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We take a trip to Kent to find out more about Custom Stockz and its owner, Ken Newman; in the process, we are told a story that’ll make you smile
credit: Emily Damment
I came across Ken Newman and his company, Custom Stockz, kind of by accident. I’d been mulling over an idea for a ‘pimp your gun’ article, after spotting a company doing incredible custom engraving work; I made some calls to a few shooting buddies, asking if they knew of any similar services that could be included in the article. Phone call one brought up Ken’s name; phone call two confirmed his status as THE man to go to for custom spray design work on anything from guns to ear defenders. It was time for a trip to Kent...
Where the magic happens Ken’s workshop is housed in a cavernous garage beneath his house. The shelves and surfaces are scattered with every colour of paint imaginable, and a set of airbrushes resembling a demon dentist’s tool kit languishes on the main bench.
Ken is a master at painting and refinishing gun stocks – be it a classic piece of timber or one of those snazzy TSK-style jobs. The designs he showed me ranged from stunningly detailed wolf faces, night skies and autumn leaves, right the way through to beautifully lacquered plain wood, simple yet perfectly executed company logos, and solid colour finishes ranging from electric blue through to shimmering black. I have never, ever seen anything like it. Why stick with a piece of sub-standard walnut when you can have the patron saint of hunting tattooed on your gun?
Of course, the more imaginative designs may not be to everyone’s taste, but the wood finishing on show was also damn impressive, and Ken’s skill with an airbrush means he can pretty much create a Grade 5 effect on a bit of plywood, should you ask him to. He showed me an old Kreighoff stock and fore-end - the stock had been worked on, while the fore-end was still in its original state. They looked like they were from two different guns, one of which cost a lot more!
“I can repair serious dents and scratches by airbrushing the grain of the wood back in and lacquering over the top so it looks brand new again, as well as improving the general look of the wood,” he tells me. “It’s tough, it’s the same stuff they use on cars. It’s UV protected, waterproof, and if you scratch it slightly, you can take the scratch out with Tee Cut and polish it back up just like you would a car. If it’s seriously damaged, for example if you’ve dropped it or something, you can send it back and I’ll repair it for free... within reason. I’d rather my work was being carried around looking great and that people rate my service, so everything comes with a lifetime guarantee.”
I love this type of service from a company; it’s the type of thing you go and tell your friends, and the fact that Custom Stockz grew entirely by word of mouth is testament to that. What began as a solution to the insanely high prices Ken was quoted when looking to get his own gun sprayed, has gradually developed into a very nice and highly respected little business, receiving and delivering commissions from as far afield as South Africa and Australia.
A lifetime of experience It’s no surprise that Ken’s background is in cars, namely a chauffeur-driven fleet and a spray finishing garage. The years spent spray finishing clearly served him well, and it’s that experience that ensures these are not just cheap, novelty designs, but serious, lasting finishes. He shows me one of his own guns which was finished six years ago, and still looks beautifully vibrant with not a scratch or fade mark to be seen; as my mate ‘oop north’ would say, that’s a proper job that is.
What does surprise me is the revelation that Ken is registered blind; almost more surprising is the fact that he took up shooting after losing his vision, not before. You would never notice to sit and chat with him, and several years of medical intervention have improved things quite dramatically, but still... a guy who shoots and does intricate spray finishes with less than 10% of his vision intact? Now, that’s cool.
“I was about 40 when my vision started to go and in quite a short space of time, I was almost completely blind,” he explains. “I had to stop work, and a mate of mine suggested I come and try shooting. I loved it. I only really do Trap (DTL) because what I can see now is about a square foot of sky, like tunnel vision, so Trap’s fine because it’s all quite central. I go Sporting sometimes, but it’s a right giggle... I’ve got people behind me shouting ‘left, left, up, up, up!’” Despite myself, I can’t help but follow his lead and dissolve into laughter; it’s a bloody funny mental image!
“I used to do all the big comps and the local clubs, the Worlds, the Europeans, the Kreighoff every year... I used to drive all over the country all the time. Then I had to stop driving totally, so it’s quietened down a bit now and I only really do the big shoots. I don’t do too bad – I’m European champion in the Disabled category. It’s quite funny because if you walk up to the ref with a white stick, they kind of look at you nervously and then say ‘we’ll come with you!’. I just thoroughly enjoy shooting, it’s great fun. Now I’m secretary of a gun club and I teach people to shoot.”
I hope you’re reading this article with a nice fuzzy feeling in your belly. This is not just a story about a tiny, unique and wonderful company with a commendable approach to customer service – though that’s a good story in itself. It’s a tale about our blooming brilliant sport, and the life-altering effect it tends to have on those lucky enough to stumble into it. If Ken hadn’t lost his sight at the age of 40, he might not have taken up shooting. If he didn’t take up shooting, he never would have decided to refinish his own stock. If he hadn’t done that, and carried it around shooting grounds attracting lots of attention, his first commissions wouldn’t have come in. If that hadn’t happened, Custom Stockz wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t be sat talking in his sunny garden today. Isn’t life strange?
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