Tom Stout, president of S&K Industries, located in Lexington, Mo., Brad Stout, engineer at S&K, and Jim Plowman, president of Midwest Walnut, located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, display the Ultra Walnut gunstock.
Council Bluffs, Iowa—Midwest Walnut, headquartered here, recently partnered with S&K Industries, located in Lexington, Mo., to produce a new line of gunstocks called Ultra Walnut.
Ultra Walnut is an advanced design gunstock, constructed using two pieces of high grade Walnut and one sheet of carbon fiber, or three pieces of high grade Walnut and two sheets of carbon fiber when extra thickness is required (for rifle stocks with a cheek-piece for example). The carbon fiber is left out of shotgun fore ends because the added axial strength it provides is not required.
Tom Stout, president of S&K Industries, said the inclusion of the carbon fiber was a choice both for design and durability.
“Initially, we just glued it together without the carbon fiber, but you could see the two grain patterns on the two pieces that wouldn’t always exactly match up,” he said. “When we put the carbon fiber in between the two Walnut pieces to break the grain, the glue line went from a negative to a positive. People saw the advantages of carbon fiber and it makes the stock stronger and more stable.”
Larry Mether is vice president of sales for Midwest Walnut, marketing the company’s products to more than 20 countries worldwide.
Though the idea for the gunstock was Stout’s, he is quick to give credit to Jim Plowman, owner of Midwest Walnut, who helped get plans rolling on the Ultra Walnut.
“He (Plowman) is the only guy who’s been in the sawmill industry who was willing to make niche products,” Stout said. “Once you to talk to (customers) about the carbon fiber, they think it’s a hell of an idea. They understand it’s going to make the neck portion of the stock stronger which has always been a concern of the gun manufacturing industry.”
Stout said the carbon fiber has eight times the tensile strength of steel, meaning the stock is much stronger and more stable than a standard wood stock. “You’re going to have to move the carbon fiber before you split the wood and the carbon fiber’s not going to move,” he said.
Plowman, who purchased Midwest Walnut in 1987 after working there 22 years, said the partnership benefited both companies.
“I think we have a pretty good match on business philosophy,” Plowman said. “It’s evolved over two years with the companies working together. Tom had the idea and I had the resources.”
Midwest Walnut, whose export business nears 70 percent of all sales, specializes in Walnut gunstocks with customers including Remington, Sturm Ruger and Co. Inc., Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta and companies throughout Europe and Asia.
A robotic sander sands a gunstock at S&K Industries, which recently formed a partnership with Midwest Walnut to manufacture Ultra Walnut.
In addition, the manufacturer, with two mills in Willow Springs, Mo. and Council Bluffs, Iowa, produces lumber for domestic and export sales in Walnut, Cherry and Red Oak. The company also markets veneer logs in American Black Walnut, Cedar and Red and White Oak. Midwest Walnut is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Assoc. (NHLA) and the American Walnut Manufacturers Assoc.
S&K Industries, founded by Roy Stout in 1961, began fashioning gunstocks in the 1980s, adding Remington Arms Co. Inc. as a client in 1986. Since that time, the company has produced more than 10 million stocks for Remington as well as Weatherby Inc., Thompson/Center Arms Co., Legacy Firearms and Henry Repeating Arms Co.
Stout said his father was a technology-savvy businessman and the younger Stout is very much the same, investing big money to purchase custom-built carving machines and an automated sander.
“We spent a little over $2 million in Italy for two machines to do the carving and inletting on rifle stocks,” he said. “Nobody has anything like it in the world.”
A Walnut rifle stock is measured by the Computerized Measuring Machine (CMM) during the production process.
Obtaining the sander, previously used only in the automobile industry, proved to be another challenge.
“The most difficult thing about gunstocks is sanding them,” Stout said. “All the sanding is an ergonomic nightmare and the last sanding is still done by hand. We were pretty skeptical about the whole thing.
“It’s one thing to sand metal or plastic because it’s a homogenous material,” he said. “Every piece of wood is different. The same pressure on a piece of wood will cause a different result on the next piece of wood.”
Stout said the first time the sander was used, the wood “looked like a beaver had done it,” but soon the kinks were worked out. The company also added 3-dimensional laser engraving to replace the traditional cut checkering on stocks, he said. Other equipment includes several CNC routers and carvers, a laser digitizer, a high power laser rough-mill and specialized deep-hole boring equipment for shotgun stocks and fore-ends.
Randy Stout, director of sales and new product development, and his father, Don Stout, vice president of operations, are two key executives with S&K Industries. The younger Stout also works as plant manager.
Stout said a prime advantage of S&K gunstocks is the finishing, which was developed by DuPont, when it owned Remington.
“It’s what they put on boats and Cadillacs and it’s really an outstanding finish,” he said. “We do a nickel adhesion test on one out of every 15 or 20 stocks on every rack. You can push as hard as you want with the nickel and the finish will not come off.”
Brad Stout, an engineer with S&K Industries and Tom’s son, said many manufacturers have tried to duplicate Ultra Walnut’s look and feel, but have failed.
“Other companies have been doing film processes, laser treatments and overlay to make plain wood look like fancy wood,” he said. “A lot of people initially think that this is what this product is, but closer inspection of the Ultra Walnut product will always show the complete range of real wood color and fancy grain patterns such as fiddleback, feather and burl, which the other processes will never be able to accurately match. Ultra Walnut is the real deal.”
Roy Stout, a native of northeastern Oklahoma, began his career as an engineer in the aircraft industry working with Beech Aircraft Co. in Wichita, Kan., and later Boeing Co. and General Motors Corp.
Teri Stout is the purchasing manager for S&K Industries.
His first clients, upon starting S&K Industries in 1961, were Phillips Petroleum Co. and Hallmark Cards Inc. “We made everything from wooden plaques to wooden store fixtures (for Hallmark),” Tom Stout said. “They were a great company to do business with. We wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them.”
Plowman said the time is now, especially for the Ultra Walnut line.
“You couldn’t have a better market (for Walnut),” he said. “You can sell everything you make as quick as you can make it. We just have to look at the opportunities and how we can adjust to what the customers need.”
Plowman said Midwest Walnut upgrades its dry kilns and other equipment every 10 years or so to keep up with the changing market. The company has 1.3 million board feet in drying capacity and a weekly total of 300,000 board feet in steamer capacity.
Key executives with the company, which employs 140 workers, include: Gary Keller, executive vice president; Larry Mether, sales manager; Ted Hiers, Council Bluffs plant manager; Vic Plowman, Willow Springs plant manager; and Bruce Severson, controller.
Finished Ultra Walnut shotgun stocks are lined up for the checkering machine.
Brad Stout said S&K Industries has solidified its reputation for quality in those 40-plus years.
“Some of the people that we’re doing business with went another way at first, but came back to us,” he said. “We’re intent on making sure that the quality of the products we ship is as good and consistent as possible.”
Key executives for S&K include: Don Stout, vice president of operations; Randy Stout, sales and plant manager; Craig Stout, marketing and aftermarket sales manager; Fred Gunn, production manager; and Greg Zielke, senior engineer.
The company, which boasts around 200 employees, will soon branch into grips for pistols and revolvers.