March 2022 Program
Eighteenth-Century Gunsmithing in Eastern Pennsylvania
Presented by Brad Emig, Owner & Craftsman, Cabin Creek Muzzleloading
This program presents and shares information pertaining to the gunsmith trade as practiced during the colonial period in eastern Pennsylvania. Topics of discussion include technology, materials, tools, and the tangible effects of diverse cultural influences on material products. Tools and other objects are on display.
This archived presentation may be watched here.
MARCH PROGRAM REVIEW contributed by Becky Anstine.
March 6, 2022 – Presentation by Brad Emig - 18th Century Gunsmithing
The Pennsylvania long rifle gave the American Revolution Army a military advantage over the British soldiers. It allowed the American soldiers to fight a guerilla war against a well- trained army with a weapon that had range and accuracy. Without the long rifle, the colonists might not have won the war. As Col. George Hanger of the British Army said “I never in my life saw better rifles, or men who shot better, than those made in America.” Brad started his presentation with this quote. Taking us through the steps of making a long rifle, he explained what made this rifle different from others being
manufactured at the time. He talked about the various cultures that settled American influenced the development of the rifle and how the move from the guilds of European gunsmiths affected the change in making the rifle in America.
The Kentucky Long Rifle Foundation lists 24 men known as rifle makers in York County, PA. In addition to the two individuals in the ad above; the list included Philip Hecker, Ignaitus Leitner, and George Schreyer. Many of the 18th century gunsmiths who immigrated to American, had learned their trade through the guild system in Europe. Gun manufacturing had consisted of seven individual divisions, with a smith specializing in one of those divisions. The divisions consisted of blacksmiths, whitesmiths, gunstocking, foundry, machinist, metal engraving, and wood carving. Once in America, the guild system, the equipment, and shops were no longer. Each gunsmith not only had to set up his own shop but build his own tools and whatever equipment he needed to construct a gun. Between each European country, there were also differences in the gunsmith business – depending on culture, available materials, etc. The Germans were the largest group, followed by the English. The Scotch-Irish had not been allowed guns in their homelands. When they arrived in American and moved to Virginia, the Scotch-Irish hired the German gunsmiths to move to Virginia and build guns for them. The German smiths adapted to the Scotch-Irish desires.
Gunsmiths manufactured other items in addition to guns. They had to make their own stocks, molds, powder measures, files, ladles – anything needed for the manufacturing of guns. Their skills lead to making knives, belt axes, forks, kitchen utensils, coffee mills, pewter spoons, butter molds, and strings. Some of the smiths also made instruments and pipe organs. They made the tools that were needed by a variety of other trades.
A gun could take between 500-600 hours to make. Some smiths could have a dozen guns in different stages in process. Many only made 1 or 2 at a time. Brad walked us through the steps in making a gun and showed how a gun barrel was made. He talked about the various woods that were used for the stocks. The gun was the most expensive item a colonial man would own, besides real estate. Guns could cost about 1/3 of the yearly income. They were passed down through generations as a greatly prized possession. Today they can run between $1500 and 76,000 for an original.
This presentation surprised several of us – we didn’t expect to find the topic of gunsmithing as interesting and informative as it was. The program was recorded and can be viewed through the link above.
Brad Emig, proprietor and master craftsman of Cabin Creek Muzzleloading in Hallam, is one of the country's preeminent gun builders using eighteenth-century gunsmithing technology. Before opening Cabin Creek in 1995 as a private-sector gun shop operated according to eighteenth-century principles and technology, he transformed the gun shop at the Landis Valley Farm Museum from a static display to a fully functional, working representation of a gun shop from that period, and practiced his craft there for eleven years. In addition to crafting authentic guns, he offers Arms Making Workshops along with his son Shane.