A 12-year-old lad creates a hunting rifle from a box of parts
“According to online sources, the flintlock was introduced early in the 17th century.”
Afew years ago, our youngest son, Nathaniel (aka Potroast), decided he wanted to put down his modern in-line muzzleloader and hunt with one of my caplock Hawken rifles. Then 10 years old, he was enamored of all things frontier, and he still is. That first hunt was successful, culminating in the one-shot kill of a young buck at 70 yards. Potroast was hooked on traditional muzzleloaders from that point on.
A few weeks later while thumbing through a hunting catalog, he discovered a longrifle kit offered by Traditions. To make things even more challenging, he settled on the flintlock version instead of the slightly more modern caplock. He quickly moved the rifle kit to the top of his Christmas wish list.
Santa came through, and Christmas morning found a rifle kit under the tree. Then 11 years old, Potroast vowed to do most of the work himself. He did, only requiring my assistance with a couple of steps.
He christened the rifle “Flint Eastwood,” and got to work turning a box of rifle parts into a working hunting rifle.
THE BUILD STEP 1:
The first step was unpacking the rifle and checking the parts. When we inspected the lock, we discovered that the frizzen spring was broken at the bend. After a quick call to Traditions’ customer-service department, a new spring was on its way.
Once Potroast was familiar with the parts, he did a quick assembly, fitting the metal to the wood, and the barrel and lock into the stock. The lock kit was a little snug, so he used a carving chisel to open the side just a bit. Then, he used a sanding block to smooth it back out. When finished, the lock mechanism fit smoothly into the stock without sticking.
While the metal parts were attached to the stock, the next step was to trace around the metal with a lead pencil to provide a reference point for shaping the slightly oversized wood to the metal. Potroast began with mediumgrit sanding blocks, sanding away the extra wood until the lines were close to the pencil lines he’d made around the metal fixtures. As the stock took shape, he gradually worked with increasingly finer sandpaper to leave the wood perfectly smooth.
Once the stock was sanded to shape, Potroast rubbed it with a damp cloth to raise the grain. Then he sanded the raised grain smooth with fine 1,000-grit sandpaper. He repeated this
step several times until the wooden stock was as smooth as glass. A final test assembly revealed any high spots where the wood and metal met. Once the stock was shaped to his satisfaction, it was on to finishing.
Potroast decided he wanted the stock finish to be darker than the beech wood’s light natural color. Using a clean cloth, he rubbed the stock with several coats of walnut-colored wood stain, rubbing the wood with fine steel wool between coats. When the color was dark enough, he moved on to the finish.
Because he wanted maximum protection without a high-gloss finish, he applied a low-gloss tung oil. He rubbed in the first coats with 1,000-grit sandpaper. By using fine sandpaper to apply the oil, small particles of wood dust blended with the tung oil to fill pores in the wood. With stained wood, care must be taken to keep from sanding through the dark finish and exposing the light-colored wood underneath. A few applications with the sandpaper lightly filled any pores and provided a smooth finish. Additional coats of oil can be applied with a soft, clean cloth. Potroast applied a total of nine tung-oil coats to his rifle stock before he was satisfied with the look.
Next, he turned his attention to the raw metal barrel. While there are several ways to create a natural brown finish on raw metal, we chose Birchwood Casey Plum Brown. Rather than let the barrel rust naturally—a time-consuming and inconsistent process—plum Brown works as an instant, controlled rust application. Because the process rusts the metal, the bore needed to be plugged to prevent any excess Plum Brown from entering the barrel and rusting the crown and rifling grooves.
To apply Plum Brown, the metal first needed to be heated thoroughly to about 275°F. We passed a propane torch evenly back and forth over the metal barrel (I helped with this step). Once the barrel was hot enough to instantly convert a drop of water to steam, Potroast wiped the Plum Brown back and forth over the hot metal with the applicator swab. A total of three heat and browning applications gave the barrel an even finish.
To stop the rusting process, we used a thin paste of baking soda and water to neutralize the acid in the browning liquid. After the last browning application, we rinsed the barrel under cold water, applied the baking soda paste to all surfaces, and rinsed the metal again. For additional protection, we applied an oil bath to the metal by suspending it from an overhanging branch and wiping it with a heavy application of gun oil. After allowing the coated barrel to rest for 24 hours, we rubbed the oil into the metal and wiped the excess away.
When the rifle was ready for final assembly, we measured the stock for the tenon pins. To drill holes for the tenon pins, we used a drill press to ensure they were straight and vertical. To protect the finish, we covered the areas to be drilled with masking tape before drilling.
With the rifle assembled and the tenon pins installed, the gun was ready for the range. After much trial and error with flint position, the rifle sparked consistently. Potroast loaded his rifle for the first time with 50 grains of Goex FFFG black powder and a .490 round ball over a lubed patch.
As Potroast pulled the trigger, smoke belched from the gun, and the bullet found its mark. In fact, the first two shots were bull’s-eyes. Lots of range time leading up to our early KY muzzleloading season had both Potroast and Flint Eastwood ready for the hunt.
Unfortunately, the weather was uncooperative over the two-day season. With high winds and temperatures hovering near triple digits, daytime deer movement was minimal. Despite hunting hard both days, no deer were seen.
In Kentucky, we have both an early and late muzzleloader season. After taking a nice buck with a Remington 700 during the regular firearm season, Potroast was back in action with his flintlock rifle for the second go-round.
A stark contrast to the warm earlier hunting session, the late-december season saw wind chills plunging to near 0°F. During the last few minutes of the third evening of hunting, a lone deer entered the food plot 30 yards in front of us. Potroast eased the hammer back on his rifle, centered the iron sights on the deer’s shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell … and nothing happened. The deer was alert, but not spooked.
Potroast eased the hammer back a second time and squeezed the trigger. This time, the spark was there, and smoke filled our ground blind as Flint Eastwood roared. The deer immediately kicked and bolted into the nearby timber.
After a nervous half-hour wait, we took up the trail. The shot was true, and the round ball did its job. The deer went a total of 70 yards after the shot. After much celebrating, Potroast and his older brother, Hunter, dragged the deer to the field’s edge.
Understanding the Ancient Skill
The hunt was a success for more reasons than just a harvested deer. At 12 years old, Potroast now understands a flintlock rifle’s complex workings in a way that picking one up off the shelf would never have taught him.
The author’s son, Potroast, rubs stain into the wood of the stock using a clean cloth. (C)
(left) Birchwood Casey’s Plum Brown browning solution is actually a controlled rusting process. A baking soda and water paste is applied to the barrel to stop the rusting process before it gets rinsed, dried and oiled for a final finish. (right) The finished wood stock and fore-end are the result of meticulous staining and coating.
The first two shots at the range were dead on, proving a kit rifle can be plenty accurate for deer-hunting purposes. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PENDLEY