Tell me more! What kind of wood was used on Civil War muskets?

major bill

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Were most muskets made from the same type of wood? Being from Michigan I know that huge amounts of lumber from Michigan was being sold to the Federal government, but I am not sure of the mix of hard woods and pine. My next question is, did wood have to season before it could be used in muskets?
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Paul Davies in his finely researched book on the confederate muskets made at Richmond describes the difficulties the South had in getting walnut lumber to make musket stocks. Toward the end of the War, supplies ran out. Evidently, sawmills would not fulfill orders for fear of having local Union men burn the mills down!
 

johan_steele

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Most US & CS were American walnut. European were a mix of European walnut, beech and other similar. Many European arms were not properly seasoned, especially some of the English made. This could lead to issues such as brutal slivering which is one reason you will sometimes find an Enfield with a very wide ramrod channel; a soldier would take a pocket knife and shave away the splintering wood. I’ve seen several like that over the years. Not seen it from a Liege arm yet which has always struck me as odd as of the supposed lower quality arms from Liege as opposed to England.
 

KHyatt

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I have a question to add to this thread: What qualities of walnut made it desirable then for firearms (and today, as well)?
 

Poorville

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Most US & CS were American walnut. European were a mix of European walnut, beech and other similar. Many European arms were not properly seasoned, especially some of the English made. This could lead to issues such as brutal slivering which is one reason you will sometimes find an Enfield with a very wide ramrod channel; a soldier would take a pocket knife and shave away the splintering wood. I’ve seen several like that over the years. Not seen it from a Liege arm yet which has always struck me as odd as of the supposed lower quality arms from Liege as opposed to England.

You mention that the European arms produced during the ACW were not always properly seasoned, was this just a matter of them trying to keep up with demand?
 

Pat Young

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Paul Davies in his finely researched book on the confederate muskets made at Richmond describes the difficulties the South had in getting walnut lumber to make musket stocks. Toward the end of the War, supplies ran out. Evidently, sawmills would not fulfill orders for fear of having local Union men burn the mills down!
I would think that supplying components of arms to the Confederacy would make a mill subject to confiscation.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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I would think that supplying components of arms to the Confederacy would make a mill subject to confiscation.

These were southern mills in confederate states, but evidently black walnut grows best and most abundantly in upland areas, just where there was stronger Union sentiment and more guerilla war type activities.

Walnut for gunstocks cut and stored to season in a Southern mill would have only one possible buyer - a confederate arms factory. I bet few traditional civilian long rifles were being made at that time. So all the time that walnut was there at the mill, seasoning, everyone in the area would know about that, and it would be as if the mill owner had put a big sign on his mill "Essential Confederate Supplies Here."

If I owned a flammable wood mill, I would want to concentrate on milling wood that all my neighbors could use for farm and home, so all would want to keep me in business so they could get wood from me, whichever side their sympathies.
 

Pat Young

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These were southern mills in confederate states, but evidently black walnut grows best and most abundantly in upland areas, just where there was stronger Union sentiment and more guerilla war type activities.

Walnut for gunstocks cut and stored to season in a Southern mill would have only one possible buyer - a confederate arms factory. I bet few traditional civilian long rifles were being made at that time. So all the time that walnut was there at the mill, seasoning, everyone in the area would know about that, and it would be as if the mill owner had put a big sign on his mill "Essential Confederate Supplies Here."

If I owned a flammable wood mill, I would want to concentrate on milling wood that all my neighbors could use for farm and home, so all would want to keep me in business so they could get wood from me, whichever side their sympathies.
My point is, with advancing a Federal armies a mill owner would know that if he was involved in manufacturing for the confederacy his mill would be subject to seizure.
 

Don Dixon

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You mention that the European arms produced during the ACW were not always properly seasoned, was this just a matter of them trying to keep up with demand?

In the early 1840s, the Austrian Army [k.k. Army] began transforming its hundreds of thousands of flintlock muskets to tubelock, which required new stocks. Given the number of flintlock arms to be transformed, there was not enough air dried red beech wood in all of Europe to manufacture the number of new stocks required. Consequently, Baron von Augustin decided to use the newly invented [1830] French method of drying fresh wood by exposing it to superheated steam [kiln drying]. Consequently, kiln dried wood was used in Muster 1842 muskets; Muster 1844 Extra Corps carbines; Muster 1844 and 1849 Kammerbüchse; and Muster 1854, Type I and II, rifle muskets.

Unless it is carefully kiln dried, red beech is particularly susceptible to checking or cracking during and after drying. Many checks in lumber are difficult to locate because they may close up in the later stages of drying, and some checks extend longer and deeper into the wood than can be seen with the naked eye. Since drying at high temperatures promotes checking, drying hardwoods like red beech requires a gentle process with lower temperature and higher relative humidity. Since the French process was newly invented, these technical requirements may not have been immediately understood by the k.k. Army and the contractors who provided the Army’s stock wood. By contrast, Springfield Armory had refused to use kiln dried wood prior to the Civil War. Its Pennsylvania and Maryland walnut stock blanks were air dried for at least three years. This consequently raises the question of where the contractors who made Springfield rifle muskets during the Civil War obtained their stock blanks and the resulting quality of those stock blanks. There are examples that the problem may have existed throughout the war:
  • F. L. Bodine wrote to BG Ripley on 15 January 1862. He had received a contract for 25,000 Springfield rifle muskets on 12 December 1861, but was unable to obtain air dried walnut. Consequently, he proposed to substitute kiln dried wood, provided he could obtain wood comparable to that used at the Springfield Armory.
  • A. W. Burt wrote to BG Ramsey on 19 January 1864, complaining that the insolvency of Trenton Arms had left him with no source of stocks for his Springfield rifle musket production, although he had all the metallic parts he required. He requested the loan of 5,000 stock blanks from Springfield Armory to resolve the problem.
The Confederates also used kiln drying in their arms manufacture. On 15 February 1864 COL Burton wrote to one of his master armorers that he was anticipating the arrival of a supply of unseasoned gun stocks at the Macon Arsenal, and “it will be necessary to provide some means of desiccating them. I think this can best be accomplished by a steaming process, similar to that formerly practiced at the H. Henry Armory. At least this will be the most expeditious, if not the best process. You will therefore at once take steps to erect a suitable apparatus for this purpose, and locate it at some point near the boiler & Engine House at the Temporary Armory.” In a subsequent letter to BG Gorgas, Burton advised him of the order and wrote that he was trying to obtain a supply of walnut planks.

In looking at original Civil War weapons, one will frequently find cracks and spits in the wood. A flawed understanding of the kiln drying process accounts for the problem. Later, the Swedes and Swiss used kiln dried European red beech in their Mauser and k31 rifles without problems, but by then process was much better understood.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

La Tiger

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I have a question to add to this thread: What qualities of walnut made it desirable then for firearms (and today, as well)?


Walnut is a stable hardwood that is relatively easy to work but not as hard as sugar maple. The grain can be very attractive (modern use) and will take a finish well and doesn't need stain. A downside is the open grain that can be difficult to fill.

Kiln drying was in the future, so all lumber was air-cured, which can take three to five years. That's why the stockpile of parts from Harpers Ferry was such a gold mine to the Confederates.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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My point is, with advancing a Federal armies a mill owner would know that if he was involved in manufacturing for the confederacy his mill would be subject to seizure.

This discussion has inspired me to re read Davies - his is a wonderfully researched work, with a good deal of reference to official records. As I recall, the reason cited in the official reports for inability to get mill owners to cut and supply walnut at any price was fear of neighbors, not invading foes.

This is just a good example of what we all know, which is that the War was not only people above some border vs people below that border - there was sure a good deal of neighbor vs neighbor, not only on the battlefield, but also on the home front.
 

Poorville

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In the early 1840s, the Austrian Army [k.k. Army] began transforming its hundreds of thousands of flintlock muskets to tubelock, which required new stocks. Given the number of flintlock arms to be transformed, there was not enough air dried red beech wood in all of Europe to manufacture the number of new stocks required. Consequently, Baron von Augustin decided to use the newly invented [1830] French method of drying fresh wood by exposing it to superheated steam [kiln drying]. Consequently, kiln dried wood was used in Muster 1842 muskets; Muster 1844 Extra Corps carbines; Muster 1844 and 1849 Kammerbüchse; and Muster 1854, Type I and II, rifle muskets.

Unless it is carefully kiln dried, red beech is particularly susceptible to checking or cracking during and after drying. Many checks in lumber are difficult to locate because they may close up in the later stages of drying, and some checks extend longer and deeper into the wood than can be seen with the naked eye. Since drying at high temperatures promotes checking, drying hardwoods like red beech requires a gentle process with lower temperature and higher relative humidity. Since the French process was newly invented, these technical requirements may not have been immediately understood by the k.k. Army and the contractors who provided the Army’s stock wood. By contrast, Springfield Armory had refused to use kiln dried wood prior to the Civil War. Its Pennsylvania and Maryland walnut stock blanks were air dried for at least three years. This consequently raises the question of where the contractors who made Springfield rifle muskets during the Civil War obtained their stock blanks and the resulting quality of those stock blanks. There are examples that the problem may have existed throughout the war:
  • F. L. Bodine wrote to BG Ripley on 15 January 1862. He had received a contract for 25,000 Springfield rifle muskets on 12 December 1861, but was unable to obtain air dried walnut. Consequently, he proposed to substitute kiln dried wood, provided he could obtain wood comparable to that used at the Springfield Armory.
  • A. W. Burt wrote to BG Ramsey on 19 January 1864, complaining that the insolvency of Trenton Arms had left him with no source of stocks for his Springfield rifle musket production, although he had all the metallic parts he required. He requested the loan of 5,000 stock blanks from Springfield Armory to resolve the problem.
The Confederates also used kiln drying in their arms manufacture. On 15 February 1864 COL Burton wrote to one of his master armorers that he was anticipating the arrival of a supply of unseasoned gun stocks at the Macon Arsenal, and “it will be necessary to provide some means of desiccating them. I think this can best be accomplished by a steaming process, similar to that formerly practiced at the H. Henry Armory. At least this will be the most expeditious, if not the best process. You will therefore at once take steps to erect a suitable apparatus for this purpose, and locate it at some point near the boiler & Engine House at the Temporary Armory.” In a subsequent letter to BG Gorgas, Burton advised him of the order and wrote that he was trying to obtain a supply of walnut planks.

In looking at original Civil War weapons, one will frequently find cracks and spits in the wood. A flawed understanding of the kiln drying process accounts for the problem. Later, the Swedes and Swiss used kiln dried European red beech in their Mauser and k31 rifles without problems, but by then process was much better understood.

Regards,
Don Dixon

Thanks Don, any idea how many or what percentage of small arms used during the war were shipped from Europe rather than home grown and would they have shipped complete lock, stock and barrel? An afterthought, I assume the European supplied small arms for the Confederacy came through the blockade, did European countries also supply the Union?
 

27th Indy

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American walnut was shipped to Europe by the boat load. I've seen pics on this forum of British or European rifles that looked like they were stocked in American walnut. The open grain of American walnut is distinctive and not present in European/Asian Circassian walnut. Here's a pic of a few walnut logs on a dock in Hamburg Germany in 1914. Our walnut got around.
<Unsourced image removed>

Also, here's a couple of some of my walnut planks drying. I make gun stocks. Three to five years air drying is about right for gunstocks. For furniture making, kiln drying is important. Gary

View attachment 360764View attachment 360765
 
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Don Dixon

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Thanks Don, any idea how many or what percentage of small arms used during the war were shipped from Europe rather than home grown and would they have shipped complete lock, stock and barrel? An afterthought, I assume the European supplied small arms for the Confederacy came through the blockade, did European countries also supply the Union?

More foreign manufactured rifle muskets and muskets were used overall than American manufactured rifle muskets and muskets. After the Springfield rifle musket, the Enfield was the second most commonly used rifle musket in the Civil War. Austrian arms were the third most widely used. After that, one had Belgian manufactured French pattern weapons, French, Prussian, Piedmontese, Russian, and other odd lots of things. I have an Ohio marked musket from the Free City of Hamburg. My educated estimate is that substantially more than 500 thousand Austrian arms were imported in total by both sides. Previously/currently published figures significantly under count the imports of the Austrian arms. The other chains of supply are not in my area of expertise.

The arms were shipped fully assembled, although I am aware of purchases of Belgian manufactured Enfield pattern barrels for the Federal Army. One of the curious things i haven't found in my research are Federal purchases of foreign spare parts, which may account for complaints of malfunctioning foreign arms later in the war. Like any other mechanical object, firearms require maintenance and repair.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

Booner

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i think most of the Pennsylvania long rifles were made using Maple stocks.
Were ant rifles—North or South— made from Maple.
I don't know what you mean by "ant" rifles, I'm assuming your auto-correction changed a word.
Yes, many of the Pennsylvania long rifles were made from maple, but many were also made from walnut and cherry too. There's many different types of maple, from a pretty simple grained wood to high figured wood. Many of the long rifles of the period that are still existent are from the "golden period" after the Am. Revolution to the 1830's or so, (a lot of carving, ornate brass patch boxes, etc.), and these ornate rifles were the high end rifles from that period; the one that were made for the high end buyers more as a show of wealth, as many of them don't show much use. These were made from the types of wood, like the sugar maples, that had the prettiest grain and only the more wealthy could afford to buy them. Sugar maple is a combination of hard and softer wood, and due to the sugar content of the wood and how it reacts with the stain used during the period (aqua fortise ), the softer parts of the wood would stain dark, and the hard areas of the would would have a lighter stain as it wouldn't take much stain. This would give the maple the "Tiger Striped" look. The most prized wood would be the "bird's eye" maple, (it kind of looks like ostrich skin). The long arms that were the most common, the type the common man used, the "working" gun were made with simpler types of wood, but built with the idea of function over form. These guns were simply used up, and fewer of them have passed down to the modern period.

And for @major bill, the type of tree that Michigan was first noted for, was the white pine. The tree grew to over 200 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter, and in the old growth woods, it didn't have a lot of branches and therefor few knots on most of the lower sections of the trunk. The tree could live for as long as 500 years. The tree was a lumber jack and wood workers dream, as it was a softwood and easy to cut and carve. Untold millions of board feet of this lumber went to build the cities of the midwest from the early 1820's until the 1880's, when the forests of White Pine were nearly gone. Less than 1% of the original old growth forrest is left.
Also "google" Michigan's 1871 fire. The Midwest was undergoing a series of drought's and so much of the slash from the logging operation was laying on the ground that when a series of fires broke out, it quickly spread to many areas in the lower peninsula. 1871 was the same year Chicago burned, and Michigan was on fire at the same time.
 

DixieRifles

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I don't know what you mean by "ant" rifles, I'm assuming your auto-correction changed a word.
Yes, many of the Pennsylvania long rifles were made from maple, but many were also made from walnut and cherry too. There's many different types of maple, from a pretty simple grained wood to high figured wood.
Thanks for answering but you didnt my question—mostly due to my typo: “ant”.
Q: Were ANY rifles made out of maple during the Civil War?
I tried making my own Pennsylvania rifle and know the wood seems quite hard. I think of walnut being more dense and heavier.
We look up the Rockwell Hardness test for various woods.
 

Booner

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Thanks for answering but you didnt my question—mostly due to my typo: “ant”.
Q: Were ANY rifles made out of maple during the Civil War?
I tried making my own Pennsylvania rifle and know the wood seems quite hard. I think of walnut being more dense and heavier.
We look up the Rockwell Hardness test for various woods.

I'm not aware of any military arms made with maple stocks during the CW.

With the exception of Sugar Maple, most maple woods are softer than Black Walnut, so perhaps that was one reason why maple wasn't used in military rifle stocks.

Here's a list of common wood hardness by spicies-->https://www.precisebits.com/reference/relative_hardness_table.htm

In the long rifles that I've built, I prefer sugar maple stocks, the more figure the better. The first thing I learned in stock building is how to sharpen tools, and I spend as much time re-sharpening the various tools as I do working on a stock. When I work on a section of stock that's hard, I find that the mistakes I made could have been avoided if my tools were sharper. I'm talking wicked sharp.
On a side note- most of the stock made by our great-great ancestors were not sanded, they were scraped, and there are various techniques on how to sharpen a piece of metal that was used as a scraper. Pieces of glass were also used as a scraper.
 
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