Closeup of Bill McCarthy's Breech-Loading Musket

Never heard of one? You're not alone...

SHOP OWNER: Bill McCarthy
LOCATION: Springtown, PA

by Ellis Walentine

    Bill McCarthy isn't your average cabinetmaker. When he isn't building impeccable period interiors, doors or staircases, he's restoring old machinery or motorcycles, or he's indulging one of his favorite pastimes--building flintlock rifles.
Bill With His Latest Flintlock     Bill has built quite a few muskets--exquisitely carved, checkered and engraved--in the twenty-odd years that we've been friends; but his latest effort is unique in the history of gunmaking--a breech-loading flintlock.
    Built in the style of late 18th Century continental muzzle-loaders, this includes a tapered octagonal barrel, a carved pearwood stock, an ivory-tipped ebony ramrod, and 24k gold wire inlay in the barrel. It is decorated in Bill's inimitable engraving style.
    Bill makes his guns from scratch, with the exception of the barrels themselves. All the lock parts, trigger guards, butt plates, patch pockets, inlay work, spring-loaded mechanisms and decorative carving and engraving are done by hand. Bill makes the casting patterns and rubber molds himself for the many tiny metal castings that go into the mechanism and the decorative elements. It's incredible to see how precisely these parts actually work.
Detail of Breech-Loading Mechanism

    Unlike a typical musket, which you load the old-fashioned way with black powder, a patch and a ball, Bill's gun has several reusable steel-and-brass cartridges that resemble shell casings with sophisticated extensions attached. The casing is preloaded with black powder and a .45 caliber slug, and the extension is a priming pan with a secondary spring-loaded cover. It contains a small charge of black powder that ignites the main charge in the shell casing when the flint strikes the frizzen.
Another View

    To load the gun, you push the trigger forward to release the flip-up breech mechanism. Then you insert the preloaded and primed cartridge into the breech, close the cover and you're ready to fire. If the British had a rig like this in 1775, the U.S. might still be a colony today.
    The way the mechanism works is unbelievably sophisticated. As the flint strikes the frizzen, the frizzen flies back, lifting the secondary cover and exposing the priming powder to the sparks. All these parts are cleverly concealed when the breech is closed, so it looks like a traditional muzzle loader.





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P.O. Box 493
Springtown, PA 18081