Why This Wood and Not That on 18th Century Rifles

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SOLANCO

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I have read that the chestnut was a go to tree for our ancestors in the 1700's, and before. It provided logs for buildings, food from the nuts, sawn lumber, firewood, almost anything you could want from a tree in, say....1760. Our rural area has been settled since the 1700's. There is a community named Chestnut Level. There is more than one Chestnut Grove Road. I have a book case made from chestnut reclaimed from a sheep shed on my property.

A maple tree had a different value. If you had maples you had a source for sugar in various forms. Imported cane sugar was expensive. Maple sugar, in any form, cost you your labor and could be consumed in your house or used for trade. I have read people were loathe to cut their maple trees. But there is nothing around here named for the maple except for the Shady Maple Farm Market, a relatively new place.

So I wonder why maple was used on many early rifles. And when the wood on an early rifle is not listed in description, how many are chestnut?
 

Hawken

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That's an interesting question. I'm not sure whether Chestnut was considered suitable for gunstocks or not. It was a very, very useful timber species for other applications that's for certain. As you know, the Chestnut blight wiped them out. It was a great tragedy similar to the complete loss of American Elm in the 1960s.
 

Stophel

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This is the perpetual question. Almost every day, somewhere, I see someone ask "what OTHER woods?"

The reason that the "big three" woods (maple, walnut, cherry) were used to the virtual exclusion of all else is the fact that these are the woods most suitable for wood gun stocks. Other woods are too coarse, or too unstable, or too soft (MOST are too soft... even walnut and cherry are barely suitable..).

Chestnut, while known as very rot resistant, is a pretty dang soft wood. That made it good for log cabin walls, but not gun stocks.
 

Whitworth

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I think it's a little soft for gun stocks but what I do I know? I do know it was used in my old house built in 1928. It had a Chestnut stair case and trim work yhruout. Log cabins and building were put up in local parks by the CCC around here using the logs from Chestnuts wiped out by the blight. My Grandfather 1901-1981 told me as a boy growing in mountains of WVA that you would never starve if lost because you could have lived off all the Chestnuts they were so bountiful..... then they were all gone.
 

Whitworth

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That's an interesting question. I'm not sure whether Chestnut was considered suitable for gunstocks or not. It was a very, very useful timber species for other applications that's for certain. As you know, the Chestnut blight wiped them out. It was a great tragedy similar to the complete loss of American Elm in the 1960s.
I'm watching Ash trees on my small tree farm and all around me slowly die. Thank you China for the Emerald Ash Borer along with Stink bugs, Covid and God knows else
 

Musketeer

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Janka hardness scale (lbs of force required to drive a .444" steel ball half its diameter (.222") into wood):

Maple: 1450
Walnut: 1010
Cherry: 950
Chestnut: 540 (the same number as poplar)

Hardness doesn't always tell the whole story of a given wood, but at that hardness I'd at least expect the stock to pick up dings and dents very easily.
 

SOLANCO

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Janka hardness scale (lbs of force required to drive a .444" steel ball half its diameter (.222") into wood):

Maple: 1450
Walnut: 1010
Cherry: 950
Chestnut: 540 (the same number as poplar)

Hardness doesn't always tell the whole story of a given wood, but at that hardness I'd at least expect the stock to pick up dings and dents very easily.
I am thinking you nailed it. Thankyou.
 

rich pierce

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As Stophel said there are many wood properties that are make or break for a good gunstock wood. Hardness is necessary to prevent denting. Strength is needed to prevent breakage. Resistance to splitting is important. Stability with moisture changes is very important else parts get bound or loose when wet or dry.
In addition availability of large clear logs, resistance to warping and splitting while drying, and workability matter. Beauty matters.
Black locust would theoretically make a good stock wood. Density is high but resistance to rot, strength, hardness, resistance to splitting, and so on are very good. But it often has twisted grain, seldom is available in large clear logs, and is plain as oatmeal. Yellow birch is fine but plain. Ash can be used but the open grain makes it hard to work and carve. Hickory is a nightmare to inlet into. Elm is hard to plane or chisel with its interlocking grain. Oaks are heavy, plain, and some suck water like a straw. Plenty of other marginal woods. But why use a marginal wood?
 

tenngun

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Walnut was a go to wood in Europe, including Central European rifles. Almost all the early rifles and some smoothbores are on pretty fine maple.
I THINK it was the same reason we choose it today, it pretty. It’s American. Maple in Europe almost all went in to musical instruments.
plain would become common by the early nineteenth century guns. Leman would put artificial stripes on his trade guns. By this time I THINK it had become a mark of quality
 

SOLANCO

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Rich called black locust "plain as oatmeal" and he is right.

But let me ask if stocks are flat sawn, or quarter sawn. It can make a big difference in the appearance.

We have 15 sycamores here so I researched them when we were planning our kitchen remodel. In colonial times they were used for butcher blocks, rather than cash crop maple. I found the grain appearance bland and boring. Then stumbled on a pic of quarter sawn sycamore and the difference is as night and day. It has a lot of chatoyance and the grain is flamboyant and amazing. Love contemplating it with my morning coffee.

I wonder if a bland stock wood could be rendered elegant by quarter sawing? And if quarter sawing might effect its suitability in other respects.
 
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Do not know about Sycamore for a gun stock, I do know it is a bear to split for fire wood and not a very good burn either, knurly grain and tougher than a steel ball.
 

Jaeger

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Rich called black locust "plain as oatmeal" and he is right.

But let me ask if stocks are flat sawn, or quarter sawn. It can make a big difference in the appearance.

We have 15 sycamores here so I researched them when we were planning our kitchen remodel. In colonial times they were used for butcher blocks, rather than cash crop maple. I found the grain appearance bland and boring. Then stumbled on a pic of quarter sawn sycamore and the difference is as night and day. It has a lot of chatoyance and the grain is flamboyant and amazing. Love contemplating it with my morning coffee.

I wonder if a bland stock wood could be rendered elegant by quarter sawing? And if quarter sawing might effect its suitability in other respects.
Chatoyance, eh? Easy for you to say.....
 

Jaeger

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I
It's real. Roughly, means has the characteristics of a cat's eye.
I know...I looked it up! Always good to learn a new word. I'm going to use it next chance I get, and I am going to use the French pronunciation to see what kind of reaction I get. LOL
 

PathfinderNC

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Janka hardness scale (lbs of force required to drive a .444" steel ball half its diameter (.222") into wood):

Maple: 1450
Walnut: 1010
Cherry: 950
Chestnut: 540 (the same number as poplar)

Hardness doesn't always tell the whole story of a given wood, but at that hardness I'd at least expect the stock to pick up dings and dents very easily.
Suprisingly, Curly Maple can range in Janka hardness from 700 to 1450.
 

1950DAVE

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Chatoyance in wood has to do with the changes of light reflection due to changes in grain direction. The most common is in curly maple. Also common is tiger oak, Birdseye maple, ribbon stripe in mahogany. Lots of other woods show it to some degree or another and it can be enhanced by proper finishing techniques.
Dave
 

Spence10

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Has anyone ever seen one of these?

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE 3
January 12, 1776
WILLIAMSBURG
ON the 6th of this instant was stolen, from a soldier of my company, a RIFLE GUN , her stock made of persimmon tree, iron mounted, has a pistol lock, the box lid lost, and her bore very small. Any person producing said gun to me, at this place, shall have two dollars reward, and no questions asked. William Campbell

Spence
 

William O.

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Ver
Has anyone ever seen one of these?

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE 3
January 12, 1776
WILLIAMSBURG
ON the 6th of this instant was stolen, from a soldier of my company, a RIFLE GUN , her stock made of persimmon tree, iron mounted, has a pistol lock, the box lid lost, and her bore very small. Any person producing said gun to me, at this place, shall have two dollars reward, and no questions asked. William Campbell

Spence
Very interesting as I've never seen a Persimon tree large enough to be milled for lumber. That could be due to my south Texas local but again, never seen one wide enough to cut a tongue depressor out of.
 
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