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Driftwood Johnson, SASS #38283

O.T. Gunsmith of Colonial Williamsburg Video

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Howdy

 

Many, many years ago, when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, I saw a movie about the gunsmith in Colonial Williamsburg. This was long, long before videos, one of the history professors got ahold of the film and showed it in his class. I remember being spellbound by the skill of the gunsmith as he created a beautiful flintlock rifle from nothing more than bars of iron (not steel, iron), chunks of brass, and a walnut plank. He made the entire rifle, lock, stock, and barrel, with nothing more than hand tools and a forge.

 

I have always wanted to see the movie again, but had no idea if it even existed anymore. Well folks, I just finished watching it. It is the exact same film I saw over 40 years ago. And it is even better than I remembered.

 

I found it at Amazon, the title is The Gunsmith of Williamsburg, and it only cost me $19.95. If you are at all interested in how Colonial gunsmiths made flintlock rifles in the days before mass production, I cannot recommend this video highly enough. It is breath taking to watch the gunsmith weld up the barrel and rifle it. His skill at hammering out the parts to the lock from red hot iron is nothing short of amazing.

 

Not exactly cowboy, but if you are at all interested in the history of firearms, I cannot recommend this video highly enough.

 

P.S. I thought the narrator sounded familiar, but I just could not place his voice. The credits showed it was David Brinkley. Remember him?

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Driftwood - Its really very simple: you just remove everything that's not a lock, stock or barrel; right!

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Church Key: this ain't carving or whittling, this is making.....nuff said

 

Big Jake

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Especially fascinating to me is the forging and hand rifling of the barrel. Back when I was heavy into ML I read that in todays money a barrel would cost you around two grand. It may be more than that now.

 

Its simply amazing that people like Herschel House, Steve Davis, and many others can take raw materials and transform them into works of art equal to anything produced during the Golden Age.

 

Watch the film, you won't be sorry.

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There is something really special having the skill and ability to do things like that. A neighbor down the road was building his house. I took part of the walnut tree that had to be cut down and made a his/hers jewlery box for them. It's fun to show and tell kids about taking a piece of tree and then go through the process of resaw, dry, plane, and then see what ya make out of it and then the finish work. Their eyes get so big ya can see their minds working all about it. I love having kids in my wood shop and having them make something. That reward is really something. And it's a lot of fun being with the kids. :lol:

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I was at Williamsburg a couple of years ago, and watched as a Smith in the gunshop worked on a barrel. It was indeed fasinating. I took some photos, and video... but I might just go get that video that you mention. It sounds like a good watch.

 

Snakebite

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Driftwood,

 

Thanks for posting that.

I have been looking for that vid myself.

 

While I was in gunsmith school (TSJC) one of the gunsmiths from Williamsburg visited the school.

I returned the favor after I graduated.

Williamsburg is much more interesting as an adult than as a kid.

As a gunsmith I appreciated much more the gunsmith shop.

As a amateur cabinetmaker/woodworker I found the cabinetmakers, coachmaker, wheelwright shops all much more interesting.

Even the silversmith's shop held surprises.

 

Hacker.

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I got it on VHS years ago.

Great tape.

At the time it was made, it was said that Wallace Gusler was the only smith who could make a rifle completely by hand.

Have the Hershel House video on making a muzzleloader too.

Simply amazing what those guys can do.

--Dawg

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Howdy Again

 

It does not go into great detail, but it is chock full of amazing stuff. He builds the entire rifle in the span of about an hour on the video. Obviously much more in real life. I learned a tremendous amount, just watching it once, after seeing it all those years ago.

 

He forges a long strip of iron, then heats it red hot and forms it around a mandrel, to form the barrel.

 

Then he opens the hole down the center with a succession of drill bits on a hand powered machine. Ends with a reamer.

 

Then he files it to an octagon shape. If you ever wondered why gun barrels were octagonal, it is because he did not have a lathe to turn it, so he filed it to the octagonal shape.

 

Rifles it by hand with a single tooth cutter. Keeps shimming the cutter out for deeper cuts. Drills the touch hole and then fastens it to a board to proof it. He puts a charge 4X the normal charge in it to proof it. Then he runs a trail of powder from the barrel to light as a fuse. Doesn't even light the powder trail with a match. He sparks it with an old lock.

 

He starts the stock from a plank of walnut. He inlets the barrel, then starts working on the lock. It is simply amazing watching him make all the parts of the lock from raw iron. For the frizzen, he welds a piece of steel to the iron body for wear resistance. All the rest of the parts of the gun are made from iron, not steel as far as I can tell. Except for the springs, he makes them from spring steel. He case hardens all the parts in a crucible filled with charred bones and leather, just like I have read about for years. It is truly amazing watching him work.

 

The best part are the odd little comments he drops every once in a while as he is working. You have to pay attention, but some of them are real gems.

 

If you are at all interested in how guns were made, this video is priceless.

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I started shooting muzzle loaders about 40 years ago, give or take, and I still do. Over the years I've seen "The Gunsmith of Williamsburg" several times and I never get tired of it. Gusman is more by far than a craftsman or even an artisan, he is a true artist in iron and wood. The big thing from the movie, or video or DVD now, that has stayed with me all these years, is when he picks up the barrel he has made from a flat piece of iron and looks through it to make sure its straight. He's dealing in thousandths of an inch, but he can tell by looking if it's straight. Amazing.

 

Now, I've seen quite a few TV shows about Aliens from the Stars, and how they must have helped build the pyramids and ancient temples af one sort or another because humans couldn't possibly have cut those big stones that precisely. Hah! If Gusman can look through a barrel and tell if its straight, anything is possible.

 

The O'Meara, Himself

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