January 03, 2011
By Reid Coffield
The foundation of Reid's new stock drying cabinet is a sturdy shipping crate.
I've done a lot of dumb things over the years. Although I'm not proud of them, most of 'em weren't really too bad. And I did learn from them. The really dumb mistakes, the ones that are embarrassing, are the ones I've repeated! Here's one in particular.
Just last week I was working away in my shop cutting up some old fence boards with my bandsaw. Hanging nearby from the ceiling was an M1A stock I was refinishing. I was concentrating on my work with the saw, so I wasn't paying all that much attention to the stock. That all changed when I swung a board around and hit it! Oh, did that hurt! After all the time and work of sanding, sealing, and applying finish to the stock, I carelessly slammed an old fence board into it.
I did something very similar years ago in my first gunsmithing shop. Like most gunsmiths of the time, I had the stocks hanging by wires from hooks in the ceiling. I don't recall the exact details of how I did it, but I do remember that I knocked one down. It landed on the toe of the butt and broke off a nice big piece of wood. As I worked to repair and refinish that stock I swore that would never happen again.
Within a day or so I built a drying cabinet. It was just a simple plywood box that allowed me to safely hang a half-dozen or more stocks. I installed a small light bulb to heat the air in the cabinet to help the finishes dry a bit faster. This first cabinet was not fancy, but it served me well for years. And it eliminated further accidents with stocks!
I've built other drying cabinets over the years, and I have improved the design. When I moved into my current shop, however, building a drying cabinet was something I just never could get around to doing. That all changed last week.
A tight-fitting door is very important, so Reid fashioned one from a piece of laminated pine board.
If you do any stock finishing, you need a drying cabinet. It will provide a safe and secure place to hang a stock while the finish dries. It also provides better control of the temperature to speed drying and curing of the finish. And you can almost eliminate the possibility of bits of dust or lint settling on the finish.
Space in my current shop is severely limited, and I seldom have more than two or three stocks to be refinished at any given time. Consequently, my drying cabinet can be fairly small. I received some equipment earlier in the year, and it was shipped in a very sturdy plywood box. I wasn't sure what I would do with the box, but it was just too darn nice to throw away. The gunsmithing gods must have been whispering in my ear because now I knew exactly what to do with that box!
The box measures 15 inches wide by 15 inches deep by 55 inches high. My box is made of 1/2-inch plywood over a frame of 2x4s, but when you build your cabinet, adjust the dimensions to fit your available space as well as your needs. If you never work on more than one stock at a time, it doesn't make much sense to build a cabinet that would hold six or seven or more stocks.
A Tight-Fitting Door Is Critical
When you build your cabinet, construct a door that will close securely. You want to keep out the dust and lint that every shop creates. The first step is to use well-fitted hinges. It's also important to have some type of lock that will hold the door tightly against the cabinet when it is closed. On this cabinet I used two draw catches that exert quite a bit of pressure on the door. Also, because the door is so important, I purchased a piece of 3/4x16x72-inch pine board to use instead of the plywood box lid. I placed three simple strap hinges on the box to support and secure the door. The door was light, so this was really overkill on my part. You could probably get away with using just two smaller hinges.
Even though I took quite a bit of care in fitting the door, it still was not a perfect match. I used 1/4-inch thick by 3/4-inch wide poly-foam self-sticking weather sealing tape around the inside of the door. I bought a roll that was 17 feet long at my local hardware store. With this in place, the door sealed perfectly with no gaps.
Leave Enough Space Between The Stock Hangers
I installed three ordinary hooks in the top of the cabinet to hold the stocks. They're nothin' fancy, just simple hooks on which I can hang lengths of coat-hanger wire. If you install more than one hook, make sure you space them far enough apart that the stocks will not bang into one another or into the sides of the cabinet.
To ensure adequate airflow inside the cabinet, Reid installed a dehumidifier. The holders for the dehumidifier are placed so the heater will be directly over the intake vent in the bottom of the cabinet.
Special Touches Make The Difference
While having a sealed cabinet is helpful, more can be done. Ideally the air in the cabinet should circulate. To permit this I used a hole saw to cut a 2-inch-diameter hole in the bottom and the top of the cabinet. This will permit air to flow through the cabinet, but it will also allow dust and dirt to come in as well. To keep the air clean, I picked up a pack of vent filters. These filters are designed for standard 4x12-inch heating vents and can be easily trimmed for smaller sizes. The ones I used were cut in half and installed over the 2-inch holes. A simple cover of scrap wood was made with a 2-inch hole drilled in it to sandwich the filter. These filters can be changed easily, but they should last for years and years.
Even though I had filtered openings for air movement, that alone was not enough. It's important to have a mechanism to ensure that air actually moves through the cabinet. In my earlier cabinets I had used a small light bulb that burned constantly. It heated the air a few degrees, and this worked reasonably well. The problem was that the bulb would eventually burn out, and since it was glass, it could, and occasionally did, get broken from time to time.
On this cabinet I used a Gun Saver dehumidifier by Golden Rod. The unit I chose was the smallest one they make (only 12 inches long). It fit perfectly in the bottom of my cabinet, positioned directly over the bottom, or intake, vent. The dehumidifier gen
erates just enough heat to raise the air temperature in the cabinet by a few degrees. This alone will speed drying of the stock finishes, but more importantly the warm air will rise as it's heated. It will flow past the stocks and out the top, or exhaust, vent. This ensures a constant circulation of air in the cabinet.
The completed cabinet is mounted about two feet above the floor, and it provides a safe, secure place for stocks to hang while the finish cures.
You could use a small fan, but the dehumidifier is quieter, easier to install, and heats the air as well. I purchased my Gun Saver dehumidifier from MidwayUSA. They offer a variety of dehumidifiers ranging in price from about $20 on up to $40 or so.
When constructing my cabinet I took the time to paint the inside as well as the outside. There were several reasons for this. The first reason was aesthetics. Unpainted wood in a shop will soon look dirty and soiled. It can also look "thrown together." I don't like that in my shop, and I want my equipment to look good and be something I can be proud of. By painting the inside of the cabinet white I can make it easier to see the stocks. And the paint helps seal the wood and cut down on dust.
With the cabinet finished, I did something a bit unusual in that I mounted it on a wall rather than set it on the floor. I did this to save space and to permit an easier flow of air through the bottom intake vent. Also, the dirtiest, dustiest place in any shop is the floor. By mounting the cabinet on the wall up off the floor, I got above this zone of dust and dirt. I have a band saw and some buffers in my small shop, so I wanted to place the cabinet as far away from these "dirty" machines as possible.
The total cost of the project was less than $50, but I assure you that the first time it saves damage to a stock, it'll be more than worth it. As far as I'm concerned it's an essential part of my shop, and you just might want to make it part of your shop as well.
Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!