Ross Waghorn - Custom gunstock-making at its finest

Ross Waghorn has been turning out beautifully-finished custom gunstocks for 45 years, providing an invaluable service to the sporting shooter and associated entities throughout Australia and overseas. His reputation for finely-crafted pieces precedes him with gunsmiths, enthusiasts and collectors, professional hunters and guides and ordinary hunters and shooters forming his appreciative client base.

While we admire the aesthetically pleasing stock work we don’t have an informed appreciation as to what it takes to achieve such a desirable result. Like a sculptor chipping at a granite block or a metal engraver imprinting every tentative stroke on a piece of metal, stock-making takes practice, dedication, application and passion.  

The article is an insight into Ross Waghorn himself, the processes involved in stock-making and Ross’ other talents which until recently have flown under the radar. But when you have his ability, an eye for fine work and a determination to be the best you can, it’s not surprising he possess those other attributes.

Initially, Ross had a short start in merchandising, point of sale advertising incorporating some design aspects before making the transition to gunstock-making at the age of 25. It was a difficult start with all its challenges at a time when there were no apprenticeships or avenues to learn the trade. Any practicing stock-maker trying to earn a living from the trade on its own struggled, unless he was also proficient in gunsmithing and could combined the work. But driven by a desire to work with fine timbers and be part of the firearms scene Ross started from scratch, working from home in Sydney, immersing himself in books on the subject, maintaining a close relationship with gunsmiths and others in the industry and learning from his mistakes.

Those early years were not so fruitful and he had to rely on other work for an income. Over the years as his work became more refined and his reputation as a stock-maker spread, primarily by word of mouth from satisfied clients, orders increased. Aged 28 he moved to Canberra and nine years later to Melbourne. Along the way he delved into metal engraving but never pursued it long term, though the past 35 years have been financially more rewarding in his chosen vocation.

Ultimately, Ross is a self-taught gunstock-maker and artisan of the highest reputation, known Australia-wide and beyond. He has always applied methodology and ingenuity to his work, constructing various jigs and simplistic pieces to better and more efficiently perform his woodworking tasks. These days, on average and depending on the timber, stock design and associated requests, a full custom stock can take between five and 14 days, working eight-hour days.

As a meticulous, artistic and passionate craftsman and firm believer in properly fitting a stock to the client, Ross is rewarded and motivated by customer satisfaction and appreciation for a finely-made custom piece. He still recalls the very first stock he fashioned for a .310 Martini Cadet rifle.

While some clients provide their own gunstock timber blanks, some good and others not so good for various reasons, Ross has been sourcing his favoured English walnut blanks from reputable supplier Roger Vardy Rifle and Stockwood, Myrtleford, Victoria since 1980. His prefers the English walnut for its beautiful grain, cut and stability through air drying over 10 years. This is important if the desired rifle or shotgun stock modelling is to be achieved.

The other favourable features associated with European walnut, also found around the Black Sea in Turkey and Uzbekistan, is that it’s nicer and better grained, has greater strength and is easier to carve or work with, as opposed to American Blackwood which is brittle and has a tendency to splinter.

Over the years Ross has built stocks for doubles, under and over rifles and shotguns and bolt action rifles. Included therein are stocks for more than 40 brands of English double rifles and shotguns such as Holland & Holland, Purdy, Boss & Co and Alexander Henry to name a few. Stocks have also been completed in conjunction with Master Gunsmith Bob De Vries for a full custom rifle build, enthusiasts, collectors and commissioning clients. Several commissioned pieces have shipped as far as the UK, South Africa, US and New Zealand. When talking about satisfied customers, Ross has repeat clients going back more than 30 years, which speaks volumes for his reputation.

As we all have different postures, build and strength, so a custom stock needs to be properly fitted and made accordingly. This not only assists in achieving better shooting accuracy and more comfortable handling, it adds a degree of confidence.   

Stock measurement essentials

  • Length relative to individual reach, cheek structure, trigger pull and shoulder.
  • Weight relative to recoil associated with shotgun or rifle calibre.
  • Cheek piece and comb configuration, eg Bavarian or hogback, Monte Carlo, straight, English classic - again relative to posture and cheek structure.
  • Grip thickness, palm swell or plain, shape, checkering type.  
  • Action bedding and barrel floating, depending on rifle calibre and if required. 
  • Other options include cross bolts, fore end finish, oval, butt plate or pad, swivels.

Once a client has decided on a timber blank, stock configuration, finish, requirements and has been measured accordingly, Ross goes to work. There may be more than one fitting to achieve the desired outcome.

Custom stock-making process

This begins with stock profile design or drawing, laying the profile design on a timber blank, taking into account direction of the wood grain, comb height and stock dimensions. Next he must pencil the timber blank to cover all critical points (cross-bolt measurements in particular must be exacting otherwise shooting accuracy will be effected). Depending if it’s a Mauser or other different configured action, chiselling may start at the top or bottom of the stock for inletting. A cutting-out step sequence is also followed.

Then comes the profile for the base plate, a rough cut-out then inletting, checking profiling dimensions are precise and making out “cast-on” for a left hander or “cast-off” for right handers. Fore-end shaping, grip cap, oval, cross-bolts, swivels, butt plate or pad are all meticulously crafted then, with lines marked, he starts shaving by hand. The process ends with various stages of hand sanding, oil finishing and final checkering.

As the photos attest and from those who’ve had stocks made, the end product is truly something to be admired. One thing’s for sure, Ross’ gun stocks made over the years, and those still to come, will be around for a long time and remain synonymous with the maker’s name.

Other talents

Since childhood Ross had a yearning to draw, be it still life, cartoon characters or whatever took his fancy. He became good at it but never made it apparent he had such a talent. In recent years he decided to pursue his art interest further, turning out impressive pastel drawings and oil paintings.  

Today, his fine art subject matter is varied and includes sketches and drawings in pencil or charcoal, and oil paintings of scenic views and wildlife in its natural surroundings.

Today, as his artwork has received greater exposure, commissioned works have become a welcome alternative to stock making, in particular drawings and paintings of clients’ pets or animal companions.

In addition to art, about 10 years ago Ross started crafting intricate and highly detailed furniture pieces from beautifully grained timber, pieces that should only be displayed for their aesthetically pleasing look and form. His artistic talents in stock making, carpentry and fine art are interwoven into a common thread and translate across his work.  

And while he has a busy lifestyle Ross remains a sporting shooter with a fondness for the outdoors, and regularly hunts with his custom Mauser 98 in 9.3x62, 257 Roberts for medium to larger game and a rimfire rifle for rabbits.

Ross can be contacted on 03 9779 0318  or visit rosswaghorn.com.

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