The Hobby Gunsmith

The Front Stuffer-

Building the Traditions Trapper Kit

Part One

One common thread among many Hobby Gunsmiths is a background in shooting or building muzzle-loading firearms.  Like many, I learned a lot about working on guns by returning to the roots of shooting by starting with a muzzle loading kit. 

My first kit was a Thompson Center 50 caliber Hawken rifle I purchased on a whim when I saw a couple of kits on an end-cap of a store.  The kit went home with me and I carefully sanded, fitted, and assembled every component.  It was quite a thrill to fire that first shot with a gun I had built.

 As the first project in the Front Stuffer department of the Hobby Gunsmith, we will return to our roots by building a Traditions Trapper 50 caliber Plains Pistol kit.  This kit may be a little challenging for the first time kit builder, because there are a lot of areas where the wood stock does not have the proper inlet for mounting some parts without cutting away some wood.  Although it will be a challenge for the first time kit builder, it will allow the builder to quickly and easily develop skills at properly fitting the furniture to the wood. 

 Building a kit is not just putting the parts together and going shooting.  Some kits are very well fitted and complete while others are not.  This is my first experience with a Traditions kit product and I found the parts carefully set into hard foam and sealed with clear plastic.  This is a good sign as there is less of a chance of missing parts.

 We begin our project by laying out the various parts and checking to make sure all parts have been supplied and are in good condition.  After assuring that all parts are in the box, I begin by trial fitting the major parts to the wood and carefully examining the shape and form of the precut wood.  Study the parts carefully to gain a complete understanding of how the parts work and interact with each other.

 It should be understood that there are three basic parts to the muzzle-loading firearm.  These are the lock, the stock, and the barrel.  I add that the trigger is not actually part of the lock and should be considered a separate major component. 

The barrel on a muzzle-loader is closed at one end to contain the powder charge.  The charge is ignited by either the flame of an exploding percussion cap in a cap lock or by the ignition of gunpowder burning in a small pan next to the barrel in the case of a flintlock.  In either case, the mechanism used to ignite the gunpowder in the barrel is known as the lock.

 Flame of the ignition passes through a small opening in either the rear or side of the barrel where the gunpowder charge is located.  The flame sets off the main charge in the barrel and the explosion forces the ball down the barrel and toward the target.

 The barrel and lock are held in the proper relation to each other by the stock.  The stock is usually made from wood and provides a means to control aim and provides a way to control the gun during recoil that follows the firing of the gun.

 The Traditions kit comes complete with the stock cut away and properly shaped so only final fitting should be necessary.  A little research may be necessary to determine exactly where to remove more wood from the provided stock. 

Fitting the lock, barrel, trigger, trigger guard, and nosepiece fall into what I think of as the skills of a craftsman.  The craftsman’s skills allow us to make very tight joints that provide a clean and seamless fit between metal and wood.

 The other necessary skill is that of an artist.  The artistic component is to properly trim and shape the stock so that the lines are pleasing and true to the style of the original design of the gun.  Our kit requires that I make some decisions about how to shape the forend of the stock to provide a pleasing and proper transition from the area in front of the lock and out to the nosepiece.

 Resist the temptation to grab tools and to start cutting away wood.  Instead, let's take the pieces and begin examining the fit to see what must be done in order to build a pistol with pride.

   I start by laying the lock on the right side of the stock where it will eventually be set into the wood.  As we can see, the lock does not fit correctly and the lock parts are obstructed by wood that has not yet been cut away.  This will have to be very carefully corrected.


    The tang is placed into its recess and I find that it binds.  First appearance is that I need to open the tang channel, but a close examination of the fit reveals that wood will have to be cut away in the near side of the breach lock and not in the area of the tang.


   The barrel is then set into place and pushed back where the breech lock should be.  This one will not slide back far enough to engage the hooked breech lock if it were in place.  This means some wood will have to be cut away on each side of the breech hook in order to allow it to slide into position.

   The nosepiece is put into place and shows the stock is a bit too large and needs to be sanded down to match the contour of the brass nosepiece.  This raises some important questions and I must determine where the wood should be cut away while still providing a proper stock appearance.

   Positioning the front of the stock in a vertical position and laying a straightedge along side reveals a taper that runs from the lock area to the nose.  This can also be seen in the area alongside the barrel channel where the wood becomes thicker toward the nosepiece.  This shows that I need to sand wood away only in the last few inches of the stock and that I need to avoid sanding all the way back to the lock box are of the stock.


   Setting the set trigger assembly into the stock reveals serious problems in the wood that was cut away.  This will require careful examination to determine exactly how to fit the trigger.  If done wrong, the trigger may not engage the lock and fire the gun.

   The last significant problem is with the trigger guard.  This one does not fit and the contour of the cast brass does not match the shape of the grip.  This requires us to do some careful fitting of the guard and I may have to slightly bend the trigger guard. 

   Stop in next month and we'll fit the parts into the stock and report on the progress.  I will also show how to mark the inside of the recess so you will know where to cut and will explain some techniques for using wood cutting tools.