Gun #12 – An Iron Mounted Virginia Chunk Gun

Rifle #12, fantasy iron mounted Virginia longrifle after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA, Full length, right side


An Unusual Iron Mounted Rifle

The longrifle shown here is an iron mounted chunk gun with stylistic elements found on guns from the Augusta/Rockbridge area of Virginia down into southwest Virginia. This rifle includes a four-piece iron patchbox and a faceted trigger guard and thimbles similar to a couple of rifles from Wallace Gusler’s step-toe group as documented in several Muzzle Blasts articles. Those antique rifles had mounts that were a little fancier than most iron mounted guns but they certainly didn’t have carving and engraving as does this longrifle. The carving on this rifle is based on a John Davidson rifle (shown elsewhere on this site) from Rockbridge County, Virginia. As it stands, this is most definitely a fantasy gun both in terms of its decoration as a chunk gun, and the mix of features from various rifles. In my defense, I was making this gun for myself. So, I made what suited me. Hopefully, you will also find it appealing.

The Technical Details

Stock: Fairly curly, slab cut, red maple
Lock: Chambers Late Ketland lock
Barrel: 46″, 45 caliber, 1 1/8″ straight custom barrel by Getz
Mounts: All iron with hand forged butt piece, guard, and ramrod ferrule
Trigger: Davis longrifle double set triggers modified to fit the guard
Pull / Drop / Cast-off: 13.25″ / 2.75″ / 0.25″
Weight: 14 lbs 15 oz

Building a Fantasy Longrifle

Below are initial sketches that I did for this project. I do these sort of sketches for every project, but as you will see, the actual gun can turn out quite differently. I often change my mind about the details as I am working on the gun.

Preliminary sketch of iron mounted patchbox and wire inlay.
Preliminary sketch of patchbox and wire inlay.
Preliminary sketch of longrifle cheek with wire inlay.
Preliminary sketch of cheek with wire inlay.
Working sketches of Virginia longrifle mounts.
Working sketches of mounts.


I wasn’t happy with how similar silver wire worked on Rifle #11. So, I decided to skip the silver wire on this gun and do some carving based on the John Davidson documented in the Antiques section of this site.


No 11 Tang Carving of Virginia longrifle
No 12 Tang Carving

No 11 Right Wrist
No 12 Right Wrist

No 11 Virginia longrifle Cheek Carving
No 12 Cheek Carving



I also changed the butt piece heel extension and comb to three facets based on the work of John Davidson’s unidentified master. I also decided to use the touch plate release I used on #11. However, after problems with the touch plate release due to wood movement from changes in humidity, I decided to change the release mechanism and toe plate to a small push button release for better reliability.

The ramrod is made of hickory as are all my ramrods and scrapped to a taper with a forge welded sheet steel ferrule on the small end. The ferrule is threaded for a 10-32 screw. I can provide a hardened and tempered handmade wiper for the rifle for an extra $79.

As with all my guns, this rifle was stocked from a blank that I cut out on a bandsaw. After that, the only power tools I used on it were a hand drill and a drill press, mainly to drill screw, rivet, and pin holes. I used an 18th century brace and bits to help with the inletting of the lock and patchbox. All the other work was done with 18th and 19th century tools and techniques. Most of the work on the gun was done with planes, chisels, files, and scrapers. This included many antique tools and specialty tools made by me. The stock was final shaped and finished with scrapers. No sandpaper touched the wood. You can still see scraper and file marks in the finished product and there are the tell tale ripples in the stock indicative of being scraped. A more highly figured piece of wood would have had even more ripples.

I hand inlet the barrel and ramrod groove using chisels and planes, and hand drilled the ramrod hole. The trigger guard and butt piece were hand forged and assembled using rivets and forge brazing. The heel of the butt piece was filled with brass to make the joint as solid as possible. Then many hours of hand filing and polishing went in to getting these mounts to their final form. All the other mounts were hand cut from sheet and hand formed around mandrels I made expressly for the purpose. I made all the parts for the patchbox release mechanism and modified the Davis triggers to suit my taste and ensure perfect operation with the lock. As with all my locks, I hand filed and polished the lock plate, cock, and frizzen so that the lock would look as if it were a product of the 18th or 19th century. All the lock internals were polished on their wear surfaces and the sear and full cock notch were stoned for perfect operation with the set triggers. This particular lock also needed some modification of the sear and sear spring. Several days of work went into just finishing and tuning the lock.

My guns are more expensive than many other gunmakers because of all the hand work I put into them and the effort that I take to make sure everything works smoothly. I spent many days on this rifle just making sure that the lock, triggers, and patchbox release worked as well as they reasonably could. I also spend a lot of time with a scraper to make sure my lines and planes are straight and sharp and my curves smooth. I use traditional ferric nitrate (aqua fortis) stain which requires much, much more preparation than if you were using a modern non grain raising stain. I then apply many coats of my own oil based gunstock finish. I don’t use polyurethane or other synthetic finishes. Because of that, and the porosity of oil finishes, the last step in every gun is a good coat of Renaissance Wax on all surfaces. The only maintenance other than cleaning after shooting is to apply a coat of paste wax a couple times a year. The wax will effectively seal the stock against the weather.

Once I have finished all my scraping, polishing and finishing, then I go about destroying the work I have done in order to age the piece. I rust all the iron parts, sometimes several times. Apply a patina to the brass and silver and then paint the whole gun in a lamp black oil glaze to simulate a century or two of dirt and soot from the fireplace that I then scrub off judiciously to simulate many years of wear. A few dents, dings and some blood along the way doesn’t hurt the process.

I try to work in as workman like manner as I can, but I am picky about line and function. I will let some scraper marks and file marks and a few dents slide by as did the original gunmakers, but not functional or architectural problems. You do have to realize that anything done by hand is not going to be perfect. I try to get as close as I reasonably can, but you do have to let some things go as long as they are not going to affect function.

Speaking of function, all my barrel tenons are slotted to allow at least 1/32″ of travel around the pin in each direction. This is to allow for the normal expansion and contraction of the stock without stressing the barrel so much that the aim is affected.

The Final Result


Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,full length, left side

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,full length, top

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,full length, bottom.

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA, half length, bottom

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,half length, left side

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA, half length, top

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,half length, right side

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,half length, right quarter

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,lock

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA,sideplate

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA, cheek

Rifle #12, fantasy chunk gun after 1800 Rockbridge Co, VA, patchbox


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What is an American Longrifle?

Contemporary American longrifle.Contemporary American longrifle.
Contemporary Longrifle in the Style of 1775-1785 Augusta/Rockbridge County, Virginia

“From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest; and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil; an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately Freed our country of foreign domination.

Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity; and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.

Legend regarding this rifle which have never been confirmed have drifted out of the dusty past; inaccuracies have passed for facts. Few writers have given more than a passing word to a weapon which deserves a lasting place in history, and it is a pleasure to present herewith the data collected during the past ten years and to dedicate this work to the KENTUCKY RIFLE.”

—- Capt. John G. Dillon, 1924, From his book The Kentucky Rifle

It is hard to beat John Dillon’s description of an Kentucky Rifle, the popular name for the American longrifle. This hints at the fact that there are a lot of names for basically the same thing. There is even some disagreement as to whether you spell it longrifle or long rifle. Generically, we refer to the American longrifle which includes all longrifles made in what would become the United States of America. We refer to longrifles made in specific States or regions by adding the State or region names such as in Pennsylvania longrifles or Southern longrifles; or even Kentucky longrifles, not to be confused with Kentucky Rifles. Remember that Kentucky Rifles is the popular name for all longrifles and is equivalent in use to American longrifles.

Fry & Jefferson Map from 1751 showing great wagon road
Fry & Jefferson Map 1751 showing the Great Wagon Road (red) and the later Wilderness Road (blue)
The Kentucky Rifle has been referred to in print since at least the third quarter of the 19th century. Some believe that the name came from the song “Hunters of Kentucky” by Samuel Woodworth recounting Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. The song referred to “Kentucky rifles” carried by the riflemen from Kentucky who were prominent in that victory. However, the American longrifle was not just made in Kentucky, it was made in many states along the Eastern Seaboard, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia(West Virginia), Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Indiana, New York and New England. In fact, the first longrifles carried into Kentucky via the Great Wagon Road and the Wilderness Road were made in Pennsylvania and possibly Virginia. The manufacture and evolution of the American longrifle followed settlers down the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia into western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and then west along the Wilderness Road into Tennessee and Kentucky. In one British officer’s account of the effectiveness of the “over the mountains men” from Kentucky and Tennessee in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution of 1780 and 1781, he described their rifles as having been “chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania.”

The American longrifle originated in and about Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the second quarter of the 18th century and was made well into the second quarter of the 19th century. Martin Mylin, a German Swiss gunsmith, established a shop outside Lancaster in 1719, and is credited with making the first American longrifle about 1740. Eventually, the American longrifle gave way to more sophisticated, mass produced firearms starting with the Industrial Revolution in America around 1840. However, production of the American longrifle never completely ceased. Gunsmiths were making similar guns throughout the 19th century. Mostly, these were high end target rifles, but there were back country gunsmiths making longrifles for subsistence hunting in the Appalachians well into the 20th century. With the renewed interest in all things early American in the 1920’s and 30’s (the Colonial Revival period) as a result of the American sesquicentennial, there was a renewed interest in the Kentucky rifle. It was during this period that John Dillon wrote his book heralding an ever increasing interest in collecting, and recreating these uniquely American firearms.

But I still haven’t really told you what makes a gun an American longrifle. Well, they are long (usually five feet or more), graceful, slender, exceedingly accurate (by the standards of the day), muzzleloading (gunpowder and a round lead ball covered by a cloth patch were loaded from the muzzle(front) of the barrel), rifled (spiral grooves (furrows) were cut into the bore of the barrel to impart a stabilizing spin on the bullet thereby dramatically increasing accuracy), of relatively small caliber (average was around 50 caliber, decreasing into the 19th century), with either flintlock or percussion sidelock ignition systems, a full length wood stock, and usually a patchbox or grease hole on the lock side of the butt stock. The barrels were almost always octagon (“squared” in 18th century terminology) and tapered toward the muzzle and flared back out starting a few inches from the muzzle. This taper and flare (swamp) was generally very subtle giving way to straight tapered and then straight barrels in the mid 19th century. These guns were primarily mounted with brass fixtures (butt piece, toe plate, guard, side plate, thimbles and nose piece); but some, most notably in the South, had iron mounts; and, very rarely, there was a silver mounted gun. Many of these guns were decorated with baroque and rococo carving and engraving as well as inlays of silver and brass wire and sheet. Some of these rifles were extremely ornate and were one of the first truly American art forms. They are now recognized as a significant form of American decorative art and people collect them as such. This is what has driven the price of the best original flintlock American longrifles well into six figures.

The roots of the American longrifle are in the German rifles, or Jaegers, that were brought to this country by early German settlers and gunsmiths. Among other stylistic changes, the barrels of the Jaegers were lengthened, and the caliber reduced to produce the uniquely American longrifle which made more efficient use of powder and was very accurate at long range. The American longrifle developed to serve the needs of commercial hunters traveling to the frontier and beyond to harvest deer skins for export. These commercial hunters or “longhunters” have long been portrayed as pioneers and explorers of European origin such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. However, there is good reason to believe that as many as half of the early longrifles went to native American hunters who had been using European arms to harvest skins for export to Europe since the first contact with European traders in the 16th century.

There is lots more that I could write about the American longrifle, but the best way to learn about them is to look at them and handle them. On this site you will find photos of some of the better ones that I have made in my Portfolio as well as photos of original longrifles that I and others have owned in the Antique Longrifles Gallery. Look them over good, get some good books on the subject, and seek out original longrifles for study at museums, gun shows, and private owners.

Bibliography

  • The Kentucky Rifle by Capt. John Dillon
  • The Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age by Joe Kindig Jr.
  • Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1 & Volume 2by George Shumway
  • Recreating the American Longrifle by William Buchele, George Shumway, and Peter Alexander
  • The Gunsmith of Grenville County, Building the American Longrifle by Peter Alexander
  • The American Rifle: At the Battle at Kings Mountain by C.P. Russell, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941
  • Rifle Making in the Great Smoky Mountains by Arthur I. Kendall, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941




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Iron Mounted Eastern Tennessee Rifle

East TN Rifle - Full Right


This is an original, fully iron mounted rifle most likely made somewhere on the border of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee probably between 1820 and 1830..   The lines of the breech stock look Virginia while the mounts are typical East Tennessee.   The stock is a plain piece of Black Walnut in pretty good shape with the exception of saddle wear through to the ramrod hole.  They barrel has been shortened at the breech at least once about three inches.   All the parts appear to be original, and the lock and triggers still work exceptionally well.  The lock is a cheap hardware store variety with no fly or half cock notch.  There is stamped decoration (circles) around the muzzle and the rear buckhorn sight.   The barrel is particularly heavy and coned.  The coning makes it difficult to guage the caliber, but I estimate it at about 38 caliber.   Particularly when you consider that two or three inches were cut off this barrel lightening it some, it is pretty clear that this gun was not shot offhand.  This gun had to be shot from some sort of rest.   This rifle shows lots of honest wear and in-service repairs. I see no evidence of modern repairs or restoration.

  • Overall Length:  60″
  • Barrel Length:  42″
  • Caliber: 38

East TN Rifle - Full LeftEast TN Rifle - Full TopEast TN Rifle - Full BottomEast TN Rifle - Half Right - shows East Tennessee iron mounts and a small greese hole at the back of the butt stock.East TN Rifle - Half LeftEast TN Rifle - Half TopEast TN Rifle - Half Bottom - shows saddle wear through to the ramrod.East TN Rifle - Lock - shows a late, hardware store type, flintlock.East TN Rifle - Side Plate - show short iron plate that is not much more than a simple strip of iron.East TN Rifle - Tang - shows a short spear shaped tang.East TN Rifle - Trigger Guard  - shows a typical, squarish, iron, East Tenneessee style guard.

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