A Leather-Covered Pad

Few things look nicer than a leather-covered recoil pad. The process of installing one includes cutting plugs from the pad (in this case a Pachmayr) for the screw holes and stretching the leather around the pad—no wrinkles allowed.

By Dewey Vicknair

There are quite a few ways to finish off the butt end of a truly fine gun. Options include checkered wood, heel and toe plates (usually combined with checkered wood), a skeletal steel buttplate, a bare recoil pad (Silver’s, of course) and finally a leather-covered pad. It is the latter that is the subject of this article. The leather-covered recoil pad is an aesthetically pleasing option, provided it is done right. When it is not done right, few things look worse. I am going to describe how to do it the right way.

As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There’s also more than one way to make a leather-covered recoil pad. The methods I’ll discuss are those that I use, while others may do things differently. The important thing is the result.

Before getting into the “nuts and bolts” of how to do it, I want to mention some common mistakes and what separates a well-done pad from an amateur attempt. Probably the most commonly encountered amateur mistake is over-radiusing the heel and toe. It’s pretty difficult to stretch the leather cover over sharply shaped heel and toe contours without a wrinkle but much easier to stretch it over a radiused surface. The larger the radius, the easier the hide stretches without wrinkles. Unfortunately the end result looks more like a leather-covered hotdog bun than a proper recoil pad. This leads directly to the next-most-common leather-pad faux pas: wrinkles. These usually are found at the toe of the pad, although I’ve seen pads that were wrinkled even on the face. Another common mistake is not reducing the size of the pad to account for the thickness of the hide. When this operation is omitted, you end up with a pad that is noticeably larger than the stock, resulting in the stock and pad not appearing to flow seamlessly together. No matter how well made the pad is, this always looks poorly. And then there are the screw-hole plugs—or lack of them. Nothing says, Don’t quit your day job, quite like simply poking two fuzzy-edged holes in the leather for screwdriver access and calling it done. And finally, poorly done pads almost always lack lining at the base.

There’s a certain something about leather that harmonizes with wood and steel in a way few other materials can.

A properly executed leather-covered pad will transition smoothly from the wood to the pad all around its periphery; the toe line will continue to the edge of the pad, with only the slightest radius at the edge; and the face will be gently radiused (never flat) and transition smoothly into the bump at the heel. The screw holes will be occupied by properly sized plugs that fit flush when installed, and the pad will be lined at the base. The last thing that all well-made leather pads have in common is that no one who makes them charges nearly enough.

The traditional pad to use as a base is the classic red Silver’s. These pads are quite firm, making it easier to stretch the hide over any sharp contours. They also are fairly heavy, and this almost always necessitates removing wood from inside the stock to maintain the gun’s balance point. When doing the job on a lightweight gun, a Pachmayr 752 may be a better choice of pad because of its much lighter weight. If a Pachmayr is used, it will require modifications such as cutting plugs for the screw holes and complete reshaping.

I cut the plugs with a sharp, shop-made tubular cutter and a fixture to make certain that they are concentric to the screw holes. After cutting a plug, it is pulled out of the cutter and set aside until the time comes to cover it.

Once the pad is decided upon, it is fitted to the stock. If a change in length of pull is needed, it is done now. If the pull length is to remain the same, the thickness of the pad is removed from the butt. The installation of the pad is done like any standard installation: The pad is ground flush, the face and bump are contoured, the heel is radiused and the toe is radiused just enough to “break” its edge. I always fit the pad on the stock without any of those gimmicky jigs. Then the pad is taken off, and the thickness of the hide is removed from the periphery of the pad, so that it will fit flush when finished.

With the pad shaped, it’s time to start the covering process. Most any leather is appropriate as long as it’s thin enough and un-dyed. The classic leather is pigskin, and that’s what I use unless something else is specified by the client. The keys to getting the hide wrinkle free are patience (a lot of it) and rubbing alcohol (no, it’s not for drinking). Soaking the hide in alcohol will make it very pliable.

Once the hide is wrinkle free, it is set aside to dry completely, and then the excess is cut off and gussets are cut, so that it will sit flat on the mounting face. The cover is then peeled back one-half at a time and glued to the pad with contact cement. Gussets are cut at the screw holes, and the leather is glued into the holes in the same manner.

The plugs are covered in much the same manner, but their diameters are reduced by twice the leather thickness. This is because the outside of the plug is covered, as is the inside of the hole into which it must fit.

The mounting face of the pad is then lightly touched to the face of a disc sander, to level the leather gussets.

After the cover is glued down, the leather is dyed. Brown is traditional and is what I use. Once the dye is completely dry, the pad is polished (I use Kiwi shoe polish) to a high luster. The last step before installation is lining.

Lining is the burnishing of one or (usually) two border lines at the base of the pad. It is done on a purpose-made tool that consists of a nylon plate with a hardened-steel, rotating burnisher head. The contact surface of the burnisher head is offset, so that when one line is done, the burnisher head is flipped over to do the second line.

Finally the pad is installed, with great care taken to maintain proper alignment with the stock before the screws are cinched and the plugs installed. Maintenance is as simple as an occasional polish and, with reasonable care, a leather pad should last many decades.

I’ve heard shooters praise leather pads for their grip, while others damn them for their slickness; but most agree that they do look good. There’s a certain something about leather that harmonizes with wood and steel in a way few other materials can. It even ages in harmony with the rest of the gun, gaining character as it acquires wear from use. Since many owners of fine guns spend as much time admiring them as shooting them (and why not?), I suspect that this plays a large role in choosing a leather-covered pad. I know it would for me.

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