Original wood finish of military muskets.

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Ironoxide

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I've been searching for some information about original methods used to finish the wood on military muskets in their time. I'm mainly interested in French muskets, but I don't suppose the finishing method would be that different in other countries.

I read somewhere stocks were dipped in a huge tank of (possibly warmed) linseed oil. They were then left for 14-21 days to dry. That's all I managed to find.

I'm starting work on finishing a musket kit and I would like to finish it in realistic way. There are many books and tutorials how to achieve various highly polished finishes. However, there isn't much info about how to make a kit musket look authentic.

I'm not planning to make it look like originals we have today. My ideal would be to achieve a finish originals had when they were made,but I don't know how that finish looked like.

How well was it sanded, was grain filled with grinding sawdust, or some dedicated concoction etc?

If anyone has any information on the subject please share.
 

FlinterNick

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18th century original finishes were mostly just linseed oil. They did a wipe or a heated oil dunk with the stock and rubbed in the finish with whale bones or antlers as burnishers. Stain wasn’t really used often as it wasn’t readily available. Some stains were made with walnut husks, rusty nails and refined with a solution of alcohol. Most of these stains were used on very light woods, not your darker walnuts or cherry.

’Pure’ Tung Oil was used however was not available in large quantities, it was used as a mixture to make varnishes on fine furniture.

Shellac was available and used on very expensive custom guns, but wasn’t really considered a durable finish as it is water souluable.

Varnishes were available, but not in surplus. Most 18th century varnishes were a mixture of Venice turpentine, linseed oil and alcohol. Most of these varnishes were used on fine furniture and art work.
 
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Ironoxide

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Thanks. Do you know how did they prepare wood before applying the finish? Did they sand a lot or just barely, filled the grain etc?
 

FlinterNick

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Thanks. Do you know how did they prepare wood before applying the finish? Did they sand a lot or just barely, filled the grain etc?
Most stocks were sanded with an Emory down to around 150-180 grit before oiling and burnishing. Sandpaper was used back then but there were alternatives such as rotten stone that was used in clumps or by hand.

for final polishing a sheep skin cloth or chamise was used with a mixture of wax and pumice, or brick dust to create a semi glossed finish that would be water resistant. In some cases on very thin forearms this was done with just barehands.
 

dave_person

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Hi,
Muskets in the 18th century were usually finished with a linseed oil varnish not plain linseed oil and not dipped in some vat of oil. They needed finishes that could be applied and dried quickly and that were robust. Raw linseed oil is none of those things but mixed with a copal resin, it becomes a harder, quicker drying varnish. Some British muskets were colored by tinting the varnish to achieve a more uniform appearance but I am not sure that was universal. Just look at any books on muskets, such as Goldstein and Mowbray's "The Brown Bess" and you can see the slightly glossy hard varnish finish. This is how a correct British musket should look:





French muskets were likely finished in a similar manner. They did not have time to wait for a poor finish of raw linseed oil to dry or seal the stock. British musket stocks were finished using files and scrapers and the quality varied depending on peacetime or war production and the manufactory, which could be the Tower, Dublin Castle, private English contractors, or foreign makers in Belgium and Germany. French muskets were produced by the 3 big Royal arsenals with some supplementation by semi-private makers such as Tulle. I think there was fairly uniform quality control.

dave

dave
 

FlinterNick

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Hi,
Muskets in the 18th century were usually finished with a linseed oil varnish not plain linseed oil and not dipped in some vat of oil. They needed finishes that could be applied and dried quickly and that were robust. Raw linseed oil is none of those things but mixed with a copal resin, it becomes a harder, quicker drying varnish. Some British muskets were colored by tinting the varnish to achieve a more uniform appearance but I am not sure that was universal. Just look at any books on muskets, such as Goldstein and Mowbray's "The Brown Bess" and you can see the slightly glossy hard varnish finish. This is how a correct British musket should look:





French muskets were likely finished in a similar manner. They did not have time to wait for a poor finish of raw linseed oil to dry or seal the stock. British musket stocks were finished using files and scrapers and the quality varied depending on peacetime or war production and the manufactory, which could be the Tower, Dublin Castle, private English contractors, or foreign makers in Belgium and Germany. French muskets were produced by the 3 big Royal arsenals with some supplementation by semi-private makers such as Tulle. I think there was fairly uniform quality control.

dave

dave
Hi Dave, using a dunking method is something that was done in either Springfield or Harpers Ferry. When i was finishing my 1803 stock Dave Stalvo had mentioned the several methods experimented with by harpers ferry, ill have to ask him for the resource.
 

FlinterNick

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Hi,
Muskets in the 18th century were usually finished with a linseed oil varnish not plain linseed oil and not dipped in some vat of oil. They needed finishes that could be applied and dried quickly and that were robust. Raw linseed oil is none of those things but mixed with a copal resin, it becomes a harder, quicker drying varnish. Some British muskets were colored by tinting the varnish to achieve a more uniform appearance but I am not sure that was universal. Just look at any books on muskets, such as Goldstein and Mowbray's "The Brown Bess" and you can see the slightly glossy hard varnish finish. This is how a correct British musket should look:





French muskets were likely finished in a similar manner. They did not have time to wait for a poor finish of raw linseed oil to dry or seal the stock. British musket stocks were finished using files and scrapers and the quality varied depending on peacetime or war production and the manufactory, which could be the Tower, Dublin Castle, private English contractors, or foreign makers in Belgium and Germany. French muskets were produced by the 3 big Royal arsenals with some supplementation by semi-private makers such as Tulle. I think there was fairly uniform quality control.

dave

dave
Hi Dave

The book by Ken W Johns, the Springfield armory discusses how the Springfield armory would dip stocks in vats of hot linseed oil, let them dry out and then burnished them with whale bones. This may have been a method that was used mostly only later period guns, and not military flintlocks. I don’t have any references to that method being used on European military arms, just American.
 

nhmoose

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I doubt any smith doing work today would use the hot linseed oil dip. First that amount of linseed oil will be expensive, second heating it up would be dangerous and an insurance nightmare, clean up very hazardous due to the spontaneous combustion factor of linseed oil.

Good luck if you do find one.
 

FlinterNick

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I doubt any smith doing work today would use the hot linseed oil dip. First that amount of linseed oil will be expensive, second heating it up would be dangerous and an insurance nightmare, clean up very hazardous due to the spontaneous combustion factor of linseed oil.

Good luck if you do find one.
the The Springfield Armory did some pretty experimental things. But I think it was done in mass production.

I Do dunk other projects in hot mineral oil or walnut oil things like salad bowls spoons forks plates it works really well from an organic standpoint, very small projects and it do it outside. I’ve never done it for a gun stock I just mixing some turpentine to get it to absorb
 
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nhmoose

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When I had my shop that also blued steel the insurance for a hot dip linseed oil bath and the fire protection costs were definitely not profitable We asked for a quote as we did work on un-speakables that would work with the dip
 

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I've been searching for some information about original methods used to finish the wood on military muskets in their time. I'm mainly interested in French muskets, but I don't suppose the finishing method would be that different in other countries.

I read somewhere stocks were dipped in a huge tank of (possibly warmed) linseed oil. They were then left for 14-21 days to dry. That's all I managed to find.

I'm starting work on finishing a musket kit and I would like to finish it in realistic way. There are many books and tutorials how to achieve various highly polished finishes. However, there isn't much info about how to make a kit musket look authentic.

I'm not planning to make it look like originals we have today. My ideal would be to achieve a finish originals had when they were made,but I don't know how that finish looked like.

How well was it sanded, was grain filled with grinding sawdust, or some dedicated concoction etc?

If anyone has any information on the subject please share.
First, PLEASE listen to the advice Dave Person gave because he is absolutely correct. They used oil varnish finishes on ALL types of firearms and most definitely Military Arms. I tried to post a link from Eric Kettenburg on the original finishes, but the link no longer works.

I know Dave likes the Exterior Polymerized Tung Oil Medium Lustre from Sutherland Welles and that's great stuff, but you have to buy a quart at a time at a cost of about $ 43.15, unless you can find a dealer who might have it in pint cans? Maybe someone else knows where to find it in pint cans?

I've found a whole lot of folks don't know is that Birchwood Casey's "Tru Oil" is INDEED a polymerized Oil Alkyd/Varnish finish. Their 3 oz. bottles are MORE than enough to do two or three musket stocks and that's from a guy who has used it since 1974 on many hundreds, if not thousands of stocks since then.

Muskets were not sanded in the 18th or early 19th century. They were scraped and perhaps "boned," which was rubbing them down hard with pieces of clean/dry bone to compress the wood fibers. Sandpaper was made in the 18th century and it was usually called "Glass Paper," but was so expensive that gunsmiths and armories didn't use it.

I'm pretty sure Dave Person has a tutorial on how he finishes Military Arms in a period manner, but I don't know offhand where it is to link it.

I can give you a tutorial on how I use Tru Oil to make a very pleasing finish that looks correct for the period, if you would like.

Gus
 

FlinterNick

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Here is a second model bess rifle shoppe kit with a linseed oil and bees wax finish. Not a glossy like varnish finish more matte.

 

FlinterNick

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First, PLEASE listen to the advice Dave Person gave because he is absolutely correct. They used oil varnish finishes on ALL types of firearms and most definitely Military Arms. I tried to post a link from Eric Kettenburg on the original finishes, but the link no longer works.

I know Dave likes the Exterior Polymerized Tung Oil Medium Lustre from Sutherland Welles and that's great stuff, but you have to buy a quart at a time at a cost of about $ 43.15, unless you can find a dealer who might have it in pint cans? Maybe someone else knows where to find it in pint cans?

I've found a whole lot of folks don't know is that Birchwood Casey's "Tru Oil" is INDEED a polymerized Oil Alkyd/Varnish finish. Their 3 oz. bottles are MORE than enough to do two or three musket stocks and that's from a guy who has used it since 1974 on many hundreds, if not thousands of stocks since then.

Muskets were not sanded in the 18th or early 19th century. They were scraped and perhaps "boned," which was rubbing them down hard with pieces of clean/dry bone to compress the wood fibers. Sandpaper was made in the 18th century and it was usually called "Glass Paper," but was so expensive that gunsmiths and armories didn't use it.

I'm pretty sure Dave Person has a tutorial on how he finishes Military Arms in a period manner, but I don't know offhand where it is to link it.

I can give you a tutorial on how I use Tru Oil to make a very pleasing finish that looks correct for the period, if you would like.

Gus
sand paper / emory cloth was available gus, just not in the way we think of it. They didnt have to the kind of grits we have, but pumice, rotten stone, sand rubbing were all metods used in18th century wood finishes, not for military guns but i would say that some private gunmakers may have used various methods not just those the british and french armories adopted.
 
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sand paper / emory cloth was available gus, just not in the way we think of it.
Earlier I wrote:
"Sandpaper was made in the 18th century and it was usually called "Glass Paper," but was so expensive that gunsmiths and armories didn't use it."

I will add it was mostly used by those who made very high end furniture.

They didnt have to the kind of grits we have, but pumice, rotten stone, sand rubbing were all metods used in18th century wood finishes, not for military guns but i would say that some private gunmakers may have used various methods not just those the british and french armories adopted.
They also used rushes to smooth wood and that was done on gun stocks as well.

Yes, I'm aware they used pumice and rotten stone, as well as emery powder, to smooth up a finish on high grade guns.

Gus
 

FlinterNick

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Earlier I wrote:
"Sandpaper was made in the 18th century and it was usually called "Glass Paper," but was so expensive that gunsmiths and armories didn't use it."

I will add it was mostly used by those who made very high end furniture.



They also used rushes to smooth wood and that was done on gun stocks as well.

Yes, I'm aware they used pumice and rotten stone, as well as emery powder, to smooth up a finish on high grade guns.

Gus
I did some research a few years back
On ancient woodworking and found some pretty amazing things that actually still work pretty good today.

Believe it or not do tge Egyptians were pretty good at finishing wood. Of course they had all kinds of sand ha ha but things like dried out sea sponges Oyster shells and ground up bones provide a variety of grits.
 

SmokepoleSam

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Gus, I for one would appreciate a tutorial on how to use Tru Oil
Thanks in advance



I can give you a tutorial on how I use Tru Oil to make a very pleasing finish that looks correct for the period, if you would like.

Gus
[/QUOTE]
 

Whitworth

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Boiled Linseed oil was used by Springfield Armory thru WW2 being replaced by boiled Tung oil. The finish on my 1847 Harpers Ferry musket sure looks the same as the boiled Linseed oil finish on my 1943 Garand.
Some good stock finish info and tips can be found here:
 

Ironoxide

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Gus, no doubt everyone would benefit from learning your tru-oil usage method. However, where I am I'm slightly restricted in types of finish available to me. I could order tru-oil via post, but I'll take at least 3 weeks to arrive.

I also refined my goal for the finish slightly. I would like the grain to be filled. I definitely want a sanded finish, just not high gloss. I definitely need it to be waterproof as I use water - ballistol mix to clean my black powder guns and spillage happens often. Visually I would like it to look like a dull rubbed oil finish. I'm not opposed to incorporating modern varnishes(like tru-oil).

Wth regards to stuff I have available. I have boiled linseed oil plus many kinds of old style and modern varnishes. I simply used boiled linseed oil in the past. However, I'm not going to achieve grain fill nor the level of waterproofing required in less than a year with just BLO. So I decided to test verious BLO compatible methods (including modern varnish recipes I got) on sanded pine boards first. Then the plan is to use BLO for few finish coats.

Then to assess my testing boards and decide.
 

FlinterNick

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Gus, no doubt everyone would benefit from learning your tru-oil usage method. However, where I am I'm slightly restricted in types of finish available to me. I could order tru-oil via post, but I'll take at least 3 weeks to arrive.

I also refined my goal for the finish slightly. I would like the grain to be filled. I definitely want a sanded finish, just not high gloss. I definitely need it to be waterproof as I use water - ballistol mix to clean my black powder guns and spillage happens often. Visually I would like it to look like a dull rubbed oil finish. I'm not opposed to incorporating modern varnishes(like tru-oil).

Wth regards to stuff I have available. I have boiled linseed oil plus many kinds of old style and modern varnishes. I simply used boiled linseed oil in the past. However, I'm not going to achieve grain fill nor the level of waterproofing required in less than a year with just BLO. So I decided to test verious BLO compatible methods (including modern varnish recipes I got) on sanded pine boards first. Then the plan is to use BLO for few finish coats.

Then to assess my testing boards and decide.
James Turpin mixes Danish oil with Boiled Linseed oil, I’ve never tried this but is on his DVD.

Straight Danish oil on naked furniture requires 3-5 coats and for the most part I’d call it water resistant.

The most waterproof you can get is with some kind of varnish to fill the grain and then oiling over it for the finish. Of all the Varinishes Spar is thickest (other than an epoxy).

Gus’s recommendation to use tru-oil is the most commonly used and provides a very decent amount of water and grease protection. The best part about using birch wood Casey productions is they can be reapplied to maintain the finish. The fact that it doesn’t take weeks or months to cure too is a benefit.

In my opinion, I’m don’t think there were very many waterproof formulas in the 18th century, at least none that we would consider waterproof today. Even 18th century varnishes that were available were still pretty mild.

The Springfield armory during the civil war did a nice job of finishing rifled musket stocks with linseed oil, these were mass produced and many today are still in pretty decent shape.
 

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