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Old 26th March 2010, 11:29 PM   #1
RDGAC
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Default Afghan Jezail in York, UK

Greetings one and all!

I am the Assistant Curator of the Regimental Museum of the Royal Dragoon Guards located in York, Northern England, and we have recently (as part of an upcoming exhibition) come into possession of what appears to be an Afghan jezail. This piece is a gift, and I'm still trying to run down details on what the donor may know of its history.

The gun bears all the characteristics a pig-ignorant civvie such as I (whose interest in weaponry is great, but whose experience is minimal) would expect of a jezail; long, eight-groove rifled barrel (43.25in, give or take a whisker, from where I think the breech plug probably ends to the muzzle) with flared muzzle, what appears to be a fairly old lock (at first sight), salvaged from a British military musket or rifle, and of course the highly individual, curious curved stock and oddly-positioned butt which seems to define these guns. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out to be completely different from my assessment.

The gun's condition is, frankly, pretty dire. The barrel and lock are both extensively rusted (seemingly fairly active, rather orange rust at that), and just forward of what was, once, the nipple of the caplock mechanism, it exhibits blue-greenish corrosion which I would associate with copper or its alloys (brass?). The lock sits very poorly in the furniture; I'd conjecture that either the lock was crudely inserted by an amateur gunsmith, or alternatively that the wood has swelled and cracked over the years. The gun is, as mentioned, a caplock; the lock plate bears a crudely-stamped date of 1817 in sans-serif numerals (the eight appearing to have been applied upside-down!), and a what seems to be an attempt to replicate the East India Company's post-1816 (?) "rampant lion" emblem, with dubious results. The lion faces left and seems to be holding something round; a helmet or similar? I don't know. The lock is the right sort of shape (that characteristic double-pointed banana) but has no border around its edge. Nor can I find any kind of proof marks or similar, though they might be buried beneath the tonnage of rust. The trigger is slack but still held in place by something; my guess is that, if the mechanism is still intact by some miracle, it seized up long ago.

Moving on to the barrel, the length is approximately 43.25 inches (as mentioned), and it is octagonal in external section throughout, displaying a slight flare at the muzzle (about 1/16 of an inch); edge to edge at the muzzle is approximately 7/8 of an inch. The bore is roughly .55-.60in, although goodness knows what it actually is throughout the barrel. There are five barrel bands; two are what seems to be iron or steel, and the remaining three - which I suspect were fitted much later - are brass, and fit rather poorly. The barrel has some markings on it, representations of flowers and similar by the looks of them, and some decorative grooves. The ramrod is either missing, or stuck underneath the foremost brass band and partially broken away.

The furniture is, overall, not too bad; the wood isn't in good nick, especially around the lockplate and the very foremost part beneath the barrel, but the stock and butt are fine and show, rather happily, no cracks. There are two sling swivels, one of which is being held in place between two of the urlier brass bands, and the trigger guard, if ever there was one, is absent. I say "if ever there was one" because I can find no evidence of one ever having been mounted (screw or nail holes for instance), and have read that Jezail were sometimes produced without trigger guards.

Now, without further ado, some pics, and a request: can anyone tell me anything much about this gun? It's legally quite important that we know all we can about it, but more importantly, I can't help but love learning about the ugly old brute!

Overall views of the gun:
http://img132.imageshack.us/img132/6038/img0296h.jpg
http://img406.imageshack.us/img406/2433/img0297x.jpg
http://img694.imageshack.us/img694/5495/img0298ov.jpg

Lock and lockplate:
http://img689.imageshack.us/img689/2148/img0299e.jpg
http://img78.imageshack.us/img78/1883/img0315.jpg
http://img176.imageshack.us/img176/951/img0304j.jpg

Barrel and bands:
http://img67.imageshack.us/img67/7338/img0312g.jpg
http://img51.imageshack.us/img51/4605/img0311wn.jpg
http://img715.imageshack.us/img715/8500/img0310c.jpg
http://img534.imageshack.us/img534/6274/img0309wx.jpg
http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/3849/img0302kz.jpg

Muzzle:
http://img191.imageshack.us/img191/3613/img0301kc.jpg

As you can see, I'm still learning my way around the works digicam (give me film any day!), and no expense is spared hereabouts! This post has also been put up on another forum, incidentally, but not one specialising in ethnographic (new word for the week) arms. I do apologise if I've put this in the wrong place, by the by; I realise this forum is primarily interested in edged weapons, but noticed an earlier thread on a Jezail and was seized with hope.

It's also worth noting that I'm currently attempting to find out whether she's loaded, and if so, with what; whoever de-activated this weapon did so in the crudest possible way (as you can see), so I find it interesting that there appears to be something in the bore, near the breech end; something which, although unyielding to pressure from my extemporised ramrod, is penetrable by a paperclip gently, but firmly, pushed into what's left of the nipple's tunnel to the breech. Curious.
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Old 28th March 2010, 02:06 AM   #2
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The pic of the lock is not clear enough to tell if it is native made or production. Even if it is production large quantities of these locks were sold in the area into the 20th century. The piece is pretty much run of the mill. If it were my piece I would pull the barrel pour a few inches of water into and push a long rod with a worm or screw on it into it to remove any shot or ball and powder. Afterwards I would pour oil into it and soak the barrell and lock for a couple of weeks. Clean off all active rust and then wax the pieces. After the oil soak the lock will almost always unfreeze there are only 2 screws holding it in on the other side.
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Old 28th March 2010, 03:31 AM   #3
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In looking at this jezail, it seems very much to be a 'Khyber gun', which is one of the native production imitations of various firearms produced in these regions, one of the best known being Darra Khel about 40km south of Peshawar. The lockplate shape does not seem to correspond to those of percussion cap weapons used by the British (I would defer to Ward's expertise on this of course), but the sharp rather than rounded back seems odd. The description of the lion of the East India Co. (post 1816 as noted) facing left and holding the sphere sounds correct, but the 'sans serif' numbers not correct for 19th century and indicative of more modern addition, certainly not 1817, which obviously would have been flintlock.
From what I understand, even arms used by EIC were government proved and would carry that mark on the lock.

Despite the fact that this seems to be one of the profusion of interpretations of earlier arms that were actually used in Khyber regions, and unclear of just how old it actually is, it would be interesting to learn more on its provenance as the circumstances of acquisition even as a souvenier can often be intriguing.

These were extremely historic guns, and the proficiency of the tribal warriors with them decidedly regarded by the British as noted by Kipling in the well known lines;
"...A scrimmage in a border station, a canter down some dark defile;
Two thousand pounds of education, drops to a ten rupee jezail."
from " Departmental Ditties and Barracks Room Ballads"

Thank you for sharing this gun with us here, and while it is good to see someone else as challenged by these new type cameras as I am , your eloquent descriptions are outstanding and concise.

All very best regards, and welcome to our forums !
Jim
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Old 28th March 2010, 04:35 AM   #4
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These guns were still being used against the russians when they invaded. They were fired at point blank range into the gas tanks of helicopters and other vehicles. They are also still being made for weddings. aks and other arms have replaced these over the last 30 years. The problem with dating a lot of afghan pieces is that older pieces are often incorporated into pieces as talismans or because styles are very very slow to change. I have a ammunition belt that was taken off a taliban fighter that has a modern russian ammo pouch on it besides the typical 19th century style so called sword hooks and a black powder powder flask. That piece was in military use less than 3 years ago.
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Old 28th March 2010, 03:52 PM   #5
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Thankee for the kind words, Jim. I feel like writing a headline: "Pundits Astounded as Military History Degree Actually Proves Somewhat Useful"

To respond, I had my misgivings about what is left of the lock from the outset. The sans-serif numerals certainly didn't seem right; no specimen of British lock I've ever seen (in my, I should add, very limited experience) from that period had sans-serif numbers or letters, and this page here gave my suspicions a boost. Likewise, the lack of a border around the lockplate (which as I understand it was pretty much de rigeur on British locks) and absence of any visible proof markings seem indicative of a fake. I've very gently removed some of the lockplate rust with a soft cloth and WD40, and apart from another "8", stamped just below the former location of the nipple, can see nothing more than what I've described above. On better examination, the lion seems what I can only call ragged; it doesn't quite match up to illustrations and photographs I have seen of the EIC lion, and seems more crudely inscribed.

Regarding provenance, I had a quick phone conversation with the donor on Friday and gleaned that he had good reason to believe it to be genuine, and that its condition was probably the result of spending some time in his garage; the British climate has struck again. It's rather unfortunate, but what little he could tell me led me to the same conclusion as you - that this particular piece was produced in a location such as Darra, perhaps as a functional weapon, but not as long ago as the lockplate rather optimistically claims. He also said that the weapon has been in this country for between 10 and 15 years, at least. I'm afraid I can't give any more detail than that.

My own particular theory - if you'll excuse my boldness - is that this gun, perhaps, was assembled relatively recently; certainly within the last century or so. I'm going to go out on a limb, and suggest that the barrel may be rather older than the lock. The lock itself, I'd guess, was either made to fool a foreign buyer into thinking it had been captured from a converted European flintlock (e.g. a Pattern III Brown Bess), or perhaps stamped with these markings at a later date than its original manufacture, for the same purpose. Would an Afghan/Khyber gunsmith bother with such things if he were selling the weapon to one of his own kind? I understand the Darra chaps still put so much store by the stamp "V.R" that, on occasion, one can find guns stamped with the V.R. cypher that also say they were made in 1952!

Ward, I'll try to get some better pictures of the lock as soon as possible (and likewise of the rest of the gun). It may take some time as I work out how to use that infernal digicam, but I will, eventually, master it! Hopefully, anyway. Regarding treatment: by "pull" the barrel, I take it you mean dismount it from the furniture? I'm afraid I can't do that; in no sense am I even remotely qualified to dismantle a gun, at least, not if there's to be any hope of its re-assembly. I've already rigged up a home-made ramrod, with an auger (well, sawn-off corkscrew) superglued into a hole at one end, but attempts to get the steel corkscrew into whatever's down there have produced only corrosion stuck to the thread. As I understand it, this could mean a couple of things; it's possible that the de-activation was doubly ensured by pouring iron or steel down the barrel (although if so, how my paperclip is penetrating the touch-hole seems a bit of a mystery), but I'm told that Afghan fighters would put an awful lot of things down a Jezail; anything from lead balls to copper telephone wires hammered into slugs. If that is the case, I wonder if they might have used an iron ball. Not good for the gun, of course, but still.
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Old 28th March 2010, 04:44 PM   #6
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Actually I put little stock with pundits, and it is the passion for the study of military history which is the determining factor rather than the degree itself. Clearly you have the powerful dimension of both

It seems you and I have been on very much the same page, and that particular link I found very useful as there is surprisingly little information is available in the limited resources on firearms I have. The one book I wish I had on hand on the British guns is "British Military Firearms" by the late Howard Blackmore, as well as another title by I believe, Brooker.

As Ward has well illustrated, tradition runs deep in these formidable regions, and through the millenia these warrior tribes have always proven virtually unconquerable as a whole. It seems quite plausible that these markings and working components were put together in good faith for use in these frontier regions in a traditional tribal sense. Through the centuries native armourers have copied European markings on blades and weapons as they believed the power imbued in the original weapons would be transferred to thier work through them. With the trade sword blades ,merchants often would focus on the markings emphasizing them to the buyers. As many of these markings were symbols of various form they lent well to native sensitivity to cross any language barriers and became presumed representative of power.

While the markings are clearly and instantly recognized by a westerner to be incorrect, such as the dates incongruent (i.e. VR in 1952; 1817 on a percussion lockplate) letters backwards and words misspelled, a native would not be aware of these errors.

Regardless of being a modern interpretation of a historic weapon, for those of us who study ethnographic weapons, it is exciting to know that many of these weapons are still used anachronistically in many cultures. We study the kaskaras and takoubas of the Sudan and the Sahara, still worn by tribesmen there. In the remote mountain villages of the Georgian Caucusus, Khevsurs still wore mail as late as the 1930's and fought with swords. In Saudi Arabia the Bedouin still wear swords and in some cases still have adhered to the old matchlock muskets.

Rather than seeing this rugged piece as a modern forgery as certainly some might claim, I see it more as an example of historic tradition alive and well in our modern times and perhaps fighting with descendants of the warriors who have used them for centuries.

All very best regards,
Jim
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Old 28th March 2010, 05:10 PM   #7
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Having the lock look like a standard trade lock does not mean it was a fake made for tourist. The smith that made the lock wants it as resellable to a wide population and would mark it as such. Taking the gun apart is up to you. It is not that big a deal mark the bands with chalk as you take them off and unscrew 1 screw. the barrel is then off. As I mentioned it is only 2 screws that hold the lock. If you want to see if the barrel is watered just move one of the bands a little and you can see if it is watered. I doubt that steel was poured down it. I have pulled many loads out of these guns. Mostly it is corroded shot, sometimes rocks glass lead balls and any anything else that happened to be laying around. I would strongly encourage you to have the piece unloaded. Black powder does not go inert but more unstable as times go by. people still bring back cannonballs paint them black and put them on a shelf. Once every couple years you will hear about one of these falling off and detenating. I have had one of the vietnamese flintlocks go off in my hands that had been loaded for 40 years.
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Old 30th March 2010, 09:47 AM   #8
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Ward, I hate to sound dense, but what do you mean by "watered"? Also, I enclose herewith a photograph of the reverse of the lock. It does appear that the barrel is only held in place by one screw, through its tang, so it might well be relatively easy to remove the barrel for work; there is, however, another screw on the underside of the bolster around the lock, perhaps for holding the trigger mechanism in place? Still not been able to get a decent shot of the lockplate, unfortunately.

However, regarding the lock, I remain worried about dismantling that. I'm very good, as you can probably tell, at finding things about which to worry!

Jim, I hadn't really thought of it that way. It had occurred to me that the markings were important, of course, but the aspect of assumed "transfer" of the original weapons' capabilities, and the strength of the forces armed with them, had not. I sort of assumed that the markings were treated much like a proof mark, i.e. as a sign of good quality of manufacture. It is, I agree, good to know that such comparatively ancient weapons as these are still in use to this day; if nothing else, they and the people who make them represent a fascinating insight into the pre-industrial processes of manufacturing, and their products, almost unknown in the modern Western world.

Last edited by RDGAC : 30th March 2010 at 10:19 AM.
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Old 30th March 2010, 01:44 PM   #9
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Watered means that the piece is damascus steel. Meaning it is a mixture of steel and iron and will show a pattern. As heavy as that barrel is I think it is possible. The contrast of the pattern is brought out by acid being used on the piece. People mainly use ferricc chloride now but just about everything under the sun has been used including urine.
regarding the barrel one screw at the tang should be all there is. The 2 on the other side of the lock should be there if not one is missing. I would not worry about a additional one near trigger you have no need to take it out. If you look thru the forum you should easily find some pics of other afghan pieces I have posted over the years. If not I can repost some
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Old 30th March 2010, 02:47 PM   #10
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Jim, I hadn't really thought of it that way. It had occurred to me that the markings were important, of course, but the aspect of assumed "transfer" of the original weapons' capabilities, and the strength of the forces armed with them, had not. I sort of assumed that the markings were treated much like a proof mark, i.e. as a sign of good quality of manufacture. It is, I agree, good to know that such comparatively ancient weapons as these are still in use to this day; if nothing else, they and the people who make them represent a fascinating insight into the pre-industrial processes of manufacturing, and their products, almost unknown in the modern Western world.[/QUOTE]

















The markings found on weapons have long been a fascination of mine, and apparantly are drawing the interest of more collectors. In native cultures even where literacy is not prevalent, the keen understanding and perception of symbolism often transcends any language or educational barriers. The assumption of imbued powers through symbolism, in this case seen as strategically placed on weapons, reflects the power of ones faith and far exceeds the baser elements of business and marketing. This has been very much the case in virtually all cultures in varying degree, and there is a great deal of talismanic and amuletic virtue found in the markings and decoration of weapons in European nations from into the Middle Ages and probably earlier.
(see the thread at the top of these pages on early makers trademarks).

This is truly one of the most fascinating elements in the study of historic weapons, whether ethnographic or European, and the perspective in which even this seemingly modern gun should be perceived and described in a pertinant display, just as you have shown by your keenly placed interest in it. I really wish more museum staff, beyond the numbers who already do, would take your approach. If I may say so, very well done!!

All very best regards,
Jim
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Old 30th March 2010, 03:51 PM   #11
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Hi RDGAC,

Watering or wootz you can see on the blade at the right side of the picture, the blade to the left is mechanical damask, but very skilfully done, it can be seen much cruder.

A steel blade keeps the edge very well, but it can be brittle and break, an iron blade is soft, bends easily but seldom breaks, and to this comes that it does not keep an edge very well so to get a mixture of these two metals was important.

The last picture is from a Khyber knife, here the wootz is clear and you can even see how the koftgari was made.
Attached Images
  
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Old 30th March 2010, 08:04 PM   #12
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Ahh, I see. Yet another term to add to my collection... I'm 99% certain this piece isn't damascus steel, though until I do remove the barrel and de-rust it, obviously I can't be completely sure. Having removed the foremost two barrel bands, however, I have had chance to look at an area of the gun that is largely corrosion-free, and cannot spot any obvious Damascus pattern. I note you say, Ward, that acid is used to bring out the pattern; I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess that this is not something one should try at home?

And Jim... aw shucks, thanks I do try to keep an open mind... besides which, I committed the cardinal sin, only a few months ago, of polishing the fittings on a Japanese sword; fortunately, they were standard, mass-produced, Type 94 Shin-gunto fittings, but still. Only when someone patiently explained to me that Japanese craft objects tend to make extensive use of patination did it suddenly dawn on me that, but for blind luck, I could have destroyed the work of some forgotten craftsman. Since then I've become supremely cautious about doing anything with anything outside of my direct areas of study, and very eager indeed to get hold of as much knowledge as I can about them. One can't care for something of which one knows nothing as well as one could if one knew, no?

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Old 1st April 2010, 03:11 PM   #13
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Well, I finally did it; I've dismantled the gun. No real surprises, I should imagine; the "ramrod" turns out to be a piece of painted dowel, inserted to keep the fore stock together, and the lock came away easily enough and seems, happily, to be in working order; at least, it certainly does a damned good impression of it! Having determined it was at the half-cock, I decided to cock it fully and fire, thereby releasing the tension on the mainspring. With the aid of a little WD40, it worked like a charm. My compliments to the maker!

The biggest surprise, however, is that the barrel steel does show a pattern! It might be damascus, I suppose, but then again it could just as well be faked damascus patterning. I'm trying to get a good photograph but this damned camera is still defeating my efforts; however, some select pictures can be seen below.

Barrel:
http://img85.imageshack.us/img85/8917/img0323tx.jpg
http://img704.imageshack.us/img704/5083/img0317yt.jpg
http://img181.imageshack.us/img181/8163/img0325.jpg
http://img691.imageshack.us/img691/6926/img0324ky.jpg
http://img89.imageshack.us/img89/4329/img0323l.jpg
http://img180.imageshack.us/img180/8257/img0326i.jpg

Lock:
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/5840/img0322db.jpg

Last edited by RDGAC : 1st April 2010 at 03:32 PM.
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Old 1st April 2010, 07:55 PM   #14
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ok I see pattern. A quick and dirty way to see if it might come out take the strongest vinegar you have put in microwave and apply to the underside of the barrel. when you are finished use hot water or baking soda solution. It will not do anything bad to the outside appearence as long as you are reasonable carefull. If you see the watering that I expect I can talk you thru a better watering technique
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Old 8th April 2010, 01:47 PM   #15
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Right, I've done the vinegar-and-water acid etch trick. I can certainly see a difference; the pattern is very distinct, with many swirls and whorls, and even appears to have a tiny bit of a texture to it - though I can't feel anything through latex gloves. I've taken five pics and I hope they've come out all right, but if not, I'll work on getting some more done.

Incidentally, any tips and tricks on rust removal? I've not yet really embarked on de-rusting the barrel, since it seemed pointless when I was about to apply acid and water to it anyway, but hopefully I can now move onto that stage. So far I've tried a small area, using some reasonably fine glass paper, which seemed to produce results. With the lock, I've restricted myself to 3-in-1 oil and a soft cloth, removing as much excess oil as possible and leaving only a small amount as a film to inhibit further corrosion.

http://img13.imageshack.us/img13/3706/img0331qe.jpg
http://img693.imageshack.us/img693/7321/img0330og.jpg
http://img408.imageshack.us/img408/8053/img0329g.jpg
http://img215.imageshack.us/img215/2114/img0328v.jpg
http://img547.imageshack.us/img547/6654/img0327.jpg

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Old 13th April 2010, 09:43 AM   #16
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A small update. I spent a fair portion of Saturday working on the underside of the barrel, getting off as much corrosion as I could; gun cleaning oil, a good cloth and a great deal of patience have produced some result, with one patch of rust now down to the black, inactive stuff beneath. This area still has a film of oil upon it, so for now it's protected.

However, I really do need some advice on de-rusting wootz/Damascus; if it is indeed either metal, I don't want to destroy the pattern by over-enthusiastic attempts at rust removal. Furthermore, I'd ideally like to remove even the inactive rust. It strikes me as a shame to leave the beautiful metal beneath obscured by great black blotches. There is also a time factor at work here, in that the piece should ideally be ready for display by early May, and I'm away all of next week on a Curatorial course in London, so advice and assistance will be most gratefully received.
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Old 14th April 2010, 02:13 AM   #17
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You may want to stop at this point removing heavy black pitting can be made better by using brass dental style picks along with oil.It is time consuming. To correctly acid etch a full barrell you need to submerge the whole barrel. You can get various other results using a quick ferricc chloride etch. If you are feeling brave you can do it with a full hydracloric bath but I would suggest you may want a chemist or a similar type of person with you to do it. It is a little dicey
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Old 29th April 2010, 11:32 AM   #18
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Been removing the active rust, and have found that it's been working long enough to leave big, very ugly patches of black inactive rust all over the barrel's upper surfaces. I'd love to remove these but gather that inactive rust is bonded with the steel pretty firmly; noting Ward's recommendation of brass dental picks, would a brass brush do the same sort of job? Also, discovered that the green "copper" corrosion is indeed attributable to brass - consultation with a nearby expert on Oriental (i.e. non-Occidental) arms suggests it's part of the brazing that held its pan in place back when it was a matchlock (!); in the same area, the nipple carrier is seemingly screwed into the touch-hole, and the breech plug looks to have been (very crudely) welded in place. Eesh. Makes one leery of trying to shoot such a thing.
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Old 30th April 2010, 01:31 PM   #19
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err on the side of caution when removing rust, last thing you want to do is leave it submerged too long
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Old 9th July 2010, 01:15 PM   #20
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And a belated reply, with a minor update: browsing around the forum for further information on these creatures (I'm now thinking of buying one myself - it's everyone here's fault, I tell you!) I came across http://blade.japet.com/B-afghan1.htm - which got me thinking about this lock. I had attributed the cut-away section of the lock to a crude attempt at de-activation; is it instead possible that this was a native-made flintlock, modified to become a caplock? I present my hypothesis - with thanks to LPCA - in the form of this magnificent illustration.

I also attach a couple of better pictures, which might show the watering more clearly than did my previous efforts.
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