The Restoration of an American National Treasure

By Hugh Toenjes

There are two schools of thought regarding the restoration of any antique
including firearms. The first school says that the antique in question should be left alone
“as found” regardless of whatever disrepair and broken state it has suffered as a part of
it’s history. Therefore, leave it alone. The second philosophy states that the original
maker did not intend for his artisanship to be broken or abused. If he was still alive, he
would want his workmanship to be repaired and useable. At least the antique would be
“stabilized” and thus available for future generations to collect or enjoy.

Without further discussion - I subscribe to the second philosophy which I applied
to an old broken rifle brought to me at the first ACGG showing with the Dallas Safari
Club in 2012. Oral family history puts this gun in the hands of a Colonial rifleman who
enlisted in a militia unit during the Revolutionary War. This rifle was quite a mess when
I first acquired it for restoration. The before photos tell the most of that story. (Figs. 1,
2, 3). My first task was to establish the maker of this gun as it was unsigned. Paging
through “Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1” proved the maker to be attributed to
Wolfgang Haga, borough of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania. This was confirmed
by sending photos to other KRA members who also agreed with my conclusions
regarding maker and date of circa 1780. My next approach was to do a full
archeological dismantling of the gun. In doing so, I made some amazing discoveries.
The last person to clean this rifle left some raw “tow” in the bore. “Tow” is the name for
raw and unprocessed linen. It was obvious that the gun had been cleaned regularly as
the rifling and lands were in good enough shape to still be used. The bore diameter
measured .480 and did not need to be freshened. (Fig. 4) The outside dimensions were
surprising to me as the breech measured about 1 inch across the flats and there was a
straight taper to the muzzle where it measured .820 inch. The barrel length was 43 3/8
inch. There was no sign of a swamped barrel profile. This was borne out by the barrel
channel in the fore stock which also had a straight taper inlet. Another surprise was that
the barrel channel inlet did not have the typical five flats to receive the barrel profile. It
was gouged out with a half round profile from the breech to the muzzle except for three
inches at the breech end where five flats had been configured. (Fig. 5) I suspect that
this rifle had been made in a hurry or by a young journeyman who worked for Haga.
Also note the butt plate extension - it does not line up with the top line of the comb.
This is another telltale of rapid or inexperienced assembly. The patch box cavity
revealed some very old tallow and a small ¼ inch longitudinal hole toward the forward
end of the box. This must have been where the cleaning worm was stored. So I went
through my collection of antique worms and found one which fit, not only the hole in the
patch box, but fit the bore size exactly. Then I fashioned a tapered hickory ramrod with
a metal sleeve on the small end. The sleeve is threaded to receive the male threads on
the antique worm. The ramrod hole which was drilled in the fore stock was also done in
a hurried manner as it was off center and it was too close to the forward lock bolt. Thus
that bolt had to have a relief section to allow the end of the ramrod to pass underneath it.
It appears from research done by James Whisker that Haga was paid by the Pennsylvania
Committee of Safety for doing gun work for Northumberland County and Berks County Militia. If this rifle was made for a militia rifleman, it might explain the haste in which it was made.

I reconverted the gun to flintlock ignition from percussion as flintlock ignition
was the original. (Fig. 6) I handmade the lock plate using hacksaw and file with
dimensions gained from Steven Hench. The rest of the lock was made from heavily
modified Siler parts using micro welding and files. (Fig. 7) The trigger blade needed to
be added to because the original was severally altered for the percussion lock. The
trigger pull distance remains the same at 13 ¼ inch. The tang screw and lock bolts are
all handmade, case hardened and antiqued. The proper side plate was sand cast by Brad
Emig. Then I fitted and antiqued it. (Fig. 8) New old wood was added to both the
lock panel and the side plate panel.

The greatest challenge that presented itself during the restoration process was the
broken fore stock. When I did the initial examination, I found that the fragile fore stock
had been broken in many places. In fact, it was now in five separate pieces lying on my
bench. Some well-meaning person had tried to repair these breaks with something
equivalent to “LaPage’s paper glue”. The fortunate part was that all of the pieces were
on the bench in front of me. No piece was missing. To put these pieces together in a
proper manner, I had to remove the old crystallized glue and expose raw wood. I needed
the raw wood surface for adherence to the modern glue, or in this case, epoxy. I am a
firm believer in the use of modern techniques and materials to stabilize these treasures of
old. This includes everything from tig and micro welding to modern epoxies which can
be easily colored to match the original color of the stock wood. All of the added parts
for the restoration of this gun were blended in by doing an antiquing process of rusting,
pitting and hand rubbing. Several other efforts to stabilize this old rifle were performed
and are worthy to be mentioned here. First I elongated the barrel pin holes in the barrel
tendons which allow for shrinkage and expansion due to changes in humidity. These
changes can easily be absorbed by old and new wood alike. Second, I filled the fore
stock oversized pin holes with recessed dowels and re-drilled the pin holes. The
recessing provided a way to keep an antique look to the oversized holes. The rifle has
now been totally stabilized and is ready to be fired again if the occasion ever arises.
(Figs. 9, 10)

Accompanying the rifle was an old powder horn. Again, it came from the same
local (Berks County, PA.) that the rifle was made and it was from the same time period.
of 1780. I did two repairs on the horn. The button on the nose of the butt plug was
broken in half, so I restored it to its original profile. The horn was a screw tip style horn
with a separate spout plug which I fashioned out of an old violin peg. This was done to
replace the tapered dowel which someone had made in modern times that was causing a
split in the mouth of the spout. The horn measures 17 ½ inches across the back. The
antique turned walnut butt plug is 2 ¾ inchs in diameter. (Fig. 11)

I felt very honored to have had the opportunity to apply my artisanship alongside
that of the master gun maker Wolfgang Haga and to have restored one of America’s

national treasurers to useable condition. H.T.



  "Wolfgang Haga" Rifle Restoration