What it takes to turn a muzzleloader kit into a functioning black powder firearm.
Fortunately for enthusiasts interested in making their own muzzleloader, there are a plethora of kits available on today’s market. Building a muzzleloader kit has always been something of a pastime between fathers and sons (and daughters), and it used to be something of a rite of passage for a kid to take their own gun out hunting. Because these are a relatively simple type of gun, building them from kits is relatively easy… except when it isn’t. To do it correctly can be time-consuming and, unlike more modular and common guns like the AR-15, each kit is going to be something of a unique case.
Building guns at home is a very fun hobby, but as time has gone on, the skills and tools required to do so have drastically changed. The increased modularity of modern firearms means that most rifle builds today are going to be accurate without glass bedding or adding pillars to the stock. The skills required to do these things have started to become rarer as fewer people have invested time in learning them. While installing an aluminum chassis on your bolt action requires nothing more than a few turns of an Allen key, building a muzzleloader kit usually isn’t that simple.
If you already have the skills to work wood and metal, making a muzzleloader from a kit can be easy. If you don’t have those skills, well, a muzzleloader kit is a great place to learn because they are relatively low risk and can be completed in a few different ways.
Most who decide to build a muzzleloader will end up starting with one of the kits commonly available at sporting goods stores, typically being either .45 or .50 caliber and featuring a Hawken-style half stock. These kits usually contain most of what you need to finish the gun immediately, and at their core are really just disassembled pre-fit builds. Very few of these kits require a huge amount of material removal and will likely only need some sanding, staining and light metal finish work. These types of muzzleloader kits are what you’d probably think of as the ‘Boyscout Special’.
Moving up in difficulty are muzzleloader kits that prioritize historical accuracy over being a simple project. Getting one of these built isn’t hard, but making it look right is not an easy task if you want a beautiful heirloom.There are several models of this style, and historical reenactment groups often recommend them to new members looking to join their ranks. Several companies make kits for the Civil War Springfield and Enfield rifle-muskets, while others produce variations of the German Jaeger flintlocks and various mainland European muskets. There are far too many to list here, but if you enjoy history and period-correct replicas, this is a rewarding challenge. For those who are truly committed, you could even try to replicate markings or simulate battle wear.
Many of these kits, most notably from makers like Kibler’s Longrifles, are completely modern, meticulously made semi-replicas that are among the most accurate for hunting and field use. These are kits similar to what you may see on the shelf at your nearby hardware store, but can cost upwards of ten times as much in some cases. However, they will likely last ten times as long too.
It is in this level of kit that you really begin to see cost climb as well as difficulty if you're doing it historically right. Even though these kits are almost drop-in, they do require a deep knowledge of traditional metalworking and woodworking to make them fit precisely and look correct. You’d not want to mess up the fit with globs of polyurethane or a cold blue wipedown.
Because their most critical parts are CNC machined to the highest quality, you’ll end up with a wood-to-metal fit that looks absolutely perfect, however the devil is in the details as you’ll need to make all your material removal laser-precise when engraving or adding inlays. Tuning these guns can result in extreme accuracy for what they are, and thanks to modern materials, the ignition, especially on the flint guns, is far better than it would be on originals. You begin to see things like enhanced nipples and flash holes on these high-end kits, and you should also see wonderful accuracy.
The last muzzleloader kit style worth mentioning is those that are in very rough shape. These are for experts only, and you really need a full shop with a slew of wood and metalworking tools to finish these. In this type of kit, the wood will arrive inletted, but not all the way. You’ll need to finish it all yourself, and you’d best be skilled with everything from Dremel tools to hand chisels to do so. The metal also arrives in what appears to be sorry shape. Brass, bronze, and iron fittings are usually sand cast and will come to you unfinished. You’ll need to even the surfaces out and polish them yourself. This advanced type of kit isn’t something a beginner would have fun with unless they know how to shape the materials. It may seem like a breeze to just deburr a buttplate, but it isn’t as easy as it looks. While some of the simpler kits can be completed in a weekend, expect a roughly finished kit to take much longer. You’ll be hand-fitting literally every part with sometimes very small tools, so if you want a long winter project with lots of on-the-job learning, this may fit your bill.
The Top Muzzleloader Kits And What They Require To Complete:
Traditions Kentucky Rifle Percussion Muzzleloader Kit
This muzzleloader kit comes with the entire gun in the white and is about 95 percent ready for assembly. This is a 2/10 difficulty project and could be accomplished in a weekend.
Tools and Materials Needed: 80-, 120-, and 220-grit sandpaper, punch set, oil stain for the stock, brass polish compound, a screwdriver and a hand drill. Optional steps would require bluing or browning compound for the barrel.
MSRP: $373 //traditionsfirearms.com.
Traditions 1861 Rifle Musket Kit
This muzzleloader kit has all the parts necessary to construct a North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA) approved rifle-musket in .58 caliber. This kit is about a 5/10 difficulty level if you’re concerned with historical accuracy, as it will need to be period-correct if you plan on taking it to any reenactment events. This kit is pre-fit at the factory, but it will still need to be finished.
Tools and Materials Needed: 80-, 120-, and 220-grit sandpaper, punch set, oil-based stain, a screwdriver and steel polishing compound. Historically, these guns were not blued, but you will want a period correct sling and bayonet to finish it out.
MSRP: $975 //traditionsfirearms.com.
Kibler’s Longrifles Colonial Rifle Flintlock Kit
While not an exact copy of any specific rifle, these flintlock kits are among the very best and offer a wide number of options and wood species from plain walnut to cherry to fancy maple. They are offered with smoothbore or rifled barrels in calibers up to .58. These are CNC machined, but the parts will still need to be lovingly fitted together. The difficulty level to just assemble one of these kits is only a 3/10, but doing traditional metal finishing and inlays would raise it to a 7/10.
Tools and Materials Needed: 80-, 120-, and 220-grit sandpaper, punch set, oil-based stain, a screwdriver and steel/brass polishing compound. You will also certainly want to put a browned finish on these barrels for an authentic look. For that, you will need compound and a heat source such as a torch, though there are ways to do this in a heated tank. Knowledge of special stains to use with certain types of wood is very beneficial here as are traditional metal finishing techniques.
MSRP: $1,075-1,325 //kiblerslongrifles.com.
Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading Builder’s Kit
This muzzleloader kit is the least finished on this list. It will require you to fit and finish everything, including inletting the stock and installing the breech plug on the barrel. This is a 10/10 difficulty kit.
Tools and Materials Needed: Just about everything you have. You’ll probably need to buy tools to finish this out unless you already have a full machine and wood shop. Advanced gunsmithing skills are also necessary. This will not be easy, but it provides the advanced craftsman with greater flexibility in making a custom rifle.
MSRP: $950 //tvmnatchez.com.
More On Muzzleloaders:
- Black Powder Revolver Buyer's Guide
- Muzzleloader Bullets For Putting Meat On The Table
- Muzzleloader Open Sights Upgrade
- The Modern MOA Muzzleloader
- The Lost Art Of Shooting Cap-And-Ball Revolvers