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| Building a Flintlock (High Quality)
I compiled this story and thought it might be a good reference for those of you that may want to build a High Quality Rifle. Please give proper credit where it is due, I am only the messenger. Best Wishes and Reading. Flint54
Exclusive for Airbum.com
Building Your Own Flintlock Long Rifle: Part One
Okay, we'll admit it: this series is probably a little esoteric for a lot of folks. But, if you have the slightest interest in Neat Sh-t, hang in there. This is really a fun, relatively easy project that results in an artifact that even your significant other would like to have hanging on the wall. Besides that, they are so much fun to shoot you won't be able to stand yourself.
If you haven't been exposed to black powder shooting before, you probably have some questions about their safety. The answer is that, yes they are safe. Treat them exactly as you would any other firearm with just a little more caution attached to handling the raw powder. We'll get into that in some detail when we get ready to go shooting.
What we are going to build is a Pennsylvania long rifle (also called Kentucky rifle) similar to what Isaac Haines, one of the more influential gunsmiths in Lancaster, PA would have made around 1770. In this case, it is a .45 caliber flint lock with a "swamped" 38 inch barrel. A swamped barrel tapers from the breech towards the muzzle, then, about a foot from the end, flares back out again. Don't ask why. We don't know for sure.
We selected an Isaac Haines style because I like his crisp architecture and general lines. His butt stock is typical Lancaster, with straight lines top and bottom, but he rendered them in a tighter style. Also, I like the just-barely-pre-Revolutionary War styling in general, with the flatter, wider butt plate.
This will be the first kit I've assembled, as I usually cut my stocks from a board, doing all the shaping myself, which is a long tedious task. Just inletting the barrel is good for 40 hours plus because each flat of the octagon changes dimension as you move up the barrel channel. Unless you're really serious about it, the kit looks like the way to go. It's a little more expensive, but won't drag on nearly as long. As I'm writing this, I'm guessing it'll take about 60 hours to finish the rifle, not counting carving. I'll keep rough track of the time involved and we'll see how that works out in the end.
We decided to use a kit from Wayne Dunlap (Dunlap Woodcrafts, 1415 Wolftrap Run Rd., Vienna, VA 22182 (703)631-5147, (703) 734-2748) as he is "Mr. Wood" in the long rifle community. He supplies much of the wood used by the thousands of builders who populate the extensive sub-culture that has built up around the long rifle.
One of the primary reasons we decided on a Dunlap kit is that it uses the best components available and Dunlap's re*****tion for parts fit is unquestioned. Most of his inlet mortises are so close to being the right size, they require removing the only tiniest amount of wood. Also, it makes no sense to put this amount of effort into a project and use second quality parts and material. You'll see lots of kits at a much lower cost, but you won't see any better. Dunlaps kits run in the $500-$650 range. You'll also see kits in the $200 range that are usually made in Italy or Japan. Ignore those. Every aspect of them is questionable yet it takes the same amount of time to finish.
Curly maple is available in a wide range of quality which generally means the more curl and the tighter the curl, the more valuable the wood is. Expect to pay $150 and up for a premium piece of wood which will be around $250 by the time it has been machined into a semi-finished stock. A straight grained piece of wood would be about $75; it's not worth saving that amount of money considering the time and quality of the finished product.
Incidentally, the wood is nearly white in its natural state, but is stained prior to finishing to bring out the curly grain. The "curls" are grain reversals so the end grain soaks up the stain better and the light/dark stripes stand out. It's really cool to watch that happen while you're staining. Then, when you hit it with the first coat of finish and the grain leaps out at you, you remember why you started this project in the first place.
Dunlap uses Getz barrels which are usually the choice of most serious builders, but there are at least a half dozen good barrel makers out there. I've never used any other kind.
The lock in the kit is a Siler, which is also the standard by which other locks are measured. Again, there are probably a dozen or more locks available, but the Siler works well so why not use it? Also, the shape of long rifle lock plates and the hammer changed significantly after 1800 and in different regions. The Siler shape is more or less correct to the 1770 period in the Lancaster, PA area.
As you'll see in the pictures, I'm going to set the rifle up to use both flint ignition and the much later (and historically incorrect) percussion cap ignition. When the cap lock was invented in the mid-1830's, a vast majority of the older flint guns were converted because the newer lock was so much faster and more reliable.
All of the brass parts (buttplate, trigger guard, etc.) are wax cast, rather than sand cast, so they are quite smooth and only require minor finishing. The sprue has to be cut off and the edges and joint seam dressed down.
What does it take to build one of these kits? For one thing, it takes no power tools. Although you'll see me using a drill press, that isn't necessary. A hand drill with a few rudimentary jigs will do the same thing, just not as easily.
Of critical importance is a set of small carving chisels including a flat chisel around 1/8" across and a reasonably small gouge. Most of the work could be done with a 1/4" chisel, but a gouge is absolutely necessary to work the insides of the lock recess.
Along with the chisels should come several sharpening stones, down to the finest grit available. Then make a leather strop by gluing some belt leather to a block of wood and work some rubbing compound into its surface. There is simply no substitute for sharp tools on a project like this. None whatsoever.
You'll also see me using some black stuff as a color transfer to see where the parts are touching the wood so I know what has to be cut away. Lip stick works just as well and is easier to find.
One gadget you may want to purchase is a little specially made vice to compress the main spring, in case you want to disassemble the lock to better work on it. See the article on long rifles elsewhere in Airbum.com to get the address to join the National Muzzle Loading Association. Their magazine is full of suppliers.
The plan of attack has some flexibility built into it but, at this stage of the game, we expect it to go something like this, and we'll present lots of pix to illustrate each step:
1. Finish inletting barrel tang so the barrel can get set solid in stock. This has to be done before finish inletting the lock to get the touch hole for ignition in the right place.
2. Finish inletting lock.
3. Inlet trigger plate
4. drill and tap for tang and lock bolts.
5. Inlet buttplate and drill for mounting screws
6. Install under-barrel lugs and drill stock for pins
7. Inlet trigger guard and drill for mounting pins
8. Inlet ramrod tubes and drill for mounting pins
9. Inlet muzzle cap
10. Cut dovetails for sights
11. Sand stock down to final shape and prepare for finish
12. Carve designs on stock. We'll make up our mind whether to do that, when we get to that point.
13. Stain stock and rub finish on. This is the really fun part because it starts to look like a real rifle.
14. Prep metal parts for "browning." They aren't blued, but browned.
15. Go out and burn a little powder. Yeehah!!
See the following for progress reports:
Part Two - Getting Started
Part Three - Inletting the Barrel and Tang
Part Four - Inletting the Lock
Part Five - Fitting the Butt Plate
And here's a little discussion on Pennsylvania rifles in general.
The Pennsylvania Rifle -- An American Icon
And for other really cool stuff, go to Neat Sh*t.
Budd Davisson, exclusively for Airbum.com
Tools and other stuff
This section will probably grow as I get the energy to get deeper into specialized tools, but I thought we’d get started with the basics.
In the first place you don’t need anything exotic although there are a couple of things you can’t do without and there are a couple that make life a little easier.
Can’t Do Without This
The first time you pick up a lock, be it a flintlock or a cap lock, you’ll work the hammer back and forth and immediately realize how it works. Don’t let them fool you, however. They can be pretty sophisticated in their simplicity and there are quantum leaps between the cheaper locks and the better ones and the differences are in details you and I can’t even see. DON’T BUY ON PRICE! A cheap lock is like doing a heart transplant and getting the heart from the lowest bidder.
We’re using Siler locks here because they are the standard and because they are close to the style of the Lancaster rifle we’re building and right for the period.
Don't let anyone kid you, getting that spring off without a vice is a bear.
Part of the way a lock can fool you is that you think you can get them apart with a screw driver. FORGET IT! Take a look at the springs. Both types of locks have the main spring in the back and the flintlock has the frizzen spring up front. These may not look like much but you’re sure to damage a lock if you don’t un-tension these springs before you remove any of the screws.
The springs put everything under tension and if you try to take a screw out it’ll bugger up the end of the threads as you try to get it out. Besides, it’ll be a real ***** getting the screw out in the first time. To take tension off the clockworks you need to compress the spring. This much is obvious even after a cursory examination of the lock. What isn’t obvious is that it isn’t easy to compress the spring.
The first thought is to use a little C-clamp. Good idea, but the springs are so narrow and have so much slope to them the clamp can’t get a good purchase on the spring.The next thought is the pride of Dewitt, Nebraska, the Vice Grip (all true Vice Grips come from Dewitt, not far from my hometown). These “might” work, depending on how you feel about leaving gouges on springs and such—really bad idea and smacks of MM (Mickey Mouse).
This little bugger doesn't look like much, but it'll save you a lot of heartburn.
Enter the spring vice. This is a little gadget you should buy right along with your Kentucky parts. It has rotating jaws that are specifically made to span the length of a main spring and let you compress it with a couple turns of the thumb screw. Go to Trackofthewolf.com to order tools and parts. They also have kits, but Dunlap’s feature better wood and select parts.
Chisels: don’t chintz on these
A surgeon isn’t going to wade into a quadruple bypass with a Swiss Army knife and you shouldn’t try to work curly maple with anything but topnotch chisels.
Yep, these are all you'll need for a Dunlap kit and you'll be using the red 1/4" more for scraping than anything else.
They are available from a number of sources but get the best money can buy. You’ll use them for the rest of your life, so don’t screw around with middle of the line stuff. You can use “palm chisels” if you *****t, but I’ve always found them too short for general use. They’re great for fine carving, but we may or may not be doing any of that on this piece.
You’ll need the following blade types:
-straight 1/4”, this can be a simple Stanley type tool since you’ll use it as a scraper.
-gouge, 5/16, make this a medium radius to get into corners of curved mortises.
I have probably fifty chisels, but these are the ones used most and are all you’ll need for this project.
You’ll also need sharpening stuff as follows:
-medium stone to start working the blade
-black stone to set final shape
-white stone to put glass smooth edge on it
-LONG leather strop to really put an edge on it.
You can make your own strop by gluing a 16” long piece of belt leather on a board. Then moisten it and rub (they call it “charging” it) coarse rubbing compound like you’d use on paint into it. Really soak the leather with it and work it in. I’ve used a lot of different stuff and it all works okay, but Simichrome polish, if you can find it seems a hair better than the other stuff.
The strop is nothing but belt leather charged with rubbing compound. Use it religiously. No, ignore that. Use it much more than you use your religion.
This strop is going to sit right there in front of you every second you’re working wood and every two or three cuts you’re going to wipe the chisel across the strop. If you get in the habit of doing that, you’ll never tear a piece of grain out because you waited one cut too long to sharpen your blade.
The Bench Vice
There are vices and there are vices and the only really important aspect of a vice is that you have one and that it be bolted securely to a bench that doesn’t move under pressure. A lot of folks use a special cradle on the bench to work rifles, but we’re not going to get that sophisticated, so we’ll make do with a vice.
If you can find a unit known as a Vice Versa, they make life much easier. They pivot in three dimensions and make it easier to position the piece for easy whacking. God knows we don’t want to be whacking at the wrong angle, right?
The Versa Vice moves in three-dimensions but even without one make a set of blocks for any vice and radius the back of one so it can rotate and align with odd shapes.
Regardless of what vice you’re using, make a set of blocks like I’ve illustrated here. Mine are pretty beat up because they’ve seen a lot of use, but you can’t work without them.
The blocks not only protect the rifle from the jaws, but we can cut grooves in the face of the block that match parts of the rifle and let you grab it more securely.
Notice in the pictures that the back of one of the blocks is radiused slightly. This is to let one of the blocks rotate in the vice so it can self align with tapered parts of the stock.
Don’t get too exotic with the wood, but make sure it’s a relatively hard wood. You’ll need to start with something about two inches thick, which can be hard to find. Here again, don’t get too caught up in the details: find an old shipping skid and jerk one of the big pieces off the bottom. If it’s not thick enough, glue two pieces together and get out your saw. Or better yet, break out the band saw.
Also, notice the notch in the bottom legs: it has to straddle the screw in the middle of the vice.
Keep an old sweatshirt laying behind the vice because you’re going to be using it as padding to protect the stock in the vice. Doubled up carpet works better.
You’re going to need something to rub on the back of parts as you try to inlet them into the wood. Where they are touching, they’ll leave a smudge of the medium. Here again, simple works: lip stick will do the job. A better bet is to get inletting black from Brownells.com. If you don’t have their catalog, you should. Even though 99% of the stuff in it isn’t applicable to this project, it’s a great resource for all sorts of stuff that’s gun related but useful in other areas too.
You can this entire project with a steady hand and a 1/4” drill but having a drill press makes life much, much easier. If you don’t have one, don’t rush out and buy one for this project. I can think of only one hole that should be done in a press and that’s the touchhole and only then if you plan on threading it and putting a unobtainium liner in it. Otherwise, just hand drill it and try really hard to make it a square.
As we get into the different operations and other tools pop up (since I’ve probably forgotten some) we’ll get into them at that time.
So, get a vice, get some chisels, get going.
Budd Davisson, Exclusively for Airbum.com
Let the Fun Begin:
Getting Swamped but Getting it Right
First of all, since we’re doing this from one of Dunlap Woodcraft’s kits, we’re missing out on one of the most “fun” (read that as tedious) parts of building a Lancaster rifle of this period—inletting a swamped barrel from scratch.
Swamped Barrels: Pretty but a Pain in the Behind
First, let’s talk about the swamped barrel for a second. I’m certain the real experts know why our forefathers used a barrel that tapered from the breech to the muzzle and then, for no apparent reason, flared out again about a foot from the end, but I’ve never heard a reason I believe. Tapering the barrel does give much better balance than a straight barrel because it shifts the center of gravity back towards the hands. But why have it flair out again?
I personally think it’s the ancient’s way of driving future generations of gunsmiths nuts when we try to replicate guns of that period. Think about it—every flat of the octagon tapers in three dimensions. When you’re hogging out a tight fitting groove that matches a swamped barrel from scratch, it’s a LONG, not particularly enjoyable process. You can rough it with a router, but the important stuff is done by hand and it always takes me 40-60 hours. But then, I’m not a speed demon at anything.
The above is why I was delirious with joy when I dropped the wonderfully precise Getz barrel that came with the kit into the machined groove and found it fit so close. I’d only have a couple dozen thousands of an inch here and there to get it to snuggle right in. I’m a bug on wood-to-metal fit and this was definitely going to yield a “grew around the barrel” look.
Normally, you’d screw the tang out of the barrel and inlet the barrel first, then install the tang and do that last. In this case, however, the base of the tang, which usually interferes with dropping the barrel in place, already has plenty of clearance for the early portion of the fitting process. So, we can do the entire unit in one shot.
Now that I’m finished with that process, however, I think it would have actually moved faster, if I had removed the tang.
Step One: make a mess
The first thing we’re going to do is swab the bottom of the barrel and tang down with inletting black. I hate this stuff because it gets on your fingers and from there to the stock. It really doesn’t hurt anything, but it is a messy process. I use a stiff, half-inch brush to apply it.
We drop the barrel into the channel being careful to make sure the back of it is against the square cut back of the barrel channel. If it slides forward even a tiny bit, all of the tapered octagonal flats move ahead and start contacting wood. When they do that, they give us erroneous readings.
The entire trick here is to gently put the barrel in place, then pull it out and see where it has left black smudges (or red, if you’re using lipstick). The conclusion is obvious—it left a smudge because it touched the wood there. So, we gently remove all of the smudges by carefully (read that again, CAREFULLY) cutting or, better yet, scraping away the high points as indicated by the smudges.
You'll really get tired of chasing smudges but they indicate where the metal is touching the wood. By "erasing" the high spots very gradually, the metal works its way into the wood. Do it slowly. Don't get in a hurry.
A quick note here: we’re only going to be moving the teeny, tiniest bit of wood. We’re right up to the finishing phases, so brace your hands so the chisel or scraper is so steady it can’t get away from you. Don’t get anxious here. Just take away enough wood that the smudge disappears. Then even out the black stuff on the bottom of the barrel (you don’t need to add more) push it down in the barrel channel and repeat the process.
You’ll only go through this particular cycle about ten thousand times on this project. As it happens, that’s about the same as if you had scratch built the stock from a board because Dunlap has gone through all the gross shaping stages and brought us up to the final phases where the inletting black comes into play. This allows us to get an exact fit without worrying about the basic alignment or shape of things. When we start to inlet the lock, however, you’ll see where the machine inletting has saved us a ton of unseen inletting chores.
Using the Transfer Method
Here are some clues about what to watch for. Keep looking for linear black marks at the bottom of the channels in the corners indicated that the edges of the barrel are making contact. Some folks will take a file to the edges of the bottom flats and round them slightly which makes getting a tight fit a lot less headache. I don’t because this seems like cheating. It ain’t quite right.
As you scrape away the high spots, you’ll notice that one disappears to be replaced by another some place else. This is part of the natural process of knocking down the high points. Think about a mountain range and you’ll keep knocking the top off the highest peaks until you finally wind up with Nebraska landscape.
Here’s a major tip for not screwing up where the wood meets the metal: from the outside all you see is the wood-to-metal seam and we can’t see what’s inside. So, stay away from the exact edge of the inlet mortise. Leave a 1/16” or so of vertical wall wood right where it touches the metal untouched until the very end of the inletting process. Then go after that with hypersensitivity and remove as little as you can get away with.
Lots of times the pressure of the barrel in the channel slightly compresses that 1/16” ledge giving you an absolutely perfect fit. The down side to doing that is that if you have it too snug, you stand the chance of peeling some grain off when you remove the barrel. Get just enough contact that it barely touches but takes no pressure to get it to fit. Don’t pound it into place.
First of all, the tang, as it comes on the barrel needs to be bent slightly to better follow the curve of the stock. It doesn’t need to be bent much, so wait until you have the barrel sitting well down in the stock so you can get a better feeling for how much bend is required. The tang is really soft, so you only have to hold the barrel in the vice blocks (padded, of course) and tap it with a hammer (with a wooden block between).
This should be self-explainatory.
The shape of the tang, with the wide tail, is very typical of the pre-revolutionary Lancaster period. The inlet in the stock is a solid 1/4” too short giving you lots of room to get it inlet exactly right. Or, in my case, to trim the tang to the “pear” shape that marked some of the better rifles of the time. The end of the tang was one of many places different builders did it “their way” and added a little personality. The pictures show the steps in trimming it. This is definitely not a must-do for you, but I thought it looked cool.
Make sure the tang is bent so it’ll lay fairly well down the curve of the stock so you can mark an accurate line around it.
Marking the Tang Inlet
I’m going to make a bigger deal out of this operation than necessary only to get a concept across that’ll come in really handy later on.
First, prepare the tang for inletting by filing a slight chamfer on the bottom corners. The vertical sides slope slightly inward, which it makes it unnecessary to get exactly square sides in the mortise. More important, by giving the tang a slightly wedge shape, you can work it down into the wood a little at a time and arrive at a 100% wood-to-metal fit every time because, as it goes down into the wood, it keeps getting wider than the hole.
Also, by making the bottom surface of the tang slightly smaller than the top, when we mark it for inletting, we’re assured of the marked area being undersized and we can work it up to match the top of the tang.
Everyone has their own way of marking pieces for inletting but I do it with a No. 11 Exacto knife. Clamp the barrel tight into the stock so the tang lays hard onto the surface. Then run the tip of the blade right up against the edge of the tang and use barely enough pressure to break the fibers on the surface of the wood. Don’t over do the pressure. Do it again with a little more pressure. Then again and a little harder. We’ll let repetition work the groove into the wood, not force.
This is the way it looked before shaping.
The goal is to cut a line into the wood that clearly breaks the surface fibers so that those, which are inboard of the cut, can easily be removed. The cut won’t even be 1/16” deep, but it’ll give a jumping off point for the rest of the cutting and ABSOLUTELY DEFINES THE UPPER OUTLINE OF THE MORTISE AND MATCHES THE TANG.
The scribe line doesn’t actually match the tang, but matches the bottom surface, which is just a little small. However, because of its wedge shape, as we work it down in, it’ll be constantly touching the outer surface leaving no gap.
On using chisels.
First, all chisels are two-handed affairs. Your right hand (assuming you’re right handed) supplies the force and basic guidance, but your index finger and thumb on the other hand do the actual guiding and placement of the tip of the blade. Don’t EVER single-hand a chisel.
When starting the tang cut, take your 3/16 blade and insert it vertically into the scribe line with the bevel facing toward the middle of the mortise. This puts the straight face where the mortise has to be straight. Push down so the blade makes the scribe line deeper in that little area. Then move 2/3rds of a blade width over and repeat the process.
The goal is to increase the depth of the scribe line a little at a time all the way around. Then we come back and gingerly cut away the material between the scribe line and the mortise.
Incidentally, the Dunlap mortise is so close to the edge of the tang that you’ll only have a little area to scribe on except at the rear.
GO SO SLOWLY AT THIS POINT THAT IT DRIVES YOU NUTS. The tang is sitting right there in front of God and everybody and it’s the last place on the rifle you want to have an ugly gap staring up everyone you hand the rifle to.
I LOVE IT when a plan comes together!
A Note on Sharpness
When cutting the vertical faces of the walls, the blade should not only cut cleanly with no tearing of wood, but the surface left behind should have a slight sheen to it. If you’re working hard to shave a tiny area of the mortise, your chisel is too dull. Strop it or sharpen it.
ALWAYS ASSUME YOUR CHISEL IS TOO DULL AND STROP IT. You’ll quickly develop a feel for when it’s cutting and when you’re forcing the issue. There is no place for brute force any where in this project.
As you’re inletting the tang, you’ll be inletting the back of the barrel at the same time. So, you’ll be looking for smudges from about six inches in front of the tang to the back of the tang. This is why it’s usually easier to remove the tang and do the barrel first.
Finishing the Tang Surface
You don’t inlet the entire depth of the tang into the wood. You inlet until the top of the back of the barrel is slightly below the surface of the wood behind it, which will put probably 1/8” of metal into the wood at the very back of the tang and at least that much sticking out. Then you bring out your files and hand file the tang down to match the wood surface.
DROP THAT GRINDER!!! I said “hand” file it down. You don’t have much extra wood on the top of the wrist and the last thing you need is a nasty gouge or groove in it because you got in a hurry and grabbed a power tool.
PERFECTION ONLY HAPPENS, WHEN YOU CREEP UP ON IT. Don’t get in a hurry. This rifle will be handed down to your grand kids so use the hand file and slowly work it down to shape.
When you have it barely flush with the wood, take the barrel out and start using Wet ‘r Dri paper wrapped or glued around a hard board about six inches long. Sand in only one direction, either pulling the sanding stick toward you or pushing away. Don’t go both directions or you’ll have more trouble keeping it flat. Start out with 220-grit and work your way up to 600. In the process of sanding out all the file marks, you’ll take away just enough metal that the tang surface is slightly below the surface of the wood. This allows you to later sand the wood down for a perfect match.
Drilling for the Tang Bolt.
Center punch the position for the hole and drill the hole appropriate for the size of tang screw you’ll be using, generally about 3/16 (#10 screw). We’re going to counter sink the hole, but not until we’ve drilled the hole in the stock and we want to have the original hole all the way through the tang to help guide us.
When this is sanded down, carved and finished the wood-to-metal fit will be nearly perfect. The pear-shaped tang looks cool, if nothing else. I'll replace the buggered bolt at the last minute.
We’ve got a bunch more operations to do to the barrel, like mounting the sights and the attaching lugs under it, but we’ll do those in a separate piece of journalistic chaos. Until then make haste so slowly that cold molasses is passing you.
Budd Davisson, exclusively for Airbum.com
Part Four: Lockin' it Up
When building a rifle from a board (not a kit) there’s always a huge amount of head scratching (and downright fear) involved in getting the lock/barrel/ramrod hole relationships right. The problem is that the lock pan has to have the proper relationship to the touch hole, which has to have the right relationship with the barrel bore and there has to be a bolt coming all the way through the stick from the off side into the lock plate.
What’s the big deal? There wouldn’t be one except that there is a 3/8” ramrod running full length under the barrel right behind the lock and THE FRONT LOCK BOLT HAS TO PASS BETWEEN THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL AND THE TOP OF THE RAMROD HOLE. The space is generally less than 3/16”.
Show me someone who hasn’t had a lock bolt interfere with the ramrod and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t built very many long rifles from a blank. No matter how much you lay it out in full sized on the blank, sooner or later you nick a barrel or a ramrod. Or worse yet, the lock is in the wrong position on the barrel.
You don’t know the meaning of the phrase “fearful expectation” until you’ve drilled the bolt hole, put a bolt in it and then slid the ram rod in for the first time literally praying that there’s no interference.
But we don’t have to worry about all that because the kit manufacturer, Dunlap Woodcraft, has worked all that out for us. The hole is even drilled. That one factor makes using a high quality kit like this worth the price of admission.
The Lock Mortise
Before we start working on inletting the lock put the lock in your hand and study it. Look at the two screw heads protruding out the back (tumbler and trigger spring) and the way the main spring runs forward, tapers in width and is nearly flush with the bottom of the lock plate. It’s important you remember all the parts back there because it’ll make the inletting process make more sense to you.
The front of the main spring and both screws are going to be your problem areas. Also, the area indicated by the arrows is supposed to lay flush against the barrel.
When starting a lock mortise from scratch on a blank, traditionally you completely disassemble the lock and do your first inletting using nothing but the lock plate. Then, once you get that set to your taste, you start putting one part at a time back on the lock and inlet each in turn. Some of us have made permanent little guides, or key templates, that give the depth of each major part so we can approximate them without having them on the lock plate.
Here's the spring vice again. It'll become your little buddy during the lock inletting process. Although disassembling the lock is overkill for this project, we’re going to do it anyway because it makes the project move ahead a little more orderly with less hassle and with less chance of mistakes.
First Scribe Around the Lock
The first thing you’ll notice is that the lock mortise is very, very close to an exact fit for the plate. In fact, I wish it had a little more wood so everything wasn’t so critical.
On my kit there was the tiniest oversized area about a half inch long on the top/rear of the plate that I’ll have to glue a sliver into. Many would ignore it, but if I don’t fix it I know that’s all I’ll see every time I pick it up. I mentioned it to Dunlap and he said it must be pattern wear and has fixed it on subsequent models.
Be careful scribing around the lock because in many areas it’s already the right size and the scribe (or Exacto knife) could ding the edge of the mortise.
Inletting the lock plate
As you work the plate into position there is one factor that isn’t obvious from the beginning: besides fitting the mortise, the flat bar under the pan area has to lay snug against the barrel. If you don’t do this, there will be a gap and every time you fire it, you’ll have fire flashing down into the lock mortise. What a bummer it would be to entertain the guys at the range by setting fire to your fancy new bang stick.
Points of contact as indicated by the transfer medium on the wood: a) trigger spring screw, b) tumbler screw, c) front edge of main spring, d) plate is laying flat and this is okay as long as the bar is laying flat against the barrel at the same time. We don't want to cut away too much wood on the edges of the mortise and have there not be enough support while the bar is against the barrel or it'll tip the lock, which looks bad.
If you’re not working with the Dunlap kit and have a straight barrel, there’s another little nuance here worth mentioning. Early period flintlocks, like the Haines we’re replicating here, have a lot of subtleness to their lines and if they’re wrong, the rifle doesn’t fit you as well as it should. Most folks get the wrists too fat because the originals have really skinny wrists, which means they are also weak in that area. The swamped barrel, however helps that because the lock goes in at an angle, which makes the wrist wider and stronger.
On a straight barrel, the wrist can be too skinny, so it helps to solder a little wedge-shaped piece of metal on the back of the lock bar under the flash pan that kicks the back of the lock plate out a little. The piece doesn’t have to be very thick. If it’s 1/32 (.035) at the back and tapers to nothing at the front, that’s fine.
Compared to doing the barrel and tang, finishing the lock mortise is easy. You’ll use the transfer compound and keep searching out places it touches and scraping them away. Be VERY careful at the edges of the mortise so you don’t create gaps.
Keep working until the plate fits snug against the barrel and lays 90 degrees to the plane of the barrel. Dunlap has done such a good job in this area it’s hard to screw it up unless you get in too big of a hurry.
Inletting the mechanism
Put the tumbler (the round thing with notches) and the trigger spring back on the lock and put transfer stuff on the heads. Chances are you’ll find they touch the bottoms or sides of the holes already inletted in the mortise. In my case I had to remove wood on the bottom and one side of both screw head inlet areas.
Now put the main spring back in place. The spring needs room to work, so inlet it when the mechanism isn’t locked or the bottom of it won’t have room.
The front edge of the spring is quite wide and in any inletting job drives the rest of it. Put the black crap on it and slide the lock into position. Note where the spring touches and remove just a bit of wood. This becomes the same drill: scraping, spread out the black on the spring, insert, remove, scrape, etc., etc.
Keep the process up, all the time looking for places where metal is contacting wood too strongly.
While you’re doing all of this check to make sure the trigger bar isn’t too long and contacting wood on the other side of the stock. Routinely I have to grind 1/8-3/16” off the end to get working clearances. Don’t over due the trimming. It has to extend at least 3/16” past the center of the stock to make sure the trigger blade contacts it.
By the way, while you have the lock apart, polish the bottom of the trigger bar and get it super smooth so the trigger blade doesn’t encounter any roughness. Don’t mess with the rest of the clockworks unless you really know what you’re doing. If you want to make it slicker with a crisper trigger break (we’re not using set triggers so this may be worth the effort) take it to your lock pistol smith and have him stone the parts. The reality is, however, this is mostly wasted effort because the lock works really well the way it comes out of the box. Besides, we’re not trying to drive tacks at 1000 yards with this thing.
Drilling the bolt holes
While you have the lock disassembled and the plate inletted and clamped in place, run a 3/16 drill bit on your trusty hand drill through the bolt holes from the off side so it leaves a mark for both holes on the back of the lock plate.
The bolts are #8 x 32’s so you’ll need an 8/32 tap and tap handle (if you don’t have one) and a #29 drill bit (.1360), which should be available at your local ACE hardware store for just a few dollars.
The lock plate is pretty soft metal, so this isn’t brain surgery, but make sure you make a deep center punch mark exactly where the drill bit left its mark. We don’t want the #29 drifting off center.
This is best drilled in a drill press, but a hand drill will work fine as long as you work hard at keeping it 90 degrees to the plate.
Once you have the holes drilled, carefully force the tap in by turning it a full turn or so. You just want it to catch a thread and stick in the hole so you can back off and see how perpendicular it is from all angles. Then, put a drop of oil on the tip, put some pressure on it and slowly start turning.
If you’ve never tapped anything before, the key here, like everything else is don’t be in a hurry. Once the tap is started you’re only going to turn it about 180-270 degrees before stopping, turning it backwards 90 degrees or so, and then moving ahead. This is to break loose any metal stuck to the tap and to give it more room to work. Keep it oiled.
At the beginning make it a point to check every 90 degrees of turn to see that you’re still vertical. Once you’ve cut a couple of threads, however, you’re stuck with the angle you’re going in at, so don’t rush it.
You’ll notice when you try to put the hammer on the lock that it contacts wood. So, cock the hammer, mark where it hits the wood and remove that ridge. Don’t, however remove the ridge that’s standing above the lock plate all around it. We’re going to leave that until we’re doing our final shaping. This will protect the final surface until we’re ready to work with it.
Very cool! This thing is starting to look like the real thing isn’t it?
On to the butt plate.
Budd Davisson, exclusively for Airbum.com
Getting in Touch With our Butt
I’m not sure how to characterize fitting a butt plate that is as complex as that on a Kentucky. I’m tempted to say it’s a pain in the butt, but that’s too obvious. What I will say is that it almost doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a kit or a scratchbuilt because unless it’s machined turned to a given butt plate, you’re going to have about the same amount of work to do regardless.
A couple notes about Kentucky-type butt plates in general
First of all, a butt plate is not just a butt plate. They each have their own characteristics and style. On top of that, the stylistic progression of butt plates from old to not-so-old is seamless. The flat, wide, good-for-stompin’-heads butt plates of the old German Jaegers slowly mutated into the mildly curved, wonderfully graceful, wide plates of the late 1700’s to the skinny, ridiculously curved and painful-to-shoot units of the 1840’ & ‘50’s. For the most part, you can look at a butt plate and, with an 80% guarantee of success, place it within 25 years of its date of origin from the beginnings right up until muzzleloaders left the scene. In the case of most golden age Kentuckies, you can even come within 50 miles of its location. The pros can nail it down much closer than that.
Most of the butt plates share a couple of characteristics, however: they are curved to some degree and they feature a return on the top of the stock. What this means to the wood worker is that the plate must be inlet in three directions at one time. The return has to come down into the stock and forward which moves the curve of the plate itself the same direction. Look at the geometry of what’s going on. It’s actually pretty complex.
On a "golden age" butt like this, the width of the return on the top means it has to be true or it will cant the plate in both directions. Also, note the wood in the middle that has to be reduced in size, but not completely eliminated.
Generalities in installing the butt plate
The key is to get the BP located correctly vertically so the bottom surface of the return on the top of the stock can be set in the right position (the flat it sits on is trued up in all directions). This then means from that point on, you’re using that flat as a guide to move the butt plate forward by slowly removing wood on the butt surface of the stock until the entire unit moves ahead enough that gaps in all forward surfaces are eliminated.
On the Dunlap kit, the fit as it comes to us is close but there’s no way they can make it perfect because of the variations in butt plates. The butt plates are cast brass with a good portion of it being pretty thin so they differ from one to another because of slight amounts of warpeage while they are cooling. So, we’re going to have to do our gun maker thing and make them fit.
I’m going to go through the traditional method of fitting one of these little buggers, but at the end of the process I’m going to give a tip that was just passed along to me that could knock a number of hours off the process.
Fitting problems to be worked out
The notch for the return on the top of the Dunlap stock as it comes is pretty good and needs only a little cleaning up to be true. We can do that with a fine wood rasp.
The protrusion in the middle of the butt plate area has to be removed which, because it’s end grain, can be a pain.
If you look at the photo you’ll see the biggest problem area in the kit is at the bottom of the stock (toe) where there was a gap a solid 3/16” wide, so the entire unit has to slide that far forward. The little tip passed on to me (don’t cheat and skip to the end) might have solved that much faster than I did using my usual methods. Incidentally, it normally takes me 6-10 hours to fit a butt plate and the tip could have cut that in half.
True up the flat area the return on the top sits on and that becomes the guide for the rest of the inletting. Obviously, everything here had to move forward enough to get ride of the gap at the bottom. Treat the radius at the heel with special care.
The small gaps and the radius problem at the heel of the stock (top corner) are no big problem. They’ll disappear in the course of solving the big gap at the toe.
Methods of removing wood
Removing wood on end grain can be problematic because even with a hyper-sharp chisel, it’s hard to control to any degree of accuracy. For that reason, plan on viewing the outer 1/4-5/16” of the area where the butt plate actually makes contact as being sacrosanct and we’re going to treat it very carefully. Everywhere in between it’s up for grabs as to how carefully you *****t to do it.
I suppose if you *****t, you could take a humungous spade bit on a drill and simply under cut it all. The theory here is that no one is going to see anything but the very outer surface where the metal meets the wood, so anything inside is invisible and doesn’t count. Although it would greatly speed things up, I can’t do it that way.
I like to walk into my shop and, regardless of the status of an uncompleted project, regardless of what it is; I like to be proud of it. Without getting too fastidious about it (actually, I’m from Nebraska where few of us even use words with that many syllables), I like the insides of my projects to reflect the same care lavished on the outside (go to The Roadster Chronicles elsewhere in Airbum.com and you’ll see the same “problem” I have in this area).
If I walked into the shop and saw the area under the butt plate simply hogged down so it would clear with no effort at finishing it, it would depress me. Further, every time I picked up the finished rifle, I’d keep seeing through the butt plate to a messy area and I couldn’t enjoy the rifle as much. That, however is a VERY personal attitude and not one I suggest anyone else follow. This is also why some of my projects take so much longer than they should.
Getting rid of the big clump
Before we can do anything, we have to get rid of the big lump of wood in the middle of the area butt. It’s a lot to remove with hammer and chisel, plus I don’t any “normal” sized chisels—they are all small. So, I opted for a thoroughly non-traditional approach. I put a 60-grit sanding disk on my trusty 4” angle-head Makita grinder and carefully went after it.
I use that grinder for so many different operations in so many different mediums (it’s my prime cutting tool and metal remover for heavy steel construction) that I’ve gotten to where I’m really comfortable with super close, fine operations. However, be advised: that sucker could easy get away from you in this kind of operation and put a helluva gouge in one of the mating surfaces right where you don’t *****t it.
Even though I’m comfortable in the extreme with the tool, I still put three layers of duct tape over the mating surfaces to protect them. It wouldn’t be bulletproof protection, but at least it would keep the damage to a minimum.
In about five dusty minutes I had the lump reduced to a much more manageable size and I was ready to move on to my primary wood removal system for butt stocks: using a big chisel as a scraper.
True up the butt plate
Although we can inlet to correct for any irregularities in the casting, it’s better to true it up as much as we can because it’s much easier to inlet smooth, regular surfaces.
Life is much better if you use a mill file to even out all the mating surfaces. Be careful at the radius in the corners. Get a file they use to sharpen chainsaws to work that area.
In this case, the inside surface of the butt plate has casting ridges and some areas that aren’t very even. So, we’ll take a big mill file and, laying it across the butt plate so we’re doing both surfaces at one time, gently smooth them down
Be very careful when you’re working up into the small radius at the top that you don’t leave some nicks in the corner from the file. Stay a little way away from that area and clean it up with a small round file (a file used for sharpening chain saws works great).
Be especially critical what you’re doing with the bottom of the return. Try your darndest to make the two flats perpendicular to a line you’ve drawn on the inside of the plate with a felt tip pen. If the surfaces are off even a little, they’ll swing the toe of the plate one way or another. We can easily inlet those surfaces so the plate is square on the stock, but it’s easier if we start out with square surfaces on the butt plate to begin with.
Beginning the LONG process
One of the things that makes this such a long process is that even though I know we have to remove 3/16” of wood, which is a helluva lot of wood, especially when it’s end grain, I’m not crazy about going after it with a band saw or the grinder thinking I’ll take off 1/8” fast and the last little bit slowly. Far too many times I’ve taken that approach and realize too late that there was some little nuance I missed and it caused me much more work. So, I start creeping up on it right from the beginning. I’m certain the big guys do it differently.
The first thing we want to do is chin the plate on the upper return notch and verify that the angle of the notch holds the top of the butt plate at an angle that follows the comb of the stock. We want it to be a flowing visual line from the nose of the stock, right behind the wrist, all the way to the heel. A butt plate that’s at an angle to the top line of the stock sticks out like a third eye.
You also want to be critical of that angle because if the front of the butt plate return is down by even a few thousands, it pivots the plate on the heel of the stock and pulls the very bottom of the plate out quite a bit.
Put marks (felt tip pen) in the middle of the butt plate at both ends and have matching centerline marks on the stock itself. If you have extra wood, flush the plate to the left side of the stock to increase the cast-off (angle the butt slightly towards you to off set the centerline right for better sighting. This is not important.).
The lines on the bottom of the butt and the butt plate have to be watched carefully while you’re truing up the flats for the return so the plate remains vertical.
Now we’re ready to start with the black transfer medium. Brush it on the butt plate, lay the butt plate in position and tap it lightly with a block of wood or mallet. Remove it and locate the high spots. This is where I probably depart from the ways other guys do it.
We're starting to get little touches of black all the way around, including at the front of the return. This is the point where we move slowly. The only gaps left are at the very bottom of the stock.
I remove the high spots by using a heavy 1/4” chisel as a scraper. It’s super stiff and, because it’s a full sized chisel with the blade formed as part of the tang that goes clear through the handle, I can really get a good grip on it. You can actually remove a lot of wood quickly this way, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to remove just the local high spots and the 1/4” size helps in that regard.
One of the first things you’ll have to do as the plate moves forward is to VERY gingerly form a radius on the upper rear corner (heel) of the stock. Fight the urge to cut that to what you think is the right radius ahead of time. The marks made by the butt plate in that area are very clear and very specific. They are also easy to remove just a hair at a time. For this you use one of your inletting chisels and actually cut the sliver of wood away, going from right to left.
Because the butt plate will contact the wood for only about 1/4” around the edges, you’ll wind up with what look like little trails running around the stock that are carefully smoothed by scrapping. At the heel, where the small radii are, the trails will be especially noticeable.
Again, don’t rush. This is another of those areas where even the tiniest gaps show so we don’t want to chop away too much wood. Put a stack of good CD’s in the player, have a supply of your favorite beverage handy and resolve that this will be done when it gets done.
It can really be a mind numbing process so figure on doing it in two or three, three-hour sessions to minimize the brain damage and ensuing mistakes.
Screwing it together
At some point you’re going to finally have this thing inletted to the point that you’re happy with it and it’s time to put the screws in.
Like everything else, there’s a long way to do this that’ll save you some grief and shorter ways that may or may not cause you grief.
The problem is that the hole in the top of the stock has to be in exactly the right spot and the holes counter sunk correctly or, when you tighten the top screw, it can move the butt plate back slightly and undo all of your careful wood work.
The method I use is to drill 1/8” holes, one in the proper location on the mid-line of the return and a distance up from the toe. When drilling these holes remember to try to keep them vertical to the surface in question. For the back hole, that means going in at an angle that matches the curve of the butt plate.
The final wood screws you’ll be using are much bigger than 1/8” but we use the smaller size as guide holes.
I ran the countersink in just a hair more than necessary to get the slot in the screw to line up across the centerline. when I dress the surface down and square up the flats, most of the excess countersink will disappear (he says with great hope in his voice).
Now, position the butt plate in position and drill the back hole into the stock using the butt plate as a guide. Don’t go very far into the wood with the bit, we just want it as a place to start a screw, and make sure all centerlines match.
Now, get a long sheet metal, pan head screw and run it through the back butt plate hole and into the wood. Snug it up and make sure it pulls the butt plate forward and tight to the wood both at the back of the stock and at the front of the return. We don’t want any gaps showing.
Carefully drill through the top hole and put a sheet metal screw in. Now we have both screw hole locations in the wood and the butt plate fixed. Now it’s onto the real thing—countersinking and drilling out for the full sized screws.
The goals here are to make sure the bigger screws don’t make the plate move and to have the screws centered in the counter sinks AND 90 degrees to the surface so the heads aren’t canted. This can sometimes be harder than it sounds. However, if we screw-up there’s always a way to correct it—if we get a hole crooked or in the wrong place, we can drill out the hole in the stock to 3/8”, glue in a piece of dowel, and start over again. The 3/8 dowel gives a big enough surface to relocate the hole easily.
Drill the holes in the butt plate out to the proper size, which in the Dunlap kit is 3/16". We want to counter sink those holes just enough that the screws are flush with little or no edge of the counter sink showing.
The ideal situation is to use a countersink with a pilot stub on the nose, but since those are nearly impossible to find, you’ll just have to use what the hardware store has to offer and be careful.
Clamp the butt plate firmly in the vice and proceed to counter sink just a little at a time, test fitting the screw in the hole constantly. The countersink will be happy to drift off center, if you don’t hold it vertical (a drill press makes this much easier), so be careful and test fit the screw often. Just go a little at a time and it’ll work out fine.
Now, screw the plate in place, doing the back screw first. Check the top hole to see if it is still in the center of the larger hole. If it isn’t, drill it out, plug it and re-drill it so the screw doesn’t sit in the butt plate hole at an angle. Also, don't be afraid to take a round file to the hole and fudge it one way or the other. It may not be perfect craftsmanship, but it works.
Now you’ve done all the hard work and we can move on to trimming the stock wood down to size in the shaping operations. This is the fun part because then you really get to see how well the wood fits the metal. With any luck, you’ll see a seamless fit. However, if it isn’t quite right, here’s the tip that Wayne Dunlap passed on to me and I wish someone had told me about twenty years ago.
The pay off to working slow: it's hard to see here, but when the wood is dressed down and the transfer black disappears there won't be a hint of a gap anywhere. This is when you forget how long the process took. However using the "tapping the edge down" tip would have shortened the process considerably.
Assuming you’re doing a brass-mounted (not iron-mounted) rifle, the brass butt plate is quite soft and easily bent. So, get it more or less inletted with gaps still showing and then, screw it down. Then, using something like a 1” steel bar as a hammer, gently pound the edges into position. You’ll have to file and sand the outside surface of the butt plate anyway to smooth up the casting, so any hammer marks will disappear.
I don’t know if the plate would have deformed enough to take up the entire 3/16” gap we originally had at the toe or not. I think I’d be afraid to move it that far. A disruption in the line of the butt plate MIGHT be noticeable.
Don’t use a regular hammer for this operation because the marks will be too abrupt. In fact, the bigger the diameter of your hammering instrument the wider and easier to remove the marks will be. A piece of 2” pipe would probably even work. Or maybe hold the pipe in position and tap it with a hammer.
I haven’t tried this process yet, but it’s right up there on the top of the “duh” scale, it’s so obvious. Slap! Red spot in the forehead.
Wayne says they’ve found information that says this is the way some of the ancients did it too. So, it’s historically correct cheating. You’ve gotta love it!
By Budd Davisson
Exclusively for Airbum.com
photos as credited at end
At this point in America's life span, it has become difficult for the politically correct amongst us to admit that the firearm is as much a part of America's history as Old Glory, the hammer and the horse. The firearm was an integral part of many chapters of our development, most of them heroic, some shameful, but it was there none the less. For the frontiersmen and those carving a nation out of a wilderness, the firearm was at least as critical to their survival as the axe and plowshare.
The development of the firearm in colonial America is actually the story of the development of America itself. Further, in the first century and a half, beginning in approximately 1700, it encompassed the rise of a thoroughly American art form, the Pennsylvania long rifle (although many were also made in Virginia and the Carolinas). In the long rifle, we have an artifact that was forged by the needs of its environment. Then, as time went on, the culture of the people subtle changed it until it became as uniquely American as the jazz and hot rods of a much later era.
The long rifle was a by-product of the settling of the southeast corner of Pennsylvania. When William Penn began sending settlers up the rivers, which came together at Philadelphia like fingers in a glove, he unwittingly set in motion a long-term cultural event. Each of the parties that traveled up into the wilderness used the rivers as their super highways to travel northward because the topography of the land worked against travel east and west. Long lines of parallel ridges made travel via rivers the natural decision. The rivers deposited these groups of settlers in a fan shaped pattern that started in the west near present day Lancaster on the Susquehanna and continued eastward in an arc until they reached the Easton/Nazareth area on the Delaware. This was to become the heart of the American arms industry until the industrial revolution of the early to mid- 1800's developed mass production in the Connecticut River valley and the government established armories at various locations throughout the young nation.
Thinking of Pennsylvania today, it's hard to imagine it at the beginning. Traveling up river for those first travelers must have seemed as if they were being sent to colonize the moon, it was so far removed from the civilization they had known in Europe. Many of the groups were German in origin, but all knew they were going to have to be totally self-sufficient. They couldn't run across town for a bolt or an axe head. They couldn't assume they would have any help in an emergency so, to guarantee their survival, their group had to be completely self-contained. Every skill thought to be needed in their new environment had to be part of the group. This included gunsmiths.
Those early gunsmiths, circa 1700-1725 brought with them the skills and thought patterns, which had been part of their training and practice in Europe. Their rifles, called jaegers (hunter), were stocky, short barreled weapons (30") usually of .60 caliber or larger and often were smooth bore. The butt stocks were thick and their general outline was purposeful but hardly graceful. They did, however, incorporate the German fetish for function and their flint ignition locks worked reliably.
As Jaegers wore out and were gradually replaced by locally produced rifles, the Pennsylvania environment began to have several effects. For one thing, knowing that they couldn't easily replace the powder and ball expended each time they pulled the trigger, accuracy became critical. Each time they pulled the trigger, they wanted to be bringing home a buck or a squirrel. Where the jaegers in Europe were primarily target shooting or hunting for sport, in the new land, shooting was a matter of survival.
Accuracy with any weapon is driven by many factors, but prime amongst those is the distance between the front and the rear sights. The longer the distance, the more finely the marksman can control where the lead ball will go. This begs for a longer barrel. The longer barrel gives yet another side benefit in that the ball spends more time captured in the barrel with the expanding gases pushing it faster and faster. There is a point of diminishing returns with this concept, obviously, as friction and expansion space become part of the equation. However, there was no way those early gunsmiths could measure the velocity of their bullets, so, as far as they were concerned, longer was better, when it came to velocity and accuracy. By the 1750's the length was continually being increased until the standard barrel was 42"-44" in length with four feet not being uncommon.
The original Jaeger barrels were good sizes chunks of iron, usually measuring at least1 1/8" across at the breech end. Make a barrel like that three and a half feet long and you have 12 to 14 pounds to lug around the woods. Not a lot of fun and not very practical. At some point beginning around 1760 someone figured out that a high speed, slightly smaller ball, killed just as easily as the huge, lumbering lumps of lead being thrown by the jaegers. In addition, the number of balls that could be cast from a pound of lead jumped astronomically. A pound of lead will yield only 17 .64 caliber balls while over 37 .50 caliber balls can be cast and 51 each of .45 caliber. Also, the woodsman was just as likely to be killing squirrels as bucks, so a smaller caliber wouldn't mangle the smaller game as much. If they were going after bigger game with the smaller ball, they just poured more powder down the barrel to push the ball faster. This gave rise to a general trend that for the next 50-75 years would see the caliber decrease gradually to the point that .40-.50 caliber would be common by the turn of the century. This also meant the barrels could be slimmer and, therefore, lighter. As the long rifle spread into other regions of the country, including the south, and small game became the primary target, calibers worked down even further until .32 was common and .28 wasn't unknown. These were true "squirrel rifles."
Many jaegers had a curiously shaped octagonal barrel that carried over into the earlier forms of American long rifles. This barrel, termed "swamped," tapered from the breech towards the muzzle then, at approximately ten inches to a foot from the muzzle end, it would flair out again. The practical reason for this has never been fully explained, although it does shift the center of gravity of the barrel back closer to the shooter's hands giving the firearm much better balance. If, however, that's the reason, why flair it back out towards the muzzle? In all probability, it is a stylistic trend. At any rate, this type of barrel began to disappear by the 1790's and, by the turn of the century, was seldom seen, having been replaced by the much easier to manufacture straight octagonal b
Posted by Flint54 on Monday, June 13, 2005 (16:25:50) (14043 reads) [ Administration ]
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