During the Elizabethan period and the English Civil War the matchlock musket (caliver, arquebus, and other incarnations) was the most prominent firearm in use. Other firearms/lock mechanisms where employed (wheel lock, snaphaunce), yet the matchlock was selected as the primary weapon.


You will need to acquire a fair tool set to build yourself a matchlock. You should have a number of wood and metal files, rasps, sanding blocks, draw knives, chisels and sandpaper. A drill is also indispensible.


There are a number of items that you must buy. Some items may be made in a home workshop but others must be purchased.

The Barrel

You should buy a commercial barrel. A number of companies sell nice looking barrels that fit the time period. A good barrel will cost anywhere from $140 to $250. The barrel should be smoothbore and between 62 and 75 caliber.

The Stock

The stock should be of walnut or maple with a moisture content of no more than 8%. If you buy your stock from a gunstock manufacturer you should be gauranteed to have a good piece of wood that will not warp or split. I use the stock blanks from The Rifle Shoppe (therifleshoppe.com).  A stock blank will cost approximately $250.

Misc. Parts

You will need a number of small parts to complete your piece; lock bolts, screws, thimble, ramrod parts, buttplate, etc.


After obtaining your parts the first step is to inlet the barrel. You should assure that the top of your stock is cut straight and flat to accomplish this. I typically mark center lines down the top and bottom of the stock first. This will allow me to align the barrel and the ramrod. The stocks from Mike Kenslow may be purchased pre-inlet if you buy specific barrels. You should lay in the barrel so that the stock comes at least halfway up the barrel. In inletting the tang, make sure to inlet the tang down far enough into the wood so that when you work the stock down the tang will not be above the wood.

Be very careful when inletting your barrel so that you obtain a good fit. Your barrel should not have a sloppy fit to the stock. Once the barrel is pinned to the stock it should have a very tight fit with no movement of the barrel. You may use lampblack on the bottom of your barrel and use a wood mallet to lightly tap your barrel down into the channel. Remove any high spots to allow for a perfect fit.

The Lock

The lock may be made in your shop or you may purchase it from the The Rifle Shoppe, Tattershall Arms or another locksmith. To see some locks from the period look at Firearms Ignition Systems.  The lock is composed of a number of parts including the cock, the sear, the tumbler, the mainspring and the lock plate.  The picture to the right shows the internal mechanism for a matchlock lock.

The first step in putting together the lock is to fit all the pieces, making sure to polish the parts that have bearing surfaces.  Step one after polishing the pieces is to fit the cock and the tumbler.  A peg from the cock goes through a hole in the lock plate and the tumbler is fit over it.  The fit should be tight on the cock plug but do not make the fit too tight at the plate or else the cock will bind making it difficult to bring the cock down to the pan for firing.  The next step is to fit the sear.  With the cock in the upright position the arm of the tumbler should be in the postion shown in the lock internal picture with the arm at approximately a 45 degree angle to the top of the lock plate.  The sear pin is placed in the tumbler slot and the holes marked for the pivot screw.  And 8/32 screw may be used for the pivot pin.  I would suggest using a gunscrew for this that is not threaded all the way to the head of the screw.  Drill the holes for the sear and tap the lock plate for the pivot screw.  To prepare the spring you should read Kit Ravenshear's booklet on making springs.  This booklet is available through Track of the Wolf and other blackpowder firearms suppliers.  The spring fits in a slot in the lock plate.  The last step in finishing the lock is to pin the tumbler to the cock peg so that it does not slip.  I suggest drilling a 3/32" hole and using a 3/32" peg to secure the tumbler.

The matchlock parts may be made out of mild steel except for the spring which must be made out of spring steel. Spring steel may be purchased from Brownell's or Dixie Gun Works. The lock shown on the link given above is fairly easy to complete. The picture to the right is a copy of a tumbler from an actual continental matchlock lock. Your parts should be polished and hardened to assure longevity.

Below your barrel you will need to inlet a ramrod channel. You must also drill a hole into the stock following the line of the ramrod channel to allow you to carry your ramrod on your musket. The length of the ramrod must be long enough to easily load your firearm. When planning the location of your ramrod channel, the portion that extends into the stock must be set up so that it will not enter the lock mortise and it will miss the lock bolts. You must also be careful so that the ramrod hole does not exit the bottom of the stck or come up into the barrel channel. Commercially available ramrod drills are available from a number of companies including Mountain State Muzzleloading.

Once you have finished inletting the barrel and you have a functional lock, you should then inlet the lock. The use of a good razor knife to mark the inlet is preferable. You may then remove wood inside this cut. Be very careful when working your chisels that you do not remove too much material. It is very easy to ruin a stock. During this process you should also cut the slot for the squeeze bar or trigger. Again, make this slot as small as possible. You may always remove more wood but it is very hard to put it back on...


Once completed you should have a functional (and deadly remember) matchlock musket that will be useable at shooting or reenacting events.  But before you can fire it you will need slow match for the ignition system.  You can go to the following site for information: http://www.metamuseum.com/us/slowmatch/index.cfm

If you have any questions about building 16th and early 17th C. Arms, please feel free to contact the author.