Tips & Tools with Fred Stutzenberger – Part 21
Tips & Tools #21 Odds and Ends: Things I Should Have Mentioned Earlier
Every chapter of T&T seems to be getting longer than the previous one, more pictures, more text and hopefully more information. At this point, unless I have forgotten something essential, you will have your rifle to the point where it is functional. The stock will not be carved nor finished. The metal will not be engraved, blued or browned. No fancy patchbox or other inlays, but there will be a functional muzzleloader.
I want to apologize here for neglecting to mention several important and for making too many assumptions. I assumed that you would be very diligent in keeping all your cutting tools sharp, but I should have stressed that early on in the series. If you were fastidious about keeping your tools sharp, you probably would have spent as much time sharpening them as using them. Many sharpening devices have accumulated in my shop over the years: diamond coated files, CarborundumTM stones, India stones, Arkansas stones, ceramic stones, specialty stones with round, tapered, diamond, triangular, square cross-sectional shapes. For doing initial shaping of a tool, I often use my WenTM water-cooled grinder (Fig. 1).
It has a tool rest marked off in the cardinal angles and of course keeps a thin edge from burning. Burning the edge and spoiling the temper is very easy to do on a regular shop grinder…I have done it many times.You can also keep a thin edge from burning by grinding in 1-2 second intervals while holding the tool in a water-soaked paper towel to absorb heat. Quench between intervals. It is tricky to keep a thin edge from losing temper. Best to take your time and do final work on an Arkansas flat stone.
Speaking of tools, I want to show you how to make countersink tools (Fig. 2).
You need a lathe to make this tool, but once made, they will last a lifetime. Suppose you want to make a 7/16” countersink with a pilot that is a slide fit for a hole to be threaded 3/8-24 (which is a common vent liner size). Drill the hole (0.332”) in the drill rod for the pilot first. In the 1/32” shell that is left, file four teeth as shown in the figure. Turn the pilot to the diameter that will press into the hole with about 3/16” protruding to serve as the pilot in the 0.332” hole. Cross-pin the pilot and heat treat according to specifications for the type of drill rod that you are using. Touchhole vents and nipples should be countersunk for best appearance and sealing.
Here’s another neat tool; it is my design for cutting a nicely incised line along the fore end. It is meant to run in the ramrod groove and is reversible and threaded on both ends of the rod (Fig. 3) so you can get right up to the entry thimble. A close-up of the cutter head is shown in Fig. 4. Note that the head is slotted and therefore adjustable so you can cut double parallel lines or incised single line to mark off for a fore end molding. Just slide the head with its little cutter over to where you want the line to be and then slide it along to scribe the line. Do that several times, gradually deepening the cut until you have the line width you want. Turn it around and cut the other side. The two heads are interchangeable so you can use a threaded cutting tool or one that is held by a setscrew.
Although my incised line cutter works really well, if you don’t have a lathe or access to one, it will hard to make a precise one. However, there is another tool, called a veiner that cuts a nice line Unlike the groove-guided cutter, this one actually removes wood rather than just displacing it (Fig. 4a). If you have penciled or scribed a nice straight line, and have a steady hand, the veiner will do a good job for you. Two caveats: you must be working with the grain to get an even cut that produces a long curl like you see in the figure. If it digs in or tears, either the veiner is not sharp or you are working against the grain. Practice on some scraps of wood first. Until you become sensitive to the feel of the tool, it will porpoise shallow-to-deep and back again. The best advantage of the veiner is that it can be used to outline any molding and is versatile in its application to any part of the stock.
Wire inlay was mentioned earlier, but I did not show the shape of the tool. The basic tool (Fig. 4b) is simply a piece of scrap hacksaw blade ground to a tiny chisel with a polished edge on both sides. You can see how I inlet a little undulating groove to make it look like a tendril coming out under the inlay. The other side has already been done. Sorry that the brass does not show up very well against the wood in this photo.
My flexible lower stock-molding guide that I had mentioned earlier is shown in Fig. 5. It costs literally nothing to make, but is very versatile because the corner molding will conform to any stock line. You can pencil in the line along the edge or cut it directly using the guide’s edge. Most lower butt treatments were one or two simple lines, but some were actual moldings as I had shown earlier. Whatever you cut, you must taper it going smaller as you go forward.
[Image Coming. Fig.6a - This flimsy imported mainspring vise was poorly made and failed when used on a strong mainspring.]
A steel plate with a bunch of various sized holes (Fig. 6) is the cheapest ramrod-tapering tool I know of. Go down in 1/64” steps in increments along the rod. For example, you can go from 3/8” down to 23/64 to 11/32 to 21/64 to 5/16” so you can buy tips to fit both ends and have a nicely tapered rod with after a little sanding to smooth the tiny steps. Not a lot of old original ramrods have survived, but those that have are often tapered at least a bit (the old gunsmiths had problems getting the ramrod past the forward lock bolt too).
A final note about tools: anytime you take a lock apart, you will need a mainspring vise that is specifically dedicated to that task. ViseGripTM pliers, handy as they are in a variety of muzzleloading activities, are not tools for compressing lock springs. Their jaws are too thick and do not “float” to accommodate the V-shape of either the mainspring or frizzen spring. So spend a few dollars to buy a mainspring vise, a good one. Some years ago, I bought one that was obviously made overseas with metric threads by people who hadn’t a clue as to what it was to be used for. The stationary arm was too thick to slip in between the mainspring and the bolster. The thumbpiece on the floating arm was so badly fashioned that it was a pain to use. The slotted body of the vise was so flimsy that it bent under the resistance of a strong mainspring from a sturdy American-made lock. My friend and welding magician Dock Houston reinforced the body with bars spotted on the back of the body(Fig. 6a) to keep it serviceable. So get a good mainspring vise to start with. Remember John Ruskin’s words: It’s unwise to pay too much but it’s worse to pay too little for a product unable to perform the required task.
I didn’t talk about finishing the stock because there are so many products—stains, varnishes, oils, fillers—you have a lot to choose from and everyone has his favorite. One thing I would caution you to do is make sure you have all the scratches out. You think you can cover up scratches? It only makes them more apparent. In fact, some builders start staining after sanding to 60-grit. Rub over another coat of stain and sand back to 80-grit and you will see a lot of scratches you didn’t notice before. Re-stain then sand back to 120, stain/sand all the way up to at least 280 or 320-grit. Pay extra attention around the edges of moldings and other crevices where little scratches are sure to hide. When you get around to the finish, apply a thin coat and hang the stock on a string as shown in Fig. 7. You can hook in the forward thimble that will allow it to rotate in the sun on a single string that winds and unwinds with every little breeze to get even exposure. Many oil finishes will photo polymerize dry in a few minutes.Many thin coats are better than one or two heavy ones that create runs that you don’t notice until you think the rifle is finished and then when the light is at the right angle…oh-oh!
People complain that muzzleloaders are hard to clean out. They are. It takes a good 15 minutes after a hard day at the range or an organized shoot, come dragging home, tired (and maybe disgusted because you shot poorly) and then have to clean. I make little clean-out inserts that screw into the vent liner hole and seal with an O-ring (Fig. 8). Slip a bit of tubing on the other end of the insert and put the free end of the tubing into a cup of hot water. Having a weight on that end will keep the tubing in the water when you expel the dirty water. It is amazing how much fouling an ML bore will accumulate even with those “miracle” patch lubes. Tom Harbin published a bore cleaning formula in Muzzle Blasts many years ago. It consisted of hydrogen peroxide (3% topical strength), Murphy’s Oil Soap and (I believe) alcohol. Tom said that the cleaner did not contain any water, but of course it did (peroxide was an aqueous solution) and several readers pointed that out. What Tom should have said was “no added water”. That nitpicking vexed Tom so much that to my knowledge he never submitted another article. A real pity, for he took a wealth of muzzleoading information to his grave.
The moral of that little story is: if you come up with a good idea that you know will benefit the muzzleloading field, do not be shy about publishing it in one of the major journals such as Muzzle Blasts or Muzzleloader. Modern day builders have one great advantage over the old timers. Although we may not have the chance of an apprenticeship under someone like John Armstrong or Issac Haines or George Shroyer, we do have easy access to images of their extant rifles and multitudes of information on how to reproduce their work. While I am amazed at what the old masters could build under primitive conditions, the rifles built by our modern builders often exceed the quality and artistry of those produced in the olden days. I know some will violently disagree, but come to the CLA or the NMLRA events and see for yourself. The American Longrifle has transcended from craft to art.