Downeast GunWorks has closed it’s doors and moved the shop operations to another town in order to concentrate on the gunsmith aspect of the business. Repair requests or custom build projects are now handled through Willey’s Sport Center in Ellsworth Maine. Willey’s and Downeast GunWorks have teamed up to offer better customer service and support for any of your gunsmith needs. Willey’s Sport Center is now a Class 3 dealer, and can handle your NFA items as well. Contact Jim through Willey’s at 207-667-2511.
Another service was added to the GunWorks shop due to customer request. Hydrographic printing on firearms and stocks as well as scopes is now available at GunWorks. Here are some pictures of the latest project…. a 1911A1 built on an Essex frame with Novak sights, an extended safety, and oversized magazine release.
The brown skull pattern was added over a base coat of desert sand color per customer request.
Seen here is the right side view of the pistol. The left side is similar.
And this is a top down view of the slide.
And the view of the frame and front strap area of the gun. No idea yet what the customer will want for a pair of grips. But the choice is his to make.
Yesterday I wrote about casting bullets from a soapstone mold I had recently acquired that potentially had been made in the late 1700’s or around that time frame. Today I decided to put these cast bullets to the test to see how they’d fire in my flintlock musket. I started out by making a form to cut my papers and a rod to roll them around to form the paper cartridges as true to the original English military specifications as I could get.
After rolling the paper around the dowel I tied the newly cast ball into the ends of each tube. Sorry I didn’t get photos or video of how I did this as it’s difficult to work on something and film it at the same time. If you research the cartridge regs of the time period I’m sure you’ll see how these are made.
I filled the cartridge tubes with the standard British service load of 125 grains of powder. In my case… it was a good quality grade of powder in 1FG granulation. Powder quality these days is superior to what it was then but for the sake of this “experiment” I stuck with what regs called for.
I used 1FG for the main charge, but I’m kind of particular about the priming. Sure, I could pour a bit from the tail of the cartridge as they did originally, but I really like the fact that Swiss Null B priming powder seems to instantly light the gun with no hesitation even on a humid or rainy day. Null B might as well be flammable dust – it’s that good in a flintlock.
No rhyme or reason… some of the cartridge tails I twisted, others I folded in the traditional manner. I made and fire approximately 20 of these as I had read combat reports that prior to an engagement that 20 rounds were issued to the front line troops.
I get my Brown Bess out to the gravel pit for a bit of range time. The target is a large white 55 gallon plastic barrel at 100 yards. Sure this is a smooth bore gun, and perhaps 100 yards might be a bit of a stretch as many battles in the 1700’s America occurred at ranges as close as 20 yards. But I’m one of those odd ducks who want to see what a firearm can do further than arm’s reach as it goes.
The Null B Swiss powder flashes the pan every time with no hangups or hesitation.
How did the musket do using rounds made from a potentially 200 plus year old bullet mold ? Not too bad actually all things considering. Here I am squatting next to the barrel. Yes, I’m a bit “rusty” with the old flintlock as my Winchester leverguns and bolt action rifles have me spoiled. Not to mention that Cadillac of a rifle, my M-14. But this test is about a flintlock firing bullets cast from a crude stone mold that may be over 200 years old. After 3 “practice shots” to get my bearings with the flintlock once again, the Bess drilled the Heck out of the 100 yard target very consistently.
Oh… hard to see the musket ball holes in the plastic barrel ? How about a different angle ?
While several of the bullet holes near the top of the barrel showed a deep perforation and a complete pass through, quite a number of these balls slammed into the mid section and lower ends — and while they too passed all the way through the plastic barrel, they also blew a massive chunk completely out of the barrel in the form of small “discs”. I’ve never had a target react this way, but I’m sure it may have been something due to the nature of the plastic and not necessarily the power of the bullets.
I certainly would NOT want to be on the receiving end of a firearm of this nature. The sheer crushing power of such a heavy slow moving projectile smashing it’s way through ranks and files of soldiers must have taken incredible bravery to stand up to. I’ve also seen a few original projectiles from that time period that had been slightly “modified” by the owner shooting these projectiles. Some had been cross hatch cut, others had small nails or tacks driven into them in the hopes of making them expand and create a much worse wound than the awesome punch from the heavy round ball. Often an injury from a musket ball in those days meant certain death eventually. The lousy sanitation practices and lack of understanding of hygiene and proper wound care… plus the massive trauma from a lead ball of this size pretty lethal even without instant death. I suppose for me this concludes the end of my part in this experiment. I’ll send a number of these bullets to Texas and have a friend of mine fire them from his original .69 musket to see if they perform any better for him. I can’t complain with the way they worked for me.
Today’s little treasure I picked up is an old bullet mold carved from soapstone. These were fairly common in the US in the 1700’s as many people living in more remote backwoods areas simply could not afford brass or iron bullet molds. Many are considerably more complex than the crude mold I got today, having wooden alignment pins and multiple cavities. This crude mold has no alignment pins and was barely milled on only a few surfaces.It measures roughly 3 1/2″ X 1 1/2″ X 1 1/2″.
So I set up my bottom pour lead pot on my bench. I placed it on top of a small board and a cloth to protect the carpeted work surface and the cloth will prevent too much deformation of the cast bullets.
I tied the two mold halves together with a linen string to help me hold it together while I was casting the first few bullets. There is no sprue cutter, so I’ll have to deal with this later. I researched soapstone and found it has pretty good heat insulating properties. I found that during casting I could comfortably hold the mold with a leather glove on my hand and no other insulation was needed.
Eventually I found it awkward to tie then untie the mold as I was casting with it, so I decided to simply hold the two halves together while pouring the lead. This is a pure lead with no alloys, so the melting temperature was average and the pours were consistent.
Here you can see the two halves separated and a small pile of bullets dropped from the mold. I didn’t have to smoke the mold as I do with modern aluminum or iron molds to prevent the lead from sticking. Apparently soapstone has a natural property to it that keeps lead from adhering to it. It wasn’t necessary to tap the mold to drop the bullets either. I simply flicked them loose with a gloved finger. Ironically the hotter the mold became, the more wrinkles the bullets had in them. This is usually the reverse on modern molds. A cold mold usually wrinkles the bullets until it heats up.
Now I get to deal with the sprues. A sprue is the lead left at the top of the bullet when the lead is poured into the mold. This needs to be removed in order to load the bullet into the gun and get it to fly reasonably straight. Modern molds have a cutter built into the top of the mold. Striking the cutter at an angle with a wooden mallet will chop this off. In the case of a crude handmade mold such as this, I resorted to what our ancestors would’ve probably used…. a small hatchet. The edge would’ve been placed at the joint where the sprue connects to the ball and would be struck along the spine with a stick to cut off the sprue. Notice there is some thin lead strands along the bottom of the cast ball ? This is called flashing. I trimmed off the flashing with a pocketknife and then rolled the bullets around between two baords to make them somewhat smoother and to help eliminate the flashing.
All bullet molds have a way to vent air from the cavity as the lead is poured in and fills the mold up. Modern molds have tiny lines cut along the facing surfaces allowing air to escape. If the air has nowhere to go, the mold will not fill properly and the resulting bullet has voids and pockets in it. I was curious to see how the air would escape from the mold so it could fill out completely. I carefully looked over the entire facing surfaces of both halves of the mold and discovered that the bottom of one side had a tiny scrape just under the cavity. Holding the mold up over head, I could just make out a bit of light shining into the mold from the bottom. As the mold fills with molten lead, it pushes the trapped air out the bottom and then fills with just enough lead to become the flashing you see in the earlier photos.
As crudely as this mold was cut and considering there is only one cavity and no type of alignment pins, I’d almost venture a guess this was made and used by a local militia member in the backwoods – OR – possibly by a Native American who had obtained a trade musket. British muskets at that time were of .75 caliber while Americans who opposed the Crown were issued French muskets of .69 caliber. Interestingly enough the bullets dropped from this mold are of approximately .660″ diameter making them ideal for the French issued Charleville muskets in use during that time period. French traders would have also had .69 caliber smoothbores to trade with the Indians around the area too. ALSO interesting is the fact that British records showed that .69 caliber round balls were issued wrapped in paper catridges. The entire cartridge and paper were dumped down the bore with the paper acting as a wad to seal the bullet against escaping gasses. Barrel making being somewhat crude in those days, the exact diameter of the bore would also vary somewhat depending on the maker. So this mold could very well have been used with a Short Land Pattern Brown Bess of the late 1700’s as well as a Charleville musket. I intend to load some of these bullets into my Bess and fire them to give them a try. I’ll also send a few to a friend of mine in Texas who shoots his original .69 caliber musket. I’ll ask him how they did in his gun too.
All in all I’d say this was an a pretty neat little experiment, but I seriously doubt I’ll be switching away from using my modern iron molds any time in the future. And it sort of puts things in perspective for me and gives me a minor glimpse into the ways our ancestors had to produce ammo for their guns back 200 plus years ago. We certainly have come a long way since then….
I suppose I’m fairly easy to amuse sometimes. I get a slight chuckle when I have people ask me about my milling machine. “Can’t you simply push a button and let the machine do all the work ?” Well yes I could IF I had a programmable CNC milling machine. But I don’t have one. All the set ups for each step of the work has to be measured and adjusted manually. The same thing applies to questions about fitting a 95% inlet stock. Just because most of the work has been done doesn’t necessarily mean the remainder will be such a quick and easy task. And just WHAT is a “95% stock?” Exactly what the name implies. A stock that has been rough carved and has about 95% of the work done to inlet the metal into the wood.
CNC machines are a wonderful thing, and can produce large numbers of gun stocks in a short time. But the final fitting is a lengthy process that can’t be done in a hurry if the gun is going to be presentable. All the fancy finishes in the world can’t hide a misfitted piece of wood on a firearm.
The project starts off with taping up the finished metal surfaces to protect them from getting scratched up. Otherwise you’ll have to reblue them.
Then all the metal that will touch the wood is covered in stock maker’s black.
Press the metal onto the wood as far as it will go without forcing it too far. Remove it and you’ll see black marks that indicate the high spots in the wood that needs to be removed. Use a file or small stock maker’s rasp to remove these high spots. Keep pressing the metal into the wood and remove the black high spots. Repeat this on the top and bottom until you get the stock to fit snugly into place.
Once the stock has been fully seated in place against the receiver, now is the time to locate and drill the hole for the screw that holds the stock in place. Since the Marlin lever actions have a blind hole in the bottom tang, it’s a bit tricky to drill it properly. With the new stock firmly secured, you’ll see how much fitting is still left. The wood is pretty high around the edges of the metal. This is where the two layers of masking tape are handy to have. While you’re rasping and filing down the wood to fit the metal, more than likely you’ll cut through the top layer of tape. The second layer is what will protect the metal finish. It takes a few hours to do the job properly. Getting in a hurry while fitting a stock is asking for trouble in the form of having to refinish the metal once the tape has been cut through and the finish is gouged.
You can see the wood is starting to fit pretty well in the stock. I will, on occasion, remove the tape and see how the stock fits against the tangs of the receiver. Also it’s not a bad idea to replace the tape once in a while to protect the bluing. I’m sort of “ham fisted” and do cut through the top layer of tape pretty deep sometimes. So if the wood still needs a little bit of work I replace the old tape and file or sand the wood a little more. I removed the hammer and the lever from the gun so I could follow the contours of the metal to wood without having to work around those parts.
It’s always best to assemble the firearm to fit a stock. It’s just about impossible to get it right any other way. It helps you to maintain the flow of the lines around the sides and to the bottom tang so none of your sanding comes out lopsided. Simply because a stock is 95% inlet doesn’t mean this is a job that can be done in 30 minutes. On a gun as simple as this Marlin I’m a bit over 3 hours into fitting this stock. On a bolt action rifle ? You can figure on several more hours of scraping and rasping / filing by hand to get the stock fit just right.
This “ambitious” project started off as yet another single shot custom rolling block. The customer for this rifle opted for wire inlays in the stock instead of fancy engraving. The action will be color case hardened as the project progresses. To begin, I taped a pattern to the side of the stock once the wood had been fitted to the action and sanded smooth.
Next comes the long chore of scribing the lines in pencil, and cutting each line one at a time. A small tack hammer is used to tap each piece of either brass or German silver wire into place.
After getting all the lines of the inlay tapped into place, the next step will be to add the leaves to the design.
For this I simply use a jeweler’s saw to cut each shape by hand.
Also, I needed to fit a metal buttplate to the back of the stock. To do this, I coat the inside of the metal with stock maker’s black. Pressing it against the wood will transfer a mark to show me where the high spots are. I remove the marked high spots with a fil and rasp and keep working it down until the buttplate is fitted.
To save space and time here, I won’t post too many pictures of this lengthy process.
So how did this part of the rifle project turn out ? Here’s a side view of the inlay with two coats of oil finish so far.
And a view of the end with the buttplate in place. The metal has already been color case hardened after the final sanding of the wood to get a nice fit.