PART I: “TRADITIONAL” DEFINED
So exactly what do we mean by “traditional”? On this question I must defer to Andy and concede that his definition is more considered and probably more practical than mine. If I may put words in Andy’s mouth, I think he’d say that “traditional” means that it more or less looks like, works like, is used like and is made from the same or similar materials as something from the historical period. He would go on to identify a subset of “traditional” that he calls “historical”. Andy uses the expression “line for line copy” to describe something “historical”.
Andy would say that a Thompson Center Hawken is a fair example of a traditional muzzle loading firearm. The TC Hawken has a wood stock, brass fittings, an octagonal barrel, open sights, set triggers and a side mounted lock. No optics, no plastic, no stainless steel. Shooting a TC Hawken gives you essentially the same experience as shooting an original 19th century rifle. You can hunt with a TC and shoot pretty accurate target groups. But a TC Hawken would not be an appropriate rifle for, say, a serious documentary film about Fremont’s expeditions. Except for its most superficial features, the TC simply doesn’t really look like anything that actually existed in the 1800s. To get the documentary right, you probably should go with something like a plains rifle produced by the Hawken Shop here in Washington. Their rifles are museum quality replicas, what Andy would refer to as “historical, line for line” firearms. Except for the absence of a hundred and fifty years of wear and tear, a Hawken Shop rifle looks, feels and preforms exactly like a gun produced in Jake and Sam’s St. Louis factory.
My concept of “traditional” tends to lean pretty far in the “historical” direction. Andy once called me “hard core”. I like that.
Now don’t get me wrong Pilgrim, this child loves cyanoacrylate glue. I use an electric drill, gas torches, bench grinders belt sanders and my shop even has electric lights! When I carve, inlet and engrave, I’m wearing magnifying eyeglasses. Jake and Sam had none of that stuff so I guess I’m not all as hard core as I wish I were. I freely admit to being totally dependent upon modern technology and concede that without it I probably wouldn’t be skilled enough to sweep the Hawken brothers’ floor. But I try to ask myself this guiding question whenever I make something like a rifle, a knife, a shooting bag or an article of period clothing – “Would it raise any eyebrows, would anybody really notice it if somehow it were transported back in time?”
My goal is to make gear that would blend in, that wouldn’t attract any attention back in the day. There would be my operational, if hypothetical, definition of “traditional”.