FIREARMS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION - RIFLES OF THE AMERICANS – Part 2
Other operations necessary to complete the barrel were shrewdly performed until the breech was ready to be threaded for the breech-pin (screw). No amount of poking and searching among the litter on the bench and in boxes and drawers was productive of a breech-pin of the right size. It was necessary to make one. So he whittled a pine plug, screwed it into the breech, withdrew it, and compared it with what dies he had of about that size. But unfortunately there was no mate for it; he recollected then that the barrel-blank was not of his own make but one he had purchased long ago. So the screw on the breech-pin must be made by hand. That did not puzzle the old man; he was concerned only at the extra time and work for which there would be no payment. When he had forged a new breechpin in the rough he set it in his simple home-made lathe and turned that part of it which was to be a screw into a cylinder. The diameter of the cylinder he made equal to the diameter, threads included, of the wooden plug. The wooden plug also showed the pitch of the threads inside the barrel, their depth, and distance apart on centers; these he reproduced upon the breech-pin by winding it with wire. Then he scratched the position of the wire with a sharp tool upon the breech-pin, removed the wire, and cut the threads by patient and skilful work with a triangular file. The barrel done, all but the browning, he selected a lock from a box of new ones; he could make a lock, a good one, and did when he had to, but it was cheaper to buy them in the cities, where they were imported from Europe. Next he picked out a good piece of wood for the stock from among the many pieces of curly maple and crotch cherry which had long been seasoning up among the rafters above the forge. He had cut these pieces himself in the forest. Days and weeks went by while he worked happily at his bench in the light of the open door and window, fashioning the rough wood with saw, plane, draw shave, and rasp into the long graceful curves of a pioneer's rifle; letting in the barrel with rabbet planes and floats he had made himself; fitting the lock with marker, chisel, gouge, and borer. Last of all he took one of his scanty stock of silver coins and beat it thin, then with scissors cut out name-plate, escutcheons, and forms of moons and stars — lucky stars, he hoped. There remained only the browning, staining, polishing, and targeting. When, on the date appointed, the customer came, the gun was done. "Thar, Bill, she's yourn for a hundred an' sixty, gold or beaver, I don't care which. I ain't takin' none er ther dum Continental paper from no man. Y'u'll find her a keen critter ter shoot, an' with sech a man as y'u be behind her I'm glad I ain't relation to none er them British officers."
Of such a kind as this are the two typical rifles shown on Plate 15, one, k, is half stock, the other, j, full stock. They were probably made before the war began, or at the beginning, on account of having carving, checkering, silver inlaying, engraving, etc. It is probable that the 1000 rifles ordered February 24, 1776, by the Provincial Congress were plain ones, as were others made during the war, for men were too busy and money too scarce for useless luxuries. The records about those 1000 rifles merely state that the cost apiece was not to exceed £30, that they were to have bridle locks, barrels not to exceed a length of 3 ft. 8 in., total weight not to exceed 7^ lbs. each, balls to be J ounce. They did not have bayonets. It is interesting to know that the telescopic sight is not new, and that the Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania for September 7, 1775 state "Resolved, that there be procured a rifle that will carry a half-ounce ball, with telescope sight." Another variety of rifle, a few of which were used, was the double-barrel, both the side-by-side kind and the over-and-under. Of the latter there were, again, two kinds: one having fixed barrels and two locks, the other having only one lock for both barrels, which revolved.
These rifles shot spherical balls; many years passed before the elongated bullet called "picket" came into use. When dropped out of the mold the ball had a sprew, or neck, which was cut off with the scissors-like part of the mold, and the scar smoothed with a knife. Careful riflemen when loading kept this part of the bullet to the front. The bullet was a trifle smaller than the bore of the barrel, to allow for the thickness of its cover. This cover — called patch — was a bit of greased linen or buckskin, not fastened to the ball, but merely enveloped it, with its puckered opening to the front; it dropped off the bullet when leaving the barrel. The greased patch greatly facilitated loading, and also made a gas-tight fit of the missile to the bore. A careful rifleman cleaned this weapon after each shot with a swab of tow. Hence shooting was rather slow. But if the atmosphere was dry and he failed to clean it each time, fouling from powder residue soon prevented loading at all. All sights were simple, and rigidly fixed; therefore long-range shooting was guesswork.
Sawyer, Charles. Firearms in American History. Boston: The Author,
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