The story of the 1857 Württembergischen rifle

113_view_0Not too much is known about the history of this excellent rifle. It is often called the „frontloading Mauser”, or „1857 Mauser”. Well these names are all wrong. Let me tell you the story of this rifle briefly, and you’ll see why.

In the early 1850-s Germany still did not exist. Following the fall of Napoleon a loose confederation of 39 sovereign Germanic states was created. This confederacy was called the Deutscher Bund. Prussia and the Hapsburg Empire were rivals to gain control of this confederacy. One field of this rivalry was the selection of arms and calibers. The northern states followed the Prussian way, and many of them adopted 15,43 mm cal breach loading arms like the Dreyse rifles. The southern states rather followed the Habsburg Empire and adopted the muzzleloading rifles in the 13,9 mm “Süddeutsche Conventions-Kaliber”.

The rivalry was clearly leading to a war so both sides were trying to build up an army that utilizes the same caliber to ease the logistics. The Hapsburg plan was to create an army of 350.000 men equipped with the new small caliber. This army contained 6 Armee Korps

  • The Hapsburg Empire raised the No. I, II and III corps.

  • Württember, Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt established the No. VIII. corps.

  • Bayern raised the No. VII. corps

  • Nassau and Sachen raised the No. IX. corps.

The plan was to adopt the same 13,9 mm caliber for all the corps. The first member of this family was the 1854 M „Lorenz” Infanteriegewher and the M 1854 „Lorenz” Jägerstützen.

The story of the M 1857 rifle is in connection with the history of the VIII. corps of Württember, Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt. The development of the new rifle started in Württemberg in the Königlich Württembergische Gewehrfabrik of Oberndorf. This king owned arsenal was not comparable to the great arsenals of Austria or Prussia. In fact it was only capable of producing a few hundred rifles a year. In 1855 the factory received 2 1854 M Jägerstützens and later for 1854 M Infanteriegwehrs for testing. The new rifles proved much more effective than the rifled 17,5 mm muskets so in 1856 the factory produced their own variant with the following parameters:

  • 13,9 mm caliber

  • 140 cm total length

  • 100 cm barrel length

  • 5 grooves

  • 1:56” twist rate

The secretaries of war of the 3 states gathered in Heidelberg 26th april 1856 to decide on the new rifle and cartridges for the No. VIII corps. They examined the rifle and accepted the common caliber, with a +/- 0.05 mm deviation. They also agreed to adopt a 13.5 mm diameter bullet that was loaded with the paper patching of the cartridge. The total diameter of the bullet with the patching was 13.85 mm, leaving only 0.025 mm gap between the bore and the bullet on each side.

The bullet question

1857mauserlovedekThe common cartridge for the rifle held 4 g of fine blackpowder with a 13,5 mm 27,5 g grooved Minié bullet. An iron cup was inserted in the skirt of the bullet to help symmetric expansion. The bullet was loaded with paper patching just like the Lorenz rifles were loaded that time. In 1858 major Wilhelm von Polennies designed a new bullet without the grease grooves and without the iron cup in the skirt. The new bullet was cheaper and easier to manufacture, while was capable of the same accuracy. It was adopted in 1858.

The manufacturing starts in a big scale

The new rifle was named the „M 1857 Vereinsgewehr” (common rifle) or „M 1857 Infanteriegewehr” (infantry rifle), and the manufacturing started immediately at the year of acceptance. The first order of 5000 was placed for the factory in Oberndorf. The price of one rifle was 29 gulden. The factory produced 30000 pieces until 1866. During these years the factory grew up to became a full scale firearms factory. In 1874 Peter and Wilhelm Mauser placed an offer for buying the comapny to start the production of the 1871 M rifles.

So now you see why the 1857 M is not a „Mauser” rifle, but still has a very strong connection to the Mauser history.

Bullet casting in easy steps

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Safety

The melting point of lead is very low. It melts at 327,5 Celsius, and starts to evaporate strongly at 500 Celsius. The gases create lead-oxids with the air.  Lead can enter your body if you inhale the gases or the dust of the lead oxids or through the digestive system. Small amount can also enter your body through your skin, but this is only an evanescent quanitity. So I strongly recommend you to keep these simple rules:

  1. Always wear eye protection, a shirt with long sleeves, and gloves.

  2. I strongly recommend you to wear good quality respirators with a filter suitable for the gases of molten lead.

  3. Never take your clothes you use for casting into the house. Never mix them with other clothes.
  4. Always wash your hands and face after casting.
  5. Never eat or drink while casting. (Sorry guys, no beerdrinking either…)

  6. Keep children (and wife) away from the room when your are casting bullets.

  7. Put your melter in a well ventilated room, away from the kitchen. Best to cast bullets outside. Never inhale the gases of the molten lead.

  8. Keep water away from the molten lead. One drop of moisture, sweat or water will make your lead explode in your face.

Cleaning old pipes

  1. If you recycle old water pipes, cut the welded parts, and separate them. Pipes are welded with tin, so these parts are harder. They can be used for breach loading bullets.

  2. Melt the other parts of the pipes outside preferably on open fire.

  3. When the full content is melted, stir it well.

  4. Remove the residue of oxides, dirt and ashes with a metal spoon.

  5. Use a block mold to make one pound blocks for later use.

Bullet casting

  1. Melt your clean blocks.

  2. Put a piece of beeswax into the molten alloy, stir it well and ignite the flames. This is called fluxing, a chemical method for cleaning your alloy.

  3. Remove the dirt from the surface of the molten alloy.
  4. Find the good temperature. The more complex and the bigger your bullets are, the more heat they will need to have complete fill.

  5. Use a candle to apply smut on the inside of the cavity. This will help the bullet separate.

  6. Put one corner of the mold into the molten alloy, and wait until the lead does not stick to the metal.

  7. Pour the molten lead into the mold preferably with a cast iron ladle.

  8. Wait until the lead hardens on the spure cutter. Open the spure cutter, open your mold and examine the bullet: if it is not wrinkled and you see sharp edges, you are OK, the temperature is right. It should take 2-3 seconds fro the lead to harden on the spure cutter. If not, put the mold back into the alloy and wait another few minutes.

  9. Drop the bullets on the soft surface of a rag. If you want to make them a bit harder drop them into cool water.

General hints

  1. Examine the walls of the mold frequently. Lead drops can stuck to the surface and they will not let your mold block close perfectly.

  2. If you see “frost” on the bullet surface, and it takes too long for the lead to harden on the spure, your mold is overheated. Put it on a cold surface for a few minutes to cool.

Fine tuning

  1. Weight each and every bullet you cast. Keep the ones within +/- 0.5 % weight deviation.

  2. Size your bullets to exactly match your bore.

  3. Use good quality lubricant suitable for your gun.

Trapper shooting with the Pedersoli Jäger rifle

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A new short video is posted about living history wekends, trapper shooting by the Capandball guys.  Shooting muzzleloading rifles to various distances from 40-150 meters offhand, without modern shooting gear is a great challenge. The shooter – Balazs – chose one of our Pedersoli Jäger flintlock rifles for these events and for hunting as well. Enjoy the video!