Author Topic: Making an Historically Correct Mid-18th Century English Fowler Part 1  (Read 1245 times)

Offline smart dog

  • Global Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 4757
I am going to document building a 1740-1760 English fowler that might be considered first quality.  It will have the bells and whistles of nice wood, ornate silver inlays, silver wire, carving, and ornate engraving.  All of the designs will be my own but inspired by and historically correct for the time period.  So let's get started. 
The style and architecture of my fowler is inspired by the original London-made gun shown below.

To my mind, the style of this gun is as elegant as I have ever seen.  It is second or export quality but the architecture is first class.  I will essentially upgrade this gun to first quality and make a few other changes to accommodate a different barrel.  The line drawing of the original shown below is essentially the plan for my gun.

The barrel is a 42" long 20 gauge barrel by Colerain.  It is their "Griffin" profile with a breech 1 1/8" wide and octagon to round (Spanish) shape.  Most of the taper is in the first 6" of the barrel from the breech, which is pretty good and more historically correct than most other O/R barrels available today.  It weighs 3lbs 9 ozs.  I am going to turn it into a Spanish barrel by decorating it with maker and city stamps, and other markings that will be gilded.  I will also use inlet barrel bands to attach the barrel lugs rather than soldering or dovetailing them.  Often British gunmakers were asked to mount highly prized (and expensive) Spanish, Italian, Turkish, and Indonesian barrels purchased abroad by wealthy British sportsmen.  They esteemed these thin walled barrels so highly that they were reluctant to expose them to the heat necessary for brazing or soldering lugs.  One solution was to use small barrel bands inlet into the stock that hold lugs in place.  That is the method I use here.  The photos below show the barrel profile and the little barrels lug bands.

The barrel will be attached with 3 barrel keys and will have a hook or "standing breech".  From now on, I will refer to the tang portion of the hook breech as the standing breech.  I am currently trying to find a proper standing breech.  I have an order in to TRS but may have to weld up my own.  None of the commercially available breeches are adequate.  They are either too short, have incorrect hooks, no under lug, or don't have enough "hump" for this project.  For example, no breeches sold by Track of the Wolf (on right below) are adequate for this project.

I will use Chambers round-faced English lock.  It is a superb lock and a great performer.  For a good or high quality English gun from 1740-1750, it is the only commercially available lock that is historically correct right out of the box.  If you have any questions about lock choices please refer to my earlier tutorial on British fowler components ( I am not going to repeat that discussion here.  I considered turning Chambers early Ketland lock (with pan bridle) into a high quality flat-faced lock from the time period but I really like the round-faced lock and the way it looks (top below, original lock is second, the poor third is an L&R lock).

The furniture on this gun will be fine silver and steel.  Both metals were esteemed for high-end guns.  Unfortunately, the selection of steel buttplates and trigger guards is really limited.  None of the fowler buttplates available in steel are large enough heel to toe for my gun and none have the right slight crescent shape.  I will use the steel "Dubbs" long rifle buttplate sold by TOW and show how I modify it to look the way I desire. The toe will be rounded after I add steel to the bottom to increase the length from heel to toe. It will eventually look like the one shown below but with a longer rounded bottom:

The only correct steel trigger guard available is the urn or husk guard shown in the photo.  I am so bored with the urn finial that I may cut it off and attach a different final of my own design. The bow needs to be reshaped from its even oval shape to a much more elegant and useful "egg" shape. 

The stock is an excellent English walnut blank from Goby Walnut in Portland, Oregon.  I highly recommend them. I had Dave Keck inlet the barrel but it needed to go a little deeper to make sure the humped standing breech can be mounted properly.  I simply used my barrel scrapers and chisels to sink it a little deeper and also inlet the barrel bands.  That is where it stands for now.  I will be adding more soon. 

I am looking forward to following this thread. Will you be showing barrel band fabrication notes/ pics?

Hi Kevin,
I am glad you are looking forward to this series. The barrel bands are very simple.  I use 0.005" thick spring steel, which can be cut with metal shears.  At the place on the barrel where I want a lug, I wrap masking tape in the shape of a band and use that to measure the length.  Then I cut that length with a width of 5/32" out of the sheet steel.  I flatten and straighten it after cutting.  Then I make 2 90o bends in the ends for the tab and bend the band around the barrel, pinching the tabs in a vise.  It is just like making a ramrod thimble. The octagon band is made the same way except I hammer it to conform to the flats. Make 2 bands for each lug and then the loop is made from mild steel 3/16" thick. I cut a 1/8" wide rectangular piece from the steel plate 9/16" long. I slot the ends to pinch the barrel band tabs together, solder the tabs and loop together, and then drill the ends of the loop for 1/16" pins. Below is a simple drawing.


Hi Folks,
Thanks for looking.  Wayne, I will not modify the Chambers round-faced lock.  It is the the only lock that can be used as is for a second or first quality English fowler during 1740-1760.  All of the other round-faced locks are only good for cheap trade guns or fantasy guns.


I spent time today getting the butt plate into shape.  I (actually Stuart) welded on some steel to the toe of the Dubbs plate to add length as well as on the sides of the bottom to add width there.  I also formed the crescent shape better and closed the angle a little between the butt plate return and the butt plate.  That was all done by heating with a welding torch and hammering. Tomorrow I will shape the return and finish the job.  Stuart can weld a steel can in his sleep but sometimes the can is HUGE!
I am mostly done making the butt plate from TOW's "Dubbs" long rifle cast steel butt plate.  I choose that butt plate because none of the commercially available steel plates are sufficiently tall or have an elegant slight crescent shape for a gun of the architecture I am building. I could forge a plate from scratch but previous experience showed me that a pretty good one can be adapted from the Dubbs plate.  I first draw out my pattern for the tang, cut it out and glue it to the buttplate.  The fuzzy photo below shows the pattern on the plate.

I then cut, grind, and file to shape.  The Dubbs plate has a narrower flat bottom.  I need a round bottom on the plate but I also want it about 3/8" taller from heel to toe and it needs to be a little wider near the bottom to transition to a curved bottom.  The photo below shows where I welded steel (with Stuart's help) to add raw material for shaping. I added a 1/2" wide piece of mild steel at the bottom. When I do that, I butt the plate and additional steel together and tack them in place with my gas welder.  Then I file a deep "V" groove along the seam on both sides and fill the groove with fillets of weld.  Then I grind it flush.

Next, I heated the plate red hot and flattened the crescent just a little. Then I heated the heel bright red and hammered the wrap around so the angle between the tang and butt plate face was a little less than 90o.  Finally, I welded on the lug under the tang.  Photo below compares my plate (left) with a Miroku Bess plate (middle), and one of the better commercial plates by Barbie Chambers (right).  Note how much larger and more elegant my plate is.

The next 2 photos show my plate and Chambers plate side by side.  Mine is 1/8" narrower than ideal but I can live with that.

I make a big deal about the height of the butt plate because the architecture of my gun demands it but also because of the big lock.  Chambers round-faced lock is 6" long and almost 1" wide.  By default it creates a large lock and side plate panels that need to be matched with a tall butt stock otherwise the lock area will look disproportionately large. You cannot make the gun I am building with any unmodified commercial butt plate in steel.  There may be more alternatives if you choose brass.

The right standing breech is not readily available for this gun. None sold by TOW or any other similar supplier are the right shape, have the right sighting grooves, or have sufficient "hump" in the shape. I ordered some correct ones from TRS but that will take a while.  I decided not to wait and just made one.  I simply welded a tang at right angle to a flat steel plate. Grinding, filing and drilling did the rest. 

The breech is modeled after the one on the original fowler show at the beginning of this thread.  It is a real privilege to recreate a part that is 250 years old and clearly shows the little sophisticated details that aid function, form, and inletting. For example, the hole in the plate for the hook is narrower at the top tapering evenly on both sides to a wider bottom. The hook is shaped the same way and as it is seated into the breech, it slides in easily then snugs up into the taper so that when fully positioned, there is absolutely no play up and down or side to side.

I always make my hooks from the fitted breech plugs that come with my barrels. I just cut the tangs off and file the hook. The shape of the hook is very simple (examples of originals shown below) and not very deep.  That allows the rear lock bolt to clear the back of the hook unlike on the deep "Thompson Center" style hooks found on most modern made hooked breeches.

The shape of the tang is the standard "shouldered point".

Before inletting the breech, I file quite a bit of draft on the edges so the tang is snugging into the inlet and does not risk chipping out wood when it has the be removed for more fitting. Another detail you see on the originals is that the shoulders of the point have filed undercuts (shown in the photo below) also so it is easier to inlet them tight against the wood. Also note the lug on the bottom for the cross pin anchoring the bottom of the breech into the stock. 

Next, I will inlet the hook into the stock, then solder the standing breech to the barrel (you could use glue too), clean up all the bottom and side flats so they are flush with the barrel, and then inlet the breech.

End of Part 1
« Last Edit: January 22, 2019, 12:42:50 AM by smart dog »
"Flick Lives!"