How were guns made in the 1800s?

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing Forum' started by texaswoodworker, Feb 21, 2013.

  1. texaswoodworker

    texaswoodworker New Member

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    I'm kind of interested in how things were made long before computer controlled machinery made production automatic for the most part. So here's a question for you all, how were guns made in the 1800s? How did gunsmiths like John Browning create guns from scratch way back then?
     
  2. sc00ts

    sc00ts New Member

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    My guess would be that they were either themselves, or employed exceptional machinists. I believe you summed it up in saying that the modern process is somewhat automatic as well as much faster. It's amazing what a talented machinist can do with a lathe, mill and a set of calipers. I've always wondered how they produced the first modern machining equipment without the availability of modern machining equipment. Chicken • Egg
     

  3. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    I think they used interchangeable parts and machined steel. They were still able to mass produce firearms but had to use stamped metal for faster production. Please correct me if I am wrong, not trying to be a historian here.
     
  4. texaswoodworker

    texaswoodworker New Member

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    They were definetly talented. What I'm really wanting to know is exactly how they did it (more interested in the gunsmits who made guns from scratch than I am the major companies). What tools did they use, how did they make each individual part, and how did they determine how stong a firearms was without blowing one up.
     
  5. Cattledog

    Cattledog New Member

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    I would imagine all the early handguns were cast, followed by countless hours of file work by hand. And polishing by hand. The trickiest part had to be getting the tempering right so the dam thing didn't blow up in your hand. Then you'd have nothing to file with.

    I also imagine a lot of low paid volunteers for test firing.
     
  6. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    I assume they did tests with previous weapon designs. Much craftsmanship was put in. Ammo was deadly back then but they soon figured out how to carefully distribute it/produce it. Of course they did not have modern primers and such. Rifling was invented in the 1860's which gave us an advantage. The modern bullet was also born. I ma assuming they forged a rifled twist from solid metal tubes before attaching them to a hand treated wood stock. The screws were hand made, a big way to tell if a firearm is genuine from the old days.
     
  7. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    Henry rifles also shaped the course of the civil war with their repeating rifles which fired .44 caliber rimfire. I also believe they were hand twisted and always made by hand.
     
  8. BillDeShivs

    BillDeShivs Member

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    Rifling has always been cut with broaches-a tool that is pushed down the barrel.
    Talented machinists built purpose-built machinery to manufacture guns. Talented gunsmiths built guns from scratch.
    I find it humorous that you young guys think people were "primitive" in the 1800s.
    BTW- casting was used for some gun frames, but none were stamped from sheet metal. Stamping is a post WW2 process.
     
  9. jpattersonnh

    jpattersonnh Active Member

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    The 1st example of a rifled barrel came from Germany, year was 1520.
    The Kentucky long rifle was produced in south western Pa by German gunsmiths during the French and Indian wars, they started in the 1680's. W/ a patched roundball good marksmen could hit a head sized target at 200 yards.
    This is from the Revolution:
    Col George Hanger, a British officer, became very interested in the American rifle after he witnessed his bugler's horse shot out from under him at a distance, which he measured several times himself, of "full 400 yards", and he learned all he could of the weapon. Hewrites:
    "I have many times asked the American backwoodsman what was the most their best marksmen could do; they have constantly told me that an expert marksman, provided he can draw good & true sight, can hit the head of a man at 200 yards."

    Quotations from M.L. Brown's, FIREARMS IN COLONIAL AMERICA
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  10. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FP-45_Liberator

    Most MP40's were also stamped.
     
  11. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    Funny how they waited that long to introduce it into the U.S. Maybe they started to realize that they could have the advantage if they had more accurate firearms in the arsenal.
     
  12. BillDeShivs

    BillDeShivs Member

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    Yes, and commercial firearms stamping was post WW2.
     
  13. molonlabexx

    molonlabexx New Member

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    Yes this is true. I always thought stamping was for mass production in war time. I am not sure which companies use stamping today. Very effective way to produce though.
     
  14. JonM

    JonM Moderator

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    the way guns were made was by a series of machine tool operations and operators. one machinist would make the cuts for hollowing out the reciever, another machinist cut a couple other operations and so on. the part would stay with a given mill or lathe or press operator unless a tool head change was needed then it was passed to a different station.

    there are also special jigs that make the use of drill presses and mills so easy to use its kinda unskilled and anyone can do it with little training. setting up the station is the skilled part not running the machine. there is nothing really new about cnc machines they just compress the roles of a master machinist jigs and opertors into one machine.

    i worked in a machine shop in high school that did it the old way churning out masses of parts by hand. i could make a part that needed 5 different cuts and turn out a thousand in a day.

    so several machinists could turn out all the pieces needed in large batches before retooling for a different gun design production run. and so it would go retooling when production quotas were met and new runs needed.

    machined parts would go to the gunsmiths for hand fitting.
     
  15. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

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    Re: rifled vs smoothbores during the American Revolution- the speed of reloading favored the smoothbore for the average rank and file soldier. Rifled arms were reserved for special troops.

    Re: Gun manufacture in the 1800s- y'all DO realize that this spans 100 yrs, and runs the gamut from making barrels by hand, by damascus steel, to the other end of the century, where bolt action, semi-auto and full auto cartridge arms were the norm? One end of the century is flintlock, the other end is a belt fed machine gun (1883).

    Without defining the time period MUCH more closely than "the 1800s", there is no single simple answer that can be given.
     
  16. tCan

    tCan Active Member

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  17. texaswoodworker

    texaswoodworker New Member

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    Never said they were primitive back then, they just did things differenly, and I'm interested in how they did it.

    Is that probably how John Browning created his first gun?

    More interested in the late 1870s-1900. In other words, I want to know how JMB took is designs and made them a reality.
     
  18. willshoum

    willshoum New Member

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    Heres one for you, how did the jungle people drill holes thru iron wood to make blow guns........
     
  19. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

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    1870s-1900, you would feel very much at home in a machine shop- with lathes and mills. Those are NOT new inventions by any means. The tools might be turned by water power or steam power rather than electricity, but a modern day machinist would be comfortable with them.
     
  20. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

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    As far as what JMBs early shop would look like....

    browning shop1.jpg

    browning shop2.jpg