20 August 2010

The Billinghurst Underhammer rides again!

When talk turns to underhammer rifles, there are a few names that instantly come to mind. Names that have earned a position of respect over the decades due to the quality of their design, workmanship, and accuracy. Billinghurst is one such name. William Billinghurst built some of the finest and most accurate target rifles of his day. Many were full rifles while others were of his large "pistol" design that wore a detachable skeleton buttstock. All had fat octagonal target barrels and some were also fitted with a false muzzle. Many wore tube sights and he also liked the early Malcolm telescopes, too.

One of our readers recently discovered the revived Billinghurst underhammer action which is now provided by Muzzleloader Builders Supply, http://muzzleloaderbuilderssupply.com. This action is gaining a lot of converts lately, due in part, I believe, to its faithfulness to the original design. It is extremely close. For more information on the MBS Billinghurst action just scroll further down the page to our Underhammer Action Roundup. That is, after you've read Mike's story, below. Clicking on any of the pics will enlarge them for a closer view of this very fine rifle. To return to the text, just click the Back arrow at the upper left of your screen.

Hello, my name is Mike Bassett. I started working for a gunsmith/stockmaker about 5 years ago by the name of Dave Crossno, Crossno Gun Stocks. I did some construction work once for a set of checkering tools and its been down hill from there. 

Dave builds high-end black powder cartridge silhouette rifles. A customer called Dave and asked if he had a stock for the Billinghurst underhammer action that is supplied by Muzzleloader Builders Supply. Dave said “no” but that he has a stock man (me) that is into muzzleloaders and that we could probably make one if we had an action. So the customer sent it.

Now we have a pattern stock for the MBS underhammer action that is a long range stock, but, the comb can be lowered for barrel sights. We just had to have a couple for our selves (of course) so these are pics of the first one. 

This has a .40 cal Green Mountain barrel 32 inches by 1 1/8 inches across the flats. The rear sight is my version of a long bar peep sight inspired by Hilliard's bar sight and Gove's chunk gun sight.

We are also talking about doing a straight grip pattern in the future.


I was extremely pleased to see that Mike and Dave chose to include a half-cock notch in the hammer of their long range rifles. The originals did not have that safety notch as many felt it wasn't needed on a target rifle. Including the notch would make the Billinghurst action not only safer on the range, but it would be suitable for field use as well.

Now, I know many of you are already looking at that wonderful rear sight on the rifle and wondering where you can get one. So, I asked Mike about the sight. Here's the skinny...

Mike continues:

The sights came out of necessity. The club I shoot with has a state match every year and some of the matches are open sights only. Well I wanted to shoot this rifle in those and also in the bench matches, so I needed something I could change quickly. With this I can change the blade with one screw. That's one reason. This action is also very large, so a barrel sight didn't seem to be the answer. 

I'm going out on a limb but I think this action was built for the bench and a very large barrel diameter. The ladder type tang mounted sights would do well for long range but for short range (25 to 100 yards) the base already starts you out with too much elevation so you have to raise the front and move the rear back toward your face and in the way of your thumb. It also provides a lot more elevation than I need for a round ball barrel. 

So this is where I'm at - still a work in progress. I already have some changes in mind for the windage screw - going to use double knobs and a shorter elevation blade -  maybe. 

Yes, sales will be possible but, for now I'm still working out the bugs.  Dave does have a website. http://www.angelfire.com/ok5/crossnostocks. If you have any problems just google his name, You'll get a lot of links for him because he is well known in the bpcart silhouette circle. He not only does stocks but builds very nice single shot bp cartridge rifles and also has a full gunsmithing shop. 

All the things I have done to make this rifle were all done in his shop under his guidance and direction. I can't thank him enough for taking the time to teach me.

Mike was right in his assessment that the action was made for bench shooting and it is intended to be fitted with large (1 1/4" - 1 1/2 inch) bench shooting barrels. By so doing, Billinghurst also incorporated a deep nipple pocket that completely contained the shrapnel from the percussion cap thereby overcoming the nasty habit of spitting cap fragments which is so common to lower end underhammers. Cap spitting is the #1 complaint about underhammer rifles, which is unfortunate, because with some careful planning and proper design, that should not be a problem at all.

(As a BTW, it was Billinghurst's nipple pocket that served as my inspiration for the Zephyr and Faeton breech as well. Subsequently, Faeton rifles, like original Billinghursts, are well mannered and do not spit at the shooter or bystanders.)

 Thanks, Mike, for sharing the project with us. I hope that it will serve to inspire others to take up the challenge and build their own underhammer rifle.




John Taylor said...

I did two of those action a few years back. They are designed for a fat barrel. On one of the actions I did I cut the upper tang off and welded it about 1/4" lower so the action would not looks so big with a smaller barrel. You just about need a machine shop to complete one of these actions from Muzzle Loader Supply, they come as cast. The main spring needs to be heat treated also.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful example of excellent craftsmanship. I have a Shuetzen in a Billinghurst action, similiar to the one above. Mine uses a rear elevator, Creedmore style. It has worked out well for me.


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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!