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Cleaning your M1 Garand Stock

When you receive an M1 with an older stock it's very likely that the wood has been soaked with a preserving grease. Cosmoline is a trade name, but the products used by different countries will be similar. You must perform a detailed strip of the weapon and remove all the cosmoline and grease that may be left on the metal parts and the wood. This is important because the wood will weep cosmoline every time it heats up until you remove it all. This grease is sticky and makes a mess of your shooting experience. If you haven't performed a detailed strip of the weapon yet be sure to follow the link provided before continuing. [Detailed Strip Article]. This article deals with the process of cleaning the wood only. Cleaning the metal parts of cosmoline can be seen in another [Cleaning your M1 Garand.] 

CosmolineDid you know that cosmoline is over 110 years old. Cosmoline was first trademarked by the E.F. Houghton & Co in 1892. This heavy petroleum product has served in every major war as a rust inhibitor. The fact that today we still have M1 Garands in excellent condition after being in service for so long is a testament to its tenacity to prevent corrosion. The trademark for cosmoline expired in 1986 and wasn't renewed. 

Cosmoline and other grease preservatives penetrate the wood deeply. Simply using a solvent and wiping the surface clean does not sufficiently clean the stock. When the rifle is fired or the wood heats up, new grease will come to the surface making a sticky mess.

Heat Gun Method:

Getting SetupHow you clean your rifle will depend upon what tools you have at your disposal. To remove cosmoline from the wood, we want to apply heat to the stock above the melting temperature of the grease. Our preferred tool is the heat gun. If you don't own a heat gun, a hair dryer can be used. This cleaning step should be performed even if you plan on stripping the stock later. Driving out as much grease from the stock will improve the final finish.

The melting temperature for cosmoline is approximately 125F. This low melting point is why your M1 garand gets sticky when it's out in the sun or being shot. We can use this low melting point to help drive the grease out of wood.  Our goal is to drive the grease out of the wood by applying hotter temperatures then the wood would see during shooting. The most precise tool for this job is the heat gun. You'll want to get a fresh roll of paper towels to wipe up the cosmoline as you drive it from the wood. A stock that is soaked in cosmoline can take several hours to clean.

Cleaning the stock will effect the "patina" of the wood. When done correctly, the oil finish will not be harmed. However, any grime, sweat, and tears that may have accumulated on the surface will be removed in the cleaning process.

1 A good place to start the process of removing the cosmoline is with the front handguard.  If you're using a heat gun start with it on its lowest heat setting. DO NOT BURN THE WOOD. With the heat gun about 4 inches from the surface heat a small area of the handguard.  If the wood has cosmoline in it the wood will turn glossy as it melts and comes to the surface.  Using a paper towel wipe the areas that turn glossy and re-apply the heat.

Go back and forth on the handguard until no area turns glossy and wiping with a paper towel doesn't yield any sign of grease.  At this point we've driven out all the cosmoline we can with the heat load used.

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2Next, move to the rear handguard.  The rear handguard experiences the highest heat loads on the rifle; It's also very thin. Always be careful when handling the rear handguard; they can crack if mishandled.  Repeat the same process as in step 1. Because it's thin the rear handguard often heats up faster then the front handguard. Keep this in mind when driving out the cosmoline.

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3The main stock will take the most time to clean up. Start with the butt-stock area and work your way forward with the heat.  Focus on an area about two inches square at a time.  Clean the rifle completely around its circumference before moving up.  You may find that fresh grease comes to the surface when working on the opposite side of the stock. Cosmoline will want to follow the grain of the wood.

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4When no area of the stock turns glossy with heat you're done.  The final step is to wipe down the stock with mineral spirits. Using a clean rag, saturate with mineral spirits and begin to gently wipe down the stock. The mineral spirits will remove any surface grease or waxes that are left behind. Any surface contamination (ie. Patina) that isn't from the oil finish will also likely be removed. Let the mineral spirits evaporate and the rifle rest for a day before re-assembling.

The Mummy Method:

1 This method as the name implies deals with wrapping your stock. The heat loads are significantly less then when using direct heat. However, the process is less time consuming and may be adequate for your needs. Start by tightly wrapping your stock with paper towels. Be sure to stuff every hole or cut out with paper towels. You want the towels to be tight against the wood.  Use masking tape to hold the paper towels against the wood.  You want a minimum of four layers against the stock. 

2 Next wrap the stock with a black trash bag.  Wrap it tightly and again use masking tape to secure it.  Place the stock in an area such that it will receive full sunlight and high heat loads. A good location is inside a parked car on a sunny day or any area that has significant heating.  Depending on how much heat is generated the process can take several days to a week.  After this time has elapsed, unwrap the rifle and see if the paper towels have wicked up the cosmoline. Pay attention to which area's show the most cosmoline as you may wish to return to those areas in the future if more cosmoline comes to the surface.

3The final step is to wipe down the stock with mineral spirits. Using a clean rag, saturate with mineral spirits and begin to gently wipe down the stock. The mineral spirits will remove any surface grease or waxes that are left behind. Any surface contamination (ie. Patina) that isn't from the oil finish will also likely be removed. Let the mineral spirits evaporate and the rifle rest for a day before re-assembling.

Basic Care:

Your rifle stock will periodically require some cleaning from normal use. The best time to do this is after you have finished cleaning the rifle from shooting. Unless the rifle is exceptionally dirty, gently wiping down the stock with a moist rag should be sufficient. At GarandGear.com we prefer to use d-limonene as a cleaning agent in place of the mineral spirits. d-limonene is extracted from orange peels, and is a powerful cleaner that is safe to use with oil cured finishes. We include a small bottle of d-limonene with our oil kits for this purpose. Don't confuse d-limonene with commercial "orange oil" cleaners you might find at a hardware store. If you use those cleaners, they will strip the finish off of your stock.

Protecting your stock from water:

All oil finishes provide some resistance to water exposure. Tung oil is superior to Linseed oil. As your stock absorbs water it will swell slightly. Because the fit of the stock is important to the function of the rifle we want to limit the water exposure or uptake when possible. For this purpose we have designed a paste wax which seals your stock providing a water proof barrier.

The traditional paste wax (also known as Gunny Paste) that has been used for years was based on bee's wax mixed with either tung oil or linseed oil and thinned with a solvent. While effective, this traditional wax has a few pitfalls that should be noted.  Exposure to sunlight will break down the beeswax with time and the natural acids will slowly assault your finish. Museums and antique dealers have moved away from beeswax and switched to microcrystalline based wax products.  We offer a microcrystalline based finish wax that also blocks UVA and UVB light before it reaches your wood finish. When ultraviolet light strikes a wood finish it breaks un-reacted double bonds in the oil. This causes the finish to breakdown and fade. Our UVA/UVB blocker is designed to absorb most of that energy before it reaches your finish.

We thin our wax with a food grade orange oil (d-limonene) that also helps clean as you apply the wax. Our Gunny paste contains no finishing oils, allowing it to be applied to any type of wood finish.  Microcystalline wax is superior to natural waxes because it's PH neutral and doesn't contain any acids. Our wax has a melting point of 175F, whereas beeswax will get sticky around 144F.

Gunny Paste[Gunny Paste]