More On Custom Designing And Building Muskets

Last year, I discussed some of the various skills and methods needed to craft a custom reproduction Civil War Musket. We addressed lock building and tuning, stock architecture and other fine points in muzzleloader smithing. This time, I want to cover how to go about choosing a specific design for your own special skirmishing or reenacting ordnance.

I frequently receive, in person or via mail, two requests from skirmishers and shooters -- what arm should the requester consider shooting, and what would I prefer to shoot. (Some of the other requests I get can't be printed.) I will attempt to give a general answer to both questions.

As far as skirmishing goes, I believe I am already on record as favoring a 2-band design rifle. It is just quicker to load and shoulder a 2-band then it is a 3-band. The additional weight and accuracy of the extra ten inches of barrel are not needed when shooting at 50-yard and 100-yard targets. Sure, there are medal winning competitors who shoot 3-band muskets, but there are more that shoot 2-band designs. Therefore, if I was going to design or build a weapon for skirmishing only, it would be a rifle with a 32 to 33 inch barrel. If, on the other hand, I was designing a reproduction musket to use in living history and reenactment events, I would consider such factors as historical accuracy to the persona displayed and impact on the audience when selecting a project. If I was a Volunteer In the Park (VIP) at Harpers Ferry National Park, I would want to create a piece with a "Harpers Ferry" lockplate. If I was a VIP at Shiloh or Ft. Sumter, I wouldn't want a musket with an "1863" lockplate either.

Recently, I have been researching some old books for ideas for projects to recommend, and I have come up with a few I would like to pass on.

One thing the potential custom builder can do is to be ever vigilant for used musket deals. People drop in and out of reenacting and skirmishing at an alarming rate, and used equipment is frequently available. Buying a used Springfield or Enfield for $200 is a good deal. Even if the bore is trashed, an N-SSA approved liner from a competent gunsmith (NOTE: Not all reproductions can be relined) and some lock tuning will give you an excellent shooting three-band for less then $400 - a bargain. And, the lock parts, furniture and stock are probably worth your initial investment.

I'll tell you the projects I've identified as interesting to me, then I'll discuss each one in a little more detail.

Enfield type weapons were popular during the American Civil War. Many were produced here on this side of the Atlantic by the nephews and son of Eli Whitney, inventor and businessman. It seems Eli Junior won a contract to produce Model 1841 Percussion Rifles, and never made a cent of profit. As luck would have it, the government used a series of gauges to inspect a random number of each shipment received. Eli Senior had invented the mass production method himself, but his successors suffered under it. By the late 1850s, Whitney's firm had thousands of rejected parts. Their solution was to produce rifles and muskets which became known as "Good and Serviceable Arms not to be subject to government inspection of gauges." These products did not have interchangeable parts, but worked and worked well. One of the models produced by Whitney was an Enfield-type Rifle, which tops my list of preferred projects. It would be little trouble to convert a reproduction to a Whitney Enfield. Noticeable in the design of the Whitney version are: band springs for the barrel bands, a tulip head ramrod, a pewter nosecap, and a lockplate simply marked "EWHITNEY" to the right of the hammer. The feature I like most about the Whitney Enfield is that it was produced with three different style sights, one of which is sure to please all shooters. A Mississippi style "V" notch sight, a Springfield type two leaf sight, and regular Enfield sights were all used in the Whitney production of Enfield type rifles from 1858 to 1863. The sight variations, straight stock and connection to American ingenuity place this rifle at the top of my personal projects list. You can get most parts from the sutlers listed elsewhere in this article.

Another 2-band rifle I really admire is the Model 1855 U.S. Percussion Rifle. This is the cursed "2-band Springfield" some shooters and skirmishers degrade, however, more then 7,000 were produced at the Harpers Ferry Armory from 1857 to 1861, and it is a historically accurate weapon. Hardware and parts for the '55 are available from many sutlers. Check out Lodgewood Mfg (414- 474-5444) or S & S Firearms (718-497-1100). Excellent quality barrels are available from Bill Whitacre (703-877-1468), and preinletted stocks can be purchased from Dunlap Woodcrafts (703- 734-2748). I have begun to see quite a few newly crafted '55 Rifle reproductions on the line, and I think the popularity of the Model 1855 will increase in the future.

The final rifle that rounds out my "Way Cool" list of possible personal projects is the Model 1841 Percussion Rifle, or "Mississippi" Rifle. Besides being a 33" barrel, there are many different sight combinations possible when constructing a Mississippi Rifle. More then 70,000 Model '41 were manufactured, 25,000 at Harpers Ferry alone. Remington produced 20,000 under contract to the U.S., and Whitney produced a total of 22,000 on four separate contracts. It was Whitneys' last contract, in 1855, which produced Mississippis with long range rear sights with a long folding leaf, one of the Mississippi variations. Again ,the sutlers listed above will be able to help you acquire the parts needed to recreate any Mississippi versions you desire.

The National Skirmish at Ft. Shenandoah will be May 18 - 21, and I can't think of a better place to get all the parts for your project. The improvements to Sutlers Row will make it easy to run around and spend your money even faster, so bring lots of green. I still have to cover glass bedding and fine tuning your finished rifle or musket, and I hope to get through those topics in the next few months. Until then, shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1995 Tom Kelley
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