As 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
Not too long ago, my osteopath told me I needed to take my overstuffed wallet out of my back pocket and ditch it. It was pretty ratty anyway; almost worn through in places. I shopped around for a replacement but just couldn’t find anything just right. I needed to carry my drivers license, registration, proof of insurance, disabled parking card, and medical insurance card as well as some cash, at least one debit card, and a couple grocery discount cards. That was about as much as I could slim down. I had about three times that much stuff in the old wallet, not including the receipts, notes, and other paperwork. It was basically a traveling file cabinet. What I finally decided to do was design a little 18th century style mens’ pocketbook based on the construction of my early VA shot pouch and several original cloth pocketbooks that I had seen.
Shown here is the result of my efforts. It is still a little overstuffed, but better than what I had. It is made out of goat skin (any new one would probably have to be calf skin), consisting of two sets of pockets flat sewn with a center divider serving as the welt for each set. The pockets fold like the pages of a book with a flap closure.
I tooled every exposed surface. The outside is decorated with typically English stamped geometric designs consisting mainly of diagonal lines and stamped stars. The inside panels are tooled with fraktur designs. The stain is vinegar and iron.
If anybody would like one, I will make one with stamped decoration on the exterior panels for $120. If you want original fraktur tooling on the interior panels, that will cost you $180. I will make a wallet with a single set of pockets for $80. I will have to add 5.3% sales tax for VA residents. Shipping is $15.
Download the pattern here if you would like to make the pocketbook yourself.
The traditional muzzleloading rifle has fixed, open, metal sights. This means that you have to select an initial height for both the rear and the front sights. Original longrifles had fairly low sights, at least the way we see them 200 years later. As a matter of standard practice, I set the initial height of my rear sights at 1/4″. That means that I must calculate the appropriate height for the front sight. Standard ballistics calculations allow me to determine height that will usually put me on the target at 50 yards, with the first shot.
Rifle Sight Adjustment
Then it is a matter of adjusting elevation by filing down either the rear (lower point of impact) sight or the front (raise point of impact) sight. Windage is adjusted by moving either the front or rear sight left or right using a drift punch on the sight base. I generally only move the front sight and only very slight adjustments are generally necessary.
The Front Sight Height Calculator
I used to just calculate the initial front sight of a new rifle on some scrap paper when it was time to install it. However, I decided it might be a good idea to permanently encode the calculations in a spreadsheet so I wouldn’t have to do the same calculations over and over again from scratch. I created my spreadsheet in Excel and saved it in the Excel 97-2004 format for greatest compatibility with various spreadsheet applications. You may download a free copy of the spreadsheet using the link below.
Once you download and open the spreadsheet, using it is easy. You replace the values in Bold print. Everything else is locked. If you mount your sights centered on the flat with the front sight height as specified by this calculator, you should be pretty close, if not in the black, when you go to sight in. Of course, you do need a good idea of the muzzle velocity of your load. You can use the Lyman reference, but I don’t think you can go to wrong by assuming 1200f/s.
I just finished this shot pouch and powder horn for a Virginian headed south to the Texas fight for independence. It represents late flint pouch from the central Valley of Virginia, and is based on an example from Rockingham Co, VA as documented by Madison Grant in his book on hunting pouches. The horn is my standard Virginia, single banded, screw-tip powder horn.
This pouch is three piece design of calf skin consisting of a back, front, and flap. The back and flap are connected by a separate panel that is perforated at the top for the straps which are sewn inside. The pouch is not lined, as most original pouches were not, but it does include a small hanging pocket suitable for balls or lunch money (according to my mother ;)). The bag is gusseted to increase the capacity; and all seams are welted which improves longevity. The flap and inside edge of the front panel are bound in goat skin. All my leather work is hand sewn with a saddle stitch using waxed linen thread. The leather strap is 1″ wide and is adjusted with an iron buckle. There is also a leather keeper to keep the strap end neat. The pouch is stained with a vinegar and iron solution which results in a dark brown to blue/black color through the leather. This is a chemical stain; not a pigment. It will not wash out. The outside and part of the interior of the pouch is rubbed with Mink Oil and then brushed to protect the leather.
During the construction process, the leather and the finished pouch was distressed giving it a well broken in appearance. Almost all my work is slightly aged. Hopefully, those of you who are re-enactors will not be accused of being farb on my account.
Click and drag your mouse cursor horizontally across the image to spin the powder horn below. You can use you mouse wheel (scroll) to zoom in and out. You must zoom all the way out in order to spin the horn.
You can obtain your very own pouch and horn outfit like the ones shown above for the following prices:
Late Flint Virginia Shot Pouch (as shown above) – $275 plus shipping
Powder Horn Hangers for Late Flint Virginia Shot Pouch – $15(Option with a pouch order)
Add Decorative Tooling on the flap and front panel – $20(Option with a pouch order)
Virginia Banded Screw-tip Powder Horn – $200 plus shipping
Shipping on a single item is $15. Shipping on an outfit is $20. I will collect VA Sales Tax for items shipping to VA residents.
To order a pouch or horn like the ones shown above, or to discuss a different project, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. See FAQ for more information on purchasing custom work.
I had the thought one day that it might be interesting to list out all the tools I had out on my benches. As I worked on the project, I thought that it might be a better idea to expand the list to not only those tools that are normally out on my benches, but all the tools I generally use in gun building. That is what is listed here; all the tools normally employed in the creation of an iron mounted flintlock rifle. I say iron mounted because I build a lot of those guns and that pulls in the forge more than a brass mounted gun. Only hand tools are shown or listed. However, I do use a few power tools for gun making. They include a 14″ bandsaw and a floor standing drill press. I also couldn’t get along without my trusty DeWalt 18V Li-ion drill/driver/hammer-drill, the greatest tool since the invention of the brace. I also use an electric heat gun for whiskering, and turning aqua fortis; and an electric heat treat oven. I use a 2″x72″ belt sander for grinding off pins and the like. I also use a flex shaft grinder with an abrasive cutoff wheel for cutting music wire for pins. That is pretty much it for the power tools, and I am in the process of eliminating the band saw, substituting a rip saw for trimming the forearm of the stock.
Small homemade sanding block for roll abrasives
120 grit 1″ roll of emery cloth
320 grit 1″ roll of emery cloth
400 grit silicon paper
600 grit silicon paper
Titebond III waterproof wood glue
Thick & thin cyanoacrylate glue
5 minute epoxy for holding engraving work
Bondo for holding engraving work
Antique metal body brace w/1/4″, 3/8″, & 3/4″ spur bits
Gimlets: 5/64″ – 3/16″
Twist drills: 1/16″-1/2″, 1-80, A-Z
Hand held 3/4″ 82 degree countersink
1/2″ 82 degree countersink for power drill
11/32″ ramrod drill bit – I only use this size for 40-54 caliber even though I have other sizes. I have two this size; one sharpened with a conical point to do most of the work and one with a flat cutting edge to start the hole.
3/8″ couter-bore with #8 and #10 pilots for side plate screw holes