Colonial Williamsburg Gunsmith

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I came across this movie on youtube from a TFB reader recently. It is a series of movies made about various artisan trades in the 1700s, there is one on blacksmithing and so on. However this entire movie is about the process that a colonial gunsmith would go through to produce a single flintlock rifle. I can’t tell if the actors┬áset up a shop similar to what a shop would look like from the 1700s, or if it’s a modern day shop where the owner makes everything old fashioned. Either way, the process, tools, and materials seem true to the 1700s and they go from the raw materials to actually test firing the rifle. The final portion seems to be the only part not 1700s as I believe shooters back then used white targets with a large “V” shape as the bullseye. Can anyone shed some light as to why a “V” was preferred over a bullseye? Regardless, the process is just fascinating, every bit of hammering, cutting, and smelting was done by hand and individually, no mass production here. As we get more technologically advanced, one would scuff at such processes and say well of course that’s how they did it. Still fascinating.

 

I’m hesitant to call it a musket, because this particular process includes rifling, which done by hand looks excruciatingly difficult and laborious.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Budogunner

    This is a great find! Thank you for sharing this. I love real craftsmanship and the historical connection makes this especially fascinating.

  • KestrelBike

    Total wild guess on the V-target that I’m sure someone will destroy: They figure a “center-mass” area of a person with the top legs of the V at the shoulders, and the bottom of the V going down to the pelvic region/navel, and any hit in there is incapacitating.

    • robert w

      Just another WAG from my experience.

      Aiming at a the point of two converging lines is easier to repeat your shots on, aiming at the center of a circle allows for a lot of human error.

      We just suck at making targets now ­čÖé

    • ostiariusalpha

      No. The chevron style target was typically (and correctly) an inverted v, and you would “sit” the chevron on your barrel while sighting the target. In fact, the chevron was often referred to as a “pair of Dutchman’s breeches”. It was usually cut out of scrap paper or what we call cardstock today, and pinned to a darker backing material like wood. I came across reference to them in a Dec. 1907 edition of Shields’ Magazine, a long defunct outdoorsie periodical, and later in articles from other early 20th century magazines, like American Rifleman. It was a great grandpa style target even back then.

      • That’s an excellent explanation, so it was more for ease of firing than any actual concept trying to get across then? You mention it was obscure back then, so what was in use?

        • ostiariusalpha

          You have to understand that fancy rifles with nice sights on them, like the one Mr. Gusler made in the video, were very much the exception. Most folks had a musket with no sights at all, or very tiny front bead. The chevron made targeting easier and more consistent. In the late 19th and early 20th century, accurate firearms with prominent sights had become the rule, and the standard bullseye was completely dominant.

      • MrEllis

        Named after the flower? My grandmother had those in the back part of her yard.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Not really, they are just both named after their resemblance to a particular pair of pants. Though I did note that calling the target Dutchman’s breeches seemed most common in areas with the flowers. Since breeches in the Dutch style had long fallen out of fashion by the end 19th century, the name of the flower was probably one of the few things that reminded people of what grandpappy called his target.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Soon to be visited by the BATFE.

  • Pop

    It is not a modern shop.Everything made is done with traditional tools and means of the time. All of the colonial Williamsburg crafters are this way. There are a lot but some include blacksmiths, woodworkers, leather workers, cobblers, book makers etc.

  • The gray man

    Wallace Guslar is the young gunsmith in the 1969 movie. My 9 year old
    and I were flipping channels a few weeks ago and were able to watch the majority of Gunsmith of Williamsburg on an educational station. After googeling him I was blown away by his life story and level of craftsmanship. A true master. If you are gun nut (and I can assume you are here because your here) do yourself a favor and watch the Gunsmith of Williamsburg. Mind blown.

  • The gray man

    If you are gun nut (and I can assume you are here because you are)

  • CS

    I sure miss the good old days of when Hollywood glamorized the positive uses for firearms and didn’t demonize America.

  • This was a good post. I enjoyed it very much.

  • John

    I started watching and just. couldn’t. stop.

  • Ken

    They have a functional, authentic gunsmith shop there. I believe their long rifles cost around $20k and there is a multi year wait list.

  • lucusloc

    This is one of my favorites. If anyone has links to more like it let me know!

  • Tassiebush

    What a fantastic video! It took me so many years and so many different sources to read about all of these tools and processes and here it all is in one concise and detailed video! As an interesting aside regarding rifling benches, the rifling guide can also be a flat bar twisted into a spiral at the desired rate of twist. There’s a traditional Swedish gunsmith who uses that system.

  • PK

    I saw this ages ago on VHS! I never thought I’d see it again. The value of scrap brass at the time simply can’t be overstated, it was a different time. Interestingly, there are still quite a few small shops, sometimes one-man shops, that still produce traditional flintlocks in this manner, even rifling their own barrels. It’s an incredible bit of work, but it’s best not to allow such traditions to fade away.

    Living history such as this should be preserved.

  • MrEllis

    After watching this video in whole I’ve come to realize I bring nothing to the table. I can barely install a faucet from Home Depot. I can’t even wait three days for Amazon to send me a water bottle, how the hell am I suppose to spend 300 hours on a gun. The wait period for my background check at a gun store seems like a strain, I’d lose a thumb three steps into this gun making process if the first two steps including buying some iron and bringing it home. Seriously, in colonial times I’d have to be a professional cynic or some sort of politician. That or revert to hitting things with sticks and flinging my own poo, but I repeat myself.

    It’s very humbling to see a master craftsman at work if not slightly depressing. Thanks for the video.

    • ostiariusalpha

      In the company of men like Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison, you might have found politics a pretty tough row to hoe. A higher unemployment rate was considered normal in those days, so the position of loafer or ne’er-do-well would have always be open to you.

      • MrEllis

        How about the thousands of politicians we didn’t know about? I could be one of those, who were technically loafers and ne’er-do-wells. But with better quality beer and more options on bathing. I’d need a steady income so as I could afford whale oil to binge-read my Ye Olde NetScript at night.

        Maybe I could just lie and say I discovered one of the rectangular states by drawing it on the map and shouting “He guys, look, Colorado!” Then live off residuals.

        The only thing I’m sure of, I couldn’t make a rifle. Unless they were willing to wait over two hundred years and I could order one online. I’m pretty sure the internet consisted of shouting across the street at that stage. It was a savage time.

  • Scot168

    I can remember seeing this back years ago and was amazed to see the rifle being completely handmade. I wonder how much it would cost now to have one done like this?

    • Thousands Scot.

  • My Wife and I vacation in Williamsburg at least once a year and we always visit the Gunsmith Shop. We got to know the chief gunsmith very well. To those who are planning a visit to Williamsburg; I strongly recommend a visit; the Blacksmith Shop as well.

  • ostiariusalpha

    That’s a real nice find. Fascinating look into the culmination of the percussion cap era’s manual of arms and maneuvers. Apparently, a cross pattern target was considered standard for military practice at the time.

    • MrEllis

      I was shocked something this cool was online and easy to use. Usually if you do find a neat archival piece it’s cumbersome to navigate or poorly formatted.

  • i1776

    The smiths there used to sell their custom built rifles but they were $10-20,000 a piece. I heard they closed the gunsmith shop last year and I used to go regularly until 2 years ago when I relocated.