25 November 2008

The Underhammer Rifle - a book for builders.

So many of us muzzleloaders are certainly DIYers and we tend to make a lot of our own shooting gear such as buckskins, knives, powder horns, hawks, tents, tepees, and many of us are casting our own bullets, too. We tend to really get involved with our sport to the point where it is more a lifestyle than a mere pastime. Sometimes this condition can carry over into the rest of our life, perhaps, to the chagrin of our family. Like the guy who showed up at work in his buckskins on casual Friday…

I guess it is a basic sense of self-sufficiency and independence that motivates us to want to do such things for ourselves exactly as we want them done. It's either that or the shrink may have been right about us having “control issues.” Either way, we are what we are, and for the most part we are doers – perhaps, better stated as "highly-motivated."

I like that. Certainly sounds better than having control issues.

For many, being self-sufficient also means that we would like to make our own guns - if possible. At least one, anyway. And I believe that is a good endeavor to pursue, as the novice gunmaker will be left with a sense of appreciation for the work of those who do this for a living. Perhaps they will even come to understand why good quality underhammer rifles command as much money as good quality sidelock guns.

While there are quite a number of good kits and individual parts available for those wishing to replicate some form of sidelock gun, slim pickings are available for those who wish to build themselves an underhammer rifle, pistol, or shotgun.

Although generally considered to be ridiculously simple, little is actually known of the mechanics of underhammers because few shooters have had the opportunity to take one apart and study the design, geometry, and function of even the simple and common types of underhammer mechanisms.

Thanks to the work of Jeff Baron, we now have a better sense of underhammer lock design. Jeff put together 30 pages of drawings and construction tips in his book, The Underhammer Rifle, techniques and illustrations for the construction of Underhammer Locks.

As a teaser, the sample page below depicts the quality and extent of detail in his drawings. You can click the pic for a closer view, then click the Back button to return to the text.

For a mere $8 this little book is jam-packed with detailed drawings for seven underhammer actions, including the designs of Cooper, Wood, Cook, Hilliard, Carleton and Chase. They span the range from super simple, such as the Wood, to rather involved, such as the Carleton.

The instructions and diagrams are such that most any good craftsman could build an underhammer action with basic shop tools and Jeff’s book. However, one should have an understanding of basic lockwork geometry in order to build an underhammer mechanism that provides the level of safety that its original designer had intended. Simply having a drawing and some basic dimensions does not guarantee that you will be creating a lock with safe and efficient sear angles, pivot points, and spring tensions.

Before charging off to the workshop with book in hand, it would be a good idea to study the design you wish to replicate. Analytically consider mechanical principles that govern the captivation of the hammer, the trigger/sear arc, sear depth, pivot pin tolerances, and other mechanical aspects, as you study the drawing. With a bit of careful observation, you may even see the improvements that each of the designs offer which you could then incorporate into your project.

If you are new to the gunmaking craft, once you’ve completed your action, it would be a good idea to have a qualified gunsmith or gunmaker inspect your work to be sure that you have a safe and sturdy mechanism before investing a lot of time and expense in building the rest of your rifle.

While this book is a great resource and inspiration for budding underhammer makers, I do have one major concern with it. All of the actions depicted do not incorporate a half-cock, or safety notch, as some call it. And while true, the author is depicting old designs, in my opinion that is no excuse for building what is considered by modern standards to be an unsafe firearm.

If one wishes to build for one’s own use that certainly is one's choice. But beware if and when you may tire of it and sell or trade such an item to another, as the liability you are assuming as its maker is horrendous indeed.

Luckily, there is a solution for providing an extra measure of safety and peace of mind while shooting those older-design underhammers. You can read all about it in the previous post below.

The Underhammer Rifle, techniques and illustrations for the construction of Underhammer Locks is listed by Dixie Gun Works as Item: BO1982 and may be purchased from their site at: www.dixiegunworks.com. You can also snoop around the Dixie site while you're there for some of the other parts you'll need to build and finish your new underhammer.

Go forth and build, enjoy, and please, be safe!

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up. I've bought the book

William said...

What a wonderful Web site! Glad to hear the underhammer fire still burns brightly, Roger. Will buy the book from Dixie. The underhammer is fascinating. It first captured my fancy when reading Ned Roberts' "The Muzzleloading Caplock Rifle," and seeing the Billinghursts and the Gorning action design. Oh to be a machinist ...

BartSr said...

I purchased the book. Wished that I had done that before starting underhammer projects. There is a very good instruction set for beginners, it has helped a bunch.

Paul aka BartSr.

Anonymous said...

Track of the wolf and Dixie gun works are out of stock on this book. Any ideas where I could get a copy? thanks, Zach Gay

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About Me

Roger Renner


Hi. I've been a student, admirer, and designer/builder of underhammer guns for over 30 years. In that span I've built over 200 semi-custom underhammers exploring the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a high-quality underhammer rifle. Thankfully, that interest was, and still is, there. I sold PRC in 2006 but continue to craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - which can be contagious!