Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Monday, May 30, 2011

How Not to Build Your First Flintlock Rifle or a Lesson Learned My Way

" Creek warriors, hear me "
Classic Fun

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions
     Growing up in 1950's and early 60's, I was your typical all-American kid with heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. They were larger than life characters to me and through the magic of TV, their adventures were my adventures. Even though history was only the theme in those early shows and many times it was filtered or even sacrificed for the "story", I still to this day, love it all, corny or not. That "coon-skin" capped kid also noticed that Davy and Daniel were never very far from their flintlock rifles. I can remember thinking , "wouldn't it be bitchin' to have one of those some day."

     A few decades later, I thought I would start to put that dream to work. One style of longrifle that had always appealed to me was the unadorned and iron-mounted Southern Mountain Rifle. Maybe it was my family's Southern roots or the fact that mountain folks were some of the last to give up their flintlocks. What ever it was, I was determined to build a Southern inspired gun. I had no idea what I was getting into but that never mattered to me. I knew I didn't want a kit gun and decided to research the available options for building a more custom rifle.

Research and Inspiration and a Very Young
Hershel House
Photos Lindy Miller 2011
    Years before, I had discovered a basic rifle building tutorial in Foxfire #5, one of the series of books by Eliot Wigginton and his students, published in the 1970's. This particular volume has tons of information on gunmaking with an emphasis on flintlocks but what I had feasted on was the step-by-step instructional by Hershel House. The Foxfire crew had stayed with Hershel for a week, while he built a rifle from scratch. Lots of drawings and close-up photos helped melt away the many mysterys of early rifle building. Thanks to that tutorial, I understood  "cast-off", "drop" and "pull" and could even see myself inletting a lock with candle soot. Heck, I even felt I could make my own hardware some day. Continuing on this road, I discovered "Guns and Gunmaking Tools of Southern Appalachia" by John Rice Irwin, 1983.  John's book is full of photos of early rifles in the Museum of Appalachia's collection.  I only wished the book had close-ups but it was helpful as I continued to study this regional style.
An Original Rifle WIth Classic Southern Mountain Lines
Image Courtesy
North Carolina Museum of History
       When I purchased a set of full-size drawings of Southern Rifles from Dixie Gun Works, it was suddenly within reach to understand and transfer the scale and lines of an original rifle to my planned replica. I fell in love with the rifle by William McBee because it was just one great looking gun. I especially admired the "deep" crescent buttplate and the graceful lines but I had unknowingly set myself up for the next wave of challenges.

My Replica Southern Mountain Rifle
        Even though some Southern style hardware was available from muzzleloader suppliers in the late 1980's and early 1990's, I couldn't find everthing I wanted, so I ended up purchasing only the major components. From Golden Age Arms (no longer in business) I bought a W.L.Cochran Lock Kit in flint (no longer available) and from Dixie came a 42" Green Mountain barrel in .45. Also from Dixie I bought a roughly profiled and semi-shaped walnut stock with a partial inletted barrel channel and a breechplug with an extra long tang that I could reshape. The last thing from Dixie was a double-set trigger with a low profile. I was determined to build everything else. What was I thinking?

Back-side View
      I knew I couldn't cold-bend steel to any desired degree so I had to improvise some kind of forge. It now strikes me as hilarious when I think back, but it actually did work. I used a Japanese Hibachi to hold my charcoal briquettes ( yes...charcoal briquettes) while a hair dryer with an aluminum foil extension, acted as my blower. It ate-up the charcoal pretty fast but allowed me to heat the steel to a plastic state. I scratch-built the barrel lugs, sights, ramrod tubes, toeplate, buttplate, patchbox and triggerguard, pounding them out over a piece of railroad rail I used for an anvil. I'd never heard the old saying that "time well spent at the forge saves time at the vise and file". I spent a "lot" of time at the vise and file.

Top View Showing Lollipop Tang
Underside View Showing the Triggerguard
     The stock work ended up being a chore as I was never 100% pleased with the existing profile. There was little I could do to change it and finally ended up adding a small piece of walnut to extend the comb. The lesson here was, on any future rifle, I would want more control on the shape I started with.

       All in all, I think the rifle turned out okay, considering it was my first attempt. Luckily, it ended up being a pretty good shooter too, thanks to that Green Mountain barrel. My only advice to any beginners contemplating doing this, is to build your expertise through pre-planned projects like the many fine kits available today. You will enjoy it more and probably get a better product. One thing I know for sure, it's a lot easier today with DVDs teaching you how to build and plenty of support on websites like American Longrifles or the Contemporary Longrifle Association.


  1. this sounds like the same trail i went down when i fisrt got into this waaay back in the mid-1970s by the late 70s built my first,,and then went on with it .i like the rifle you built back then looks like a hunters rifle of that time,,even though you find the flaws someone else may not! this is how we evlove into this,,mickey

    1. Found your post searching W L Cochran locks. I built my first long rifle taking a class at the local community college back in '82 using a precarved Lancaster stock, .50 cal Green Mountain barrel and ldft hand Siler flintlock.
      A few years later wanting to try my skills again I bought a . 45 cal heavy Getz swamped barrel, a left Hand Cochran flint kit, a fancy maple BLANK and went at it again, a 9.5 pound beast!
      Build a .36 flint southern mountain rifle for my brother.
      Never built another muzzle loader.

      CF in PA

    2. I have a WL Cochran rifle - would you be interested in selling the LH Flintlock rifle?

  2. Wildwood Castle YouTubeMay 1, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    Your story is very close to mine. The Hershel House article in Fox Fire 5 taught me the basic work in building a flint rifle. I bought parts from Track Of The Wolf. My one advantage was the flintlock my Dad had made for me when I was about 14. It was a handmade replica of a rifle reported to have belonged to Daniel Boone. Ralph L. Hooker, a Missouri lawman, owned and built copies of the Boone rifle in his period log cabin [find his book 'Born Out Of Season', well worth reading]. The rifle was a Southern brass mount 50. cal. with a 46'' swamp barrel. The copies used Bud Siler locks and Robert Paris barrels. This rifle was stolen from my home in Murfreesboro Tennessee in 1981. The loss inspired me to build my own. I built four poor boy types, one early Germanic carved rifle and one nice Southern long rifle, copied from an original. Haven't built one in twenty years. I think I will build again before long...

  3. I love this thread ! have ya ever heard an ole timer from the mountains call them Watauga rifles?????......

  4. This was a very helpful and delightful article. I'm sure I'll refer back to it plenty as I have officially caught the traditional rocklock bug. Thanks for writing it and posting it!