Book review: “Building Muzzleloaders From Materials – The Lock” by Colin Stolzer

Building Muzzleloaders From Materials – The Lock, by Colin Stolzer

Available from: lulu

Colin Stolzer's new book

Colin Stolzer is an accomplished rifle maker, specializing in muzzleloaders.  After demonstrating his prowess on several gun boards, members encouraged him to write a book.  This he has done.  This book is planned as the first in a series on building muzzleloaders.  I should stop right there.  I’m not particularly interested in muzzleloaders, but I am interested in craftsmanship and shop techniques and Colin’s posts on various forums were more than sufficient to convince me that he could teach me something about both.  When he announced his book, I ordered it immediately.  Two things struck me as  I ordered: the book was short (~90 pages) and the price was very modest (~$12).

The book is an unassuming, plain-looking, paperback 8.5″ x 11″ and only about 1/4″ thick.  This very much fits what I know about Colin – he seems to be very unpretentious and modest in every way.  The appearance of the book and his writing style reflect that.

After the perfunctory introductory material the book begins by looking at Colin’s shop (would you be surprised if I said it was unpretentious and modest?) This section is mostly about the tools required and some tools that are nice to have.  Nothing shown could be considered extravagant, and the home-shop reader will be relieved to know that the book does not begin by cutting out blanks on a zillion-dollar water jet or other such nonsense.  Indeed, although he has a lathe and mill Colin has done an admirable job of explaining how to achieve what needs to be done using only hand tools.  In fact, one of the first indications of his work philosophy that struck me was the statement “…a mistake with a file is usually only a couple of thousandths of an inch and can often times be fixed with a few minor file strokes, but a mistake in a big bench Mill usually ruins the entire piece…”

Chapter two is “Lock Design”.  Colin takes the old-school approach, using pencil and paper, and a lightbox and demonstrates an approach to planning that is a welcome addition to my repertoire.  If one is to encounter any difficulty in understanding the book it is here.  There is an assumption that such terms as “Bolster”, “Tumbler”, and “Drum” are more or less understood.  One can certainly figure out what those parts are by studying the photos and drawings, but some explicit descriptions might have helped the complete novice.  Setting the pace for the rest of the book, the chapter is a scant 11 pages, but those pages are filled with gems of hard-won shop knowledge.

Chapter three discusses material selection.  It is as complete as need be and doesn’t complicate the subject beyond necessity either.

Chapter four is “Layout and Roughing Out”.  More terrific shop tips, particularly for those with little experience in ‘flat work’.

Chapter five “Cutting Down to Dimension” and chapter six “Internal Parts” get into the nitty-gritty of making the pieces.  This is the first glimpse of Colin’s skill. I read an article earlier today that stated that a true professional, like an ice-skater, was distinguished by their ability to make something difficult appear easy.  Here Colin demonstrates that he is a true professional.  This chapter also demonstrates some of the differences between a maker and a craftsman, as Colin removes machining marks that would be hidden in the final work anyway.  To the casual reader, the semi-completed hammer shown on page 50 is nice, but to someone who has attempted such a thing, it is ample demonstration of the author’s patience and skill.

Chapter seven “Hand Fitting” is a collection of great shop tips disguised as a demonstration of readying the parts for assembly.

The final chapter “Finishing Thoughts” provides some closure to the process – indicating that there is more to do, but not until the lock is fitted to a stock and barrel.  (The lock described is functionally complete, the unfinished tasks revolve around installation and fitting of the lock to the rest of the arm).

Colin finishes with an unassuming afterword, and some resources for the builder.

In summary, the book is a good tutorial on building a muzzleloader lock from scratch and a fantastic collection of shop tips for those who can see the applicability of Colin’s methods to other tasks around the shop.  The brevity of the book is deceiving – what takes a page to say in Building Muzzleloaders From Materials – The Lock might easily have consumed 10-12 pages in other gunsmithing texts.  As such it is a book to be read and not merely skimmed.

The books faults are few.  The scope is narrow, so the book is not “the only book you’ll ever need”, but it covers lock work nicely.  If there’s an omission it is in the design and construction of the flat springs used in many muzzleloader locks.  The lock described uses a coil spring.  Perhaps this will be covered in a future installment in the series.

Having read it, I commend it highly to you.

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