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Making an Historically Correct Mid-18th Century English Fowler Part 7


smart dog:
Well I finished smoothing, detailing, and cleaning up the stock.  Throughout the process of final finish I was whiskering the wood so that task is done. Next was staining.  I am sure some folks don't think English walnut should be stained but I believe many if not most British sporting guns were stained to impart a deeper reddish brown to the wood.  I also believe the stain of choice was alkanet root.  Staining or not may have varied regionally in Britain but both of my original fowlers and most British fowlers and military guns I've examined appear to have been stained or colored in some fashion. Of course on some the old finish darkened so much with age that it is hard to tell if the wood is stained or finish colored. The next question, was the wood stained and then finished or was the finishing oil/varnish tinted?  On both of my originals it appears that the finish was tinted a reddish brown. It also seems that the pigment obscured the grain a little. On the fowler I am building, the wood is so beautiful that I do not want to obscure it.  Therefore, I stained the wood first and then applied finish with no tint added.  Powdered alkanet root produces a deep reddish brown color in walnut and can be dissolved in oil or alcohol. It cannot be dissolved in water. It is easy to get but I don't need it because I can produce exactly the effect I want using aniline dyes.  After experimenting with various mixes dissolved in water I came up with a combination of Brownell's resorcin brown, black, and scarlet that worked very well on scraps of wood from the stock blank.  I mopped the stain on with a brush, let it dry, and then burnished it back with a gray Scotch Bright pad dipped in water.  Be very careful rubbing areas containing silver wire inlay with Scotch Bright pads because you may snag a wire end and pull it out.  When dry from burnishing, I painted on finish.  I believe the original finishes were some sort of linseed oil varnish or linseed oil with dryers added.  Both of my originals have mellow sheens that are not brittle looking like some varnishes. I suspect they may be linseed oil with dryers added. I can match that or almost any look using Sutherland-Welles polymerized tung oil, which is my finish of choice.  It is made in Vermont and I drive up to the factory and buy it directly from the owners. I thin the oil 50% with mineral spirits for the first 2 coats.  This acts as a sealer, penetrating deeply into the wood.  Once I see a build up on the surface, I wipe off the excess and then hand rub on very light coats of untinned oil. I let the finish dry 24 hours between coats. Eventually I will build up a sheen, which I can make as glossy or mellow as I desire.  The photos below show the stock stained with the sealer coats dry.  The last photo shows my fowler with the Heylin original.  Allowing for 250 years of darkening, I think my stock color will be just about right.
More to come.


In my last post, I forgot to describe how to make American black walnut ( Juglans nigra) look like English walnut (Juglans regia ).  I realize that it is difficult and expensive to find and purchase English walnut blanks that are sufficiently long for a fowler. On several projects, I've substituted black walnut and the results were good in my opinion. The guns shown below are stocked in black walnut made to look like English walnut. The trick I use I learned from Kit Ravenshear. The first step is to stain the stock with pure yellow aniline dye.  It can be alcohol or water based.  That gets you to ground zero by wiping out the cold purple-brown common in black walnut.  Then you can simply finish the stock or stain it further.  The guns in the photo were treated with yellow dye and then stained like my current fowler.  It really works.


Spanish barrels had makers stamps often filled with gold, a counter mark stamp often indicating the location of manufacture, also gold filled, and other marks indicating the maker and religious symbols.  To simulate that marking is a real challenge and I simply could not resist trying.  The original Spanish marks appear to be stamped in deeply.  I cannot do that with modern steel barrels. So, I decided to deeply cut the outlines of the makers and counter mark stamps into the barrel with gravers, fill the mortices with silver, and stamp the soft silver. Please appreciate the "pucker" factor here.  I could ruin my barrel after all the work on this gun that I did.  I made 2 stamps from a cold chisel bought at my local hardware store. I annealed the chisel, sawed it in half, and sawed off the chisel blade. I squared the ends and polished one end to be engraved. Then I engraved each stamp with my maker's name and the other with a mountain lion face, which is the symbol for Braintree, VT.  I then case hardened the engraved stamps.

I traced their outlines on the appropriate locations on the barrel, and cut the borders with a square graver to permanently mark them. Then using thin and wider flat die sinkers's chisels, I cut the mortices.  One of my flats is shaped so that the bottom cutting into the metal is wider than the top, so it undercuts the edges of the mortice. I then scored the bottom of the mortice with teeth cut using a square graver. Once they were cut and mortices cleaned up, I inserted a silver inlay sized just a little smaller than the mortice and tapped it in place using a small punch. That spread the silver into the mortice and locked it in place. Then I stamped the silver with my stamps to create the maker and city marks. For the other marks, which often were flowers, I love bluets, a little blue spring flower that grows in my fields. It looks like "forget me nots" but only has 4 petals.  I chose to engrave bluets and fill them with silver.  I have never done this kind of work before.  I just jumped in and did it. It probably shows my inexperience but it does look authentic relative to what I want to achieve. I also engraved and filled a small "Catholic" cross on the top flat, a symbol often used on these great Spanish barrels.

Cool stuff, Dave!

Looks a lot like an original I picked up.

I decided to mount a silver "spider" front sight that was often used on British guns.  The first step is to mark the center of the barrel top just behind the muzzle.  Most British fowlers have sights very near the muzzle rather than set further back. Borrowing a method described by BJ Habermehl, I lay the barrel on a flat surface with the top flat down. I slide a file under the muzzle where I want to position the sight and draw it back. That marks the exact center of the round barrel.  Next I cut my spider from 0.016" dead soft fine silver sheet. I start with a 5/8" square of silver and scribe lines from each corner to find the center. I drill the center and square the hole (about 1/8" square hole) with a needle file. Then I take of lump of silver sprue from one of my casting jobs and file it into a rectangular shape to be the sight. I file the bottom to fit through the square hole in the spider. I eventually will peen over the excess on the underside to lock the sight in place. Either using files or a jeweler's saw, I shape the spider forming the legs around the scribed lines.  However, as you bend the spider to the barrel, the legs will angle forward distorting the nice perpendicular cross so file the legs so that they appear to angle back a little before fitting the spider to the barrel. I place the spider on the barrel so that I can see my barrel center mark through the square hole.

I fluxed the barrel and underside of the spider and solder it in place with TIX low temperature solder. That holds it in place so that I can get a good tracing of the spider with a scribe.  That is critical because that tracing and eventual mortice will form the final shape of the spider. I heat the spider to take it off and begin cutting the mortice.  I outline the spider first with a small square and then remove the metal within the outline with large, small, and tiny flats. Once the metal is removed, I clean up the edges with a tiny flat and then undercut the edge with a knife edged graver. When creating the mortice, it is easy to remove too much metal under the body of the spider, creating a flat spot under the sight. You want to preserve the curvature of the barrel and avoid a flat so cut carefully.  The mortice is very shallow.  At the location where the peened jug on the sight will protrude on the underside of the spider, I drill a shallow hole in the barrel to accommodate it.

 I fix the sight to the spider and peen it tight. I check that the spider fits into the mortice. Don't worry if it is a little smaller than the inlet because you are going to tap and expand it.  I tin the mortice with small amount of TIX solder and then place the spider in the mortice. Starting with the body of the spider, I tap the silver with a small hammer to start driving into the undercut. I anchor the body first and then work down the legs. After tacking it with the hammer, I tap it with a punch to further expand it.  When that is done, I heat the barrel from the inside with a mini torch to allow the solder to flow.

Then let cool, wash off excess flux, and file, sand, stone, the excess metal away leaving a nice spider sight.

I have to clean up a little solder and polish things.  When the barrel is browned/blued the silver will show up very nicely.  I'll leave the sight blade high and rough until I shoot the gun.
Well, I needed to decide what to do about a finish for the barrel. This was not an easy decision and historical guidance is unfortunately, largely speculative for the first 3 quarters of the 18th century. I believe most British fowling guns made during 1730-1760 had barrels that were simply polished bright and some likely were rust browned.  John George wrote in his book "English Guns and Rifles" that rust browning began to be used in the early 18th century.   However, it is not clear how British makers handled foreign-made barrels that might already be colored.  The key books by Neal and Back show several guns with Indian, Turkish, and Spanish barrels that were either browned or blued. We know from writings by Isidro Soler and the 3 brothers who wrote "Espingarda Perfeyta" that Spanish and Portuguese barrels were "heat", "fire", or "charcoal" blued. I think our best modern approximation of the process is "charcoal" bluing.  However, I have no idea if a Spanish barrel purchased by a Brit was already colored or bought in the white.  The bright polished Spanish barrel examples shown in the same books I mentioned above are not necessarily historically accurate given the penchant for over polishing common in Britain. However, some of the browned and blued barrels shown in those same books could be done later in the life of the gun.  So what to do?  I suggest that many British makers and clients probably admired the gold and silver inlays on their Spanish barrels and would want to show them off by having the barrel browned or blued, if the barrel was not already blued by the Spanish maker. The Spanish barrel on my original Heylin fowler appears to be browned but that could have happened later. I decided that my barrel was going to emulate one that had been charcoal blued but I was not going to expose my barrel to that process. Indeed, I am not set up to do charcoal bluing.  Instead, I polished the barrel highly and then applied LMF browning, which I carded aggressively until the brown color was polished in the metal, not on top.  That gave me the chance to see how I liked the look of rust browning with the silver inlays and spider sight.  I decided a dark blue would be much more stunning so I then boiled the barrel in water to turn the brown, a deep dark blue.  Then I rubbed it back aggressively with coarse canvas such that the bluing became slightly translucent.  Then I heated the barrel and painted it hot with boiled linseed oil, let cool, and then buffed hard with canvas. It came out pretty nice. I cleaned any oil out of the maker's stamps with acetone, and gilded them.  Finally, I coated the stamps with a little lacquer to protect the gold leaf.  I kind of like the effect and while it does not match charcoal bluing, it gets closer than typical rust bluing.   


 End of Part 7


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