Monday, August 2, 2010

Scottish Pistol -Part III - Welding the barrel.

Our Masterpiece Project from 2007 to the present (2010) is a long-term research project to rediscover the methods used to build an all iron and steel Scottish Pistol. The previous articles of the Scottish Pistol Project discussed the history of the Pitcarn Pistol, it’s role in our Revolutionary War, and the first challenges of making our pistol.
After completing the stock, the next challenge was to forge-weld a barrel for the pistol from wrought iron. The raw material was real wrought iron reclaimed from an old ox cart wheel's tire. Wrought iron forge-welds well at a high temperature, and is somewhat self-fluxing.  The iron is taken to a high welding heat in the coal forge, fluxed, and then forge welded into a tube using the anvil and a swedge block.  The logitudinal bending is started in a swage block or between the face and step of the anvil.  About one hammer width is rolled at a time, trued up, and forge welded.

The wrought iron is welded into a tube with a small pilot hole down the center.  After welding, a pass in the swage block helps to create a smooth, cylindrical barrel.

The next step is to turn the now round bar into a barrel. These pistols were smoothbore, so we don’t need to worry about rifling. The small pilot hole must be enlarged to make a finished bore. Our only “power tool” is a foot-treadle lathe. It isn’t able to generate the horsepower to drill out a .52 caliber bore. Instead we remove a small amount of metal at a time using reamers.

A succession of 6 or more reamers are used in the foot treadle lathe to turn the initial welded pilot hole into a round and true bore.  This takes up to 45 minutes per pass and up to two days for the whole process.  At the conclusion of the process the barrel has progressed from an irregular .30 caliber bore to reach our target bore diameter. 

If there is no visible weld seam, the barrel may pass.  A visible seam at this stage will condemn a barrel to display status.  Here is one that failed inspection.  Note the spiral line.  That is not rifling, but rather is a flaw in the wrought iron.  This barrel had internal flaws and slag inclusion in the iron.  The only thing to do is to start over with another piece of iron and forge another barrel.

Here is the interior view of a barrel that passes inspection.  Hurray!

Once a barrel has the desired interior bore, the work commences on the exterior!  These pistol barrels are highly ornate.  They are turned on the lathe to true the interior to the exterior.  Then the round rings or “wedding bands” are turned.  Much of the rest of the fluting, carving, and design is done with files and engraving chisels.  It can take several days to complete the exterior of the barrel.
The next step is to carefully make the breech plug and to file the barrel to precisely fit into the forged stock.  That has been done on the barrel above.  Our next article on this project will discuss making the lock mechanism that will fire the pistol.


  1. Will the pistol ever be fired?

  2. Frontier, we'll do a post about the tools made and used as Part V of this series. It is an 1820's foot treadle lathe. It can do wood and metal work. Since it is human powered we are limited to forging close to final dimension, filing off large inaccuracies, and then finish turning on the lathe.

  3. Matt,

    We will proof fire the pistol when it is completed this fall. I plan to shoot a video clip and will post it then.

  4. Are you going to market these? These are just lovely....Probably the best i've ever seen!

  5. I do Historical research on "Scot's in America as well as being a Moderator on a very lg. ML/BP forum & a Scot's forum. This has been posted & the comments = WOW. All including me, are glad to see " the "old crafts" being taught.
    BTW, looking forward to the "proofing"

  6. I am glad that people interested in historic weapons and Scot's in America are finding out about this project! This research project to make a Scottish Pistol in the style of the Pitcarn Pistol began in the Spring of 2007. The Pistol is mechanically complete, and we should have the engraving done in the summer of 2011! It has been a long road rediscoving the methods and trade secrets used. The guys working on the project often spent days making a tool to make a tool to make a part! Only 1740's technology is being used, and total accuracy of method is the goal. I appreciate all comments and will forward them to the Master Smiths working on the pistol!

  7. I am afraid we won't have any for sale. In the summer of 2011 the pistol will be under construction each Saturday. Visitors are welcome to watch the work and ask questions as Paul Spaulding, Robert Cerny, and Bob Manker work on the project. When finished there will be a completed pistol, a second pistol in parts, and the tools used to make the parts. That will go on display late 2011 or spring 2012. It is exciting to see it come to a conclusion!

  8. Tom Said: My wife collects Real Scottish pistols. Her examples of Caddell, Campbell, and Murdoch's can be seen on Flickr. They may help with the engraving designs. Search under Antique Scottish Pistols.

  9. Tom,

    The pictures shown on your Flickr site are amazing! It is wonderful to see such detailed pictures of the engraving, and in cunning places like the trigger and underside of the frame. Campbell, Murdoch, and Caddell did remarkable work. Thanks!

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin