Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Making a Powder Horn Pt III: A Chronicles' Project

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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Making a Powder Horn Pt III:
A Chronicles' Project

By now we have managed to get the horn pretty much finished up. The horn itself has been cut, carved, whittled, and sanded until it looks like a powder horn. We also put together the back plug and decided on the shape and design. Let's build and put together the last few parts of the powder horn and see what we end up with!

The spout plug should be a nicely finished finial. You can use ½” hardwood dowels to make them. Antler tips would be another choice, as would the tip of the cow horn that you already cut off. A dense piece of bone would be interesting too!

I originally chose to use a piece of Whitetail deer antler that my friend "The Rabid Outdoorsman" at the Maine Outdoorsman sent me some time ago for just this sort of project. But at the last moment I chickened out! I didn't want to ruin the nice antlers he sent me. I have better plans for them so I decided to use a piece of oak branch I had in one of my boxes. Since I am still pretty new to using the lathe, I figure I can always get another piece of branch if I need to!


I sawed off a small section of the branch. I cut it long enough, about six inches, so that there would be sufficient stem to act as a stopper in the pour spout. Setting it up on the lathe, a turned it down to an acceptable shape.

 Turning a branch down...

AFter turning it, twist it back and forth between sandpaper to make it smooth.  Next I carefully fitted it to the spout, making adjustments to both the spout and the stopper portion, insuring a nice weather resistant fit between the two.

Masonry Nail on the Diamond Plate

In order to create a better fit in the spout opening, make a reamer. I took a masonry nail and stoned the four sides. Masonry nails are hardened and make great mini-chisels and gravers. They also make really good spout reamers too! I twisted the nail back and forth, creating a taper on the inside of the spout.

While we are on the subject of reamers, you should save any dull or damaged files. They make great cutters, scrapers and reamers for any wood projects you might have.

With a matching taper on the plug, you create a pretty tight but workable fit between the plug and the spout. A little beeswax will make it weather resistant and unlikely to expand too much in damp weather.

I followed a similar method for making the fill plug for the back.  I found these 3/4 inch square surveying stakes on one of the many construction sites I frequented. It's a heavy, dense wood, with an dark reddish brown, mahogany color. Whenever I find interesting bits and pieces of wood, I save them for the future. What exactly I am going to do with them I never know! But like now, this piece has become the fill plug. The back plug is a piece of reddish wood that came off of a pallet.

Fill plug on the lathe!

You can pick up one of these cheap lathes for about 100 dollars. They are more than adequate for making file handles and stoppers for your projects. Do not spend your hard earned dollars on the turning tools though! Instead buy a couple of magazines that specialize in turning, or get one of those inexpensive books on turning. Then go and make your own turning tools out of old files and hardened steel scraps you have laying around.They will be far better tools in the long run, and the short turn for that matter!

Boring the fill plug hole.

I took the back plug and bored a hole through it with a hand drill and auger. Notice I used another hunk of wood as a backer for the piece being drilled. That protects your auger bit from being damaged, and keeps you from splitting the back of the plug as the drill comes out. You could use an electric drill with a spade bit the same way.

Sandpaper Reamer

Wrap a piece of coarse sandpaper around the fill plug, and use that to ream out the correct taper into the back plug. I actually started with a mill file that was about the same angle as the plug. That allowed me to take a bit of the excess wood out, and finish up nicely with a finer grade of sandpaper.

After reaming the hole to shape, the plug sits firmly and hopefully weather resistant.

I got to thinking that maybe next time I'll bore a large hole in the back plug and glue a cork in it. Then I'll bore a hole through the cork, leaving enough of the cork to allow me to "ream" a tapered hole for a hardwood plug. That might create a better seal in the back plug of the powder horn.

A little Linseed Oil...

By now I have sanded the plugs and stoppers to a smooth finish. Traditionally a mixture of beeswax, turpentine, and linseed oil was used for finishing wood back in the day. In this particular case, I will use just the linseed oil as a finish. Linseed oil is the oils from pressed flax seed, and is non-toxic and safe. Just a couple of drops on my finger tips, and a lot of hand rubbing! The wood will take up quite a bit of it, but you want to put it on little by little to get a great protective finish. remember to air dry any rags or paper towels you use to clean up with. Do not ball them up and toss them in the trash as they are self-combustive given the opportunity!

Oooo... Pretty...

Mark a circle and then drill.

Mark out a series of points along the perimeter of the horn for the tacks. Eight is a good number to start with, and you can always add more if it appeals to you. I would suggest that you pre-drill the holes just in case. We are near the end, and I would hate to do something silly now! Like split the end of the horn.

When we assemble the back plug in a moment, consider using hide glue. You have gone this far making a traditional tool, go a little further and try the hide glue. If you should ever have the need to disassemble for repair or rebuilding your powder horn, hide glue will allow you to do so with relative ease.

Or you can make your life easy and use PVA glue...

I sometimes use homemade hide glue that many bowyers use for their laminate bows and arrows. Knox Gelatin comes in a small box with 4 envelopes.  Take one envelope, and add it to about half a cup of hot water.  Dissolve it on the stove or do as I did. I bought a mini electric crock pot from one of the big box stores for about $8.00 that I use to dissolve and keep warm the hide glue. It has a lid, and I found it with the household accessories near the candles and scented oils. It keeps the glue at the right temperature and is really handy if you are using hide glue for a bigger project.

Since I am pressed for time, I am going to use some PVA. Use a small brush or your finger, and carefully wipe on a good coat of glue on both the wood bevel, and the inside 1/2 inch of the horn. Seat the plug with a twisting motion, and wipe the excess glue off the horn. Now set it aside for a few hours to allow the glue to set.

I have some copper coated tacks I may use. I have also seen some small, round headed brass brads that would look really good for this too. (Note: I happened to find a pack of them squirreled away in the nail box!) Oh the choices we have! Which to use?

Settled on the brass tacks!

I carefully tapped in the tacks into the holes I drilled. Since the tacks are rather small, and my thumb and forefinger rather large, I took a business card and used that to hold the brad. Just poke the tack or brad through a corner and hold the card while you tap the nail in place. Just tear the card loose before you hammer the brad home.

And there you have it. A perfectly useful accessory for the well appointed Black Powder enthusiast. All that is left is to decorate the horn.

You don't seriously think ... Maybe next time!

Alas, my scrimshawing prowess leaves something (quite a bit) to be desired...

I had a lot of trouble just doing this, much less anything more involved. You can see when I started... last year. I don't know the secret yet, but no matter what tool I used to "scratch" the surface, it either dug in or skittered across the surface uncontrollably! There is much to learn about this and Jedi Scrimshaw Masters are far and few in between!

Waxed hemp lanyard.

And in order to safeguard my hard won stopper from being lost, I tied a chain sinnet with a length of hemp twine into a lanyard for the stoppers.I ran the hemp twine through the block of beeswax I have and that made it a lot easier to work with.

All that's left to do is to decide what to do with the large bead I left on the horn. It lends itself to any number of possibilities, but I think the simplest might be the best. I'll leave a tab for tying the strap to, and work the rest into a short bead around the horn.

I've learned quite a bunch of things that I will share with you on our next powder horn build up. Things like sanding the exterior of the horn and the back plug at the same time to keep them even. You are better off cutting the horn shorter if it is a very thick walled type; carving all that excess keratin is time consuming and leads to errors.

I'm getting started on another horn as a gift for a good friend of mine. I will try to chronicle the progress I make on this new project, but time is short!

I hope you have enjoyed this project, and that it has given you the impetus to give it a try!

Related Posts:

Making a Powder Horn Pt I: A Chronicles' Project
Making a Powder Horn Pt II: A Chronicles' Project
Making a Powder Horn: Almost There!
Making a Powder Horn Pt III: A Chronicles' Project

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member: Bagram Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles


Anonymous said...

Now that looks totally awesome and very craftsman like. A lot of time and handwork has been put into that and it shows.

Albert A Rasch said...

Thank you very much! I really did put some time and effort into it, and as it is my first attempt, it took quite a bit longer than it should have.

The next iteration is already in the works, and being crafted as we speak. It is going to be a composite design. That's one that uses different materials in the horn portion itself. That method lends itself to the kind of horn I have, which is shorter and has a lot of solid tip to it.

I found a supplier that has the appropriate horns for making powder horns, and the next time I make one, I'll have the right raw material.

Thanks again,

Michael Spinelli said...


That's a real nice job for your first try! Looking forward to seeing the next!


Tovar Cerulli said...

Great series of posts, Albert!

When I first got a blackpowder rifle, one of the first things I wanted to do was make a powderhorn. My uncle gave me some pointers and it was a wonderfully satisfying project.

Crank Cuffin said...

Thanks for this excellent turorial.
And I love the finished product.
I can't wait to give it a try myself.