If you’re familiar with firearms, you might know what checkering is. If you’re not, you might not. It’s both a functional and a decorative way to give the shooter more grip on the stock, especially when it is wet or greasy. Parallel grooves are cut into the grip panel and the fore-end panel of the gun at angles to form tiny diamond shapes, with the edges defined by a border.
We have a checkerer in our midst. And not just any checkerer. Kathy Forster is a member of the prestigious American Custom Gunmakers Guild. In order to become a member, samples of the artist’s work are submitted to a juried panel and must be of the highest caliber. Her contact information can be found on their website. Kathy has been featured in national and international magazines, and she has customers from all over the country. Her work is among the best of the best.
In about 1985, Kathy was working for a do-it-yourself picture frame business in Portland, Oregon, and wasn’t really enjoying it. She read a newspaper ad: “Checkerers wanted. Will train.” She applied, and got the job, not knowing a thing about how to do it. She learned. Working for Kimber of Oregon, she checkered thousands of stocks. Kathy was one of the few people in the company who actually knew and used guns. This job gave her the training and skills she needed to begin a career she loves; in a place she loves - here in the Glenwood-Caribel area.
I watched Kathy work for a while, and the process and her finesse are amazing. First, a pattern is created on paper, then drawn on the stock with a soft-leaded pencil. The master lines, or outline, is cut with a carbide hand tool. An electric checkering tool, which is set to determine the width of the spacing, is used to fill in the pattern with parallel lines and crossing lines that form the diamonds. Then the pattern is gone over with the hand tool to define and make the diamonds uniform, after which the project is given a penetrating oil finish. There is both precise measuring and eyeballing involved. It takes Kathy about eight hours to checker a rifle.
Nowadays, firearms manufacturers use a laser process to checker, but Kathy says laser checkering and custom checkering is like the difference between buying jewelry at Walmart or Tiffany’s. Almost all the guns she checkers are custom stocks, so no mistakes allowed!
Asked why she enjoys doing this exacting and demanding craft, Kathy said that she likes the design aspects of it, likes being creative, and that she is a real perfectionist. She is in her element.
Remember to vote on Nov. 3! The committee at the Old School House will be taking all precautions for coronavirus safety.
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