Author Topic: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle  (Read 2719 times)

Canute Rex

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Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« on: November 11, 2013, 06:52:23 AM »
I don't know where this post should be. It's partly collecting, partly building, and partly shooting. Advice needed and welcome.

I just acquired a 42 caliber heavy barreled rifle that was built by Nelson Lewis of Troy, NY (in business from 1843 into the 1860s, at least). It's kind of a beater, with a cracked and repaired stock, some pitting on the metal, a slightly wobbly hammer, and a crudely replaced barrel wedge. The lock needs some work. The nipple has been replaced with a modern one. It looks as if someone inletted a brass blade just in front of the dovetailed front sight and then later cut it flush. There are a couple of holes behind the rear sight that look as if they were for another rear sight.

Still, the bore is decent for its age. The previous owner slugged the barrel and found it to be .420 land to land and .425+ groove to groove. Shallow, but definitely there, and sharp.

I took it out and shot it with some undersized, poorly cast balls (all I had) and had some trouble trying to find the sight picture. It shoots right down the center but high. With some bore polishing and a taller front sight I think it has potential.

I took the barrel off to clean it and imagine my surprise when the breechplug turned out to be less than finger tight. Loads of fouling down in the breechplug/tang block junction. No surprise - serious gas leakage. Still, it wasn't about to pop out. Ok, dumb of me to shoot it without taking it all apart and checking it out first.

So, here I am with a loose-threaded breechplug on a rifle that feels like a joy to shoot. It fits me beautifully, hangs on target nicely, has minimal recoil (dodgy shoulder says thank you), and despite the wear and tear is a beautiful thing. What should I do?

Perhaps get a machinist to make me a tight breechplug and keep the old one should anyone ever wish to restore it to original? Hang the rifle on the wall? Something in between?

All $0.02 welcome.

albert

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2013, 07:04:56 AM »
get some brass shimstock  of various sizes ( .001,.002,.003,.004,etc.) and you should be able to find the right combination to snug up the plug ,only if the threads look good,if your not sure of what to look for have a qualified machinist look at the threads.  if possible I would like to have some pictures of your rifle,I just received a Nelson Lewis rifle a week ago. I was going to shoot my rifle today,but needed to do some outside work before the weather goes south. too bad you are far away,I could check out your rifle for you,and make a new plug if needed. if you decide to abandon the project, I would be interested in your rifle.
j albert miles

D. Taylor Sapergia

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2013, 09:39:07 PM »
Check the rate of twist.  Your bore sounds like a barrel cut for bullets rather than balls.  But you do need to address the loose plug before shooting it again.
D. Taylor Sapergia
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Daryl

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2013, 10:13:10 PM »
If the threads themselves are loose - by the sounds of it, yes- then a new plug needs to be made.
Nelson Lewis, I've always thought from Ned Robert's writing, made muzzleloaders for shooting either picket bullets or other conicals- not round balls. The shallow rifling shows this rifle to be of that type, but .0025" deep rifling seems even shallow for that purpose.  I would think you would need a very tight patch to hold that rifling, with any speed involved.
Rate of twist will be interesting. If around 36" to 48", then a Picket bullet seems correct.  As the rate increases in speed, then so does the length of the 'conical'.
Daryl

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Canute Rex

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2013, 02:38:21 AM »
I just did an extremely inexact rate of twist test with a cleaning rod. Looks like 1:36. No wonder I was having trouble with a loose fitting round ball. Probably blowing out straight like a knuckleball.

I am wondering where I would get picket bullets or a mold for this, or if I should even try. Anybody shoot those? Albert?

PPatch

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2013, 04:20:01 AM »
According to Roberts "Lewis always cut his rifle barrels with a gain twist and absolutely refused to accept an order for a rifle to be made with the uniform twist. His "standard" type of rifling was equal width of grooves and lands and both cut with square corners. ...The fine engraving that is seen on Lewis rifles was done by John Wolfe, a German, who worked for Lewis. The stocking (and inlays) was done by Lewis's son, Kirby."

Others are correct - very likely the rifle was meant to shoot a conical or picket bullet.

dp

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Kermit

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2013, 05:03:45 AM »
Pictures? We voyeurs want pix.  :o
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly." Mae West

albert

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2013, 06:19:04 AM »
the pictures of my rifle that I bought are on the antique section of this forum ,p.2 or 3
j albert miles

Dphariss

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2013, 05:21:57 PM »
Set the breech back a turn and fit it properly if you intend to shoot it. Its not safe this way and it will probably never shoot as accurately as it should with the breech being loose. Its surely for a picket. If the grooves are really shallow it may have been cut for a "naked" bullet either by Lewis or later in its life.

Dan
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westerner

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2013, 12:38:19 AM »
I shoot round balls, picket balls, hollow base bullets and solid base bullets in all my picket rifles.  All can be made to should accurate. RB is the easiest to get good accuracy, picket ball can be tough and usually is. The most accurate rifle I have with the RB is a very early picket .38 rifle with false muzzle, gain twist. Accurate to fifty yards. Any wind, forget it. Have found light loads like 40 gr FFF and .008-.010 patches best. Have also shot RBs in my #9 Ballard 40-50SS with 22 inch twist. Very accurate.

     Joe.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2013, 12:41:05 AM by westerner »
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Canute Rex

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2013, 04:09:59 AM »
So you want photos, Kermit? My pleasure to provide:














PPatch

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Re: Shooting a Nelson Lewis rifle
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2013, 04:30:36 AM »
Nice. That style of rifle is beginning to grow on me, as art. I hope you get it shooting and let us know how she does.

dp
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