Full Chisel Blog

December 4, 2011

1845 Forage Cap

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:59 am

While not necessarily a woodworking subject, I will wear this hat so it is related to woodworking, I also varnished and sanded the hat which is like furniture.  This hat is based on a Daguerreotype taken shortly after the Mexican War 1847, this volunteer wears the standard forage cap used by the United States military during that time period.

I had a friend Tracy Mutter make me a black canvas hat to my head size.

I then covered it with several coats of Asphaltum Varnish [50% asphaltum, 50% spar varnish] and after 4 coats I lightly sanded the hat between coats.  This is the first time I have ever sanded a piece of clothing on purpose. I put more coats on the bill to make it into patent leather, like the original.  It is not easy painting a black hat black, the first coat was slightly darker [blacker] than the cloth and in color corrected lighting I could see the difference.  Subsequent coats were easier as the fresh varnish was shiny than the previous coats.

I used thin vegetable tanned leather to make the adjustable chin strap.  It was sewn with linen thread, dyed black and secured with two black horn buttons.  I thought about using some old brass Engineers buttons but used the horn instead.

The varnish greatly stiffened the hat and I think it is probably waterproof, will wait for a rain storm to give it a try.





  1. You’ll be able to blame the varnish for any “offgassing” experienced while wearing it.

    Comment by tracy mutter — December 4, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  2. Tracy,

    It is still offgassing from the varnish, but I will keep that in mind.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 5, 2011 @ 11:07 am

  3. I enquired a friend as to the nature of the gun in the daguerreotype and here is what he found.

    ‘Mr. Shepherd;

    I’ve studied the gun at all magnifications, upright and sideways. My conclusions at this stage :
    – It is a rifle (octagon barrel for its full length).
    – The barrel is musketoon length, comes up to his cheek as he sits.
    – The fore stock is pinned, which was not done to American military guns since 1795, but done on most hunting rifles.
    – The brass nose cap is definitely non-military in the U.S.
    – All primary military long arms were finished round, or octagon-to-round, and had barrel bands.
    – Military nose caps were almost all steel, and double width, surrounded the barrel and very often held a front sight.
    – This gun has a wooden ramrod, which militarily went out with the Long Land Brown Bess in about 1735.
    – There are 3 ramrod thimbles, assuming there’s one under his hand, all brass.
    – I think I see the rear sight (being pointed at by the weaving of the chair). It may be a fixed sight, or the short leaf of an adjustable sight.
    – The lock appears military, the hammer definitely so; apparently a drum conversion from flint to percussion. The shape of the lock plate in front of the drum is not an 1816, nor any military American plate I could find. They all have a curved slope toward the front plate screw, not a square notch. I will look at foreign plates to see what I can find.
    -There is no sling swivel on the large trigger military-style guard. Early American and French muskets had a separate attachment in front of the guard (until about 1816), but such an attachment is not apparent here. (His hand is covering the middle entry pipe area, which could cover a swivel; a forward swivel would have to be cut through the stock a la Brown Bess.)
    The 1814 Common Rifle had a swivel at the rear of the scalloped trigger guard extension, which can’t be clearly seen in the photo. However, the 1814 was a banded octagon-to-round-barreled rifle.

    Given these factors, I believe this particular rifle was a privately-built gun, with some military and some civilian parts, perhaps owned by the soldier himself. In addition, he is very casually dressed, with one shirt over another, and no official military coat, which I believe he would have worn had he owned one. My impression is of a militia soldier, a member of a mounted rifles brigade, perhaps a Texas border guard or another non-official U.S. military group.

    As always, I remain at your service.

    George Stapleford, MGSS, etc., etc.’


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 5, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  4. Georgia says the hat makes you look like a german nutcracker, I agree.

    Comment by Dave Buss — December 9, 2011 @ 10:25 am

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