Author Topic: Understanding the British Fowler Part 4 Barrels  (Read 1801 times)

Offline smart dog

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Understanding the British Fowler Part 4 Barrels
« on: April 16, 2018, 01:51:55 AM »
A barrel is the heart of a gun.  The Heylin gun has a barrel by Eudal Pous of Barcelona, Spain. 

He was a very great gunsmith during the mid-18th century.  Unlike British, French, German, and most other European makers, the Spaniards made their barrels in 5 separate sections, 2 octagon shaped and 3 round, that were then welded together. This made quality control of the welding much more effective because it was easier to examine each short section rather than a long barrel. Then weld the pieces together and examine closely the four welds.  In addition, iron ore from northern Spain was some of the best and purest ore in the world. The net result was Spanish smooth bore barrels were the best in the world during the late 17th and throughout the 18th century. Octagon to round barrels with a decorative transition band were generally referred to as "Spanish" form.

The large "tombstone" stamp indicates the maker, Eudal Pous, the rectangular stamp indicates the city of manufacture.  In this case Barcelona. I am not sure what the other marks indicate.  They may be some sort of date marks although typically they incorporate crosses and may be marks specific to the gunsmith.  I believe this barrel is dated 1747.  On many Spanish barrels the maker and city marks were gilded and when the barrels were heat blued to a dark indigo blue, the effect was striking.  I do not know if this barrel was ever gilded or blued, however, one of the half-circle marks is still partially filled with gold. My suspicion is that many of the marks were gold filled and perhaps the makers stamps gilded.

It would also then follows that the barrel was originally colored to show off the gold and that usually meant heat blued.  On the bottom near the breech are twin crown and crossed scepter marks that are private Tower of London proof marks.  Between about 1740 and 1805, the Tower offered proofing services for civilian makers for a fee of course.

 I find it interesting that London Gunmaker's Guild members such as Heylin chose to have barrels proofed at the Tower rather than at the Guild's proof house. Norman Dixon in his book on Georgian Pistols, suspected there was some bad feeling between Heylin and the guild.  The guilds marks are the ovals containing a crown over a "V" for viewing and a crown over "GP" for final proofing. Between the Tower marks is Heylin's stamp.
Wealthy British sportsmen would sometimes do a "Grand Tour" of Europe and in the process buy a fine Spanish smooth bored barrel or a fine German rifled barrel and return home to have their favorite gun maker build a gun around the barrel.  So esteemed were Spanish barrels that often the British gun maker opted not to dovetail, braze or solder lugs on the barrel because they were concerned the cuts or heat would damage the shooting qualities of the thin-walled barrels. Instead, they fashioned small barrel bands connected by a loop or lug for the barrel keys. The bands were inlet into the barrel channel.

On the Pous barrel, Heylin dovetailed lugs in the octagon section. The dovetails are about 0.032" deep or 1//32" deep.  The loops are 0.15" high, 0.22" wide, and 0.75" long.  The slots for the barrel keys are 0.55" long and 0.086" wide. The forward lugs were removed when the gun was converted to half stock.

The barrel outside dimensions in inches are:
Breech         1.16
6"         0.92
12"         0.87
Wedding band at 15"   0.87
21"         0.80
27"         0.80
33"         0.78
39"         0.81
Muzzle at 40"      0.82
The apparent caliber is about 0.69 or about 14 gauge and the barrel weighs, with rib and forward ramrod pipes, 3.0 lbs.  Note that the barrel is pretty straight from the wedding band forward and that 67% of the taper occurs in the first 6" from the breech. The front sight is a little brass bead 1" from the muzzle that is perhaps riveted through the barrel wall but I cannot tell.  The standing breech has a tang 2.65" long, 0.58" maximum width and 0.14" thick.

The plate that faces the breech of the barrel is not symmetrical on all sides.  It is 0.17" thick, 1.24" tall to top of the sighting groove, 1.21" to bottom of the groove, and 1.19" wide. The breech plug hook is a simple curved hook without a lip.  The hook and the slot in the standing breech are tapered being wider at the bottom. As you insert the hook into the standing breech, that taper snugs up the hook nicely resulting in no vertical or horizontal play in the engagement. After 250 years, that fit is still perfect. Breech from Heylin fowler on left below:

The barrel for the brass mounted fowler is 39" long and weighs 3 lbs 2 oz. It is fully round and swamped with a slight flare at the muzzle.  The top and sides are filed flat at the breech with the top flat extending a few inches down the barrel. The flat on top is not raised. It appears that it was simply filed on the round barrel. The caliber is about 0.66 or 16 gauge.

Outside barrel dimensions in inches are:
Breech       1.29
6"         1.03
12"         0.88
18"         0.82
24"         0.78
30"         0.77
36"         0.78
Muzzle at 39"      0.83

The barrel has 3 barrel key lugs on the bottom the centers of which are 9", 23 11/16", and 36 1/8"    from the breech.  The lugs are 0.18" tall, 0.51" long, and 0.16" wide.  The key slots are 0.40" long and 0.095" wide. The bases are 0.44" wide and a little longer than the loops but very thin. The thickness is about that of a post card. I believe they were soldered on, not brazed. The front sight is brass and soldered on but I believe it was replaced by Jim Kibler during restoration.  "London" is engraved on the top of the barrel but the maker's name is obscured by corrosion. At the breech are twin private Tower proof marks but no makers mark.  The barrel is well made but clearly not of the quality of the Spanish barrel on the Heylin gun.

The tang on the standing breech is 2.45" long, 0.6" wide at its maximum, and 0.19" thick at the thickest portion.  The plate that faces the breech is rounded with flats filed on the vertical sides to match the barrel. It is 1.32" tall to the top of the sighting groove, 1.26" tall to the bottom of the sighting groove, and 1.27" wide.  The face plate is 0.19" thick. The hook on the plug and the slot in the standing breech taper as described previously. Like the standing breech on the Heylin gun, it has a lug on the bottom for a cross pin. 

Breech from brass mounted fowler shown in middle:

As with so many other modern components, the selection of barrels for building a 1740-1770 fowler is very limited. Probably the best choice of readily available production barrels with respect to profile and dimensions is Colerains' 42" Griffin barrel.  In 20 gauge with plug it is 3 lbs 4oz.  The 16 gauge version will be a bit lighter and the weight distribution is further toward the breech compared with other commercial barrels. The breech is 1.125" in diameter for 20 and 16 gauge and 1.25" for 12 gauge. I wish the breech dimensions were bigger and barrel wall thickness less.  Ed Rayl, Rice, and Charlie Burton can make custom barrels and could match the profiles of the originals I show. Of course that takes time.  Rice is now making some barrels in 4140 steel and Jason showed me a fowler barrel at Dixon's that had really thin walls at the muzzle.  It was very light and he said they could make any profile.  On the build I will document, I am using a 20 gauge Colerain Griffin barrel, which should work fine. 

The situation is even worse for standing breeches.  You can get historically correct copies from TRS and Blackleys if you are willing to wait. I am aware of only one commercially produced with a sighting groove that is supposed to be large enough to fit barrels with up to 1 1/8" wide breeches, the 1 1/8" English flint breech sold by TOW.  However, it is barely big enough and I will add weld to the bottom so it fully covers the breech of my barrel with a 1 1/8" breech.  It has a proper sighting groove but no lug on the bottom for a cross pin.  The length of the tang is short, which I will lengthen, and the slot for the hook lacks the right shape, which I will correct.  It should be pretty easy to weld up a standing breech from mild steel making the flat face plate and welding on a tang.  I recommend you not use the hooked breech plugs, rather get a barrel with a properly fitted plug and tang, and then cut off the tang and file a proper hook. 

You can purchase barrel lugs but they are all too narrow in my opinion.  I prefer the loop to be at least 3/16" wide like on the originals shown. That provides a large metal surface over which the barrel key rides. The advantage is that you can better permanently adjust the tension of the key with larger metal to metal contact than very thin metal.  I cut my own from mild steel.  It doesn't take long with a hack saw, drills, and some files.  A jeweler's saw is nice for cutting between drill holes for the slot.   Barrel keys are steel and should be slotted for the keeper pins and the heads are shield shaped not oval. Commercial cast keys in steel are fine if you can get them with head large enough to be able to file a shield. Get the thinnest and widest you can find.  If you make them, the blades are no more than 1/16" thick and you have to mushroom out a lot of metal to form large enough heads.  I use 1/8" mild steel, hammer form the heads and then file the blades to 1/16" thickness. 

« Last Edit: January 22, 2019, 01:46:35 AM by smart dog »
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