What is Gunstock Carving and How Did It Become My Passion?

by MichaelColemire on February 6, 2011 · 2 comments

The art of decorating weapons dates back to the beginning of the invention of the weapons themselves. Throughout time people have adorned and personalized their weapons to commemorate hunts or successful kills or to show leadership or ranking amongst their people. Everything from spears and lances to swords and armor were decorated or personalized, so why should guns and rifles be any different?

The origin of creating beautiful works of art in the form of guns and rifles originated in Europe. Not unlike today, beauty and intricacy in the work of the metal engraving and custom gunstock carving was a sign of prestige amongst peoples of certain groups. In most European countries hunting was a sport of kings, princes, lords and other like people and they would not be seen hunting with anything other than a beautifully created gun.

Today you can buy beautiful guns and rifles right off the shelf with engraving adorning the metal but these pieces are mass produced with the same pattern. Do you really want to be at hunting camp and your buddy show up with the same rifle? Or, would you prefer a weapon with a hand-built gunstock and embellished with custom engraving, along with custom carving of your favorite hunting scene? Then, maybe throw in some basket weave design and oak leaves in the grips and you are sure to have a custom gun that no one else in camp will have. You will be the envy amongst your buddies and they all will want to admire your weapon.  Whether or not you want to admit it, the male ego is king and having this kind of attention directed to your prized custom-made gun is like driving a muscle car – it strokes the ego unlike anything else. This is what got me into gunstock carving.

Growing up, we were a middle income family, so to have toys like this wasn’t an option but I admired the beauty of the “expensive” guns and I guess my PaPaw did, also. He built custom gunstocks as a hobby. They were beautiful pieces with their flowing lines and raised cheek rest. I, too, started to build my first stock at about age thirteen and it was nothing to look at; but with the guidance of “Pap” I learned some things that would help me in later efforts. I later went on to build more gunstocks and got better and better, but Pap is one of those people that can always find a flaw in your work and he would definitely let you kn0w it. It was time to “up my game” and show Pap what I had. I needed to make my gunstocks stand out above his so he couldn’t find anything the matter with mine. I could not beat him on design because Pap’s stock are about as beautiful as they come, but they are smooth; he does no checkering or custom carving on them.

This was my window. I knew what I had to do but was afraid to lay a knife into the smooth wood I had spent so much time creating. I decided to let it lay while I built up my nerves. This was a good excuse for new carving chisels, so off to Rockler Woodworking I went. I not only bought new chisels, but I also found a book by a very well known gunstock carver by the name of Bill Janney. This was what I needed. With this, maybe I would find the confidence to carve into the custom gunstock I had just built. I went home armed with my secret weapon and began to read “Gunstock Carving” by Bill Janney. He made it seam so easy, so with what I learned from the book, I added my own style and started carving. I finished that custom gunstock and with great eagerness, I took it to show my original teacher, my PaPaw. He was amazed and for the first time he could not find anything wrong. Talk about stroking the ego! His praise sure did it! It wasn’t long after that I had people wanting me to do work on their guns. This, too, was good for the ego because people were willing to pay for my art. I did this as a hobby for some years for friends and family. Now I am taking my hobby that I love so much and making it my career. I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoy creating it.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sonne T. Hart February 7, 2011 at 1:39 PM

Michael, I really enjoyed your post about gunstock carving. I used to watch my PaPa do carving, and was facinated by the work he did, but my Uncle Aubrey was the real artist when it came to doing gunstocks, he did beautiful, beautiful work, but, I think you must top him. your carving is exquisite, and makes me wish I had a gunstock. I know one day you will have quite a following. Best wishes and love always, Sonne


2 Sonne T. Hart April 22, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Hey, Michael,
Love your work & love getting your posts. Keep them coming.


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