Why This Wood and Not That on 18th Century Rifles

Help Support Muzzle Loading Forum:

nagantino

36 Cl.
Joined
Mar 10, 2019
Messages
89
Reaction score
45
My local dealer/gunsmith told me that when he was invited to visit his German supplier, they showed him their collection of Mauser K98 rifles. The collection showed peacetime fine walnut deteriorating into the worst white wood that Germany could muster to make a rifle in the last days of the War.
 

starman

32 Cal.
Joined
Jun 16, 2011
Messages
132
Reaction score
36
The bowl on the bottom left , spalted persimmon. Thee was roughly two feet in diameter, biggest I had seen. Was in neighbors yard so she got first bowl. My lathe limits me to 12 " . I have never seen persimmon lumber thou ad a large tree is rare.

View attachment 62696
Nice bowls! I enjoy turning bowls when the weather is too bad to enjoy shooting.
 

GANGGREEN

45 Cal.
MLF Supporter
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
1,254
Reaction score
448
Location
Coudersport, PA
I always participate in these "Why not X wood" debates, but especially those about the American chestnut. I've told this story before, but I had a very large (19-20" DBH) American chestnut on my property that had somehow avoided death by blight for about 80 years. It recently succumbed and I ended up harvesting and milling it and my home is now full of Chestnut furniture, picture frames and trinkets. It's a lovely wood, easy to work, although I think it's a good bit harder than Poplar in my experience (someone showed the Janca scale showing that they were the same). I also happen to have a reclaimed blank in my shop (old stock wormy Chestnut from a barn restoration) that I think I'm going to try to use on a gun project this year if it appears to be suitable for said project (I'll let someone more expert than me look at it and give me their decision).
 

Tom A Hawk

62 Cal.
MLF Sponsor
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jul 6, 2006
Messages
2,530
Reaction score
3,530
Location
Finger Lakes Region - NYS
Four factors are considered for suitable gun stock wood. Hardness, grain (fine or course), ease of working and brittleness. Walnut was used in the majority of military guns because of its easy of machining and ability to absorb the shock of recoil. Maple was often used for its beauty as well as ability to absorb the recoil inspite of the difficulty to machine. Chestnut is both a softer wood and courser grain which makes it easy to split which was nice for riving boards for building but not for holding up to recoil.
I suggest that in a historical context there is a fifth factor for consideration. In the days prior to the availability of long distance transportation a gun maker likely did the best he could with the woods that were available to him.
 

jfahlingsr

32 Cal
MLF Supporter
Joined
Feb 27, 2020
Messages
25
Reaction score
11
Freddie Harrison had several nice sized planks of perrsimon at Friendship about 20 years ago. I handled several but didn’t buy any as I was building golden age then. Freddie said they took stain well and carved great, all were 1/4 sawn and had a good grain flow. Kinda wonder if Nathan has any left! Also, I always thought Silver maple was not a gunstock wood but bought a very,very light weight well curled plank that the original buyer had not used. I’d taken a commission from a Dr in his 60’s with 2 bad shoulders and a bad left arm, rifle weight was the most important consideration. I called the dealer and flat out asked if he’d sell Silver maple because the guy said he’d bought it and 2 others from him. Answer was yes he did and if it was just hard enough and grain flowed through wrist he would sell it. Some Silver maple will overlap red in hardness. Of course it wasn’t granite hard and carving was a challenge but it made a very nice H Albright prancing buck (Kindig #27), .50 cal 44”bbl at 7 1/4 lbs.
 

flashpoint

40 Cal
Joined
Jan 12, 2019
Messages
258
Reaction score
88
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.
Great point. I was also amazed how gorgeous Sycamore can be when it's cut right. Was wondering though if, because of its hardness, is maple more prone to cracking at the wrist than other woods especially with heavy loads and heavy projectiles?
 

Stophel

75 Cal.
Joined
Jul 8, 2005
Messages
5,933
Reaction score
755
Sycamore is loaded with rays, and, frankly, I find it hideously gaudy. It's also too soft for stock wood. But then, I've seen people stock up something that goes bang in all kinds of woods that I would consider VERY unsuitable, just because they have to be different.
 

bud in pa

40 Cal.
Joined
Apr 11, 2003
Messages
539
Reaction score
389
Location
Long Pond PA
My local dealer/gunsmith told me that when he was invited to visit his German supplier, they showed him their collection of Mauser K98 rifles. The collection showed peacetime fine walnut deteriorating into the worst white wood that Germany could muster to make a rifle in the last days of the War.
I once had a WWI German rifle that had a tiger maple stock under the brown finish.
 

.36Rooster

40 Cal
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jan 12, 2021
Messages
443
Reaction score
421
Location
South Dakota
Sycamore has a lot of grain runout. I figured that out as an 18 year old experimenting with a bowdrill. I tried to split it and the grain ran right out and the knife promptly ran right into where my hand meets my thumb. Had to interrupt Christmas dinner to get a ride to the emergency room.

Couple years later in my grandpa's shop he was building jewelry boxes with laminations of sycamore and walnut and he said, man, that sycamore has some pretty features but it has some funny grain. You CAN'T split it. It just won't. It gives a guy one hell of a time chopping firewood.

🤷‍♂️ I just nodded.
 

oldwood

50 Cal.
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,469
Reaction score
1,542
Location
Pa. , USA
In the 1970's , was working in the woods part time . When we ran into sycamore , it went straight to the saw mill . The mill operators around here had high demand orders for railroad ties and cribbing block pieces. We took in all sycamore we cut. It milled easly and was easy money for them. . There were few wood dealers for guys building m/l rifles , and luckily most quick dollar loggers left good sized piles of 8 ft and 10 ft. waste cutoff logs just for the asking , when it was time for the cleanup of a log loading yard. . All ya needed to do was haul it to a mill , git some old used roofing tin , and three years later , the 3" thick planks were band sawed into m/l rifle blanks. , maple , elm , lotsa walnut , ash, and cherry. .....oldwood
 

Jay Templin

40 Cal
MLF Supporter
Joined
Apr 9, 2020
Messages
217
Reaction score
288
Location
Tidewater Virginia
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.

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?
It depends on where you are and what maples you have. Not all maples make sugar readily, as I have learned to my chagrin. Also the climate plays a role. Here in Tidewater Virginia, we don’t get enough cold to stimulate the formation of sugar in the sap- up home in the Adirondacks, it took us about 64 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. Here I can’t boil down enough. Three hours west of me near Harrisonburg, they make it all the time.
Jay
 

.36Rooster

40 Cal
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jan 12, 2021
Messages
443
Reaction score
421
Location
South Dakota
When I lived up in the catskills everybody had taps around the area surrounding slide mountain. But down lower not as much
 

Dr. Dirt

32 Cal
Joined
Jan 1, 2019
Messages
6
Reaction score
3
USGS maps showing black walnut: While maybe too sparse to be noted on the map, black walnut occurs in western Oregon and in parts of California. My awareness is of several really huge trees that must pre-date pioneer occupancy but I do not understand their history. Maybe from early, very early, pioneers but their locations do not mesh with early farm and ranch development. So, Mother Nature, what is the story? My late father related one that spread over half a city block that was harvested and wood then sent to Germany. This was in Roseburg, Oregon. Another is to the east along the North Umpqua River that I hope was not lost in the fires that hit the area in 2020.
 

oldwood

50 Cal.
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,469
Reaction score
1,542
Location
Pa. , USA
In central to western Pa. , there are three different colors and grain variations. The walnut harvested in far west Pa. , Greene Co. , is very dense , fine grained , and colored dark. The walnut in central Pa. round Snyder Co. area varies in grain structure from slightly brash to fairly fine grain , and some with occasional reddish , and violet stripes in the grain. All is wonderful to work. ........................oldwood
 

Latest posts

Top