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Making a British Officer's Pistol

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dave_person

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Hi,

I am working on an early pattern Brown Bess and on a rifle for my blind friend, Josh. I am also starting a close copy of the Edward Marshall rifle but have to wait for delays in getting parts. While I wait, I thought I would build this pistol, which is a kit that was offered by the late Bill Kennedy. Bill was one of my mentors years ago and I jumped at the chance to make one of his kits, which are now very rare. I bought the kit from my friend, Dave Rase, out in Bremerton, Washington. Dave is a superb gun maker in his own right but he bought the kit years ago and never got to building it. The barrel was made by Bill and is 20 gauge, 8" long, and stamped with correct London proof marks and "WK" . I show it against a barrel from a long land Brown Bess. The precarved stock is English walnut and the hardware was cast by Bill in brass and is superb. The lock is Chambers small round-faced English lock, which is a very fine lock with a little work. It uses small Siler internals. I show it against an early Brown Bess lock for comparison.




So for me, the first question is, what am I going to make? What will the pistol represent? Unlike many, I care a lot about historical consistency. So I had to figure out what I had to work with. The pistol is mostly consistent with moderate quality pistols from the era. For example, it has the classic British acorn trigger guard. That became popular during the 1770s but by then, high quality pistols would have flat-faced locks. The round-faced lock was relegated to military, livery, and trade guns by that time. If the trigger guard was of an earlier style such that the pistol could credibly be from the 1750s, I could create a high-end gun. As it is, it needs to represent a less expensive gun from the 1770s and a private purchase officer's side arm is the historical ticket. So that is what it will be. It will represent a modest quality pistol purchased by an officer without the wealth to buy a higher grade. So what does that mean? It means I build it as is, I include a little carving around the barrel tang, and the engraving will be effective but not highest quality. There won't be a hook and tang breech nor high-end ribbed ramrod pipes and silver wire inlay. It will have the facade of quality without the details. Now at that time, that meant a very well made gun compared to American colonial production but without the frills associated with first quality London production.

So here I go on another historical adventure. The first issue to resolve is the breech plug threads go really deep into the barrel. So deep, that there is no way I could position the lock in the precarved mortice to avoid the touch hole going right in to the breech plug. I did not want to move the barrel back because I want the fence of the lock to be correctly located at the end of the barrel. The solution was to hollow out the breech plug and notch it for the lock. It is really simple to do with drills and a drill press, and then grinders attached to a Dremel. It came out nicely and solves the problem. I will inlet the barrel tomorrow, so more is coming.




dave
 

dave_person

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Hi,

Warning, I will discuss and adhere to a great deal of historical detail. I realize that may be a "trigger" to some people. I inlet the barrel. First, the side at the breech that butts against the lock has to be flattened. I filed it flat until the facet was level with the bottom of the mortice for the lock plate bolster machine inlet in the stock. It took quite a bit of filing. In the photos below you will see the pattern the flat makes on the barrel. On originals, the flat is a simple rectangle because it is filed in the barrel before the breech molding was filed. This modern barrel was turned on a lathe and the breech molding turned as well. When the side is filed flat, it produces that "vase" like pattern. Judicious filing will change that pattern to look more authentic. The barrel inletting was easy. Corners in the breech area were rounded from the machine cutter and needed to be squared up.

The rest of the barrel channel was slightly undersized and using inletting black, a round barrel float, and round scraper, I set the barrel in nicely and easily. I installed the breech plug and shortened the tang by about 1/8". It is a simple squared tang similar to those found on these kinds of pistols. Once the plug bolster was set in, I could lower the tang down to the wood surface and trace it. The inletting was easy.



I decided to inlet the lock plate. I filed draft on the edges of the plate and positioned it in the undersized mortice. I really wish kit makers would offer their kits without the lock inletting. It is actually easier to position, trace, and inlet a lock from scratch than trying to fit it to these machine cut mortices. You end up having to scrape wood off the edges, which is a precarious task that risks chips and tears. Anyway, after a little fussing, the plate went in nicely. On these pistols with round-faced locks, those flats around the lock will be so thin that they almost disappear. The pans on these pistols were usually located low below the centerline of the barrel. The kit has the correct positioning. The vent hole will be below center as well, which is what is most often the case when you examine originals. It is difficult to achieve the right historic stock architecture at the lock panels if the lock is not positioned low. The last photo shows what a handsome pistol this should be.





dave
 

dave_person

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Hi and thanks for looking and commenting. Pistols were almost always sold in pairs during the 18th and early 19th centuries. I've looked at British pistols posted on many auction sites and it is humorous how often pairs of pistols are labeled as "officer's" or "dueling" pistols. Civilians bought lots of pairs of pistols for personal use not just for military or dueling purposes. Privately purchased pistols for officers often looked just like civilian horse pistols with no clear way to tell they were for an officer. They tended to have standard military bores (0.65 caliber or 0.56 caliber) Many appear to have had inlays and engraving with martial motifs, which can be an indication that the owner was a soldier, but by no means always. Many documented officer's pistols were lighter, more ornate versions of military issue pistols. In the case of my pistol, there is no detail that absolutely identifies it as an officer's just that suggestion because of the martial side plate and thumb escutcheon, and the round-faced lock, which is similar to locks on ordinance issued pistols at the time. Many pistols labeled as dueling pistols may have been used in duels but are not real dueling pistols. By the late 1770s, the British dueling pistol had well defined characteristics (with some exceptions as always). Full swamped octagon barrel, front and rear sights, plain stock, hair or set trigger, best quality lock, and perfect craftsmanship. So, I call this pistol an officer's pistol but in truth it could be any modest quality pistol purchased during 1760-1770 by a civilian for personal use or use by one of their servants (livery pistol).

dave
 

jbwilliams3

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Thank you for posting along with great info and photos, as always. I always appreciate the efforts you take to attend to historic details.
 

Jeff Kaufmann

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Looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition as I always do with your posts. Thank you for sharing your skill and knowledge with us here, it is always an informative treat!
 

Hlane

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Looking good Dave....learning a lot as you go, so much appreciated.
 

sportster73hp

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Looking forward to this build as i am building a companion pistol to my Kibler colonial. A Rice 58 cal swamped barrel is the beginning. I purchased a trigger and guard . The stock will be full length but i am not sure of the shape yet. It will be in curly maple. My concern is the stocks integrity due to expected recoil
 

wiksmo

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For me, the first question is, what am I going to make? What will the pistol represent?

It needs to represent a less expensive gun from the 1770s and a private purchase officer's side arm is the historical ticket. So that is what it will be. It will represent a modest quality pistol purchased by an officer without the wealth to buy a higher grade. So what does that mean? It will have the façade of quality without the details.
Your Q&A is a perfect starting place. And I can see the future "handsome pistol" of your last photo.
Thanks for taking us along for this build.
~wiksmo
 

rickpa

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As always, an interesting and informative post. Your posts contain
a wealth of information not only on how to do the nuts and bolts of the build but are full of historical background on the technical aspects of the build and how to make it correctly. Thanks Dave.
 

dave_person

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Hi,

Got a bit more done on the pistol working a few hours on it for the last few days. I inlet the rest of the lock and installed the trigger plate. The task was very easy. I then positioned and drilled the barrel tang bolt. I threaded the trigger plate and installed the bolt. Next up was inletting the side plate. This was tricky because I had to make sure the bolt holes are correctly positioned on the side plate and lock. The rear bolt has to go through the breech plug bolster. The stock is already partially inlet for the side plate so I cannot move it. Therefore, I measured the position of the holes in the side plate and located the proper spots on the lock side. I drilled from both sides by eyeball and the holes met nicely. I then drilled through those holes to mark the inside of the lock plate. In my drill press, I drilled the holes in the lock plate. The forward hole is easy because it goes all the way through and can be threaded with a tapered tap. On good quality guns, the rear lock bolt holes are almost always blind and do not show on the lock face. Therefore, I drilled a hole part way and threaded it with a bottoming tap. I then fitted the bolts and used them to hold the side plate in place so I could trace the outline. The side plate is an extremely good casting and the only prep needed was to true the edges. It depicts a beautiful stand of arms and military symbols. I use a special tiny skew chisel that I created to trace and stab in intricate outlines.

The result was just fine.

Next, I decided to install the butt cap. A lot of folks have heartburn installing butt caps, particularly those with side spurs. The butt on the precarved stock really was about 95% complete and did not take me very long to finish. The first step was to true up the edges of the casting. I anchored it to a block of wood so I could file the edges.

. Then it must be annealed. After softening, I bent the spurs out to get them out of the way while I fitted the pommel.

I used inleting black, files and a small skew chisel to file and scrape away wood.

When the pommel fit, it was time to inlet the sides. Note the spurs have little teeth at the ends.

I traced the spurs on the stock and then cut them in with very small chisels. At the ends of the mortices for the spurs, I undercut the wood to make space for the teeth.


Then I anneal the cap again, pinch the spurs back in and tap it into place. Once in place I drilled for the anchoring wood screw.



Then I installed the end cap. End caps have a flange that slides through the butt cap and into the end of the stock. A wood screw hidden under the end of the trigger guard is fitted so the tip inserts into a hole in the flange. As that screw is tightened, it pulls the end cap tightly up against the butt cap.


. I drilled 4 holes in a line to begin the inlet for the end cap. Then I cut between the holes with my barrel key chisel made from an old flat needle file. After most of the wood is cleared away, I cut a thin metal strip the thickness and width of the flange, sharpened one end, and then heated it with a torch. Holding it with pliers, I let it burn into the slot to complete the inlet. I won't install the screw for the end cap flange until after I inlet the trigger guard.


. I decided to start shaping the wood at the pommel. It is important to understand that shaping is not hap hazard and styling changed over time. I want the swell at the end to press up against my pinky finger giving a secure grip. On British horse pistols made during the late 17th and early to mid 18th centuries, the pommel usually had a pronounced swell front and back. It was shaped very much like the pommel of a sword. Later in the 18th century, the swell was reduced a bit and the curves not quite so extreme and pronounced. I roughed out the handle and butt consistent with pistols from the 1760s and 1770s. Next will likely be the trigger and trigger guard.


dave
 

dave_person

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Hi,
I was writing about changes in style over time with respect to British horse or private purchase officer's pistols. Below is an example of an early 18th century British pistol by Lewis Barbar showing the deep pommel grip very much like a sword pommel.


The next photo shows an officer's pistol from the 1760s-1770s by John Twigg. Note how the swell at the butt cap is less dramatic.


dave
 

dave_person

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Hi Brokennock,
You are welcome. The primary reason why I posted this particular project is because it involves methods and historical details that are rarely if ever posted online and are difficult to find even in books. I assumed some of you would like to know those details and now you do.

dave
 

Hlane

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Most interesting stuff..... especially the butt caps!
 

KC Clem

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Beautiful work, I look forward to seeing more as this progresses. Thanks.
K.C.
 

fireman1

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I'll just go over and sit in the corner while a master craftsman does his work.

Thanks for sharing!
 

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