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Building a Fowler
     A photo story of the construction of a 20 guage flintlock fowler, this page is not meant to be an instruction guide, but will provide some useful information about the process. Different builders have their own tricks of the trade, and here I hope to share some of mine with you. Most of what is done applies to any long gun, and to pistols, as well. The sequence of steps is all important to the ease of construction and the quality of the end product. I hope you will enjoy sharing my journey through this process. It will be a work in progress as I head toward the finished gun.

 

The barrel inlet is the next task and can be accomplished in several ways. If you are comfortable with using a router, it can speed up the job, but it can also ruin a stock blank in the blink of an eye if you are not careful. My router is fitted with a collar that is run against guide rails screwed to the blank. With a straight octagonal barrel, you can make your cut equal to the depth of the lower edge of the outside flats of the barrel. With a swamped barrel, you can only cut to the depth of the flats at the slenderest part of the barrel. I chose an octagon to round barrel for this gun, so I could only rout to the top edge of the barrel channel on the round section. (below)

     The picture below shows the guide collar on the router base, the guides screwed to the stock, and a scraper made from a file for the hand shaping. This shows the channel for the ramrod groove, but the situation is the same for the barrel. Even the scraper is the same, except wider. Tip: Be sure your router bit is firmly tightened in the collet, and check it often in the process to make sure it is not creeping south on you. Cut your groove in steps; don't try to do the whole depth in one cut.

After inletting the barrel, the breech plug has to be installed, which requires repetitive fittings, until the face of the plug seats in the bottom of the threaded section of the barrel and the front edge of the tang mates with the rear of the barrel, as well as lining up with the flats. Clamp the barrel firmly in a vise, using hardwood pads to prevent damaging the barrel, and use a big crescent wrench or a breech plug wrench to turn the plug. Paint the plug surfaces with transfer color to show where it is making contact with the barrel.
 
 
The Barrel and ramrod groove are about 3/16" apart (below.)
              
 

Below: Once the barrel is inlet, that tells you where the lock goes. I prefer to position the lock so the vent is forward of the breech plug, so no groove or channel is needed in the face of the plug. The vent should be in the center line of the side flat of the barrel. Position the plate so the forward lock bolt will pass through the 3/16" space between barrel and ramrod hole. A router can be useful doing the lock inlet, but only if you feel confident-one slip can be disastrous! Get it close and finish the border by hand, with chisels, gouges, and riffler files.


 
Below, the barrel, the tang, and the lock plate are inlet. Disassemble the lock to simplify inletting the plate. Always use a mainspring vise to remove and install the spring. No Vise Grips!

 


Once the holes in the stock are drilled, the holes in the lock and trigger plate are drilled and tapped for the bolts (below.) I chuck the tap in the drill press, and turn the chuck by hand, while maintaining a little downward pressure on the handle, to get the tap started straight into the piece, then finish it off with the regular tap handle. Don't try turning the drill press on!
  

After the lock is inlet, the position of the sear tells you where to put the trigger. The pivot pin of the trigger blade on a single trigger should be about 3/16" forward of the sear. Below, you see the inlet marked on the stock, and the initial cut made for the blade.

 
               Below, we see the tang being inlet (note the inletting black telling us where it's making contact.)   
                
 The barrel may be pinned at this point. The stock can be cut close to it's final dimensions on the band saw, and the pin placement carefully measured to come between barrel and ramrod groove. Evenly spaced the length of the barrel, I use four pins for a barrel of this length. See markings below.
    
 
Below, a triangular file with one side ground smooth is used to define the dovetail shape. Sneak up on it, trying the lug frequently, until a snug fit can be obtained without bashing the lug too much.
 
 
The lugs on the round part of the barrel have to be soldered in place. Clean the lugs and barrel surfaces. I use a silver solder paste, that can be smeared on the area to be soldered. Clamp the lug in place, and gradually heat the barrel until the solder melts. This is a low temperature solder, so it can be done with propane or Mapp gas, and doesn't require heating the barrel excessively. the solder is very strong; I have had no failures with the joints. (Below)

 
Next comes the trigger guard. First, I trim and sand it to it's finished shape (below.) Barrel sanders chucked in the drill press do this job and others well.

 
After outlining it, the wood inside the marks is carefully removed with knife and small chisels. I use a 1/4", an 1/8" made from a chainsaw file, and a 1/16" made from an old broken graver.
 
 
The nose cap requires a carefully cut line around the stock at the rear of the cap. mark this with a try square set on the muzzle, move it around the stock and cut it in with an Exacto knife. Take off the excess wood with a chisel and rasp. Work it down til it fits nicely. (Below)
 
 

 
 

Ramrod pipes, or thimbles, also have tabs that must be inlet first (Above.) Then the pipes are cut into the ramrod groove until the inside diameter is flush with the groove. Use an upper pipe to inlet the tube part of the rear pipe, then work the finial down into the stock until you can easily slide the ramrod down the hole.

 
 

Below, I used a small gouge to rough out the lock panel.
 

 
Below, I'm cutting the border of the lock panel with a 1/4" chisel.

When the lock panel is done, make a paper pattern of it, using the bolts to position it, and rub the outline of the panel. Cut the pattern out, and transfer it to the sideplate panel, using the bolt holes to position it, and you'll have a symmetrical breech. (Below)

 



After outlining the escutcheon with an exacto knife, I carve the setting with a small chisel.


Next, I glue the inlay in place, and drill and fasten with pins or screws, and file flush with the stock, below.



 I like to put a hunter's star within an oval on my buttstocks. First, I inlet the oval, then the star. It's easier that way, Below.
Here, we see the finished star and oval, with silver and brass wire inlay to enhance it. Note the brass pin in the center of the star. That is actually a brass screw countersunk just partway, so I could file off the slot and leave it looking like a pin. See how the silver pins on the brass oval are located at the points of the star. You can also see the trim line carved into the lower edge of the buttstock.(Below)

 


 Carvings add a lot to the appeal of a gun. Carefully plan your design-the planning is the most important step in this, as in all the decorative work. A little done right is far better than a lot done so-so, so take your time with this, and practice, if you're not an experienced carver. Exacto knife, small chisels and gouges work for this task.
 
 
And more carving. Something a little different at the tail of the lock panel. Note the wire and mother-of-pearl accent.

 
Drill the holes and screw the plate to the stock. Then, using your trusty Exacto knife, outline your cuts, remove the plate, and carve away the unwanted wood. Here's another important place for inletting black to ensure a close fit. Below, initial cuts around the star. Note guideline along edge of stock.


The plate is finished. It has been filed flush with the sides of the stock, and engraved. The "Star and Four Directions" lines is my logo, and this is its usual place on my long guns.

 
After making the hole clean by drilling it out with a 3/8" drill bit, I made a bung (like a dowel, but with cross-grain) with a 3/8" plug cutter on the drill press (below), and glued it in the hole, right.

 
I shaved the plug off with a chisel, stuck the plate on, and redrilled it for a new screw. This time, I used my old boatbuilder's trick of rubbing the threads of the screw on a bar of soap, and the screw slipped right in! (Shoulda' done that to begin with!) (Right)

Sometimes, you'll chip the wood, especially on a carving or a delicate edge, STOP IMMEDIATELY! and get out the trusty little bottle of super glue, or Elmer's or hide glue if you're more patient than I, and glue that little sucker back down, take a break, and when you come back, everything will be fine! (Below)                       
 
"There are two kinds of sailors: Those who have gone aground, and those who will."
This is a saying of mine that dates way back to my boat captain days, and it applies to many walks of life. It applies to boo-boos in gunbuilding, as well. Mostly, they are small and easily fixed. Sometimes, they can seem huge, like the whole project has been ruined by some slip of the hand. STOP! WAIT! Walk away, don't do anything rash. Go have a beer, or two. Come back tomorrow, or maybe even next week, and look at it with a calm perspective, and maybe, something different, unique, and beautiful will rise from this debacle. There are ways to fix almost everything, so don't get mad & throw it all away, just give it a different view, and start again!
 
Detailing: So you've got her built, carved, inlayed, and she looks like you want her to look! Well, not quite. She's still a little rough around the edges, and the stock is kinda scratchy, and not quite as smooth and fair as you'd like. Never fear, you've still got some hours ahead of you in detailing, and this time spent will pay big dividends in the end. Here are some ideas and tools to help.
     Emory boards, the ones women use on their fingernails, make great little sanding sticks to get into all kinds of places. You can cut them to shape, as well as renew your sanding surface with a pair of scissors. (below)

 
A flat file, sanding block, and longboard help make surfaces like buttstock and forearm even and true. Use a high intensity light to show where irregularities are; much is revealed by shadows.

 
Old toothbrush makes a great dust remover.

 

 
Wiped free of dust with a tack cloth, I then apply stain with a brush or swab, liberally flooding the surface, (below.) Don't worry about applying too much; the wood will soak up what it wants. Wipe off any excess with a rag, but let it soak in well first.

 
Remove all stain from the metal inlays. A little steel wool wrapped around a q-tip can help with small areas (below.)

 

 
Buff lightly between coats with that OOOO steel wool  Apply at least six coats of finish, more if you're not happy with it yet, and after letting the finish cure for a few days, polish it with a carnauba or lemon wax. Stand back and smile!

 

Drawfiling the flats on an octagon barrel takes away the machining marks nicely. Set the file at a slight angle across the barrel, and push (or draw) in even, long strokes, clearing the filings often, because they will cause scratches in the barrel surface (below.)


 


Sanding the flats can be done just like draw filing. Wrap sandpaper around the file, and stroke with the length of the flat (below.)

 
Here, we have decorative bands filed into the breech of the barrel, and a sighting groove on the tang. Since there's generally no rear sight on fowlers (not necessarily true on some original guns,) and most smoothbore shooting matches won't let you have a rear sight, this is all you get (below.)

 

Huzzah! Life is good, the fowler is together, and I'm liking it! I like the looks of the bright barrel in contrast to the stock, and I'm tempted to leave it that way. I know, however, it is hard to keep it looking that good, and a brown finish is much more durable, but I have a couple more weeks before I can get out to the range to test hop this baby, so I don't have to make a decision 'til after I sight her in. I may leave the decision up to whomever may purchase the gun, too.



 
Left side view, Sucker takes up the whole couch! 
 
Detail photo of the lock side.

 
Muzzle, with turtle sight.

 
 Lower ramrod pipe, left, and trigger guard finial, right.Note how the fleur-de-lis of the pipe is reflected by the carving ahead of the trigger guard.
Wrist and tang, with carving and inlay.
 
 
Toeplate and inlay. The "star & four directions" Grey Haven logo, and dogwood blossom are engraved on the toeplate.




The first step after deciding on a style and procuring your parts, is to true up and square your stock blank. I used a band saw to trim excess wood from the blank and get it close to level.Then, with a straight edge (above), a try square (below), and a plane (left), I created accurate surfaces to work with.


 


The picture below shows three scrapers I made from files. Left to right; octagonal barrel, round barrel, and 3/8" ramrod. The breech end of the routed barrel channel is shown, and guide lines are visible on the stock.

 


The try square is used frequently to check that the barrel is square to the stock, while using scrapers, chisels, and gouges to fit the barrel. Inletting black is coated on the lower half of the barrel, and a few taps with a rubber or rawhide mallet will tell you where the barrel is making contact with the stock. Shave away those spots until it's where you want it to be.  

 

 

 

 Inletting the ramrod groove is similar to the barrel. Cut the underside of the stock to 1/2" from the measured bottom of the groove, as far back as the front end of the rear ramrod pipe,leaving a little extra to trim. A router and guides can be used to define the sides of the groove, cutting 5/16" deep, and finishing the groove with a scraper, or scorp as it is also called, in this case, 3/8" for a 3/8" ramrod (see Below.)


 


Once the groove is where you want it to be, the ramrod hole in the lower forearm can be drilled. Set the bit in the groove, held in place with blocks cut for the purpose clamped to the stock and lubricated with bee's wax. Put a piece of tape on the bit to indicate where you want to stop (the hole should end at the back of the breech plug.) Drill slowly, clearing the chips from the bit often, every 1/2" at least. (Below)

 

 

 Below, after the lockplate is inlet, assemble the lock and inlet the rest, carefully marking where the various pieces will go. Take care not to remove more wood than you need to.


 

Drilling lock bolt holes. barrel pins, and tang bolts all require accuracy to come through the other side of the stock where you want them to. I made a jig to help with this (below.) Note the two lengths for different situations. Align the pin directly under the drill bit on the drill press. Mark both ends of your desired hole with a pointed punch.  


 

Then set one of the dimples on the pin, and drill partway through the piece. Flip it over and finish the hole from the other side. Below, the tang bolt is

being drilled.

 


 Now that the trigger is inlet (below,) we can determine length of pull, drop of butt and comb, and cast off. Length of pull is found by measuring from the crook of your elbow to the tip of your index finger, and the distance from your shoulder to the elbow crook. Make a right angle triangle with the height being the shoulder to elbow measurement, and the hypotenuse the finger to elbow distance. The base is your pull length, from trigger to butt. Drop of butt depends somewhat on your intended use; more drop is desirable for offhand shooting, and less for prone. I do mostly offhand shooting, and like a lot of drop, so I can keep my head upright. Measure from the middle of your breast  bone to your eye, and divide by 3; that's approximately the drop at the butt. The drop at the comb should be the distance from your eye to your cheek. Cast off is relative to your shoulder breadth; the wider you are, the more cast off, but usually no more than 1/4".

 

     

Above is a view of the buttplate and the profile cut into the stock. With a standard rifle buttplate with a short tang, you inlet the tang first, and then the curve, but with the fowler plate, you have to get the curve as close to there as possible, and even then, it takes some guesswork to get the tang to be where you want it to be.

             

 Below, the buttplate is home!  Note the buttplate is slightly off of center-that's the cast-off, about 3/16" in this gun. Use guidelines frequently in the layout of parts and shaping of the stock.

        


 

 Before I drill, I attach the barrel lugs. In this case, both dovetailed and soldered lugs are required. Below, the initial cuts for the dovetail are cut with a hack saw.


 

Below, the lug is fitting into the dovetail. A bronze punch is being used to set it in place. Once it is fit, file the edges flush with the barrel. This same method is used to affix sights to an octagonal barrel.


 

Next, inlet the lugs, cutting away just enough wood for the barrel to lay snugly in it's channel (below.) Then drill the holes through the stock, using the jig shown previously, to make sure they run true, then clamp the barrel to the stock and drill just enough to mark the lugs. Then remove the barrel and finish drilling the lugs.


 

Then, I inlet the tab for the pin (or pins,) and set the guard in place, outlining it carefully with an Exacto knife. I should point out now that any part to be inlet like this should have a slight bevel on it's edges, so it will fit snugly in the inlet. (Below)


 

The rear of the trigger guard will creep forward as it is inlet, so take that into account as you work it in. Here it is, in place. That front finial was fun!

 

 

Drill a hole through the cap and the stock, countersink the barrel side of the hole, and tap the cap for a #5 or 6 screw. Very slightly countersink the cap, screw from the barrel side out, cut the screw off, using tape to protect the cap from the hack saw blade (below,) Peen the end of the screw, and file it flush (left.)

 

 

     Below, an upper pipe is inlet into the rear pipe position.

   

    Below Left, we see the rear pipe fully inlet. The pipes should be evenly spaced along the stock, and should complement the barrel pin locations; don't crowd them too closely.

     Pins for the pipes are carefully measured and marked, as were the barrel pins, and drilled using the through-hole jig on the drill press. Once again, drill through the wood first, and clamp the pipe into place, mark it using a hand drill, and finish on the drill press.


Celebrate!
For now, we can start to turn this thing from a chunky block of wood to the shapely, graceful piece it is destined to be. With all these pieces attached, we have defined our borders, and with rasps, gouges, chisels, and files, we can make the fowler take shape.
     Take excess wood off with the band saw first, then begin your shaping. I always start with the butt, because I can clamp the still square forearm into my workmate and do the whole rear half of the gun. Leave the barrel in the stock, and as many parts as you can, as you shape it. This helps protect delicate edges and slender parts. Below, the buttstock takes shape. I like fair curves and well-defined edges, as can be seen on the comb.

 

 

 Below, working down the tang area with a 3/4" chisel. Be mindful of the grain, to prevent chipping, and keep your tools sharp!


 

Below, the forearm takes shape. I take it down evenly, in flat surfaces to keep it straight and true, until there is just a little to round off.

 

Below, defining the shadow line of the lock panel. Approach with care. I like fine, well-defined borders around the lock, with clear edges.


 

Once the side panel is brought to shape, the sideplate can be inlet. The s-shaped plate is a standard of mine, and I use it on pistols, as well as long guns. I put a bevel on the edges that is half the thickness of the plate, and set the plate this deep in the stock, so it sticks out a little from the stock, (left.)


 

Now we get to start with the pretty work, the difference between a "Poor boy" and a fancy gun. This is what adds that uniqueness, what makes a gun special, and also what takes a lot of time. I love this stuff!

     I often use hunter's stars for escutcheons at my barrel pins. First, I drill the hole, bend them to conform to the stock, then set them over the pin, with a little dab of superglue to hold them in place (don't get any in the pin hole.) Below


 


Wire work is a nice enhancement, and is usually subtle, not the major decoration, though there are some very ornate wire inlays that have been done. I prefer to keep it fairly simple. After deciding on the design, I use an Exacto knife and small shaped chisels made from short pieces of hacksaw blade to make a groove. The wire, actually a ribbon, is cut to length and bent to the shape needed. A needle file helps to sharpen one edge and to bevel the ends, if necessary.

     Below, we see some wire already in, and a curved hacksaw blade chisel cutting the groove for the next piece.

 


In the picture below, I'm oh so gently tapping the wire in place with a small ball pein hammer. If the wire bends over, straighten it with a small pair of needlenose pliers, and try again. Sometimes, you'll have to pull the wire out and cut the groove a little deeper. Once the work  is done, wet the surface of the area with a sponge to swell the wood and lock the wire in place. This will also close any grooves that are wider than the wire.



The mother-of-pearl and abalone inlays are done in the same manner as the metal inlays; cut to shape with a jeweler's saw and a diamond wheel on a Dremel tool, with a bevel on the edge, glued on the spot, traced with the knife, popped off, and carved out. I confess; only gel superglue holds these in, but I've never lost any, Below.


 

More carving. A border and fleur-de-lis around the trigger guard.


 

My toeplate is cut out of .050 brass plate. I cut the basic shape on the band saw, and cut the more intricate parts with a jeweler's saw and needle files. Below, a jeweler's saw cuts the star for the piercing in the middle of the plate.


 , Below, a needle file finishes details to the star on the toeplate. I'm filing a bevel, or

draft, so the piercing will fit snugly in the space provided.


 


 

Now is a good time to do a little "special presentation," fixing boo-boos! Yes, they happen to all of us, and this particular one was an error of haste on my part. A too tight hole on the forward screw on the toeplate, and too much force resulted in a broken screw below the surface of the wood. What a pain!

     I drilled a few small holes around the broken fastener, until I could use my 1/16" chisel and a small pair of needlenose pliers to dig and pull it out (below.)


 


 






Riffler files, which I've mentioned before, come in many shapes, both large and small, and are also an aid in getting those awkward or more shapely places. (Below)


 

Another riffler:


 

Shaping, sanding and polishing bolt and screw heads is made easy by chucking them in a drill press. (Below)


 

Sand your work in stages, going through the grits from coarse to fine to finer. I rarely use anything coarser than 100 grit, and go as fine as 400 grit on the wood, and 600 grit on the metal parts, sometimes 1500 grit on parts I want shiny and can't use a buffing wheel on. When you get to 320 grit on the wood, take a wet sponge and moisten the surface of the stock, let it dry, and sand it with 320 or 400. This process raises the grain and is called "whiskering." Do this a time or two more, and you'll have a baby smooth stock that will take a finish very nicely.

     Below and below left, we're getting close to putting on some finish.


 

Each piece of wood, even among the same species, reacts differently to the same stain, so it's advisable to test stains on a sample of the same wood the stock is made of. Here's my test sample, with six different color samples (below.)


 

Once the stain dries, burnish the surface with OOOO steel wool, to bring out the grain and smooth the surface. Ooh pretty, look at that grain pop! (Below)


 

Every builder has their favorite finish, and usually it's a love-hate relationship, for there are plusses and minuses to all of them. I prefer tung oil. I apply a coat with a brush or rag , and then wipe it with a lint-free cloth moistened with a little oil (below.)


 

The metal parts need finishing, too. Sand a round barrel like shining a shoe, with the paper looped over the barrel (below.) If you're going to brown the barrel, don't sand it any smoother than 320 grit. If you're going to blue it or leave it bright, sand it to 600 and polish it on a buffing wheel. 


 


Decorations on the barrel or other metal parts can include engraving. Below, I've engraved my name on the top flat of the barrel, as did many of the old-time gunmakers.


 

A cute little turtle is soldered on for the front sight (below.) I have since finished the sanding of the barrel, and although it is ready to brown, I'm going to wait until I can take the gun to the range and make sure the sight is in the right place, before committing it to the finish. If I had to move the sight after browning it, I would be in a world of grief trying to match the touch-up to the rest of the barrel, so for now, I will be patient!


 


So now the finish is on the stock and all the metal parts are sanded, polished, and whatever else might need to be done is done. Time for assembly! Uh oh! Those parts that fit so well before you added several coats of finish don't fit anymore. Well, a little judicious scraping is called for, to remove finish from those places it has built up enough to keep your parts from going where they should. Below, I'm working on the trigger guard finial inlet with the trusty Exacto knife. Take your time and go at it gently. Don't try to force anything.


 





 Sideplate. Above.



 

Cheek side. Sure is pretty figure in this stock! 


 

Lower forearm, showing carving and inlay, and the octagon to round transition on the barrel.



 

Comb, showing engraved buttplate and inlay.


 

 

So there she is, after many hours of fun at my workbench! I'm happy with the results, and ready to start the next project, which is two underhammer pistols-it's easier to do two at once with those.

 

If you are interested in purchasing this gun, or any other, or wish to have me custom build one for you, please contact me at:

 

Bob Worthington

360-310-0434
PO Box 105
Greenbank, WA 98253

grey.haven@hotmail.com

 

The price for this fowler is $6500.00.

See the listings on the home page for other guns available at this time.

 

Thanks for joining me on this journey to the completion of the building of a fowler! I hope to do more on-line presentations of this kind, and plan to turn this project into a complete instruction manual in the future. Keep checking this site for more fun stuff!