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Muzzle Blasts Online
Confessions of a Side Plate Junkie
Compulsive-obsessive behavior is defined as an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act. There are compulsive eaters, compulsive shoppers, and compulsive bathers. Government programs have been established in some cases to help victims cope with their obsessions. There is no government program to help me. Last night, when the house was quiet, I crept downstairs to the rifle shop and counted 43 side plates in my parts bins. I am a side plate junkie.
Fortunately, help is on the horizon. Bill Cox, President of L & R Lock Company, Inc., has recently developed a line of side plates which are compatible in style and dimensions with his fine locks. The availability of side plates designed to complement specific locks eliminates the frustration of wanting to use a given side plate on a particular style rifle, only to find that its dimensions make it incompatible with the lock. Parts suppliers have addressed this problem to some extent by casting side plates with elongated forward extensions which can be cut and shaped to accommodate locks of various dimensions. Track of the Wolf has gone one step farther and has pictured side plates and many other parts at exact actual size in their excellent catalog so that one can measure bolt-to-bolt distances and other necessary dimensions. Now, with the debut of the L & R line of side plates, side plate junkies such as me may be able to give up gradually the security blanket of keeping bushels of side plates to cover any contingency of style and dimensions.
The range of L & R side plates (Fig. 1) covers a lot of
stylistic territory. Each side plate is designed with dimensions
and styling for a specific L & R lock. The 1100SP is to be used
with the Durs Egg lock and is similar to the one on the Oerter
rifle from Christian Springs (which was renovated by Durs Egg
about 1800). The 1200SP, which is similar to that favored by
Andrew Figthron and William Blaine, is for use with the Dickert
lock. The 1700SP, designed to mate with the Manton lock, has
similar characteristics to side plates of Isaac Haines and George
Shroyer. The 1900SP is similar to side plates used by Isaac
Berlin and Jacob Dickert and fits the Bedford lock. The 2000SP,
appropriate for Jaegers and some early fowlers, is compatible
with the Queen Anne lock. The 2100SP appears closely related to
side plates seen on some Perry County and Bucks County rifles.
All come in brass or steel; the 1100 and 1700 side plates are
also available in left hand versions (catalog #1150SP LH and
1800SP LH respectively). It's easy to match the side plates with
their respective locks by their catalog numbers. For example, the
#1900SP side plate is designed for the L & R models #1900 (flint)
and 1900P (percussion) Bedford-style locks. Of the available side
plates, the #2000SP for the Queen Anne lock is my favorite.
Its 0.055"-deep countersink lets the 3/8" lock bolt nestle in its
recess (Fig. 2) so that minor alignment faux pas are easily
forgiven. The bolt-hole spacing of each side plate is based on
the distance between the lower rear quadrant of the lock bolster
and the midpoint of the lock plate nose. Locating the rear
lock-bolt hole as shown in Fig. 3 is optimal for several reasons:
1) it minimizes interference from the breech plug bolster (often
a crescent is cut from the bolster to allow sufficient clearance
for the rear bolt);
2) it allows the bolt to pull more evenly on
the lock and reduces the locks tendency to cant horizontally or
vertically in its inlet if the underlying wood in the mortise is
not perfect (and whose is?); 3) it allows latitude, without
interference from the side plate, to create a deep and graceful
scallop from the tang level to the barrel channel level (an
awkward area where too much wood is often left by the beginning
In addition to the traditional two-holes, L & R provides a nice range of simple and authentic escutcheons (shown at the bottom of Fig. 1). Many percussion rifles (such as those made by John and Elisha Bull in Tennessee) and the halfstock plains rifle types (such as the Hawkens out of St. Louis) used a single lock bolt passing through what amounted, in some cases, to a glorified washer. Like their big brothers, the L & R escutcheons are countersunk for 3/8" bolt heads and are nicely cast with ample draft for ease of inletting.
While Bill Cox has specifically designed his line of side plates to complement L & R locks, it should be noted that they are compatible with a number of other locks as well. For example, the dimensions of the 1100, 2000, and 2100 should work well with the large Chambers/Siler Germanic lock. The 1200 and the 1700 would fit the small Chambers/Siler Germanic and the Faux/Ketland late English lock respectively. The 2000 would work with the early Chambers Jaeger lock.
All of the L & R side plates appear easy to inlet because of their generous thickness (which makes them rigid and durable) and ample draft which makes possible a tight press fit. The apparent ease with which a side plate can be inletted may be deceptive however, since its placement is critical to both the function and beauty of the rifle. Its placement is complicated by the fact that the lock panels of most rifle styles are not parallel, but taper inward toward the front; the difference between the side-to-side spans of fore and aft may be 1/8" or more with a tapered or swamped barrel. Therefore, this is not a matter of merely matching two parallel opposing surfaces. Alignment of holes for the cross bolts is crucial to the correct mating of parts. In the best of all possible worlds, a precisely drilled ramrod hole, adequate forethought, and compatible parts will allow all the pieces to fit together without interference. But in reality, if a lock bolt seems inclined to intrude into the ramrod hole, two remedies are possible: 1) Locate the forward screw hole slightly above the midpoint of the lock plate nose; or 2) Use a forward bolt turned smaller, as shown in Fig. 5. This will decrease ramrod hole obstruction. (Editor's note: We amateur builders are susceptible to such problems, but with good planning and by drilling our cross bolt holes from the lock plate side, we increase our chances of locating everything correctly.) Sometimes, due to the whimsical wandering of the ramrod hole, the side plate has to be tipped up a bit at the front end if you are to avoid an intersection of the forward lock bolt and the ramrod. This makes the side plate look a bit out of kilter with the lines of the stock panel; I have improved the aesthetics of this correction a bit by adding a snippet of wire inlay for balance as in Fig. 6.
L and R's nice assortment of side plates will be a welcome addition to its product line. Their grace and compatibility with the off-side lock panel (a consideration which seemed to escape a lot of the old time gunsmiths) will win them ready acceptance with contemporary builders. I wonder if my 43 other side plates would move at a Saturday morning yard sale...
1. Buchele, W., Shumway, G. & Alexander, P.A. Recreating the American Longrifle. G. Shumway, Publisher, York, PA, 1984, p. 106.
2. Alexander, P.A. The Gunsmith of Grenville County, Muzzleloader July/August, 1992, p. 21.