Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lehigh Valley Rifle By Wm. (Bill) Madden

Pictured is my rendition of a Pennsylvania Longrifle in the style of the Lehigh Valley circa 1790-1810.  Built in a contemporary manner, after no particular maker, the piece was principally inspired by the work of Jacob Kuntz, the Rupp family and John Young.

The architecture, furniture and some of the artistic motifs are patterned after that seen on the originals.  Other features and decorative details are either based on outside sources, foreign and domestic, period as well as contemporary, or are of my own design.

There are a few details regarding the build that are not readily evident from the photos or that could use further elaboration.  The ivory nose on the cheekpiece, for example, is mechanically locked into the stock using a joint with a reverse draft or dovetail.  The concealed hinge on the patchbox consists of tabs riveted to the lid that are pinned to folded tabs on a “standing” plate fastened to the front of the box cavity.  Because the finial and surround are permanently nailed to the stock, this design facilitates installation and removal of the lid and hinge assembly as a separate unit.  The folded tabs restrict lateral movement keeping the lid aligned with the opening in the surround.

According to some, the slim look of the Lehigh is achieved, in part, by keeping the top of the forestock sidewalls low, “typically” covering no more than one-third of the barrel sideflat.  To my eye, any slenderness realized in this manner is more than offset by the heavy look of more barrel being exposed.  Here, the appearance of barrel heaviness has been avoided by leaving the sidewalls a little higher, and, instead of running at a uniform height along the barrel, the sidewalls taper, becoming narrower as they approach the muzzle.  For me, a tapered forestock does a better job of visually slenderizing a rifle’s appearance than does the “typical” approach.  Moreover, on this gun, the width of the upper forestock at the muzzle is about 1/8 of an inch narrower than considered “typical” for a Lehigh, which makes it appear slimmer, less squat or fat.

Although difficult to appreciate without handling, the carving is extremely shallow, no more than .020 deep in most cases.  The engraving is similarly done in a light-handed manner.  Most of it was cut using a hammer chased graver, the hammer being choked well up on the handle to facilitate delivery of light, rapid blows.  The more delicate leaf nicks and shading cuts were done with a hand-pushed burin.

As regards finishing, the barrel, tang and tang bolt head are cold rust blued.  The rear sight (notch not yet cut) is charcoal blued.    The stock is stained with three coats of aqua fortis (shop-made by fellow Montana Guild member Joe Sharber) over a base coat of Honey Maple stain, rubbed back and lightly patinated with lampblack.  The wood is finished with five coats of custom-made varnish oil, rubbed out between coats and top-coated with a paste wax.

The rifle is built around a Rice 42 inch, 50 caliber, swamped octagon barrel using a blank of bias cut, curly, sugar maple from Wayne Dunlap and a mildly reworked Chambers Large Siler Deluxe lock.  Except for the buttplate, tiggerguard and ramrod tips, the furniture is scratch built.

Copy and photos by Wm. (Bill) Madden

Bozeman, Montana