Early Virginia Shot Pouch & Powder Horn

Early VA shot pouch and powder horn
Bag #10, Horn #6 – Full Front (Click for larger image)

Shown here is an outfit that I made for myself consisting of an early Virginia shot pouch and a Virginia banded, screw-tip powder horn. Most of the shot pouches made these days are relatively complicated affairs using designs from the early to middle 19th century. If you want a shot pouch that is proper for the 18th century, take a close look at this shot pouch and powder horn.  I put together an outfit that I felt would be proper for 1775 on the Virginia frontier.

There are very few examples of shot pouches from the 18th century.  So, I was fortunate to be able to study an original early Virginia shot pouch that matches the size and construction of another published (Clash of Empires exhibition catalog, p. 30) pouch known to date to the period of the French and Indian War.  This original Virginia shot pouch was documented by Wallace Gusler in the December 2009 Muzzle Blasts(pp. 4-8).

The original one piece pouch is square at the bottom (although the corners look rounded due to use) and stitched up the sides with a very fine stitch very close to the edge. A divider that is open at the bottom serves as a welt between the front and the back of the bag. A pewter flap button is anchored to a stag horn button on the inside of the pouch. The stag horn button was covered by a round piece of leather that served to prevent the user’s hand from catching on the button. The flap extends approximately halfway down the front of the bag and has a slight beaver tail shape with a welted edge.

Early VA Shot Pouch & Powder Horn
Bag #10, Horn #6 – Front (Click for larger image)

The original bag did not have a strap attached and was missing part of the leather at one attachment point. However, there was evidence of a strap stitched to one side and a button hole on the other side. Actually, it was just a rough cut hole through which two buttons might have been tied to each other. Wallace Gusler indicated in his article that he believed two linked buttons (as in a cufflink) connected the strap to the bag using the button hole. The hole on the original pouch went through the welt and front of the bag as the back was torn away at that spot. I believe, the button was originally placed on the inside of the back and eventually pulled through tearing the back. That is why I did not run the button hole all the way through all three layers of leather on my recreation of the pouch.

I have made a number of hunting pouches based on this original. I have generally maintained the size and shape but varied the construction (i.e. external vs. internal stitching), the type of strap (i.e. leather vs. woven) and the type of attachment (i.e. location and number of buttons) for the strap. The original pouch actually appears to have rounded corners due to wear, and I made several copies that way before I realized that it was an optical illusion. Even in this very close copy, I still rounded the corners slightly in order to give the bag a finished look.

Not having Russia leather (a thin, textured, red dyed leather commercially available in the 18th century for upholstery work) which was most likely used to create the original, I created my copy of the original using 3-4 oz (may use 2-3 oz) vegetable tanned cowhide which I stained using aqua fortis to give a dark brown color.  I normally use vinegar and iron as a stain on my bags which usually gives more of a blue-black color. This bag is approximately the same size as the original at about 7″ square.  Just like the original, this pouch has a center divider as the welt and is stitched up the sides. In Bag #10, I rolled and hemmed the edge of the flap instead of using a welted edge. I now make these bags using a welted flap just like the original. I maintained the same flap button attachment as the original with an internal horn button used as an anchor for the external pewter flap button.    A leather cover is sewn over the internal button to prevent the hand from catching on it.

Bag #10, Horn #6 - Back
Bag #10, Horn #6 – Back (Click for larger image)

As for the strap, I attached it in a manner as close to the original as I could ascertain. One end of the strap is stitched to the right side (as worn on the right side), and the other end is attached to
the bag using a single small pewter button anchored to another small pewter button on the inside of the pouch. The strap may then be seasonally adjusted using buttonholes in the end of the strap. I usually only cut one set (strap and powder horn hangers) of button holes for the requested strap length, but more holes can be cut as required to adjust the strap.

Early VA shot pouch front panel decoration
Bag #10 – Front Decoration (Click for larger image)

The original pouch was decorated with stamped stars, some forming the initials of the owner. Consequently, I made a matching stamp to decorate my pouch. However, I decided to get a little fancier with a more refined design. I added diagonal lines reminiscent of English checkering patterns. On the bags shown below, I used the same stamp to create the owners initials and to do a Sun, Moon, and stars motif. In fact, I liked the Sun, Moon, and stars design so much, I used it on two bags, one of them is shown below.

Early VA banded, screw-tip powder horn
Early VA banded, screw-tip powder horn; Horn #6 (Click for larger image)

I attached to the bag a Virginia single banded screw-tip horn that is similar to an original dated 1774.  The horn is approximately 15″ around the outside curve with a 2 3/4″ base plug. The base plug and stopper are turned walnut with the base plug attached with wooden pegs. The screw-tip and band are horn. The screw-tip is dyed to match the walnut. Hand forged staples are installed in the the base plug and throat for the attachment of the hangers. The hangers are attached to the bag strap with buttons just as the strap is attached to the bag. This attachment method is purely conjecture on my part, but I think it makes sense to be able to adjust the hanger attachment location as the strap length is adjusted. The horn is dyed yellow with aqua fortis and appropriately aged.

I distress the leather on most of my pouches to give them a used appearance. That means adding wrinkles, scuffs and scratches as well as a coat of black shoe polish to simulate a little dirt and grime. I try not to overdue it so that the function of the bag is compromised. I don’t generally distress the leather to be used on a bag that is to be highly tooled.

You might think that this bag is too small at about 7″ square.  I can assure you that it is not.   Period documentation indicates that most longhunters carried hunting pouches of this size.  They would just carry what they needed to shoot the gun. This generally meant a bullet mold, some bullets, patches, tow, and a wiper. A powder horn and powder measure with a vent pick and brush were generally hung from the strap.

In my bag, I keep some tow, a strip of pre-lubricated pillow ticking for shooting patches, five balls, two flints wrapped in leather, and a turn screw of a type typically used with muskets.  A turn screw would not have normally been found in an original hunting pouch as a longhunter would most likely have used their knife to turn the screws on their gun. However, being a gunsmith, I just can’t bring myself to risk tearing up my screw heads like that. All that said, this bag is plenty big for the listed items. I hang a pan brush, vent pick, and powder measure from either the pouch strap or powder horn hanger.  I made those from recycled tin plated steel from a cookie tin. I have attached small knife to the back of the pouch to use as a patch knife. The period longhunters would most likely have just carried a store bought butcher knife in their belt.  This is certainly all you need for a day of hunting and more than you need to carry to the line when shooting at the range.

Shown below are four more pouch and horn outfits very similar to the bag shown above.   They are of the same basic design with different tooling. The bottom two outfits have a different type of early Virginia horn. Horn #21 was made to the client’s specification and is not based on a particular original. They all have a welted flap just like the original, and I am currently making all these style bags that way.

Please note that I no longer hang the powder horn as high as shown on the bags shown on this page.    I have found that the outfit works better if you hang the horn below the flap button so that you can open the flap without moving the horn out of the way.    I will, of course, hang the horn where you want with the hangers as long (or short) as you want.    I  have made the hangers all lengths but tend to think about 8″ is long enough.   You can just tip the horn up to pour the powder.    When you place an order for this outfit,  I will ask for your input on the length of the hangers and where you want the horn hung.

Bag #17, Horn #16
Bag #17, Horn #16; This bag is tooled with the initials of the owner.
Bag #18, Horn #17 with Sun, Moon & Stars motif.
Bag #18, Horn #17 with Sun, Moon & Stars motif.
Pouch #20 with Horn #20 - Early VA style shot pouch with an early VA style powder horn with a turned antler tip and turned base plug
Pouch #20 with Horn #20 – Early VA style shot pouch with an early VA style powder horn with a turned antler tip and turned base plug
Bag #21, Horn #21, with just flap tooling and a completely custom powder
Bag #21, Horn #21, with just flap tooling and a powder horn with a screw-tip and a turned base plug with a band .

You can obtain your very own pouch and horn outfit like the ones shown above for the following prices:

  • Plain Early Virginia Shot Pouch (as shown above but without tooling) – $140 plus shipping
  • Powder Horn Hangers for Early Virginia Shot Pouch – $20 (Option with a pouch order)
  • Decorative Tooling on Early Virginia Shot Pouch – $20 (Option with a pouch order)
  • Leather knife sheath for customer provided knife – $35 (Option with a pouch order – customer must provide knife)
  • Virginia Banded, Screw-tip Powder Horn – $200 plus shipping
  • Virginia applied tip Powder Horn – $175 plus shipping
  • Tin Powder Measure, Brush and Pick set – $50

Priority shipping and insurance 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. The availability of any particular horn design depends on the availability of an appropriate unfinished horn in my inventory.

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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….




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