“Sows Ear” Trapdoor to “Silk Purse” Officers Model

by Randy DeLung
Gun Club of America Member

This project actually had its beginnings thirty years ago. I have always wanted a trapdoor rifle. At the time I only worked weekends, so I had ample time to do whatever I wanted. I came across a stock, barrel, and lock for a Springfield muzzle-loading rifle. With nothing more than a hacksaw, file and a desire to make something with my own hands, I set to work making something that would look like a Trapdoor carbine. My biggest achievement was to fashion a breech block out of a chunk of steel with a hacksaw and files. Actually it turned out pretty well.

Looks pretty good to me–Ed.

Now, thirty plus years had passed and I still wanted a Trapdoor. After attending many gun shows, I happened across a gentleman who had a cut down rifle. This killed the antique value of the gun, so the price was right up my alley. The cut down rifle was chopped off 8.5 inches from the closest barrel band to the action. I managed to trade back the short barrel (with great rifling) for a rifle length barrel. After doing some research I found out an Officers model barrel was 26 inches long. I had that and more, but the Officers model came with a pewter nose cap. I knew nothing about making one.

I do however cast my own bullets, so I’m versed in melting metal. I set about trying to find out how to do it. I soon found out the guys who know how didn’t want to tell me how, just that for enough money they would be happy to do it for me. So the dilemma was whether to figure out how to make my own, or just round off the stock and make it like a carbine. I already have a so-so carbine from my 30 year old project, so the Officers Model it was.

What I started with

What I wanted to end up with

While I was pondering just how to go about doing this without the cap falling off, I checked out the local Goodwill store for “meltable” pewter objects. I first figured out I had to drill holes in the end of the stock and countersink the holes from the barrel side to firmly attach the cap. Some wood would have to be removed to make enough room for the poured pewter. I built up the area around the cutout with thin, hard, cardboard. This would give me enough extra material so I could shape it to the desired shape.

Wood removed from tip to make room for the pewter cap

Melting the Goodwill pewter

I first thought a wood ramrod would work to provide space for the ramrod, but settled for an aluminum rod.

After watching some YouTube projects (not for nose caps), I came to the conclusion that adding vibration to the stock would help the pewter flow into all the areas it needed to go. I put the stock in a vice and diligently set about duct taping my orbital sander to the stock. But, when it came time to pour, I forgot to start the sander! Oops. Also I wanted to check the temp of the pewter, and make it a little hotter than the melting state. Oops, I forgot this also. I guess I just had too much on my mind.

When I removed the cardboard, I thought I had really buggered it up.

Not looking real swell

After some work with a file, and shaping with my band saw, I was getting a little more hopeful. After more filing and some work on a buffing wheel, the project came to life.

Hope begins!

Now we’re getting somewhere

Well now!

Clamping the stock while inserting the ramrod thimble

The finished product, up close

Next came finishing the stock, and browning the metal parts.

This was a learning project. There will definitely be a next time, and I will make a list of things to do, then do them one by one. I’m really into vintage black powder arms, figuring out what’s wrong, or broken and how to go about fixing them. That’s what I love. I really enjoy the mental “how to” of figuring out the problem, and how can I fix it. I guess that’s one of the things my father passed on to me. The part of this I try to change is “he tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it seemed to always turn out looking like a sow’s ear.” I think you know what I mean. We’ve all been there at one time or another.

My new Officers Model, ready to go to work. Cut off forend below.

Now, out to the range for load work, and then some matches.


4 Responses to “Sows Ear” Trapdoor to “Silk Purse” Officers Model

  1. I appreciate the “What if’s and wherefores”. I enjoyed reading the article. The trapdoor was actually a very accurate rifle capable of extreme long range shooting. Black powder is more consistent than modern smokeless powder. The 45/70 round lent itself to the task of extreme long range shooting and performed admirably.

  2. Great Article as I have a trap door rifle….trying to figure out what I want to do with this rifle and this article was a great start.

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