One of the highlights of my recent visit to Beretta was the glass-enclosed wood room where the premium blanks are stored under slightly elevated humidity to keep them from drying out. The grade 4 and 5 blanks were gorgeous. Although I like engraving, if I had to choose, I would prefer a gun with highly figured wood and no engraving to a gun with plain wood and great engraving. Really good wood seems to have depth to it if you look at it long enough, and there’s always some new wrinkle or swirl to find in a good gun stock. It wasn’t easy narrowing down my choices, but I tried to decide which blank I’d want for the SO10 I’m ordering next time I have $90,000 burning a hole in my pocket.
Figured grain is what makes a stock beautiful, which is why blanks cut from near the root or at the crotch of the trunk and a large branch have the most attractive grains. But, straight grain is stronger, and the grain at the wrist of the stock should be fairly straight for strength. In a properly laid out blank, the grain runs parallel to the top of the grip. All of the pretty swirls belong closer to the butt. Trees big enough to make good stock blanks are more than 100 years old and up 300 to 500 years old. A lot of history passes in a few centuries, which is one reason the stocks of Beretta’s premium guns are tomagraphed (sectionally x-rayed) to look for weak spots, nails, wire, bullets, shrapnel, and anything else that may have found its way inside the blank to cause a problem.