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HuntingNut: Muzzle Loading

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  Blue Elk's Muzzleloader 101
Muzzle Loading(Blue Elk , has helped many fellow hunters. He published articles and tested muzzleloaders for many of the major manufacturers. He passed away 2 years ago, I believe of cancer. The following may be a long read, but it is a wealth of information concerning muzzleloaders.)

Muzzleloader 101
Written by Rich Dunkirk (Bluelk)

As I posted earlier here is the beginning of the Chapters on Muzzleloading. I hope I don't bore you.

Chapter 1: Getting Started

One of the things that I have noticed about the discussions I have read so far on this board concern the use of Pyrodex pellets vs. loose powder; accuracy problems; good quality rifles vs. bad quality; what is the best gun etc.. I think a lot of you are missing several major points about muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunting. Let's go through these 1 by 1 and discuss them.

#1. Anytime that you purchase a muzzleloader (ML) and are trying to get it to fire accurately, the only thing that you should be worried about when it comes to a powder is synthetic or real blackpowder (BP); not whether pellets are better than loose. The reason for this is that as little as 5 grains of powder can make a difference in how accurately you deliver the bullet to the target. You should work up a load that can consistently deliver the bullet to a 6" target under whatever potential conditions you might find while hunting. First decide on which bullet you are going to use. Due to state laws you may be restricted to patched roundballs; or you may be able to shoot conicals or saboted pistol bullets. When you select the bullet make sure you are selecting a bullet that the manufacturer consistently makes exactly the same all the time. There are an awful lot of bullets out there that are as inconsistent, from box to box, as anything you can imagine. On a regular basis I see as much as .004 to .005 difference in the outside diameter of the same brand of bullets from the same manufacturer! The best round ball ammo that I have found comes from Hornady. The best conicals I have found are from Precision, Black Belt, and Power Belt. The best sabots I have found are from MMP, who by the way, manufacture sabots under private label for many companies. Most of the pistol bullets that we use in the sabots are of pretty good quality. When you select a sabot bullet consider hom much mushrooming the bullet is going to do. If your kill zone shot is consistently into bone you might not want a bullet that mushrooms a lot. You want that bullet to shatter the bone on impact, not mushroom a huge amount. Remember that when a bullet mushrooms it is loosing velocity and penetration potential.

Now that you have selected the bullet that you want to use, it is time to select your propellant (powder). There are advantages to both synthetics and BP. The synthetics on the market right now today tend to be susceptable to moisture (with the exception of one), but also do not create as much residue (fouling), so are easier to clean. BP burns hotter, produces more muzzle velocity, grain for grain, when compared to synthetics, but does produce more fouling. It is also slightly more corrosive than synthetics. Decide which LOOSE powder you want to use. Run a patch or 2 down the barrel and make sure that you have all the moisture and/or oil out. With either a .45, .50, or .54 I recommend that you load your first 3 bullets with 75 grains of powder, set your target at the 25 yard line, use a 6" bullseye target, and load your weapon. Don't forget; powder first, then bullet!! This may sound silly, but more than once I have seen it done just the opposite. Select a firing position, either standing, sitting, kneeling, or prone. I would suggest that you select the position that you think you will be using when you hunt. This will probably be the standing or sitting position. Bring the rifle up to your shoulder and fit it in securely. Take a deep breath and let it out. Bring your rifle muzzle up so that you align your sights on the bullseye. Take another breath and let it half out. Slowly, while contacting the trigger with only the pad of first joint of your trigger finger, SQUEEZE the trigger. Do the absolute best that you can possibly do to hold the sights dead onto the bullseye. When the gun fires if you know in your "heart of hearts" that you did not buck, jerk, flinch, or wander off of the bullseye then lay your rifle down and observe where the strike of the bullet is in regards to the bullseye. If you feel that you could have bucked, jerked, flinched, or wandered off target then totally disregard where the bullet went; but if you know you did the best job holding your sight picture then consider that 1st shot as exactly where you aimed. Clean your rifle with a wet patch, and then dry it with another patch. Notice, that I did not say a wet solvent patch: just a wet patch! Repeat the same procedure as with the 1st shot until you have shot 3 rounds that you know you could not have done a better job of holding your sight picture. If you have any shots that you feel you could have done better with TOTALLY DISREGARD those shots. You may have to go through 5 or 6 shots before you know for sure that you have done your best on 3 rounds. If you have done this you should have 3 holes in a fairly consistent pattern on the target. If they are not in the bullseye, which is very likely, don't be concerned, AND DON'T CHANGE YOUR SIGHTS! You are not trying to hit the bullseye right now. All that you are trying to determine is whether the rifle shoots straight. Believe me, there are many rifles out there that don't. We will get into Chapter 2 on a later post. Thanks.

Chapter 2: Zeroing your rifle

Ok, now you have 3 holes in the target and all of them are in approximately the same area. Clean your rifle again, and make sure it is dry. Select 3 more bullets, but this time increase your powder charge by 5 grains. You should have 80 grains. Go through the same routine of holding a good sight picture, clean between each shot, and disregard any "flyers", or shots that go astray. You may, or may not, see this group of shots in a different location than the 1st group of 3 good shots that you made. Keep working up in 5 grain increments until you have a 3 shot group as close to the bullseye as possible without moving your sights. If you are shooting real heavy bullets you may want to start out at 90 grains of powder instead of 75.

If you are shooting through a chronograph you will want to record your bullet speeds for each 5 grain increase. If you see your bullet speed drop off then I would go BACK to my previous load. Don't forget that what you are trying to achieve is the fastest most accurate powder/bullet combination.

Now it becomes decision time. This is where you have to be absolutely honest with yourself. If you are counting holes that are in the target that were the absolute best that you could do, then you have to make a decision. That decision is this: if the holes are not in the bullseye then you have to decide how you want to put them there. There are 2 methods: 1 is to increase your powder load by another 5 grains, or move your sights. If you have been totally honest with yourself I would first try another 5 grains of powder, particularly if with your last increase of 5 grains your bullet strikes got closer to the bullseye. If they got further away from the bullseye I would move my sights. Don't forget: MOVE THE REAR SIGHT THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION FROM WHERE YOU WANT THE BULLET TO HIT. IF YOU wanT TO MOVE THE STRIKE OF THE BULLET TO THE RIGHT, MOVE YOUR REAR SIGHT TO THE LEFT. DO JUST THE OPPOSITE IF YOU WANT TO MOVE THE STRIKE OF THE BULLET TO THE LEFT. Now it is time to experiment. Take 3 more bullets and go through the same routine. Clean after every shot; hold your sight picture as tight as possible; and disregard the "flyers".

Now, how much do you move your sights? Look at the instruction booklet that came with your rifle, or scope, and it will tell you how much each mark, or click, moves the strike of the bullet at what distance. If 1 click, or mark, moves the bullet 1" at 100 yards, then you should factor that in for the distance that you are shooting. Make sure you understand the formula before you move the sights and then act accordingly. It is only through this tedious, time consuming, trial and error method that you will consistently place your bullets in a 6" circle at 100 yards. If you can get them closer, then by all means absolutely do so. If I can't get 3 rounds in a 3" circle at 100 yards something is wrong.

Now this is what makes ML fun. Factors that can influence how your powder and bullet perform are not limited to you and your ability. The ambient temperature is a factor (bullets move around more when it is hot), heat of your barrel (don't get it too hot. That is why I said to lay your rifle down and clean it between shots), and obviously wind is a big factor. Don't try to zero in a rifle on a real windy day unless that is the norm for your area. Try to zero in early in the morning, or early evening. The winds tends to not blow as hard at these times.

THE ONLY THING YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH DURING THIS ZEROING IN PROCESS IS TO GET THE GUN TO SHOOT WHERE YOU POINT IT! This is the only way you are going to get confidence in your weapon, and yourself, and know just exactly what factors influence the strike of the bullet. As much as humanly possible you want to eliminate all of the variables except for the human ones. One thing to keep in mind is this: EVERY MUZZLELOADER MADE SHOOTS DIFFERENTLY THAN EVERY OTHER ONE. You can take 2 identical guns, same barrel, same stock, same sights, same bullet, same amount and type of powder, same weather conditions AND THEY WILL SHOOT DIFFERENTLY. No two (2) muzzleloaders are alike. "DO NOT TAKE YOUR BUDDIES SETTINGS AND MAKE THEM YOURS." Sight in YOUR rifle. The one thing that most folks forget is that even though the rifles and conditions might be the same, there is 1 huge difference, and that is the fact that there are 2 different people standing behind 2 different rifles! No two (2) people have the same eyesight factors, nerve factors, or physical build. These are all factors that enter into what powder to use, what bullet to use, and what kind of sight to use. What works for 1 rifle probably will not work for another one. It might be close, but this ain't horseshoes. You don't wear your buddies underwear, at least I don't think you do, so don't use his settings for your rifle!

Chapter 3: Working up your hunting load

-OK, now you should have 6 holes in your target that represent the very best that you could do. If not, keep working on it, and do yourself a favor and don't stop until you have a good tight group of 3 shots. Lay your rifle down and go out to the target. Paste up all of your holes. I personally don't like to use bright colored pasties because they tend to draw my eye. I use natural colored ones, or masking tape. Move your target out to 100 yards. Clean your rifle and dry the barrel with several patches. What we are going to do now is fine tune your setup.
You are going to work up a load for the species that you are going to hunt. A heavy load for elk, a lighter load for whitetail/blacktail, a load for black bear, and a load for grizzly/brown bear.

One thing to remember: there is no substitute for accurate shot placement. You can have the biggest bullet, 200 grains of powder, but with lousy shot placement all you are going to do is wound the animal and make it suffer. So what we are doing right now is making that gun shoot where you point it.

The very best piece of equipment that you can use during the process of sighting in, and working up a load, is a chronograph. A chrony is an electronic device that you set about 1-1/2 to 2 feet in front of the muzzle of your rifle while you are sighting in. It measures the speed of the bullet while the bullet travels through the "traps" of the chrony. It does not technically measure the muzzle velocity because muzzle velocity is measured directly at the muzzle. Because of the gap between the muzzle and the chrony what you are technically measuring is the speed of the bullet.

Let's talk about velocity for a minute. Most centerfire (CF) rifles shoot their bullets in the range of 2800-3500 feet per second (fps), while the fastest that I have ever seen a muzzleloader (ML) bullet travel is about 2400 fps. Normally, though, a ML bullet is traveling in the range of 1500-1800 fps. Because a CF bullet travels so fast it creates an aerodynamic shock wave immediately in front of the bullet. As the bullet just begins to penetrate the skin of the animal the shockwave is the first thing that enters the animal. The shockwave produces tremendous trauma to tissue and that coupled with the mass and velocity of the bullet is what does all the damage. On the other hand, a ML bullet, because it is traveling at a much slower speed does not have the shock wave. As it penetrates the hide it very rapidly accumulates tissue and pushes that forward into the animal. There is an exponential increase in the amount of tissue accumulated the further it travels through the animal. This is called the "wound channel". The accumulation of tissue combined with the "shrapneling" effect of any bone that is hit is what does all the damage. The weight and mass of the ML bullet are a critical part of how large the wound channel is. The largest wound channels I have ever seen have been produced by Black Belt, Power Belt, and Precision bullets. I have seen them regularly produce wound channels in excess of 8" across! Saboted pistol rounds produce a good wound channel, but in my experience it is not as large as that produced by a solid lead conical. Research done by by 2 of the "card carrying" experts on ML bullets and their effects, Al Marion and Alan Shenogle, indicate the tremendous effects of these solid lead bullets. All of this technology is for naught, though, if you do not produce the wound channel in the kill zone. Don't forget: the kill zone on a deer is 6" at 100 yards, and for an elk is 12" at 100 yards. To emphasize what I am saying cut out both a 6" and a 12" circle of cardboard, paint it a bright color, and take it 100 yards away and take a look at it. That is your kill zone!

What you now have to do is put together a load that moves your bullet at the fastest speed possible and still be in the bullseye, or wherever you are aiming at i.e., 1" above the bullseye etc. This is why you have been adjusting your powder charge in order to move your bullet as close to the bullseye as possible before moving your sights. Once you have achieved the fastest speed possible with the bullet/powder charge combination you can now move your sights to bring yourself dead on. You should not have to move your sights very much, if at all. Chapter 4 later.

Chapter 4: Why I don’t like Pyrodex Pellets

One of the really great things about muzzleloader (ML) hunting, that I like, is that I can custom tailor a load that exactly fits my situation and rifle. Unlike in centerfire (CF), where some pencilneck is sitting at a desk and making the decision as to what weight of bullet, what configuration of bullet, what kind of powder, what amount of powder, and what type of bullet is best for me in my situation when he knows nothing of my situation. With ML I can choose every ingredient that makes my situation work. All that bullet manufacturers in CF do is reach a compromise. What we do in muzzleloading is tailor each component to our individual situation and firearm. I want to be able to know in my mind that I have put together a combination that is going to give me the results that I want, and if I don't get those results I want it to be as a result of something I did, not something that some obscure individual sitting somewhere at his desk has done. That is why, so far in this converstion, I have said to decide what bullet you want to use, and what powder you want to use, and then adapt both to YOUR situation. Let's talk about powder. I know what I am going to say is maybe not going to sit right with some of you, but let's let the chips fall where they may. My purpose, as moderator, is not only to help solve problems, but in some way help make more folks better hunters. This means respecting and treating the resource (animals) with respect and not make them suffer anymore than absolutely necessary. By swiftly and effectively downing an animal with as accurate a shot as possible we have fulfilled that objective. Being a moderator also means that you explore all possibilities, and listen to input from everybody. A moderator is more like a marriage counselor, than a preacher.

I have never seen a ML or CF rifle where the trajector of the bullet was not greatly affected by 30 or 50 grains of powder. The amount of powder, and type, have tremendous effect on the path of the bullet, so consequently, on the accuracy of your shot. Let's put it right up front. I DO NOT LIKE THE IDEA OF PELLETS. WHETHER THEY ARE 30 GRAIN, OR 50 GRAIN, AS THE ONLY INCREMENTS OF POWDER THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO ME WHEN I TRY TO SIGHT IN A RIFLE OR PISTOL. If you have been having problems with accuracy, or you want to increase the speed of your bullet, and the only choice that you have is to increase, or decrease, by 30 or 50 grains, you are being seriously mislead. You have now subjegated yourself to the same position as a CF hunter. You have become a slave to the ballistics, and lack of accuracy, that 30 or 50 grain increments of powder provide! You are letting somebody at that obscure desk somewhere tell you that you can get the results you want by adjusting your powder load in those increments. IT ONLY WORKS IN A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF CASES. I hate to say this, but they have made a lot of new hunters feel like they can just throw a couple of pellets down the barrel and they are good to go! What is the biggest reason you use pellets? Usually it is because you are lead to believe that they are easy to load and control. You have forsaken assembling the best load that you can that will treat you and they animal in the best way possible. You have gotten frustrated because you aren't really getting the accuracy that you want or need. All of us are guilty of rationalizing poor shots. When we do this we start using "Kentucky windage" far too much, or start moving our sights all over the place and end up with a worse situation than we started out with. I know as sure as God made little green apples, that some of you are going to come back and say I'm all wet; but if you are honestly getting the accuracy that you want under all circumstances by increasing or decreasing your load in 30 or 50 grain increments then you are the very rare exception to the masses. You could be cheating yourself out of one of the real pleasures involved in ML's. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In only shoot .54's. Why? Because by adjusting my bullet weight, type, and powder charge I can hunt anything from a 1,500 lb. grizzly to a 75 pound javelina. Show me 1 centerfire rifle that can do that. Better still, show me 1 person shooting pellets that can adjust his or her load as finitely. Don't let the ease of pellets override the necessity of taking the time to work up the absolutely best load you can by increasing or decreasing your powder charge in 5 grain increments. If the only option you have, when sighting in, is to increase or decrease your powder charge by 30 or 50 grains then, saidly to say, you are a shooter who is hoping like the devil to hit the kill zone when the gun goes off, rather than being a hunter who know exactly where that bullet is going to hit. If you take the time to work up a load with loose powder, and continue to use it when you hunt, then you don't have to guess where the bullet went when you squeezed the trigger.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you sighted in your rifle with the bullet and powder charge you wanted, and you used loose powder to do so. By some fluke it works out that 100 grains, or 150 grains, or 60 grains, or 80 grains, or 180 grains, or 200 grains, or 130 grains of Pyrodex were just exactly what gave you the tightest 3" group at 100 yards at the fastest bullet speed possible. Then, by all means use the pellets if you can remember to get them down the barrel in the right direction, and in the right combination, when you are moving as fast as possible to get off your second shot without taking your eyes off of the animal! If you start out using pellets and wonder why you can't get that 3" group, I think I have told you what might be part of the problem. My personal experience, and that is all I talking about here, is to put the charge that worked best for me into a quick loader, a hollowed out piece of antler, a piece of plastic tubing, or an old 35mm film container and pour that down the barrel.

To illustrate the subject a little more. The only thing I will ever post on this page is what MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE has been, not someone elses. I have all 7 of my rifles sighted in to where I can get a 3" group, or smaller, at 100 yards. When these pellets came out I wanted to see what the effect would be by changing my loads in 30 or 50 grain increments. I took all 7 guns to the range, and shot pellets through all of them. Every shot was a minimum of 4 inches away from there the gun normally shoots. With one of my percussions the bullets were in the 7 ring! Nuff said. Chapter 5 later on.

Chapter 5: Selecting your rifle

-If you are thinking about getting into muzzleloading (ML) there are quite a few factors that you need to take into consideration:

1. Do you hunt anything bigger than a whitetail or a black bear?
2. How much does the cleaning aspect bother you?
3. How much recoil can you tolerate?
4. How much time are you willing to devote to learning a new shooting sport?
5. How much money can you afford to invest in this new sport?
6. What is the general weather in your area during hunting season?

If you hunt nothing larger than a whitetail or black bear then IN THEORY you need nothing larger than a .50 caliber. I prefer to use a .54 because I can use lighter loads for smaller animals and heavier loads for bigger animals. Every gun on the market can only be loaded with a certain amount of powder before you get into a real dangerous situation, and before the Law of Diminishing Return sets in. So make that decision.

If the cleaning issue is a major factor and you really don't want to have the hassle more than absolutely necessary, then I would shoot loose Pyrodex, or Goex Clear Shot, and buy a stainless steel barrel. The stainless barrels don't rust the way blued ones do, and will tolerate a bad cleaning job better than blued. Inlines are the easiest to clean because you can remove the breech plug. Percussion are the next easiest to clean, and flintlocks are the hardest to clean.

If you have a sensitive shoulder, or some arthritis in your shoulder, then I would stick with a .50 caliber or even entertain a .45 caliber. Also in this respect, look for a gun that has a little weight to it. Heavier guns do not transmit the recoil to your shoulder as much as lighter weight guns do. They are obviously a little harder to carry around all day, but solve the problem by putting a sling on the gun. Also, as you work up a load the recoil will increase. Look for a gun where the receiver group (breech area) is firmly seated low in the stock. Look for a gun that when fired transmits the recoil as much as possilbe in a straight line to the stock. If the stock drops down immediately behind the receiver group then that rifle will transmit more recoil to your shoulder.

Learning how to properly use your muzzleloader will take a definite time commitment on your part. I believe that it is vitally important to learn as much about your gun as you possibly can BEFORE you ever stuff powder and bullet down the barrel. Go to the library and see if they have any books, stay tuned to this website and read the Muzzleloading 101 Chapters that I am posting, talk to someone who is KNOWLEDGEABLE about the sport, but don't get hung up on the technical aspects because there is more MISINFORMATION floating around about muzzleloading than with any other shooting sport!! Subscribe to, or buy on racks, any magazines that you can that talk about basics. This sport is just like any other; you have to get the basics down first, and then constantly go back to those basics if you have a problem. If there are any muzzleloading organizations in your area go to one of their meetings and see if you can pick up any pointers.

Now for the critical stuff. The general rule that I tell everyone is to buy the absolutely best rifle you can afford. In this business, more than in centerfire, you get exactly what you pay for. Low prices, low quality. Low quality, big problems. The main ingredient with any rifle in regards to quality is the barrel. Some rifles have die cut lands and grooves, some have laser cut, and some have forged. I prefer laser cut and forged. Any rifle with a Green Mountain barrel has laser cuts. Remington forges theirs. Die cut lands and grooves have "chatter" marks in the barrel and can sometimes be very difficult to remove and will have a negative affect on accuracy. I am going to do a Chapter on this problem and it will help you solve that problem if you do end up buying a rifle that has the rifling die cut. When you go to the store to buy your rifle take a couple of cotton balls with you. If you have a bore scope or light also take that with you. A small mirror will work if you don't have the scope or light. When you narrow down your choices, before you buy it, take the ramrod and run the cotton balls down the bore. Make sure there is a tight fit. Look in the bore with the scope, light, or shine light down it with the mirror and look for cotton fibers stuck inside the bore. If you find a gun with no fibers stuck in the bore, buy it! It will save you innumerable problems later on. I would buy a gun with a synthetic stock. It solves a lot of problems the least of which is scratching. Don't forget: you are going to have to buy some accessories; caps, flints, powder, patches, bore swabs, bore brushes, solvent, etc. that pull this whole thing together. Plan on spending somewhere around $60.00 on top of the cost of the gun.

If the weather around your place is really moist then I would lean toward an inline. It is much easier to keep your "powder and nipple area" dry with one of them. With normal amounts of rain, snow, and humidity you can get by just fine with a percussion (side hammer, cap and ball, whatever you want to call it). Flintlocks are the most difficult to deal with in a moisture situation, but if you are willing to deal with the problems, or your state laws dictate that you have to use a flintlock then you have no choice.

On the subject of barrel twist. If you are going to shoot patch round balls then a 1:66 twist is what you should use. If you are going to shoot ONLY conicals, and are going to buy a percussion, then a twist in the area of 1:45 to 1:48 will be fine. Most all of the inlines have a barrel twist in the area of 1:24 to 1:32. You can shoot the PowerBelt and BlackBelt bullets, sabots, and conicals in these and get real good results. Remember that all the twist does is produce more or less spin on the projectile. 1:66 produces less spin that a 1:48, and a lot less than a 1:28. You can produce too much spin on a projectile. As an example, even though you can TECHNICALLY get a patched roundball down the bore of a 1:28 rifle you will have very poor accuracy because you have put too much spin on the ball. Round balls are not what is known as being aerodynamically sound.

Chapter 6: Lapping your barrel

In these Chapters we have gotten to the point where you have gotten your rifle to shoot where you point it. What we will now do is modify the barrel so that hopefully your accuracy increases and your bullet will travel faster down the bore. What we are going to do is "lap" the barrel. This is a major undertaking so get the following items rounded up before you start: 2 new brass bore brushes, a hand full of patches (I cut mine from an old t-shirt and wash them when they get dirty), 2 or 3 bore swabs, a small can of automotive valve lapping compound (fine), bore solvent, a few cotton balls, and some teflon based lube. Make sure it is teflon based. Also, a little liquid refreshment for you helps.

If you have a vice take the barrel out of the rifle. If you don't have a vice leave the barrel in the rifle, but get a buddy, wife, or teenager to help hole the rifle. If you have a vice, open it and pad the jaws with about an inch or so of rags to cushion the barrel so that you don't scratch it. Close the vice tight enough to hold the barrel still. If you don't have a vice put a human on the butt end of the rifle and tell them to hold it tight. Put a bore brush on your ramrod, wrap it with a patch or two, and apply a liberal amount of lapping compound all around the perimeter of the brush. What you are going to do is run that brush/patch combination down the barrel and remove any manufacturing burrs or chatter marks from the edges and tops of the lands, and remove any high spots. If you want to see how bad the situation is before you start, put a couple cotton balls on a worm jag and run it through the bore. Make sure they're tight against the bore. Look down the bore and see how many cotton fibers are stuck in there. Even if you don't see any you still want to lap the barrel for reason that will become obvious.

Push the ramrod down the barrel and pull it out. THAT IS 1 STROKE. If you had any amount of cotton fibers stick in the barrel you are going to do 100 strokes. If you did not have ANY stick to the barrel you are going to do 50 strokes. After every 10 or 15 strokes change the patch and apply more lapping compound. After you have completed the required number of strokes clean the barrel THOROUGHLY with a bore brush because you will have lapping compound in the grooves. Put some solvent on a bore swab and clean the barrel with the same number of strokes as you lapped with. Use lots of solvent. After you have cleaned it run another cotton ball down the bore. Do you see any fibers? If you do, repeat the lapping process for another 50 strokes. Clean it again and run another cotton ball down the barrel. If you see any fibers repeat the lapping process for another 25 strokes. Okay, now you should be able to run a cotton ball down the barrel without having any fibers stick, and when you look down the barrel it should be super shiny. Make sure the barrel is as clean as is humanly possible.

A mistake that some people make is to mount their ramrod in a drill motor and spin the ramrod down the barrel. DON'T DO THIS or you will round off the edges of the lands and you will lose your gas check on the bullets. Just let the bore brush/patch combination rotate normally as you run it down the barrel. Change out the bore brush for a BORE SWAB and saturate the swab with the teflon lube. Saturate the swab. If you had the barrel in a vice take it out, and if you did not have a vice remove the barrel from the stock. Lay the barrel horizontally across a bucket or clean garbage can. Heat up a large pan of water almost to the boiling point. Pour the water over the entire length of the barrel and get it hot from end to end. While the barrel is still hot saturate the inside of the barrel with the teflon based lube. As the barrel cools it will suck the lube into the pores of the steel and seal it in. The more lube you use the better. During the cooling process rotate the barrel several times to make sure the teflon based lube isn't pooling up in just one area. LET THE BARREL COOL COMPLETELY. Take a clean bore swab and clean the excess lube out of the barrel after it has cooled. Grab some sunglasses and look down the barrel!

What you have just done is what every professional target shooter does to his rifles. You have increased the speed of your bullet anywhere from 100 to 200 feet per second, and potentially made the rifle more accurate. How have you made it more accurate? Remember one of the basics of ballistics. The explosion of the powder behind the bullet produces gas which pushes the bullet out of the barrel. The more gas you can retain behind the bullet the faster the bullet travels. The faster the bullet travels, in combination with the twist of the barrel, the more accurate you rifle is. All of those chatter marks, burrs, and high spots cut into the obflugated (expanded) base of the bullet, patch, or sabot and allowed gas to escape around the bullet while it was traveling down the barrel. The major reason for the increased speed is that you have also severly reduced the coefficient of friction.

After the barrel has cooled completely, run a patch down the barrel with a light coat of oil, reassemble the rifle and have some liquid refreshment. I have found that barley pop tastes real good right about now. Once a year repeat the teflon based lubrication process; more often that that if you shoot a lot.
I also like to apply some of the teflon based lube to the exterior.

Chapter 7: CAMO and Scent Control

This is a little deviation from the basic "how to" chapters that have been posted so far, but is a integral part of the muzzleloading experience. Particularly for the new folks who are coming over from centerfire hunting. The hunting techniques used by archers are the very same techniques that ML hunters should use, and this chapter addresses some of these.

What I would like to disucss in this Chapter is something that a lot of people do not pay much attention to, and that is "camoing in", and "scent control." It seems like every hunting show on TV talks about a big concern with which directcion the wind is blowng. What I am going to do is put forth a method of scent control that I have used for years, and I never have to worry about where the wind is coming from. Instead of doing all of what we are going to discuss, if you have a couple of hundred bucks laying around and you want to spend it, go out and by some of that Scent Blocker stuff.

Before we start you are going to have to get some things rounded up: 2 pairs of those real cheap vinyl gloves, (or 1 pair of rubber gloves), Scent elimination laundry soap, Scent elimination spray, enough new large trash bags to hold all of your camo, and some metal or plastic clothes hangers. The first thing you are going to do is wash all of your camo gear in the wash machine, but before you do you have to get all of the perfumes out of the machine that have been put in there by your wife's laundry detergent. Fill up the machine with clear hot water and add about 1/2 cup of the scent elimination laundry soap. Let it run the longest cycle that you can, but don't put any clothes in the machine. You are just flushing it out. After it shuts off and drains, load in some camo. Wash the camo with the scent elimination soap. When the load is finished, put on a pair of the vinyl gloves. Take each piece of camo out and hang it on a metal/plastic hanger. Don't use wood because it absorbs odors. Be very careful to not touch any of the camo with your arms or the clothes you are wearing. Hang that machine load outside to dry. Do this for ALL of your camo to include hats, gloves, scarfs, handkerchiefs, jackets, pants, shirts etc. When they are dry take them off the hangers and put them in a new large plastic trash bag. If you have some pine needles, or anything that is going to be in the area where you are going to hunt, put that in the bag(s) along with your camo. Those Earth Scent wafers also seem to work just fine. Don't put anything in the bag that isn't in the area where you are going to hunt, like apples. The animals won't know what the smell is, and may very likely shy away from it. Twist tie the bag real tight and store it someplace where there aren't too many odors. One thing a lot of people don't realize is that plastic breathes, so be kind of careful of where you put the bags. I hang mine in the tack room. When you leave to go hunting don't wear your camo to your site. Change clothes when you get there. Remember, you now have scent free clothes with maybe a little pine scent. Don't forget that the inside of your vehicle has odors that can transfer to your clothes. Everything that man uses is disgusting to animals such as deer, and particularly elk because they have a better nose. Tobacco, chew, snuff, breath mints, coffee, gasoline, diesel fuel, vehicle exhaust, and MOST OF ALL campfire smoke. If you think that you might have gotten some human odors on your camo lightly spray a little of the scent elimination stuff on you. Particularly around the crotch area and under your arms.

One of the things that I do religiously is to wash all of the socks and underwear that I am going to wear in the scent elimination soap. You might as well stop the odor at the source. I also use scent free deodorant, body soap, and shampoo. I wash up, take off my camo, and put on street clothes every time I come back to camp. I never have a campfire until I've got meat hangin'. By the way, I wash up just before I put my cammies back on so that I get rid of camp smells like bacon, sausage etc.. A lot of the archery hunters I know quit eating meat about a month or so before archery season. It is a fact that meat is the largest contributor to body odor.

Don't forget your gloves and face net.
Now on a subject near and dear to all of us, and that is camo. I hunt deer, elk, javelina, and antelope with the same amount of camo that I use when I am turkey hunting. Mix and match your camo. Try to wear a dark pattern for your trousers and a tree/leaf pattern for your shirt or jacket. I like to use TimberGhost and that new camo out of Montana called PrairieGhost. Take a look at the patterns and colors in nature. It is a hodge-podge of colors and patterns. Try to emulate that same thing. It is not necessary to duplicate every tree and bush that you see, but to blend in. Human skin shines. Nothing in nature shines except the surface of water. If you have shiny furniture on your rifle use something to make it dull. Make darn sure that the sun doesn't flash off of it. There is a product put out by Birchwood Casey called "Brass Black" that is absolutely super. Some of you old military guys will remember it is "M-nu."

If you think that scent control the way I described it is "voodoo," I have a picture of a buddy of mine who practices scent control the same way I do sitting on a stump with a herd of 11 cow elk totally surrounding him. Several of them are within arms length, and they don't even know he was there!!

I know that it sounds like a royal pain in the backside, but the advantages far outweight the disadvantages, particularly when you are setting in camp and looking at the deer or elk hanging in the tree. SCENT CONTROL WORKS. Give it a try and you will never have to worry about wind direction again.

Another thing to not overlook is ultraviolet. Deer and elk can perceive ultraviolet much much better than we can, and you get ultraviolet in your camo from the dyes that the manufacturers use in order to make the colors look more vibrant. You also ge it from your wife's regular laundry detergents. Buy some ultra violet elimination spray. It is in the same place as the scent elimination soap and spray in the sporting good store. I spray it on my clothes before I pack them into the trash bags. Be sure it is dry before you pack your clothes away.

Chapter 8: Sabots

-From reading all of the posts on this site, and from questions that I get at seminars all the time, thre is a lot of confusion about what sabot/bullet combination is best in what rifle, and in what specific situation. Let's try to take some of the mystery out of this. Several steps have to be taken, by you, to determine the answer, but below I will give you the things that you have to do to arrive at the answer.

#1: As you have read in some of my other posts, before you decide which is best for you, the first thing that you must do is determine exactly what the inside diameter of your barrel is. Just because the manufacturer says that your rifle is a .45, .50, .54, or .58 DOES NOT MEAN A THING. Get 4 people together with their rifles, make sure all the rifles are by the same manufacturer, make sure they are all the same advertised caliber, measure the inside diameter, and I will guarantee you that you will have 4 different inside diameters! This is exactly the reason why I insist that you not use the combination that somebody else tells you will work, unless his/her rifle has exactly the same inside bore diameter as your rifle,. If you don't have a small inside caliper go to either a machine shop or gunsmith and have the bore measured. You want two measurements: the diameter between the top of the lands (called bore diameter), and the diameter between the bottom of the grooves (called groove diameter). Both will be expressed as a decimal.

#2: Once you have the the two dimensions you are ready to choose your sabot/bullet combination. The measurement that you are going to work with is the "groove diameter." For the sake of argument let's say your groove diameter is .455; then the sabot/bullet combination, once put together, cannot have a total outside diameter of more than .455! Also, take this into account: when you load your first round the barrel is clean, but when you load the second round the barrel is fouled. If you are using a sabot/bullet combination that measures exactly .455 in diameter and you are loading your second shot, you are going to have to darn near get a hammer and pound it down the bore! I always make sure that my sabot/bullet combination is at least.001 LESS than my actual groove diameter so that the 2nd shot is easier to load. If you notice, I did not say EASY, I said EASIER.

#3: To get the accurate outside diameter of your sabot/bullet combination insert the bullet in the sabot. You will notice that the bullet does not go all the way to the bottom of the sabot. Below the bullet there is about 3/16 of an inch of plastic that has a small cup in the bottom of it. This is called the gas check. When the powder ignites, the heat and pressure of the explosion causes the walls of this "cup" to obfugate (expand) and seal against the inside walls of your bore and against the bottom of the grooves. When you measure your sabot/bullet combination DO NOT measure the solid plastic at the bottom of the sabot. Measure the outside diameter where the bottom of the bullet stops in the sabot with the bullet inserted. This is your maximum width (diameter). If your bullet causes the sabot "ears" to expand then your bullet is too large for the sabot. You either have to get a bullet with a smaller diameter, or a sabot with a larger diameter. Whichever you have to do, the combination cannot exceed the groove diameter of your rifle - MINUS .001 inches!

#4: Go over to the website: and pay real close attention to the sabot/bullet combinations that they have posted there. They show you all of the sabot/bullet combinations, AND WHICH COLOR SABOT AND BULLET DIAMETER TO USE. Color of the sabot is very important. Don't try to mix and match or you will have loading problems other than those that are inherant with a sabot.

#5: In my humble opinion you can save yourself a lot of hassles if you don't shoot sabots, but switch over to the CVA PowerBelt or BlackBelt bullets. I field tested these several years ago, fell in love with theM, and haven't shot a sabot since. The biggest reason I converted over was because the belted bullets are so much easier to load on that second shot. Now with the introduction of Goex Clear Shot they are even easier to load.

#6: In my opinion the best sabots on the market are made by those at MMP. The last time I checked they were $7.25 for a bag of 50. A really nice guy by the name of Del Ramsey is the owner, and he is more than glad to help you with any sizing problems that you might have as long as you buy some sabots. Tell him that I said to call. He's a great guy.

#7: If you have any questions post them on the board and I will help get an answer. I hope that this has taken some of the mystery out of sabots.

Chapter 9: Moisture Control

After we go through the process of getting together all of the accessories, i.e., short starter, patches, bullets, powder, solvents, oil, etc., sighting in our rifles so that they shoot where we point them, lapping the barrels, and in general getting comfortable with our rifle, the next thing that we encounter and have to solve is moisture control. This one element has ruined more shots, hunting trips, and trips to the range than any other thing. Moisture control really begins before you ever leave the house, and continues throughout the entire time you are in camp, your vehicle, at the range, or while actually hunting. All of us know, and hopefully practice, leaving our rifles oiled or greased down while in storage at home. Wise practice, just don't overdo it. A light coat of oil, or grease, is all that is needed. For you folks in high humidity areas it is good to check your rifles every 30 days or so, and redo if necessary. Just don't get carried away. One of the things that helps with moisture control at home is a gun cabinet or safe. In my gun cabinet I have 2 containers of SILICATE granules that soak up humidity. Mine are the type that when they change color I put them in the oven and dry them out, and then reuse them. I recommend them highly.

The first step to moisture control when you are going shooting is to remember that moisture is not just water or humidity. It also is oil and grease. Look at it as anything that will prevent your powder from burning once it receives ignition (spark).

Keep you powder containers tightly closed, and stored in a dry, dark space.

During the process of setting up your camp, or if you are not setting up camp, just before you load your rifle for the first time, THOROUGHLY dry the barrel with several patches. Don't rely on just 1 patch. The old saying comes in to play here and that is: "better safe than sorry". If you are in an area where you won't spook the game it is a good practice to pop a few caps and make sure that your ignition channel is open.

Check and make sure that your powder measure is dry. If not dry it. In the driest place possible load your measure and pour the powder down the barrel. Load your bullet. If there is any, and I mean any, sign that it might rain or snow you MUST take preventive measures to keep that powder dry. I ALWAYS put a "Muzzle Mitt" or condom over the end of my muzzle if I even think it might rain or snow. Also, don't forget that if there is moisture on the tree/brush branches it could drop down your barrel, or get into your lock or nipple area. You can buy "Muzzle Mitts" from Norm's Hunting Help, P. O. Box 206, Flint, TX 75762, (903) 839-3558.

Now for a flintlock: If there is moisture I normally don't load my pan with FFFF until I know there is game in the immediate area. Make sure you pan is dry before you do. Also check the touch-hole and make sure it is open with no obstructions. Don't forget that if you prime your pan and walk around with your pan loaded before you shoot you should roll your rifle a little so that the powder is laying up against the touch-hole. You can seal the "seam" where the frizzen closes against the pan a couple of ways. You can close the frizzen, light a candle, and let wax drip on the seam and seal it. Don't forget to let some drip on the seam next to the lock face. You can do the same thing with grease and finger nail polish if you want to. The best thing that you can do is tie on a "cow's knee". You have read threads posted by steve00 and myself about these. THEY WORK. I take a rectangular piece of lightweight canvas, make any modifications necessary to ensure that it fits tightly over the lock, and stock. Sew at string, or a piece of boot lacing, to each of the four corners. Make sure they are long enough to tie off under the stock. Soak the entire thing in linseed oil until it is thoroughly saturated. Hang it on the clothesline, or fence or a post until it is THOROUGHLY dry. Throw it in your possibles bag. When you get out, if it is raining, or you think it is going to rain/snow tie it on. Make sure that it is tight.

Now for a percussion (side hammer, cap and ball) or inline: Make sure that you are using the hottest nipple that you can buy. The best that I have found are the "Hot Shot" nipples. They have a sort of red anodized finish on them. Again, if you are in an area where you won't spook game pop a cap and make sure the firing channel is open. Put your cap on. I use only "Dynamit Nobel" caps. In my humble opinion they are the best on the market. Again moisture in the area. You can put the wax, grease, or finger nail polish around the edges of the cap where they contact the nipple. You can also use a "cow's knee" in this situation if you want. For inline users make sure your bolt is closed, but now touching the cap. When I hunt with my inline(s) and it is raining/snowing I carry it with the ejection port facing down towards the ground.

I would also like to recommend a product that you guys have seen me post before and that is the Gunbrella. They work. Hit their website at and you will see what I am talking about. You guys with scopes take a close look at that scope cover. IT WORKS. This past elk season my partner and I hunted in 7 straight days of snow, freezing rain, and rain and never had a misfire. 2 more elk in the freezer!!

Another thing to remember is that when you get in your vehicle to go to another area, or to go back to camp, and there is a temperature difference between the inside of your vehicle and the outside, the steel in your rifle is susceptible to "sweating". When I am moving I don't turn on my heater. If you are going to be in camp for a few days and haven't been successful the first day, leave your rifle in your vehicle. If you take it into your tent or cabin IT WILL SWEAT and your powder will get wet. One of the myths that I have heard for years is that you have to unload, or "fire out" your charge everyday. I have loaded my rifle(s) when I get to camp and have left them loaded for as much as 10 days and not had a misfire. Just remember to remove your FFFF from the pan, or take off your nipple. Here is where your cow's knee or gunbrella comes into play. After you remove your FFFF or cap tie on your cow's knee or close up your gunbrella and the nipple, pan area will stay dry.

Think about something for a minute. Do you think that all of the pioneers, trekkers, longhunters, and mountain men only hunted, or defended themselves, when the sun was shining and there was no humidity? The techniques that I have shown here were all developed by them. The only thing that is new in this discussion is the gunbrella. By the way, instead of condoms the pioneers used a piece of waxed paper, or a piece of intestine stuck to the muzzle.

Chapter 10: Accuracy

Have you ever noticed ever once in awhile that when you go out to shoot your rifle that for some strange reason it just isn't as accurate as it was the last time you shot it? Believe it or not, it might not be you! One of the things that I found out years ago was that when you sight in a rifle take a look at the Lot Number on the bottom of the container. If you have several cans, or bottles, of powder (Black or Pyrodex) you probably will notice different Lot Numbers. I have found that different Lot Numbers shoot differently. You might have used a different Lot Number and that is why you are not quite as accurate once in awhile. What I do is to make sure that I am using the same Lot Number for hunting that I used to sight the rifle in with. Now if you only have 1 can or bottle you don't have anything to worry about unless you ran out of powder while sighting in and when to the store and bought some more. Just a little tip to pay attention to.

One of the things that I have noticed here on the forum is how many of you guys use rifles that have brass furniture. By furniture I mean the metal parts. These are real prevalent on "Hawken" style guns, and those that are marketed as "Kentucky long rifles". Don't forget that when you hunt with them you are taking a chance that the sun will reflect off of them and you run the risk of spooking game. You might want to dull them somehow before you go hunting to make sure that doesn't happen. An old timer told me once that "the only thing in nature that reflects light is the surface of water" and that animals are very sensitive to reflected light. There are several things on the market that you can use, and after the season is over you can wash them off. One of the things that I have been using for the last couple of years on my rifles is one of these camo fabric covers. They really work, and all you have to do is take them off after you get back.

Chapter 11: Powder

I would like to expound a little on some of the factors that I covered in Chapter 10, as it relates to powder.

Through the years I have done a lot of testing with different powders and have formed an opinion in my own mind about how different powders react, and what is the effect on working up a hunting load. What I mean by a "hunting load" is this: any bullet traveling more than about 5 feet per second will punch a hole in paper at 100 yards, but will it penetrate the hide, flesh, and bone of the animal that I am hunting? The answer, obviously, is "no", so we have to work up a load that will do the damage that is necessary, so that we can humanely dispatch the animal.

As most of you who are regular visitors to this forum have figured out I work up hunting loads with a chronograph. The reason I do this is because I think it is the only way to determine just how effective any particular powder and bullet combination is. Granted, a chrony only measures the bullet speed a short distance from the muzzle of the gun, but it is a whole lot better than just guessing at how fast a bullet is traveling. I do not have the instrumentation to determine the speed of the bullet at 100 yards, nor am I a good enough mathemetician to figure it out, nor am I a good enough shot to get a bullet through the triangle framework of a chrony at 100 yards. I can shoot through the triangle at 50 yards, but again I am not smart enough to interpret the numbers that I get to a situation at 100 yards. Maybe some of you have been able to do this, or have a chart someplace that tells what happens to a particular bullet between 50 and 100 yards. If you do I would really like to see how to do it.

Now here is what I have found. When shooting 2f powder, for some reason, your bullet speed reaches a plateau of speed, that no matter how much more powder you safely put down the barrel, you do not get any more appreciable increase in the speed of the bullet. When shooting 3f powder I have found that you do not hit this plateau, and you can continue to increase the speed of the bullet with higher amounts of powder. The same thing holds true for Pyrodex and Pyrodex RS. From the tests that I have done Pyrodex RS produces the same increases in bullet speed as 3f blackpowder does. I have seen this same phenomenon with .45, .50, .54, and .58 caliber rifles. I have tested it in flinters, side hammers, and inlines. They all exhibit the same thing. As some of you know, Lyman puts out a pretty good book that explains a lot of this. At the sake of getting real technical, it relates to something called "lead pressure units". Do I understand it? NO. Do I believe it? YES. What it boils down to is the different "burn rates" between 3f and 2f.

What does all of this mean. What it means is that if you work up a load with 3f powder or Pyrodex RS, and for some reason you switch over to 2f or regular Pyrodex, you are going to have to sight in your rifle again. It also means that your bullet is probably not going to be traveling as fast, and this could have an effect on how effective your shots are going to be.

LISTEN CLOSE TO WHAT I AM GOING TO SAY: Just because you can get faster bullet speed with 3f or Pyrodex RS, it does not mean that you can pour a lot more powder down your barrel than what the manufacturer says is a safe amount. What it means is that you will get faster bullet speed with 3f than you will with 2f. IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU CAN LOAD MORE 3F OR PYRODEX RS DOWN THE BARREL THAN WHAT THE MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDS.

So, if you guys that are thinking about buying one of these "new magnum" .45's because of their greater bullet speed, you might think about changing from 2f to 3f, or Pyrodex to Pyrodex RS. That is, if you are using 2f or Pyrodex right now.

Please understand, that these are the results that I have found. It does not mean that this is gospel. You may get different results.

Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, June 28, 2005 (04:01:17) (21768 reads)
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  Building a Flintlock (High Quality)
Muzzle LoadingI 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


Budd Davisson
Exclusive for

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.

The Project

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.

The Kit

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.

The Tools

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 to get the address to join the National Muzzle Loading Association. Their magazine is full of suppliers.

The Steps

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

Getting Started:
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 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 1/16”
-straight 3/16”
-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.

Transfer medium
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 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.

Drilling holes
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

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.

Tang Discussions
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

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.

Cleaning up
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

Part Five:
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 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.

The Tip
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
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) (18511 reads)
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  Muzzle Loading Terms and definitions
Muzzle LoadingMuzzle Loader: A Firearm loaded with individual componants from the muzzle

Caliber: The diameter of the bore of a firearm, usually shown in hundredths or thousandths of an inch and expressed in writing or print in terms of a decimal fraction (example: .45 caliber)

Barrel Twist: The length in inches it takes for the riflings to make one complete revolution. Usually written as 1/48" meaning the riflings complete 1 full revolution in 48 inches of barrel

Round Ball: A round ball of lead

Patch: A piece of lubricated cloth used as a seal between a roundball and barrel wall

Conical: A projectile made of lead in the shape of a cone

Sabot: A lightweight carrier in which a projectile of a smaller caliber is centered so as to permit firing the projectile within a larger caliber weapon

Powder: Either Black Powder or a Black Powder substitute used to expel a projectile when ignited

Black Powder: A specially a prepared chemical substance, that explodes when ignited

Pyrodex: A Black Powder substitute. Can be used as a replacement for blackpowder. Amounts must be measured by volume, not weight

Smokeless Powder: A type of powder used in centerfire rifles. Smokeless powder generates too much pressure to be used in Black Powder rifles

Lube: A substance that reduces friction when applied as a surface coating to a projectile

BoreButter: A popular natural lubricant and protectant made by T/C

Hawkin: A popular 1830's style of muzzle loading rifles

Matchlock: A muzzle loader with a "fuse" type ignition used to ignite the powder

Flintlock: A muzzle loader with an ignition type using a flint within an external hammer to ignite the powder

Caplock: A muzzle loader with an ignition type using a cap secured on a nipple and struck by a hammer to ignite the powder

Inline: A muzzle loader with the hammer and nipple "in line" with the barrels bore

Nipple: A small regulated opening onto which a cap is placed to be struck by a hammer

Cap: A premanufactured device made of copper containing an explosive element.

Possibles Bag: A bag used to carry items used to reload and maintain a muzzle loader

Volume Measurer: A measurer used to measure powder amounts by volume

Speed Loader: A small container used to contain a premeasured amount of powder. Usually also contains a projectile to aid in quicker reloading

Ram Rod: A wood, fiberglass or metal rod used to push a projectile down the barrel of a muzzle loader

Short Starter: A short ramrod with a larger surface area used to initially start a projectile down a muzzle loaders barrel

Misfire: When a loaded muzzle loader doesn't fire after pulling the trigger and the hammer strikes the cap

Hangfire: When there is a noticable delay between when the cap fires and the powder is ignited. Can be upto several seconds of delay

Dryball: The act of running a projectile down a barrel, without first pouring down a powder charge

Fouling: The residue left over from the burning of the powder

Striping: The act of a projectile "skipping" over the riflings instead of being turned by the rifling. Most prevelant with roundballs.

Cleaning Jag: A brass attachment the diameter of the barrels bore, used to press patches tightly against the barrel wall when cleaning

Ball Puller: It is a round cylinder of brass the diameter of your bore. On one end it threads into your ramrod. On the other end it has coarse threaded screw sticking out. This screw is threaded into the ball and allows it to be pulled out with the ramrod.

Fouling Shot: A shot out of a clean barrel designed to purposely "foul" the barrel. Some roundball barrels are designed to work this way

Crown: The end of the barrel where the bullet exits from

Starting: The process of first pushing a projectile into the barrel

Nipple Pick: A small tool used to clean out the nipple area

Flash Hole: The small hole in the bottom of a nipple though which the fire from the cap travels to ignite the powder

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:30:28) (5794 reads)
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  How should I Clean and Store my Muzzle Loader?
Muzzle LoadingBlack Powder and Black Powder substitutes such as Pyrodex leave residue after they burn which is very corrosive. This residue will cause rust, pitting and etching of metal it is in contact with. The rate of corrosion is dependant on several factors such as local humidity and time. In the dry desert regions a "dirty" muzzle loader can be left for possibly a week with no sign of corrosion, in humid regions effect of corrosion happen at a much faster rate. I mention this only to give a relative time frame of how long to leave a weapon before cleaning it. Shooting it in the evening of a hunt and cleaning the next day should be ok, leaving it for a few days would depend on where you live but I recommend cleaning a black powder firearm within 24 hours of shooting regardless of where you live.

As there are many different kinds of muzzle loaders out there, consult your manufacturers owners manual first on how to correctly disassemble your rifle, as well as what method and products they recommend to clean it. There are basically two ways to clean a muzzle loader, soap and water or chemical cleaners. The soap and water method is just that, a bucket of hot soapy water into which either the breech or muzzle of the gun is placed into. Soapy water is then drawn up into the barrel by the action of the ramrod and cleaning jag traveling up and down the barrel. Chemical cleaners such as solvents are also used to remove fouling. Be aware though that petroleum based cleaners will react to the fouling and accelerate the corrosion process. Make sure the barrel and breech area are very very clean. For truely stubbern fouling or even lead fouling, I have successfully used Carberator cleaner to disolve the fouling.

Once the barrel is completely clean remove the nipple and inspect it. If it's still dirty use a cleaning agent and a old tooth brush to clean the threads. Use a nipple pick to clean inside the nipple and the flash hole. Dry out all the parts either with dry patches, or by other means (hair drier etc). Make sure everything is clean and dry.

Once clean, re-assemble the firearm and saturate a dry cleaning patch with Thompson Centers BoreButter (paste type, not the lube from the tube). Run several saturated patches up and down the barrel until you are confident the entire barrel has a good coating on it. Take the patch and wipe down all external metal as well. The gun should now be clean and have a protective coating of BoreButter on it. If storing the gun for long periods of time, recoat the inside of the barrel 3-4 days after the last cleaning, then again at 14 days and at least once a month after that time. Be aware that BoreButter will turn an orange/brown color when exposed to air so don't immediatly panic if you notice a brown patch and think it's a rusted barrel. Typically if you did a poor job cleaning your muzzle loader, you will get white saltlike crystals forming upon the fouling. Reclean the area immediately then re-coat.

When you finally go to shoot your muzzle loader which has been clean and stored with the method above, it's a good idea to first swab out the barrel with a dry patch to remove any excess BoreButter. Then with the gun still unloaded, place a cap on the nipple and fire it. This is done to clean out the nipple area and to verify that area is dry (useful when cleaning at the range).

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:30:18) (3916 reads)
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  How does barrel "twist" relate to projectiles and accuracy?
Muzzle LoadingBarrel "twist" is what physically spins a bullet and stabilizes it. There is a big difference between the twist required by a RoundBall and that reqiored by a Conical. Round balls require a very slow barrel twist to achieve optimum accuracy. Barrels with 1/60", 1/66" or even 1/72" twists are common. For conicals, a faster twist is required to stabilize the projectile. 1/38" or faster is common for conical barrels. For sabot loads, even faster twists are required. 1/32", 1/28" and even 1/24" are used for sabot loads.

The single most popular barrel twist however, is the 1/48". This is a compromise twist being neither great for conicals nor roundballs. This is not to say good groups cannot be achieved with such a barrel twist, just that it will never be as accurate as a rifle who's twist is optimum for it's load.

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:30:09) (77373 reads)
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  How do I load my Muzzle Loader?
Muzzle LoadingLoading a muzzle loader is a relatively simple process. The first step is to gather the nessasary components (some unneeded depending on projectile type): Gun, powder, projectile, patch, cap, powder measure, bullet lubricant, ramrod, and short starter.

First, safely inspect the rifle and make sure it is already unloaded. An easy trick to determine if a rifle is loaded or not is to place the ramrod into the unloaded barrel and to mark with a pen or marker where it exits the barrel. A loaded gun can then be determined by placing the ramrod into the barrel and seeing if the mark on the ramrod lines up with the barrels crown. If the line is above the crown then there must be something already in the barrel.

Next prepare your powder charge. Muzzle Loaders use either Black Powder or Black Powder substitutes like Pyrodex. Using smokeless powder in a muzzle loader will destroy the rifle and probibly cause serious injury or death! Black Powder or a substitute requires measurement by VOLUME not by Weight. This is because not all powders weight the same amount. They are manufactured however, to take up the same amount of volume. Set your powder measure to the amount you desire (example: 80 grains) and carefully fill it up with powder. Next carefully pour the contents of the measure, into the barrel of the muzzle loader.

Now prepare your projectile. There are 3 basic types: conicals, roundballs and Sabots which we will describe how to load here.

Conicals come either pre-lubed or not. If your conicals are not lubed, apply a coating of bullet lubricant to the flat sides of the conical. Lubricant is not needed on the base of the conical nor the front. Take your lubricated conical and place it squarely over the crown of your barrel. Skip down to the section on starting the projectile.

Round Balls require a lubricated cloth patch. Patches come either pre-lubed or not. If not, saturate your patch with lubricant. Place the patch evenly over the barrels crown. Push a roundball into the exact center of the patch (which should also be the exact center of the barrel as well) with your thumb. Skip down to the section on starting the projectile.

Sabots are usually plastic and resemble a shotgun wad. It acts as a carrier for a smaller caliber bullet such as a jacketed handgun bullet. Push the bullet into the "fingers" of the Sabot until the flat base of the bullet is flush against the bottom of the sabot. This will usually push the fingers outward from the bullet which is normal. Next, carefully start the sabot into the barrels crown keeping the bullet facing upwards. Press the sabot unto the barrel with your thumb until the Sabots "fingers" are pressed against the bullet, holding it in place.

Starting the projectile is usually done with a short starter but can be done just as well with the main ramrod. Push the projectile into the barrel carefully keeping it aligned with the barrels bore (conicals/sabots). Once you have pushed it as far as possible with the short started, switch to your main ramrod. Push the projectile the rest of the way down the barrel with a steady motion. Once you feel the projectile contact the powder, apply more pressure to seat the bullet tightly against the powder. Generally, tight pressure from the projectile against the powder will result in better ignition. Hodgdon who makes Pyrodex recommends a minimum of 40lbs of pressure for best ignition and accuracy.

Finally, point your muzzle loader in a safe direction and pull back the hammer to the half-*****ed position. Place a cap snugly on the nipple. That's it! Your muzzle loader is now loaded and ready to fire. Take aim at your target, pull the hammer to the fully *****ed position and shoot!

It should be noted that with each shot, the powder burns and leaves a residue on the barrel wall. Each projectile will appear to be harder and harder to load and accuracy will deminish. At this point the firearm must be cleaned. For utmost accuracy with some muzzle loader, cleaning between shots is mandatory.

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:29:57) (31773 reads)
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  What are some Accuracy Tips?
Muzzle LoadingThe first and best advice to increase accuracy is to clean between shots. I have muzzle loaders which will hold a .60" group at 100 yrds if cleaned between each shot. There is absolutely no reason any muzzle loader with a quality barrel having a twist correct for it's projectile type to not be able to hold a 2" group at 100 yrds.

Another tip is to vary powder amounts is similar to how centerfire loads are worked up. Each barrel is different and will like one type of load more than anything else. Try incrementing powder loads in 5 grn increments from 60 grns upto the max recommended by your firearms manufacturer. Shoot at least a 5 shot group, cleaning between shots to get a good idea of how a load is really shooting.

Change Projectile types. This can mean changing the both the weight as well as design of the projectile. For Roundballs, try changing the thickness of the patch itself. Different thicknesses are available and will change how the balls fly. For Sabots, you can vary the size of the handgun bullet and the thickness of the sabots "fingers". For example, with .50 cal sabots, you can find some to shoot .429 or .451 diameter bullets. Some guns prefer the smaller ones, some the larger. Keep trying different combinations until you find something which will work.

Finally, try posting a message on the internet forums to those who have the same type of gun as you. Someone may have stumbled onto a load which will work in your rifle.

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:29:21) (15672 reads)
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  What are some General Muzzle Loader Tips?
Muzzle LoadingWindex works exceptional as a cleaner to swab out your barrel between shots. I keep some in a tiny travel size soap container inside my possibles bag when hunting.

Placing a balloon over the end of a barrel will work great to keep out rain. When the gun is fired the balloon is simply pushed off and doesn't affect accuracy.

Posted by DallanC on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 (23:29:04) (3535 reads)
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