Checkering a stock means cutting rows of parallel grooves in the wood, that cross each other at a given angle to form little diamond shapes.
The role of checkering is to give the shooter more grip on the stock, especially when the stock wet and muddy (rain, mud), bloody (in battles of when hunting) or greasy (oils, dirt, debris mixed softened varnish in higher temperatures), to absorb the perspiration away from the palms during shooting and as decoration. Checkering is not necessary on all stocks for practical reasons, but decorative reasons are just as important: any reputable gun maker will advice that a stock is not complete unless it is checkered.
The checkering patterns that we use today appeared in the gun industry only about 150 years ago.
There are several traditional / classic ways to cut checkering. This has to do with the style of grooves and the angle of the checkering.
GROOVE TYPES Most commonly applied groove types are: pointed, flattop and semi flattop checkering. A variation from these would be the French checkering, also known as the Scottish checkering. In this technique, some lines are simply skipped at regular interval creating a tartan like effect and producing larger diamonds every few rows.
- The grooves are cut under a 90 degree angle (sometimes 60 degree). This is the most common type of checkering.
- The checkering consists of sharply pointed diamonds that give a good grip. - The grooves are self cleaning due to their open angle of 90 degrees. - The checkering can be a bit too sharp on the hand, especially after long shooting sessions or on heavy recoiling guns.
- On the checkered area the surface will be broken so that the figure of the wood may be not be very visible, depending upon the quality and coarseness of the checkering job and, of course, the wood itself.
On the left side, an example of our in-house Pointed Checkering on a classic custom-made stock for a Bond & James English Double 12.
ENGLISH FLATTOP CHECKERING
- The grooves are cut under a zero degree angle, like deep shallow grooves with parallel walls cut into the wood - This type of checkering is often seen on older English guns, but it is currently loosing popularity
- One of the disadvantages is that the grooves fill up easily with debris - The checkering is not sharp so it does not offer as much grip as other styles
- The figure of the wood is less obstructed by the checkering
- The checkering is more comfortable on heavy recoiling guns or on prolonged shooting sessions, as the lines are not rough or sharp
- English flattop checkering can be converted into pointed checkering by recutting the grooves with an angled cutter; we see quite a trend in this "conversion" with imported English firearms. Below, an example of English flattop checkering, worn out. This W. R. Pape 28GA came at Brubaker Arms Manufacturing, LLC for full Stock Restoration. Before restoration:
The restoration included changing the checkering style from flattop to pointed checkering. This is what we turned this stock into - below, pictures after the restoration done by Brubaker Arms Manufacturing, LLC in Yakima:
SEMI FLATTOP CHECKERING
- This is a combination between the Pointed Checkering and the English Flaptop Checkering - The grooves are cut under 60 degree angle (sometimes 90 degree), however, they are shallow so that there are no pointed tops to the diamonds - Semi flattop checkering is often done to imitate English flattop checkering - The grooves are a little less prone to clogging up with debris as in the English checkering and the diamonds are not as sharp as those of the pointed checkering
- The pattern is of the "fill in type", as it can be seen by the border line that does not run parallel with the checkering. Below, a great example of a stock restoration at Brubaker Arms: saw pistol handle, semi flattop checkering:
FISH SCALE CHECKERING Characteristics:
- Fish scale checkering is a completely different technique. Actually, it is more of a carving technique, since special gauges are used
- We have never seen this technique being used traditionally in Britain or America. However, in the German speaking countries, it is quite a popular option - The technique is very time consuming and during cutting one most be very concentrated to prevent the scales from breaking out
- The fish scale texture provides very good grip to the shooter's hand and can be used to emphasize the beauty of the stock At our gunmaking shop, we offer all these types of checkering - to be cut as new checkering or refresh the existing checkering.
CHECKERING LAYOUT AND PANEL TYPES Regarding the relationship of the checkering panel as a decor element with the rest of the firearm, here are a few common ways that checkering is applied on firearms:
Usually the edges of the checkering are defined by borders, but sometimes the borders are missing. The checkering panels simply stop and the borders are formed by the lines themselves or a very thin line is cut. This is called borderless checkering. This is not a commonly used way to integrate checkering as a decorative element.
Fill in Checkering
A border (outline), thicker and deeper than the rest of the lines, is cut into the wood and it defines a panel. The space within the panel is filled up with checkering. Some fill in patterns may look a lot like angular patterns but the difference can be seen because on one of the sides of the design the border does not run parallel with the checkering.
Shown on the left is a fill in pattern executed with skip line checkering also known as French checkering of Scottish checkering for the resemblance to the Scottish tartan pattern.
Americans are absolute masters when it comes to checkering some of the most intriguing and difficult patterns. Occasionally, fancy checkering is seen on expensive European guns.
The European approach to checkering was a lot more practical, featuring simple, angular patterns even on higher grade guns. Under the influence of American gunmakers, Europeans have started to put more emphasis on the design and execution of the checkering panels in time. Below, a prime example of Brubaker Arms Manufacturing, LLC checkering project:
This is a challenging way of checkering since the border lines are formed by the checkering itself and should run perfectly parallel to the grooves. A lot of attention goes into respecting the angles. If the angles are cut right, regular diamonds are formed with their tips nicely aligned, defining the outline of the pattern.
This type of checkering is usually seen on higher grades of stocks. Normally all best gun stocks have angular pattern checkering.
The example on the left shows an antique British single shot rifle with typical flattop checkering the borders run exactly parallel with the lines of the checkering making it an angular pattern. Below, a full custom rifle built by Brubaker Arms, for a customer who requested simple angular pattern for checkering:
Wrap around pattern
These patterns can either be of the fill in or angular type. Wrap around simply means that the checkering extends from one side of the stock to the other.
Below, a great example of a firearm stock that was brought at our shop in 4 pieces. This stock was fixed and restored; the checkering pattern was recovered and restored.