General discussion > Miscellaneous Tutorials

Making an Historically Correct Mid-18th Century English Fowler Part 3


smart dog:
The lock is fully inlet.  I really like Chambers round-faced and early Ketland locks (they have the same internals) because they are easy to inlet.  There are not a lot of parts at different layers of depth.  A good mortice with as little wood removed as necessary will show the bridle and screw heads in the bridle, the sear hole, and the mainspring outline.  The mainspring is deepest at its bend and gets a little shallower toward the tumbler. The sear spring also is inlet deepest at the bend.  If you tilt the lock to lower the tail a smidge as I did, you will just break into the barrel channel with the mainspring or have an onion skin thickness of wood left. You can grind the mainspring thinner (it has plenty of extra strength) or just not worry about it as many British makers did.       

The photos below show lock mortices for two original 1760s London-made fowlers.  I think I did OK.

Permit me to make a little plug here.  The Chambers round-faced English and early Ketland locks are superb.  They are equal to any original locks made during the period they represent.  My little English rifle with a Chambers round-faced English lock has now fired more than 550 rounds without a hang fire or misfire, even when the flints were worn to nubs, shooting occurred during high humidity, and with normal routine maintenance while shooting (wiping the flint, pan, and frizzen, and picking the vent).  I believe the key is they make a long hard scrape on the tall frizzen face, which grinds its way through fouling and dull flints.  It then deposits those incendiary shards right into the pan. 

 Next up is the trigger.  I am using a cast steel trigger from TOW (#TR-Fowl-MH-T).  Forget the trigger plate associated with it because it is too short, but the trigger is a superb and historically accurate design.  I forged a copy of that trigger for my English rifle because they were back ordered.  When they became available again, I purchased a bunch to have in stock.  Note it is pinned very high giving good leverage.  I install it so it is angled backward in a graceful sweep within the trigger guard.  Triggers on most British guns of the period were installed right of center. That moved the trigger bar closer to the lock plate, reducing any spongy feeling in the trigger pull and helped make sure the trigger finger cleared the stock.  I marked the location of the trigger to the right of center and then drilled a series of holes the width and depth of the trigger bar.  After the holes are drilled, I use my Dremel tool with a small router bit to cut the slot between the holes.  It takes about 10 minutes.  I won't pin the trigger until I have made and inlet the trigger plate.  That comes tomorrow.


Hi Justin,
There are huge differences between the two species of walnut; however, within a species, the growing conditions create a lot of variation such that you can find very dense hard black walnut blanks and English walnut blanks that are weaker and softer.  Nonetheless, in general, English walnut (Juglans regia) is harder and denser than American black walnut (Juglans nigra), has warmer colors, and cuts more cleanly without as much tearing or chipping.  English walnut is also called European, French, Bastogne, Circassian, Persian, and Turkish walnut all of which are just regional varieties.  There is also California or Claro walnut (Juglans hindsii), the lumber from which may be J. hindsii or English walnut grafted to Claro root stock.  It can be very beautiful and usually falls somewhere between English and black walnut for workability and strength.  If you are making a British sporting or military gun, the most appropriate wood is English walnut. Yes, wood was imported from America, yes there was a short-lived fashion for using figured maple, yes there are rare examples of other woods but if you examined 100 original British guns from the 18th century probably >95 would be stocked in English walnut. Having written all of that, I understand completely the challenge of finding English walnut blanks long enough for full stocked fowling or military guns and their high cost.  When I get to finishing this gun I will explain how to make black walnut look like English.


The trigger plate is made and trigger installed.  The plate is about 3 3/4" long, 13/32" wide at the front and just under 5/16" at the rear.  It is made from 3/16" thick mild steel.  Originals usually had a round boss at the front that the tang bolt screwed into but the steel plate is sufficiently thick to have plenty of threads for the bolt.  Also, the tang bolt of a standing breech is rarely unscrewed so wear is not an issue.

The trigger I am using does not require a large slot in the plate so the trigger assembly looks very tidy and professional. The plate is inlet below the surface of the wood so the front of the trigger guard bow that rests on it can be inlet into the stock and so the rear extension of the guard can conceal the rear of the trigger plate.  When the guard is fitted, the middle lug on the guard will fit into a slot in the trigger plate behind the trigger. It will either be pinned through the stock or the lug will be shaped into a hook that hooks on the trigger plate to hold the guard in place.  There will be a counter sunk hole at rear of the trigger plate to catch the head of the bolt that goes through the wrist and screws into a boss on the back of the silver wrist escutcheon plate.

I drilled the tang bolt through the standing breech, stock, and trigger plate.  I am using an 8-32 tang oval head bolt from TOW.  I counter bored the hole in the tang so there is a vertical shoulder in the hole that the screw fits down into rather just an angled depression created by a counter sink. I did that by drilling a hole partly through the tang using a drill the diameter of the bolt head, then inserted a smaller counter sink into the hole to cut the angle on the bottom to match the angle under the bolt head. The head of the bolt was slightly oversized so I turned it down on the lathe to the right size, which gave it a little shoulder matching the shoulder in the counter bored hole. The originals were done similar to this and it allows you a lot of flexibility to file and shape the head of the bolt to match the tang.

Next after installing the bolt and tightening it down, I pinned the trigger.  I used a 5/64" drill for the same diameter spring steel pin.  The trigger is pinned very high and hangs gracefully below the stock.  It is a really nice complement to the gracefulness of the stock.  I included photos showing the state of the butt stock and with one side wet to show the figure.

Next up, trimming the fore stock to final dimensions, shaping the lock panels, and then making the silver side plate and wrist escutcheon.

In my previous post I should have written "trimming the fore stock to almost the final dimensions".  The stock will ultimately be very thin and I want to leave some excess on it until I am almost ready for finish so that I don't risk damaging the fragile wood in the process.  Based on the original fowlers I own, I devised this procedure for shaping the forestock.  First, I mark a line not quite half way down the stock from the edge of the barrel wall.  That marks the thickest point of the fore stock.

Then using an old Stanley low angle smoothing plane that was my great grandfather's, I plane a facet in the stock along the top of the barrel channel and down to that line.  Then I do the same for the lower section down to the ramrod groove. Next, I plane off the peak of the angle.

Then I use my pattern maker's rasp and a coarse file to round the fore stock. Finally, I use a flat scraper to smooth the surface.  The walls of the ramrod channel taper toward the muzzle such that about 3/4s of the forward ramrod pipe is exposed, 2/3s of the middle pipe is exposed, and 1/2 of the rear pipe in exposed above the ramrod channel. This gives the fore stock an incredibly slim profile.  I also shaved down the wood at the rear ramrod pipe, which require a bit more shaping, and I rounded the fore stock rear of the last pipe.

The photos below show how slim the fore stock is getting.  It will be slimmer when finished.

Next up is shaping the lock panels but only partially.  I have to make the side plate before I finalize the shape of the lock panels.

It is nice to finally get to the really fun stuff.  I am copying the side plate I put on my English rifle.  I cannot cast the intricate plate in one pour using my Delft clay casting system so I opted to cast my original in 3 parts (like I did the original) and solder the pieces together.  The plate is heavily inspired by the work of James Freeman, a great London maker during the first half of the 18th century.  You can see the plate that inspired me on plate 523 in Neal and Back's "Great British Gunmakers 1740-1790".  It is my own design created to fit the spaces I required on my guns.  I really wanted to incorporate a weeping heart motif and the first letter of my last name in the negative spaces surrounding the silver.  The plate is cast in fine silver, not sterling, which means it will not tarnish as quickly because of the lower copper content.  My purpose at this point is to construct the side plate and screw it to the stock so I can see the flat area that I must preserve when I am shaping the lock panels.  The first photo shows the rough cast pieces on the stock.  The second shows them assembled with the lock bolts in place.

Notice that as assembled, the main volute forward of the rear lock bolt and the leaves curling back from the forward lock bolt are very high up in the flat space.  That makes shaping the lock panel along the barrel and around the standing breech somewhat awkward.  To resolve that, I made a small silver insert that extended the connection between the forward and middle sections of the side plate allowing me to lower the volute and curled leaves.  That gives me more options for shaping the lock panels. Once I had everything oriented as I wanted, I simply soldered the pieces together with low temperature Hi-Force 44 solder which is silver bearing.  It came out well.  I have blobs of solder to clean up and then I clean up and polish the plate using die sinker's chisels, gravers, and stones.  That will come later and I will document my process.  For now, I have the plate attached and can mark the borders of the flat panel for the side plate.

This is what it will look like when finished.

I intend to copy the wrist plate from my Heylin gun.  The sterling silver plate was made by Jonathan King, one of the greatest London silversmiths catering to the gun trade.  I will cast it using the Delft clay system and then chisel the details and polish it.  I will share that process with you for better or worse.

More to come,


I did quite of bit of shaping around the lock panels and butt stock today.  Everything is getting closer to the final dimensions.   On most British guns of this period, the lock panels are usually parallel rather than flaring out toward the read following the taper of the barrel.  Mine have a slight flare but almost unnoticeable. The stock at the breech should be tapered or rounded down to meet the standing breech and barrel with no abrupt step.  On this gun, I wanted the side plate panel to swoop down along the barrel channel in a continuous line with no step.  Notice that the bottom is very slightly domed.  There is more shaping to come and a fair amount of wood to still remove.  Next up is the trigger guard.

Well, I started on the trigger guard.  The only steel guard readily available that is appropriate for a British gun of this period is the "urn" guard sold by a suppliers like TOW and MBS as well as a version by Barbie Chambers.  It has a small oval bow, which is a nice size when reworked.  Honestly, I hate most steel cast hardware that we have available today.  The castings from Chambers are routinely good quality but the others are hit or miss and they often seem to be slightly hard when you get them. I routinely anneal cast steel components in my heat treating oven before working on them.  I purchased my guard from MBS and it was barely acceptable. That is not a reflection on MBS because the same guard can be bought from TOW with the same results.  It had rounded edges, several kinks in the extensions and the rear extension was curved to the right. Fortunately, all of those problems can be fixed.  A welder is almost a miracle tool.  I originally thought about cutting off the urn finial and replacing it with something different but decided to keep it instead. The first step was to remove the sprue and clean up the lugs.  The forward lug is too close to the bow for my trigger plate configuration so I cut off the lug and welded a replacement further forward.  On the underside of the front extension of the guard is a triangular rib that is the result of a channel used to allow steel to flow into the mold.  I use that rib to my advantage by cutting a dove tailed slot in it, like for a sight, and then cut matching dovetails in a tab of mild steel to be used as the lug. I tap the lug into the dove tail, which holds it tightly and then tack it with my welder.  Then I add fillets of weld on either side at the base providing very strong attachment.  Next, I have to change the shape of the bow.  On the stock piece it is oval.  This makes the clearance under the guard really small, the shape is not similar to many originals, and it is ugly on my gun.  The bow needs to be given an egg shape with the wide end forward of the trigger.  This gives a lot of clearance for the trigger finger and also looks more historically correct and much more elegant.  It also makes the bow look bigger than it really is.  To make the change, I heated the front of the bow bright orange with my welder and pulled the bow forward and up so the front stands taller.  I let it cool completely so the intrinsic rigidness of the heated metal returns, and then heat the rear of the bow with the torch and pull it back and straighter.  That creates the egg shape.  The next step was to fit the guard to my trigger plate.  I wanted to use a design based on my Heylin fowler in which the middle lug is hooked on the trigger plate rather than pinned.  This creates a really neat and strong system in which the guard is anchored by the trigger plate, which in turn is anchored in front by the tang bolt and the bolt in the rear going through the wrist into the wrist escutcheon plate.  However, with a modern cast steel trigger guard, accomplishing this objective was a pain.  It would be much easier with brass or silver.  Anyway, I cut a notch in the middle guard lug so it could hook on the trigger plate and cut a slot in that plate.  I had to bend all of the components to each other and to the stock, which is why everything is colored blue from heating.  It all worked out well and I will post photos of the completed inlet tomorrow.     


End of Part 3


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