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

redbob

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Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
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Feb 18, 2013
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Hoover, Alabama
At the height of British Arms manufacturing, entire forests in Europe were under contract to British Arms manufacturers for stocks and artillery carriages.
 

DixieRifles

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Mar 22, 2009
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Collierville, TN
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 gave up trying to build my rifle. I was being tutored by an experienced hobbyist who had restocked two dozen bolt-action rifles. He knew how to sharpen his carving knives. He made me a scraper with a bent point out of a piano wire, I think it was. Once he moved away, I had to hire TVM to finish my project.
Gunstock2.JPG
 

Booner

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I gave up trying to build my rifle. I was being tutored by an experienced hobbyist who had restocked two dozen bolt-action rifles. He knew how to sharpen his carving knives. He made me a scraper with a bent point out of a piano wire, I think it was. Once he moved away, I had to hire TVM to finish my project.
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I can see right now why you couldn't finish the rifle, it's got the wrong type of hammer on it. How in the world could that thing hold a flint? (I'm a flintlock man when it comes to old guns).

Nice piece of wood though. The darker areas of the stock are the softer, more open grain wood and that allows the stain to pernitrate deeper. The harder, more closed grain wood doesn't take as much stain and that's why it shows up as a lighter color. When light hits the stock at different angles, it may appear that the light and dark areas are shifting, sort of a 3-d effect.

Aqua Fortis was the typical stain used on the original guns. It's base is a mild acid and iron shavings were placed into the acid where they dissolved over time. After that happened it was wiped over the wood where it turned the wood a green color. Then a heat source was place close to the wood and this turned the color from green to a dark color as the heat reacted with the acid and dissolved iron. The source of heat was either an old fashioned soldering iron glowing red hot or something similar and the person doing the application had to be careful not to scorch the wood. Several applications could be done in this manner until the desired color was achieved, but it seems that the sugar content of the wood was a factor, as the more sugar in the wood would help give more contrast between the light and dark areas. A base of something that contained an alkylide may have been applied to help neutralize the acid, as some think that if that wasn't done, as the wood aged it would continue to darken. Finally, something like boiled linseed oil was applied to help seal and protect the wood and then the gun was finished.
 

Mark Neuman

Cadet
Joined
Mar 27, 2019
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?
The wood used for muskets was supposed to be walnut.
 

Henry Whitworth

Sergeant
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Oct 21, 2013
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.
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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

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That's cool that you're hand-making stocks. I'm guessing American walnut was going to Europe because they exhausted their supplies of hardwoods? I know access to the right wood was often a big determinant of naval power throughout history. I've never read about gunstocks in this regard though.
 

Mk VII

Private
Joined
Jun 4, 2017
Access to good seasoned timber for gunstock making has always been a problem when the demand is high, and in the 20th c. alternatives such as beech, fir, teak (heavy) or laminates were tried with varying success. WW1 cut a swath through the world's stock of walnut and the second round twenty years later meant no time to build up any more stock.
 

Craig L Barry

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Jan 5, 2010
Location
Murfreesboro, TN
There is a chapter on where the wood came from in one of the Suppliers to the Confederacy books. One of the Birmingham gunmakers bought a sawmill in Turin, Italy. I think it was WC Scott & Son. Hundreds of thousands of walnut stocks for the English gun trade came from there. John Dent Goodman, when he was Chairman of BSAT referenced the Turin sawmill operation as the source of their gun stocks but hesitated to name the gunmaker that owned it and it took a fair amount of digging to find out who it was. Why that was considered a secret or confidential is lost on me? I found it by looking through the old records where the sawmill was sold in the late 1870s and which gunmaker sold it.

One kind of odd characteristic of Birmingham guns (you don't see it as much on the output from commercial London gunmakers) is a slight shrinkage near the toe of the stock by the butt plate. Presumably this was from kiln drying to hasten the seasoning process of the wood.
 

Booner

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Boonville, MO.
During our colonial period, certain trees, especially the white pine, were marked with and arrow (I think), which denoted that this tree was destined to be a mast for one of his majesties ships. It was against the law for someone to cut down a marked tree. Lumber, especially for the ship building industry, was one of our first exports to England.
 

Poorville

Corporal
Joined
Jun 21, 2019
There is a chapter on where the wood came from in one of the Suppliers to the Confederacy books. One of the Birmingham gunmakers bought a sawmill in Turin, Italy. I think it was WC Scott & Son. Hundreds of thousands of walnut stocks for the English gun trade came from there. John Dent Goodman, when he was Chairman of BSAT referenced the Turin sawmill operation as the source of their gun stocks but hesitated to name the gunmaker that owned it and it took a fair amount of digging to find out who it was. Why that was considered a secret or confidential is lost on me? I found it by looking through the old records where the sawmill was sold in the late 1870s and which gunmaker sold it.

One kind of odd characteristic of Birmingham guns (you don't see it as much on the output from commercial London gunmakers) is a slight shrinkage near the toe of the stock by the butt plate. Presumably this was from kiln drying to hasten the seasoning process of the wood.
Hi Craig, I've seen a friend's copy of all three volumes of Suppliers to the Confederacy books. They aren't cheap but a great source. Poorville
 

yulzari

Private
Joined
Jul 25, 2017
Hand fitted Enfields from the general trade would often use sap wood walnut that would be rejected were it offered to the Enfield factory. Also insufficiently dried. They were made for profit not quality. I have seen several Austrian guns of the next generation stocked in a variety of woods e.g. walnut, beech, ash, poplar, elm so they may have done the same earlier on. Good heartwood walnut is best but good enough is, well, good enough. In the Enfield factory good sapwood was acceptable, if not preferred, but heartwood for sergeants rifles. I imagine it was more a status thing than a performance one. Beech was the official fall back if necessary but rarely used by them.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
I have a question to add to this thread: What qualities of walnut made it desirable then for firearms (and today, as well)?
To Tiger's response in post #11, I'd add that walnut is extremely resistant to damage caused by the shock of repeated recoil. All of these features make it a highly desirable stock wood even today.
 
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