Saturday, November 12, 2005

Williamsburg Gunsmithing

Recently took a trip out east for a family reunion - mother's grandmother's husband who died in the flu epidemic of 1919 (I think) and was named Savage. As we were in the neighborhood, we spent one afternoon in Williamsburg, VA. Seeking some kind of refuge from "family" I was the only one to purchase a pass which actually got you into buidings and shops. Being a Sunday, they were not nearly as active as they would have been on a weekday.

The obvious first stop for me was the gun shop. (1st picture)

From what I could tell, they emply about five or six smiths. They make flintlock rifles, black powder, slightly over .50 caliber. But with a difference... Each rifle is made completely on the premises, that means that every part that goes into the rifle is forged, machined, fitted and finished on site, including stocks and barrels. A standard rifle takes about 400 hours to make - they make about eight a year. Needless to say, I did not ask about prices. They will also take on custom jobs for matched set dueling pistols for instance, or custom flint lock pistols. I admit that I am not a black powder afficianado - but these guns were beautiful! (I even got to heist one of the finished rifles as they were not very busy).

Couple of interesting things to me that I found out. Stocks are the last piece to be finished. The metal parts of the rifle are fabricated and fitted to the wood, which at that point is a squared off piece of unfinished block. One the metal parts, including trim, have been fitted and inset in the wood, they are removed and the stock is shaped and finished from there. Completely opposite of the modern practice of buying the stock formed and fitting the metal parts of the gun to the wood.

The second interesting thing was rifling the barrel. Did you ever wonder how barrels were rifled in the 1700's with no power tools or machining rigs? So did I. (picture 2)

The long wood piece you see in the picture is about 5 inches in diameter and 5 feet long. The rifling pattern is carved on the wood pattern which is then run through a gate which follows the grooves on the wood. The rifling tool is attached to the end of the wood pattern and is the diameter of the rifle barrel. As the pattern is forced through the gate by hand, it rotates the rifling tool in the same pattern. The whole assembly moves forward and the tool is forced through the barrel, rifling it as it goes. With a set up like this you could rifle a barrel in your own living room.

Looking around, all the smiths were in their fifties or sixties, I hope they have apprentices or the art will die out.

I was then off to the magazine which is basically storage for all the arms they would have to break out in the event of armed conflict or defense, but I will post on that later.

The Old Man

Nice write up...

I should go some time as it is only 3 hours away..

Well, now, the obvious question...

Are you related to THAT family named Savage that founded the gunmaker?
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