Handmade Colonial English Flintlock

Handmade Tumbler Trouble

Lock Templates & Old Tumbler Mill
Lock templates & old tumbler mill made from a file
In conjunction with some recent repair/restoration work, I have started working on an all handmade flintlock. That means one made of wrought iron in the same manner as an 18th century Virginia gun shop including making all the screws. I have completed a set of templates for the lock and have forged a blank for the tumbler. I have also made a tumbler mill from a large file that is used to mill the parallel sides on the tumbler. I will probably do the plate next.

I had to use my last tumbler blank for another project, so I will have to make another for myself; most likely with a newly made die. It is probably instructive to explain why I had to use the wrought iron blank on another project. I had been trying to make a replacement tumbler for a contemporary flintlock pistol using O-1 tool steel. I was forging a blank just like with wrought iron which involves hammering out what looks like a large lopsided nail. Then I was machining the blank on a lathe and filing the profile and notches. The problem was that I had been running into forging cracks in these tumblers, and you don’t find them until you have machined each surface. I lost count of how many blanks I made. I almost finished two, only to self inflict some other injury at the end. That was two out of six or seven blanks that were free of forging cracks.

The problem was that the tool steel was being quenched by the colder anvil and hardened in spots. So, if you are working below the re-crystalization temperature, about 1500F (cherry red), you run the risk of cracking the tumbler on the side against the anvil. The more the blank was worked, the more likely to produce cracks. The two blanks that were free of forging cracks(or at least as far as I could tell) were ones that I worked the least. My blows just happened to be more efficient on those. I decided that it is just too much trouble to try to forge tumblers from tool steel.

Fortunately, I have plenty of third run 1.25″ round wrought iron bar that is just fine for lock parts. There are a few small inclusions, but not many. So, from now on, I will make all my lock parts and many tools, except the springs, from wrought iron or mild steel and case harden them. That is period correct anyway.

Tools for Creating a Handmade Flintlock

Die for lock plate with integral pan used by CW Gunshop
Die for lock plate with integral pan used by CW Gunshop
Work is underway on the dies to forge all the lock parts as finished as possible. The effort to make the dies has two purposes; to explore period lock production and more efficiently produce multiple locks. My intention is to make at lease two handmade flintlocks; one for a handmade flintlock rifle and one for a handmade flintlock pistol.

The documentation for the dies I intend to reproduce, come from two sources; articles in JHAT Vol I & Vol V written by Gary Brumfield, and subsequent research done by George Suiter. Gary was the second master of the gun shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and George is the current master. George has added dies and jigs to the lock production in the CW Gunshop since the JHAT articles were written.

Of particular interest is that the gun shop in Colonial Williamsburg has not been forge welding pans onto lock plates for some time. They are using a modified lock plate die and a fairly complex die to form the pan, pan bridle, and fence. They actually have dies for most of their parts as well as a drilling jig for the plate. The dies and jigs are based on documented tools and processes used by the lock makers of Birmingham, England.

Die for forming integral flintlock pan
Die for forming integral pan used by CW Gunshop

18th C tumbler mill for making a flintlock tumber
18th C tumbler mill
A photo a the beginning of this article shows a tumbler mill copied from the JHAT I article and made from a 12″ bastard file. This design never worked very well for me or the CW Gunshop (according to Gary Brumfield); and come to find out, the actual 18th C tumbler mills were not made exactly like a file. The photo to the right shows an fancy 18th Century tumbler mill of, supposedly, the same design; a design documented in Diderot and some period German publications. I plan to make a mill based on the tool in the photo. It is really hard to see from the attached photo; but the “teeth” in the actual mills were perpendicular to the long axis of the mill, cut with a triangular file, and flat on top. That is why they worked better that our uninformed attempts to recreate them with a file. The CW Gunshop currently uses a copy of what is probably more of a 19th century English tumbler mill with rotary cutters. This is a more effective design that the tumbler mill shown.

Handmade Lock Project Progress

Lock die & die sinker chisels
Lock die in progress for this project with die sinker chisels for clearing out waste metal.
Steel has been purchased for all the lock dies, screw mills, and tumbler mill. The pieces have been cut to shape and are ready for the dies to be cut and the hardie posts to be welded. The chisels have been made are are being used to cut the dies. I have also made the drill bit, reamer, tap, and screw mills for the internal lock screws.

Screw mills, drill bits, reamers, and taps in progress for handmade lock project.
Screw mills, drill bits, reamers, and taps in progress for handmade lock project.
I should note that while I intend to make the flintlock using period tools and techniques, I don’t intend to make the tools entirely same way. As these tools were usually purchased by the gunsmith from England, I feel perfectly justified in making them however I like. That includes using a belt sander instead of an old stone grinding wheel, a drill press, and a metal lathe, if necessary. I will point out that they did have water powered grinding wheels, drill presses and metal lathes in the English shops. As I have no other alternatives, I will still use the forge, files, and chisels in the old way.

Case hardened screw mills, screw plate, tap drill, and tap with a screw and tapped hole made with those tools.
Case hardened screw mills, screw plate, tap drill, and tap with a screw and tapped hole made with those tools.
Here is a photo of the first handmade lock screw I made. I used the screw mills shown just after case hardening them. Also shown is the tap drill and tap that I made as well as a plate with a hole that I drilled and tapped with those tools. It took less than an hour to make the screw using a rod of 12L14 steel (the usual screw making stock and very similar in softness to wrought iron) that had been previously squared for the brace on one end and pointed on the other. I could have done a better job with the screw by pointing the rod with more care to make sure it was centered.

Die to forge a tumbler blank.
Die to forge a tumbler blank.
I had a job come up repairing an antique lock that allowed me the opportunity to make a couple more lock making tools on my list. I had to replace a cracked tumbler, so the time was right to make a tumbler die for forging a wrought iron tumbler blank. I made the die so that I ended up with a blank large enough to machine a tumbler for most any rifle size lock.

Lantern stock chuck for turning 1/4" screw stock into a screw mill.
Lantern stock chuck for turning 1/4″ screw stock into a screw mill.
Since I had a couple hours at the forge to make the tumbler blank, I slipped in another little forging project; making a lantern stock chuck for screw stock. In the past, I hammered a square end directly on the screw stock, but that wobbled too much in the brace. I felt that a lantern stock chuck would be more stable, and it is.

Antique percussion lock with a replaced tumbler.
Antique percussion lock with a replaced tumbler.
I used the new tumbler die to forge a nearly perfect tumbler blank out of wrought iron. It took a little more time than I had thought, but I got a good result. Since I had not made a period tumbler mill yet, I turned the axles and the parallel tumbler faces on a lathe. I ended up with a roughly shaped disk that I quickly filed to shape to match the original tumbler. The finished tumbler is shown in the lock above.

Till later….


Metal Bow Drill

Bow_Dril_metal-2Bow_Dril_metal-1I just finished making a metal bow for my watchmakers type metal bow drill. The bow itself is very simple. Unlike the ones in the period catalogs, it doesn’t have a ratchet mechanism. I was given a old fencing foil with which to make a bow and there just wasn’t enough metal there to support a ratchet. So, I just riveted a little tab on the bottom at the back to which I could attach a bow string. The front was just curled up into a loop for the other end of the bow string. I tried a couple of different string materials but hemp cord seemed to work best. It stretches, but it is easy enough to loosen the knot and tightened it up every once in a while.

Bow_Dril_metal-4The drill itself is also very simple. It is a piece of 3/8″ drill rod with a 1 1/4″ hunk of wrought iron pinned on to the shaft. I turned the spool from the wrought iron right on the shaft. A lantern stock chuck was drilled and filed on the long end of the shaft. It pretty much matches the ones in the period catalogs except they normally had brass spools. I didn’t have a piece of brass big enough, but I did have wrought iron. I figured it was a reasonable period substitution.

Watchmakers_vise-1 So, now I have a fully functional bow drill for drilling metal. I have a hole drilled in a period watchmakers vise to accept the pointed end of the drill shaft. Watchmakers_vise-2 I would hold the work to be drilled in my left hand as I operated the bow with my right hand. That is kind of an awkward arrangement, but that is how it was done. Actually, the watchmakers vise I have came with a hole for a bow drill. I just made it a little bigger.


Tools for Cutting Mouldings

Scratchstock-1Scratchstock-3On many longrifles, there are mouldings along the forearm (usually the upper forearm) and along toe of the buttstock. Most often these are simple raised moldings cut in with a knife or chisel and then relieved behind the cut with the chisel or knife. The moulding is usually cleaned up using a slim triangular file with the tip ground off forming a scraping surface. The photo to the right shows a lower buttstock moulding cut with just the knife and the chisel.


For more complex mouldings, a scratchstock may be useful. The scratchstock shown here was made for the unusual moulding found on a group of Rockbridge Country Virginia guns (including John Davidson) and applied to my Gun #10. The blade in this scratchstock is ground to produce both the upper forearm moulding and the buttstock toe moulding. To use the scratchstock, the top bar runs along the top of the barrel channel to cut the forearm moulding and along the toe for the lower buttstock moulding. Only part of the buttstock moulding nearest the butt can be cut with the scratch stock and it can be more trouble than it is worth. The scratchstock is most useful for the upper forearm moulding, but it does take a lot of passes to cut the moulding. You have to shape the upper forearm as close as you can to finished dimensions before you apply the scratchstock.

One important note about the finish produced by the scratchstock. Since you are holding the scraper blade parallel to the curl in the stock, the scraper blade with ride up and down on the hard and soft curl producing a ripple effect. I know of no way to avoid this with a scratchstock. The ripples are a consequence, and an indication, of the method used to shape the forearm. Other places that you use a scraper, you can hold the scraper diagonal to the curl to avoid leaving ripples. Ripples in a highly figured stock are part and parcel of shaping and finishing with scrapers, but in most other places it can be minimized. It just can’t be minimized where a scratchstock is used.


Wallace Gusler Muzzle Blasts Articles

Below is a list of the Muzzle Blasts articles by or about Wallace Gusler. Wallace Gusler is one of the foremost experts on southern longrifles, particularly Virginia longrifles. Many of the articles focus on rare iron mounted rifles. I am listing the issue, the title, and the first page. This may not be a complete list. These are just among the issues that I saved, and I only save issues that have particular interest for me. I have been told that back issues of Muzzle Blasts are available from the NMLRA for a nominal fee.

  1. September 2003; Inventory of Robert Milburn, Frederick County, Virgnia; p.46.
  2. November 2003; “A rifle gun barrel & mountings”; p.48.*
  3. January 2004; Wallace Gusler, Master Gunsmith by Gary Brumfield; p.4.
  4. March 2004; “Attributing the Old Holston Rifle”; p.4.*
  5. May 2004; “The Step Toe Group”
  6. July 2004; An Early Shenandoah Valley Iron Mounted Rifle Gun; p.11.*
  7. September 2004; A Fine Iron Mounted Rifle; p.36.*
  8. January 2005;An 18th Century Moravian Rifle Gun from North Carolina; p.4.
  9. March 2005;An 18th Century Moravian Rifle Gun from North Carolina; p.4.
  10. July 2005;An 18th Century Moravian Rifle Gun from North Carolina; p.4.
  11. November 2005;An 18th Century Moravian Rifle Gun from North Carolina; p.4.
  12. March 2006; A Fine Iron Mounted Rifle from the Valley of Virginia; p.60.*
  13. January 2007; A Lancaster – Pennsyslvania Rifle Gun with Southern Connections; p.4.
  14. March 2007; Possible Origin of G.F. Fanot’s Box Design; p.13.
  15. July 2007; An Important Tennessee Iron Mounted Rifle Gun – Part 1; p.4.*
  16. July 2007; An Important Tennessee Iron Mounted Rifle Gun – Part 2; p.4.*
  17. November 2007; A Valley of Virginia Rifle Gun Used in Kentucky; p.36.*
  18. March 2008; Early Virginia-Pennsylvania Rifle; p.4.*
  19. May 2008; An In-use Restocked Smooth-bored Rifle Gun; p.50.*
  20. September 2008; American Frontier and Backcountry Flintlock Terminology 1730-1830; p.4.**
  21. December 2008; Backcountry and Frontier Flintlock Terminology; p.4.**
  22. June 2009; A Rosetta Stone North Carolina Rifle Gun Part 1; p.50.
  23. August 2009; A Rosetta Stone North Carolina Rifle Gun Part 2; p.50.
  24. December 2009; Shot Bags/Shot Pouches – Part 1; p.?.
  25. May 2010; Shot Bags/Shot Pouches – Part 2; p.7.
  26. June 2010; An Early Virginia Shot Bag and 18th Century Powder Measure; p.4.
  27. December 2011; A French and Indian War Rifle Gun, Part 1; p.43.
  28. February 2012;“A French and Indian War Rifle Gun, Part II”
  29. August 2012; Rifles by “GB” in the Step Toe Group, Rockbridge and Botetourt Counties, Virginia; p.47.*
  30. December 2014; Rifle Guns in the “GB” Group, Number 2; p.6.*
  31. February 2016, The Twentieth Century Story of Two Extraordinary Frontier Guns, Part 1; p.6.*

Firearms Photography 101

studio strobes and soft boxes for firearms photograhpyAs I am only able to do a few photography shoots a years, at best, I thought that I would share what I have learned about firearms photography so that others can duplicate it. Here is a link to a .PDF document that will guide you through how to take professional quality photographs of firearms and accouterments: Firearms Photography 101

This document is a updated version of a presentation I gave at Dixons Gunmaker’s Fair a couple years ago. It goes over the basics of using your camera for firearms photography and how to stage and light your guns. Specifically, I talk about my lighting system using studio strobes and soft/strip boxes as well as how to use the paint with light technique. I have added some recommendations for point and shoot cameras and photos of my lighting setup. You can duplicate my studio lighting setup for a little over $1000 which isn’t that much at all in the realm of photography, or gun collecting.


18th Century Bow Drills for Drilling Retaining Pins in Gunstocks

I was getting ready to install pins in my most recent rifle and wondered how would this have been done in the 18th century. I normally use a couple twist drills (1/16″ and 5/64″) and my cordless electric drill. So, I asked that question on ALR, and after reading a number of the responses, I came up with the following simple bow drills as a solution. They were turned out of hard maple and the axle at the top and drills are music wire. I used 1/8″ for the top pivot/axle, and I used 1/16″ and 5/64″ music wire for the drill bits. I sharpened them like an 18th century metal cutting bit for a brace.

18th century style simple wooden bow drills for drilling pin holes in muzzle loading gun stocks

For the time being, I am using a hickory rod for the bow with some artificial sinew for the bow string. I have an old foil blade that I am going to use to make a more period correct bow with a little take up reel at the hilt/handle for the string. I will forge a little loop in the tip of the blade to attache the other end of the string.

The way you use these is to punch the location of the pin hole with an awl. Then insert the drill bit tip into the hole with the bow string already around the drill spool. You use the little paddle shown to hold the other end of the drill. You will notice little holes in the paddle for the top axle of the drill. It is a little awkward to get started, but once you do, you can drill the distance to the barrel tenon or thimble tab in a minute or two. You just mark the tenon or tab and then remove it to drill it with a regular metal bit for a brace.

With the bow drill, you would drill one side of the stock and then drill the other side using the 1/16″ bit. Then with the drilled tenon or tab back in place, drill through with the 5/64″ bit. The second 5/64″ drill should line up all the holes nice and tight. At least that is the plan. I haven’t actually installed a thimble with them yet.

I still have to make 1/16″ and 5/64″ metal cutting bits with a lantern stock chuck and tapered square adapter for a brace. I will need the adapter because the little drills will be made of music wire and be for use in a lantern stock chuck. I plan to make another bow drill with a lantern stock chuck for these little drill bits. That will be the subject of another posting.

18th century style simple wooden bow drills for drilling pin holes in muzzle loading gun stocks

18th century style simple wooden bow drills for drilling pin holes in muzzle loading gun stocks


Appraising Antique Firearms

I get lots of requests for appraisals on antique rifles. Consequently, I felt I should make a general blog and FAQ post on the subject.

In order to properly estimate the value of an antique firearm, it must be closely inspected, in person, including disassembly. Additionally, you should seek out an appraiser who routinely buys and sells similar antiques. Still, any appraisal you get is just a guess based on previous sales of similar items. Any given item offered for sale is really only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

A value can vary substantially depending on the location of a sale and how well advertised it is; in other words, the potential market. This is why you are likely to get more for something on eBay than Craigslist where you have a national (or international) market instead of a local market.

The current economy also has a lot to do with how much something is worth. The values of all collectibles and antiques were at record highs in 2008, just before the collapse of the financial markets. This collapse significantly affected those with the most disposable income and most likely to purchase luxury goods such as antique firearms. The antique firearms market was been hit hard by this shock to the economy. The values of most antique firearms are half what they were before 2008. The very best firearms held their value, but the rest were hit hard.

The antique longrifle market has been further impacted by a large number of collections hitting the market right now due to the aging of collectors. People with money can get a good deal on average quality longrifles right now. That is not good news for someone with an average longrifle to sell.

If you would like an appraisal on your Virginia longrifle, I would direct you to Tim Hodges at Aspen Shade Ltd. He is very familiar with Virginia longrifles and should be able to help you with an appraisal or consignment. Otherwise, I would seek advise from one of the major auction houses that have specialists in firearms, such as James D Julia or Cowan’s Auctions


18th Century Gunsmithing Tools, Metal Cutting Brace Bits

Below are a couple of metal cutting drill bits for a brace, and the holes they bored in a 1/8″ thick brass plate. Also shown is an 18th century style countersink. I ground and sharpened the drill bits to form approximately 3/16″ and 1/4″ holes. The countersunk hole fits a #10 tang screw.

18th century metal cutting drill bits and countersink for a brace and the holes they formed in a brass plate
18th century metal cutting drill bits and countersink for a brace; and the holes they formed in a brass plate
Close-up of 18th century metal cutting drill bits and a countersink for a brace.
Close-up of 18th century metal cutting drill bits and a countersink for a brace.

The bits are ground to a basic “V” shape with a slight backward rake (cutting clockwise) on the two cutting edges. You also must grind the flat side down to a point at the tip. If you don’t grind the tip to a small point, then you will end up with an uneven hole and a little pip at the center like you often get turning inside a piece of wood. I ground my tool bits to shape with a 2″x72″ belt sander, and then honed them with 2″x8″ Diamond stones mounted on my bench. I use Diamond stones, with 260 and 600 grit, to shape (the main bevel) and sharpen all my edged tools; and I use them often.

Sharpened as above, the bits and countersink shown, cut out big thick chips of brass,just like it was cutting wax. It didn’t take more than two minutes each to drill those holes. I rarely have anything thicker than about 1/8″ to drill. About the only thing thicker, would be the lock nail hole through the lock bolster, at about 1/4.” A fine grain wrought iron lock plate isn’t much harder than brass.

I plan to make three tap drills for the internal lock screws, the lock nails, and the top jaw screw. The 3/16″ bit and countersink shown will handle all the clear holes.


18th Century Gunsmithing Tools, Screw Plate & Circle Cutter

I just added a few more 18th century gunsmithing tools to my tool kit. One is a pristine early screw plate, probably from the late 18th century or early 19th century. I don’t think this thing has ever been used. It appears to still have the temper colors on it. At least it did, until I started using it ;).

The other tool is a square shank circle cutter for use with a brace. However, I didn’t buy it as a circle cutter. I thought that with the addition of an appropriately sized dowel on the center point as a pilot, I could use it to cut circles on the muzzles of barrels. Southern longrifles were often decorated on the muzzle with engraved circles, and stamped circles and stars. I had been meaning to make one as most of the ones in period gunmakers’ tool boxes were apparently homemade. However, I saw this thing on ebay for less than $20. I snapped it up as quick as I could. I had never seen one before and didn’t know any such thing existed as a commercial product.


Below are a couple photos showing the screw plate with a few modern screws that fit that plate. I also measured the root diameter of the holes in the screw plate using wire number twist drills. The fit of the drills is between .001″-.003″. I have also shown the data associated with using #4 and #6 machine screw blanks to cut screws using the screw plate. I will continue working to develop a set of tap drills, square reamers, taps, and screw mills from this screw plate to cut the screws required of a flintlock.

18th century screw plate fitted with modern screws.hey formed in a brass plate
18th century screw plate fitted with modern screws.
18th century screw plate data.
18th century screw plate data.

I have learned the hard way that it is very easy to twist off a screw blank in this screw plate and very hard to get out the broken bit. I was able to drill out and pick out most of the metal, but some was stuck down in a thread. It is hard to clean out a 4-48 thread. I made a tap, using the larger hole, with a  screw blank which I tapered and case hardened. If I was planning to use it more than once, I would have forged it out of a piece of w-1, but using the screw blank was quick and easy. It worked just fine.

New 18th century style tap made for Antique 18th Century screw plate
New 18th century style tap made for Antique 18th Century screw plate

Anyway, I have learned that the screw blank needs to be smaller than I would normally think due to the expansion from swaging; and that I need to be very careful about the pressure I apply.

It is starting to look like a blank that fits in the next hole up is about the right diameter for swaging the thread in the chosen threaded hole.



The Best Cleaner/Degreaser

A lot of you probably already know this, but I thought that I would repeat the information for the un-informed. Dawn® dishwashing detergent is the best commonly available cleaner and degreaser there is. For those of you who still wash you pots, pans, dishes, and silverware (especially actual silver) by hand, you know that a few drops of Dawn® does wonders in the kitchen; but did you know it is one of the best degreasers there is. I have tried all the normal chemicals such as the various alcohols, acetone, paint thinner, mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, and turpentine (Yes, I still use turpentine to thin oil paint; and Yes, I do know it is a carcinogen.). However, a quick scrub in the utility sink with some Dawn® in cold water is the quickest, easiest, most effective, and safest method I know to get rid of oil and wax. I clean all my barrels(plug all the openings), lock plates, etc…, that I want to blue, brown or otherwise chemically finish, with Dawn®. Because it is mostly harmless, you don’t have to worry about getting it on you, or breathing it in. Just scrub the part like it is a dirty dish, and dry it off with a towel. All done!

But wait; there’s more! Dawn® also does a better job cleaning all the oils, waxes, and general gunk off your hands than some of the purpose made, and expensive, products I buy at the hardware store. It is also more effective at removing stains in carpets than some of the very expensive purpose made products. There is little that cold water, Dawn®, a wash cloth and/or scrub brush won’t get out. So, don’t bother with the expensive and dangerous cleaners and degreasers; just reach for the bottle of Dawn® in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: I don’t have stock in P&G and was not paid by P&G for this posting. 😉