Monthly Archives: April 2021

The Trousse de Chasse

We’re going to depart from firearms this time, but we’ll be staying in the realm of hunting, so not too far off.

Hunting was a very different thing in Europe in 16th-17th C. Generally speaking it was restricted to the members of the political and social upper-crust. A gentleman might fire the gun, but dealing with the results was often why a game-keeper was employed. They were not merely there to serve during the hunt of course; in day-to-day life they were a combination of Hunting Guide, steward and park ranger for their employer’s estate.

Hunting was a social occasion often enough, and like most such occasions it was an excuse to re-affirm ones wealth and good taste. One way to express this was by embellishing the tools of the hunt. Guns, crossbows, knives etc. were lovely to see, and were often inlaid with precious metals, Ivory or Mother of Pearl. Carrying or providing your gamekeeper with impressive tools was a mark of distinction. Among those tools was the Trousse de Chasse, a set of knives and other tools for skinning and processing kills. While we might expect they employed more pedestrian tools in their daily life, on a formal hunt they needed to impress, and this meant these sets were often richly ornamented. It is unclear if these tools were used by the principle or the servants, or if that varied by time and place, or even on an individual basis.

A very fancy Trousse de Chasse with an elaborately mounted sheath.

These sets often included one or more skinning knives, a large knife referred to as a ‘cleaver’ for jointing or quartering game, an awl for stitching the meat up in the hide for transport and a two-tined fork for… uh, because fork. Some sets included a saw, a stiletto or other tools as well as the basics. Both the set and the common sheath that held it were embellished with silver or gold mounts and engraving.

Another very fancy set with elaborate mounts. No fork in this one…

I first saw pictures of these sets when I was in High School, and was fascinated. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to make on of these sets?’ Many years later when I became a knifemaker I often thought about making one, but such a thing would be rather expensive and take a lot of time… time that was hard to come by while making a living.

The thing is I haven’t seen anyone do a credible reproduction of one of these sets, and only one that might be is far enough enough off the mark that I’m not positive they were trying for a Trousse de Chasse.

Finally in 2020 I decided ‘to heck with it… I’m gonna make one!’ So I did. This required getting some antler, which is hard to come by in the correct size etc. around here. I’ve ordered antler online and generally been unhappy with what I got, but there is a solution; there’s a store just off the highway in Montesano that often has antler racks for sale, and it’s only a two-hour drive…

OK, time to get started. First I regretfully decided that my engraving skills are not yet up to the task. I decided to start with a rather pedestrian set with all the right pieces, but not elaborately decorated.

The cleaver, two knives, a fork and awl.

The cleaver was first, made from 1/4″ thick 5160 spring steel. The three deep fullers (grooves) on each side of the blade were a pain, but the result is worth it. I fitted it with brass bolsters and antler scales secured with brass rivets.

The two skinning knives were made from 1/8″ O-1 tool steel with antler scales riveted to the tags on either side. The fork is made from O-1 drill-rod stock and the Awl is from 1/2″ O-1 also. The awl is double edged and quite sharp; it has no trouble punching through leather. All of the knives, the fork and awl were heat-treated and quenched in Olive oil, then tempered in the oven to the mid-50s Rockwell hardness. The fork was drawn to a full spring temper, around HRc48.

The fork and awl have blind tangs inserted into sections of the antler from near the tips, with brass ferrules at the base to prevent splitting. Now for the sheath, which is a whole ‘nuther thing.

The finished sheath with all the pieces of the Trousse in place.

The sheath needed to be made from multiple layers of hardwood, all based on the cleaver, with another layer for the knives and a third for the fork and awl. I made this by cutting out the shapes of the blade from 1/4″ spruce then thinning them down appropriately before adding the next layer. After it was glued up I shaped the sheath carefully, tapering it in thickness towards the tip. That done I covered it in chrome-tanned garment leather and added a brass band sound the sheathes holding the tools. Light friction between the various handles keeps everything nicely in place.

I gotta’ say, it’s chunky; the whole set weights about 2-1/2 pounds. But the long-held goal was accomplished, and I would be happy to have it along on a hunt. The various tools will work as well as they ever did, and the cleaver would help a great deal with an improvised blind or similar chores.

Sadly I will not have that opportunity. Despite my misgivings about being able to find a buyer (not the least due to the price) it sold immediately. Maybe I should have charged more…

I need to work on my non-ferrous metal-smithing skills to make more elaborate fittings for the scabbard on the next one, and I am continuing to practice engraving. Yes, there’s going to be a next one, even if I never sell it. I want to document the process more, especially the sheath-making. Also it was interesting to make and I learned a thing or two, but more importantly these things are cool.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 April 2021

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Sometimes It’s the Little Things.

I love my Colt Detective Special. It has the best double-action trigger of any of my revolvers (though my S&W M1902 gives it a run for it’s money) and I have no trouble printing halfway decent groups at 25 yards DA. It’s chambered in .32 Colt New Police (.32 S&W Long) so even with stout loads recoil is never unpleasant.

When I got it it had the factory hammer shroud and unconvincing Franzite ‘stag’ grips. They didn’t provide the best hold so I supplemented them with a Tyler T-grip that my pal Jake sent me for Christmas. This worked OK but wasn’t entirely comfortable, tending to jam my middle-finger against the trigger-guard.

Tacky Franzite plastic ‘stag’ grips and a Tyler T-grip

Eventually the ancient plastic grips cracked, and I happened to have some antler on-hand so I made a new set, and since I was making them for me they were kind of chunky, but I found I no longer need the Tyler T-grip.

For a long time this gun was a range toy; I was dubious of trusting my life to a .32, but after ballistic tests of some of the hotter .32 S&W Long recipe’s in Sharpe’s 1939 manual I decided to use it as a carry gun. How well I handle and shoot the gun outweighed any concerns I might have about the caliber.

I put together a pretty nice paddle-holster for the gun that holds it high-and-tight, is nicely secure and is easy to put on and take off without messing with my belt. The I started practicing draw-and-fires at the range and found there was trouble in paradise; I was having to shift my grip on the gun during the draw. This was not good.

The problem was that pesky space behind the trigger-guard. Works fine on the range, not so good on the draw. Something had to change, and I didn’t want it to be those lovely antler grips.

Long before Tyler-T-grips came on the scene S&W offered a device that mounted between the grips and frame on their pre-war large-frame guns and filled in the space behind the trigger without pushing your middle finger into the guard.

Pretty self-explanatory; the metal shims fit between the grips and the frame hold the adaptor in place. Clever.

I thought I could probably do something similar with the Colt. I had a small scrap of Desert Ironwood and made a simple adaptor as a proof-of-concept. To attach it for testing I simply epoxied it in place, and when the adhesive had fully cured I practiced drawing the gun. Success!

I didn’t really expect the epoxy to hold permanently, but I took it to the range to for some draw-and-fire exercises and it worked a treat. However, as I pretty much suspected it would, the adapter worked loose after a few cylinders full. Time for a more durable solution.

I grabbed a piece of half-inch aluminum and cut and ground it to shape, then got a thin strip of scrap nickel-silver to make tabs to would fit under the grips to hold it in place, exactly as a number of grip adapters function. I figured I’d just silver-solder it in place and… nope. The low-temperature solder I use doesn’t stick to aluminum. High-temperature solder would melt the nickel-silver. I needed a different method. We will draw the curtains of charity over the scenes that followed…

Eventually I was able to rivet the clip in place with a small piece of brass tubing, and it was all a terrible pain in the butt.

The adapter is in place and will be secured by clamping the grips over the tabs extending over the grip-frame.
Adapter in place and nicely secured by the grips.
In this view you can see the tubular rivet that holds the clip in place.

Sometimes a little change can make a big difference. The adapter allows me to get a consistent grip when drawing the gun, moves my hand high on the backstrap of the frame and brings the sight into alignment naturally. It feels great in practice draws, and I can’t wait to try it out at the range next week!

Take care and stay safe.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 April 2021

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Bad Training Day

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Training is good. Unless it’s bad training. Pushing for speed is bad training, but sometimes you want to see what you can do. Sometimes it’s more fun. But it’s still not good training.

Edit: This what happens when I finish a blog post very late at night. I meant to mention a lot of stuff that got left out. First an foremost my way of training is not the only way, or even necessarily the right way; I’m no expert, and this is not received gospel. View it critically and compare with other sources and ideas and decide on your own what you need and what’s important.

Made in 1945, this old Colt has still got it where it counts!

Today was my bad training day. I was doing 5-yard Draw-and-Fires with my Colt Detective Special. Draw, get a sight picture, fire a shot, re-holster. Do so no faster than you can get good hits. Necessary? Yes. Boring? Definitely. I realized I was letting my speed creep up, so I decided to push it and see what happened.

OK, this is not awful, and it was fun. But it’s a great way to develop bad habits if you overdo it. While I was visiting the darkside I decided to do a few cylinders of rapid-fire at seven yards.

Also not bad… and you know it’s genuine because it’s me and there are flyers.

Look, it’s not always about deadly-serious training. Sometimes it’s OK just to have fun, push it and see what you can do. In that spirit I also played with the Astra 600. This is not a gun I ever intend to carry or employ for self-defense, so it’s OK to goof around with it *nods head earnestly.*

I dumped a couple of mags at seven yards, and was pleased enough with the results.

Next I decided to run a target out to 25 yards. I set my shot timer for 1 shot per second and had a go. Sloppy, but not tragically bad.

Shooting a serious business, and training needs to be taken seriously. But shooting is also a hobby, and all work and no play makes Mike a dull boy. We can’t all be deadly serious all the time. It’s fun to play around and see what you can do, and it also allows you to gauge your progress and isolate areas you need to improve. For example I tend to pull my shots to the left when I push it, so I know I need to work on that.

Edit: I meant to elaborate that pushing yourself is necessary to discover your limits, so you have a better concept of what you can and can’t do, and can incorporate that knowledge into your thinking when contemplating self-defense. Competition (USPSA, IDPA, ASI etc.) is a good way of doing so in a controlled environment; it’s safe, there are set standards for performance and a variety of ways to test yourself. It also isolates ‘test’ from ‘training’ in a way that shows areas where you need to improve without teaching bad habits if approached thoughtfully and in context.

Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself, but keep a firewall between that and your dedicated training time.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 April 2021

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