Good enough for now

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I’ve been restoring some artillery items for my Civil War reenacting unit, but as I work it’s clear that a replacement would be best. Unfortunately, not right now.

Don’t know how much you know about cannons, but with the exception of the barrel and various metal fittings, those things are mostly wood. My unit’s cannon, a 10 lb. Parrott rifle, has been in service for several years and is beginning to show a bit of wear and tear. The cannon itself is fine, but some of the wood implements – which are constantly exposed to the weather – were in bad shape.

Specifically, the two long pole-like implements used for sponging the barrel and ramming powder before firing were dried out and showing a silvery patina, plus the oak is beginning to crack. The weathering is similar to what you’d see on an old oak deck. Also, the oak “trail spike” – a thick, heavy lathe-turned piece mounted on the back used for turning the cannon – is in the same condition.

Ideally, all three of these items should be replaced for period-correct authenticity’s sake. In actual use during the Civil War these items would have weathered, to be sure, but because of the terrifically harsh use they received they just didn’t last very long. As such, they were constantly being replaced and so were typically in newer condition. We, on the other hand, having been firing this cannon a good bit longer than the actual Civil War lasted, so they’re showing their advancing age.

What I did was strip them, thoroughly sanded them down, stripped and repainted the few metal fittings on them, then finished them with several coats of boiled linseed oil. From just a few feet away they look brand new, and the smooth surface is much easier to handle, but up close you can still see the cracking. They should still be replaced, but that’s not in my unit’s budget this year. (Nor do I have the available time, since I’d be the guy making new ones).

Regular readers know that I don’t like to do things halfway, so this is bothering me a bit but it can’t be helped. Still, they look great and I’m sure my restoration has given them a couple more years of active use as we run around playing soldier. For now, my restoration work is a compromise that will serve us well.

A.J.

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