I am coming down the home stretch toward the finish line! There are a number of parts that still need to be made, but I am checking them off the list as I go.

The sideplate is complete and installed, the screws are fitted and aligned.


The buttplate engraving is done. This is in the Baroque fashion, with some even earlier influences in the design.


The tang screw is made and fitted. A nice shallow domed screw head adds a touch of interest to the flat plane of the tang.


I know posted this earlier, but I got an especially crisp photo the other day, so I place it here. The theme of Pan and Diana continues from side plate to this cheek rest inlay. There will be other references to this theme on the patchbox cover. Coming soon. Thanks for looking.  Tom


The gun is at the point where all the woodwork is done, except for final finish. The hardware, ie: the brass and steel fittings are now in the process of decoration. This piece is called the side plate, and its main function is to provide support for the screws, which are used to retain the lock, or firing mechanism. On a simple gun, there might be washers instead of a plate. This style of rifle, a fancy jaeger, calls for decoration on every available surface, to the point of CREATING surfaces upon which decoration can be put!


The storyline behind this rifle is the relationship between Pan and Diana. While it is myth, I feel it mirrors the saga of our own humanity.  I believe that the Greeks and Romans used myth to try to understand our selves and to explain the mysteries of life in story form.


This engraving is made with very fine lines to create an image . More lines create shadow, and fewer lines, or no lines make for highlights. Distance is implied by finer lines, a haze, and scaling down objects. For me, this was a difficult challenge, as  the cut line presents many challenges. Line weight is extremely critical for placing objects in the foreground or background, for it would not look right for a distant object to be cut with heavy lines. It is very easy to have the mind drift, and the fingers slip


dsc_8713I know I spent a lot of time and all on this engraving, inlay, and polishing, but the most telling and magical moment is when the barrel goes from straw to purple, to blue, as the temperature slowly rises. Then you see the steel change color right before your eyes. I was so unprepared for this change, that I almost overheated the steel, totally mesmerized by the colors.

I believe there are other forces at work here, forces beyond my own being that bring this kind of work out. I can feel these vibrations walking through the halls of the Metropolitan……millions of man hours, fingers working the metals, the clays , fibers…..thousands of men, their names and faces long forgotten, but their spirit lives on through the object.

Was it that this object needed me to be here to come into existence,  was it waiting for hundreds of years to appear, is some greater force at work, am I being channeled, plodding through the days of my life, churning out the goods……. and like magic, this appears before my eyes? Many thoughts run through my head at times like this. Maybe some will think I’m nuts, but I believe that most people who work with their hands will understand what I am talking about.


Many have asked if I did the blue over the fire. This was my original intention, but I had to re-do it, and I got the willies about scrubbing the barrel over the bricks again. All it would take is one touch against the brick, and the barrel is scratched. So I used a torch, and with a soft flame, teased the temperature up through the colors.

I never imagined how breathtaking this would look in my mind’s eye. I’d seen original guns with this technique of gold inlaid into steel, I’ve seen pictures a-plenty of original and contemporary works, but to see this transformation taking place before my very eyes, I am at a loss to describe my feelings. oh, my, oh, my, I am at a loss for words. I know I made this hapen, I know I inlaid the gold, cut all the lines, undercut all the lines, conceived the artwork, drew and drew and dreamed and planned for hours on end, but all of that did little to prepare me for this transformation of the bright steel to blue, and the contrast with the gold. Oh, my. Something extraordinary happened. Beyond my scope of understanding; yet, there it is. There is the object of my dreams, appearing before me, and the shock is beyond belief. It is like I do not recognize my own child.

I must also give thanks to those who have helped me along the way. One such person, Jerry Huddleston,  contacted me several years ago and said “Tom, you really need to learn how to engrave properly.” Jerry offered to teach me the basics of sharpening and engraving, plus some precious metal inlay. As important as the lessons were from Jerry, the most valuable lesson I learned was: Jerry saw something in me that I did not really see in myself. He believed enough in me to teach me what took him a lifetime to learn.

dsc_8672The breech section, a close up view.


This is the muzzle, repolished and re-blued.


What is a Jaeger rifle?

Jaeger” means hunter in German. The rifle used by the hunter is also called a jaeger, which a short, easily carried arm. The traditional German jaeger rifle is frequently found with scenes from the classic Greek and Roman mythologies; and Diana, the goddess of the hunt, is commonly found on these arms. These rifles can be found from plain hunting guns to the fanciest imaginable grade of workmanship and materials.

I have chosen to create a jaeger rifle for several reasons. For me, the gun is a canvas upon which I can use many kinds of decorative techniques. This is a personal challenge to learn new methods, work with new materials.

I am in the process of coloring the barrel. I heat this over a charcoal fire in order to get the temperature high enough to turn the steel a blue. As I bring the heat up, the barrel changes from a straw brown, to a darker shade, then tinged with a deep purple blue, switching over entirely to blue. More heat, and the steel goes to a pale blue, and then gray. These colors are separated by only a few degrees of temperature. I found I had to keep an eagle eye on the barrel, moving it constantly, to avoid hot spots and sudden color changes. Yikes. After a couple of months of engraving and inlaying gold, you can imagine I’d be nervous about messing up all that work.

In the photo below, you can just see the barrel starting to turn from the brownish to purple. The charcoal is “Cowboy” charcoal, made from wood chunks. The briquette style might have impurities that could affect the workpiece, so I played it safe with the real wood charcoal.


Below is a picture of the muzzle end of the barrel, with the gold and the darkened steel. I found some ick on the barrel, possibly from the cloth I was wiping the hot barrel with. So, I will polish this up bright again, and put it back in the fire. I’m disappointed that it got a little screwed up, but nothing that a little elbow grease and time can’t fix. I’ll post more pictures when I get it done.



Building the rifle is one thing, but decorating the gun an entirely different proposition. It is in the carving, chiseling and engraving that the gun comes to life as an artwork. The theme I have chosen for this gun is about Pan, a Faun, and Diana, the goddess of the hunt. This is loosely based on the classic Greek and Roman stories, ancient and modern sculpture and painting.

This theme of the faun Pan and the goddess Diana will be threaded through this rifle, engraved on different pieces of the gun’s hardware. The cheekpiece inlay is complete at the moment, with four more locations for scenery to follow.

Below is a photo of the completed inlay, ready for installation on the buttstock of the rifle. This is cut from sterling silver sheet, curved to fit the shape of the gun, and then engraved. I’d like to show you some of the steps involved in producing this piece.


This is a picture of the gun barrel with the tang screwed into the barrel. The tang is a plug, essentially, that resists the pressures of the gunpowder igniting. Since the explosion cannot come out of the plugged end of the barrel, it must go out the other end, pushing the rifle ball ahead of it. The tang also serves as a point of attachment for the barrel. Note the countersunk screw hole… a screw goes through the hole, through the stock, and into the trigger plate on the underside of the stock.

The barrel of this gun started as a plain swamped barrel. Swamped is a term for a barrel that is thick at the breech, then tapers thin in the middle, and flares out again at the muzzle.

The engraved lines will be filled with silver and gold wires, and then polished flush with the barrel. The barrel will then be fire blued, which will make the gold and silver glory in a rich blue background.

Here is the muzzle of the rifle. The engraved design will be filled with gold wire, and some of the leaves and flowers will have line engraving to accent their shapes. The riflings, or grooves, in the bore, have been filed out to make the rifling look really deep.

A preliminary sketch in magic marker helps me conceptualize the design. Gold in green, and silver in black marker.

Next is the breech section of the rifle barrel. This, too, has engraving that will be filled with silver and gold wire. When the barrel has been completely inlaid with the precious metals, polished and finish engraved, I will then fire blue it. The steel will turn a deep blue and the silver and gold will remain bright. It should be stunning.

Now I am starting to inlay the gold into the barrel decorative engraving. Each engraved line will have gold wire beaten into it. For the wire to stay in place, there must be burrs and undercuts down inside the engraving. I am using 24 carat gold, which is so very soft, it acts like putty, filling every little line and recess in the engraving. The view below shows the wire in the process of being hammered into the grooves. Note, too, that there are little reflections down in the engraving. Those are the undercuts, formed with a punch. In the large areas there are little hooks, raised with a graver, which will bite into the gold when it’s pounded into the cavity. Click on the picture for a larger view.

The gold then must be filed off flush with the surface of the barrel, and polished. This really changes the appearance from ‘blobby’ to a finished smooth look. The quality of line shows up at this stage. If I was not aware of my line quality earlier, I’d be noticing it now. The top flat of the barrel still needs to be filled.

The problem: how do I hold this inlay in the stock?

This inlay took over one hundred hours to engrave. I do not want to mess it up when installing it in the stock. I can’t afford to scratch or dent it.

After considering a few approaches, I decided that nails would hold this inlay in place. Screws would be too difficult, and an adhesive would not be durable. After looking at many original works, and seeing the troubles with regular nails working their way out of the stock, I knew that a nail with more grip was needed. A ring shank nail would be almost as good as a screw, would it not? But where do you buy them, in silver, no less?  Outlined below are some basic steps I took to make my own nails.

View of inlay, fully nailed in place, with the nails cut flush and engraved to match the scene

I want to talk about the ringed shank nail, made of wire, formed with tools you make yourself. The nail head is conical, so it can be filed down flush with the inlay, and filed quite heavily without losing its grip on the inlay. Noteworthy is that the nail heads and countersunk holes in the inlay match perfectly, so the nails become invisible when engraved over.

In the center of the photo is a nail on the ring forming plate. The steel bar with the holes is the head forming plate.  To the right is the carbide burr I used to make the countersinks both in the head forming plate AND in the inlay itself, so the head of the nail matches the countersink of the inlay hole.

click on any photo to enlarge

In this shot, I am heating the silver wire with a torch to form a blob. That blob will be used to form the head of the nail. When the tip of the wire melts, it forms a little ball on the end of the wire. Nip wire off to the length you need. I used 3/8″ length for this inlay.

Three wires in the fixture just to show the sequence, from left to right. On the left is the blobbed wire. middle wire has been pounded into the fixture plate. The right hand wire has been pounded in and then filed flat.

The forming plate has a series of holes, each hole ever so slightly bigger than the next in head diameter, about .005 increments. The through holes are .062″diameter  for .06″ wire.

The nail, with its head already formed, is placed between the two dies, and rolled with some downward pressure, back and forth, until the grooves are formed. The dies are cut from an old mill file with a chop saw. The teeth have a backward set, so make sure you get the barbs going the right way on the nail shank. I did a test where I drove a nail into some scrap walnut, and tried to pull it out. The head came off instead of the nail pulling out.

A nail is partially inserted into the hole. Note the other hole to the right in the background, countersunk to match the nailhead. I predrilled the hole in the wood. The hole size is determined by testing on some scrap of the same wood.

This picture shows some nails set fully, ready to be engraved to match the inlay’s existing engraving. The nails are about .005″ above the inlay’s surface. I did not want to have a lot of nail head to remove, as my chances of messing up the original engraving would be much higher. one under the satyr, and one halfway between his knee and Diana. For inlays that will be engraved AFTER nailing, just leave the heads proud, and file them flush right in place. Engrave right over them. They are not going to move.

Below you can see nine or ten nail heads, proud of the surface of the inlay. I will take a graver, and cut them very carefully, to avoid scratching the delicate engraving of the inlay.

In the picture below, the nails have been very carefully cut flush, and then engraved to match the original engraving as closely as possible. There are four nails in this shot; you may be able to find them, refer to the photo just above this one for their locations.

I am posting these pictures, even though much of this work has been done for a while. It’s mostly for me to look at the while project, step back, and take inventory of what’s done, and what still needs doing. I often don’t really look at my own work critically until I’ve posted the pictures. Why that is, I don’t know, but putting my work on the web helps me to look at my work with new eyes.

So far, I’ve posted only detail shots, and I thought it was about time to post a full length shot. I must take note that I still need to make a ramrod.

This is a view of the lock area and the wrist carving. Click on it for a bigger view. The tang will be casehardened and polished up bright, and the barrel will be blued. That goes on my ‘to do’ list.

The lock, as you may notice, is still unfinished, top jaw and screw need to be installed. The lockplate itself needs to be polished and engraved, design yet to be determined. I don’t work from plans, but I use a lot of reference material, then make a composite of original work and my own ideas. Note the ‘cameo’ carving around the wrist, where the wrist, or grip, seems to slip under the buttstock. That’s fun stuff.

Here is a view of the ‘behind the cheekpiece’ carving. This is one of my favorite areas on a gun. It’s almost like guns were invented to have a little spot like this to carve. This design is based on an American gun, but taken back fifty years to Germany.You can also get a hint of the toeplate under the lower edge of the stock.

Ahh, this is another view of the breech and tang area, with the barrel engraving showing. This engraving is to be filled with gold and silver wire, then the barrel will be blued. Add that to the list, please.

A view of the buttplate and its extension. All up and around the heel of the buttplate will be engraved in the baroque manner, as best I understand it, anyway. I have been studying the Baroque and Rococo art and architecture for years, and I feel like I am just starting to scratch the surface. The cheekpiece inlay shows rather well in this shot. Yummy.