Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
The Ragains rifle has 35 inlays of brass, nickel silver, and pewter. The number should more accurately be increased to 45, as several of the inlays are made up of two or more separate pieces combined to make a composite inlay. The maker (or his apprentice) inlet 45 pieces of metal in the stock of this rifle. One example of such an inlay is the spade and setting maul, which consists of 3 separate pieces installed to represent the crossed spade and maul. Several were pierced inlays, which are harder to inlet than non-pierced ones.
Installing inlays is a labor-intensive pursuit that first involves cutting the inlay to final shape, filing to the final profile, determining whether pins are needed to attach the inlay, and drilling holes in the inlay for such pins if they are needed. The pins then have to be cut and the finished inlay set and pinned in place (or glued). The inlays on the Ragains gun appear to have been made of 0.02 inches thick nickel silver and brass.
The inlays would have been cut near final shape with a jeweler’s saw and then filed to final shape with needle files. The inlay was then placed on the stock, scribed around with either knife or sharp pencil and the area inside the lines removed by careful excision with razor sharp chisels and knives. The measure of a maker’s expertise at inletting is the tightness of fit of these inlays. If done properly there is no visible gap around the inlays. J. Belau (or his apprentice) was very skilled at inletting. There are no visible gaps.
The myriad inlays on this rifle are presented here in alphabetical order for your consideration.
1. the 47th Problem of Euclid
This small inlay is 13x13mm and made of nickel silver. It is pinned with a single silver pin. It is lightly engraved. It is located on the right side of the fore stock.
2. the All-Seeing Eye
The All-Seeing Eye is a 3-piece composite inlay. It is made of an outer brass portion, with rays engraved on it and an inner nickel silver portion that has the eye engraved. The silver part of the inlay is held in place by an iron flat head screw driven just to the top of the silver part of the inlay then filed off to form the pupil. The brass portion is held in place by two brass pins near its lower border. This inlay measures 40x23mm and is located behind the cheek piece next to the butt plate.
3. The Anchor
The anchor inlay measures 30x45mm. It is a nickel silver inlay located on the bottom of the fore stock. This inlay is unusual in that one of the flukes is cracked through and visible in the image above. The inlay is held in place by five silver pins, two through the flukes, two through the upper crossbar, and one through the part just below the broken fluke.
4. The Beehive
This inlay of nickel silver is 18x21mm. Located just behind the end of the breech plug tang, it is attached with two silver pins.
5. the Charter
The charter inlay measures 11x30mm. It is made of nickel silver and is attached with two silver pins. Additionally it has a hole that receives a barrel pin located on the right edge of the inlay. This is the larger hole shown. This inlay is engraved with the word CHARTER and is further engraved to resemble a rolled scroll. It is located on the left side of the fore stock.
6. The Checkered Pavement
The Checkered pavement and blazing star is a 2-piece inlay measuring 23x33mm. The outer border (tassellated border)1 is made of brass. This surrounds the inner inlay which is engraved to represent the mosaic pavement and blazing star. The mosaic or checkered pavement is of nickel silver and is attached by four silver pins near the corners. The brass border is engraved to suggest mitered corners and is attached by four brass pins located at the corners. Note the dark edge of the silver inner inlay in the upper right corner above. This is tarnish on the nickel silver. It was not removed in cleaning because the edge of the silver was bent downward slightly when the inlay was installed, making it much more difficult to clean in place.
This inlay is located on the underside of the forestock.
7. The Coffin
The coffin is a nickel silver inlay some 10x38mm. It is pinned with two silver pins so well finished that they do not show but with the most careful scrutiny. The coffin lid is engraved with the 5-pointed star. This inlay is located on the lower portion of the left side of the butt stock near the butt plate.
8. a Column
The toeplate is in the form of a single column. This inlay measures 13x142mm and is of engraved brass. It is held in place by four flat head screws. It is significantly engraved to resemble either Jachin or Boaz. It is not designated one or the other, but has features of both. The column is short and relatively squatty like the Doric column, but its surface is engraved to resemble the Corinthian. It is certainly decorated with network and lillywork and is supplanted with a globe, but it is difficult to suggest which column is represented. Perhaps Boaz, since a large number of the symbols on the rifle pertain to the EA degree.
9. the Grip
This small inlay (7x18mm) is of nickel silver and is located spanning the break site at the wrist. It was originally covered with the electrical tape, and on removing this tape was covered with a heavy layer of tape residue. Its single silver pin may have provided the source of a tiny crack that made the break easier to start. It is well engraved, but when received, the inlay was found to be installed upside down. It has been restored in that same orientation.
10. the FC Apron
This inlay is a 19x22mm silver inlay that is engraved to show the left-hand corner tucked up. Both bib and bottom of apron are rounded. The bib is decorated with the all-seeing eye. It is located on the right side of the fore stock.
11. the 24-Inch Gauge & Common Gavel
This is a one-piece nickel silver inlay. The inlay is held in place by five silver pins. Located just behind the lock on right side of butt stock.
12. the Heart
This small nickel silver inlay is located on the top of the wrist immediately behind the breech plug tang. It is 10x12mm and has one silver pin.
13. the Holy Bible-EA Degree
The Holy Bible consists of a two-piece inlay 22x23mm. The inner part is nickel silver while the outside is of brass. It is engraved Psalms CCCIII (133) and the square and compasses are laid out for the EA degree. It has four brass pins in the brass outer border- one at each corner. There are no discernable silver pins. This inlay is located under the forestock
14. Jacob’s Ladder
This nickel silver inlay is 10x47mm and is attached with two silver pins. It is located on the left side of the fore stock behind the rear sight..
15. the Lamb
The lamb is a nickel silver inlay 17x39mm located on the left side of the wrist ahead of the break location. It has 2 silver pins. I first took this to be a goat, but as all the other symbols are valid symbols, I now believe this may be a shorn sheep. This would make it a reasonable rather than tongue-in-cheek inlay.
16. the Letter “G”
This “letter G” is 22x35mm and of nickel silver. It is held in place by 3 silver pins. It is highly engraved. It is located on the cheek piece.
17. the Level
This inlay is 30x33mm and rendered in nickel silver. It is located on the flat of the left side of the butt stock forward of the cheek piece. It is held in place by 3 silver pins. Its weight is a flat-head screw driven in then most of the head filed off. The screw is then lightly engraved.
18. the MM Apron
The Master Mason’s apron is 20x22mm and is located on the left side of the forestock. It is of nickel silver and is held in place by two silver pins at top and bottom. The inlay is engraved with the all-seeing eye on the bib and has marks to indicate either fringe or a ruffled border (e.g. a ribbon border) on its lower edge. Both bib and bottom of the inlay show rounded profile.
19. Maker’s name
The maker’s name is engraved on a nickel silver inlay that is inlet on the top barrel flat immediately forward of the rear sight. The plate is engraved J. BELAU. G. S. (Gun Smith?) in Roman block letters. The [plate is 10x88mm with rounded ends.
20. the Master at the Altar
The Worshipful Master at the altar. This inlay is made up of both brass and nickel silver. The brass outer portion represents the checkered pavement or a kneeling pillow and two of the candlesticks. It appears to have these two candle sticks placed west of the altar as shown in many old monitors. The candlesticks are floor candlesticks. The altar contains the Great Lights arranged for the EA degree. The WM is clearly wearing a neck collar, and the symbol of his office is barely discernable. The engraving of the altar suggests it is frame and panel construction. The brass portion of the inlay is held by four brass pins and the silver part by at least 5. Located near the back of the cheekpiece.
21. the Moon
The moon is a 15mm circular inlay of nickel silver. It is located near the comb at the front of the patch box. It is held in place by 2 silver pins and is engraved with the “man in the moon” on one side of the orb.
22. Patch box
The patch box is of cast brass with a hinged lid. It is typical of mid-19th Century cast patch boxes, and is similar to those found on plains rifles of the period. It is 45x116mm and is held in place by 6 iron screws at top and bottom. These screws have their slots filed off. The engraving will be described below. It is located on the right of the butt stock.
23. The Plumb
The plumb is a 9x40mm nickel silver inlay held in place by 2 silver pins. One of these is highlighted to visually act as the weight and a “string” is also deeply engraved on its surface. It is located under the cheek piece.
24. The Setting Maul and Spade
The setting maul and spade is a three piece inlay consisting of a single piece brass setting maul and a 2-piece spade. The inlay measures 25x42mm and was missing the spade bit when received. The inlay shows the spade bit replaced. The maul was secured with 2 brass pins and the shovel with two silver ones. It is found on the left side of the butt stock behind the cheek piece.
25. the Slipper
The inlay of the slipper is 7 x 15mm and is nickel silver. It has no pin attachment. It is located near the lower right portion of the butt stock below the patch box.
26. King Solomon’s Temple
King Solomon’s temple is the subject of this nickel silver inlay. It is located on the right fore stock near the nose cap.
27. The Square
This inlay is 27mm on a side. It is located below the cheek piece on the left side of the butt stock.
28. the Square and Compasses
The square and compasses inlay is 40 x 55mm, of one piece and nickel silver. This inlay is one of the few that are pierced, so that properly installed, wood shows through the piercing. This type inlay is much more difficult to inlet than solid form inlays. It is held in place with two silver pins at the top of the compasses and at the bottom of the square. It is in the configuration for the EA degree with the square over the legs of the compasses. Its location is in front of the patch box
29. the 5-Pointed Star of Fellowship
The star inlay is 25 x 25 mm and is located on the underside of the fore stock. It is of nickel silver and is held in place with five silver pins located near the end of each of its points. It is engraved so as to make it appear 3-dimensional
30. Three Steps Escutcheon
The three steps are emblematic of the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age. This escutcheon plate is used to keep the lock bolt from working through the stock. This nickel silver inlay’s dimensions are 28x28mm. It is located on the left side of the stock immediately opposite the lock.
31. the Sun
The sun is a 20mm circular inlay of nickel silver held in place by two silver pins at its top and bottom and an iron screw in the center, whose slot has been filed off leaving a circular flat surface. The engraving includes a face engraved on the iron screw head and rays radiating from the center. It is located beneath the front of the patch box.
31 & 32. the Sword pointing to a naked heart
The sword pointing to a naked heart consists of two nickel silver inlays. The sword is 17x80mm with one piercing held in place by two silver pins, while the heart is a 13x20mm inlay held in place by a single silver pin in its center. Both are located between the patch box and the butt plate. The sword is engraved to show its handle. The heart is not engraved
33. the Trowel
The trowel is an 8x21mm nickel silver inlay. It is engraved and held in place by a single silver pin. It is located on the bottom flat portion of the butt stock.
34. the Winged Hour Glass
The winged hour glass is the most elaborate of the inlays. It is composed of three pieces of brass. One of these pieces (the hour glass) has two piercings, making it very fragile to make and inlay. The wings are separate and were inlaid separately from the body of the hour glass. There are no visible pins that attach the body of the hour glass to the stock. This leads me to believe that the metal inlay was filed to dovetail shape and then installed into a mortise cut atop another, deeper mortise that locks the pewter nose cap in place. The gun smith then glued a paper collar to the front end of the stock. This trapped the hour glass against the nose cap mortise. He next poured the nose cap and dressed both nose cap and outer surface of the hour glass to the same plane with flat file and glass paper (early version of sand paper). He then cut the wing mortises and installed the wings with two pins each. Its location is just behind and below the nose cap of the rifle.
35. the Year made
A nickel silver plate inlaid on the top flat of the barrel bears the inscription 1858, the year of manufacture. It is shaped to resemble a plumb.
1My research suggests strongly that what has today become “tessellated border” began as “tasselated” because of its origins… as the tassels on ropes surrounding some French Masonic art and aprons. Later it became “tessellated” due to mistakes in transcription.
Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
In Part 5 of our series on conservation I described the process of building an acrylic display case to display the rifle. In the sixth and last segment of the Ragains Rifle Conservation series, we’ll cover the last, critically important part of the process: documentation.
After all the work you’ve done to conserve your artifacts, you probably just want to sit back and admire your work. But now is the time to fully document what you have done before some of the details escape you. Assemble your notes, put them in an appropriate order, and write down what you did. The documentation should include:
- The name of the individual(s) that did the conservation.
- A full description of the artifact conserved including as much of its history as available.
- A listing (chronological is good) of every step of the conservation
- process, including where you got the information you used to conserve the artifact.
- Photos of important steps or facets of the conservation, especially those that show “hidden” work or details.
- When the conservation was done
- List of any parts replaced or altered, with photos.
- Observations made by conservators during their work.
- A copy of the conservation efforts deposited with the Lodge Secretary to note in the minutes
- Notes on any thing needing repair that was not actually done to conserve the artifact. These notes may indicate things that need to be done at a later time.
Interesting observations about the Ragains rifle
Its under-rib is soldered to the barrel. Under-ribs are normally either soldered or screwed to gun barrels, so this is not unusual. The two front thimbles do not match, indicating they were installed at different times. The front thimble is engraved with a single ‘wedding band’ at each end, while the mid thimble is plain and unengraved. Given the degree of engraving on the rest of the rifle, an engraved thimble would not be out of place and might imply that this is the “original” remaining thimble. But before we jump to conclusions, a couple of additional observations are in order. The mortise in the under-rib for the front thimble is almost 1/8” longer than it should be for the size thimble present. This suggests that the front thimble is a replacement for a lost thimble (if a front thimble had come unsoldered, it would be likely to fall off and be lost without realizing it, while if the middle thimble had come unsoldered, the ramrod would trap it between the pewter nose cap and the front thimble and probably allow for its recovery and reattachment by a gunsmith or tinsmith. Supporting this second supposition about a “parts bin” thimble, I offer this argument: every gunsmith kept a parts box of salvaged gun parts for repairs and replacements. If a gun (for example, the “Masonic rifle”) had come in missing a front thimble, the smith would have scrounged through his parts box before he made a thimble from scratch. Light engraving on the part wouldn’t have made him reject it. But the final argument to support the theory that the front thimble is a “parts bin” replacement is that a fellow gunsmith and I concur it’s what we’d do in similar circumstances.
The thimbles are spaced unevenly. These are commonly spaced so that the distance between each thimble is identical. That means the distance between the nose cap and the mid thimble would be the same as the distance from the mid thimble to the front thimble. For this rifle, the mid thimble is one inch nearer the pewter nose cap than it should be.
The bottom flat of the barrel shows evidence that the under-rib has been shortened by one inch. This would have allowed the barrel to be set back one inch, avoided the work of altering the poured nose cap (a job to be avoided), and would exactly account for the spacing anomaly with the front and mid thimbles.
The front of the drum’s attachment hole is currently located almost exactly one inch in front of the breech. This suggests as a possible explanation for the “missing inch” that the drum blew out some time after the gun was bought, probably destroying the threads in the barrel in the process. In order to repair the defect, a long-ago gunsmith cut the barrel off just in front of the damaged hole, re-threaded the breech for the breech plug and drilled and tapped a new drum hole. This would account for the missing inch in all respects. It would also account for the missing and relocated attachment lugs on the under flat of the barrel. Shortening the barrel an inch at the breech would not have necessitated moving the rear sight. So this is the scenario I support.
During the course of restoration, I made four attempts to glue the rifle pieces together to complete the restoration and prepare the rifle for display. Three of these repairs were made with period-correct (and completely reversible) hide glue. Three times the stock was repaired, and three times it failed. It is fortunate that no additional harm was done to the stock pieces during these failures. However, I was faced with the fact that the very small amount of gluing surface available on the shattered wrist parts was likely to fail again, even in a display. This situation clearly called for another solution.
The first consideration is to complete any restoration with a completely reversible plan. Thus if technology advances allow a better repair in future years, these can be done without damaging the project. I tried three times to use this approach and three times, the repair failed because the strength of the repair materials could not support the weight of the two sections of the rifle. This left two main options for a successful repair.
Cut a scarf joint in both the fore end, forward of the break, and in the butt stock behind the wrist break and lay in a piece of wood with appropriate scarfs at each end to bridge the gap. Glue the new wood in place and let the glue set up. The barrel and lock are then re-inlet. The trigger plate and trigger guard are next inlet in similar fashion. This is the type repair a gun smith would have made 100 years ago. This preserves the myriad inlays and makes the gun usable once again. It would also provide the opportunity to make the lock plate fit correctly. Unfortunately, this approach destroys much of the gun’s original character. It also suffers from being the more time-consuming of the options.
Resort to more drastic measures. In this case, cut a mortise in the sound wood both forward of and behind the shattered portions of the stock and glue into this mortise a floating tenon to bridge the break. If done properly, and with the right materials, this mortise and tenon can be completely hidden by the trigger plate and trigger guard so that the repair is invisible unless the gun is disassembled.
For preparing the rifle for display, option 2 was the option of choice. I cut a mortise in the sound wood surrounding the break large enough to hold a piece of 6mm thick steel tenon. I then very carefully created a cradle to hold the two pieces of stock in proper alignment and placed the tenon in its mortise to assure the fit was proper.
I added catalyzed epoxy to the forward end of the mortise in several very small pours to secure the floating tenon to the fore stock. The cradle was next tilted to place the rear portion of the mortise in a horizontal configuration and the stepwise process of adding epoxy to the other end of the mortise repeated. After several additional days cure, the lock, trigger plate, trigger guard, and hammer were re-installed. Through careful location of the mortise, the floating tenon is completely invisible from “the outside looking in.” Plate 1 shows the rifle, tenon installed, at the point of break.
Plate 1. The rifle, repaired, showing area of break and hammer in final position. The floating tenon is in place and parts have been re-installed.
The third stock repair failure was the result of applied torque. When I finished the third glue-up and believed the stock repair was completely sound, I had installed the hammer on the lock in its proper location. As I set the lock in place on the rifle, I had to rotate the hammer slightly counter clockwise to set the hammer nose on the nipple. I installed the lock bolt and believed everything was finished. I came back several days later to find the stock had again parted. This was due to the very small amount of torque the lock spring put on the hammer. This torque was the sole identifiable cause of the fourth fracture failure.
In view of the cause of the third “failure,” I decided to completely remove torque from the final product. So after installing the steel tenon, as I re-assembled the lock, trigger plate, and trigger guard, I installed the hammer 90° counter-clockwise from its proper position so that the lock spring is fully released and does not exert any torque on the stock. The hammer appears to be at full cock but the tumbler is in fact, at the full release (hammer down) position.
I believe that the strength of the steel tenon, though excessive to needs, will allow the rifle to be safely transported and displayed without further damage. I am not at all convinced that this would have been the case had I used instead a ¼-inch thick piece of oak as a tenon. I still consider the rifle “as fragile as eggs” considering that the break is still a very weak point of the stock, but it is certainly stronger than it has been at any time subsequent to the initial shattering of the stock. I do not consider the rifle safe to fire in its present condition, given the stock break and repairs. It is fortunate that further use is not in the planned future of this rifle.
Part 7 of the conservation series describes the inlays of the Ragains rifle in detail.
Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
Earlier episodes have covered initial cleaning and repair. Part 4 of the series describes work on the lock and metal inlays.
The lock of the “Masonic rifle” is a high quality commercial back action lock, probably of English manufacture. Locks of this quality flooded into the United States markets, were engraved with names of local firms, and jobbed out to gun makers who in turn built them into guns. In the case of the lock on this rifle, it was engraved with the name R.W. BOOTH & Co CINCINNATI. I cleaned the lock externally and internally with a brass “toothbrush” and a light petroleum oil to remove grime and loose surface rust. This light cleaning revealed light engraving on the lock plate. The lock plate has two engraved border lines about one-half mm apart with the outermost line about one-half mm inboard of the lock edge [see Plate 1] and light additional engraving between the hammer and rear of lock. It also has several radial marks engraved toward the top of the lock plate adjacent to the lock bolt hole. These marks are so distinct here that although there are no marks visible on the end of the lock bolt today, I suspect that when new, the lock bolt was engraved with the “all-seeing eye” of Masonry. The lock plate is 113mm long and 26mm wide.
Plate 1. Lockplate as received. Note the square tumbler post with its broken hammer screw.
I found the lock in very poor condition with excessive wear. The amount of wear is visible in Plate 1 above. The square boss that holds the hammer protrudes through a hole in the lock plate (near the left or front of the lock). This square portion of the tumbler is visibly far off center in its bearing hole in the lock plate. This is illustrative of the amount of wear this lock sustained.
The back-action lock is of late percussion design. It has a mainspring with a split nose that accepts a stirrup on the tumbler to reduce friction and speed up lock time. Only high-end locks had this feature. The mainspring is in good condition and I was able to remove it quite easily with a mainspring vise. The hammer was missing, due to a broken hammer screw. The broken threaded portion of this screw is visible in the square boss in Plate 1 above. The tumbler pivot hole in the bridle (inside the lock) is worn oval with 0.3-0.5mm clearance (wobble) around the bridle pivot pin [visible in Plate 2]. The empty hole in the right hand portion of the lock (Plate 2) receives a pin integral to the lock spring and keeps the spring in place under tension.
Plate 2. Lockplate internal components.
The square boss on the hammer side of the tumbler is in good condition, but the tumbler pivot hole in the lock plate is quite worn as mentioned above. The half-cock notch of the tumbler is so worn as to be unusable as a half-cock. The sear nose slips past the half cock notch and allows the tumbler to rotate to its uncocked position. Internal screws for the sear spring and the sear (which also serves as the rear bridle screw) could be turned but the two forward screws of the bridle have slots too damaged to be removed without destroying them. Also, the sear spring screw hole (the sear spring screw is the screw head visible near the center of the lock in Plate 2 above) seemed to be stripped, so to avoid likely difficulty in replacing this screw after cleaning, I left it in place and did not remove it or the sear screw. As the intended repairs are only to replace the hammer, I elected to forego further cleaning. I “painted” the lock internally and externally with microcrystalline wax dissolved in mineral spirits. As the mineral spirits evaporated, the wax coats the lock parts and retards rusting.
The missing hammer allowed the tumbler to over-rotate, causing a great deal of damage to the lock mortise. The tumbler without the hammer is limited in its forward rotation only by its impact on the bridle. In this position, the nose of the mainspring extends about 1mm beyond the lockplate edge. The mainspring thus rubbed the edge of the mortise and caused damage to it every time the stock break was moved after the hammer was lost. A replacement hammer and stabilizing the stock at the break point will alleviate this problem.
The lock mortise is in very poor condition. The gun smith removed an excessive amount of wood during the initial fitting of the lock. Because the lock mortise portion of the stock is a relatively weak portion after inletting the lock, prudent gunsmiths are meticulous about blacking the internal components of the lock with soot and repeatedly fitting the lock to the mortise as excess wood is removed to assure the least amount of wood possible is removed from the mortise. Belau (or perhaps others that worked on the gun later were not careful to leave the extra “beef” in the mortise area. Considering the minimal support in the lock area, I am surprised that the stock break did not happen here instead of in the wrist area, for this area is certainly very weak.
As the lock mortise was chewed out by the mainspring, the lock could be pulled deeper into the mortise by the lock bolt. Attempts to shore up the mortise by driving iron brads into the mortise edges (presumably later in the the 19th Century) succeeded for a time, but eventually made the problem worse as they became loose themselves and splintered out even more of the mortise. The lock is now relatively loose in its mortise and should never be fired again.
The slotted head of the original hammer screw sheared off when the hammer was lost. Plate 3 shows a closeup of the remaining portion of the screw still in the square boss. The first step in replacing the hammer was to remove the broken screw. A micro screw remover successfully removed the broken hammer screw. I .confirmed the screw pitch was 5-40 and bought a replacement hammer screw from Track of the Wolf Company. This replacement screw was the proper thread size and pitch, but the threaded portion was too long. I had to file off about 2mm of its length to make it fit. I located and purchased a modern replacement hammer that fits the dimensions and the architecture of the lock and nipple (also from Track of the Wolf). I filed the new cast hammer to fit the square tumbler boss of the lock and browned the hammer prior to installing it on the lock.
Plate 3. Broken hammer screw.
The triggers on the Masonic Rifle are double action double set triggers. This means the rifle could be fired with a heavy trigger pull without setting the triggers or a light trigger pull with the front trigger “set” (by pulling the rear trigger until it latches under spring pressure). The triggers are in good mechanical condition without significant wear. They were also among the cleanest parts of the gun.
I cleaned the triggers with brass brush and then “painted” them with microcrystalline wax dissolved in mineral spirits. As the mineral spirits evaporate, the trigger parts are left coated with wax. This is all that was done to conserve the triggers.
More than 30 inlays of brass, German silver, and pewter are fixed to the rifle stock. The inlays were cleaned in with soap and a cloth dampened with distilled water and lots of elbow grease. They were then rinsed with a second cloth dampened with distilled water. These inlays are described at length in a document titled “The Ragains Rifle Inlays” available on the Texas Masonic History tab of the Grand Lodge website.
On receipt, the rifle was missing portions of two inlays. One wing of the winged hourglass was missing as well as the blade of the spade. The problem with leaving inlay mortises empty is that the mortise edges are easily damaged. I cut new inlays to fit the mortises and re-installed the replacements. Photos of the empty mortises and of the replacements are shown below in Plates 4-6.
Plate 4. Butt stock of the Ragains rifle showing missing spade inlay.
Plate 5. Spade inlay replaced. Approximately life size.
Plate 6. Replaced wing of hourglass. Approximately life size.
All inlays were painted with a very dilute shellac solution to retard tarnishing. At this point, the work on inlays ended.
Join us next time for Part 5 of the conservation series.
Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
In Part 2 of our series on conservation I described the process of removing and clearing the barrel of its charge. Part 3 describes repairing the stock fracture in detail.
Interesting new information
Last evening, with the breech plug removed, I drove a pure lead bullet through the barrel to better determine caliber. The slug revealed a bore diameter of 0.355 inches (this makes it nominally a .36 caliber rifle), with a seven-groove right hand twist of 1 turn in 48 inches. The rifling does not appear to be a gain twist. The square grooves are 0.013 inches deep and about 0.055 inches wide, leaving lands about 0.10 inches wide. The muzzle is internally relieved (coned) to a diameter of 0.50 inches at the muzzle to ease loading. It appears this coned section is less than 75 mm long.
Seven grooves were common in rifle and pistol barrels in 19th Century guns (and allude to the Biblical “7” for sufficiency and completeness). Thus the known facts suggest this was nominally a .36 caliber rifle that used a 0.350 inch ball with a 0.015 inch thick patch.
Repairing the Gunstock
When I received the rifle, its stock was shattered at the wrist. As described in Part 2, the stock was at that time held together by vinyl electrician’s tape wrapped several times around the wrist and trigger guard. This reduced the amount the stock could move, but did not afford it much true rigidity. The stock consisted of two large and two small pieces, and one tiny sliver. The butt stock was in one piece and the forearm was also in one piece. Two small pieces of stock had broken from the belly of the gun where the lock mortise had severely weakened the stock. The small pieces fit reasonably well in between the fore stock and the butt stock. The larger of these pieces was three and one-quarter inches long, and the smaller piece was about one and a half inches
Plate 1. Rifle as received, showing one stock crack, “repaired.”
long. The break that comprises the front of the smaller piece is visible just above the rear trigger in front of the electrician’s tape in Plate 1.
The first step in repair was to carefully remove the electrician’s tape and assess the damage. On removing the tape, the break was exposed. Notice that the break is clean through the wrist, with limited amounts of splintering. Note the extensive amount of tape residue at the break site. This hardened adhesive had to be cleaned off the stock with lighter fluid and very careful scraping. There was some staining of the wood underneath the tape. The residue-induced staining was lightened with light scraping. Selective areas that were damaged (i.e. bleached) by percussion cap residue were re-stained as needed.
This preparation also revealed two inlays hidden by the tape “repair.” One is a small heart-shaped inlay on top of the wrist 1.7 cm behind the beehive inlay just aft of the barrel tang This inlay is visible in Plate 2 as a greenish ring atop the wrist. The second inlay that was revealed is the “grip” inlay on the left side of the wrist 1.5 cm behind the goat inlay. This is visible in Plates 2 & 3 as an empty mortise that spans the fracture. As shown here, the two pieces of stock shown are about 5 cm apart. Before reassembly, all tape residue was removed and the stock cleaned with lighter fluid and light scraping.
Plate 2. Broken wrist, left side front.
Plate 3. Broken wrist, left side rear.
Since the objective of the conservation efforts was to stabilize the rifle rather than return it to firing condition, all “repairs” are to be reversible, should future conservation be required. For that reason, the glue of choice was hide glue, a natural adhesive, which while not as strong as some modern glues, can be easily removed with either heat or water. I chose Titebond brand liquid hide glue because it offered more “open time” than hot hide glue.
For the first attempt at repair I glued the four pieces of stock together without any of the metal components attached (but the inlays. I held the stock pieces in alignment with vinyl electrical tape. After two days drying time, I removed the tape and began assembling the parts. The stock repairs were barely visible, with only about a half-mm gap where the pieces met. The barrel mated well, and I was able to push the barrel pin through the fore stock easily with only finger pressure. The barrel was, at this point, missing the breech plug. I installed the trigger plate and then readied the trigger guard for installation.
When I received the gun, the trigger guard was attached to the stock by a single ¾” screw in the guard’s front finial and a cross pin through a lug beneath the back finial. Both methods of attachment are common, but it is rare to see a complete but unused front lug with a pinned rear lug.
When I began to replace the trigger guard, I noticed that it was bent both sideways (over one-quarter inch) and downward. The evidence suggests these bends probably happened after the stock shattered.
I installed the wood screw through the front tang (which was bent noticeably upward and had a crack through the guard tang) to secure it. I was then able to insert the rear lug into its mortise, though parts of the rear tang would not fit the mortise because of the bend trigger guard. But as I was reinstalling the rear cross pin, the stock separated again into two pieces and I was again left with the same problem as before.
I was forced to start over.
I cleaned the hide glue off the repair surfaces and prepared to reassemble the stock a second time. This time, I used India ink to tint the glue to make the repairs less visible. This time, I used the breech plug tang and the trigger plate to help maintain alignment of the stock (this had proved very difficult in the first assembly. The stock pieces did not align as well the second time, even considering the improved alignment offered by the trigger plate and breech plug tang. After a day, the glue still had not set up, and had let the stock move out of register. I removed the electrician’s tape, repositioned the stock and secured the break with latex surgical tubing. Plate 4 illustrates the repair in progress at this point.
Plate 4. Wrist repair progress – take two.
I set the stock aside for four days until the glue had had time to fully set up. The finished repair at the wrist is shown in Plates 5 and 6 below.
Plate 5. Stock repair, lock side.
Figure 5 shows the lock side of the repair and the location of the break. The break passes just forward of the screw at the rearmost end of the lock plate. It shows in Plate 5 as a black line. Note the missing hammer and the square boss that the hammer is normally attached to. As received, there were several short brads driven into the lock mortise edges to support the lock plate and keep it from being pulled into the oversized mortise by the lock bolt. These are unseen in the lock mortise behind the lock plate.
Plate 6. Stock repair, left side.
Plate 6 shows the site of the catastrophic stock break and subsequent repair. Note that the break site angles up from under the goat inlay, traverses diagonally across the grip inlay, and over the top of the wrist. The second crack extends straight downward from the midpoint of the grip inlay to the bottom of the wrist. Note also that the grip inlay is mounted upside down. This is an unexpected condition, as the inlay clearly has an “up side” and a “down side.” I received the rifle with the inlay inverted. As this is a part of the rifle’s history, I re-installed the inlay as it was received and not as it should have been installed by the maker.
Join us next time for Part 4 of the series which covers work with the lock and metal inlays.
Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
In Part 1 of our series on conservation of artifacts, I talked about the importance of conserving Masonic treasures for future generations. Now let’s apply those ideas to actually conserving a Masonic relic. Part 2 of the series will concern itself with the conservation of an antique percussion longrifle.
Just after I finished writing Part 1 of this series, I received an antique percussion long rifle designated to be placed on display at the Grand Lodge of Texas museum in Waco. The rifle is important to Masonry because it has over 30 Masonic symbols inlayed in its stock. The rifle was made in 1858 for Brother David Abraham Ragains, who must have shelled out a hefty sum for the profusely inlaid rifle. As Bro. Ragains was living in Illinois at the time, it is likely that he purchased the rifle from an Illinois gun maker. The top flat of the gun barrel is engraved with the year of manufacture (1858) and the maker’s name.
Today, 150 years later, the rifle is in only poor to fair shape. Its stock has been broken cleanly in two at the wrist. For the past 2 years it has been stored in the trunk of a car, and the rifle has suffered for this treatment. The rifle is a half-stock long rifle of the late percussion era. Many rifles of this period were profusely inlaid. But few are inlaid with the symbols of Masonry as this one is.
The most serious problem with the condition of this rifle is its stock. The stock is made of curly maple and is broken completely in two. This break destabilized the whole gun. An early attempt at “repair” used vinyl electrician’s tape to hold the two pieces of stock to together [Plate 1]. The resulting “repair” left the fore stock and butt stock articulated (bent) sideways at the point of the break and free to move significantly. This condition is very detrimental to the survival of the gun, since every movement of the stock pieces damages the wood further.
Plate 1. Left Side of Wrist with Tape
Plate 1 shows the portion of the wrist where the break is. Just under the goat inlay, you can see one of the several breaks in the stock. Also visible is some of the hardened adhesive from the electrician’s tape on the stock. The photo does not make it clear that the trigger guard is attached to the rifle by a cross pin through the wrist. The tape conceals this pin in the photo. The tape was actually reducing the amount of movement that the buttstock is subject to.
Conservation of the rifle involves so many separate activities that I will divide the conservation into segments and treat these segments one at a time. The focus of this (first) segment will be conservation of the gun barrel.
While most lodges won’t have a rifle to conserve, many will have some metallic object that needs conservation and thus will have a similar problem. Because I am the primary conservator, the report will be written in first person. Let’s begin.
The first order of business was removing the barrel from the stock. To do this, I first removed the ramrod (wiping rod) from its storage place under the barrel. I then carefully removed the black electrician’s vinyl tape from the wrist of the gun. This exposed the break and the fact that only tang bolt, the rear pin of the trigger guard, and the trigger plate screw held the butt stock to the fore stock. In effect, the brass trigger guard and the trigger plate were keeping the stock from separating completely. That is not the purpose of these pieces of rifle furniture.
The attachments were likely to further damage the stock while working on the gun, so after carefully removing the electrical tape, I removed the tang bolt, trigger plate screw, and trigger guard pin. The fore stock and butt stock then separated cleanly and completely and two loose pieces of stock fell out of the wrist area (these two pieces were contained by the electricians tape}.
Since I had previously determined the rifle was loaded, the most critical job was to remove the gun barrel and then remove the charge from the gun. But first, I had to remove the barrel from the stock.
The gun barrel
To remove the barrel, I removed the trigger guard from the fore stock by removing its forward screw. This left only the back action lock and the barrel attached to the fore stock. I removed the lock by unscrewing the lock bolt and drove the barrel pin out of the stock using a 1/16” diameter pin punch inserted from the right side of the stock. (This must be done right to left because many of these pins were significantly tapered and thus driving them out from the “large end” will damage either the retaining pin or the stock. As I removed each piece from the rifle, I placed it in a separate Ziploc® snack bag and labeled it for reference.
On removing the pin and dismounting the barrel from the fore stock, I found that the barrel originally had redundant mounting methods. It was originally held together by a barrel pin that passed through the stock and was accessed through a 2mm diameter hole in the “Charter” inlay and was also secured by an iron hook [Plate 2] attached to the bottom flat of the barrel that engaged a flat
Plate 2. Barrel attachment hook
bar in the barrel channel. The underlug that the pin originally passed through has since been removed from the barrel flat at some time in the past. This meant that the pin was a secondary attachment. When the tang screw was inserted properly, the barrel could not move forward even with the pin removed, and also effectively held the fore stock in slight compression to the butt stock.
With the barrel removed from the stock, it was time to set about removing the charge so we can deal with a truly “unloaded” gun.
It is very common to find old firearms loaded. In the case of cartridge guns, unloading is usually a fairly simple process. Not so with muzzle loaders. The barrel of these guns is a tube closed at one end. The powder is placed at the closed end by pouring it down the muzzle. A projectile (usually a spherical lead ball) is then wrapped in a cloth patch and pushed down bore to rest on the powder. The usual and preferred method of unloading a muzzle loading arm is to fire it.
Firing the gun is of course, very unwise in this case. We know nothing about the condition or integrity of the barrel, and if it is in poor condition, the barrel might explode and make the gun irreparable. Attempting to fire the charge in an antique gun is the very definition of stupidity. That leaves two other routes to unloading the barrel. The first is to “pull” the ball out the muzzle with a ball puller and the second is to remove the drum and/or the breech plug and wash the powder behind the ball out the breech end of the barrel.
Author’s note: Please bear in mind that at least one intrepid soul who tried and initially failed to remove the breech plug from the barrel of a long-forgotten gun shot a large lead ball through the side of his garage when the gunpowder loaded so many years before ignited as he heated the breech plug to loosen it. He was very lucky. In his case, the breech plug and barrel held and did not explode. And nobody was in the line of fire when the gun discharged..
I did not want to duplicate his experience.
Pulling the ball forward out the muzzle of a loaded gun is a high-risk activity and I will not do it. But a gun barrel without propellant behind the ball is simply a plugged barrel and the lead ball can be safely “pulled” using a ball puller (wood screw) in a cleaning rod or pushed out the muzzle with a ramrod.
First, I placed the barrel in a padded vise with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. I then removed the nipple with a nipple wrench. The nipple was completely plugged with rust and perhaps firing residue as well. I then removed he drum. The gun barrel was completely filled with rust and powder near the breech. I flushed rust and gunpowder out of the barrel through the drum seat with a disposable plastic syringe until no more came out. I then used a wooden dowel to drive the ball down the bore and out the muzzle. After removing the ball, the gun barrel was unobstructed enough to see through.
With the bore emptied, I cleaned the rust and residue from the barrel with nylon brush and shotgun bore mop and soapy water, followed by an acetone rinse, then left it to dry. I used soapy water for the cleaning because it dissolves the potassium nitrate (saltpeter) that is a major component of gunpowder. Dissolving the saltpeter rendered the other two ingredients of powder (sulfur and charcoal) harmless, and the soapy water helped wash out the loose rust and other solids. This left the bore damp, and subject to rust. I added acetone to the barrel, as it will not hurt iron (the barrel is soft iron) and since it mixes with water it helps remove water from the bore. The acetone then evaporates easily, leaving a clean, dry bore.
After flushing the barrel with acetone and allowing it to dry for about an hour, I heated the barrel lightly with a propane torch until it was hot to the touch (to dry it). I then applied Renaissance Wax to the bore with a shotgun bore cleaning mop and heated the barrel again until the wax just melted. I then set the barrel aside to cool.
There were spots of light surface rust on the barrel, as if from a light sprinkling of rain. To remove the majority of this rust and stop further corrosion, I oiled the outer barrel flats with a light machine oil and used a small piece of sheet brass sharpened to a chisel point to lightly scale and remove most of the light surface rust. Sheet brass was used because it is considerably softer than the iron barrel. Before this effort the rust spots were very visible and were easy to feel. After the treatment described, the rust spots were barely visible and could no longer be felt.
Renaissance Wax was applied to the barrel. I cleaned the inside of the drum and nipple using dental tools, and cleaned the threads of both with nylon and brass brushes. I then heated the drum and nipple in a 200°F oven with paste wax for 20 minutes, and allowed them to cool. This left all surfaces of the drum and nipple coated with wax. I reinstalled the drum and the nipple. The barrel treatment was complete at this time, and Renaissance Wax was applied to the barrel as a protective coating.
Join us next for Part 3 of the series as we continue to explore conservation of the Ragains rifle. Part 3 will describe stock repair.
Texas History Committee
Masonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. Its members are often caretakers of many artifacts. Some of these artifacts have great historical significance and some do not. It is therefore incumbent on Masons to make themselves aware of the nature and value of these artifacts with the overall goal of making them available for future generations of Masons.
Masonry is steeped in tradition and history. Unlike portions of the world whose historical artifacts span centuries or millennia, Texas Masonry is relatively young, and this means that most of its artifacts are likewise of relatively young age. Notwithstanding this fact, there are still many priceless and irreplaceable artifacts in the collections of various Texas Lodges.
The Texas History Committee of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas will produce several articles on conservation of artifacts in an effort to give Texas lodges some guidance in judicious care and storage of their treasures. Thus they will be available for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
Each installment in the conservation series will focus on conservatorship of a certain type or class of artifacts. Though there will be a steady progression through the various types of artifacts, they may not be in the “right order” for your lodge’s personal collection. If you have a specific artifact requiring immediate conservation or stabilization, please drop a line to the Texas History Committee via the Grand Lodge website and describe your needs. We will find an answer to your problem and identify the proper steps for you to take in preserving the history in your care.
The Texas History Committee is very interested in helping you keep your Lodge’s history secure and in good condition.
Artifacts are divided into groups. These include:
- Documents (Charters, certificates, etc.)
- Textiles objects
- Metal objects Furniture and wooden objects
- Paintings and sculpture
Paper makes up a large portion of lodge artifacts that need conservation. These artifacts include lodge records, minutes, charters, photographs, and books. Some of these, such as a charter signed by Grand Master Doctor Anson Jones are clearly irreplaceable and as such, also worthy of great effort in preserving for future generations.
Textiles make up a significant number of common Lodge artifacts. From “Master’s Carpets” to altar cloths, to station coverings and aprons, they are by their very nature some of the most “handled” of articles and thus in most danger of damage. My mind remembers an elaborately-embroidered shield-shaped apron framed and hanging on a Lodge wall. It is today a muddy chocolate brown. It was once brightly colored, but the cardboard backing contained acids that reacted with the dyes in the embroidery and destroyed the beauty of the embroidery and now even the white satin background is the same muddy brown.
Objects may range from the “sharp object” of reception to antique gavels. From stations to altars; Tiler’s swords to officer’s jewels, some are rusty, some worn, and some damaged.
Paintings and sculptures may range from that statue of the “broken column” to hand-painted and adorned Jachin and Boaz. They may need only dusting or they may require major work.
TEXAS HISTORY DOCUMENTS AND ARTIFACTS
One of the stated tasks of the Texas History Committee is to work with each Texas Lodge to help determine what historically important documents and artifacts they may have tucked away in their back rooms, and then to offer assistance to the lodge to help them preserve those artifacts and documents from decay… and who knows what artifacts might be stored in a cabinet in a back room!
While not every Lodge will have artifacts from the time of the Texas Republic, every Lodge will contain within its archives, a slice of the history of its own community. Future generations of Masons in your community will find great benefit from a clear and thorough documentation of your Lodge’s history.
A few ideas might be to place a label, or attach a sheet of paper listing the names of all of the men in the installation photos that are in almost every Texas Lodge. Is there a name engraved on the Tiler’s sword? Whose was it? Is there a member of your Lodge who remembers that man? Maybe he was the town mayor, or the blacksmith, or a Past Master who served with distinction as the Lodge Secretary.
This would be an excellent time to examine the Lodge Minute Books, and make sure that they are well-protected from the elements, leaky water pipes, bugs and varmints. Brethren, this form is intended to draw your attention to the rich legacy of our beloved Masonic Fraternity that exists in each and every one of our Texas Lodges.
If you find that you need some professional assistance in the areas of document preservation or restoration, or would like some suggestions on how to best care for various items of paper, wood, metal, etc., some of the members of the Texas History Committee have experience in these areas. In these instances, all you would need to do would be to contact any member of the committee, and request some assistance.
Rest assured that Grand Lodge has no desire for the documents and artifacts of the Constituent Lodges. This project is being developed by the Texas History Committee, and is a work-in-progress. Your ideas and suggestions for how this Committee may best serve the Lodges of Texas are eagerly solicited. Your Texas History Committee would love for you to share your stories of treasures found, and lost history recovered.