An Early Vermont Rifle

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Hi,
I had a bout with Covid last August and although my symptoms were very mild, I still suffered extreme fatigue and brain fog. I could do no shop work for 6 weeks because of tiredness and a horrible tendency to make mindless mistakes. Anyway, I am recovered and back to work. However, I am way behind schedule so have a lot of projects stacked up this winter and next spring. This is the first of my winter projects, a John Hills inspired rifle. Hills was the first documented gunsmith in Vermont and there are at least 2 surviving rifles he made during the last decade of the 18th century while living in Charlotte, Vermont. You can see them in Shumway's collection of "Longrifles of Note vol. 2." I'll not post photos of them to avoid violating copyright protections. My barrel is a Rice classic Dickert in 54 caliber cut back to 41". The original rifle I am working from had a 43" barrel but the owner of my version is fairly short so the shorter barrel fits him better. I've proportioned everything to adjust for that shorter barrel. The lock is a Chambers early Ketland modified slightly to better match Hills' work. The mounts will be brass and I have components that can be modified to look right. The only thing I am still missing is a trigger guard that will work. I think I am going to have to cobble one together. The red maple stock is from Allen Martin and is superb. It is as hard as sugar maple but the figure is fantastic. Thank you Allen!!! Anyway, here is where I am. The barrel is in, along with the barrel tang, and the ramrod hole is drilled. The ramrod hole is a full 3/8" to accommodate a stout 3/8" ramrod but it means the space at the breech is really packed with stuff. It is not drilled parallel with the bore of the barrel, rather it is follows the swamp of the barrel more or less so the web of wood remains fairly constant at 1/8-5/32" wide.
















dave
 

Brokennock

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Very happy to hear you've seen improvement in your health. The fatigue and brain fog issues lasted a very long time for me.
This is going to be an excellent topic, I greatly look forward to following it, I guess I'll have to stick around the forum a little longer, lol.

Thank you for sharing with us.
 

BillKilgore

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Glad you are feeling better, Dave. For me, the fatigue was ridiculous. I hope you have time to post a few pics of your projects.
 
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Hi,
I got the lock installed this afternoon. I am always impressed by folks like Mike Brooks who can install a lock in an hour or less. I've built a lot of guns but it still takes me a full afternoon to inlet a lock. I do it piecemeal, which works for me but I make no claims that way is "the" way to do it. Anyway, I mark my barrel for the vent hole but I don't drill it. Drilling the vent hole is one of the last tasks I do on a gun. I position the hole about 1/8" in font of the breech plug and usually in the middle or slightly lower on the barrel flat. Then I inlet the bolster on the lock plate so the plate will sit down on the wood. Before doing any of that , however, I trim the side panel such that I only have 1/16" extra wood needed to fit the lock. I hate inletting through a lot of excess wood.

With the plate flat on the wood, I trace it and inlet it. I use blacking to make sure it sits in the mortise evenly. The I place a close fitting drill in the tumbler hole and smack it with a hammer. That marks the tumbler position in the stock.





I center punch the mark, measure the depth of the tumbler below the lock plate, and drill a hole in the stock that depth and a little larger diameter than the spindle.






Next, I place the tumbler in the hole and trace the arc of its motion on the stock.




Then I cut away that tracing the depth of the tumbler body using a big drill, a router bit on my Dremel Destroyer, and chisels.




Then I put punch holes for the bridle screws through the lock plate, drill them to the depth of the bridle screws, and inlet the bridle.




I follow that procedure to inlet all the other parts. I use a large drill to make the hole for the sear and clear away space for the parts using chisels and my Dremel Destroyer. It does help to have inlet a certain lock before so you know what the mortise should look like. I put the mainspring in last and try to remove just enough wood for it to fit and function. I use a 1/4" drill marked for the depth of the spring to remove much of the wood. Then flat chisels and my Dremel Destroyer. Note I try to preserve as much wood as possible under the lower oblique flat of the barrel but I almost always break through to the barrel channel a little bit unless I narrow the mainspring or use a skinny barrel. If modern-made locks had taller studs that fit under the lock plate bolster such that the upper leaf of the spring is lower on the lock plate, that would not happen.







I still need to clean up some fuzzies of wood and will eventually dress up the mortise further later in the game. John Hills, like so many other early American gunsmiths probably hogged wood out of the lock mortise to get the job done quickly. I take my cue from those forgotten British musket "setter uppers" who managed much better despite making thousands of muskets quickly and cheaply.

I realized that I failed to mention the lock is a Chambers early Ketland but the plate was modified to more closely copy Hills' work. As a result, there is very little extra space at the tail of the lock.

dave
 
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Hi,
The butt plate is on. I modified an English fowler butt plate from Janet Goehring to create a typical John Hills butt plate. I call it Hills' "angry man" plate. I'll leave you to guess why I do that. These butt plates are a bit more of a challenge than those typically on long rifles but they are not hard.



This is the set up I use to start the process. The wooden leg vise holds securely so the end of the gun is at my chest level. I anchor the other end to my sliding deadman using a bench dog.



Later, when I want the stock held more horizontal, I'll use a pattern maker's vise to hold it. I trim the end of the stock as close to my tracing of the inside edges of the butt plate as I can and also trim off a lot of excess wood on the sides, top, and bottom. Then I position where the top of the radiused shoulder will come on the stock and cut down and across to make a shoulder.



I then start inletting the top return starting at the heel and working forward until it is done. Because the return continually narrows toward its end, you can move it forward as you fit it without creating any gaps. That makes it easy to get a tight fit all around.











Finally, I drill for the two screws and mount them and I am done for now.







dave
 
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Hi,
Got a lot of shaping done. It should be a nice slim elegant gun. I use chisels, a plane, pattern makers rasps, and a Japanese saw to remove a lot of wood quickly.







My current problem is what to do with the cheek piece. The cheek pieces on the 2 John Hills rifles shown in Shumway's "Long Rifles of Note Vol 2" are misshapen ugly lumps. My apprentice, Maria, heard me groaning as I sat on my stool yesterday looking at photos of the original gun and trying to pencil in some acceptable design on the stock. I was not succeeding. The owner of the gun punted by telling me me he trusted my artistic abilities to make it look like Hills' work but nicer. Great. :rolleyes: I'll figure out something.



I'll think about it tomorrow.

dave
 

Robby

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Dave, would it be possible to show a picture of the original cheek. I don't know how its' possible, but I don't have that book. These types of problems are an enjoyment to me and I'm curious what you are up against.
Robby
 

Loyalist Dave

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Hi,
I had a bout with Covid last August and although my symptoms were very mild, I still suffered extreme fatigue and brain fog. I could do no shop work for 6 weeks because of tiredness and a horrible tendency to make mindless mistakes. Anyway, I am recovered and back to work.

Glad to hear you're OK, Dave. Yeah, my experience was similar. I thought it silly my boss made me stay home for 10 days when my symptoms abated and fever was gone on day 4..., but I noticed even after returning to work, I'd be fine, and then suddenly be highly tired, and be "done for the day". It was unpredictable and annoying to say the least...

Thanks for the project photos, they are always interesting, and a great diversion from my mundane day!

LD
 
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Hi Robby,
I am reluctant to post photos from any books because of copyright violations so I made a drawing of it. The shading lines convey the convex and concave surfaces.

R5zFyA8.jpg


dave
 
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I would make the convex concave, since the client gave you artistic license to change it. Or...at least just make it comfortable against the cheek.

If you recall on my Haines, we both thought the original had fairly ugly beaver tails on the lock panels. I just told you to make them better and you did it. A difference from the original, but a good change.

And, I think the proper term is butt-stock ugly!!! ;-)
 
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Dave and Rich......Before things go out of hand , look at two rifles from Shumway's books. One is an early Lancaster , Pa. rifle by Valentine Fondersmith , Ca. 1775 , and the other is an original from around 1765 ish. Johannas Faber , from Staunton , Va. Near as I see , these two rifles are near identical in stock shape and cheek rest. Fred Miller copied this rifle stock precarve , from an original in Reeves Goering's collection. I built one of these to use as a deer rifle , and love it. ........oldwood
 
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I am always impressed by folks like Mike Brooks who can install a lock in an hour or less.
I saw a documentary on Mike Brooks on a Legacy Society show (season 1 #8.) What impressed me the most was that Mike uses an incredibly bare minimum of tools while creating his masterpieces. I consider myself fortunate to own one of his pieces.

Consider myself fortunate to own one of yours as well! :) Nothing like having the best!
 
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Hi Guys,
A bit more done today. I installed the barrel lugs, inlet, and drilled them for 5/64" pins. One of the Hills rifles appears to have a brass nose band, while the other has a muzzle cap. I opted for the cap and had just the right size in my stock of soldered muzzle caps. I have no idea if the original rifle had a soldered or one-piece cap, or even one open at the front. I installed a simple cap with soldered front. Then I shaved down the forestock. I do that by marking lines on the stock that define flats I will plane. This is the method I taught my blind friend, Josh, to use to shape fore stocks evenly. With a square, I draw a lines parallel to the top edges of the barrel channel and ramrod groove. In this case, I chose a line 1/4" down from the edge of the barrel channel and 3/8" up from the edge of the ramrod groove.



Then I plane a flat along the top edge of the barrel channel about 45 degrees and meeting my line but remaining about 1/16" away from the barrel channel. Note, I already coated the barrel channel with a varnish thin layer of stained AcraGlas. I do that to greatly strengthen (3 to 10 times the strength of uncoated wood) the barrel channel walls.



Then I rotate the stock and plane the flat along the ramrod channel. Next I plane down the crest between the two flats. This removes wood very quickly and creates the profile I am looking for. It only takes about 20 minutes per side to get it done.






Then I inletted the forward ramrod pipes and called it a day.







dave
 
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Hi,
Got more done today. All the ramrod pipes are in. I used cast brass pipes sold for English fowlers. They are similar to some used by Hills. However, the decorative shield on the rear pipe will be files away to create a simpler more rustic design consistent with Hills' work. There is a real advantage to using those pipes because the tubes are identical including the rear pipe. That makes inletting the rear pipe a breeze. I first inlet a forward pipe in the space for the tube section, and then just inlet the rear pipe tang. It really simplifies the task.





All the pipes are in and pinned with 1/16" diameter spring steel rod. Note the barrel lugs show in the ramrod channel.



Some folks always ask if that is OK and it certainly is. You fill see it on many originals, including high-end English sporting guns, and is almost impossible to avoid if you are making a slim gun with a narrow web of wood separating the barrel from the ramrod.

I resolved the cheek piece. I decide to form it into a small rectangular shape that I call "duck's lips". It has some of the feel of Hiils' cheek pieces but avoids their clunky awkwardness.






I pared away a lot of wood and the gun is taking shape.







dave
 
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