastic doesn’t do that.”

If you can lay your hand on something that stood for 100 years in the Smoky Mountains, it can help you keep your grip in more ways than one.


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You can't post a story like that without any pictures....

Come on! :)


Amen! we want pics!
That sentiment is kind of why I prefer wood gun stocks.

Harvey Mushman

Yeah, we want to know where we can buy one too!

Blue Ox

Yea- all of the above!!


Wood is why I have a 6.5x55 Ruger and a 1954 Winchester 94 for deer season...it just feels good.

Dave Petzal

Esteemed Friends: The axes in question are not for sale now except to military personnel, but I will see if I can get a picture.


I agree completely. Wood is the only thing I want in my gunstocks. Carrying it in the woods is part of the experience and the feel of wood in hand just makes it sweeter than plastic.


Wood stocks seem to have a certain glow to them in the woods. A wood stock holds all sorts of secrets in its grain. The fun part is that it takes years of carrying, holding and looking to discover them!

jersey pig

i agree with the thought. a wood stock has more character and a friendlier feel to the hand than a polymer stock. most of my hunting weapons are wood stocked. that being said i also know the value of the ugly poly stocked guns and my go-to gun is a black plastic stocked rem. 11-87. breaks my heart to say it but its easy to carry all day and shoulders well.

Jim in Mo

I think Black Walnut is the best. I have an old Marlin made of that and I'd give anything to have a Mannlicker stocked bolt action made of the same.

Dr. Ralph

I've been hunting exclusively this year with a wood stocked Ruger #1 after the last few with synthetic stocked guns... there is something special about the warmth and one of a kindedness about wood. You find yourself gazing lovingly at your rifle way too often.


Wood is why I have a 6.5x55 Ruger and a 1954 Winchester 94 for deer season...it just feels good.

Posted by: George | December 15, 2008 at 12:52 PM
Dang George, ya have good taste I also have a '54- 94 an a 6.5x55 Swede gustav wit matching numbers..:-)


Add me to the list wanting pics!

Is it this:


Jim in Mo

Scrap, that looks like its' described but theres no wood handle.


A wooden handle slab isnt going to make you axe less accurate.

Soldiers use synthetic stocks.

Jim in Mo

I think thats the point, put into the hand something familiar, especially in hand to hand. Primordial? So be it.


Besides being a very good breeching tool, a tomahawk, especially one that is pointy or sharp at both ends, is an awesome weapon. Assuming it is being used by someone who knows what he is doing, a 1 1/2 pound tomahawk would probably beat any edged weapon in a fight this side of a full-length sword. It's also a lot less likely to break or chip than a knife if you have to chop wood or etc. Not as good as a knife for cutting things, but then that is what pocketknives are for. The really great thing about a wood handle is that it gets tackier when it is wet, whereas most synthetics get slipperier. Like some of my fellow bloggers, I'd like to see what a good modern user tomahawk looks like. The ones that look like something Red Cloud or Leif Ericson would use are very interesting, but it ought to be possible to improve upon them after all this time. The La Gana hawk is a good weapon but seems otherwise useless.

T.W. Davidson

Hello, All . . .

I love wooden stocks and have seen some real beauties over the years. Problem is, I hate to ding a beautiful stock, or scratch it. And several years ago I missed a very easy prone-position 300-yard shot on a gigantic hog (I call him "Hogzilla of the Swamps") with a wooden-stocked 257 AI because I had laid out in the rain for half a day to get the shot and the stock swelled up and radically shifted my point of impact (which I determined by firing the rifle at a paper target at 100 yards after missing Hogzilla).

A decade or so ago I went for a day hike on a ranch in rugged mountainous NE Oregon. High country. Empty. It was December, cold, overcast, snow on the ground. At one point I found myself scaling a very steep rocky incline with my rifle slung across the knapsack on my back. Above my head where I could not see, I gripped ice on a ledge rather than rock and fell maybe 12-15' off the incline (wall) flat on my back. Other than getting the wind knocked out of me and getting dinged up a little here and there, I was uninjured. The wooden stock on my rifle, however, was KIA, as was the scope. I wonder how the rifle would have stood up if I had had a kevlar or other composite material stock on it similar to the H-S Precision stock that resides on my current 257 AI. I've carried my composite-stocked 257 AI in some very rough places and have literally had to take it into the shower with me once or twice (bringing back not so pleasant memories of having to take an M-16 or M-60 into a shower a quarter of a century ago)and scrub it with old toothbrushes and hot water in an effort to get mud and crud and grit out of the action and trigger assembly. I doubt if I could ever do that with a wooden-stocked rifle without incurring a lot of problems, and I would deeply hesitate to take a wooden-stocked rifle to some of the wild places I regularly explore. My composite-stocked rifles have never shifted their point of aim due to any weather conditions.

Is it possible to have a wooden stock that is so tough, so durable, so impervious to the elements, that it will hold up as well as a composite stock? I'd go back to wood in a second if only I could find wood that would do what my composite stocks have been doing for me without fail or problem for the last several years. For those of you out there who have experimented with different kinds of wood in their stocks, or who have experience with laminated stocks, what are your thoughts?

T.W. Davidson
Tyler, TX

The Ry Guy

Hey, I have a question. Why is walnut such a popular gun stock wood? Personally I would like to have a maple stock but I don't hear of too many guns that have maple stocks other than Kentucky rifles. Any ideas anyone?


As I understand it, and perhaps I am wrong (more likely that I am), walnut takes to the weather well, it's easy enough to work with when cutting the stock, has a nice grain, and finish, and can take the impact resulting from use (i.e. firing, carrying, etc.). Maple, on the other hand, is springy when wet but has a tendency to crack when absorbing harsh impacts, and is harder to work with - it's a less dense wood. That said, I know my old man has a .25-06 with a myrtle wood stock (it has a nice tiger stripe pattern on the forearm and is a gorgeous rifle) but he told me that the wood was hard as hell to cut when shaping the stock and he would never use it again if he could help it.


Guns are made to be used. I take my wood stocked guns everywhere and scratch the s*** out of them. What is the point of someday being buried 6 feet under and having a bunch of pretty guns that you cant use anymore? Give your grandkids something with character.


The reason for Maple or Walnut woods is the fact that's it a hard wood and is machinable. Pines,cedar etc. are not truly machinable being soft. Axes:www.SmokyMountainKnifeWorks.com. .the next time you are in the Smoky Mountains.Visit the web site for a catalog, Right Dave?

WA Mtnhunter

I have a wood stocked Remington 700 Classic that I replaced the original classic stock with a BDL stock that fits my hand better than the original. I bought the BDL stock off Ebay with the intention of experimenting with glass bedding the rifle. I don't know why because it already shot MOA groups. It came with a couple of dings and one huge scar in the forend. I'm sure there is a story there. Anyway, I have since busted off the grip cap, added a few more scars, glass bedded the action, and installed a Limbsaver recoil pad. A matte polyurethane finish and lots of polyurethane under the recoil pad and inside the action/barrel channel have made it fairly impervious to the elements.

Almost every year, one "newbie" to our hunting group will ask why don't I get a newer rifle or replace the stock. "Why?" is always my reply. Elk rifles that aren't scarred and dinged haven't been on too many hunts! But, I like my composite stocked Weatherby Mark V, too!


You might look at the laminated wood stocks out there. When done well, they look quite nice and very much like a single slab of wood. They have the warmth and feel of wood. But the multiple laminations make it very, very stable. I don't know how stable they are compared to a Kevlar-based stock but I imagine it's pretty close.

Of course, you seem to be able to hunt in rougher country than a lot of us (at least rougher than I can) so your situation may simply call for a Kevlar stock. Anyway, just thought I'd mention the laminated wood ones. I think they're worth checking out.


wamtnhunter, I'm shooting a Rem.700 ADL in .308 I've had for about 25 years, Didn't have any scratches but a few dings. It has the deep glossy finish common to Rem. at the time. Some dings can be removed with a moist rag and hot iron,WIFE permitting of course. I would rather have this Rem. than all new Rem. at Wal-mart. You did keep the origional stock?

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