A Rifle, Handmade Circa 1700


Today, rifles are made with exacting precision and very complex machine tools for milling, grinding, and boring out the barrel. Long rifles have been around much longer than these modern machine tools, so how exactly did gunsmiths create such exacting works of art in an age before Bridgeport mills and Sherline lathes?

In an amazing 10-part video series, [Wallace Gustler] of colonial Williamsburg takes us through the process of crafting a flintlock long rifle circa 1700. All the videos are embedded after the break, by the way.

The first step of making the rifle is fabricating the barrel. This is made from a bar of wrought iron, hammered into a tube around a mandrel, and welded together in the forge. With the help of a primitive hand-cranked lathe, the barrel is then bored out and eventually rifled with the help of a cutting tool that is constructed more out of hickory than tool steel.

With the barrel complete, [Wallace] moves on to the lock. Again, everything is fabricated by hand nearly entirely from materials that could be sourced locally at a new world colony in 1700. Spring steel is one of the exceptions of to this desire for local materials, along with a few bits of brass that were recycled from imported sources.

A gunsmith must be a master of metalwork, of course, but he must also be an excellent wood-carver. The stock of the gun iw made from a huge sugar maple board, carefully carved to accept the barrel, lock, and the custom cast brass pieces.

The result is a masterfully crafted flintlock rifle, capable of picking off a target at a few hundred yards. [Wallace Gustler] manufactured nearly everything in this gun by hand, an impressive display of skill for a master, but an inspiration to anyone who would want to work with their hands.



7 thoughts on “A Rifle, Handmade Circa 1700

  1. Bloody hell! How’d it get from that to machine guns? Did the development of ammunition drive the development of guns that fire it or is it the other way around?

    Anyway, that’s just incredible.

    1. The development of mass production and interchangeable parts is what really helped things take off, as you can tell from these videos every single gun was a piece of art, and as such no two really had interchangeable parts, meaning it took a hell of a long time to make a gun, and an experienced maker. Once interchangeable parts, made in, for the time, automated machines you didn’t need such experienced people to make guns, and that meant that you could be more open to experimentation, add to that the introduction of the percussion cap and that explains the explosion of gun innovation in the early 19th century. Or at least that’s my opinion.

    2. They developed at similar times. Flint/Wheel/Match locks were all muzzle loading, and the desire for a rifled breach loader was there the whole time. First came paper packs of pre-measured powder, but if you loaded one of those without removing the paper you could foul the barrel. So, flash paper I think got used at some point, but you still had to shove the whole pack down the muzzle, and the lead ball was as accurate as a ball could be.

      It took the simultaneousness of the Minie ball, smokeless powder, brass casings, and effective loading mechanisms that the industrial revolution made possible to get to lever guns, semi-auto, and full automatic. If all the brass casings had to be made by hand, could you imagine the variance and the tolerances needed? And to stamp out the parts for a lever action rifle, you needed the machinery to do that. Sure, you might be able to make one at a time, but making them en masse with interchangable and repairable parts?

  2. Aww, where’s the comparison to modern day milling? I was hoping to see an ar get fabbed up, or maybe a flintlock, like the one handmade above- except milled fast using modern day tech. Now I’m wondering if YouTube has any videos of any modern mills doing this kind of work…
    Thank you for finding and compiling these vids though, I want to see one made in person someday.

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