[Edited February 25, 2012 to reflect more accurate information regarding date range of manufacture.]
[Edited April 12, 2012 to correct Trezevant names with input from Robert Trezevant.]
In 2004, my father handed me his muzzleloader with the words, "Here, boy. You might as well inherit this while I'm still alive. See if you
can make it look something like it did when your great-great-great grandfather used it."
Well, "overwhelmed" is an understatement! I was 55 years old at the time. Surprisingly, I had just started shooting, having abandoned
it when I left home and Dad's firearm's instruction. (In reality, I actually quit shooting at approximately age 12 as we moved back to
the city at that time. So, 43 year's later, Dad asked me to restore a HUGE, 40.25" double barrel, ten gauge--gage is also correct and
I will use it in the remainder of this web presentation--sans locks, hammers, ramrod, and miscellaneous other small components.
Oh, another thing: All the metal was rusted beyond belief and it did not help that I had no clue how to perform the slightest bit of
restoration work. Days, perhaps weeks later, I decided to put it in the hands of a professional. That proved a very eye-opening decision
and a huge mistake which, fortunately, I avoided.
This story is all about a firearm, probably built sometime between 1840 and 1850. The main body of the story will be told pictorially, as it is mainly all about my
attempt to restore it to what it may have looked like when it was triple-great's working firearm.
This story is also about how to restore a firearm like this one or any other, without having the slightest clue how to start. The hundreds of
pictures and explanations will show you how I struggled to learn each and every facet of the work. In the beginning, I was a dummy. This web presentation could well be titled "Antique Firearm's Restoration For Dummies." If you are a dummy, then this presentation will
lead you along approximately the same path as I followed. On the other hand, if you are experienced, you will find yourself thinking
'Why in the world did he do it that way?' Or, 'Why in the world did he even DO that?' An experienced restoration person will see
mistakes in technique, execution, and the end-product. (Please e-me and tell me what they are!)
But, in this case the end truly justifies the means as the beat up, rusted, old gun that should have been thrown out before any of us were
born was restored to the beauty it might have once had and certainly deserves for the service it provided to a poor family long, long ago.
In reality, the big smoothbore was truly trash a century ago. Before that, however, it was the working gun that fed and protected my
family in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana.
The first family history of this gun is oral, as are most such. These words came to my Dad via his great-grandfather, John Farquhar Trezevant (1843-1932), who received the gun
from his father, James Peter Trezevant (1815-1860) prior to the Civil War. The words spoken were, "Here, watch the property, Boy." ("Boy" was
not a perjorative term; it was then simply a name an older man might use for a younger man irregardless of race or relationship.)
I carefully wrapped the long gun in a blanket and placed it in the trunk of my wife's car for the drive back from the Ozarks to Kansas City.
When I got home I unwrapped it and took a good long look at the beast. 'What have I got myself into?' I remember thinking.
It was time to do a lot of research.
A Most-Important Note!
For your safety and my liability, I make this disclaimer: If you do not read the following note concerning my total ignorance of an
operational firearm known as a muzzleloader, leave this site now. I assume absolutely no responsibility for your dismissal of this warning.
I am not going to show you how to build a working muzzleloader. I know nothing about them. I would be afraid to fire anything I restored.
If your goal is to restore your firearm to operational condition, read no further! You are on the wrong web site! I have never held one
in my hands. I do not know how to load one. I have absolutely no advice regarding working black powder firearms.
I restored my antique firearm to display-only condition. I attempted to leave out no detail, but it is simply not meant to be fired. It is
meant to represent the very valuable tools our ancestors used to first settle this country and then to make a living on land that no human
may have ever trod. No one living on the frontier or in less-than civilized society could possibly exist without such a tool.
But, mine has done its duty and deserves to be displayed as a beautiful and vital part of the history of western civilization.
My first thought was to turn to the Internet. Since I was very experienced with Internet forums, I decided to find one dedicated to the
restoration of antique firearms. I spent days looking for such a forum. To this day, I have yet to find one. Oh, I found many forums that
spoke of work done on replicas of antique firearms. But, I found none that were devoted to the restoration of antique firearms. It
took a while, but I eventually figured out why this might be so.
In the first place, how many people have a truly antique firearm? Not many, is my guess. There is probably little need for a forum for
that reason, alone.
I did find sites on the Internet, some of which were discussion forums, with members that performed antique firearm's
restoration services. Of course, this is what I wanted in the first place. I contacted a few of them and talked to one gentleman, whose work
is famous with pictures available on his web site. I sent him pictures. He e-mailed me back and suggested that the gun was too far gone and
that I either forget the project, or at the most, stop the rust, and store it. I eventually talked him into tackling the restoration effort.
He was so apologetic about the price that I knew he was sincere. However, I had promised Dad. Therefore, money was not an object.
While communicating with this restoration expert over a period of weeks, I continued my research on the Internet attempting to find out
all I could about the gun, itself. I certainly struck paydirt in this area of research! There is a wealth of information available on
I determined that my firearm was what is known as a "hardware store" gun. Basically, "back in the day" a person would visit a local
store that offered gunsmithing. A discussion would follow that involved the type of gun desired, its intended use, and probably other matters.
Eventually, measurements of the buyer (or intended shooter) would be taken so that a proper gun could be constructed (in the case of long
guns. The shooter's measurements, including height, arm length, and weight all factored into the configuration of the gun from, hopefully,
off the shelf parts. The less that had to be manufactured, the less expensive the gun would be for the purchaser. Our family certainly
required inexpensive guns as well as everything else! I am sure we were not alone in that respect, living in the middle of Cajun country.
Doing even more research, I found out that many, many flintlocks were converted to the new 1850's percussion technology when it
became available. This raised a question: How could I tell if my gun had originally been a percussion firearm? I found pieces of the answer
here and there and none of it was found on the Internet. I had to read BOOKS! (I will list resources I found valuable in the "Resources"
section of this site.)
I began buying books and reading. Since I spent my career in higher education both in the classroom and as dean, I was very comfortable
with spending time with books. Probably too comfortable. I believe I used them as excuses to keep from initiating work on the firearm!
I learned quite a bit about antique firearms, the vast majority of which was not used in this project. (Later, I will demonstrate that not
everything you read is good information.)
In one book, I found out that flintlocks usually had two barrel wedge keys while long guns originally built as percussion firearms had a
single barrel wedge key (a barrel wedge key is a simple device that holds the barrel to the stock). My muzzleloader had two barrel wedge
keys. That was one hint, but it wasn't enough.
Flintlock barrels tended to be longer than percussion barrels. My barrels measured 40.25".. That certainly qualified them as long! Now, I
had two clues. I figured if I could get one more clue that indicated it started life as a flintlock, that is what I would so declare it.
It took a while. The "furniture" (stock) was carved from English walnut. Hmmm. I didn't qualify that as a solid hint, but more like a
pointer. Somewhere I read that flintlock trigger guards were longer. Mine, as you will see, was long. There's a fairly good hint! Finally,
with the only real help I ever received from an online source, Mr. David Cushman, I discovered that the marks on my barrels were "proof"
marks and that the barrels had not only been made in England, but had been proofed by the British-based Birmingham Proof Company.
(For hundreds of years, firearm's barrels constructed by reputable manufacturers, have been tested by government agencies around the
world.) This testing is called proofing. There are actually two marks--at least the British used two marks--used in the testing process.
The first is called the "View" mark and merely means the government agency has received the barrel for testing. If the barrel passes,
then it receives a second mark called the "Proof" mark.
Well, I had these hints and pointers and clues and a few others that convinced me that the muzzleloader originated in Great Britan during
the final decade of the 1700s. I have no clue how it got to America other than a guess that Mr. Tresvant brought it with him when he
emigrated to the New World. Or, perhaps one of his ancestors brought it across the Atlantic. (You might be wondering about the
discrepancy in last names. This firearm came to me from the maternal side of my family. Or, more accurately, it came to my father
from the maternal side of the family. (In 1699, the paternal side of my familyEtienne de Cheneau, left France and hit the beach in 1699.
But, that's another story.)
The Great Restoration Debate
There rages a huge debate concerning antique firearm's restoration. The extremes of both sides are obviously wrong and misunderstand
history and its preservation. Somewhere in the middle is a happy ground that allows for preservation of the tool that is responsible for
the creation of Western Civilization itself.
I found a third path.
One side of the great debate says to restore everything to as near mint condition as possible and sell it for top-dollar. History is for
scholars. There are plenty of written descriptions of these firearms, let the scholars read them while you make a decent profit from your
To me and many others, this philosophy amounts to great deception. History is not all written. For example, you will see a cut in one of the
barrels of this gun about three-fourths of the way from the breech to the muzzle. How did it get there? More important to history is the fact
that one of my ancestors repaired this cut with solder and continued to use the firearm! Given the times and the location, this says
worlds about the type of existence earlier Americans were forced to lead. Just imagine fixing a shotgun barrel by soldering it today! And
then continuing to rely on it until it blew out again. I don't know how many times it was repaired, if more than once. I left the cut, which
is completely through the barrel for the sake of history and imagination.
The other side of the great debate says that no antique firearm should be restored. All that should ever be done is to stop the decay; stop
the wood rot, stop the rust. When the piece is displayed, let people make what they will of it.
This philosophy of restoration is equally muddle-headed as it would allow only experts to understand the firearm upon which they gazed.
History is for people. All people. All of us need to know about ourselves and others.
Thankfully, I avoided both sides! (It must be said that both sides have moderates that obviously make it possible for the lay person to view
antique firearms in some form which represents their original condition.)
How did I avoid the debate on which very knowledgeable folks hold forth? Easy.
This gun is mine! It has been in my immediate family for two centuries. There is no question of its being sold just as there exists
a great desire by many people to see it in something approaching its original condition. It is mine in the truest sense of the word.
I imagine there are other folks in the same position. At least, I sincerely hope so. I also hope my "third way" makes sense to them
and perhaps induces them to have their antique firearm restored.
The Entire Process In A Nutshell
First, do no harm.
The first thing to do in any restoration work is to stop deteriorization. With wood and metal the deteriorization is rot and rust,
respectively. I decided to work on metal parts first, since the wooden "furniture" (the stock) looked like it was in good shape.
If unremoved, rust will destroy the original metal. Since small parts are easier to work on that large parts--and admittedly less
intimidating--I decided to work on the small metal parts of the gun first. However, even before working on those parts, the firearm
had to be taken apart.
Disassembling a muzzleloader is simple. The barrel (or barrels) are held on via a wedge key system. A metal "key" fits through the stock
into a guide soldered to the barrel and then out through the other side of the stock. If the stock is in good shape and the guide, or
barrel loop or wedge key barrel ferrule (there may be more names; these are the ones I discovered) is properly placed, a slight amount
of tension will be placed on the key upon insertion. This tension forces the barrel and stock together. Removal of the wedge key allows
the barrel to be removed from the gun. On some long guns, there are two wedge keys that must be removed. When they are removed, the
only thing keeping the barrel and stock together are the breech plug tangs that hook into the standing breech which is screwed to the stock.
The barrel may be simply lifted out of the stock as the breech plug tangs and the standing breech only form a pivot point or simple hinge
and do not fasten the stock and barrel together.
The trigger guard is easy to remove. Usually only two screws hold it in. Flip the gun upside down and remove them. It should be noted
that every attempt shold be made to save each and every piece in a restoration project. Sometimes this may be impossible. Often (almost
always) pieces are missing and must either made or purchased. (I tend to make parts, but I see nothing wrong in purchasing them as long
as they are identical to the original or at least so close to the original that they may have been used to build the firearm in the
first place had they been available.
Once the trigger guard is removed, you will see the trigger plate. This plate may be held in place with either two screws, the primary
one being the tang screw, or the tang screw (located on the muzzle end of the trigger guard) and a hook mechanism at the rear. Removal
of the tang screw should be done carefully. The head of the tang screw is located on top of the gun in a countersunk screw hole in
the standing breech. Use care in unscrewing it. As with all screws on an antique, there is probably rust on the head which will weaken
the metal surrounding the screw slot. Take care not to allow the screw slot to become damaged by using the wrong size screwdriver.
The screwdriver blade should fit precisely in the slot. In fact, using a gunsmith screwdriver with its various size bits is highly
recommended and not an expensive investment.
It is possible that decades of recoil have caused the long tang screw to bend within the stock. If this is the case, then it is
possible that it will not turn as the bend hits the stock internally. If that happens, you either have to cut the head off or drill
out the end of the screw from the trigger plate side. I chose the former, thus ruining the tang screw. If I had chosen the later
it is possible I might have figured a way to repair the screw by lengthening and rethreading it.
With the tang screw out, remove the remaining screw in the trigger plate. Pull the trigger plate out of its mortice, remove the
remaining screw at the butt end of the standing breech, and remove the standing breech. Now, your firearm should be either ready
to have its trigger removed or close to it. If your firearm is really old (and maybe cheap), the trigger(s) will be held in place
by a simple straight metal pin about half an inch to three-fourths of an inch long. When that pin is removed, the trigger(s) will
The only metal pieces left are the lock plate(s) and the butt plate and butt plate comb.
The locks will be held in place by two screws. One on the muzzle end and one on the butt end. Remove them carefully. (Remove
everything carefully. The first disassembly should be done slowly. You have no idea what rust or wood rot might exist beneath
the metal or within the stock. If the firearm is disassembled carefully, there is an excellent chance you can save vital struct-
ures in the wood and important metal components.)
Although I cannot know what type of lock your firearm possesses and therefore cannot tell you how to rebuild it, I can tell you
that they are not highly complex devices, especially "back action" locks. You will see many, many pictures of my construction of
back action locks should you examine this entire web site or just the lock portion. The pictures plus the text provide more than
enough illustration for you to build your own back action locks. Hopefully, you will have to do nothing to your lock(s) other than
clean it up. If possible, do not even disassemble it. If you must disassemble it, find out what type it is and buy a modern
replica to use as a model.
You might ask why not just replace the lock(s) with modern replicas in the first place? The answer is simple. If your gun is truly
old, as is mine, you cannot buy replacements. In fact, if your gun is truly old, you probably cannot buy ANY replacement parts
other than simple things like the ramrod which you have to cut to length anyway. I found this very strange, at first. But, after
pondering it for a few weeks, I came to realize that a replica is just a replica. It is made from far better materials using
vastly better techniques and tools. In such an environment, it is possible to build smaller parts that actually function better.
However, if your firearm was popular, in other words, made by a company whose name is part of history, you can doubtless buy
exact replacement parts no matter how old the firearm. This is not the case with a hardware store firearm, such as mine.
After disassembly, inspect everything carefully. If you discover soft or rotted wood, contemplate how to repair it. For example
an interior piece of my stock in the trigger area was soft. I thought, 'Should I cut it out, build a piece to take its place and
glue it back?' Instead, I decided to flow epoxy over the soft area. This made it more than strong enough for my purposes.
If your stock is actually broken, it is possible to repair, especially if the wood is strong. During my research, I read several
books regarding the construction and repair of muzzleloaders. One book, one of the best, in fact, included detailed instructions
regarding stock repair. They are as wrong as possible!
The instructions in the book detailed a method of stock repair using one or more metal screws countersunk and cleverly hidden by
the metal parts of the gun. I found an old back action, double barrel 12-gage muzzleloader with a broken stock and bought it for
the sole purpose of practicing this repair procedure, although my stock was in good condition.
The author of the book had quite brilliantly described the angles one must use to set the screw(s). I had every confidence that his
method was sound and I followed it exactly. The problem I discovered was not in his angles, which were designed both to allow the
repair to be covered up later or his placement of the screw(s). The problem is that whenever you place a metal screw in wood that
is subject to the repeated pounding given it by the recoil of a 12-gage shotgun, the metal screw will, without any doubt, dig into
the wood into which it is placed. When the recoil disappates, the wood relaxes (decompresses), but the damage is done: A small gap
will exist between threads of the screw and the wood in which it is set. As the firearm experiences more and more recoil over time,
the gap will grow larger and larger and the stock will eventually fail along the fault line of the break. This would not be a
happy event for the shooter!
There is a solution. Use wooden dowel pins and glue them in place. When recoil occurs, the wooden dowell pin(s) will compress and
relax more or less equally, leaving no gap that will grow dangerously. The only way metal screws would work are in a gun that is
never fired and handled very seldom. In fact, the mere repeated assembly and disassembly of the old gun whose stock I repaired with
metal screws caused it to visibly begin separating along the original break. At that point, I re-repaired it using the method
sketched above and it is alive and well today.
I suppose there are two lessons one might learn: Don't use metal screws to repair a stock and don't believe everything you read
whether it was written by a professional or someone like me, a dummy!
Removing rust from all the small metal components should be done with sandpaper and steel wool. Start with the light weight versions
of both; 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper and WD40 as a lubricant and 00 steel wool. Eventually, these abrasives will let you know what is
under the rust without damaging whatever may lie beneath, awaiting your discovery. (It certainly happened to me, very much to my
surprise and delight!)
Contrary to what one learns in shop class and in books, alternating between very fine and medium abrasives allows you to
discover features by first using the fine abrasive and then to judiciously work almost completely past the rust using the medium
abrasive. If you absolutely know there is a thick, heavy layer of rust, 100 grit sandpaper is highly useful. Just be careful! Once
original features are destroyed, they are gone forever. Recreating them is not nearly as good as restoring them. I used 100 grit
sandpaper on the badly rusted barrels of my big ten. However, I started with 00 steel wool and continued with it until I was
confident enough to go down to 300 grit sandpaper and finally down to 100 grit. Of course, after I finished with the 100 grit sand-
paper, I worked my back up to 00 steel wool.
You may discover that internal wooden structures or metal parts need to be altered. I believe this is hardly ever true, except in the case of
wood or obvious damage. Just because you THINK it does not look right and cannot possibly work like that means nothing. Remember,
the guy that built the firearm knew what he was doing and you are a DUMMY like me. I altered the seer on my triggers because I just
knew they could not possibly work. I attributed this to wood fatigue. I thought that internal portion of the stock had fallen a bit.
Of course, that did not happen. Good, solid wood is good solid wood and just because I did not understand the trigger/sear mechanism
did not change that fact. So, I altered the sear by removing metal. Fortunately, it WAS metal and when I finally built the locks and
saw how they worked in conjunction with the sear, I put metal back on sufficiently for the triggers to resume their original shape and
Upon disassembly and study and study and study, you will discover just how clever the craftsmen were a century or two ago. Do not
attempt to improve on their techniques! Try to preserve what they did and emulate it when necessary. You WILL make mistakes. The
worst mistakes are those that remove material. Material, especially wood, is difficult to replace. Metal material is easier to replace only
if it is not visible. If it is visible, then it must conform to the original. If you have the same skills I had when I first began to restore
this piece, then making it conform to the original will be difficult, indeed.
Fortitously ("That means lucky"), you will learn a tremendous amount during the process of restoration. You must not allow your ego to
interfere with the questions you pose. If you do not know how to turn a screw, then ask someone that does. By the way, all screw slots
should be oriented such that they are parallel to the long axis of the barrel. This is a sancrosanct matter. You will be greatly respected
by those that know if your screws are so oriented. If you see one of mine that is NOT parallel to the long axis of the barrel, PLEASE
Really, that's all there is to it! Of course, it might take a year to finish the actual work. I hope this web presentation saves you the
additional year I spent in research . . . some of which actually helped.