Thursday, October 25, 2012

Husband Guest Post: Blacksmithing Vacation

 Hi, this is Jeremy, Laura  is letting me share about one of the coolest things I have done in a long time.  Of course, I have to give her some credit since it was her idea!   Laura found that Conner Prairie, our local historical museum, holds an annual "Arms Making Workshop."   So, she enlisted the help of my Dad and Step-Mom to enroll me in a gun barrel making course, as a birthday gift.  Little did I know at the time how when they said "barrel making," they meant from scratch. Old school. Really old pre Civil War old school.

When I arrived for the first day of class I wandered around following the signs to the workshop, seeing a lot of the other neat upcoming courses, and asked where the barrel making would be. I found myself in one of the buildings where they were teaching engraving, and got to see a multimillion dollar gun collection. Very cool, but I digress. While I was wondering around I asked where the barrel making course would be and got a matter of fact answer, "in the blacksmith shop of course (duh)."

So, I headed over in that direction and found my four other classmates and soon our instructor entered. Nathan Allen teaches the course and also manages maintenance for the museum.  Nathan, a great guy has a huge job since Conner Prairie is a living museum, all in period. In fact, while I was there something broke out on the museum grounds and he had to forge something from scratch to replace it.

Nathan explained that over the two and a half days we would be making a pre Civil War pistol barrel from scratch.   We would all start with a plate of wrought iron and use blacksmith techniques to form a barrel, make our own tools, machine out the barrel by hand, rifle it, make a breech plug and have a finished barrel.

In reality we would learn how to do that and eventually focus on one guy's barrel to finish since we didn't have enough time.  (I was the only one with no blacksmith experience, although none of us were experts, except Nathan).

 So, we started with a plate, heat it up to about 1200 degrees in a coal fired furnace and then started hammering at it with a sledge hammer.  The only thing not old school here is that we did not use a billow to blow on the coal. We had an electric fan...and safety glasses.

After forming the plate into a U shape it is time to curve it into a O shape.  At this point your partner uses a rod (made earlier) placed in the U to allow use to form the metal around.  Once it is O shaped it is time to forge weld the seam to complete the raw barrel.  This is the hard part. You heat it up until it sparks (not just any spark, but a long orange spark), then take it out and hammer the seam together.  We did this about a quarter of an inch at a time, since the iron cools down from its welding temperature and our arms got tired.   

After making the raw barrel we made our own files and drill bits that get connected to a long table to "drill out" the barrel until it is smooth.

See all the shavings coming out of the barrel...Almost smooth.

Once smooth you use a similar table to rile it out and then you've got a barrel.   It took four novices two and a half days to make the finished barrel above.

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