George Morrison's Historic Firearms
Taking aim at historic firearms
Woodbury-style flintlock .54-caliber rifle with sugar maple stock, hand-forged iron mounts, Rococo-style raised carving, $4,500. Powder horn with leather pouch, $500.
Photo by Susan Laughlin
George Morrison considers himself a mountain man. He’s lived his life in the woods as a guide in Maine and Wyoming and now lives in Mason, working daily in his period-style gunsmithing shop. The early 1800s were a beautiful thing to him, and he brings back those days of old by recreating the era’s most important tool — the flintlock rifle — with a forge and anvil.
Morrison’s rifles are historic, folkloric and works of art. He studies the rifles of the Revolutionary War era and later in museums from Bennington to Sturbridge to Deerfield. After absorbing their feel, and taking measurements and photos, he heads back to his work bench to bring history to life.
It takes two skills to be a rifle maker — woodworking and metalsmithing. With a band saw, rasps and chisels, he fashions the hardwood architecture of the rifle stock out of a plank of wood. Finally, he treats the wood with aqua fortis, a solution of nitric acid with metal filings, that “sucks most of the color out of the wood,” as he says. The wood, now with a reddish tinge, is given 10 coats of a mix of linseed oil and turpentine to deepen the look of history. Hardwoods for the rifle stocks range from maple to walnut to cherry, the latter most prevalent in New Hampshire.
As a metalsmith, Morrison forges and creates intricate shapes for flintlocks and sights with discarded iron. To give it an aged patina, he boils the metal parts in a bleach and water solution. He says, “You would think it would be ruined — all grayish and pitted — but it looks just like it is 200 years old.”
When asked about the Revolutionary War era in New Hampshire, Morrison reveals that “most New Englanders stuck with muskets rather than rifles.” Muskets, without rifling in the barrel, are less accurate, especially after 60 feet. Currently, Morrison is building Appalachian Mountains-style flintlock rifles typical in the early 1800s. Those rifles were the working man’s best friend and were used until they fell apart. Consequently, very few are left, unlike the fancy models that sold for $8 to $10, a small fortune back then, but now can be worth $15,000 because they were used little and preserved well.
Historically, rifles were made by individuals and named after the county where they were built — each with its own character. Morrison’s rifles exemplify a specific school, but they are not meant to be an exact reproduction. That is where the art lies. His signature long rifle is a visual delight for the gun case and/or as an accurate tool for the hunter.
Last August he won Best of Show in Living with Crafts at the New Hampshire League of Craftsmen’s Fair. Jurors proclaimed his work “exquisite.” There is a certain beauty in the aged patina and intricate detail of the metal set against the artfully rendered curves of the wood stock. He also creates powder horns and leather pouches using techniques of the day.
Morrison will be displaying his work at a gun show at Old Glory Guns & Ammo at 433 Fitchburg Rd., Mason, on Saturday, June 6, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m