The Hobby Gunsmith

The Front Stuffer -

We finish the Traditions Trapper Pistol Kit


It seems like a long time since we started working on the traditions trapper pistol. We left off last month after applying the Beachwood-Casey Tru-Oil finish to provide an attractive finish on the wood stock. In after applying approximately 10 to 20 coats of finish, we gently rubbed the surface with automotive polishing compound and then rubbed Birchwood-Casey gunstock wax into the finish. This left us with a very smooth and well-protected finish.

   This month we finish work on the traditions trapper 50-caliber percussion pistol. We did an initial assembly of the pistol and found the hammer did not aligned properly with the nipple. We fixed this problem by removing the lock assembly by completely disassembling it. We had to use a hammer and punch to force the shaft out of the hammer.

   After removing the hammer from a shaft we stoned square shaft to remove enough material to allow us to more easily work on the hammer in the future. We also removed all the internal lock parks and cleaned them of machining fluids prior to reassembling lock. We clamped the hammer into vise and used an adjustable wrench to slightly adjust the angle of the hammer face to the left. Through several trial fittings, we finally found an acceptable angle without having to heat the hammer to bend it. We then assembled the lock mechanism without making any changes or doing any tuning to the lock.

The barrel, rib, and tang before filing out the letting in the barrel and preparing it for browning.

   Our next task was to finish the metal of the barrel, rib, and tang. We decided to brown the barrel instead of bluing it as we felt this would give us a more realistic appearance. We browned the barrel using Laurel Mountain Forge browning solution and applying the solution with a cotton ball. Before we could start the process of browning the barrel, we had to smooth the steel surfaces and prepare them for the browning solution.

Finish sanding after draw-filing the barrel in a vise.

   We clamped our barrel into vise and used to fine file to draw file the steel. We found the flats of the barrel to be slightly rounded and the draw filing helped to flatten them. Draw filing also us to remove the manufacturers stampings or warnings in the barrel. Traditions places labels on the barrel using a vibrator etching tool. All letters were formed with dots and very unattractive. We also want to get rid of the, "use black powder only," label from the barrel. This required a considerable amount of draw filing, but the result would be worth the effort, as we would have a barrel with no ugly manufacturers markings on. We felt this would look more correct for the period.

The ice chest turned into a rusting chamber.

   After removing all the markings with the file, we used course grit sandpaper backed by a pink eraser to begin removing the grinding marks. This is a slow and arduous process but the results are well worth it. As we removed all of the filing marks with the sandpaper we progressed to finer and finer sandpaper. We finally finished off the metalworking with 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper, and sanded the last of the marks out using unscented mineral spirits. We did this on the barrel, the under barrel rib, and the tang. The metal parts were ready for browning.

The barrel and parts are ready for an application of the browning solution.

   We browned the barrel by using a product called Laurel Mountain Forge barrel browning and bluing solution. We used an old camping ice chest to provide the proper humidity for the browning. We placed old rags in the bottom of the ice chest and poured some water into the rags to give the proper dampness. We put a couple of scrap 2x4 wood pieces in the bottom of the ice chest to support the barrel and parts. We then used a light bulb in the bottom of the ice chest to heat the water and air inside the rusting chamber.

The tools needed for browning the barrel and parts of the Trapper.

   We used acetone to remove any grease or barrel preparation material, and to provide a clean surface for the browning solution. The Laurel Mountain Forge browning solution includes a detergent that will clean fingerprints from the metal, so it is not necessary to wear rubber gloves when using this rusting solution. We used a small cotton ball to apply the rusting solution to the metal. It requires very little of the browning solution to brown the barrel and one must be cautious not to apply to much, especially on the latter coats. We applied the material to the steel parts and put the parts in the rusting chamber and turned on the light bulb. We put the cover on the ice chest leaving it open a little bit to allow excess humidity to escape.

The rusted parts are ready to be carded with the steel wool.

   After waiting about three hours, we opened up the ice chest and found that our barrel covered with rust. We removed the barrel from the rusting chamber and carded at using 0000 steel wool. Carding is the process of using the steel wool to scrape off excess rust. We used the steel wool to remove the excess rust. The first time this is done in almost looks as if the rust is been removed, but it has not. We continued applying browning solution, placing the parts in the rusting chamber, and then carding off the excess rust until we had a deep rich brown finish in the metal.

The parts are nearing completion of the rusting process.

   Once the steel was coated with a dull coat of very fine rust, we applied a combination of burnt umber paint coloring and Johnsonís paste wax to the rusted steel. This should stop the rusting process while providing some degree of protection to the metal. We then applied a heavy coat of gun oil to penetrate into the metal and prevent it from further rusting. We then attached the front and rear sights by tapping them into dovetail slots in the barrel. This required a little bit of fitting to make them fit correctly.

   Fitting the dovetails into the slots in the barrel required that we use a triangular metal file with one flat ground safe. Using a high-speed grinder to remove all cutting surfaces from one side of the triangle file made that side safe. The safe side of the file is placed against the bottom of the dovetail while filing each side of the opening. This is done until the dovetail for sight can be pressed into place with a little help from a leather mallet.

   After finishing the barrel, we turned our attention to the brass parts. We used a buffing wheel with emery compound and began polishing all the brass furniture. This required a few minutes with a power buffer, but it resulted in a beautiful high luster finish on all brass. With all the metal pieces prepared properly, it is time to assemble the gun.

   We start by assembling the tang and the barrel. These parts fit into our epoxy bedding quite well. We attached the grip cap and the forearm cap to stock using the screws that were supplied in the kit. We attached the brass grommets into the wood to hold the barrel wedge. The final assembly was to insert the lock and use the screws provided with the kit. We then set the trigger assembly into place and locked into place using the tang screw. The trigger assembly required a little adjustment, as we had to grind away a little bit of epoxy to help seat it into the proper position. A few minutes with the hobby grinder finished the job. We also found the lock screws to be a little too long and ground those down using a bench grinder.

   After assembling the thimble to the rib that goes under the barrel, we attached the rib to the barrel. This completed the assembly of the trapper pistol except for one slight problem we encountered. The front screw of the lock plate passes through the ramrod retaining spring. When we installed the ramrod through the thimble and into the stock, it was caught and retained by the spring properly. Unfortunately, the spring was so strong that we were unable to remove the ramrod. We broke the wood portion of the ramrod while trying to pull it out. Rather than buy a new ramrod, we decided to make one from brass using our lathe.

Using the center finder with the brass stock to scribe the lines that show the center of a round bar of stock.

   We used brass stock that we had purchased from Midway and cut off just enough so it would be the exact length of the original ramrod. We drilled holes in each end of the brass stock before chucking it in the lathe. Centering the holes on the end of a bar can be complex and we did it by applying some dye to the ends of the stock and using a center finder to mark several lines. The intersection of the lines represents the center of the stock. We used a center punch to dent the stock and then clamped it in the drill press vise. It is customary that ramrods also be used for cleaning so we selected the correct drill bit so we could cap the ramrod holes with a 10-32 thread pattern.

   We chucked the brass stock into the late and used a dead center at the other end of the stock to provide support and to prevent it from whipping around. We used the lathe tool to turn the brass stock down to the same diameter as our original ramrod. We left sum additional material at one end to allow us to form a flair that will push against the lead ball. We used the original brass ends of the ramrod as a guide for turning the new brass stock to the same shape. We turned the new ramrod at high speed in the lathe and used sandpaper to polish out in the machine tool marks. We used a buffing wheel with Emory compound to polish the brass and then used a 10-32 tap to thread each end of the ramrod to hold cleaning tools such as a brush or jag. To provide a concave end to the ramrod, we used a half-inch ball end-mill in the lathe, which nicely rounded the inside of the end of the ramrod.

The finished Traditions Trapper along with the accouterments needed for shooting it.

   This completed the work on the trapper and I must say that it's a very attractive pistol. We plan to shoot the traditions trapper during the next few days, and may be able to update the web site before it is published. We had a lot of fun working on this Traditions Trapper kit and the results were very satisfying. We now look forward to starting our next kit, which may be a small 45-caliber pocket pistol, or maybe we'll choose to do a pepperbox pistol instead. Check back next month to see which we decide to make.