Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Gunsmith Shop at Colonial Williamsburg

In January of 2016 the Gunsmith Shop at Colonial Williamsburg opened its doors to the public once more at the Ayscough house.  Situated "at the sign of the crossed guns" on Francis street, south of the Capitol building.  The shop has south and west facing windows for plenty of natural light, and a dedicated smith shop next to the main building.   George Suiter, former master, retired at end of 2016, and presently Journeyman Richard Sullivan, Apprentice Darrin McDonal, and myself continue the trade.

In the past year as an Apprentice in the gunsmith shop, I have learned more from George and Richard than I could possibly write in a brief blog post.  Richard is an outstanding smith and teacher, and thoroughly enjoys welding gun barrels.  Welding barrels is a lot of fun - reaming them out is not, but it's a test of strength and endurance that every apprentice must pass.

The "Smith" part of Gunsmith is shaping iron parts with a hammer... and most of building a rifle the old way is done in the smith shop.  We light our forge with flint and steel, rake soft coal over burning wood shavings and with practice the fire roars to life  in just minutes. 

Every trade shop in Williamsburg has a rigorous Apprentice curriculum that combines hand skills, with academics and reading material, as well as interpretive training.   The first year Apprentice in the Gunshop begins by making many of his own tools.  Since most of the work is done with a hammer, it makes sense to begin there.  Next were turnscrews, small chasing hammers, drill bits of all sizes, punches, a mainspring vise, and of course a touch mark to put on all of my work. 

Currently I am working on a Germanic lock for my first rifle in the shop, loosely based on some import locks from the 1760s.  There are always side projects as well, including work on a pistol flask for a matched set of pistols that Richard is producing.  Darrin is currently making many of his own set of tools, along with a few dozen screws.

The ultimate purpose of the shop is to keep the trade alive through education and passing the knowledge on to newer generations, and much of our time is spent teaching.  Ultimately, we're all learning, and our hope is that our guests are too.  

For more information on the gunshop and a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, please visit  

Frizzen Spring for Eric's Lock

Lock with spring installed

Mainspring vise Eric copied from Antique shown on right.

George's Rifle, lock installation and tight inletting

Richard and Eric melting brass for casting gun mounts

Trigger for rifle

Pair of locks by Richard Sullivan for pistols

Screws forged and filed

Copy and photos supplied by Eric von Aschwege.

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