23 April 2014

The Ultimate Underhammer? It just might be!

Quite a while back I challenged you readers to pursue your ideas of new and different underhammer designs and to actually build them. Since then there have been a few new entries offered by our readers which I’ve shared with you and I thank all of you who rose to the challenge.

 Clicking on any of the photos will enlarge them for better viewing in detail.
Clicking on the White X in the upper right corner of the graphic will return you to the text.

While at a recent gunshow I had the privilege of handling and reviewing another new underhammer hunting rifle, this one being offered by Joe Williams of The Gun Works of Springfield, Oregon, www.thegunworks.com. Some of you will recognize that name as a source of muzzleloading guns and supplies for builders as well as shooters. The Gun Works (henceforth referenced as TGW) has become somewhat of an institution of muzzleloading – at least west of the Mississippi – and provides all manner of goods as a visit to their website will confirm.

When I asked the folks at TGW if their new underhammer had been given a model name they thought for a while and declared it to be, The Ultimate Underhammer. That’s a pretty tall pair of boots to fill, so, we’ll take a look at the Ultimate's features and see what you think.

From the very first days of percussion underhammer rifle design, underhammers have usually sported one-piece stocks. That is, a buttstock and a naked barrel wearing no forearm. Later, some enlightened gunmakers added a forearm which, truly, is needed. Because of the lack of a full length stock, certain modern, uninformed, muzzleloading snobs declared that (despite an American history reaching back at least to 1826) underhammers just aren’t “traditional,” which, as we all know, is a big crock of Bean Soup.

Be that as it may, TGW has designed, and now offers, a “traditional” style underhammer rifle with a one-piece stock. In fact, the rifles I examined sported high-grade walnut with a grain-filled oil–type finish which exhibited expert application. 

The heart of TGW’s underhammer is a robust coil-spring action that is coupled with a hooked breech for easy takedown and cleaning of the barrel. One of the features that I admire and consider a must on any modern design underhammer is a half-cock or safety notch. To design an action in the manner of early underhammers without a safety notch is a fool’s dance which tempts Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) to remove you, or an innocent bystander, from the gene pool.

  A coil spring action by Pete Allan is the heart of The Ultimate Underhammer
and provides quick lock time with a very nice trigger pull.

According to Joe, this action was designed specifically for The Gun Works by veteran muzzleloading rifle designer and champion shooter, Pete Allan. You may recall that I reviewed the Allan underhammer action a few years back and gave it high marks all around. For the TGW rifle, Pete has removed the “outer shell” of the action and redesigned the base to work perfectly in the one-piece stock design. It’s pretty slick.

Unlike Pete’s original action, TGW’s action features an English scroll trigger guard (although some would call it a Hawken guard) which is a separate piece and screws into the receiver and is secured at the tail end of the grip rail by a wood screw.

 The hammer "well" provides the best protection to the shooter from percussion 
cap shrapnel as well as protecting the cap from the elements.

The action is inletted into the bottom of the stock and secured by two bolts from the top tang as seen in the photo below. All in all, it's a very secure system which provides familiar construction for the typical muzzleloader builder. And why would that be of interest? Because TGW also sells their actions. But, more on that later.

The action of The Ultimate Underhammer is secured by two tang bolts.

One of the outstanding features of better designed underhammer rifles is the protection they provide to the shooter’s forward arm and face - and bystanders - from cap shrapnel. Anyone who has fired an ordinary or poorly designed underhammer can attest to the nasty spitting of some of those rifles. In fact, there have been a number of muzzleloader shooters with whom I’ve spoken that were so put off by cap spitting that they assumed it a feature of all underhammers. I had a job to convince them otherwise and for them to reconsider and buy a high quality underhammer.

TGW’s Ultimate Underhammer is, perhaps, the very best design of all when it comes to protection from cap shrapnel. The nipple’s position in the barrel is actually up inside the stock within a hammer “well” just forward of the hammer as can clearly be seen in the photo above. So situated, the nipple is also provided the maximum protection from foul weather.

However, that protected location does offer a bit of a challenge in capping the nipple when you’re in a hurry. I would suggest using a leather cap strip for the job. The cap strip is nothing more than a strip of leather about three eighths to one-half–inch wide and about two inches long with a hole of sufficient size at the ends into which you poke a percussion cap. The cap should be a press fit into the hole. This gives you a bit of a “handle” on the cap which is real handy when you’re hunting and your fingers are cold and rather stiff.

 Sights of The Ultimate Underhammer are for hunting
and consist of a narrow steel blade at the muzzle and a
clean and simple notched rear sight as seen below.

I asked Joe what standard features he will be offering with his new rifle and he said he will build to the customer’s order of caliber, sights, barrel length, weight and configuration, length of pull, as well as stock wood and its design.  While the two rifles I examined were of half-stock configuration, a full-stock rifle is also available. 

 Beautiful wood is complimented by superb craftsmanship in 
the building of The Ultimate underhammer.

While one rifle’s stock lacked the cheekpiece and wore a curved buttplate, reflecting American influence, the other sported a checkered shotgun buttplate and a cheekpiece giving it more of an English flavor. Other than for the cheekpiece, the other side of each rifle is the mirror image of what you see. Which, of course, means they are ambidextrous. 

 A gently curved buttplate is available for those
 who may desire an American pattern rifle.

Because each rifle is custom built, one can choose either the American
curved buttplate or the English shotgun butt seen here wearing a cheekpiece.

All in all, I was impressed with The Ultimate Underhammer and believe that the starting price of $1,750.00 is more than fair for a custom-made rifle with such a unique exclusivity. Frankly, I don’t know how they can sell them for that price. Joe told me that he will have some completed rifles on the shelf ready to ship in the near future. So, it may be that your special rifle will soon be built and just waiting for you to make the call.

And for those who would like to build their own custom underhammer, TGW will also sell the action as shown here. The action kit also includes a hooked breech plug and tang not shown separately here, but visible in the photo above. The cost of the action is only $175.00 plus shipping.

That about wraps it up. But before we sign off, I would like to thank my friend, Jeff John, for the fine photos in this feature. All photo Copyrights are claimed by The Gun Works.

For more information, and to place your order for The Ultimate Underhammer hunting rifle or the action kit, call The Gun Works at 541-741-4118. I'm sure you'll be glad you did.



Anonymous said...

It looks to be a great design. I would love a 2 barrel set, 1 with a scope, the other open sights.

Both can be round ball barrels,the scope barrel a .54 caliber, open sight .45. My favorite calibers.

This gun is certianly on my wish list. I currently own 2 underhammers, a modern Hopkins and Allen and my antique is a Caswell from New York

Thedoris Jackson said...

I like your engraving designs are really good.
Gray Laser Engraving

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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!