General discussion > Miscellaneous Tutorials

Making an Historically Correct Mid-18th Century English Fowler Part 2


smart dog:
The standing breech is inlet. Some folks seem intimidated by inletting standing breeches but they are not really very difficult.  I first inlet the hook. 

Then I solder the standing breech to the barrel and inlet it.  I first cut the space for the face plate including the little mortice on the bottom for the cross pin lug.  Then I can insert the breech and barrel straight down onto the stock and trace the tang with a sharp pencil.  I then stab in the outline just on the inside edge of the pencil line.  With sharp tools and a little patience, it goes pretty easily.

Next up is the ramrod groove and hole.

 I cut the ramrod groove and drilled the hole.  On this gun, that required some preparation and accurate measuring because the ramrod groove and hole are not parallel with the bore of the barrel, rather it is parallel (approximately) with the bottom of the barrel.  Therefore the web of wood between the barrel channel and the ramrod groove and hole is 5/64" at the muzzle and about the same at the breech.  I used my router table to cut the groove so the bottom of the stock, which contacted the router table surface, had to be planed so the surface was parallel to the ramrod rather than the bore of the barrel.  That required good drawn plans transferred to the stock.  The groove and hole are 5/16" and I drilled the hole in the usual way with a brace and bit and long 5/16" ramrod drill.  Careful planning and going slowly, checking multiple times, resulted in success.  The result will be a very slim forestock the bottom of which, tapers from the end of the trigger guard to the muzzle in a very elegant fashion and copies the original fowler I am using as a model.

Next is inletting the barrel keys.  I think this is a task that gives a lot of folk's heartburn.  With the right technique, it is not hard to do.  The first step is to inlet the barrel lugs into the stock.  This was easy, however the thin web of wood between the barrel and ramrod will result in the bottom of the lug showing in the ramrod channel.  That is how my original gun is made so I am not concerned.  Some folks object but I would rather have a very slim fowler than worry about lugs showing in the ramrod channel.

The key slots must be accurately positioned so it is important that they are precisely marked on the sides of the stock.  Prior to doing this task I make sure the sides and top of the barrel channel are squared up.  Then I measure the diameter of the barrel at the location of a key, measure that distance down on both sides of the stock. Next, using the barrel bands, I mark lines on both sides of the stock showing the width of the slot. In the photo below the slot is cut but is shows the marking lines.

Once marked, and checked, and rechecked, I punch 3 horizontal lined up holes into both sides of the stock that are a little under sized for the barrel key.  Using my drill press, I drill those holes from both sides of the stock.  I then use a chisel made from a flat needle file to cut wood away between the 3 holes.  The file tip is shaped and sharpened like a skew chisel.  You have to be gentle because the file is brittle but with a sharp edge, it will cut through the wood quickly.  Once I break into the inlet for the barrel lug, I switch sides and do the same from the other side.  Then to widen the slot, which is undersized, I use a piece of fret saw blade that has been broken off to a short length and the end ground to a point. It is placed in a handle used for X-Acto blades and oriented so it cuts on the pull stroke.  I then use the saw to cut the slot wider.

Once cut to the correct width, I use the flat needle file chisel to clean up the slot a bit before burning in the final fit.  I shape the end of a barrel key into a chisel point, hold it with pliers, and heat it with a mini torch.  When it is a bit beyond blue, I insert it into the slot and allow it to burn its way into the stock. Don't wiggle it, just let it burn in.  On British guns, barrel keys are inserted from the side opposite the lock.  Always.  I don't care if on some Hawken or American guns they are inserted from the lock side. On British guns the heads are on the side plate side. Burn the key through the stock from the direction they will be inserted.  That will assure the slot opening on the lock side does not get burned wider than the key and any slop on the side of insertion is hidden under the head of the key.

If you are careful, a perfect barrel key slot is the result.

 I trimmed extra wood from the stock but I really wanted to do something fun today, so I made the ramrod thimbles.  The ALR site has at least one tutorial about making thimbles but I will add a method that is specifically suited to British fowling guns.  When working with steel mounts, our selection of appropriate parts is very limited.  The best ramrod thimbles commercially available for British guns are the cast steel English fowler thimbles sold by TOW and others. However, they only come in 3/8" diameter, which is too big for a really slim fowler and not consistent with the originals on which I am basing my build.  I decided to make my own in 5/16" diameter but I wanted nicely styled thimbles with raised borders on the ends, like many originals.  I used a method I learned from Kit Ravenshear many years ago.  I like making thimbles and I am pretty good at it after all these years. 

For this gun, I want the forward thimble to be a bit larger than the others to accommodate a substantial swell in the ramrod.  The other thimbles are to be slightly larger than 5/16" but the forward thimble is to be 23/64".  I want a fairly robust ramrod so it can hold up to loading tight patched round ball as well as bird shot.  The original fowlers I own were clearly set up for bird shot and have very wimpy tapered rods.  I designed a slight compromise to include a bigger rod but not lose any slimness of the gun.  I use a little 3" x 2" steel plate I made years ago to form raised edges on thimbles and bend the tabs.

I used 0.03" thick sheet of mild steel.  The first step is calculating the width and length.  The thimbles are just under 1.5" long so I needed to add a little extra length for the raised borders.  I calculated width figuring they needed to be 5/16" (a little larger actually) and 23/64" and multiplying those dimensions by 3 and then adding 1/2" for 2 1/4" high tabs.  I cut the sheet with shears and then squared the piece up. 
My little forming plate has a 1/16" wide slot for bending the tabs and a 1/16" wide and 1/32" deep groove for forming the raised edges.  I place the flat sheet steel on the plate and line up one end of the thimble with the groove, then punch it in with a cold chisel that has the sharp edge thinned and rounded over. It forms a nice little raised border.  I repeat the process for the other end of the thimble

Then I grind off any excess metal beyond the raised border and proceed to bend the tabs.

When those are formed, I take a proper diameter drill or rod and hammer it down along the middle of the thimble to start forming the pipe.  I go as far as I can before compressing the tabs in my vise around the mandrel.  After forming the tube, I solder the tab together and clean up the ends as well as the tab.  A very clean and attractive thimble that duplicates those on many British fowlers of the period is the result.

Now for the rear ramrod thimble.  I really like the cast steel thimble sold by TOW.  It is historically accurate and attractive, but the 3/8" pipe is too large.  Rather than try to swedge a sheet steel version, I decided to simply cut off the tang from the TOW thimble, reduce the collar to fir my smaller rear thimble, and solder it on.  I made a sheet steel thimble a little longer than the others and then soldered on the tang for the cast thimble.

The result is perfect.  Below is a collection of nice steel thimbles.

I inlet the ramrod pipes today.  When I drew my plans I discovered that with my short forearm and 42" barrel, the middle pipe would hit the middle barrel band unless one or the other was positioned far forward or rearward of even spacing relative to the other bands or pipes. Therefore, I decided to overlap the barrel lug and pipe, something I saw once on an original military musket.  It was very simple.  I just file away the middle of the tab on the pipe to clear the barrel lug and used 2 pins to hold the pipe.

The rear thimble went in nicely as did the other thimbles.

Well, here is where I am at.  The stock is trimmed down, barrel and breech are in, and ramrod and pipes done.  You can start to see how slim the gun will be.

Next up is the lock plate and then the butt plate.
I lnlet the lock plate.  I'll get to the lock guts later after I do some stock shaping but I wanted the plate in for now.  I don't intend to discuss all aspects of building a gun because most of the basics are covered in other tutorials.  I will describe feature specific to British fowling guns.  One of those features is that the rear lock bolt is rarely drilled through the plate.  It is almost always threaded into a blind hole. Drilling and tapping blind holes are tricky.  My drill press has a depth gauge so I can set the drill depth to just less than the bolster thickness.  The forward bolt is drilled through and hidden behind the frizzen spring.  For tapping I use starting and bottoming taps.  I had to carefully mark the holes before drilling because the spacing between the holes must be about 3 1/4" 3 5/16" to fit my cast silver side plate. Once the plate was marked and drilled, I had to drill through the stock and make sure the spacing of the holes matched my side plate.  The forward lock bolt is easy, just put the plate in the stock and drill through the hole.  However, you must make sure the drill is perpendicular to the stock. The sides of the stock are still square with the top and bottom, so I put the stock in my drill press vise and check levelness with a round bubble level.  Once everything is set up, I drill the hole.

To mark the rear hole location on the wood, I made a small point that fits into the rear bolt hole on the plate. I place the plate in the mortice and tap it.  The little point marks the hole.  Then I level up the stock in the drill press and drill the hole.

I enlarge the holes in the stock with a clearance drill and then use a long starter tap to thread the holes in the plate using the stock holes as guides.  The spacing came out just right for my side plate.

For the blind hole, I just cut threads until I fell resistance growing, remove the plate and finish the threads with a bottoming tap.  I am using large dome headed 8-32 bolts from TOW.  The heads had a lot of excess for shaping. Here is the lock plate inlet with bolts installed.  I've sketched in the potential "outer" boundaries of the lock panel.  They will only get narrower from there.


Hi Justin,
Good questions.  Yes, I don't start inletting locks until the surface of the wood is almost down to the finished level. That way I don't have a lot of extra wood to remove during inletting, I can see the fit of the plate better with no shoulder of wood obscuring my view, and there is less risk that a deep shoulder of wood catches the metal while lifting the plate out and chips away.  With respect to the rear lock bolt, I am pretty sure it was aesthetics.  The forward bolt is hidden behind the feather spring and I suspect 18th century British makers were reluctant to have the rear bolt showing.  Consider, they also used long sear springs on locks of this period so the sear spring screw was hidden behind the flint cock.  Regardless of the reason, you rarely find a lock on a better quality British gun from this period with the rear bolt drilled through and that includes flat-faced locks.  Both bolts were drilled through on muskets but not sporting guns.  When I see a purported English fowler with wide flats around a round-faced lock and the rear bolt hole drilled through, I can be almost certain that it is a modern creation.

Before installing the butt plate, I wanted to do some stock shaping.  I notice that quite a few builders install all the hardware on their guns while the stock is still squared up.  I did that on the first 2 or 3 guns I built before I learned how easy it was to screw up the architecture of a gun by doing that.  That is particularly the case with butt plates and trigger guards.  In my opinion, never inlet a guard until the gun is ready for final finishing and do not inlet a butt plate until you have shaped the butt stock close to its final profile.  This is particularly true for butt plates with long inlet tangs like on British fowlers.  It is very difficult to alter angles and profiles once those butt plates are fully inlet.  It is much easier to make sure all of that is well established before inletting. Certainly, good drawings are a must but they are 2 dimensional.  As you shape and curve surfaces, you often find that 2-D profiles need adjustment because of the shadows and 3-D depth created as the stock is rounded into the appropriate contours. 

Installing butt plates with long ornate tangs or returns is a challenge. Dave Rase posted a super tutorial on inletting a French style butt plate.  He had the challenge of a tang that thinned and swelled such that it has to be inlet straight down.  However, Dave had the advantage of the butt plate that was very straight so he could cut the stock off straight down and then inlet the plate downward.  In my case, the return thins monotonically meaning each progressively smaller section is a smaller version of the previous wider section. That allows you to inlet down and forward without creating gaps.  However, I had the added challenge that my plate has a slight crescent so I had to simultaneously fit the tang and face plate down and in. In this process I made my first blunder on this gun.  I usually like to carve the stock into a dome that fits into the dome on the heel of the butt plate.  I forgot about that and cut it off when trimming the wood to the profile of the plate. As such there will be a slight gap between the wood and dome where the upper screw goes.  The steel butt plate is very rigid and strong so it won't matter, but if I was making a plate from silver I think I would want the wood supporting the butt plate fully from behind.  Anyway, if this is the only mistake I make, I'll be happy.

I rough shaped the butt stock to get rid of a lot of excess wood before doing the butt plate.  I also placed the plate against the stock and traced the profile of the crescent on the stock. I then filed the wood down close to that line using my pattern maker's rasp.  With that done, the first task is to inlet the lug on the tang.  As I inlet the plate, that lug is going to move forward so the inlet will have some extra space behind.

Then I determine where the shoulder at the top of the radius should be and cut that and the radius into the wood.

Once I get the shoulder and radius cut, I trace around the tang and inlet it in stages.  I essentially work forward from the shoulder until the entire tang is inlet.  By trimming wood off the crescent close to my traced line, I usually do not have much fitting to do to move the butt plate forward for complete contact with the wood.  This is when I use inletting black and go slow. Trimming or scraping away the sides and shoulders of the tang inlet is tricky but with care the plate moves forward nicely for a perfect fit.  When you are really close, if you are inletting a brass butt plate, you can hammer the metal into the wood to close up small gaps.  That is not easily done with the steel plate so I have to keep inletting until I get a perfect fit.  After fitting the plate, I drilled it for the 2 screws.  I will counter sink and file them flush later.  The butt plate came out very well.

End of Part 2


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