1790 Pack Howitzer - Why Can't Woodworkers Build Cannons?

  • Advertise with us
Project by Eric M. Saperstein posted 07-11-2009 03:39 AM 3983 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My father jumps between fighting the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and once and a while a skirmish in between. This project provided the basis for his impression of an Artillery Artificer, a 1790 Pack Howitzer designed as a small infantry support weapon that could be broken down and easily transported by mule or donkey.

In our case – it was light enough for my father to push up the ramps into the back of a pickup without a wench or a team of horses. The iron barrel is sleeved down (I objected to this) to make a bang with a little less outlay for powder. I saw no reason not to go all out with a full size bore as the originals would have had a much larger bore. Never the less, the gun does quite well in live fire mode using a small section of pipe cast with lead and/or cement. It also works well with grape shot.

We built the carriage, modified and restored the wheels, and purchased the barrel. The rest of the metal work we did most of it, a few pieces were purchased from blacksmiths.

This piece, and an assortment of other equipment and accouterments we either made ourselves or commissioned from other artisans supports my father’s various impressions and characters for living history demonstrations, role play, lectures, and interactive presentations. It also served to help with college grading, as we did a professor outing live fire day; once word got around that “Eric has a cannon ….” ... for some reason none of them wanted to give me a bad grade. Go figure?

More info on my father’s historic programs including USSS Wyman White, Rev War Rifleman Timothy Murphy, and a variety of other characters:

We’ve built and restored a few cannons, a trench mortar, various rifles, swords, and other weapons as well as carriages, carts, and other equipment.

More on Cannon Restorations: in fact you really never know what you’re going to get into once you find yourself involved with military restoration work. Here we are working on an M60-A3

One day – when I have a large enough game room to put it on display … I figure I’ll build me a full size Napoleon with a shiny brass barrel. I’ll have to do the poker table first though – or Teri (fiance) may turn the gun on me.

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

14 comments so far

View James's profile


162 posts in 3486 days

#1 posted 07-11-2009 03:42 AM

Whoa way cool, everyone should have a cannon! Nice work, looks great.

-- James, Bluffton, IN

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4167 days

#2 posted 07-11-2009 04:24 AM

Interesting, fun project. thanks for sharing

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View a1Jim's profile


117342 posts in 3782 days

#3 posted 07-11-2009 05:00 AM

woodworkers can build cannons Just not from wood.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Jimmy's profile


44 posts in 3545 days

#4 posted 07-11-2009 06:14 AM

A1jim you forgot that on mythbusters (discovery channel in usa) they did build a tree cannon and then made it explode. so i guess that would be considered woodworking??

-- 20 year old new woodworker. advice and tools much appreciated.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4451 days

#5 posted 07-11-2009 06:23 PM

Very cool, good luck with the M-60.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18394 posts in 3881 days

#6 posted 07-11-2009 08:50 PM

Looks good Eric!! A friend of mine here in western WA has built 2 Napoleons, a 3/4 and a full sized one. He’s currently trying to regulate a double barreled 500 Nitro he built. He only shoots it with black powder.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3790 days

#7 posted 07-11-2009 08:59 PM

Gosh My heart goes out to the poor souls who were ever on the receiving end of such a weapon during the times they were actually used.So sad really what man does to fellow man.Just shameful, when we ponder on our hatred of each other over sometimes very trivial matters. I say well done because although I am against weaponary of any sort I do like the history and renactment carried out you have made a very beautiful job of the engineering woodworking and general craftsmanship and beacause of your abailities in this ,I take my hat off to you.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View artsnarf's profile


17 posts in 3602 days

#8 posted 07-13-2009 05:42 AM

Thats Great ! You can get a lot more done with a few kind words and a Cannon than you can with just a few kind words. You are lucky to play with the lost arts.

-- The Earth is slow,Yet the oxen are patient

View cobbler's profile


350 posts in 3995 days

#9 posted 07-13-2009 01:30 PM

Great project! It looks like you and your dad did a superb job.
I can imagine it was a fun project.
Thanks for sharing it with us.

-- ''Carry on my wayward son''

View john's profile


2376 posts in 4586 days

#10 posted 08-23-2009 02:09 PM

A friend of mind has been wanting to build a cannon , I will be sure to show him yours . Great job !

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 3453 days

#11 posted 08-24-2009 02:02 AM

Definately take on the challenge of a cannon carriage it is great fun and very saticefying to fire it once completed.

The only hard part is really the wheels – and getting ahold of the right metal components. Cannons Unlimited used to sell them, I’m not quite sure if they are still in business I have to check.

Some advice on the wheels – you can get Conestoga wagon wheels to work on many cannons, problem is if you even mention the mere thought of a weapon of any kind to the Amish or some of the other segments of our society that still produce these components you will be shunned in a fraction of a heartbeat. Even though the guns are now immersed in pure history and education, none of our cannons will ever be fired in an act of war or aggression. Our cannon has only been fired in honor of those who served, and those who fell in the past in our nations Civil War. Never the less … any component of a weapon past or present is still considered to be the accouterments of war (thou shalt not kill), and as such shall not be in any way condoned by those who are truly pacifist.

I’m not telling you to misrepresent yourself or be dishonest – but – if you want wheels – you must not mention a cannon. You are restoring a wagon, a farm implement, a piece of your families heritage that you wish to preserve for use by future generations.

That said – there are plans online if you need some I think my father still has the ones for his gun, plus another French 3lb cannon I think it was he built. The components are often white oak – it can be found on occasion thick enough to make the parts, otherwise you have to glue it up.

Trunnion and axles are critical – if you do not get these right it’s not safe to live fire these guns. We have built and restored a few of them. The main thing is you do NOT want the barrel coming backwards at you when the gun recoils. These are certainly NOT recoilless rifles … that said man is it fun when you fire a heavy load and see one roll back 5-10 feet on each round.

You can expect in time you will shatter axles – we did it one day at Monmouth battlefield. We were a few feet from winning a live fire competition – shooting at 3 stacked barrels 450 yards away. We shattered an axle clean out of a gun, the whole carriage collapsed – it happens such is life. Ironically the gun that beat us we ended up restoring a few years later!

Have fun with it – you get a lot of good material for stories out of a good working cannon!

BTW I’m working up that blog entry on your birdhouses – should be ready shortly!

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

View WhattheChuck's profile


344 posts in 3765 days

#12 posted 10-18-2009 12:45 PM

Hi E,

Glad to hear that your father didn’t have to use his wench to get that thing in the back of the truck!

When the wench is mad, that usually means fewer power tool purchases! ;-)


-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

View PineInTheAsh's profile


404 posts in 3473 days

#13 posted 10-18-2009 01:37 PM

To answer your original post…Woodworkers here can indeed build cannons.

Likely better than anyone else.

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 3453 days

#14 posted 10-19-2009 12:09 AM

Yiup the artillery artificers of the past were crucial to military success … just glad we get to do this in peace time in memory and historic reenactment as opposed to doing it under fire in a battle!

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics