Wood Grades, difference between Semi-fancy and Grade 5.
The grading of gun stock blanks is as subjective as appraising fine art. Although there is a formula, however subjective it may be. Read the below and then see if you can grade the three images at the bottom.
Difference in Terminology.
The one thing that confuses a lot of people is the various classifications. You have descriptive terms that makers like Grulla use such as ‘Semi Fancy’. Others use a number grading system, however one grade 5 is not the same as another; for example Merkel have 14 grades, Chapuis 7 grades, Zoli 6 (a grading system which is almost standard in the Gardone Valley with makers such as Rizzini, Fausti et al) and the Belgian makers such as Browning have broadly adopted the same grading method of their Italian competitors.
The source and types of walnut gun stocks.
Like many, I didn’t realise there were so many different varieties of walnut. However each different variety has its own characteristics and local weather conditions on a variety can effect the quality of wood, the dryer less humid conditions create the better walnut. The most common variety of walnut in Europe is Julgans Regia or occasionally Julgans Hindsii (that covers most English, French, Spanish and Turkish walnut). In the US, the native variety is American black walnut (can be very dense, so heavier than European) although in California they have cross bred the European varieties Julgans Hindsii and Julgans Regis which generally creates a higher contrast gun stock that is more honey coloured. We used Californian walnut on a recent limited edition run of Horton guns we called the Buchanan.
So how is walnut graded?
Unfortunately, the subjectiveness of grading walnut leaves room for unscrupulous individuals to dupe the buying public. However if a supplier or gun manufacturer sets guidelines it really isn’t beyond the wit of most to determine a grade. You will always get those blanks that sit on the fence between grades. You must always grade the walnut based on it’s worst side.
Walnut Grading descriptors
Utility (Very plain wood, usually some sapwood and minor blemishes): Economy grade you will normally find on very very basic rifles.
Standard (Sturdy, straight grain flow, possibly some sapwood and minor blemishes): Grade I. Class 1. Your Grade 1 Browning 725 by way of example.
Select (The upper portion of standard grade; decent grain flow, no sapwood, no visible defects): Grade II, Hand Select. The Italian makers use this term a lot, such as the standard Beretta Field deluxe or the Chapuis Armes C135 over and under.
Semi-Fancy (Good grain flow with character in colour, contrast or fiddleback): Grade III, #5, Class 2.
Moderately Fancy (Good figure, colour or both): Grade IV, #4, A, Class 2.5. Used on the Chapuis Armes C140 over and under.
Fancy (Good colour and at least 25% fancy figure behind wrist on both sides): Grade V, #3, AA, Class 3. This is your Browning Heritage/grade 5 wood or Chapuis Artisan shotguns.
Extra Fancy (Good colour and at least 50% fancy figure behind wrist on both sides): Grade VI, #2, AAA, Class 3.5.
Exhibition (At least 75% fancy figure behind wrist on both sides, extraordinary figure and colour): Grade VII, #1, Class 4, Premium, Royal.
Presentation (Over 75% spectacular figure behind wrist, both sides equal and similar, the absolute best): Class 5, the top of Exhibition grade.
With W Horton & Sons all Chapuis Armes guns come made to measure and if you upgrade the wood or go for Artisan you’ll get to choose your stock blanks. The three options below were given to a client this week for a Chapuis side by side.