revives forgotten craft
makers young and old share their passion
for creating, selling, displaying these period pieces
Helen E. McKinney
Kentucky Edition Cover
(January 2010) Patrick Thevenow has an unusual
hobby in which most 19-year-olds arent interested. Building antique
firearms, such as an 18th century muzzleloader, can keep him fascinated
for hours at a time
I first got interested in muzzleloaders at age 16, said
the Madison, Ind., resident. Wanting his own rifle, he bought a percussion
piece but had originally set his sights on a flintlock rifle.
It took Thevenow one year to build a flintlock, but it was well worth
the time and effort, he said. He now has a custom-built, a one-of-a-kind
gun that represents many things in his life.
Because it was a custom piece, it took a lot of time putting it together,
he said. He embellished the gun with some hand carving and a bit of
engraving on the brass pieces. On building his first gun, I jumped
into it blindly, he said.
The gun is fully functional and he uses it to target shoot and when
hunting this past fall. A lot of pride goes into making a gun,
For now, gun building is a hobby for Thevenow. Although its not
the norm, there are several younger gun builders around who are interested
in this once highly sought after profession.
There are younger individuals interested in this old-time craft, but
they do not live locally, said Terri Trowbridge, Director of Publications
for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA). Unless
kids are around someone else that does it, theres not a lot of
opportunity to apprentice with someone who builds guns, she said.
Building a gun requires precision, patience and discipline qualities
that have made people like Paris, Ky., gun maker Frank House and Jamestown,
Ky., gun maker Mel Hankla, nationally known figures. Once people see
the appeal of the craft, I think there will be more and more interest
in gun making. Interest in old time crafts (butter churning, weaving,
etc.) are on the rise, Trowbridge said, because kids are not
learning these old time skills anymore.
by Don Ward
Thevenow of Madison, Ind.,
works on a gun during Lanier Days, a
re-enactment event held last June on
the lawn of the Lanier Mansion.
That is one reason the NMLRA sponsors the annual Lore
of the Laughery event to draw more attention to a past historical
era with live demonstrations and re-enactments. There is a resurgence
in the appeal of the 18th century lifestyle with events such as Lore
of the Laughery, the Fair at New Boston, Mississinewa, and the Feast
of the Hunters Moon, she said.
Gun making would appeal to a younger crowd if they could get exposure
to it, Trowbridge went on to say. Gun making, in a sense, is a labor
of love for the builder. Many people do not realize a custom gun
builder takes a piece of wood and makes a gun out of it, she said.
A student at Butler University, near Indianapolis, Thevenow is one member
of a younger generation who has been well aware of this for some time.
His uncle, Charles Henry, introduced him to muzzleloaders. Ive
always been interested in history, he said, and the two just went
hand in hand.
and Trade Fairs
Annual Contemporary Longrifle Association Show & Meeting,
Aug. 20-21, 2010, Lexington, Ky. Visit: www.LongRifle.ws.
War & Civil War Trade Fair, Feb. 26-27, 2010, Eagle Lake Convention
Center, Lawrenceburg, Ky. Visit: www.SaltRiverLongRifles.org.
The personal aspect of the historical time period was
another factor that compelled Thevenow to focus on reproducing guns
from the 1770s to 1780s era. He is aware of an ancestor that fought
in the Revolutionary War and was in the colonies before there was a
United States of America. His sixth great grandfather was present at
the Siege of Boonesborough in 1778.
Thevenow said it is the history of it all that ties him
to the guns. The hobby may seem overwhelming at first, he said, but
once involved he advises anyone to go for it.
Thevenow, who turns 20 in January, said he has a small library of books
on the craft of gun making. I like the art of them. Period
guns are not like typical rifles, they are more of an art form;
not just steel and plastic.
To learn first-hand what he couldnt gather from reading in books,
Thevenow took a Traditional Arts & Arms Making Workshop in October
2009 at Conner Prairie Interactive Historical Park in Fishers, Ind.
Demonstrators and instructors from all over the country participate
in this workshop, said Conner Prairie interpreter and veteran gun maker,
Weston, an interpreter and veteran gun maker, teaches gun making
classes at Conner Prairie Interactive Historical Park in Fishers,
Although the curriculum changes a little every year,
classes are offered based on skills for 18th and 19th century trades
and crafts, said Weston. He has been employed at Conner Prairie
for 27 years.
Weston had an interest all my life in guns. His curiosity
began at an early age when his grandfather took him hunting and target
He learned a lot from retired Conner Prairie instructor John Schippers,
who now resides in Noblesville, Ind. Weston, 55, said that in constructing
his first three or four rifles, I found I was pretty good at it.
Its important to have a good mentor.
Men and women of all ages come to Conner Prairie to learn gun making,
he said. Most are made completely from scratch or from high-end kits.
Classes are given on how to make powder horns, hunting pouches, leather
working, tinsmithing, knives and tomahawks, just to name a few 18th
Thevenow learned a lot from such hands-on workshops and reading constantly
about the craft of gun making. He also goes to Friendship, Ind., twice
a year for their annual shoots to find gun parts and just to meet people
who are knowledgeable about antique firearms.
Jay Kell is a Salem, Ind., living history re-enactor who has watched
his father build guns for the last 40 years with antique hand tools.
This past summer was the first time he had attempted to make one on
his own from scratch.
He crafted a parts gun, so called because during the 1760s-1780s,
colonial gunsmiths had trouble importing gun parts from England. They
made their own parts or used whatever parts were available to them.
Kells is a higher end restocked trade gun.
Building a gun on your own with whatever skill level and tools
you have gives you a clear look that not every gun was perfect, but
they were perfect to the builder, said Kell, 40. Whether
you hand-stitch a piece of clothing, hand-dye some fabric, or scrape
a gun stock or powder horn, it gives you a great sense of accomplishment,
and a glimpse of what those early builders had to do, not chose to do.
courtesy of Conner Prairie
Weston works in his gun
making shop at Conner Prairie. He
said he had a lifelong interest in
guns but had a good mentor in
learning to make them.
Jack Haugh of Milan, Ind., has seen his share of antique
and reproduction firearms over the years. At age 79, Haugh guessed he
has made thousands of guns. He focuses on guns of the 18th
century to the 21st century.
Raised in Ohio, Haughs passion for gun making began when he just
wanted to make a gun for himself. The only way I could afford
one was to make it myself, he said. By doing so, he learned the
right and wrong way to construct a gun.
Like Thevenow, Haugh has relied on books and his own interest to guide
him through the process of crafting a gun from scratch. I always
loved history. I like the 18th century the very best.
Haugh believes very few younger individuals are interested in gun making
because the interest has to come from the home. If kids are not
taught the values of history at home, theyre not going to love
And this love translates into his life-long fascination for antique
firearms. He once had a contract with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
to build 100 guns. He credits the Contemporary Longrifle Association
with doing more for gun making than anybody.
Theres always a gun maker out there, said Haugh. And
after 55 years in the business, he should know.
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