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Heidi, while soaking the scales in water may temporarily swell them, once they dried out again, it's more than possible that the shrinkage would be worse than it is. My first choice would still be using boiled linseed oil, as it will soak in to the wood.
Ask 10 people about wood care you're likely to get 10 answers, but linseed oil has been used for a very long time to protect and waterproof wooden tool handles.