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The Enfield Rifle.


October 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, October 18, 1861.

The Enfield Rifle.

On the banks of the river Lea, about ten miles from London, is situated the little town of Enfield, now rendered famous as the site of the government factory for the manufacture of the Enfield rifle. In 1854, when experience gained in the Russian war had taught the English government that the time had gone by for a continued use of the old “Brown Bess,” the manufacture of smore bore small arms was abandoned and the factory at Enfield was enlarged and adapted to the production of rifled arms, the pattern known as that of 1853 being adopted as the best, became subsequently world renowned as the “Enfield rifle.”

The buildings which constitute the factory are situated on the banks of the river, the site being undoubtedly chosen in consideration of the available water power, and also the means of transport which the navigable portion of the river presents. The rooms in which the manufacture is conducted are of course very numerous, as the different processes amount to no less than 769, and in addition to the actual working and engine rooms, there are a number of houses, belonging to the government, in the occupation of those employed; a mechanic’s institute and library, a small church and a school house.

The first form of the rifle barrel is an oblong tile-like plate of the best wrought charcoal iron of thirteen inches long, a little more than half an inch thick, and five and a half inches wide on one side and five inches on the other, the edges being beveled in order to insure a close “join.” The plate is first heated, and after several passages through a powerful pair of rollers containing a series of grooves and projections, it assumes a form not unlike small agricultural drain pipes. The barrel is then again heated in a reverbatory furnace, and passed through a series of rollers on a set of rods until it is drawn out to the proper length. The operation is rather difficult, the grooves of the rollers not being concentric; the workman has to watch his opportunity very nicely and thrust the barrel at the exact moment the proper part of the roller comes round. The work is so exhaustive that during the hot weather the men are only allowed to work five hours a day.

The next process the barrel undergoes is that of “rough boring.” This is performed in machines in which four barrels are operated on at a time. An instrument like a twisted auger, attached to a long rod, which is made to revolve, the barrel being fixed horizontally, passes right through. The barrel is then set and straightened with hammers by hand. Afterwards it is turned on the outside and bored for the third time, the chamber of the breech bored out, and, after the end has been tapped with a fined thread for receiving the breech pin, it is proved for the first time with a heavy charge of powder. The object of this early proving is to save the labor which might else be wasted on a faulty barrel. If after a close inspection it is approved, it is sent to the “grindery” where the outside is ground to a given gauge. It then goes through some sixty-nine different operations of minor importance before it is ready to be rifled. The rifling machines are of Belgian manufacture. The barrel is firmly fixed at the lower end; a steel rod, containing the cutter that forms the grooves, is made to pass clear through it, a special contrivance ensuring that this shall be deeper at the breech than the muzzle end. The twist of the grooves, which amounts to a half a turn in the length of the barrel, is obtained with the assistance of a radial steel bar, which is set at such an angle that a rack which slides on it, the other end of which gears into a pinion fixed to the cutting bar, makes that bar revolve to the extent of a half a turn as it slides from end to end. The metal is constantly lubricated and kept cool by a stream of soap and water. The barrel having been rifled is then polished and otherwise prepared for stocking.

The stocks are made by a copying lathe, which, like many of the machines in use, are of American invention and manufacture. The copying lathe is a machine in which a steel model is placed below the actual stock in the same relative position, and both made to revolve at exactly the same rate, thirty-five times per minute. Against the model a guiding wheel revolves; and a cutter, revolving three thousand times a minute, soon brings the stock to the shape of the model.

There are nearly two thousand hands employed in the factory, who are paid by the piece. Any material that is wasted is charged to the account of the workman who injures it; and as every portion of the rifle passes through so many hands, the workmen are a continual check on each other, each giving a receipt for the material he takes in hand, to the foreman of his department.

Many operations through which the rifle passes before it is ready for use, and those relating to its fittings, and to the manufacture of the bayonet, &c., are so similar to like operations in other factories, that they do not need description.