Author Topic: Understanding the British Fowler Part 3 More About Hardware  (Read 885 times)

Offline smart dog

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Understanding the British Fowler Part 3 More About Hardware
« on: April 12, 2018, 12:48:32 AM »
Stock Furniture and Hardware
British fowlers were mounted in brass, iron, steel, and silver.  A few had some inlays made of "paktong", which is a rare alloy of nickel and copper discovered by the Chinese. In the hierarchy of value, steel and silver reign with brass and iron below. Until the mid-19th century, steel was an expensive commodity and was produced in relatively small quantities. It was also the metal of choice for many high-end mounts because of its strength and wear resistance. Silver was also used on high-end guns but it is much softer than iron or steel and the risk of denting butt plates and crushing guards and thimbles was much greater.  Iron and brass were often used on cheaper guns, however, high-end guns mounted with both metals are common. The advantage of brass and silver is that they can be easily cast and therefore, a model can be made and remade many times.  Iron and steel had to be forged and may have been largely one-off production except dies and forms could be used to create close copies as was done for many military parts.  I am not aware of any evidence that iron and steel mounts were cast but perhaps there is someone more familiar with the history of casting ferrous metals that can provide better information.  Silver furniture made in Britain was stamped with hallmarks. There were 4 stamps, the first was a letter indicating the year of manufacture.  In the case of the Heylin gun, the letter is an Old English "M" indicating 1767. Next is the city stamp, which is a lion face with a crown indicating London on the Heylin gun.  Other cities had different marks.  For example, Birmingham's mark was an anchor. The third mark is a "lion rampant", which identifies the silver as sterling (92.5% silver 7.5% copper).  Sometimes Britannia silver (95% silver 5% copper) was used and the mark was the female figure of Britannia. The last mark was the silversmith's.  For the Heylin gun the silver mounts were made by John King.

To find out more about hallmarks, click on the link below:

Trigger guards did not have grip rails and extended down the wrist often as much as 1/2 the distance between the trigger and butt plate. They were usually attached with 3 lugs inlet in the stock and holes were drilled through the stock and lugs and then pins inserted.  The forward lug is taller so that the cross pin is concealed within the lock mortice. The trigger guards from the two original fowlers are shown below. Notice that the smaller silver guard has a small hook for the middle lug rather than a plain lug.  That hook is inserted into a slot in the trigger plate and then slid backward to hook on the plate. The notch in the hook is tapered so it snugs up tighter as the hook is slid back.

During our period the front finials on the guards showed considerable artistic variation as shown in my two original guns. However, one of the most common motifs was what some call the "urn", or "husk", or some even call it the first form of the "acorn" finial. An example is shown below.

  The familiar "acorn" or as Keith Neal labels it "second type of acorn" finial became popular after our period during the 1770s and is shown below.

Note how thin the thickness of the metal is on the original guards. The silver one has forward and rear extensions that are about 0.06-0.075" thick and the brass guard is 0.08-0.09" thick.  The bows are a bit thicker.  Making sure the extensions are thin and well annealed is one of the secrets to inletting these guards. You want as little "springiness" and resistance as you can achieve so the guard conforms nicely to the stock.  Most modern-made cast fowler guards are too thick and need to be heavily thinned before inletting.  This is particularly true for modern cast steel guards, which will fight you tooth and nail unless thin and annealed.  The choices of modern British fowler trigger guards correct for our period is very limited.  In fact, unless you look to The Rifle Shoppe or Blackleys, there is only one choice, the "urn" or "husk" guard and it is best to use the one with the smallest bow. The photo below shows the original brass guard with modern cast guards commonly sold.  The two below the original are urn guards with small bows from Chambers.  They work fine but I still bend the bows to be more "egg" shaped like the original.  That shape looks better and functions better because the widest opening is where your finger goes in front of the trigger. In addition, the urn guard can be reshaped to look like a more authentic "acorn" for a later fowler than any of the other commercially made guards with acorns.

The next 2 guards have later period acorn finials and the lower one has a huge bow.  The bow is bigger than the bow on the Brown Bess musket guard at the bottom.  You will never get that guard to look right.  It really makes me wonder from what it was copied.  Maybe it was some double barreled gun requiring 2 triggers?     

Butt plates are usually at least 4.75" high and often 1/2" higher. They typically are 2" wide give or take a few 1/16s of an inch.  Most of the finials have a series of stepped rounded shoulders ending in a rounded point. 

There were some that ended in acanthus leaves and other floral shapes and sometimes busts of human heads.  Most were solid but some had pierced scrolls or lattices.  Many had very straight butts but the best looking in my opinion had a slight crescent shape. The bottoms were almost always rounded and protruded a little past the toe of the stock, which helped protect the vulnerable wood at that location.

Like the trigger guards, the thickness of the metal was fairly thin allowing the plate to be easily formed to the wood. Brass and silver plates were mostly cast but iron and steel ones were forged.  The dome at the heel could be fairly flat as if the plate was simply bent over there to from the tang. On others, the dome was well rounded and bulged out to varying degrees.  The tangs (or returns as they are sometimes called) were usually only slightly curved and many were nearly flat.  They were attached to the stock at 3 points. There was a wood screw about 1/5-1/4 the way up the butt from the toe, and then another screw in the middle of the dome or heel.  The tang usually had a lug on the bottom through which a cross pin was inserted through the stock and lug to secure it.  On the Heylin gun (middle plate in the photo below) the lug is shaped into a hook with a tapered notch.  In the stock there is a screw or nail with a flattened head which slips into the hook.  As the butt plate is slid forward into the inlet the hook catches the flat head and snugs down the front of the tang.           

Modern choices for butt plates are really limited. Most commonly available are straight. You can hammer in a slight crescent but that is hard if the plate is domed rather than very flat. It is almost impossible if the plate is cast steel. TRS and Blackleys sell proper butt plates if you can wait and the fowler butt plate from Chambers has a very slight crescent but I wish it had more (butt plate to right of Heylin plate in photo above). Similarly, Reeves Goehring sells some brass fowler butt plates that can work but again, I wish they had more curve.

My solution has been to use the long rifle butt plate sold as the "Dubbs" plate by TOW (plate to left of Heylin plate in photo of 3 butt plates above).  It has a curve and is sufficiently long. By reshaping the tang and rounding the bottom, a pretty good 1740-1770 period British fowling butt plate can be made.  It is a little narrow but not much. A word of warning, however, two of the most recent Dubbs butt plates I purchased had metal so thin in the dome at the heel that you did not have enough depth to drill and countersink a hole for the wood screw.  I welded metal on the inside.  I hope these were aberrations because other Dubbs plates I used were fine.  You also will need to solder (if brass) or weld on a lug under the tang.
Ramrod thimbles or pipes, as they were called by the Brits, were usually made of sheet metal.  The tabs were not always soldered together. The brass thimble on the right below was made by Jim Kibler but is a close copy of the crushed original (which is in my possession).  The silver pipe on the left is from the Heylin gun. For the rear pipes, the tang was a separate piece of sheet metal or, as in on Heylin gun, a casting. It was soldered on to the round pipe with the joint nicely hidden behind the decorative rings on the pipe.  The rings were often formed by placing the sheet metal on a flat metal plate with a straight line filed into the plate. A chisel or punch is then used to tap the annealed sheet metal into the line to form the raised decorative border.  Then the sheet is cut and bent around a mandrel to form the pipe.  I am sure some brass and silver pipes were cast in the same manner as the pipes on Brown Bess muskets.  Iron or steel pipes likely were all from sheet metal.  The pipes for the brass mounted gun have inside diameters of about 15/16" and the rear pipe on the Heylin gun (the only silver one left after conversion to half stock) is about 0.29".  The sheet metal thickness on the brass pipe is 0.04" and on the silver pipe it is 0.023". The cast tang on the silver thimble is considerably thicker and allowed the maker to include a little tooth on the end that hooks under the wood anchoring the thin point in the stock. The most common shape for the rear pipe tang was a taper to a rounded or sharp point.  Often the tang had a raised shield at the step.  Some guns had more elaborate tangs with piercings and floral shapes but the vast majority of fowling guns from the period I examined had simple tapers.   Typically, pipes were secured to stocks with a single pin.

There usually were 3 pipes and the front of the first pipe was set back from the muzzle at least 3.5".  The barrel lug nearest the muzzle was always forward of the first thimble on all the guns I examined. 
There are not a lot of good options for commercially-made ramrod pipes because most of the better styles are 3/8" inside diameter, which is too big if you want to keep the gun really slim like the originals.  They are fine for English sporting rifles, which tend to have heavier ramrods.  TRS sells some appropriate cast pipes but the only 15/16" pipes from most suppliers are those by Ted Cash, which are Ok but I do not like the rear pipes. They don't look authentic.  It is probably best to make the pipes from scratch.  In the photo below the two pipes on the right are from the original guns, the middle pipe is a casting from TRS, the pipe second from the left is by Ted Cash, and the pipe furthest to the left is a steel casting from TOW.

Ramrods were usually made of ash but baleen from whales was sometimes used on high-end guns. The rods were strongly tapered with the end containing the forged worm being as small as 0.20".  The forward ends of the rods usually swelled considerably and were capped with brass or horn.  It is pretty clear that these rods were meant for ramming bird shot and wads rather than tightly patched round balls.

Triggers from my two original fowlers are made of steel or iron, simple and pinned high in the stocks. The tops slope toward the rear.  The trigger from the Heylin gun has nice decorative piercings.  The trigger plates are long and stretch from the forward trigger guard lug to well behind the trigger guard bow.  On the Heylin gun, the middle lug on the guard is hooked into the iron plate.  On the Kibler gun, the brass plate ends before the middle lug.  Both plates have a hole or round notch to allow clearance of the bolt that goes vertically through the stock and screws into the back of the wrist escutcheon plate.  Generally, you can find some commercially made triggers that work well, although they are pretty easy to make from scratch. Nobody makes trigger plates long enough to match the originals I show.  Trigger plates are easy to make but make sure you cut the slot for the trigger right (toward the lock side) of center as were the originals. Don't buy trigger plates with pineapple-shaped finials in the front unless you are making a much later fowling gun.

The wrist plates are cast with a boss on the bottom into which the vertical screw from the trigger plate threads. The castings are quite thin and delicate except in the middle where the boss is.  Often wrist plates span almost the entire distance between the barrel tang carving and the end of the comb.

A number of commercial suppliers have wrist plates in brass and silver and they usually are good investment castings. However, the selection is limited, which is why I cast and cut my own.

The side plates on my original guns were also cast, even the simple solid plate on the brass mounted gun.  The pierced silver plate on the Heylin gun is very thin and fully inlet into the stock.  It is held in place by the two lock bolts but stays in place when those bolts are removed because the inletting is tight.  The brass plate is loose when the lock bolts are removed, however, that may just be from wood shrinkage over 250 years.

Most solid side plates like the brass one above also have a small wood screw near the tail that holds the plate in when the lock bolts are removed

TRS and other commercial suppliers have decent cast sideplates but again, selection is limited, which is why I make my own.  Also, you have to make sure the commercial plates match your lock, which can be a problem and result in side plates that are mounted at odd angles so the holes line up.
The inletting for the side and wrist plates is extraordinarily clean and tight.

« Last Edit: January 22, 2019, 01:45:30 AM by smart dog »
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