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Cleaning and shooting a Hall rifle

By Jim

The Hall rifle is a a rare gun indeed. It was the development of John Hall, a resident of Portland Maine. He was a Cooper by trade (he made kegs and barrels for the shipping industry). In 1811, he signed a patent for the "Improvement of Firearms." He spent several years perfecting and making the machinery required to produce his rifles. His design was unique in the fact that it loaded from the breech by a tilting mechanism instead of loading down the muzzle as other firearms of the time did. In 1819, his firearm was adopted by the US government, and was subsequently made in the Harpers Ferry Arsenal. They were produced until about 1844 in various calibers, but some of the Hall rifles were used by Union and Confederate armies during the early years of the Civil War.

Here is the Hall rifle with the breech closed.

And with the breech opened for loading.

I recently had a customer bring a Hall rifle in for service. He wanted it cleaned and some ammunition made so he could fire this rifle. So I disassembled the breech block and gave each part a good cleaning.

The design was far ahead of its time. Unfortunately one of the problems with the Hall rifle is lack of a good seal at the breech. Believe me when I say that she spits fire at both ends ! But the rifle performed well despite this, and was used as the US military's first breech loading firearm for many years.

This particular rifle has a date of 1834 on the breech block. Earlier rifles were issued with a special flask that held loose powder and dispensed round balls as well. Around the time this gun was made, paper cartridges were being issued. The special flask had numerous failings in the field and a better way to load was needed.

Here I have a rolled paper cartridge that I made for the Hall rifle. I rolled it in a similar fashion as the old cartridges for the Brown Bess muskets. The service charge at the time called for a .525" diameter ball of 220 grains weight, and a propellant charge of about 100 grains of powder. My cartridges utilize a slightly smaller round ball with 70 grains of 2ffg modern black powder. The cartridge is ripped open in the rear and the powder is dumped into the breech. Next, the entire paper wad and ball are shoved into the top and the breech mechanism is closed.

Because of excessive powder fouling, sometimes during sustained rates of fire, the breech becomes stuck in place. The Hall rifles could then be loaded from the muzzle with the accompanying ram rod and fired like a standard musket.

One of the neat things about the Hall rifle is the breech mechanism itself is complete. By removing a single screw, the breech can be used as a single shot pistol should the need arise. It wouldn't be very accurate because of lack of a barrel, but it could be fired in this manner in a pinch.

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