Sep 13, 2011

Single-Six: Refinishing Walnut Grips

When I was about 14 years old, my grandfather gave me a pistol as a Christmas gift. I opened up the box and found a Ruger Single-Six. The Single-Six is a .22 revolver that very closely resembles a Colt 1873 Single Action Army.

Ruger Single Six
Colt 1873 Single Action Army
The Single-Six, like the Colt, is a single action revolver that holds up to 6 rounds. Over the years, I have shot it occasionally at the range. It is more of a novelty to shoot due to the cumbersome loading and unloading. Recently, I have started shooting it more and have a few friends who find it fun and entertaining. I also did some research on my gun and learned that it is a very early production example from 1954 and it is quite collectible.

My gun came with the hard black rubber grips from the factory. Through my research, I learned that these grips are valuable and collectible, themselves. I decided to find an alternate set of grips to use when I shoot the gun and a way to make it look a little more impressive.

I started searching ebay and I eventually found a reasonable deal on some Ruger factory Walnut Grips. They have some very nice figuring in the grain and I thought I could refinish them to show that off. These grips had a thin finish on them.  I decided to sand it off instead of using a chemical stripper. I started with 320 grit paper and worked slowly. I paid close attention making sure not to change the lines or contours of the grips. Once I had the grips smooth and all of the old finish was removed, I graduated to 600 grit. I carefully sanded the grips until they were even and smooth.

Walnut Single-Six Grips

After sanding, I decided to stain the wood. I liked the grain and figuring of the wood, but I wanted to add a little red tint to the finish. I used a Minwax wood stain. The color was "Red Oak." I wanted to add the red without darkening the grips too much. I used two light even coats of stain about 30 minutes apart. Then I let them sit for several hours.

The next step was to select a top coat. There are many options here. I had narrowed it down to a hand rubbed tongue oil or a polyurethane. Since they are going to be used and handled quite a bit, I decided to use the more durable of the two which is polyurethane. I purchased a high gloss polyurethane spray since I wanted to go for the deep luster and high polish look. I started with one light coat followed by one more light coat about 20 minutes later.

Drying - After Stain and First Coat of Polyurethane

After that, I let the grips dry 24 hours. I wet sanded the grips with 600 grit wet/dry paper, cleaned them carefully with a damp cloth, and let them dry. I then applied two more coats just like the first two. I let the finish dry another 24 hours before a careful inspection. At this point, you can wet sand them again or you can leave it alone. If your prep work was done well, you may be able to stop here. If not, you can wet sand with 800 or 1000 grit and then polish the finish with a polishing compound.  When I was done with the finish, I reinstalled the Ruger medallions and then put the grips back on the gun.  Here is the finished product...

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