Flintlock Fas­ci­na­tion

A 12-year-old lad cre­ates a hunt­ing ri­fle from a box of parts

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Michael Pend­ley

“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 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.

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

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