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Old August 16, 2019, 12:34 PM   #1
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How was the revolvers made?

Hello, I saw this video of an old pepperbox revolver and I wounder how was they made back then? And how are modern revolver cylinders made today?

If ur using a lathe you can make a straight and centred bore, but it’s not possible to use a lathe in order to make multiple bores in one cylinder. A pepperbox cylinder that is longer than a ordinary revolver cylinder would be even harder to manifacture with something like a drill press.

Back in the days they didn’t have all the fancy tools and machines that we have today, so how were the pepperboxes made?
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Old August 16, 2019, 09:08 PM   #2
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Can't answer your specific question but don't assume "back in the days" that they didn't have equipment very much like what we have today. They certainly didn't have CNC but lathes, mills, shapers, etc. were certainly in existence as well as "specialized" equipment designed to perform specialized operations - may not have been driven by electricity but most machine shops were powered by water, steam engines' tc. and equipment was belt driven with overhead "line shafts". Don't assume that the craftsman ship wasn't there - I'd put their workmanship up agains today's with no thought about it. As far as boring a pepperbox - not first hand knowledge but a six shot is no different than a six shot cylinder - 360 degrees divided by six is 60. I would imagine an indexing head on a mill or even a precision drill press would perform the operation easily. The operation may have even been performed on a horizontal boring machine with an indexing head?
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Old August 17, 2019, 10:46 AM   #3
Driftwood Johnson
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One of my favorite subjects.

First of all, you have to define 'back in the day' which is, with all due respect, a meaningless term.

Secondly, you are mistaken when you say 'they didn’t have all the fancy tools and machines that we have today'. The machine tools in use at the time may not have looked much like the machine tools available today, but they did exist, and were designed to reproduce many, many parts to close tolerances.

The Industrial Revolution took place from about 1760 to about 1840 or so. This is when manufacturing techniques moved from parts being made one at a time, to mass production. Certainly within the time period of the Pepperbox. Also within the time period when all the major arms manufacturers began moving from making one gun at a time to making large quantities of interchangeable parts that could be assembled into more complex assembles without a whole lot of individual fitting.

Here is a photo from a photo essay that Smith and Wesson put out about 1950 when they built their 'new' factory. Which is still in use today. The equipment inside has changed over a lot, but the building is still in use.

S&W, as well as all the major gun manufacturers, used work stations that were dedicated to one specific operation. Parts would move from one work station to another as they progressed from raw steel to finished parts.

Here we see the work station for rough drilling the chambers in revolver cylinders. The round blanks, which had been previously turned on a lathe, were brought to this work station. Notice there are several drill press heads mounted on the work station. Underneath each drill press is a rotary table. Each rotary table would already have been set to drill six holes by turning the table 60 degrees for each hole. Most likely the cylinders progressed from one drill head to the next for different drills. Maybe a centering drill to begin with, then a larger drill and so on until the final dimension was achieved. Notice the large tray of cylinders that have had their holes drilled.

This was just one step in making cylinders in 1950. There were several more work stations the cylinders had to go through before they were finished. Interestingly enough, at the beginnig of this photo essay it says there were over 2000 separate operations to go through in making a revolver, and more than 500 inspections.

Here is a really good video showing the basics of using a rotary table to drill multiple holes evenly spaced around a circle, much like you would find in a revolver cylinder. Forget the fact that he is using a modern miller with a digital readout, the method of using a rotary table is not any different than it was back in 1950. Or earlier. Note that in a production setting such as the work station at S&W, all the tedious set up time would already have been done. The rotary table would already be all set up, so all six holes could be drilled quickly and efficiently.

Today of course, I suspect cylinders can be turned and drilled on multiple head machining centers without removing them from the machine, but that is how it used to be done.

Just for the fun or it, here are some photos of old equipment that was used manufacturing firearms many years ago.

This is a barrel drilling machine from the 1800s used at Colt.

A four spindle drill press.

This illustration shows equipment used to manufacture muskets at the Springfield Armory during the Civil War.

Row upon row of machines at the Springfield Armory, each one set up to do a specific operation. Notice all the machines are driven by belts that reach up to line shafts near the ceiling. The Springfield Armory was originally built during George Washington's presidency on the present site because abundant water power was available form the Connecticut River. But by the time this photo was taken stationary steam engines were providing the power.

Here is something you don't see every day. This is how multiple parts with complex geometry were produced long before Computer Numerical Control (CNC) existed. This is a pattern following miller. There are three heads that are working on three work pieces at once. The operator's right hand is resting where a pattern was secured. The thin vertical piece is a stylus. The operator operated the hand wheels to keep the stylus pressed against the pattern, and the machine followed the pattern through a mechanical linkage to cut the pattern in metal. Judging from his clothes this photo was probably taken around 1940 or 1950.

Pattern following equipment goes back much further than that. If you are ever in Vermont, stop in at the American Precision Museum to see how modern manufacturing methods for mass producing parts evolved in the 1840s.

Last edited by Driftwood Johnson; August 17, 2019 at 10:51 AM.
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Old August 17, 2019, 11:59 AM   #4
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Here's a vid of a circa 19th century drill press. I had and occasionally used one several years ago. Each revolution of the handle causes a dog, actuated by a cam, to incrementally move the spindle lower and lower. In an industrial setting the drill would have been powered by a belt driven by water or steam (or a goat on a treadmill).

Why would the OP think one couldn't use a drill press to bore the chambers in a cylinder?
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Old August 17, 2019, 12:53 PM   #5
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"...they didn’t have all the fancy tools and machines..." Machining was done during the Middle Ages using lathes etc. that were powered by springy tree limbs and water wheels. Indexing("by turning the table") for holes wasn't unknown either. It's basically a math thing. Math is really old.
However, without doing a lot of research, I believe pepper boxes(that pre-date the American Civil War literally by centuries. There were matchlock pepper box revolvers in the 16th Century.) may have originally been cast then finished machined.
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Old August 17, 2019, 04:46 PM   #6
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Thank you Driftwood Johnson.
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bore , cylinder , lathe , pepperbox , revolver index

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