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from Ezakial Baker’s Practice etc..
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Welcome to my site – you’ll find this post is a sort of diary where I put things I’m doing that are (almost) relevant to the subject – they ‘fall off the bottom’ after a few weeks – bits from the diary may get put into existing or new posts when they fall off. Please feel free to contact me via the comments box in each post or by my email as per the CONTACT tab at the top. If I can I will respond – email will usually get a quicker response.
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So now you know why the photos in the normal view look a bit murky! Just click on them for a better photo.
___________________ DIARY _____________ _________
18th October – I’m off tomorrow to Norfolk to visit a very keen collector of flintlocks – might take a couple of guns to see if he is interested – part of my ‘divestment program’ – I have a few strange things that could find a more appreciative home! I have a game shoot next Tuesday , muzzle loading of course – they seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment – I feel a bit bad about the extravagance! I was trying to work out why I can shoot the two types of clay that I can hit and not all the bulk of them – the common feature of the ones I find relatively easy is that they are going vertically, either up or down so I don’t need to separate how far above or below the clay I shoot from how far in front – it all gets subsumed into the same guess! I did find yesterday that I could shoot crossers from the high platform when I was looking down on them, so maybe my problem is just shooting above or below, and if you mostly miss that way, you never home in on the right lead to give? Maybe I ought to have some coaching!
17th October – Really good morning shooting clays at Eriswell with Clare and Jan, a friend over from Holland, despite the fact that it started off with light drizzle – not exactly ideal for muzzle loaders. Clare wanted to concentrate on the ‘Driven’ stand – clays coming towards you off a tower that simulate driven game birds but we had to fill in time before it became free, so I did my usual erratic shooting at ‘crossers’. Things looked up when we got on the driven stand as they are one of the two types of clays I can get a reasonable hit rate on ( the other is clays dropping out of the sky!). So unusually for me, I was able to hold my own…. It’s a relief that I can shoot these simulated game clays as it means I’m reasonably OK on real game! Towards the end of our morning’s shoot a breech loading shooter came over to see if he could use the driven range after us , so Clare gave him a go with her single percussion, (hit) and I gave him a go with my double (2 hits) so Clare tried to seduce him over to the dark side (as in blackpowder muzzle loaders) – it may even work, he was pretty interested. I took the Venables of Oxford for Clare to have a look at, but the rib is now hanging off so I can’t put that job off any more – not my favourite job, and it will entail rebrowning the barrels after resoldering the rib – resoldering the rib will involve taking out the breech plugs, which itself can be a pain… Ah well, it was something of a bargain so I shouldn’t complain.
13th October – I should be at the AML Big Bore shoot tomorrow, but something unexpected came up so I probably won’t be able to get out my 6 1/2 bore Gasquoine and Dyson live pigeon gun – I will try to pop over at the end of the shoot to deliver a few bits.
I’m busy painting and re-glazing a sash window that my friendly carpenter/joiner built to replace a partly rotten one – He replaced one 23 years ago but didn’t get round to doing the other one that needed replacing, although he machined up all the timber for it – despite having built and fitted French doors and re-roofed almost half the house in the interim, he somehow hadn’t got round to making the window in spite of periodic reminders until last week, when he had a spare day or two between jobs. So its been in the job queue for 23 years – He bought his son to help – he now works with his father but hadn’t been born when the job was put on the queue! The sashes are large and have old Victorian wobbly glass – 2 panes to a sash – they are at the very limit of the size you can buy in Polish handmade glass and thus difficult to source, and are pretty expensive so there is a high premium on not breaking them in removing them from the old frames and fitting them into the new ones. They are now out and cleaned up and the frames primed and undercoated so its time to putty the glass in – care needed!
11th October – very enjoyable shoot yesterday in brilliant sunny weather with very light breeze – perhaps not the ideal Partridge weather as they tended to fly very low so that it often wasn’t safe to shoot. Still we all had fun and a reasonable bag. Its very early in the season and most of the pheasants were too immature. Anyway, I collected a very early Joseph Manton double 22 bore shotgun converted from flint to percussion with drum and nipple in a reasonably competent manner – but certainly not to Joseph’s standards, so presumably by a second tier gunsmith, and probably after it had passed out of its original ownership. The serial number is 331, which puts it at 1791 and is the first double flintlock listed in Keith Neil’s book, although I think several early ones have since come out of the woodwork. It belongs to the period when the front trigger was a lot smaller than the rear one. The gun looks ‘of a piece’, although the trigger guard shape and the sling fixing behind the trigger guard ( without a matching fixing on a ramrod pipe) don’t quite fit in as they look a bit rifle-like. The locks are of high quality inside and the engraving good – the screw holding the false breech has asymmetric engraving matching the engraving on the tang, which is unusual. The bores are pretty good, but the barrels are quite thin at the muzzle. The escutcheon has initials with a crest above, but I can’t read them. Many old guns one sees have a ‘mystery feature’ that you can’t explain and which leaves a question mark hanging in the air – its part of the charm of collecting – in this case its the missing muzzle end sling eye – I can’t see any trace of where it was, although I’m quite prepared to accept that a shotgun in 1791 did have a sling fitted. It has been suggested to me that this gun would be a perfect candidate for a re-conversion to flintlock – but I would resist the temptation – its an early Joseph Manton in reasonably original shape, and as such is fairly rare – re-converting it would turn it into a lie, and my view is that it would be ethically wrong. It will clean up quite nicely as what it is, and could possibly make a shooter. I think it is for sale, so drop me an email if you are interested. I’ll put more photos in the post ‘Joseph Manton 331’. I brought it back to photograph and show to a Manton specialist, but I don’t think I’ll buy it as I have enough doubles!
8th October – My little STEM club this afternoon – real buzz, bordering on chaos! All the cookie jar alarms mean that the room is full of little 9 Volt buzzers going off all the time – why do I do it? answers on a postcard please ( but not sent to me!). I decided to strip the Twigg pistol and have a look at it in detail – I’d already got the tumbler out, so here is a picture of the neat repair to replace the sheared off square. Getting the trigger guard off pistols of that age is always tricky because they are held in by pins through the wood that are usually rusty, and if you knock them out carelessly they will take out a chunk of wood with the pin and leave a messy hole. The pins are invariably put in from the left side of the gun/pistol so you need to knock them out from the right side. To do this you need a small pin punch and a tack hammer – its fairly easy to take out pins that emerge from a flat surface – you just need to fold up and hammer flat a piece of lead sheet to 5 mm thick and put that under the pin so it supports the wood, then tap the pin out – the pin will make a hole through the lead, which will support the wood – in this case it worked just fine as you can see for the front trigger finial pin – in this pistol the pin didn’t do anything as the tab had broken off the back of the finial. The pin holding the back of the trigger guard was a bigger problem as the grip is curved so its difficult to support the wood around the pin as you knock it out – in this case it was complicated because there appeared to be two pin ends on the right side of the butt. I shaped up a lead pad and found the right pin, and that one came out OK and released the trigger guard – previous disassembly had damaged the wood a bit, but I managed not to make it worse! Both wood and the back of the finial were coated in epoxy glue but seemingly without any contact between them – I need to clean out the slot for the tab I’ll put on the finial as its filled with epoxy. Not sure whether I can get away with soft solder for the tab, or whether I need to silver solder it – Silver soldering might alter the patina – I’ll think about it…………………………………. ( just had to break off to take my bread out of the oven!)
The pin is coming out very cleanly, thanks to a lead pad. The potential for damage is considerable!
This pin also came out fairly cleanly but had been rather crudely knocked out before when the front finial was glued in.
The trigger guard is backwards – just to confuse you!
7th October – We have now agreed the work to be done on the Twigg pistol, so that can start. I spent an hour today clearing out the drain from the kitchen sink and water softener – I mention this because it was interesting – the drain where it goes into the gully was bunged up by soft white ‘rock’ that looks to be calcium (carbonate?) based – the water softener works by ion exchange, it exchanges the calcium ions in the incoming water for sodium ions and traps the calcium ions in the resin, then when it back flushes to recharge the ion exchange resin it must flush all the calcium ions from the resin and replace them with sodium ions – so the small volume of flushing water must contain all the calcium from the much larger volume of water softened. What the chemistry of the formation of the deposits in the drain is, I don’t know but it accounts for the amount of calcium … Next week is busy, I have a shoot on Wednesday, so a very early start to get there by 8:30. I think I have everything I need – I have No 6 shot, although I hear that most of my shooting friends have now changed to No 6 1/2 shot, which corresponds to a metric size (not sure what) – presumably when we leave the EC we will not be allowed to use metric measurements any more………
5th October – Sorry, bit of a gap while I attended to school matters and did some work on a couple of windows. I got a nice little pistol in the post today to be fixed – not that it has much wrong with it – its an early flintlock pistol by TWIGG, first signature and first finial design, but very plain, although none the worse for that, and well made. Probably made between 1760 and 1770 but I am uncertain what to call it. The barrel length is 7 1/4 inches, a bit small for a normal holster pistol (typically 9 -10 inches) or an officer’s pistol ( not sure if that description works as early as this anyway). Maybe a small coach pistol, or one to have about the house in case personal protection was needed? Anyway its a pretty thing and has had very little wear over the years – it looks ‘of a piece’ and pretty genuine – if it were percussion it would be in the age of sticking spurious names on guns and one might suspect it was a ‘fake’ but 1770 is a bit early for that sort of thing. At some point the square broke off the tumbler and the cock fell off – someone carefully tapped a hole into the tumbler and screwed in a piece of metal and filed up a square on it – the only problem is that they didn’t provide any way to stop the thread unscrewing, so now the cock moves independently of the tumbler – it will need brazing or welding… Also the tab on teh back of the trigger guard by the finial has snapped off, letting the trigger guard hang loose – I’ll have to drive out the pins securing the trigger guard and bit of the tang, and silver solder the tang back on. There is a little bit of surface rust around the top jaw etc, and behind the frizzen spring that needs cleaning off, but other wise it is best left pretty well untouched. I really like this sort of utilitarian pistol – nicely made but not for show.
1 Oct – Another month…. Getting to do some gun work would be a great luxury as I seem ridiculously busy on other things – today I was working on the Geophysics Archive followed by my Stem Club – we have 11 very enthusiastic kids all making alarms to fit on to cookie jars etc… Tomorrow is again busy with meetings but on Wednesday I will reward myself with a couple of hours clay shooting in the morning to get my eye in for driven game – update – ( post script…no I won’t, I think no-one else is going!) – my next shoot is on 10th. After that I have a school meeting at 1300 hrs of all the inconvenient times! I’m shortly due to get a pistol to refurbish – details will follow…..
30th September – Had a very nice email from the owner of the Martini Henry (see below) saying how pleased he was, and that he never expected the chequering to turn out so well! All credit to Dick. I had a recent email from the US asking about calibers of percussion rifles – a quick look at Donald Dallas’s 2003 book ‘ The British Sporting Gun and Rifle’ has interesting details. In the early days of percussion, sporting rifles fired mostly cloth (or occasionally fine leather) patched round balls. Since the grip on the rifling was minimal, basically limited to the patch thickness, it didn’t take much to cause the ball to strip from the rifling and fail to spin properly – so it was not possible to accelerate the ball sharply or to achieve high velocities if you wanted to benefit from the increased accuracy that the rifling should in theory provide. Thus you were limited to effective ranges of 50 to 100 yards at the most. Much of this difficulty was caused because the rate of twist of the rifling was carried over from flintlock rifles, where the acceleration was much more gentle due to the slower burn of the powder resulting from flint ignition. Had a slower twist been used, it might have been possible to use higher velocities. In fact experiments with smooth bore muskets showed that there was little to be gained by rifling below 50 yards. Once shaped bullets were introduced the ratio of mass to drag improved, so the bullets held their velocity for longer, and the longer contact of the bullet walls with the rifling meant that higher initial velocities were possible using bigger charges. A further improvement was the principle of the Minie bullet with a conical hollow in the base and a wooden or clay plug in the hollow that expanded the skirt of the bullet on firing, and got a better grip on the rifling – later found to work quite well without the plug. The main benefit of this was in the military because it allowed bullets with more windage, that could be more easily loaded when the barrels began to get fouled. Simple conical bullets allowed ranges of 100 to 300 yards. The next big jump in velocity came from using keyed bullets with deep grooves that had a large resistance to stripping – examples being the Jacob’s patent arms made by Daw, and the Express rifles of Purdey using belted ball bullets. A couple of rifling ‘inventions’ along the way were significant improvements – in large measure because they tackled the problem of rifling fouling – they were Lancaster’s oval bore rifling, which is what it says it is, and Whitworth’s hexagonal rifling. All the improvements made it possible to shoot at ranges up to 1000 yards, allbeit with cleaning of the barrel between shots. An interesting instruction with a Purdey 50 bore rifle No 3852 of 1844 from Dallas’s book gives the charge for a round ball of .453 cal as half a dram of No 2 powder with a stout linen patch, and of a conical bullet for the same rifle as 2 drams of No 6 powder with a thin cambric patch and the hollow in the tail of the bullet filled with grease – quite a difference. The same sights were marked 50 & 100 yds for the ball and 100 & 150 yds for the bullet – illustrating the much greater drop on the ball.
26th September – The Martini Henry stock and fore end are now finished and dispatched, see below. I haven’t had a moment to do any more gun stuff as school things have been pressing – I have a new group of young children ( 6 -9) in our STEM club and Dave and I are having to reset our complexity index many steps lower. The trolley is now complete and I’m getting some of the BBC microbit computers sorted out as they seem just the job for the kids. Plus a a couple of school meetings this week, and two next week – being a school governor is a fairly big commitment but pretty satisfying.
I can’t claim any credit for this chequering – Dick is the expert!
23rd September – Spent today building my ‘cupboard on wheels’ for the STEM club – its amazing how much 3 sheets of 12 mm ply weigh – it will be a struggle to get it out of the workshop but will tidy up all our stuff at school. I had a look through the visitors to the website yesterday, and there were dozens of visits from different cities in China that didn’t seem to do anything, just make 2 quick visits – they seemed coordinated too as they all did the same thing over a short period – something suspicious no doubt! Anyway today they are not doing it. I get between 250 and 300 ‘proper’ visitors a day, who on average click on about 6 things, which for a small unpublicised specialty website I reckon is pretty good. It certainly generates a few inquiries and the occasional restoration – If you do want to know about a gun or pistol email me (see CONTACT) and attach a few photos from different angles, including one of the whole thing and one of the lock etc. I can often give you general information on non specialist stuff and have a fair idea of auction prices for common types of gun and pistol (not military though!)
22nd September – I finished repairing the surface of the Egg stock which looked very poor as the fairly thick varnish had come off in patches allowing oil stains to form. I steamed the wood and got rid of some of the varnish and some of the dings, then wiped over with shelac and put on several coats of ‘slacum’ ( linseed oil, driers and a little beeswax). I didn’t want it to look too re-finished, just not quite so pock marked, and it seems to have worked. I can now put that job away as I’ve done the case and the stock, although I did notice that the loading rod in the case is not quite long enough for the barrel – but I don’t suppose anyone will notice. Dick has now finished the Martini Henry stock so I will collect it and take some photos before returning it.
21st September – a day of relative quiet! My STEM club at the junior school starts next Monday and I’ve been politely told by the teaching assistant in the classroom I use that I can’t leave our bits and half finished projects around the classroom all week. As she seems quite adamant I think I had better take notice, so I designed a trolley to hold it all that can be wheeled into a store room, assuming there is any room there. Anyway I worked out the I could make it from 3 sheets of 12 mm ply and have given Ridgeons a cutting list, so tomorow I’ll see how many of the 20 specified cuts are in the right places! I went to Dicks to see how he is getting on and he sold me a nice overcoat pistol that will eventually appear on the website – it will be cleaned and repaired so nothing to show here! He has been doing some re-chequering on the stock and forend of a Martini Henry, which has taken him an age and is very well done – looks fantastic – I will have to pack it up and return it to it’s owner. I don’t understand how Dick did it for what he is charging – I keep telling him to count his hours on jobs and charge a fair rate, but he won’t learn! ( he doesn’t look at this website, or any other!) I took over some baise for lining a Joseph Manton percussion double case as Dick thought his was too bright – I have a few meters of various colours – some lovely thin burgundy stuff that I long to make a case with.
19th September – I’m afraid that the last couple of days talking to groups of schoolchildren as part of Cambridge University’s Physics at Work event has left me with little energy for going into the workshop and doing anything to guns in what is left of the evenings! So far I’ve talked to 24 groups (20 minutes each) and I have another 12 tomorrow – my voice is just about hanging in there… Gun stuff will appear in time.
17th September – Back from a cracking day out ( now where does that come from ?) at Bawdsey with a super group of people on my first shoot of the season after Partridge. Nice breeze meant fast birds and great fun was had by all – 73 birds for about 240 shots by 8 guns – a fair ratio by any account. I managed to stretch my supply of tubes for most of the day but had to borrow a few just in case. Tubes for the tubelock guns are precious as each is handmade by us and it’s quite a lot slower than reloading black powder cartridges – I can make about half a dozen tubes an hour if I concentrate. My gun has now been cleaned – the composition in the tubes is highly corrosive and the lock(s) need to be taken out and washed and scrubbed to remove all residue. We had a reporter from the Shooting Times and a photographer, so expect a feature on muzzle loading game shooting in the mag in a month or two. Everyone who is involved with the shoot in any way is always impressed by how good humoured and relaxed we are about our sport – unlike a number of groups shooting breech loaders! We always enjoy our shoots whatever the bag, and always have a modest impact on the estate. I can see muzzle loading game shoots being on the increase – we just need to find a good way to initiate others into the skills needed to transition.
16th September – I’m of to my first shoot of the season at Bawdsey tomorrow. I gather we will have the press there, so best bib and tucker ( whatever that is)… Two of my friends are shooting tubelocks, and I thought that out of solidarity with them I should do the same. I only have a single barreled gun so no ‘left and rights’ but at least it takes away the indecision about whether to reload after firing one barrel of a double or to wait for the next bird. I will take my Nock double percussion in case I can’t hit anything with the tubelock – I haven fired ti for a while and its a bit high in the comb so I’ve had to add a butt pad which makes it a bit long but at least brings the gun up in a reasonable direction. I’ve made a batch of decappers to take as I usually give a few away at shoots….. news of the shoot later!
12th September – I got the information on the Irish Registration act from an old copy of Classic Arms which was a magazine devoted to antique firearms, around 1990 – I ‘inherited’ a pile of old magazines from my father, which I rediscovered recently and an slowly working my way through. As well as the Classic Arms, which was an impressive UK publication full of adverts from dealers and detailed articles by many of the authors of ‘standard’tbooks on particular subjects, I have a pile of copies of ‘ The American Rifleman’ of various dates, the earliest from 1945, and then some from the 1960s. All these old magazines have excellent articles on old firearms – the American Rifleman is of course mostly current guns and is interesting because the earliest copies cover the period after the war in Europe was over but before the Japanese had surrendered. I was interested to note that the supply of guns and ammunition had halted during the war and was only just coming back in 1946 – there was strict price control on guns and ammunition – basically limiting the price to that before the war. Manufacturers were allowed to charge 9% more but the extra had to be absorbed by the dealer and not passed on to the end customer – if anything was available anyway – supplies of copper and lead were restricted – one doesn’t think of America having that sort of restrictions!. There were loads of advertisments for ex military arms of every nationality, and dire warnings about using Japanese rifles with American high velocity ammunition. There was an official way that troops could bring back a ‘souvenir’ weapon with official blessing, but nothing with a barrel less than 18 inches long. You could pick up a working Webley Mk 4 revolver back in the States for $14, which was probably less than a fiver! The 1990’s UK mags covered the banning of handguns and were full of anguished debate and hand wringing – I fear we may have a repeat coming soon……. I didn’t do much gun work today as I had to service and clean the AGA (cooker) – its that time of year, but I engraved a few decappers this evening. Out of interest I cut through the box section of the other trailing arm of the suspension unit from my boat trailer – this was the one that didn’t fail on my trip, but you can see that it wasn’t far off. Of course it look OK from the outside!
11 September – I was wrong about the Irish Firearms registration act being 18th century – it came in in 1843 and was repealed in 1846 – it is thought that about a quarter of a million guns may have been registered – the registration ID consisted of 2 letters for the county and a (usually) 4 figure number stamped on the barrel or occasionally on expensive guns, in a more discreet place.
11 September – I ordered a new capper from Kranks as I’d lost my old Pedesoli straight capper in a field somewhere last season – the guy at Kranks said the Ted Cash inline capper was better so I ordered one. It’s different in that the spring is short and you push the caps down with the knob – it has a crafty loop that holds the knob back while you feed in caps – it claims to be patented but I can’t see what or why – I’ll have a look later as all US patents are now on the web. Anyway the problem with both the Pedesoli and the Ted Cash cappers is that they don’t hold enough caps and are too fiddly to reload with cold hands in the middle of a shoot. I modified my last one with a bit of brass to form a slide to feed the caps down and it worked very well, so I thought I’d do the same for the new one – its just a small brass bit soldered on by the loading hole with a groove shaped to fit a cap – seems to work well. I find you need a small 1.6 mm pin on a chain as some caps fall over in the groove and need to be prised upright – don’t put force on the compound or they will go off! I thought that it would be better to hang the capper off a ring on my new block as the loop on the end needs to be free to hold back the knob. I always carry a decapper and a small pricker made of 0.7mm steel wire to clean out blocked nipples.
Ted Cash capper from Henry Kranks with Cablesfarm modification.
Cablesfarm decapper – customised version in gold – don’t ask, you can’t afford one!
I carried on cleaning the Turner – it all went in the deruster and then had a good brush down on the fine rotary brush. I coat all the surfaces with ‘Metalguard’ which forms a very thin anti-corrosion layer over the metal – especially useful on the inside metal surfaces as there was a fair amount of internal rust – a lot adhering to the wood that had to be carefully scraped off so the furniture bedded properly. Anyway I stripped off the lock workings and cleaned each part – derusting actually gets to all the surfaces so its just a matter of cleaning them – on the wheel if they are big enough to hold safely ( I have spend enough of my life looking for little bits that have pinged off when I’ve been brushing them !), The ‘fly’ or ‘detent on the tumbler designed to block the sear from entering the half cock bent as the cock falls is a particularly fiddly little part that is only too easy to loose. Once re-assembled the pistol doesn’t look much different, but is in a much better state to weather the next 100 years.
Its been derusted and the rust will now just brush off but you can see how much there was. Arrow points to the ‘fly’.
Stripped and cleaned externally and internally. There was a lot of rust under the furniture and the furniture now fits better – click on the photos and you can see that the finial is a better fit than in the unrestored photo.
10th September – Quite busy on the gun front! I had a commission for five individually named decappers, and after a bit of hunting around I found some spring steel strip that was suitable although it needed annealing. So that is now done – I gold plated one for a friend for fun- the process is SO easy (see post Gold Plating). I must make another combination field tool consisting of a brass ‘hammer’ for chipping flints and a short wide turnscrew for the top jaw screw to complement my percussion decappers. I collected the ‘central fire lock to engrave a new cock screw- it is certainly a weird thing – like nothing I have ever seen before! (see below). Dick received a sawhandled flintlock pistol ( duelling/officers) with a .57 bore and heavy barrel to be restored and passed it to me to derust and clean. Locks signed Turner, and a very faint DU1049 on the barrel – that was a mark introduced in the 18th century (?) in Ireland to control guns – they had to be registered under pain of a considerable penalty. From the DU mark I assume that the maker was G Turner of Dublin. Given the Irish enthusiasm for duelling pistols, I assume that is what it was intended for. The pistol is in reasonable but worn condition and is a good example of many such. The issue here is how far to go in stripping it and cleaning it. If the fit of wood and furniture is good, there is a danger that it will not be as tight after work. On the other hand there is the possibility that there is significant rust behind the iron furniture that is pushing it out of the wood. In this case I could see that the edges of the trigger guard were rusting and the finial was raised. It is usually necessary to remove the cock from flintlocks to get surface rust from behind it and give a uniform finish, and the same goes for the frizzen spring. In this case I took all the furniture off ( very carefully, but fortunately the screws all came out easily and no damage was done. I haven’t stripped the ‘works’ off the back of the lock, or taken off the frizzen yet, but that may follow after derusting, which works just fine on assemblies. I have removed the mainspring as I am a bit careful after a couple of springs fell apart in the derusting bath! It will all go in the derusting bath except the mainspring.
Weird or what? Bentley’s Patent percussion axial fire lock, full cock……
Turner of Dublin (DU 1049) before restoration
Back of trigger guard – you could say this is more conservation than restoration!
Stripped – it turned out to be easy to remove all the furniture without damaging any screws.
8th Septemeber – I did the ‘Have a Go’ at CGC yesterday, with my Nock double percussion. I took my Jackson Central Fire patent double intending to use that, but the geometry of the cocks in relation to the nipples is constrained by the fact that the nipples exit into the centre of the chamber, hence central fire. This leaves very little room to put the caps on the nipples. I realised as I was getting ready for the clients to arrive and capping off the guns that I would have a difficulty capping while someone else was holding the gun, and quickly swapped to my usual double, the Samuel Nock. I saw a very interesting Central Fire percussion double a couple of days ago – the nipples didn’t just exit into the middle of the chamber, but were also aligned along the axis of the barrel so it was a true central fire – this led to a really neat cocks that were scultped into the action, and when cocked did not protrude above the action body – I’ll try to get a photo shortly, I had never seen anything like it! I can’t remember the maker, but need to find out!
6th September – I fiddled around this morning filling a couple of gaps in the Egg pistol’s woodwork around the lockpocket – I haven’t managed to get rid of one visible rise where a knot goes through the wood, maybe a bit more work. As I lay in the dentist’s chair for an hour this afternoon I kept thinking how nice it would be to have all her tools in my workshop- when I said ( in an odd moment when I could speak) that I’d love to have them at home, she said she wished she had them at home too – not sure what she would do with them – by then I couldn’t ask and relaxed back into contemplation – very restful…. Tomorrow I’m doing another ‘have a go’ shoot at Cambridge Gun Club – almost out of shot and wads but I think I can wing it – not sure how many others are helping out, but I probably won’t do more than 30 shots so I’ll probably manage. I’m tempted to take my 20 bore breech loader for a bit of fun afterwards, but perhaps I should stick to the one muzzle loading gun for the shooting season. I still can’t be sure which gun fits me best – cetrtainly NOT the Venables, and today I had a bit of a problem when try mounting guns because I couldn’t stop my left eye being very dominant – I’m sure I’m usually right eye dominant or neutral !
4th September – I very reluctantly decided today that I wasn’t going to go to the Sandringham Game Fair next weekend to do my engraving demonstration as I have too many other calls on my time at the moment – I spent 4 hours this morning being ‘trained’ on safeguarding as a school governor – I have to say that it was very poorly presented and about the most inefficient knowledge transfer I have witnessed in years! How a school can’t manage to work out how to communicate knowledge defies belief but there it is. I took the Joseph Manton and case to Dick’s to get his view on relining the case, and met a good friend and very knowledgeable dealer of good guns who recommended selling the gun and case ‘as is’ separately to get the best return on the basis that the most likely purchaser of the gun would want it to shoot and would therefore have little use for the case. I must say I find it annoying to have to keep a gun in the locked cabinet and the empty case elsewhere, so I can see his point.
3rd September -I finished the middle compartment for the Egg box today – its a bit of a tight fit but I think it will be OK . The mystery of the breech block I couldn’t engrave is solved – although the person who made it hadn’t hardened it, the material he used had been ‘pre treated’ – which means heat treated and tempered/annealed, so no wonder I couldn’t engrave it. I need to make some more de-cappers, for which I need 1/2 x 1/8 spring steel strip in an annealed state, but I can’t find any on the web. I’m sure when I last made some I found it easily, but I am not sure now where I got it from. In the end I ordered some nearly the right size from Kevin Blackley, but I’d prefer to find a supplier of bigger quantities than 12 inch lengths.
2nd September – Went to a historic re-constructors event at Quy – lots of tents selling everything medieval and groups of reenactors camped around – I always love those events as everyone is so committed to their particular period or activity, and always enthusiastic to talk about it – thank goodness for enthusiastic people who actually do things! I bought a few ash dowels (intended for arrows) that will make simple ramrods when I can’t justify the work of a full ebony rod. I was pleased to see ‘Bernie the Bolt’ had his stand – he sells all kinds of fabric for historical costume that he has made up and dyed to period colours. He’s a good source of baize for lining gun cases as he sells a woolen cloth woven and dyed in Yorkshire in good colours for gun cases. I have used it and it is a reasonable substitute – its actually slightly too thick but will do – it is woven at about 450 gm/sq m whereas the guy on the stall said it should really be about 250 – 300 gm/sq m. for gun cases. He said that the mill would make the lighter material but wanted £13 per m ( 1 m wide) by the bolt and they couldn’t see any profit in it, since he sells the heavier stuff at £15 per meter (Dyson sells both thick and thin but no weights given, at £16 per foot). For gun cases £15 per m is nothing, bearing in mind how much work goes into using 1 meter of cloth on a relining. The case I have to reline came with the cloth from a billiards table, but looking at it it is much too thick and won’t bend over the top of the partitions, so I bought 1 m of a very dark green that I think will do much better. I started to make up a quick and dirty ramrod for one of my old shooting guns out of a new arrow blank as it looks a bit bare without one – I’ve given it a dummy brass end and will fix it up with a horn tip. When I have worked out the technique for rounding and tapering the ebony squares I have, I’ll make a better one!
1 September – another month gone! Had a mixed day at Cambridge Gun Club – in the morning I couldn’t hit anything – the couple of clays I did hit were when I fired and was pretty sure I wasn’t on target. I was trying my Venables, but I’d forgotten that it had a lot of cast on the stock – almost 3/4 of an inch. I realised that I’d been making a mistake every time I tried a gun to see if it ‘came up’ well for me – I’d done it with my eyes open and that forces me to put my head in the best position so I think the gun fits perfectly as long as the comb is not too high – I realised the proper way to try a gun for fit is to hold it in the normal position just before mounting, and close your eyes as you mount, then open them to see if its right – doing that with the Venables showed me that I’m probably shooting 20 or 30 inches to the right of where I think I am, enough to put a target outside the shot pattern. In the afternoon I reverted to the good old Samuel Nock and was back to my normal hit one miss one routine, except for ‘crows’ and I wait for those to get falling properly and can normally pick them off. Anyway it was a very useful shoot as it saves me from the mistake of taking the Venables on a game shoot. I came back with a couple of jobs, a new breech block for a double percussion gun to engrave, and a case to remodel inside and reline. I am not sure if I can engrave the breech block as it seems to have been hardened and tempered, or to be made of a high strength steel on a hard state – I will try with the Gravermax on the underside, but I’m not hopeful….. Anglia Muzzle Loaders goes from strength to strength, its almost embarrassing – every month or two a new face appears – existing members are just not dying off fast enough to keep the population stable ( as one of the older members perhaps I should take note!) Bev had a problem with a new lot of OB priming powder that didn’t work – the company makes Swiss O.B. in two grades with the same name and only a difference in how the label is put on – one works and is the proper one, the other clumps up and is useless. Heaven knows why its made or sold – anyway there is more on the MLAGB blog.
31st August – I had to tackle the big Yew bushes in the front garden today – they are about 20 ft high and needed trimming all over so I ended up at the top of a 16 ft ladder using a hedge cutter with both hands – I didn’t fall off….. Looking at the case for the Egg duelling pistols I realised that it couldn’t have been a flintlock case as there was no-where for the frizzens to go, so as its a very close fit I came to the conclusion that it is original to the pistols – don’t know why I didn’t realise that before, but I think when I was a greenhorn someone told me it was the ‘wrong’ case…. I am not sure why the middle compartment is missing, the lining shows where it was, and looks as if it got ripped when the compartment walls were removed – the pistols should just fit with the compartment in place. Or maybe the compartment fell to pieces – several of the bits of the dividers are coming adrift. I decided that I will replace the central compartment and fix in place the rest of the dividers so that it is tidy. It would not be sensible to reline the whole case as it would then be difficult to be sure it was originally for the pistols. I checked through my supplies of biase for lining the new dividers, and found a good green that is probably a fair match for the original lining colour but is slightly too dark for the current state of it. I thought as an exercise I’d try to make it match in colour and texture (it is a bit thick and has a bit much pile). A sample came down in colour nicely after an hour or so in domestic bleach, and shaving the surface with a razor and rubbing with coarse sandpaper followed by a quick flash over with a flame got rid of the excess pile, so now I just have to hope that the process works on a piece big enough to do the job!
The ‘aged’ biase is on top – the top streak was undiluted bleach! Click to view.
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the woodwork on the unrepaired pistol is too marked and will need to be refinished – no doubt it is a shellac based varnish and with luck I will get away with just a very light steaming to raise the marks – the important thing is NOT to round off any sharp corners by rubbing things down too vigorously. Here is the problem, the other side is visible in a previous photo.
Most of the damage is to the varnish!
I’m shooting at Cambridge Gun Club tomorrow – and I’ll take my ‘spare’ percussion doubles to see if I can sell any!
30th August – I seem to be back in the gun tinkering business again! I’m sure those visitors to the site who have faithfully stuck it out all summer will breath a sigh of relief! I cleaned up the other Edwards as it looked worse once I’d done the first! I am now struck by how damaged the wood is – maybe I won’t be able to resist refinishing it lightly? In the course of getting the cocks and frizzen etc. off I used my two favourite disassembly methods to good effect – if a screw is reluctant to come out, don’t try too hard to unscrew it, especially if the head is a bit mangled – instead tighten it very slightly if you can – a very tiny movement will be enough to break any sticking, and the screw head will probably be perfect for use in that direction – once you have a slight movement, some WD 40 or equivalent, or better still a little acetone with a touch of oil will help as you work it back and forth until it becomes easy. The other trick is releasing the cock from the square on the tumbler – lay the lock face up on your thigh and using the largest pin punch that fits the square, tap smartly with a light hammer a few times and the cock will gradually come off – I know it sounds improbably but it works for most things that need driving out with a pin punch!
Having finished with the Edwards I looked at another cased pair I have that needed attention – a pair of percussion back action lock duelling pistols by D Egg – they too came form my father’s collection and were rather sad as one pistol was broken through the lock area, and someone had attempted to glue it rather badly and had then lost the lock. I got Blackleys to make a set of castings from the good lock and freshened up the engraving and got DIck to fix the wood and make up the lock castings (it was in the early days and I wasn’t confident I could do it). Anyway at some point I looked at the pair as possible shooting pistols, but Dick hadn’t finished off the lock action fully and the sear caught on the half cock notch when the cock was let down. Its one of those faults that one comes across from time to time in locks that don’t have a detent to lift the sear over the half cock bent. The remedy is usually to reshape the half cock bent, and possibly refine the full cock bent a little. Fortunately the tumbler hadn’t been hardened so I didn’t need to anneal it. To get the sear past the half cock notch, the notch needs to be shaped so that the end of the sear is deflected outwards as it passes in firing, which in order to get a secure half cock notch means that the sear needs to slide into the half cock notch without being lifted at all. None of the standard files are suitable for shaping the half cock notch as it needs a true knife edge – I have a very fine flat file that I’ve ground off to leave a fine edge on one side. Anyway I managed to re-work the half cock notch and polish it all up and harden it – and it now works a treat…….
The Eggs are interesting – they were obviously good quality pistols and, replacement lock apart, are in reasonable shape. They are in a case that was obviously for a pair of flintlocks that has been crudely modified for the Eggs – it would be natural to assume that some collector put them in a box he happened to have BUT both case and pistols have the crest of the Earl of Sefton ( Liverpool) and the case has a Liverpool ironmonge’s label, so it looks as if they were put in the current case by the Seftons – one can imagine that the Earl might have been a bit strapped for cash but wanted to upgrade his flintlocks for the latest thing in percussion, so he traded his flintlock pistols in and put the new pistols in the old case, having removed the central box as there wasn’t room for it. Or maybe William Drury did it for him and put his label in the case? Anyway both case and pistols obviously belonged to the Earl at some point, so you can invent you own story!
They just fit, but only just!
29th August – I was thinking about a possible article for Black Powder on the ‘morals or ethics’ of restoration and looked at some of my guns that might be interesting to consider. I alighted on a cased pair of Irish Duelling pistols by Edwards that belonged to my father and which I had never touched – I thought they might benefit from a light clean and a quick check that there was no rust causing problems, although they are in basically sound condition – the only problem is that the case has been relined and the case lock messed about with, otherwise they are pretty good. Anyway I took out the lock of one to strip enough to clean off the external faces and parts, i.e. cock, frizzen and frizzen spring. to do that I took off the mainspring to get at the frizzen spring fixing and surprise – there was a roller on the end of the mainspring. I’ve taken a few locks apart and I thought I’d seen most variations of lock, but this is a new one on me. I guess it was a transient feature between plain springs bearing on the tumbler, and the later and ubiquitous link. I was in two minds about remaking the side nail as the head was pretty mashed up – anyway I’ve mislaid it so that decides it for me – sweeping with my magnet hasn’t found it!
29th August – I came across an original Curtis and Harvey powder tin that was full of powder – much as I’d have liked to keep it in its tin, I was responsible and decanted it into a plastic container and put it in my approved box! While I had it out, I thought that it would be interesting to compare the grain sizes of powders, and as I have a whole lot of different powders I took a set of photos under my microscope and here they are….
As usual, click on the photo for a clearer and bigger picture…….
The powders are, as labelled, Swiss OB, No 1, No 2, No 4, TS2, Curtiss and Harvey No 4, Czech Vesuvit L.C. and a miscellaneous powder I was given as a priming powder which turned out to be useless – its grain structure is like coke, see last picture which is an enlargement. All the other pictures are at the same scale – 5 m.m. across the photo. I think I still have more powders in my box , Farquarson & Nobel No 2 – but I’ll find those later. The photos appear to show that the Swiss powders & the TS2 and C &H have quite uniform grain sizes while the Czech powder is much more mixed in size. As shooters of muzzle loaders will know, the grain size controls the ignition speed because the grains burn through relatively slowly compared with the speed of propagation of the flash through the interstices – so bigger grains mean slower burn – hence OB for rapid flash for flintlocks priming and Swiss 4 for rifles where you want smooth acceleration down the barrel to avoid stripping the rifling. The Czech powder in much cheaper than the Swiss and is used in percussion shotguns although it isn’t as fast or powerful as Swiss No 2, the alternative which is invariably used in flintlocks. Presumably the slower ignition of the Czech, which has a relatively fine grain size, is due to its composition, and possibly that the mixed grain size means it packs tighter and doesn’t allow the flash to propogate through the charge as well ? On the evidence of grain size alone, one might expect Czech to be comparable with Swiss No 1 – which is used in pistols as it gives fast burn suitable for the short barrels of pistols, but clearly other factors are at play here. It would be interesting to sieve Czech and compare the fine fraction with maybe OB and the coarser with Swiss No 1 or 2.
28th August – I was part of the MLAGB ‘Have a Go’ stand at the Fenland Country Fair yesterday, & it was manic! Sunday was pretty dead by all accounts (I was elsewhere ) so everyone came on Monday, and 6 of us were flat out from about 10 a.m. until 4 p.m giving people a go with our guns – I took my little percussion single barreled Nock which people all love – its a small gun – 5 1/4 lbs and 13 1/2 inch pull but it seems to ‘come up’ right for everyone – keeping the charge low 2 1/4 drams and 7/8 oz is fine for adults, and probably about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 drams and 1/2 oz for children and I didn’t get any complains as long as I got people to hold the gun properly into their shoulders, and not just the heel. I took my single barreled ‘Twigg’ flinter as its very reliable and is a classic long barreled gun of around 1780. We had a couple of traps set up for going away birds and a few people did pretty well – one young girl ( 15 ish ) had never touched a gun before but hit her 3 clays in great style like an old timer! My son Giles had never touched a shotgun before ( you might wonder why – he never had any desire to ) brought his girlfriend and had 2 shots and broke clays on both, a hidden talent! At the end of the day I’d collected tickets from around 70 shots (about half with the flintlock), used two flasks of powder and got through one flint. Saturday is our Anglian Muzzle Loaders monthly shoot so I’ll go to that – I have decided that I have accumulated too many double percussion guns, so I’ll offer them to members of the AML first, then put them on this site – I’ll get rid of the Samuel Nock and the Egg plus the 8 bore single wikldfowl gun, which will leave me with two, the Jackson and the Venables.
26th August – Just driven back from a family party in Wales in the most horrendous rain, so I feel a bit washed out! But no time to relax as I’m on duty on the MLAGB stand at the Fenland Country Fair with my guns and some pistols to display by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning- fortunately its only about 10 minutes drive away from home. Today must have been a washout for them, and I’m concerned that the ground will be so waterlogged that they won’t let anyone drive onto the showground – which means I’ll have to carry all my stuff right across the whole ground. We’ll face that when we come to it. I’ve had a correspondence with a collector/dealer about descriptions of antiques and restorations thereof – which has got me thinking about coming up with a sensible set of descriptions that cover most degrees of restoration – I’ll keep thinking about it in odd moments and when/if I come up with any ideas I’ll try to produce something useful….. In the meantime I’m up to my neck in other things……
23rd August – Back from my sailing/camping trip to the Blackwater Estuaety and the Colne. Had an interesting diversion on the way to launch at Tollesbury Marina, planning to arrive at about 4:30 to launch around 6 p.m on a rising tide. Half a mile from the Marina (literally) there was a bang and a scraping noise form the trailer…..
…and a friendly native brought me my wheel…
Not much chance of putting that back, or of going anywhere soon, or so you might think – But, wonders of the internet, I Googled ‘Trailer parts near me’ which came up with Indespension in Colchester 8.8 miles away as the crow flies – a quick telephone call had them in their stock room with a measure, but we couldn’t be sure any would fit, and they closed in 45 minutes….. A very rapid dash got me there 15 minutes before they closed, and we sorted out a pair of new suspension units and hubs which they kindly greased and assembled for me, and even gave me a couple of pairs of latex gloves so I could fit them without getting my hands dirty! I still didn’t know if they would fit the trailer, but they did, and I was able to replace the broken unit – I had a socket set in the car that for some reason has two 13 mm sockets and 2 ‘drivers’ so I was able to undo the rusted nuts and bolts with a bit of effort….. And I managed to launch by 8 p.m. on the top of the tide….. Well done Indespension, and all for a cost of £157.00 including VAT! The wonders of the internet! And I had a good couple of days pottering about in the boat…………….
20th August – The shooting season is almost upon us – I have a few shoots (muzzle loading only) lined up and I’ll be at the Fenland Country Fair on Bank holiday Monday – I have been press-ganged into the ‘have a go’ squad as we will be a bit thin on the ground, so I won’t be doing my engraving. I will however be at Sandringham Country fair a fortnight later with my full engraving setup and display, and I look forward to meeting old friends and new at both events. If you have any antiques in need of restoration bring them along, and if you are a watcher of this site, make sure you introduce yourself!
19th August – I finished the tent for my dinghy, so tomorrow I am setting off on the first stage of my plan to sail round the world – the first stage being about 5 miles up the Blackwater estuary! I thought I’d post a photo of our amazing crop of tomatoes – 3 plants growing in a growbag on the woodstore roof. I set up a very cheap watering timer about 6 weeks ago and they have not been touched since – I think this is the first time either Penny or I have got anything edible to grow, so its a red letter day! I thought I’d better include something to do with guns and engraving just to keep some semblance of focus to this blog – I came across a small piece of brass that I’d used used for practice when I first tried engraving some 55 years ago! As you can see, its fairly basic scroll stuff, and I guess is still the pattern I default to if I’m not trying to do anything in particular.
I did this in about 1959!
17th August – Spent another whole day waiting in for a promised delivery by TNT – that is two days I’ve wasted because of them in the last week. I’ll have to hunt round and find where on the web to leave a negative review! In my frustration I played around with recutting the chequering on an old shotgun fore-end from Dick’s scrap box. I have some proper tools for cutting 24 lines per inch, but they aren’t perfect for recutting – but I did make a tool some time ago out of a cheap plastic handled crosshead screwdriver with the end bent and ground down. It has a curved ‘keel’ ground to a 60 degree edge, and a sharp slanting cutting face – it is ideal for recutting as you can use the ‘keel’ to follow existing lines or mark new ones, and when you have got the mark it leaves in the right place you just tip it up a little and it cuts as you move it forward. If there is any existing groove the keel will follow it. I did have a problem on the fore-end where there was a gap without any trace of the old chequering and I didn’t manage to fill it in very evenly, but its not too bad. I now need a better cutter to widen the cuts and even it all up.
16th August – I’ve been busy making a tent for my little dinghy so that I can do a short camping trip before the summer ends, but today Dick rang and asked if I had any chequering tools as his were blunt. At the time I couldn’t find the odd one or two unused ones I had somewhere, but this evening I found a couple of 24 lines per inch cutters and had a go on a scrap of old gun stock – my tools are 24 lines to the inch, so quite fine. I wouldn’t say that my first effort was perfect, but it would pass on casual inspection. I don’t have the proper tools for doing the edges – old shotguns have a fairly wide convex groove as a border, so I might make try making one some time. Anyway, that is another skill that I can spend some time working on this winter! I’ll post a photo of my effort some time.
13th August – Yesterday the little o/u pistol was collected by my friend and client – I let it go with reluctance as its such a beauty – I showed him teh Venables 14 bore but wouldn’t let him buy it! I did persuade him to sell me a little pair of Belgian percussion pocket pistols that need quite a lot of restoration done as they have rusted. I normally steer clear of foreign stuff as it was not popular here, but times are a’changing as they say, and I needed a straightforward project for the blog as I’ve been a bit distracted lately. I haven’t actually got these pistols yet, or for that matter seen them in theflesh, but when I do I’ll put photos up.
Goodbye – you don’t see many as nice as this!
11th August – The mystery of the Yamaha F4A outboard deepens! I put it all back together – minus the back cover – and ran it with the pipe that connects the thermostat housing to the exhaust junction and carries the hot cooling water from the engine disconnected at the connection to the leg. The engine was running with the leg in a tank of water in neutral at ‘trolling’ speed. With the thermostat in place a few drops appear from the pipe when the engine is cold (it needs to leak s bit to get the hot water to the thermostat), and as the engine warms up the flow gradually increases and a thermometer shows the water at around 60 degrees C or so, which is about right – but then the pipe starts to spit steam and after a minute or so it is just a stream of steam with no solid water and the engine get very hot. With the thermostat removed there is a strong continuous flow of water from the pipe and it doesn’t get much above 40 – 45C and the engine stays reasonable cool. I checked the thermostat before and it meets the specs exactly, so what is going on? The tell tale is showing good pressure on both tests….
When running with the water coming out of the pipe rather than into the leg, the leg gets quite hot from the exhaust but that isn’t a factor in this problem. In all these tests there is a very strong stream coming from the tell tale hole by the inlet to the engine. Anyway I have left out the thermostat and plan to use the outboard to see if it overheats in use – of course I’ll reconnect the pipe to the leg to cool the exhaust and put on the covers. Mystery…………
Good tell tale flow and good cooling flow when no thermostat is fitted
9th August – Having said yesterday that it was too nice to be indoors, I got my comeuppance today as it rained all day non stop and is still raining. I did a few vaguely gun related jobs- making some felt sleeves to keep my antique pistols from getting damaged. I was hoping to do some work on the dinghy in preparation form my little trip, but that wasn’t possible.
8th August – The number of visitors to this site has jumped to about 500 a day – and it seems to be genuine visitors rather than bot attacks, which is nice. I haven’t got back to gun work yet – its really too nice to be indoors, so I got back to trying to fix my Yamaha F4A outboard that was overheating last year. We failed to notice that there was no cooling water coming out of the tell tale outlet, and the engine overheated, so I stripped it down and found the water pump absolutely solid with salt so I replaced all the parts of the pump and cleaned out and replaced the thermostat – it all seemed fine and water flowed out of the tell tale but it still got far too hot. I took the head off and checked & cleared all the water cooling passages, which were pretty clear anyway, and then had to wait while I got a replacement head gasket. I put it together today but fortunately didn’t put all the cowling back on as it was still overheating, although this time there was a very strong jet coming out of the tell-tale hole, so there was obviously adequate pressure from the water pump. Nothing for it but to take the power head off the leg to look at the only bit of the water path I hadn’t checked – but no sign of any problems there. Now that is all a bit of a mystery, so I went back to the thermostat that I’d replaced and checked it in hot water – it opened fully by 70 degrees C, which is what it is supposed to do. I put the thermostat housing back on without the thermostat and could then blow easily through from the water pump inlet to the water outlet into the exhaust path so there can be no obstruction in the entire water path in the engine. That really doesn’t leave much that could be wrong! I am now waiting for a new gasket to put the power head back on the leg and I’ll try again. One useful thing I did learn is that the telltale outlet is right by the cooling water inlet to the engine, so it doesn’t show if water is flowing round the engine, only that the pump is working, and the tell tale water never gets more that luke warm, so as a check its rather limited. My only possible thought is that there was an air lock in the path to the thermostat housing so that it never got heated enough to open – anyway my only idea at the moment is to try it without the thermostat in place………………….. I’ll be back with more on this, I would like to get the outboard working as I want to go off in our 16 ft dinghy for a few days while the weather is good………………………
5th August – back at last after our sailing holiday – altogether a good time was had by all. Only one gale and we were safely tied up in Stornoway for the day – we hired a car and did a tour of Harris, which is not difficult as there are not that many roads! Mostly sailing required 4 layers of clothing, but the wind dropped almost every night so no tense nights worrying about anchors dragging, and it was often possible to eat in the cockpit in the evening (thankfully midges don’t make the journey out to the boat!). We even had one whole day then it was possible to wear shorts and a tee shirt, which is almost unheard of in those parts. We got the hang of sailing the boat better, mostly because Giles had done a bit of yacht racing and was good at sail trimming, so we had some exciting fast reaches at 8 knots plus in winds to 25 knots. We explored a few new anchorages and discovered a couple of very pretty lochs to overnight in. Now back to ‘real life’ or what passes for that here! I’ve forgotten everything I knew about guns and engraving, so it will be fun picking it up again………………
Quiet evening in Loch Shell, Lewis
25th July – Greetings from the Hebrides, where it is about 14 degrees C and alternating between 20 knot winds and calm, with rain and drizzle thrown in for good measure, while me house sitters bask in 30 degrees and swim in the pool!
Alongside in Scalpay Noth Harbour, Harris
Motoring in the rain!
20th July We have nearly reached the end of school term and our house guests/house sitters will shortly be arriving so we can hand over and disappear for a sailing trip round the Hebrides. Until then I am pretty busy on work, so there won’t be much on the blog, I’m afraid, unless I can persuade the sitters to give an account of their time in the house – they certainly won’t be doing any gun engraving as my collection is currently in storage – and I’ll try to sell a substantial chunk of it before I take it back as I have run out of space! I’ll try to put some pictures when we do eventually get away, but mobile reception is a bit flakey in the Outer Isles, and our target this year is St Kilda, which I’m certain doesn’t have any.
18th July A very pleasant afternoon with a couple of friends for lunch and a bit of gentle muzzle loading clay shooting in their garden – we had a very nice Egg double 11 bore tubelock sans ramrod that was quite heavy and of around 1840 – 45 vintage. This was the second phase of popularity of the tubelock after the first Joseph Manton 1818 tubelock patent flurry of guns – it is always assumed that the second phase of popularity was predicated on the craze for live pigeon shooting and the big wagers involved, on the premise that the tubelock was slightly faster ignition than the caplock. The bore is a hint that it was a live pigeon gun as it was the maximum allowed bore, and most sporting guns except wildfowl guns were smaller bore. Plus it doesn’t have a ramrod. It was one of a pair of guns without the numbers 1 & 2 to distinguish the guns and that is possibly a clue as sporting guns were usually carefully individually marked. Unusually the tubelock had a number of misfires, which we put down to faulty tubes – I didn’t make those tubes and I’ve never had a misfire in the few hundred I’ve made. I took my Manton Flintlock and we got it to go from a noticeable delay to pretty fast by tweaking the priming – our American friend convinced me that it was faster with about 1/3 or 1/4 of the priming powder (Swiss OB) than I had been using – great discovery given the price of Swiss OB. I’m almost out of OB as I seem to have mislaid my pot of it – possibly I lent it? I think I’d been adding more priming in the mistaken belief that it made the gun go off faster. We shot the Venables for the first time – it seems to shoot as a percussion caplock would, All in all I managed to bag a few clays with all three guns.
17th July I have been trying to ‘invent’ new designs for border engravings, but its turning out to be more difficult than I imagined – I thought I’d do a rope, but getting the shading to look right is proving tricky – I’ll post a photo when I get a bit nearer a solution. I had the last STEM club of the term – the oldest children – year 6- are going on to secondary school so next term there will be new members and we’ll have to start again with cutting up cardboard boxes and using masses of sticky tape and hot (warm) glue guns and lolly sticks etc. So Dave and I will have to rack our brains to come up with suitable projects that include the above! I’ll miss the year 6s – they were great. We are shortly off to Scotland and sailing, so I am getting ready for the house sitters to take over – I am relieved that they are staying because the thought of coming back after a couple of weeks and finding the swimming pool a stagnant green puddle is not at all attractive! I hope they get on all right with the cockerel – nasty piece of work! I got invited out to lunch and some gently muzzle loading shooting tomorrow so I might take the Venables and see if it shoots as well as it seems to handle – and maybe the Manton flintlock to see if I can get the ignition up to speed – it was a bit slow last time, although I have to admit that it is other people who really notice – I am maybe too slow myself to judge the ignition speed of a flintlock unless it is really noticeably slow. Tomorrow I also have a visit to school to meet the teacher responsible for Special Educational Needs children as that is my governor responsibility – in total that means I will have made three visits this week and a similar number last week – in fact every term-time week – the holidays will come as a bit of a relief.
16th July – another sunny day! I don’t know how long it is since we had rain, probably about 4 weeks and counting… Coincidence or what – just as I finished typing that sentence Penny called out and said that it was raining – but you can be sure it won’t be enough to soak the ground! I went over to see Dick today to see the progress on jobs. – We have a small problem – the double barreled ‘foreign’ pistol was stripped by Dick but neither he nor I can find the small parts from the inside of the locks – I’m pretty sure I only took bits that needed engraving, which I’ve returned in the box they came in but the ‘works’ have proved elusive – both Dick and I have searched our workshops to no avail – really strange because both of us have several of sets of bits at any one time and always keep them separate and in boxes or zippy plastic bags. The annoying thing is that if you make a new set – possible but tedious – you can be sure they will turn up just as you finish the last part!
15th July – I saw several interesting guns people had bought to show at Rugby yesterday, including a fine underhammer percussion rifle by W Parker. One shooter had a problem with his percussion shotgun – the cock wouldn’t pull back from the fired position as far as half cock so a couple of us had a look and took out the lock, whereupon it became clear that the problem was that the nose of the tumbler was hitting the mainspring claw/ tumbler link and preventing the tumbler from rotating any further. It’s unusual to see clearances here of less than a couple of m.m. , but the gun looked original and had been shooting perfectly well. The problem appeared to boil down to the link being effectively too long – the top joint of the link onto the tumbler appeared to have bit of play, but not really enough to cause the problem. I had a spring clamp in my car and took out the mainspring, which revealed the problem – the link had started a crack just at the joint between the flat part and the cross bar that engages with the claw on the mainspring and had allowed the rod to move so as to effectively lengthen the link and cause the interference seen. (see photo – of a different lock). It will be a tricky job to weld it, but another member took it away to fix as its an ‘up North’ job. I had a look at a few locks from an assortment of guns and couldn’t find one where the clearance between the tip of the tumbler and link/claw was so small -before the crack opened the clearance could only have been a few tens of thou! – you meet something new every day in this game! I stupidly didn’t photograph the broken lock, so here are some photos of ones I have to hand that illustrate the site of the problems
This is a lock from my Samuel Nock percussion 14 bore gun. The arrow illustrates the closest point as the cock is pulled back – as you can see the sear hasn’t reached the half cock bent. On the broken gun there was a collision between tumbler and spring and link at this point.
A lock from a John Manton & Son 1852-5 percussion double showing the point on the link that had started to crack on the Rugby gun – if it hadn’t stopped working because of the interference, the link would have failed shortly anyway.
14th July – At the Horley Wood Helice shoot today – fantastic weather, with enough breeze to stop us all frying in the sun. The Rugby club is one of only 5 in the country to have a helice layout – as I’ve probably explained before, the principle is to simulate the old sport of live pigeon shooting matches without any loss of life, either the shooters or the targets. It is laid out like the old live pigeon shoots with 5 traps in front of the shooter, loaded with orange winged clays that fly, and have a knockout white centre that falls free if hit (with a little luck). There is a small fence around 2 feet high in an arc around the shooting position at about 30 yards(?) distant – the ‘clay must be hit so as to separate the white centre, which must hit the ground inside the fence to count as a kill. We allowed the clay to bounce over the fence and still score, but I think some rules say it must finish up inside the fence. The fun part is that the traps spin up the clays and oscillate from side to side and up and down so that the shooter can’t anticipate which trap will fire on the ‘pull’ ( the use of that word signifies the pulling of the string that opened the trap over the live pigeon) or the direction it will take. the spinning orange part is a propeller and can describe a whole range of different paths with changes of direction during flight. Scoring a hit is a mixture of good shooting and luck in getting an ‘easy’ bird (in truth none are that easy). As muzzle loaders are not as fast as breech loaders, and we are not experienced helice shooters, we only use the middle 3 traps, which makes it somewhat easier, It is so different from ‘normal’ clay shooting that all the winners were shooters who didn’t normally figure as winners in conventional clay competition, and many of those who are normally good didn’t shine……
For the benefit of those there, some of whom read my blog, here are a couple of photos;
20 bird shoot – so only 8 out of 28 hit half or more of the birds well enough to score – there were a few near misses too.
The ‘bird’ is just below the wind turbine blade. The trap on the left has just fired hence it shows black.
As in any muzzle loading event, it takes time to load and shoot 560 shots, so there is a little time to relax
13th July Missed out on the restoration & engraving for a couple of days – I had a look at the two little pistols Dick has restored – they look very good now. They will in due course be collected when the owner gets down off his combine! I bought back the frizzen of the Blair and Sutherland that I had asked Dick to make a better fit to the pan as it was so hard the file wouldn’t touch it – the beauty of having an electric furnace handy means just dip it in scale inhibiting paint (Brownells) and hang it in the furnace and set it for 900C then turn it off and let it cool ( it cools at a reasonably slow rate as the bricks are quite good insulators). I am off the Rugby for the Helice tomorrow – I got out the Gasquoine and Dyson 6 1/2 bore live pigeon gun to see if I could mount it but the stock is too high and I can’t get my head down on the stock – given that live pigeon guns were made to shoot high, adding the extra from my eye being above the line means I don’t think I could hit anything with it – so it looks as if it will be the old faithful Henry Nock single 14 bore. the load is limited to 1 1/4 oz and 3 drams, which is quite enough for its 5 1/4 lbs weight. I’ll take the Venables of Oxford to show off my bargain! I’m busy preparing for sailing in Scotland- we have a large table piled with food, and I’m sorting out navigation software for my mobile phone – there is a group of enthusiasts who have been surveying small locks around the West coast of Scotland using a rubber dingy equipped with GPS and an echsounder, because a lot of the Official Admiralty charts are based on surveys that were done in the 19th or early 20th centuries and the positioning of small features like sharp rocks is not always perfect. Anyway I have purchased the amateur charts (Antares charts) and they look pretty good, although they only cover a handful of possible anchorages in the Hebrides. I have also been fretting over the swimming pool so that the house-sitters can keep it sanitary – if left un-dosed it goes a horrible green colour and heaven knows what nasties lurk within – probably kill anyone who ventures into the water instantly. I got a floating gizmo that holds clorine tablets that dissolve slowly, but finding the right settings to maintain the level steady is taking a while.
10th July I finished my black powder box and filled it and photographed it for the Firearms dept – hope they like it! One anomaly in the instructions seemed odd – if you don’t keep the box in a secure place (whatever that is) then it must have secure hinges and hasp and padlock. Nothing about fixing it down to anything, so presumably its Ok to pick it up and run away with it. You could probably get in fairly fast using the saw blade on a proper Swiss Army knife – they are vicious. The more detail you try to put in regulations, the more holes you create! I engraved the breech block of the pistol – I did the false breech earlier – see photo. The whole thing is now complete as far as my work is concerned, with the possible exception of a few screwheads yet to be made. I was given an old lock, which was obviously rather crude, or possibly early, as there is no bridle on the tumbler – see photo….
Breech block of ‘foreign’ pistol.
Gash lock I was given. – The mechanism is pretty crude – there is no bridle supporting the tumbler shaft – this is probably a function of it being a trade gun rather than on account of its age, although the ‘banana shape of the lockplate is a somewhat early feature.The cock looks a bit too unrusted compared with the rest of it so is probably a replacement.
9th July I took the bits I had engraved to Dick’s so he can get on with fitting them to the wood – the butt cap fits on to a chunk of what looks like ivory that forms a white (now varnished brown) band above the brass cap. Not sure if it is ivory, but the pistol predates plastics… I now have the barrel to put a bit of decoration on the rib on the breech block – probably nothing else, I’ll see how it goes I might be tempted to try a silver inlay. The barrels are very light – the muzzles look like typical shotgun muzzles in terms of thickness, and the breeches are a bit thicker, but not much, plus the barrels appear to be slightly swamped (i.e. have a ‘waist’) although it isn’t true swamped in that the barrel never gets thinner than at the muzzle – just looks swamped when you view along the barrel. Anyway for a pistol we reckoned it had a very light barrel. I’m going to have to have a better system of keeping track of which bits of which guns I have, and which bits Dick has – it hasn’t been a problem before – we both have ‘systems’ that usually work, but today we were not sure who had all the ‘works’ from the pistol locks. I am sure that Dick had stripped them, and I only took the bits that actually needed engraving, but he thought I have them! We both have workshops full of stuff, but actually both of us are quite careful about keeping track of bits so it is unusual for us to misplace things. My black powder box is pretty near completion – just need a strong point to secure it to an eyebolt. Now I have to photograph it for the Firearms & Explosives person.
Its difficult to know where this pistol came from – the chequering is fairly coarse and the shapes are not English – the ivory plug is unusual too!
Very light barrels of around 18 bore – must have used quite light loads!
8th July – I fixed up an automatic watering system for the tomato plants (3) which live in a grow bag on the roof of the log store – they get through about 8 litres of water a day in this weather! I am amazed that a little plastic part run on two AAA cells can turn on and off a full water supply at 5 Bars pressure! I made a garden gate (its a weekend and time to catch up on domestic jobs) out of a couple of old table tops I had collected from a skip in a University lab – they were covered in dirty hardboard but made of solid pine – they were quite narrow and on the underside has a groove along one edge and a couple of holes for ink wells with ink soaked in all round – took me back to my first school were we had to use ‘dip pens’ to write in copybooks – it probably gave me a love of graphics and script writing, not that I’m very good at it – maybe my early education wasn’t rigorous enough. ( that all makes me sound like someone out of Dickens or a TV historic play). Anyway a very solid gate now hangs in the garden, and a bit more old junk has gone from the shed….. I eventually found the trigger guard – it was in the cellar with my derusting kit – logical – I just forgot to look there. Anyway that is now done, plus the brass butt cap.
I went for a classic scroll here – I used the gravermax as the metal was a bit mixed – not as easy to control as push engraving….
but it has to be quick – the job is taking far too long for any sensible added value!
7th July – Shades of 1976! I remember an aerial photo of my auntie’s farm taken that year – a house in a sea of completely parched fields. My quest for the missing trigger guard got pretty frantic, especially when I realised the brass butt cap was missing too. I even had Dick searching his workshop in case I’d taken them down with the other bits of the pistol to show him. They were of course where I had put them – down in the cellar next to the derusting tank! No time to actually DO anything by the time they were found. My blackpowder box turns out to be a fairly tight fit on my modified plastic bottles – I should have made the spaces 5 mm bigger, but it will just fit them. I’m sorting out bits and pieces for sailing – things have moved on from the days when you needed dozens of paper charts at about £ 8 each – I just got all the UK charts in digital form for up to 5 mobile phones for £25. which is a bargain! Very handy for use on deck – you need to put your phone in a waterproof bag, but that isn’t a problem. I still like a few paper charts for planning as it helps to be able to see the detail and the big picture in their proper relation at the same time, plus I love ‘walking’ the dividers across a chart to measure distances/times – so quick and immediate.
6th July. I have now finished all the bits of the double pistol, except the trigger guard, which I have mislaid! I had it on my engraving bench and looked at it in preparation, but it had evaporated! The fact that someone dished me up an oversize gin and tonic at 6 p.m. hasn’t helped the search! I’m sure it will turn up somewhere! I’m reminded that next Saturday is the Helice shoot at Rugby, when our gang will try their hand at this fantastic clay shoot – regulars on this site from last year will know that the traps throw flying ‘clays’ from random traps in random directions in imitation of the 19th century s’sport’ of live pigeon shooting. I do have an original live pigeon gun by Gasquoine and Dyson (see post) – like a lot of the early percussion live pigeon guns it is large bore – 6 1/2 and like all live pigeon guns, it was made without provision for a ramrod as all loading was at tables and supervised to make sure the loads were fair. Live pigeon guns were usually made to shoot high as the birds were always rising when shot. Although it is a big bore, mostly the guns were not overly heavy and shot moderate loads of 1 1/2 or 2 oz of shot (later 1 1/2 was the max. allowed and the big bores were dropped). The other large bore guns that you find were wildfowling guns which were typically much heavier – 12 lbs not being unusual, and would have loaded heavy powder and shot charges – 3 oz and 4 or 5 drams of black powder. While many of the live pigeon guns were of high quality and finish like mine, the wildfowling guns were usually plain and strictly functional. I will have to think about which gun to take!
5th July – I found an offcut of 6mm ply in the recesses of the shed that was big enough to cut the partitions for the black powder box from, so that is now done and awaits hinges and hasp – I might go mad and buy some intumescent strip for the lid – about £12. It is recommended in ER2014 but not obligatory. I finished off the two lock plates that had been ‘engraved’ by a madman – I had to follow most of the existing pattern as some of the cuts were quite deep – anyway it looks passable now – the leaves sticking out are strange, but they were quite deeply cut so it was not possible to ignore them. Anyway it looks a lot better and I eventually followed a suggestion for a border from Dick, so I did a wiggly line, which is very quick to do and looks the part. I shudder to think how long I’ve spent on them so far – I have the rest of the furniture to sort now- its in the derusting bath. I did most of the second lock with the Gravermax as it gave me slightly more control in the difficult parts of the metal – around 30% of the surface.
Slightly unusual design, it would probably have been better to make new lock plates, but that would raise the price of the job considerably and it is a collector’s find so its quite nice to keep elements of the original;
4th July – back in school for a 1 to 1 session with a young lad. We succeeded in programming the robot vehicle to follow a line but dodge round an obstruction and carry on following – we got it to do 4 laps of an obstructed circuit. I have now glued up the black powder box – it is designed to hold 16 bottles of 500 gm each and is effectively made of 24 mm ply, so its pretty hefty, even empty! I now have to get some 6 mm ply for the internal divisions – I have a full sheet in the shed, but it is so deeply buried and such a struggle to find space to cut it up (by hand) that I may just go and see if I can pick up some offcuts in the timber merchant. I’ll then need hinges and a hasp and some means of securing it in place. Then I can retire my old box. I spent a good part of the day engraving the junk locks (see below) the metal is horrible and I’m getting through gravers fast – I won’t be able to put off a sharpening session much longer. I’ll post a photo shortly – it is very difficult to get something that looks reasonable when so much of the original ‘engraving’ is still there. the pre-existing stuff really defines a pattern unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a gun or anywhee else for that matter – heaven knows who did it, or why! Last chance to bid on Holts sealed bid sale – I couldn’t find a lot to get excited about, but I did stick in one bid, so we’ll see if that works.
3rd July in school a couple of times today – my STEM club was very quiet as its a ‘move up day’ and my seniors had gone off to their next term’s schools for the day. I decided that it was almost impossible to buy 500ml antistatic bottles – almost because it is possible to buy wash bottles at about £8 each – so I cut all the old 1KG black powder bottles I had at 125 mm from the base and cut the skirt off the top at 20 – 25 below the corner and then split up the corners of the top a little to make it easier to fit the top over the base – I then stuck the two together with black silicone sealant. My stock of empty bottles was good because several years ago I’d bought a 12Kg sack of BP and asked the AML members for spare empty bottles. Anyway I now have 10 antistatic bottles that I hope will satisfy ER2014. I bought a sheet of 12 mm ply and got it cut into three strips – I decided to make the box out of two layers of 12 mm ply instead of 18 mm ply as it will be easier to get good overlapping joints and its a lot cheaper – around £25 a sheet for shuttering ply with one good face. So far I’ve cut the pieces and glued the two layers of all the sides together. I am hoping that my construction method works – I’ll post the evidence when it is put together.
Looks a bit wonky, but who cares?
2nd July. I recut the trigger guard of the rifle – its always difficult to decide how much I’m going to do – this one was quite pitted – probably deeper than the existing engraving over a lot of the surface. so to refinish the surface to get rid of the pitting would probably have obliterated all of the original engraving and I’d then have to recreate the original (without really knowing what it was!). I settled for refreshing as best I could – its often difficult, as in this case, to make out what the engraving represents, so you have to recut the clear original cuts, getting finer and finer as far as you can follow, and hope that something recognisable will emerge from the recutting. In this case a stag’s head emerged with scrolls on either side. You can now ‘read’ the engraving much better, without it looking too brash. Interestingly the deeper cuts appeared to be done with a chasing tool and hammer, which is quite unusual in my experience on an English gun, the fine lines were, I think done with a push engraver. Dick has a strange foreign pistol that had the crudest engraving you can imagine – the owner wanted it ‘tarted up’ to look more like an English pistol – it has a short double barrel that actually could be English – the rest might be a trade gun decorated by an amateur. Ive now put that to bed, I hope ( photos below)
The initial state of the trigger guard – its quite difficult to make out the details – electrolytic derusting cleared out the hard rust, which makes it easier to recut. As always, part of the difficulty of ‘reading ‘ the engraving is that the rust comes up flush with the surface, so you don’t see relief or shadows.
It is now clearer although the photo doesn’t show the middle bit well as there are no shadows
I’m supposed to turn these into something respectable! The tail is too deep to ignore, but I’m tempted to file out the nose engraving as it is only on one plate.
The pre-existing ‘engraving’ if it deserves that name makes it difficult to deviate as most of the cuts on the tail are too deep to ignore. So I just work with what is already there- recutting lines and adding shading and changing the overall shape with additions. – I’ll put a pattern in the border round the lock at some point.
1July. Another month gone…. I went sailing in our 16ft dinghy today as it was such a perfect day! I had an amusing encounter where I pay to launch the boat – last time I said 16ft as the length and they said lets call it 14 ft 6 inches as that is cheaper, so I agreed. This time I said 14 ft 6 inches and they said lets call it 3 meters as that is cheaper – presumably this will continue until the boat has infinitesimal length and costs nothing – or is 3 m the minimum cost? Watch this space to discover…. The owner of the rifle reminded me that I was also going to recut the trigger guard – I’m afraid it has slipped my mind, so that is something to look forward to. I got a letter from the Firearms Licensing people for Bedfordshire ( our licensing is now joint) telling me the latest storage regulations for Black Powder and asking for photographs of my box etc. There is a bit of a problem here – while the maximum contents of the box has increased to 15 Kg ( I think 10 Kg is the max on the license) it still has to be stored in 550 gm max per bottle and the bottles have to be plastic / polythene or paper or cloth and the plastic must not ‘induce static electricity’. All my BP comes in 1 Kg antistatic bottles of which I have plenty but it is nigh on impossible to buy 500 ml antistatic (usually black) plastic bottles anywhere on the web. Since you need to leave 30% space above the bottles the box gets a bit ridiculously high if you just half fill the 1 Kg bottles, which is presumably perfectly legal – you can’t count the 50% space within the bottle towards the 30% either. So I am in a bit of a quandary – I am thinking of cutting the existing bottles down and gluing them back together, or using sticky tape. My current box takes 500ml poythene bottles but it looks like I’ll have to make a new one – heaven knows where it will fit in the house! Here is the extract from ER 2014 – I’ll try to track down the full thing when I have time.. On second thoughts, keeping the BP in paper bags of 500 gm is obviously quite legal and much cheaper …………………….. Suggestions welcome!
click here for ER2014 summary:- Black Powder regulations
30th June – I picked up the barrel of the rifle that I engraved the patch box for from Dick today – he has done a nice job of browning it – a good chestnut brown – he struck up the barrel a little to get rid of some of the small scale pitting, but didn’t take it too far so that it looked as if the barrel had been worked over. There is no engraving on the rifle at all, although it is a nice quality piece – it is thought to be outsale from Joseph Manton very late in his career – it is a little unusual that it is unsigned, un-numbered and without a barrel makers mark, as its a decent quality Birmingham proofed gun. Dick and I had a mutual ‘senior moment’ when putting the backsight back – we couldn’t remember which side the folding leaf was normally on – we did get it right as I checked on my Purdey rifle when I got home. I had to take out the foresight and file it down a bit as it didn’t fit very well. Anyway its ready to go back to its owner, which is more than can be said for the little pistol Dick is STILL working on – it must have taken the best part of a week to do – far more than the pistol is worth! I’m going to have to have a try at shooting the Venables – it seems to fit pretty well with its 3/8th cast off.. I do have a problem that I always think almost any gun I pick up fits me, unless the comb is too high for me to see down the barrel rib, in which case I can usually shoot it with a leather butt pad fitted. The secret with the leather butt pads is to cut shims from old cork table mats and use them to adjust the length of the stock. I’m sure that they can’t all fit but I need an ‘expert’ to look and see what fits – the problem is that I shoot equally erratically with them all. I was thinking to go sailing tomorrow on the Stour by Ipswitch – its tidal and you can only launch and recover from a trailer when the tide is more than half up, so at the moment its only possible to fit in a good sail on alternative weekends, and so far it hasn’t worked out. Our plastic bag containing 30 tons of water in the back garden is getting lots of use in this hot weather- more swimming so far this year than any years for quite a while………………………
The ramrod is with the owner.
Twist has come out very well – it isn’t too shiny, so looks in keeping with the rest of the gun.
28th June – A busy day what with meetings and a visit to my lovely dentist – I did have time to make the second titanium nipple for the Venables. Making them out of titanium is a pain as the metal is so tough. It is OK to turn with a sharp tool but you do need a sharp tool if you want to take a very fine cut – it works best with reasonable cuts. I drill a 1 mm hole in the bottom of the nipple but you have to proceed very carefully and clear the drill often – the second nipple has a 1.1 mm hole as the 1 mm drill sheared off in a failed attempt! The main hole down from the top is 2.3 mm to within 3 mm of the bottom so the 1 mm hole is about 3 mm long – they seem to work with those dimensions The worst bit is cutting the thread as the die only seems to cut on the first pass (with difficulty and a lot of heat but maybe the die is blunt), and any attempt to resize the thread with a closed down die gets no-where, it just compresses the thread, generates a lot of heat and is a difficult to back off as it is to cut – but you can cut decent threads on the first pass if you get the die right. I have a die with the top face ground down about 1/2 mm so it cuts further up the nipple as breech block threads are rarely relieved at the top. One problem is that titanium is pretty resistant to filing – at least with my less than perfect files. and you have to remember that the fine swarf will burn with a lot of heat and is very difficult to put out – don’t use water, use sand or a purpose made extinguisher. Why do I bother to use titanium? Well it is very tough, won’t corrode or shatter, doesn’t need heat treatment – but mainly for the challenge – & I happen to have a bar of 12 mm titanium courtesy of ebay! Most nipples in late percussion long guns turn out to be a pretty good fit to 1/4 UNF which is 28 threads per inch. You sometimes need to open up the die to the maximum extent if thread is very loose or worn, or you can recut to 9/32 UNF which is also 28 t.p.i. – I have recut without annealing the breech block.
You can see the rib lifting – its been resoldered badly. Click on the photo to see the damascus pattern clearly.
27th – quick trip over to Holts to pick up the gun I bought last week. It is everything I expected and more – its difficult to see how it didn’t sell for more than the cased Manton and Mortimer which were no where near as good a quality. It is London proofed, and is obviously quite late – I think Venables didn’t start until 1846 – the wood is superb, it wouldn’t be out of place on an expensive modern Purdey or H&H, and as fresh and crisp as if it had just been re-stocked by a good stocker – although why anyone would bother for a percussion gun that wasn’t by a well known maker I can’t think – anyway I think it must be original. The barrels are a nice true Damascus, not twist and the top rib is pretty, although it needs refitting as its a little raised – the bores are about the best I’ve seen in an antique gun that hasn’t been lapped, and the insides of the locks are perfect except for a couple of very small patches of rust. The engraving on the furniture is top quality and all matching, including that on the butt plate, which is the first I’ve seen that has no rust on it. The only anomaly is the trigger guard that is like a rifle one, but probably an owner’s choice…. What’s not to like! I now need a case for it, and a powder flask to go with my lovely shot flask. I have started a new post for the Venables as I have taken lots of pictures, but here is a taster…. Oh, and I decided the Venables needed new nipples so I thought ‘how neat to make them out of titanium’ – which I did but I think the one I finshed is a tiny bit too long in thread and won’t screw right in. I’d forgotten how difficult it was to cut threads on titanium with a die.
26th – slight falloff in visitors to the site as others are lazing in the sun? ( I spent 4 1/2 hours in school so earned my swim!) Looking more carefully in The Powder Flask book I find that my flask is made of Britannia metal, an alloy of tin 85%, Antimony 10%, Zinc 3% and copper 2% or some very similar composition, and that the ‘hallmarks’ on my flask are standard Dixon marks for Britannia metal flasks – not sure of the dates – here is a photo of the page from the book showing what they should look like – it matches. Now I need to find a gun of matching quality – it would do superbly for the Harkum that sold at Holts as the shot flask was the only item missing. I’m off to Holts tomorrow to pick up my Venables – a friend is livid as he booked a telephone bid on 3 guns ( including the Harkum) and wasn’t rung so missed them all at less than he would have been willing to bid….. I usually leave a contingency bid on stuff I book a telephone bid for in case, but I have always been rung. I guess there is always a fear that the auctioneer will be tempted to run the bidding up to the contingency bid ( my contingency bid on the Venables was £750 but I got it for £420 so quite a risk). While I’m up at Holts I will have a look at the stuff in the sealed bid sale as there are a few junk guns I might want. Somewhere along the line I’m after a single barreled wreck with a 3 stage twist barrel big enough to cut down for a barrel for my Mortimer pistols – that way they will be proper twist barrels, which they would be if I used modern barrels. I have one already that is just big enough and long enough in the octagonal section. Having considered both Birmingham and Holts last sale I see the pistol market buoyant, the smaller the better but not Liege, long guns not so buoyant – in both cases the name is a disproportionate factor, probably justified in flint guns but less so in percussion as designs were getting more standardised and, in late percussion often came from Birmingham. I have always been amused that a turnoff pocket pistol made and engraved in Birmingham is worth twice as much if the name on the side is NOCK or whatever, as compared to one with e.g. BLOGGS, given that neither Nock nor Bloggs ever did more than hand over the pistol to the customer, probably as a freebe on a large purchase, probably still in the bag it came in from Birmingham. Cased ‘duelling’ pistols by well known makers tend to have silly prices attached, but beware my comments on June 24th on re-conversions. There are some lovely guns about but they stand out a mile from the run of the mill stuff and are worth paying for, and there are always the odd bargain to be had if you look carefully – I reckon I’ve found two in the last couple of weeks, but I’ve looked at several hundred guns and even more accessories to find them. Don’t be tempted to buy the sort of junk I used to bid for – it just clutters up the place and you feel bad about it every time you see it! Good hunting…………………..
James Dixon & Son
From the Powder Flask Book by Ray Riling.
Britannia metal flask
25th June – Too much lazing in the sun & swimming but better make the most of the weather, which will worsen when the school holidays starts and also when we go off on our holiday! I had three school meetings today, so I needed the swim…. I got the charts of the West Coast of Scotland out today and started to work out possible routes and anchorages – we’de like to make a dash for St Kilda if we can – its been a target for several years and the weather has never been stable enough. St Kilda is out in the Atlantic and doesn’t offer much shelter from swells so it can be an unpleasant anchorage if there is any strong winds further out in the Atlantic, which there often are. The distances on the West coast of the Hebrides can involve a long day’s sail and we don’t normally sail at night as we don’t have enough crew to manage where much navigation is involved and there are no light buoys for entrances into lochs etc when you get there. As always with sailing, its a matter of getting the right wind and tide. I polished up the silver(?) shot flask – it really needs a posh cased silver mounted gun, or at least a pretty fancy one to justify the flask – I guess its fairly late – I must look it up in ‘The Powder Flask Book’ by Ray Riling…… I find that the full name ‘JAMES DIXON & SON’ was used from 1833. Both shutter arm and flask nozzle are marked ‘Z’, which ought to tell me something but doesn’t!
25th June – Here are a couple of pics of the flask I bought yesterday – at the moment the shutter assembly is in the derusting bath.
The shutter arm is stamped ‘JAMES DIXON & SON SHEFFIELD’
The second from the right looks like a British hallmark, not sure about the rest! Suggestions???
24th June 2 hour drive to the Birmingham Antique Arms Fair. ( I’ve done too much driving in the last week or so).. Overall impression, mostly military stuff and swords, quite a lot of noise and people, many of whom were more interested in a football match that seemed to be going on somewhere else, which I assume involved a team from England. Lots and lots of pistols of all sorts, but very few long guns except military rifles -one exception of note – George Yannegas showed me a minature Whitworth Target Rifle cased complete with all its accessories and in mint condition – he has of course tried it out.. SO if you have a handy 10 grand it could be yours. Certainly better value than some of the cased pairs of duelling pistols at astronomical prices – I’d want a lot more than was on offer if I was going to part with £29,000! Even the cased percussion duellers were above £10K…. I did see a few dodgy guns, in fact I probably thought some perfectly genuine ones were dodgy after seeing some of the offerings. Kevin (Blackley) told me that about 25 years ago a certain West Country ‘restorer’, now deceased, had admitted to reconverting over 1000 guns and pistols in 5 years, and he is presumed to have done but reconversions for the next 20 years… No wonder he got so good that its almost impossible to distinguish real from fake. I didn’t buy any guns but I did pick up a rather nice high quality shot flask for £70 – I thought it was German Silver, but when I got it home it appears to have hallmarks, and so might actually be silver, although they don’t quite correspond to any in my reference book. I kick myself for not going through his stock for a matching powder flask! Anyway I’ll have to find a test for silver…. I’ll post a photo tomorrow. I got a book on Continental flintlocks and their decoration as I thought I ought to have it to extend my reference library, although I have to admit that I dislike the more elaborate continental carved steel guns – My Barranechea (Eibar) in the Catalan style is about as far as I want to go in my collection. Oh, and on the way back an accident on the A14 added an extra half hour to the journey after I had stopped off at Kettering Hospital to pick up my brother and take him home to Corby. Very frustrating waiting while they discharged him, everything seemed to be a slightly disorganised and inefficient process carried on by cheerful and helpful staff who were lovely – just wholly inefficient at executing a process – I think that must be the state of the NHS – cheerful inefficiency. It certainly looked as if all the managers sat in offices well away from the nitty gritty of the action, while there is no-one effectively managing processes on the shop floor. Of course I might well be wrong – I only heard how it took about 8 hours to discharge him when it should have taken 30 minutes to an hour at most….I waited 1 1/2 hours after he was supposed to be ready to go….
23rd June… CGC was hosting the Army and RAF cadets National Clay Championships, with teams from all over the country from the West country to Scotland – we were offering shots with percussion and flintlock guns at £1 per shot (50p to Help for Heros) which just about covers our costs – CGC pays for the clays and gives us free cups of tea but it is tiring – more or less non stop for 6 hours without a break, a couple of cups of tea and a burger on the go ( wouldn’t be allowed if it was a job!). Great fun though – the cadets love firing the old guns, especially the flintlocks, and a few of them managed to break clays with a flintlock, which is reckoned to be difficult even with some practice. I was using my single barreled ‘Twigg’ (possibly spurious?) which as usual performed very well – I had one ‘flash in the pan’ misfire out of about 20 shots as the touch hole got bunged up as I had got lazy about putting the wire through it between shots. The lock is very kind to flints, and sparks well, although it has a very strong mainspring and frizzen spring and no frizzen roller – one might expect it to be hard on flints for those reasons. I had my little Henry Nock single percussion 14 bore – its a good gun for small shooters as the pull is only about 13 1/4 ins and the gun weighs 5 1/4 lbs, but it ‘comes up well’ on most people. With a normal load of 2 3/4 drams and 1 oz it has a bit of a kick so I cut the load to 2 1/2 drams and 7/8 oz which was better. At 2 3/4 drams and 1 1/2 oz it kicks like a mule but I don’t use that load on ‘have a go’ shoots – in fact I only used it once on a shoot by mistake as I picked up the wrong shot flask! We were using Vesuvit powder in the flintlocks & percussion as Swiss 2 is a far too expensive for a have a go shoot ! Pete was using his Pedesoli reproduction Mortimer flintlock, and had reliable shooting, although he did shatter a flint for one misfire. I took him the shot belt I had made, which was much admired. Off to Birmingham tomorrow – 2 hour drive there – Dick was coming but has too much work on – partly because the little pistol is taking so much time to sort out. Now I must finish cleaning the two guns – I have done the barrels but they need oiling and putting together.
22nd June… Such a nice day I spent a while just sitting in the sun, then having a gentle swim in the large plastic bag of water in the garden – 30 tons of it! Its 10m long so its just big enough to get a bit of exercise. I was relaxing in preparation for a busy weekend – tomorrow I am going to Cambridge Gun Club where we are offering a taste of muzzle loading clay shooting to the CCF cadets as part of their shotgun day. I get asked to do it as I am one of the few who shoot flintlocks, and they are always popular as the flash is quite spectacular and it makes a good video. On Sunday I’m off to the Birmingham fair at NEC to see Kevin Blackley and get a few bits. I just learned my brother is in Kettering Hospital so I’ll kill two birds with one stone and call in and see him on the way back – perhaps the idiom is inappropriate in the circumstances! I did find time today to drill and tap a 9/32 BSF hole in the end of my long loading rod and make a new charge removing screw with 9/32 thread so that I have the means to unload my long barreled ‘Twigg’ flintlock – my normal cleaning rod isn’t long enough. I have found it very useful to have a screw that can be put in the end of my loading rods – especially for game shooting as it saves carrying a sectional ‘cleaning’ rod. It could be neater, but it was made in a hurry.
Piece of wire from a shelf support bent round an 8 mm bar, ground flat and then soft soldered to a brass boss. I’m always impressed when a knurling tool manages to run in sync with the diameter of the workpiece!
21st more… Just caught the sale of lot 1502 ( blog pasim) – I thought if by a fluke it went at or near the bottom estimate I just might not be able to resist, although I’d have to sell my soul to the devil to pay for it – assuming he doesn’t already own it. In the event my judgement of the beauty of the gun was shared by several far richer people who eventually pushed the price up to 4 times the top estimate – £20K – I don’t think the devil would have taken my soul in part exchange at that price! So all done and dusted and I’ve packed the Purdey foreend for dispatch. Dick is trying to sort out one of a pair of tiny percussion pistols – the trigger guard strap was broken and the body had been botched, so its turning out to be a horrendous job to get it to function – we didn’t price the job to cover having to re-invent the interior, which is what it amounts to, but you win some (not many) and you loose some (too many). Having finished the fore-end engraving I’m casting round for the next job…… Maybe sort through my mail……Pay some bills….. Fix the Outboard…Mow the lawns…..
21st June – Watching the Holts sale online – I hope you will forgive me for not sharing my bid intentions with the world last night – I had 2 targets, a nice double 14 bore percussion by Venables of Oxford (£300-500) that had an almost mint bore and very nice wood, and a Greener that needed a bit of TLC. The Venables looked like it was rather underpriced at estimate 300-500, the only thing against it was that the rib had been very crudely re-attached ( easily fixed), but I would have been prepared to go well above the top estimate to get it – in the event I had a telephone bid and got it at £420 hammer price, so pretty happy! I’ll have to try it and if it shoots as well as it fits me, I’ll retire one of my existing doubles, its very reassuring as it means that decent doubles can still be found….. The Greener was not such an attractive proposition, I’m not really a Greener fan but it looked like a restoration opportunity – in the event I ducked out at £600, which I thought was a lot compared to the Venables! I’ll watch 1502 if I am in, although I do have a meeting at 1700… I hope I’m not tempted…… I finished the Purdey fore-end….
I guess I’m happy with that – in the end it was mostly done with the Gravemax on acount of the curvature!
Bottom one is a pull of the smoked part on cellotape.
21st June – At Holts today to look at one or two guns in the auction tomorrow. Obviously the star attraction for muzzle loading shooters is the Harkam in its original pigskin lined case with all its original bits – the full works, except it’s missing the shot flask. It was difficult to see if it had ever been shot. In reality its probably not of much interest to shooters because it is so good that it would be a sin to use it, which is a change from my usual stance that guns are meant to be shot! A lot of the attraction of this one is that it is so perfect, so shooting it would take the edge of it! Anyway it is probably a bit pricey for most of the shooters I know (estimate £4000 – 6000 – my guess around 5500+) . The dog of the lot has to be the Nock 7 barreled gun, whoever did that to any gun needs to be strung up and banned from ever going near a gun again – and the estimate? £15000 – 20000! Some mothers do have ’em….. I wouldn’t give £2000 for it if I had money to burn! Owning it would reduce one’s street cred to zero! I think my favourite gun in the whole auction has to be lot 1502, the Dickson 16 bore non ejector skeletal round body gun – it is SO elegant and makes the usual run of overpriced Purdeys and H&Hs and Bosses look like double decker buses alongside a sports car. If I had 3K to 5K kicking around I’d be in there like a shot – I did have a look but unfortunately I don’t seem to have enough to hand! It will probably go for at least 6K and on top of that it needs restocking as the wrist is rather fragmented- another £3500 or so – Oh well….. One can dream…. There were a couple of cased late percussion guns of slightly dubious origin (?), a Purdey and a Mortimer – I base my judgement on the lock engraving, both have very similar engraving that symmetrically fills the lock plates, and the names are put just along the top edge as if they are an afterthought – look very like good quality bought-in Birmingham guns, either retailed by the signed makers or just spuriously named. There were a number of other cased percussions, a couple of John Mantons, one OK ish, one not so clearcut. Nothing really stands out. The lesson as always is that there are a lot of dubious guns around – caveat emptor. I drove via the Blackwall tunnel, and had a dodgy moment as to whether my Land Cruiser needed to pay to go in the Low Pollution Zone – it would appear from the website that it doesn’t, although my old one did. I do have to pay the ‘naughty boy’ charge in addition to the congestion charge if I go in the city. After 2019 I’ll have to pay to go anywhere near London, which fortunately I don’t often do…
The ‘Purdey fore-end is going slowly, I may finish it later tonight although I don’t usually carry on after about half past midnight……..which is only 10 minutes away…..
We’ll see what tomorrow brings………………
20th June – Getting back into my stride – STEM club at school – the latest project is to get the keen ones to program the robot to dodge round a bit of ‘wall’ across its path – going well! Apart from that and a school meeting I am trying to get ahead with the Purdey engraving on the new fore end. It is taking forever to do all the little scrolls, and it is so easy to slip on the curved surface – I’ve tried putting in the main scrolls with the GRS Gravemaster pneumatic tool – in general I much prefer ‘push engraving’, but the Gravemaster has its used, particularly on curved surfaces as it requires almost no force to drive it through the metal and there is therefore much less chance of a slip. If I was a professional, and used to the pattern I would presumably be able to bang it out in a fairly short time, but I guess it will actually take me a day or so to complete it – I’m probably about half way through now. I will probably go down to Holts tomorrow, if I can face another few hours of driving after Scotland…………
As on the original, there is no attempt at precise symmetry, just a general aim to follow the same general pattern and keep the balance of cut and uncut metal about the same over all the surface.
18th June – Apologies for leaving my regulars without their daily update! I’m back from Scotland – sadly neither Tom nor I carried off any trophies from the Scottish National Muzzle Loading Clay Championships on Saturday – the only things we did carry off were six soaking wet guns (and two soaking wet shooters). I am afraid that we ducked out of the last competition ( double hammer gun) so that we could rush home and try to sort the guns before going off to the dinner – they were beginning to get marks and in danger of starting to rust as water had penetrated round the locks of some of them, and the slips they were carried in were also wet inside. Anyway we managed a preliminary clean and got back to the Guardbridge Inn in time for the celebratory meal. On Sunday we visited ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’ a few miles from St Andrews. Built originally in the 1950s as an underground RAF radar tracking station it was later designated as the seat of government and control in the event of a nuclear attack, with the ability to function in lock-down sealed mode for a month! It is built on two floors about 60 feet underground and could probably support around 100 people, so as you can imagine, its huge! The control rooms are recreated with sounds of announcements and warnings etc so it’s all very atmospheric – there is quite a lot of old technology around – back from the days when machines spewed forth punched paper tape – I still have a few rolls of tape – my first computer program in 1966 was on punched tape, and I built a Mass Spectrometer controller that output its data in that format, although pretty soon computer programs were printed out on punched cards the size of postcards with one line of code on each card. A small program gave you a pile of cards from about 3 inches high and a bigger one about 2 feet high ( of course you couldn’t actually pile them that high). The delight of the punched cards was that if you dropped the pile on your way from upstairs in our building to the computer in another building the cards & therefore the lines of code got muddled and could not be put back in order as they were not numbered – about as much use as a book if you cut each page into individual lines and jumbled the whole lot! The neat thing about my first program on a ‘proper’ computer – it calculated the shape of a weighted wire towed through the water – was that chunks of it were still incorperated into other people’s programs 30 years later! I had a good run back from St Andrews today – 8 hours from door to door including a stop for lunch – I was very lucky, on the way there I passed a 10 mile queue of almost stationary traffic coming the other way, and coming back I passed a 5 mile queue! I had another go over the guns when I got back – my little Nock had started to get a bit of rust round the muzzle, and they all got a bit of TLC. All my slips got damp and although they were dried on radiators overnight ( Tom has central heating, of which I strongly disapprove) it is almost impossible to dry the muzzle ends as they are encased in vinyl and too small to allow effective circulation.
I’m afraid I have no photographs of the shoot – I forgot to take my proper camera, and in any case it was too wet to use it……………
14th June. Another lovely day, but the forecast for the shoot in St Andrews on Saturday is gloomy – rain all day – but that is par for the course up there! I’m hoping I have everything lined up to go! I’m borrowing the shot belt I made for Viking to ‘test’ it as I don’t want to deliver an untested item – I fixed the broken spring on the ( Irish pattern) nozzle by cleaning it up and soft soldering it in – seems to work. I was looking through my collection of old shot flasks and realised that almost all my old flasks have the seams breaking down so they leak – I’ll have to make some new bodies for them. I’ve now lost one of my loading rods – why do I keep loosing things! I’m kept quite busy by this blog, answering queries and fixing things, which is interesting but all takes time. Dick is busy working an the small pair of pistols that have occupied him for too long! The bottom strap was broken and a poor replacement had been silver soldered in, which is always bad news as it means you can’t make a good weld repair without getting rid of all the silver solder and that is usually easier said than done. anyway as that repair was finished it became clear that the action could not possibly have worked as it was, so Dick has had to do a bit of milling to get the cock spindle in the right places and sort out the tumbler bearings. They will look beautiful when finished – and may well be for sale – we already had one person interested!
13th June.. I was sorting out the Parish Council email accounts this morning to comply with the Data Protection stuff ( I host their website and email for historic reasons) – it made me realise that I probably need a policy for this website, so I made one up. Since the site doesn’t put cookies on other peoples computers it isn’t very onerous – the notice at the top of the page should suffice, and I’ve put the Wordfence notice in a new page called GDPR just in case. Wordfence is based in the US and IP addresses etc are sent over there so it is responsible for that side of things, fortunately. It all makes work for the working man (or woman) to do, as the song goes….. I got the pulls from the action body of the Purdey for which I have the fore-iron to engrave, so I am able to start that job. As usual I started with a trial of the Purdey scroll pattern – actually there are several variations of the small scroll that are cut differently and give a slightly different overall impression. After I had put a decent surface on an annealed piece of steel I did a first trial – the challenge is to get the right balance of cuts and highs. Since I only had pulls of the action body, I took pulls of my trials to match. This Purdey engraving uses cutout background and outlines to leave the desired raised shapes, as distinct from my normal engraving where the lines are the picture -called intaglio. I did a trial on my test piece, took a pull, cut out a bit more around the desired shapes and took another pull ( after getting rid of any burrs with a fine wire brush wheel) – and then once more. Here are the results, with the pull of the action body.
There might be a bit too much cut-out in 3 ( white areas are cutouts), but 3 is certainly better than 1.
12th June.. see separate post…..