Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
Despite your best efforts, sometimes things just don’t go the way you plan. Some of these occurrences may have been identified from the start as possible outcomes and some sneak up on you. When that happens, you just have to fall back and regroup. And come up with the least objectionable plan available with the new circumstances.
You’ll no doubt recall that the restoration/stabilization of the Ragains rifle was plagued with problems caused by the nature and magnitude of the damage to the stock. While the rifle restoration was pretty tame for the most part, stabilizing the stock was a nightmare from the start.
An example is in order. The first failure happened when I tried moving the stock (minus its barrel and most of its “furniture” on the repair table. The problem here was the hide glue drying time was longer than I had expected. I carefully removed the excess hide glue and re-glued the rifle. The second time I put everything together, I almost got the rifle moved before it again fell apart With stock together and barrel installed, everything seemed fine. I installed the hammer on the lock after attaching the lock, trigger plate, and trigger guard. All looked fine. I left the rifle in my weekday apartment and went home for the weekend. When I returned, I found that the tiny amount of torque the hammer had exerted on the stock had caused two of the break repairs to fail. The hide glue is just not strong enough to make the repair work.
At this point, two options seemed available. The first was to display the rifle in two pieces placed close, but not quite together. This would allow the rifle inlays to show but would mean the rifle would obviously display poorly.
The other option was to use a more certain and permanent repair to stabilize the break. Of the several options, one is a brace of some kind. This could alternately be an external or internal brace. Any external brace will obviously be quite visible. It could, of course be made to be reversible, if, for example, it consisted of a rigid metal brace and through bolts. But it would look awful and the maker in me would just die.
A second possibility is to cut a long scarf (like a wedge shape) on the fore end and butt stock, then cut a matching scarf of new wood, glue all three pieces together, then inlet the barrel, lock, trigger guard, and trigger plate in the new wood before shaping the repaired portion and finishing it. A third alternative is a “loose tenon” repair, placed into a hidden mortise that bridges the break and that uses modern glues to stabilize the stock pieces. The glues available include cyanoacrylate (CA) and epoxy. Both make a semi-permanent repair. If the repair is made using epoxy, heating the metal (and hence the surrounding epoxy) to about 250 °F or so breaks the epoxide bond and would allow a moderate degree of reversibility. This is an option I had wished to avoid.
However, it was possible to make this repair carefully so that the mortise can be hidden by the trigger plate and trigger guard. In effect this created an invisible repair yet fully stabilized the gun for such handling as it will receive in inserting it into the display case.
A 6mm thick steel spline (loose tenon) was carefully inlet into the unbroken wood of the stock so that it bridged the fracture. Catalyzed epoxy was then added carefully to both ends of the spline and allowed to cure. After cure, more epoxy was added to the length of the spline to secure it and stabilize the stock pieces. This approach allowed the spline to be affixed to sound wood on both sides of the fracture site. After this repair, the rifle is stable enough to handle carefully and should not fail in a pure museum display mode. The spline is completely hidden by the trigger plate and the trigger guard. Thus, the rifle appears to be sound overall on first view.
In this case, the end (use) justified the (less than easily reversible) means (of . The best thing that can be said of the repair is that the rifle will show well and the pieces of the stock near the break site will not be lost in this condition. The repair, with spline in place, is a permanent repair that could, with effort, be reversed. So it’s almost as good as a completely reversible repair.
If you have questions about conserving some of your Lodge’s treasures (or your own), contact the author or another member of the Grand Lodge History Committee (email addresses at the bottom of the Texas Masonic History main page). We may not know the answer off hand but will search out an answer for you. Between our efforts and yours, we’ll preserve as much of our Masonic heritage as possible.