FIREARMS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION - RIFLES OF THE AMERICANS - Part 1
The typical American flintlock rifle, later called "Kentucky," or, in the dialect, "Kaintuck," had reached its full development by 1760. In the hands of such pioneers as Morgan, Boone, John Rogers Clark, John Sevier, James Harrod, and others of their kind, the best of the American rifles were then about as accurate at short range as the genius of five generations has been able to produce since. There were poor "Kentucky" rifles as well as good ones, and there were then, as now, several indifferent marksmen to every good one. To be an expert rifleman a man needed a strong body, perfect nerves, excellent eyesight, sound judgment, and lots of practice. In addition he needed a capacity for infinite painstaking, that he might load understanding^, carefully, and methodically, and give regular, frequent, and strict attention to the cleanliness of his weapon. In such hands a rifle classed as an instrument of precision. We must not, however, believe one of those rifles capable of all the marvelous feats attributed to it by the story tellers, nor believe it to have been accurate at long range; many an enduring reputation was built on a chance shot.
It is not possible to determine the exact capabilities of these old-time rifles by tests, because there is not one of them in existence with its bore and grooving as good as new. But, knowing modern rifles, the wonderful delicacy of the machines that make them, the degree of perfection of the weapon itself, and its accuracy and regularity of performance, we can by comparing modern methods with methods of the time of the Revolution use our judgment as to the shooting capabilities of those old-timers.
In the large gunsmith shops of the cities it is probable that many minds were given to the making of a gun; that one man forged, one made locks, one filed mountings, one made stocks, one assembled, one did inlaying, carving, engraving, and fitting; probably the boss himself rifled the barrel, put the finishing touches to the complete gun, tested it at target, and delivered it to the customer with lengthy encomiums. But in the smaller shops which formed the great majority — mere cabins on the outskirts of the wilderness — one man with or without an apprentice did every part of the work. There is not a place in the world, unless perhaps in Bohemia, where the feat is done to-day; machinery and specialization have made it unprofitable. Those lone, isolated workers were men of wonderful resource; poor, and without machinery, they not only made guns but also the tools with which to do their work. They were ignorant of science, and they cared nothing for cause, but they were skilful in effect. They could not calculate in advance the chamber pressure in foot-tons, the velocity of the bullet, bearing surface, friction, trajectory, flip, drift, penetration, and work in accord with the calculations; they did not bore their barrels correct to the five-thousandth part of an inch; they could not cut all the grooves of exactly the same width and depth; but after the gun was done they adjusted the bullet, the powder, and the sights until the rifle would shoot into the bull's-eye at a measured distance — perhaps a two-inch bull'seye at eight rods would do for the average, some would better it.
The shop of the isolated gunsmith was a log cabin, perhaps twelve feet wide inside, twenty feet long, seven feet to the eaves, pitch roof. In one end was the door; at the far end was the chimney. The wide-open door let in at least one half the light, the remainder came in at a window in the side near the front, over the long work bench. From the brown rafters dangled bunches of gun parts, steel traps, and accumulated odds and ends. In the corners and along the unwindowed wall stood bunches of guns to be repaired and cheap guns to sell. Fine guns lay on wooden pegs driven high up, out of harm's way. In the dim rear of the shop stood the forge; between it and the rear wall lay the great leathercovered, clanking, and wheezing bellows. Front of the forge was the anvil. The bench continued way down into this dim rear of the shop; it was littered with clutter and tools; large tools leaned against it and the forge.
The smith, clad in grimy deerskin, great cowhide apron worn and black, sleeves rolled up, shaggy beard hanging down his hairy breast and in his way, puttered about getting ready to make a rifle. The customer had notions about his gun, and "wanted her to have a 4-foot bar'l to rurn 'raound onct in half a rod." The smith, having no tools to fit this particular case, had to make them. First he set the barrel-to-be — a forging already rough bored in spare time — horizontally in a vise at the side of the long bench. Next he fastened, close in front of it, a device containing a solid iron wheel with a small square hole through its axis and its circumference divided by notches into 3, 5, and 7, equal parts.
The wheel could be turned partially or the whole way around, and fastened by a catch fitting the notches. Then he poked around in the dimness, overhauling his stock of iron until he found a rod about 10 feet long, | inch square, and fairly straight. Then, on the dirt floor, he laid a long, wide, and deep line of charcoal from the forge, and when it was all glowing put in the rod to heat to redness. While it was heating he laid off on the edge of his bench 8J feet from the iron wheel in the direction away from the waiting barrel, and fastened a wrench containing a quarter-inch slot. Between these two extremes the red-hot rod was to be fastened, and, in order that it might not sag he fixed several supports. The rod, hot and glowing, was then poked at one end into the wheel and also fastened into the wrench. One complete turn of the wheel and the rod was twisted so that in a length of 8J feet (half a rod) its spiraling edges went once completely around it. One of the tips was cut off and a rifling cutter secured to the rod there. The rod, now cool, was slid through the square hole in the center of the wheel, down the gun barrel to the breech, the cutter raised, the rod drawn forward, and there on the inside of the barrel was a groove which made a complete revolution in the required distance. Successive slidings caused the required depth of cutting. Five or seven turns of the wheel caused five or seven grooves in the barrel. Odd numbers were preferred in order that a groove and a land might be on opposite sides of a diameter — mere witchcraft, so tospeak. When the cutting was complete a wad of tow was put on a ramrod and pushed from the breech along to within about two inches of the other end. The barrel, with this end up, was stood upright, an iron ramrod held so that its end went part way down that two inches, and melted lead poured in around it. The lead plug was thereby made fast to the ramrod, and also its exterior took the form and size of the interior of the barrel, with its lands and grooves. The plug was drawn out, the inside of the barrel oiled and dusted with fine emery, the plug inserted and worked back and forth until the inside of the barrel was clear of burrs and was sufficiently polished.
Sawyer, Charles. Firearms in American History. Boston: The Author,
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