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Old May 8, 2017, 07:13 PM   #1
sixgunnin
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1800's manufacturing of guns?

I have often wondered how gun manufacturers were able to produce working guns without all the technology we have today. It must have been very difficult to mass produce precise firearms without computer guidance or the resources we have today.

The fit and finish must have not have been very close to todays standards? Is there any pictures that would show the standards that they built to?

This is a very amazing and mind boggling topic, (kind of like how far space goes)

It is truly amazing what they could do with the very limited resources that they must have had. It is said the only think good about the good old days is there gone
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Old May 8, 2017, 07:53 PM   #2
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That's a century, with a lot of advancement. What decade are you thinking about?
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Old May 8, 2017, 08:36 PM   #3
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Fit and finish was very good even on military weapons. No welded or stamped parts. Many parts were fit so well that if you handle one that got good care you'd be impressed.
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Old May 8, 2017, 08:55 PM   #4
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Quote:
What decade are you thinking about?
1870's
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Old May 8, 2017, 09:43 PM   #5
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By 1900 S&W was considered the best handgun maker ! One of their little habits was to turn on the machines a while before starting the day's work .Thus everything was done at the same temperature in the machines !! Attention to details , trying for perfection really does make for better product !!! [I speak from years of industrial experience !]
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Old May 8, 2017, 09:55 PM   #6
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In the 1870s, you got the Colt SAA, several S&Ws, the finely machined Merwin Hulbert, Winchester 1873 and 1876 (and Browning Single Shot that became the Winchester Highwall.) Also Sharps, Ballard, Bullard, Remington. Also Parker and other nice shotguns.
Fit was very good and finish was excellent.
The only real shortcoming was in the materials, the guns of the late 19th century were made of wrought iron, mild steel, and brass.

And that is just the American stuff. A British express rifle or game gun of that era will knock your eyeballs out.
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Old May 8, 2017, 10:19 PM   #7
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The only real shortcoming was in the materials, the guns of the late 19th century were made of wrought iron, mild steel, and brass.
Colt used wrought iron for frames til the mid 1890's. I think everybody else was using steel from around 1870 on. Fit was very good and finish was better than anything produced today except maybe on very high end guns.

Quote:
It must have been very difficult to mass produce precise firearms without computer guidance or the resources we have today.
They had lathes and milling machines etc but a lot of the final fitting was done by hand resulting in smoother actions than what you buy off a rack today.
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Old May 8, 2017, 10:33 PM   #8
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I'm impressed with the Ubertis in fit and finish or some anyway.
I've examined a Uberti 1875 Remington and a Colt clone in stainless. Smooth as glass and no clearances it seemed. Lock up was tight at rest or cocked and no end play. Cocking the hammer was jsut so smooth without any discernable play. The loading gates were well tight fitted to but smooth operation. I wondered if a spec of dust or a sneeze would lock them up.
The 4 and 5/8 inch Colt clone in "Case hardened" finish with blue barrel and cylinder was loose as a goose though.
The two stainless guns would put Colt to shame.
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Old May 8, 2017, 11:14 PM   #9
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The main issue with guns of that period is that they were hand fitted, and the parts were not interchangeable. Ian from Forgotten Weapon had a very good video on the topic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOHEZhKVyJ4
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Old May 8, 2017, 11:40 PM   #10
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I have news for you. When I was in the Marines, we got revolvers from the Airwing. Those .38's were pretty much a hand fit operation too. Ever try to match parts in all those old .32 and .38 revolvers made by H&R, H&A, Iver Johnson, S&W and who knows who else. A big problem in the early 1900's was there was no standards for gun threads and screws. I think a lot of the companies may have used odd threads so you bought from them. I could not tell you how many times I repaired guns with electrical outlet plate screws forced in them.
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Old May 9, 2017, 12:33 AM   #11
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Sixgunnin-
You really need to look at some quality older arms. You might be amazed. People actually made very nice things 100 years ago. There was nothing crude about it.
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Old May 9, 2017, 12:55 AM   #12
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John Moses Browning did amazing things in his little Utah shop,with not much.
I don't know about today,but a decade ago,Holland And Holland would go about machining a receiver by simply hogging steel away with a drill press,then carving steel with chisels. Very low tech,high skill processes. No CNC,no EDM. Regardless the mystique,IMO,a CNC machined part accurate to.001 is as good as any part filed to .001. The difference is the filed part may cost $60 to make,while the CNC part is $3 And 30 years from now,Old Joe the File guy is dead. The CNC program can still make parts to print.

Some archaic machinery does amazing things,and parts are designed to take advantage of the machines. Many shapes very difficult for rotating cutters are a piece of cake on a broach. Many folks are familiar with a keyway broach. Using a slotted bushing,they are pressed through a pulley or gear to cut a keyway.
Broaches cut far more complex shapes than keyways. Like splines. Or AR barrel extensions.

I ran a large American Broach machine. Part of it was below the floor,and an 8 in dia hydraulic ram drew the broaches through the parts. Amazing 1950's machine that was a moneymaker!

I had reason to cut some falling block bolt raceways in some Hepburn receiver castings.
I built a fixture on a cheap cast angle plate to hold the receiver and simultaneously guide common keyway broaches to cut the bolt raceways. Beauty!

Many complex to mill gun parts were made on a shaper. These use something like a lathe bit to cut. The cutter is simply driven on a long,straight like cut. It makes one chip.This machine is also called a "planer/shaper".

The shape of the part may be a master pattern,a template,or layout lines on the workpiece.

The operator turns the machine handles to move the workpiece so this cutter is generally "eyeballed" to the layout line or template.

I adapted the idea to making a long bar of rolling block rotary extractors . I used a end mill on a Briddgeport,conventionally. But I used an original extractorattached to the end of the bar for a template.The hole was already bored. The extractor was screwed to a brass plug in the hole.A bar of 8620 steel was held horizontal in the chuck o f a Yuasa Accu-Dex rotary fixture,and aligned with the Y axis.
So,Id rotate theAccu-dex a few degrees,eyeball the corner of the endmill to the edge of the original extractor,and make a cut. I ended up with an 8 in bar of extractor silouettes,cut around the pivot pin hole.

Next,that was stood vertical in a Vee-Block,and a large slotting saw was used to slice off the extractors. The trick! Slice most of the way through at finished thickness,but then offset the cutter in the Z axis so the saw cutter kerf leaves steel for the extractor hook!

Gang drills and box fixtures are old school. Say you have a lever action receiver. You lod it inside a box fixture. Features inside the fixture,a table,a fence,and astop,locate the part.

The top plate of the fixture has hardened drill bushings installed in holes precisely located . The "gang Drill" is just a table with a row of drill press heads. A seies of drills,reamers,and taps are then run through the drill bushings,precisely locating the holes in the workpiece.

Folks figure out how to use what they have

Bill DeShivs: Agreed! Look at a flintlock lockwork from the 1700's!

Last edited by HiBC; May 9, 2017 at 01:06 AM.
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Old May 9, 2017, 01:50 AM   #13
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This video will show you some of the old,crude methods still used to make primitive guns someplace in England.
They are even making those side by side double barrel shot guns!!
They have modernized quite a bit since an older vid I saw once.

https://youtu.be/qUXoNUzAyvk

Sixgunnin,check it out. ....Holland and Who?
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Old May 9, 2017, 03:55 AM   #14
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This reminds me of the conversation Ronald Reagan had with the university students who wanted to know how things got done back then before computers. "We invented computers!" was the reply. Things weren't that primitive 100 or 150 years ago! They made steam engines, rifled barrels, pocket chronometers, mass produced parts to standardize firearms manufacturing, you name it! We have lost a lot of that technology over the years, but they knew how to make stuff accurately!
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Old May 9, 2017, 09:24 AM   #15
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Amazing. Any close up pics of firearms from that era?
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Old May 9, 2017, 11:20 AM   #16
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Take a look at the loooong barrels on early bolt action rifles. The composition has not really changed that much. Most barrels are still 4140 @ about 28 RC. If anything, they cheat now. I remember one well known barrel company advertising "Resulphurized!", like it was a good thing. Take a cut on an old barrel and take a cut on a new barrel. A lot of the new barrels are "Greasy" looking from the sulphur and lead added so it is easier to machine. One barrel that comes to mind is the 30-40 Krag. That is one tough barrel, but they drilled it. You drop an older barrel on cement and it rings. A lot of the newer ones have a dead sound when dropped. I got into machining when there were still a lot of shops with limited CNC. When it comes to small parts, a Brown&Sharpe screw machine with form tools will out run a CNC any day. CNC machines started out with a one tool cycle. There were a lot of multi-spindle cam machines out there that could easily beat them on production time. Old does not necessarily mean not as good, it usually means more expensive.
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Old May 9, 2017, 12:40 PM   #17
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This drilling was made no later then 1880. Note how the two halves fit together and the polish of the internal parts. The parting line of the trigger group and receiver can hardly seen when assembled.
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Old May 9, 2017, 07:44 PM   #18
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Very impressive
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Old May 10, 2017, 11:13 PM   #19
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Quote:
It must have been very difficult to mass produce precise firearms without computer guidance or the resources we have today.
If you really want to boggle your mind, think about how difficult it was to make those things WITHOUT ELECTRICITY!!!!

Back in those days craftsmen spent years, or even decades learning and perfecting their skills, and most of their work was done entirely by hand.

AND, even though they got paid more than unskilled labor, it wasn't much more, and the "benefits" package was that "you had a job".

Our society was much different then. Things we demand as bare minimum standards would have been incredible luxury benefits back then, had they existed. Government regulations requiring businesses to spend money on their workers, safety, and everything else we consider routine today did not exist.

By modern standards, workers were horribly exploited. However, applying modern standards to the past is one of our most common fallacies.
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Old May 11, 2017, 09:30 AM   #20
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I think the lesson I get is we shouldn't complain about ANYTHING!
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Old May 11, 2017, 03:49 PM   #21
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oh, I don't know, my GI days taught me that if you can't complain, all that shows is a lack of imagination!

I think the lesson is that talent, skill, artistry, craftsmanship, or what ever you want to call it exists independent of modern technology.

Then there's also the old saying that "the first time is the work of a genius, the 5th time, the work of a skilled craftsman, the 15th time is the work of a tinsmith".

Consider the fact that back in those days people not only had to design the parts, but also cut them out of wood and metal themselves, using hand tools and some powered tools, and get it right, each and every time. Every curve and angle setting had to be done each time, and done right, each time. Quite a bit different from today where now a critical skill is programming the machine to operate rather then operating the machine.

we're not quite to the point of George Jetson, where everything can be done by pushing a single button, but we are closer to that than our forefathers dreamed of.
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Old May 11, 2017, 08:57 PM   #22
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Consider the time frame under discussion. The 19th century was the greatest period of advancement in machines and technology ever seen. But even in 1800, gun making (especially in factories working for the military) was partially mass production but with final fitting being done by hand with files and grinding wheels. Machines were uncommon, run usually by water power. A backwoods gunsmith might have designed each part and cut it out by hand, but major makers had advanced well beyond that level.

By 1900, there were still traditionalists, making guns the old way, but most factories had become forests of machine tools and belting, run by a single power source (steam engine or water wheel). Tools were little different from those in use almost up to the present day. In fact, it has only been in the last 30 years that the old machines and tools have been replaced by CNC and other automated and semi-automated tools.

Jim
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Old May 11, 2017, 09:00 PM   #23
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French 1874 - I remember working on one of those , Beautifully designed and made ! Remember that those were black powder days and you had a revolver that could be taken apart without tools except the one supplied. Cam locked parts , Take it all apart to clean that corrosive powder. I just sat there and studied a very fine gun !! We hear lots of snide remarks about French items but this is certainly not lacking in the best design !!
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Old May 12, 2017, 12:16 AM   #24
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I own a lot of french guns and the metallurgy and machining is there even on the mass produced military guns. The one thing I have noticed on all military guns is the screws just kept getting finer over the years. I believe that in the late 1800's and early 1900's there was a difficulty in making threads. Some of the threads are so course they look like wood screws.
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