View Full Version : Whitworth rifling or Alexander Henry rifling?

December 14, 2004, 03:02 PM
I'm intending to buy, probably from Dixie Gun Works, either a Whitworth replica or the Volunteer Target Rifle. Both are .451 caliber with a twist of 1 in 20 inches. the Whitworth has the hexagonal whitworth rifling, of course, and the Volunteer Target rifle has Alexander Henry rifling. I have seen illustrations of Alexander Henry rifling so I have an idea what it is, but I would like to know how it is better (or worse) than the Whitworth system. I will be using whichever one I choose for mostly just paper punching but I also need it to be accurate enough to use on deer. I have an 1861 Springfield RM now that is bunches of fun to shoot but isn't too good in the accuracy department. I've taken deer with the Springfield but they have to be within about 75 yards or the group size grows bigger than the kill zone! Anybody know how well either of them shoot and if so, with what kind of loads?

4V50 Gary
December 15, 2004, 11:08 PM

In its days (1854 to about 1869), the Whitworth rifle was the preferred rifle for long range matches in England. It comes as no surprise when Confederate agents abroad were instructed to purchase long range guns that they were told to investigate the Whitworth.

The Whitworth featured a hexagonal bore that had a 1:20 twist. It fired either a hexagonal or a cylindrical bolt. Tests showed that the Whitworth could stirke a 32 feet long by 2 feet high target at 1880 yards.

What made the Whitworth so good. First, the bullet was fitted to the bore better than any other bullet had been. Sir Joseph Whitworth had examined the Enfield and determined the reason for its inconsistent results at longer ranges was that the gun or ammo wasn't consistent. So, he set out to produce a gun whose bore was precisely made and a bullet, called a bolt, was precisely fitted. His success was proven in numerous tests against the standard Enfield and other arms. However, because the Whitworth fouled easily, it was found unsuitable as a standard infantry weapon. Numerous were issued to several regiments in small quantities though.

One thing not discussed by many is that the long, slender Whitworth bolt enjoyed a better ballistic coefficient than many of the minie balls (and its derivations) used by most armies. Long & slender beats short & fat.

The Whitworth's reign came to an end in 1869 when a breechloading Metford rifle (I think it was using Henry rifling) usurped the Whitworth at the long range matches. It is likely that because the Metford was breechloading, that a bullet could be better fitted than a muzzle loader.

Greener mentions the Henry rifle barrel was selected for incorporation in the newer British breechloader. Henry's seven groove progressive depth barrel was a success in the Martini-Henry rifle. However, he doesn't address the muzzle loader. From a glance, I've found nothing in my other contemporary works on the Henry.

Now, as to which is better. Historically you know my answer. However, bear in mind that the Whitworth really didn't have an edge over the Enfield at distances below 500 yards. While it's trajectory was flatter than the Enfield or Springfield of Civil War fame, it was at distances over 500 yards that the Whitworth's superiority became apparent.

Either rifle would be good for game but the Whitworth can be a prima donna that requires a lot of work to figure out what works good in it. I'd go with a cylindrical bolt (Lyman makes one) if I went Whitworth. Hex moulds are hard to get and very expensive.

Jim Watson
December 16, 2004, 10:52 AM
If you can find a copy of the 1973 Gun Digest, it has an article about the Whitworth and the several competing "small bore" rifles. Well, .45 is smaller than .577, isn't it?

Whitworth did the original research that concluded that a .45 caliber, 1 turn in 20" twist barrel was the most efficient and accurate use of the Government load of 2 1/2 drams (68 grains) powder and 530 grains lead as used in the .577 Enfield. Then a number of riflemakers jumped on the bandwagon with the same basic formula in their own barrel designs.

Although the hexagonal Whitworth bore is the most famous, Alex Henry barrels were considered at least as good and maybe better when shot with cylindrical bullets. Only when Whitworth shooters started using the fitted hexagonal bullets did they regain the lead in long range target shooting in the last few years that muzzleloaders were used. The lead was small and there was a lot of competition in the field for those last few years. The Irish team at Creedmoor shot Rigbys. Which by that time were using what amounted to Metford rifling.

Which doesn't tell you which version to buy. Sorry 'bout that.

I was a bit surprised that the so-called "Volunteer Rifle" had Henry rifling. They sold those for some time with Rigby rifling, probably the later sort which was the same as what Metford and Gibbs were making.