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

The lock of the ‚ÄúMasonic rifle‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äútoothbrush‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúall-seeing eye‚ÄĚ of Masonry.¬†The lock plate is 113mm long and 26mm wide.


1 Lockplate as received

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.


2 Lockplate internal components

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 ‚Äúpainted‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúbeef‚ÄĚ 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.

3 Broken hammer screw

Plate 3. Broken hammer screw.

The Triggers

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 ‚Äúset‚ÄĚ (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 ‚Äúpainted‚ÄĚ 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.

The Inlays

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 ‚ÄúThe Ragains Rifle Inlays‚ÄĚ 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.


4 Butt stock of the Ragains rifle showing missing spade inlay

Plate 4. Butt stock of the Ragains rifle showing missing spade inlay.

 5 Spade inlay replaced

Plate 5. Spade inlay replaced. Approximately life size.

 6 Replaced wing of hourglass

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.