18th Century American Rifles


November 8, 2007, 12:32 PM
I would like to correspond with someone knowledgeable about pre-revolution rifles in the colonies. I am writing a book and one of my characters is a german immigrant who is a gunsmith. I want to be able to speak correctly about the kind of work such a gunsmith would have done and what the common repairs would have been. Don't know if there is such a person on THR but maybe some of you know of one. Thanks

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November 8, 2007, 12:40 PM
I believe the Jaeger rifles were brought to the colonies by Germans in that time period. It would make sense that a German gunsmith would be making those. I believe the "jaegers" (hunters) included a wide array of stout European hunting rifles and your gunsmith would probably bring the particular styles of whatever region he came from. These were the precursors to the long rifles, but I'm not sure why the barrels got longer in the eastern woods. Possibly to make up for inferior barrel smithing. A musket barrel is fairly straight forward, but to get good rifling with period tools was a fine art.

November 8, 2007, 12:53 PM
In Colonial Williamsburg there is a gunmaker's shop where the "reinactors" are actually making guns like they did in colonial days. These are not just actors going throught the motions, they are turning out nice authentic pieces using period machinery and techniques.

If you can't travel there, you might want to give them a call.

Jim Watson
November 8, 2007, 01:36 PM
One repair commonly done to a muzzleloader was to re-breech it. When the flashhole got eroded out and the whole rear of the barrel corroded from shooting, it was usual to cut it off from the breech, thread for the breechplug, and put it back together. Also required was to shorten the stock, if full stocked as most were at the time. Often the wedge loops under the barrel had to be relocated as the barrel and stock were not always shortened just the same amount.

Barrels were commonly "freshed out." A fully equipped shop could rebore and rerifle to a larger caliber but the small shop could do a respectable job by not reaming enough to completely eradicate the original rifling and then run a cutter following the original rifling through to deepen the grooves back to useful depth.

November 8, 2007, 01:52 PM
The Pennsylvania Kentucky Rifle by Kauffman would be a good reference. It details a lot of period rifles (and work that was done on them after they were originally built).

November 8, 2007, 02:08 PM
IIRC, the PA rifle was a combination of the Jaeger rifles and the fowling peice. They used longer barrels because it meant that you could get a similar POI/POA with a lighter powder charge for closer target.
The bore size was smaller because it meant that you got more round balls per pound of lead (about 11 for a .75 calber bess vs. something like 38 for a .45 caliber). They also knew that longer barrels could give more range but I don't think that they really understood why or that having more barrel after the powder was burned actually slowed the ball down and gave less range.
Still, at the time they were probably the epitome of people using technology to overcome their environment.

November 8, 2007, 02:22 PM
Truth be told MANY home smithed guns of the era still used imported locks from England. That was true even after the revolution. The 1820's era 'blacksmith made' rifle in my family may still have an English lock.

November 8, 2007, 02:40 PM
IIRC, weren't there salesmen who went around selling imported lockworks in the back country? You could then have the blacksmith build you a firearm around the lock.

November 8, 2007, 02:56 PM
Find a copy of Foxfire 5 of the that series of books on Appalachian mountain culture. It is written about Iron making, Blacksmithing, Flintlock Rifles, and a few other things. It's not of the period you are interested in, but many of the techniques used are not far removed from it. The people in these books make most of their equipment by hand, using handmade tools and local resources. Your gunsmith would probably need to know how to make iron, blacksmith, and whittle. It'll give you some idea of the processes and is interesting reading.

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