Good enough for now

I’ve been restoring some artillery items for my Civil War reenacting unit, but as I work it’s clear that a replacement would be best. Unfortunately, not right now.

Don’t know how much you know about cannons, but with the exception of the barrel and various metal fittings, those things are mostly wood. My unit’s cannon, a 10 lb. Parrott rifle, has been in service for several years and is beginning to show a bit of wear and tear. The cannon itself is fine, but some of the wood implements – which are constantly exposed to the weather – were in bad shape.

Specifically, the two long pole-like implements used for sponging the barrel and ramming powder before firing were dried out and showing a silvery patina, plus the oak is beginning to crack. The weathering is similar to what you’d see on an old oak deck. Also, the oak “trail spike” – a thick, heavy lathe-turned piece mounted on the back used for turning the cannon – is in the same condition.

AJBLOG-544 image

Ideally, all three of these items should be replaced for period-correct authenticity’s sake. In actual use during the Civil War these items would have weathered, to be sure, but because of the terrifically harsh use they received they just didn’t last very long. As such, they were constantly being replaced and so were typically in newer condition. We, on the other hand, having been firing this cannon a good bit longer than the actual Civil War lasted, so they’re showing their advancing age.

What I did was strip them, thoroughly sanded them down, stripped and repainted the few metal fittings on them, then finished them with several coats of boiled linseed oil. From just a few feet away they look brand new, and the smooth surface is much easier to handle, but up close you can still see the cracking. They should still be replaced, but that’s not in my unit’s budget this year. (Nor do I have the available time, since I’d be the guy making new ones).

Regular readers know that I don’t like to do things halfway, so this is bothering me a bit but it can’t be helped. Still, they look great and I’m sure my restoration has given them a couple more years of active use as we run around playing soldier. For now, my restoration work is a compromise that will serve us well.

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Jim Conner wrote:

    Mr. Hamler, I too hate to do things half way. Don’t know how else to contact you. I’m trying to build the folding civil war officer’s chair. I can’t find a source for the iron/steel rivets. Do you have a suggestion? Thanks so much. Jim Conner

  2. Jack wrote:

    Greetings, Some suggestions just might help you out. The cracking poles should be straight grained material. You stated oak, but could be ash if you wanted to save a few bucks. A repair could be made by mixing up Bondo with black temper paint powder, like we used in kindergarten. With a rubber glove, scoop some up and start smearing it into the cracks. It’ll set up in a few minutes (depending on how hot you make it). Sand it smooth, and with the coloring, just make it close to unnoticeable, especially after it’s used a few times.

    As for the tail, probably the same fix, except use 5/8″ or 3/4″ square head bolts with square head nuts. Cut off the excess threads flush w/ the nut and grind smooth and finish as the other furniture.

    When it was commissioned, I imagine that would have used whatever that had to keep it operational, don’t cha think?

    Shoot it straight and shoot it often. Watch your top knot and keep your powder dry!!

    Jack

  3. A.J. Hamler wrote:

    Jim — I sent away for my rivets from R.J. Leahy Co. (www.rjleahy.com)

    Jack — Fortunately, the cracking was not yet quite bad enough for the serious repairs you suggest (although they’re excellent ideas if the cracking was that bad). Of course, in the 1860s this minor cracking would have simply been ignored until such time as the implements were replaced. That would have been commonplace, especially for Union artillery. Although a bit more difficult for the Confederates — especially later in the war — the same would have been true. Oak was everywhere, and dirt cheap. As I noted in the blog, artillery implements tended to be broken from hard use before they had time to actually wear out or become weathered enough for serious cracking to develop.

    To all: I can always be reached through my website, http://www.ajhamler.com.

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