21 August 2015

Bliss's Bliss!

The life lesson teachings of the Masters is to "Seek Your Bliss." That is, to do that which pleases you most. For some of us that involves making firearms of one sort or another. Our friend, Mike Bliss, is just such a man on the path to happiness. He had an idea for an underhammer design which, although, like so many unique designs, was confounding along the way, eventually brought him to Nirvana, so to speak. Now almost completed, he is sharing his vision with us.

It must be explained that the Bliss Rifle was not fitted with a loading rod as it is intended for target work only. So, the extra bulk of the ramrod is not necessary, nor desired, as he will be using a range rod for loading. 

Also, at this stage the rifle is not wearing iron sights because Mike intends to use a scope for his initial load development and then add irons when he discovers that magical load which his rifle prefers over all others. 

Here, then, is Mike's story. BTW, clicking on any of the photos will enlarge them for close viewing. Then just click on the White X in the upper right corner of the screen to return to the text.

Hello Roger.

I’m sending some photos and information about the rifle that I have been working on that is about 90% finished at this time. The remaining workbeing heat treating the steel parts, polishing the brass parts, browning the barrel, steel pieces, lock, trigger, hammer, skeleton butt plate and butt cap. I’ve been working on this project for years now, but other things just seem to get in the way! At 72, I figured I better get my finger out and finish before I go blind or get "sometimers." Heaven forbid!

I am a hobby machinist/woodworker and this project is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. First I had to get a barrel, which is a bit of a problem here in Canada. The other parts I could make myself.

We were visiting friends in New Hampshire and one weekend they took us to one of their favourite places, North Conway, which is the home of Green Mountain Barrels. So, I stopped in at the factory and purchase a .45 calibre, 1:66-inch X 36-inch long octagon barrel.

After returning home to Canada, I was browsing through my favourite wood supplier, A&M Woods in Kitchner where I came across a beautiful figured black walnut gunstock blank. My eyes popped when I saw it. It had my name written all over it and it whispered to me, “Please, please, take me home with you.”

Now I had the barrel and stock blank and next I needed a lock. My friend, Jack, who is a young design engineer who likes target shooting, came to my assistance and make a drawing for the hammer and trigger and explained the importance of the hammer/trigger geometry and sear engagement. His design also included a cross bolt safety.

Basic component of the Bliss Underhammer Rifle.
Here's what really makes it work. Black plunger is the hammer blocking safety.

I really wanted to do my own thing as I think it wrong to copy someone else’s work. One should be inspired by it, but not copy it directly. So, with much research on the internet, plus reading from books, and with the help from another friend, Russ, who is a blackpowder expert, I went to work.

Assembled Action. Hole above the trigger is for the push button safety.

I made many model prototypes and with critique from my friends I have made progress with the lock design. I had access to a Bridgeport mill and made a lock body and breech plug from 4140 steel. They turned out quite well and I will also heat treat those two steel pieces.

Basic Layout

The hammer and trigger is made of A-2 tool steel while the  main spring is made of O-1 and all these parts need to be heat treated. I had a problem with the main spring breaking and learned that O-1 needs to be tempered at about 800 degrees. I have certainly learned a great deal while building this rifle. It’s been frustrating at times, but mostly it’s been so much fun and enjoyment. I’m working on drawings done the old way and another friend offered to make drawings for me in the computer format known as Solid Works.

Fitting the skeleton buttplate and grip cap

I would like to make the drawings available to other underhammer builders who would like to make their own lock. It is a flexible design and allows for different size barrels and stock variations as long as the hammer/trigger, barrel centerline and safety geometry remains the same. 

Front view of receiver showing the hole for the breech plug of the barrel.

Rear of receiver showing the brass plug of the barrel retaining screw hole.

I wanted to include a few special features such as an easy take down system of the barrel and the forearm for ease of cleaning. I’ve also made all the hardware “captive” so that they can’t fall from the rifle and get lost. The nipple goes through a key and into the barrel. When the nipple is removed, the forearm can slide forward on dovetails located on the bottom of the barrel and in the barrel channel in the forearm.

When testing the mainspring, I discovered that there needs to be from 10 – 12 pounds of preload with the hammer resting on the nipple. I didn’t realize this at the first test and with the hammer just resting on the nipple without any tension, when I fired the rifle the hammer flew back and cap flew off the nipple and gave me quite a bite on the forearm. I realized that I needed a longer piece of spring on the next try. After some reshaping the hammer pressure on the nipple was about 12 pounds with the hammer at rest on the nipple. That solved the hammer blow back problem.  

Testing the mainspring tension.

I finished the stock with Birchwood Casey’s Tru-Oil which is very easy to apply which is why I love the stuff. Next, I made the sights using a hooded front with inserts and an aperture at the rear. I may mount a scope, but not yet sure about that.

I’m also in the throes of making a walnut presentation case with faux leather and brass fittings. At 54 inches in length it won’t fit into the trunk of my car and has to sit on the seat as a passenger. I guess 150 years ago they didn’t have such problems when everyone had a wagon!

I'll keep you posted on my progress once I arrive at the right load.

Another look!

Our Thanks! to Mike for sharing his idea, which, by the way, he is willing to share with others who may wish to follow in his tracks. Mike can provide working drawings of the components. Just drop me an email with your request and I'll pass it on.

All photos Copyright by Mike Bliss.



qt said...

Rather non-traditonal looking, but very nice. I could see taking a ramrodded version into the field.

I especially like the hammer-blocking safety, and, even more especially, the location of the hammer spur. Looks like you could cock it from the firing position if you wanted to--just by extending the trigger finger and hooking it. At the very least, pulling "back" instead of "down" could make for a more comfortable and graceful cocking motion. Something like that on a pistol could be doubly welcome.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Mr Bliss.
I like the original thinking that went into this rifle, especially the mainspring retention system as well as the takedown.
The rifle manages to look modern but retains, with the receiver shape and treatment, a bit of a 19th century flavour.

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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!