Browning Salt Wood Explained


Dear Technoid,

Please discuss the Browning Superposed salt problem and how to detect this defect. I have not been able to find any reference to it in the shotgun literature.

Bill

Dear Bill,

The best discussion of the Browning salt wood issue is in Ned Schwing’s “Browning Superposed” book (Krause Press, 1996). According to Schwing, in the mid ’60s Browning needed a better supply of high grade walnut for it’s guns. A California contractor had a large inventory of good walnut taken from clearing power line right of ways. Demand for Browning guns was at an all time high and the usual kiln drying process for walnut was too slow to produce what was needed. Rapid kiln drying also produced cracks in the California walnut.

Morton Salt had developed a salt solution drying process successfully used in the furniture industry with good results. This cured the walnut much faster than the kiln method. Browning tested it and there were no problems, so Browning bought the process in 1965. “In an area roughly the size of a football field, five-foot by five-foot by eight-foot stacks of stock blanks were covered with salt. The salt was supposed to leach out the moisture and dry the wood quickly. The process did accomplish its purpose but the moisture that was drawn out of the blanks on top of the stacks ran down into the blanks below, resulting in a brine solution that soaked the lower wood blanks.” (Schwing, pp 246) The retained salt reacted with the gun metal with the finished stock was installed. This caused the rust associated with “the salt wood problem”.

According to Schwing’s interviews with Browning’s Harm Williams and Val Browning, all the salt curing was done in the US and affected at least 90% of all Browning stocks from made from 1967 to 1969. The problem continued to show up until 1972, but in smaller numbers. It was then that the entire supply of walnut blanks was burned and replaced with traditional kiln dried wood.

To detect salt wood on 1966 to 1972 guns, first check for outward appearance of dark or discolored spots. Check every place that wood meets metal, as on the rear of the forend and at the head of the stock. Rust on the metal will be apparent if there is a problem. According to Schwing, the definitive test is to remove the butt pad/plate, scrape away a little wood from the exposed butt and apply a 1% solution of silver nitrate to the fresh wood. If the silver nitrate remains light purple, there is no salt. If the silver nitrate turns white, you have a salt gun.

If you can prove that you are the original owner of the salt gun, Browning used to replace the wood for free and will probably still do so. If you bought the gun used, you are on your own. I got a used Superposed 410 with salt wood some time ago. Browning charged me about $250, if memory serves, to replace the wood. It wasn’t free, but it was certainly a bargain price. I don’t know what the numbers today are.

By the way, Browning wasn’t the only one to get taken in by the salt wood walnut curing process. I’ve heard that some other gun companies did also, but weren’t quite as up front about dealing with it.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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