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Acquiring a Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock)


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Having read all the posts about Tanegashima on the forum (Thanks to Ron, Piers, Ian among others!!) I bought all the 3 books in English and 1 in Japanese on the subject that seemed to have relevant information. The Japanese book was purchased from forum member Craig Harris (Bridge of Dreams) I do not know the name of it since I do not read Japanese but it has a large number of photos and drawings of different aspects of Tanegashima and other Japanese firearms. The other 3 books are:

 

"THE Japanese MATCHLOCK" Shigeo Sugawa, in English, color printing, 60 pages: $100- A lot of good pictures, I got a signed copy direct from the author. http://www.japaneseweapons.net/sonota/hon/english.htm

 

"Tanegashima"-The Arrival of Europe in Japan [Paperback] Olof G. Lidin, I found a used paperback copy of this book for around $30 used. No pictures, just a lot of detailed history on the arrival of firearms in Japan.

 

"Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879" [Paperback] Noel Perrin,

Which you can buy for around $10

 

 

Thus armed I decided it was time to see if I could find a likely candidate for purchase. I checked out sites in Japan first but between the lack of communication and the difficulty of returning such an expensive item if there was a problem with it I decided to look closer to home. I eventually found a Tanegashima for sale in England and I sent forum member Ron Watson a link to the one for sale and asked him if he could recommend it for purchase. Ron has many years of experience in the field of antique firearms among other things and he kindly took a look and while he did not find any major faults he recommended that I wait and he would let me know if he found a better deal.

 

I took Ron's advice and while waiting I found and purchased a few Tanegashima related items.....well many months went by and one day I received an email from Ron with a link to a Tanegashima for sale at auction starting at very low price, it had a few faults but at the time it was only several hundred dollars and was located in the U.S. While watching the auction I received another email from Ron, this time he found an even better Tanegashima on....of all places...EBAY!!

 

Somehow this gun slipped through the ebay censors ( I am fairly certain that ebay does not allow fully functioning firearms of any type to be sold) The seller stated that it used to belong to his father and that it was brought to the U.S. from Japan in the 1950s. It had just been listed and it had a buy it now price with an option to make an offer. Ron suggested a (what seemed to me) a very low price as an offer, one third of the asking price, but I submitted an offer and the offer was accepted in a short time. Here is a picture of the Tanegashima I purchased, Ron identified it as a "Choshu" Tanegashima.

 

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Eric, You have done it again. Well done. :clap: :clap: :clap: I love the striped wood. Is the barrel decorated?

Ian

Ian, I really have to give all the credit to Ron, I just put up the money! The barrel has no decorations, but like you noted the wood has a lot of highlights and is in excellent shape with just one slight crack near the back of the barrel, and there are quite a bit of brass? decorations on the stock, a lot of little rabbits all over the stock. Ron sent me step by step instructions on removing the barrel, unfortunately after so many years of being stored the wood had drawn tight around the barrel so as per Ron's instructions I purchased some 3 in 1 oil and started oiling any area were the stock touched the barrel, trying to get the dried out stock to absorb the oil and loosen up. I did this several times a day for several days.

 

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Eric, Nice barrel. All in all a really nice gun. I'm a bit cautious about oil and stocks. Linseed or teak oil are fine for renovating the finish on old stocks but these are drying oils. I use the latter, rubbing it on to take off the dirt and then wiping clean with a soft cloth. After many, many applications it builds up to lovely finish on walnut stocks. Mineral oil tends to soak in and swell wood, leaving it rather soggy. Only use it on moving metalwork. 3 in 1 is even worse, being a penetrating oil (mineral oil with a solvent) it is good for loosening seized parts but not on woodwork. The fact that the barrel is seized in the stock is probably because it has been stored in centrally heated house and dried out. The best policy would have been to let the gun absorb moisture very slowly in a unheated room. Now that there is oil about this will I suspect take longer. The crack may well have been caused by the wood shrinking onto the barrel. I have repaired such cracks on European guns, when the crack is clean, using superglue, clamping it and wiping off any excess glue before it hardens. Being very fluid, it runs into the crack and does a good job. In this case I would wait until the barrel is off and then perhaps apply a touch of glue from inside the barrel channel.

Ian

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Dear Ian,

Although I agree that the use of 3 in 1 oil should be used sparingly on wood, in this case it was recommended as a method of breaking the wood metal bonding caused by shrinkage of the wood and the natural occuring red rust one finds on the portion of the iron barrel set into the wooden stock. This is caused by the naturally occuring acid ( tannic acid I believe ) found in oaks of whatever genre the Japanese variety may be being in contact with the iron barrel ( a chemical reaction ). I have found that a good quality furniture oil such as lemon oil is the answer to replenishing the loss of moisture from the collapsed cellular structure in the wood caused by its natural loss of oil or moisture. The loss of this natural oil is the reason for shrinkage or better put decay. I could not recommend the addition of moisture in the form of water to a wood to restore its stablility or cause it to expand in this situation. Firstly this will only compound the formation of red rust leading to an even tighter setting of the barrel in the bed, and secondly water is not a preserver of already dead organic matter ( in this case wood ), but a cause of further natural decomposition. Once the red rust is removed from the underside of the barrel by a combination of 3 in 1 oil as a softener, and proper scraping ....and then after re-patinating a light coating of 3 in 1 oil or equivalent gun oil ( just a fancy name for 3 in 1 oil ) will keep the barrel from rusting again. The stock will absorb only so much lemon oil before it is restored. At this point the little 3 in 1 oil on the barrel will NOT cause any harm to the bedding wood. An occassional wiping of the entire re-assembled gun with an oily rag will suffice to keep the gun not only preserved but looking its best as can readily be seen in my own collection.

... Ron Watson

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Ron, No way did I suggest water, only allowing the wood to absorb atmospheric moisture to regain its original dimensions. Japan's humid climate is a far cry from our centrally heated homes, which wreck havoc with woodwork. I agree that barrels do rust in contact with the tannins from the oak stocks. My concern was the result of my experience with guns that have been over-oiled in the past. The wood tends to get spongy and any attempt to retore the surface finish is a waste of time. Fortunately I've never had a problem with Japanese guns, but with European ones, having got the barrel out and the loose rust removed by oiling and scraping, I tend to wipe the whole barrel with boiled linseed oil. This soaks into the russet finish and once hardened has proved to resist new rust formation for decades yet remains dry when handled. I have russet helmets I treated over 40 years ago that still glow when the dust is wiped off :oops:. It's what the old gunmakers used and if it was good enough for them .... We have some old Tower of London stock that were coated with some gunk in the 19th century that when cleaned off has preserved both the wood and metal in absolutely pristine condition. What it is I know not but it looks revolting and smells not too good but by golly it worked. I suspect there will be an animal fat content (knowing the coves who used to clean the collection with such improbables as Rangoon oil and brick dust, it probably has aardvark fat in it) mixed with oils. It is no use at all unless things are going to be stored for a considerable time in a harse environment. No doubt there are now new potions on the market, but I have reservations about anything with silicones in - it tends to spread where it shouldn't. I've never tried lemon oil - I must get some and give it a go.

Ian

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Dear Ian,

With regard to humidity, .... even the moisture ( humidity = water ) occuring naturally in the atmosphere in all countries ... Japan or the UK being prime examples of high humidity, .... the use of oils, or in lieu of that .... a controlled indoor environment is especially essential for the preservation of woods and particularily metal such as the ferrous metals. I live in a semi-arid part of the world and yet there is ample moisture in the air to cause rusting of un-protected metal. The point of this exercise in debate is probably ... " everything in moderation ". The type of oils used to give a spongy effect as you call it were I should think animal oils ( fat ), .... or possibly the petroleum oils in excess. For wood, ... I believe the natural occuring oils derived from plants ... eg. lemon oil to be ideal. With respect to the greasy old material often found on and in old firearms, .... it is quite possible this is Cosmoline ( although I am not sure when it first came into use ) it being a wonderful preservative of both metal and wood ( it does however have a petroleum base ). It is a bugger to remove, ... but it does preserve. It has a tendancy to harden on wood rather than penetrate, but usually the finish on the wood is as new when the cosmoline is removed. You are quite right that BLO ( boiled linseed oil ) is good, as is a follow up of TUNG oil as a sealant to keep out moisture. My post was not meant to be argumentative, but rather to clarify. I am in absolute agreement that ANY furniture treatment containing SILICONE should be avoided and treated with the disgust of contracting the pox.

 

... Ron Watson

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Ron, I take all of your points and appreciate your expertise. I think both of us agree that plant oils are good for wood and that mineral oil can be bad when used in excess. That and the fact that wood shrinks when it dries out were my only tenets. As for Tung oil, in a previous incarnation I worked in a research lab where there was a dirty old winchester of the stuff. Nobody knew who had ordered it, or why, and nobody wanted to go to the trouble of disposing of it so there it remained. I note from the net that it is the best waterproofing oil for wood but does not stop vapour. I must try it. I appreciate that ferrous metals rust like mad, but in my experience when russetted and kept in ordinary internal conditions it is reasonably stable. It is as if the rust forms a passive barrier, probably because it has been handled and sealed with grease. We know hydrated oxides are hygroscopic. I have had though the odd russet helmet with small rust spots that kept breaking out even when treated. I tried BLO, wax and all sorts but whatever I did, eventually they started up again. My guess is that they were sites of impurities in the metal. In the end the helmet went elsewhere and became someone elses problem. We had a bad outbreak at the Armouries a while back which grew in concentric bands from an initial site and looked just like the fungi that grows on trees. I was convinced it was microbiological but I was wrong - it turned out to be nucleated from contaminants in the air conditioning and grew even though the humidity was controlled. This was however on bright metal not russet.

Cheers

Ian

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Being a furniture maker I have some experience with oil finishes on wood, so allow me to add: Lemon oil is fine for wood but the majority of what is marketed as lemon oil is actually, if you read carefully, lemon oil finish. This is a bottle of something else which the lemon oil went through on stilts. Boiled linseed oil (flax oil) is not totally a natural product; it contains, I believe, heavy metal driers (whatever they are) and should not be applied with bare hands. Pure tung oil (not tung oil finish, stilts), is the most protective of the plant oil finishes and is the only oil finish that will build up above the wood surface if enough coats are applied. The thing to be careful of with any oil is that after a short time for setting into the wood, all excess oil is thoroughly wiped off. Any left too long will dry and harden to an ugly crust. Boiled linseed and tung oils dry by oxidation and thus pose a fire hazard. Heat is a by product of oxidation, and although the oils aren't themselves flammable, the rags used to apply them are. One oily rag crumpled on the floor or in the trash and left for a day will start a fire; I lay them flat outside until the oil has oxidized.

Personally, I would treat the gun stock the same way I treat furniture. If the wood is dry and degrading maybe a tad of lemon oil is called for. Otherwise, I leave well enough alone.

Grey

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Eric, Nice barrel. All in all a really nice gun. I'm a bit cautious about oil and stocks. Linseed or teak oil are fine for renovating the finish on old stocks but these are drying oils. I use the latter, rubbing it on to take off the dirt and then wiping clean with a soft cloth. After many, many applications it builds up to lovely finish on walnut stocks. Mineral oil tends to soak in and swell wood, leaving it rather soggy. Only use it on moving metalwork. 3 in 1 is even worse, being a penetrating oil (mineral oil with a solvent) it is good for loosening seized parts but not on woodwork. The fact that the barrel is seized in the stock is probably because it has been stored in centrally heated house and dried out. The best policy would have been to let the gun absorb moisture very slowly in a unheated room. Now that there is oil about this will I suspect take longer. The crack may well have been caused by the wood shrinking onto the barrel. I have repaired such cracks on European guns, when the crack is clean, using superglue, clamping it and wiping off any excess glue before it hardens. Being very fluid, it runs into the crack and does a good job. In this case I would wait until the barrel is off and then perhaps apply a touch of glue from inside the barrel channel.

Ian

 

Ian, I shared your concern about the 3 in 1 oil but in this case at least initially it was probably the only oil that was fluid enough to get between the extremely tight tolerances were the wood from the stock met the barrel. After the barrel was removed I could clearly see that while the 3 in 1 did penetrate the stock edge it did not get very far except a couple of pooled areas and the channel of the stock was bone dry, I used lemon oil as Ron suggested on the rest of the stock interior. After a few good coats I stopped even though the stock would have probably absorbed the entire bottle of lemon oil, I was worried about over absorption as you mentioned. When the barrel was removed I could see that while the top of the barrel was smooth, the underneath area which was in contact with the wood had the texture of sand paper, I believe this roughness was the cause of the initial difficulty i had in removing the barrel.

 

REMOVING THE BARREL: The next step was to remove the barrel, for anyone who (like me) was unaware of how the barrel is secured to the stock its the same mekugi-ana method as with a Japanese sword, the stock has mekugi-ana like the tsuka of a sword and the barrel has small iron loops (mekugi-ana at the bottom of the barrel, small wooden mekugi are inserted through the stock holes and through the barrel loops. When the barrel sits in the stock the mekugi-ana of the stock line up with the mekugi-ana of the barrel. On this Tanegashima there were 4 mekugi-ana, I do not know if that is a standard number, some one here should know that information. The mekugi-ana on the stock are covered with decorative brass? plates with the image of a rabbit on each plate. Here are some pictures of the mekugi-ana on the stock and barrel.

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Eric,

To answer your question regarding the mekugi - ana found on Tanegashima : Generally on the longer examples such as yours the standard seems to be 4. On the shorter heavier guns quite often the standard is 3. On pistols sometimes 1 or 2, and sometimes none .... the barrel being secured with barrel bands instead. The variety of the mekugi - ana reinforcement varies from plain round brass or steel washers to flower blosoms ( I hesitate to say cherry blosoms as I will no doubt be corrected ). I've even seen a few that resemble a maple leaf. I've seen rhombus shaped, triangular shaped, and square. I've also seen examples that depict as yours the rabbit. They ALL serve the purpose of strengthening the wood around the ana thus reducing splits, cracks, but also add a decorative aspect to the overall firearm. Before someone corrects me, ........ some mekugi - ana have no metal reinforcements at all !

... Ron Watson

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Eric and all,

 

A friend brought to my attention another English language book about tanegashima. It is less about the gun itself than about how it came to be introduced to Japan by the Portuguese.

 

"The Bewitched Gun - the introduction of the firearm in the Far East by the Portuguese"

Rainer Daehnhardt

Texto Editora (1994).

No ISBN number

 

It is bi-lingual, being both in Portuguese and English laid out in side-by-side columns.

 

A very interesting thread, thank you all.

 

Regards,

Barry Thomas

aka BaZZa.

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Barry, thanks for the info on that book, there are not many books in English on the subject.

 

REMOVING THE BARREL: I used a piece of wire to see if any of the mekugi-ana still had mekugi in them, the wire went through all the way on all 4 mekugi-ana. Once I knew all the mekugi-ana were clear the next step was freeing the barrel from the stock. Holding the stock with one hand and pulling on the barrel did not get any results, so on to plan B, wrapping the end of the barrel with a thick towel and tapping gently with a wood stick while holding the stock with one hand. This got some movement, re oiling and tapping slowly separated the barrel from the stock.

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There seems to be red active rust on both the barrel and the stock. Would be nice to try some countermeasures and try cleaning the stock :idea:

 

Then you can place your barrel in a shira-stock :glee:

Lorenzo, the lemon oil cleaned the stock sufficiently, there is a rust removal plan in place for the barrel....involving a lot of rubbing on my part it seems, I will post pictures if it works.
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Dear Eric,

Your article is coming along nicely, ... informative, ... and interesting, ... with excellent photos. Only clean the rust from the areas of the barrel ( underside and sides ) Be careful not to overlap too much the areas of the barrel that still has the original finish. It is important however to get rid of that red rust as it will continue to rust even though it is now oiled. Patience is paramount and it ( the red rust ) will come off, ... but the satisfaction derived is immense.

... Ron Watson

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Dear Eric,

Your article is coming along nicely,

Thanks Ron, hopefully this will help anyone else who is thinking of owning a Tanegashima. Now that the barrel is free the bizen bolt at the end of the barrel can be seen as well as the mei, in this case it was not hard to unscrew the bizen. Hopefully I can get the mei translated. I will take the barrel to a local gun shop to find the appropriate cleaning brush and supplies for cleaning the inside of the barrel.

 

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Eric, being away at the moment with limited reference materials it is hard for me to interpret that signature. Can you take a couple more shots of the bottom two thirds? The gunsmith family seems to be Kagoya of the Osaka area (sometimes written just Kago, and sometimes with a different set of Kanji) and the individual smith perhaps something like Yozaemon(-saku), but I would not like to commit until I get back to Japan. I used to have a very nice pistol by Kagoya.

 

Your gun seems to be in good condition. The name suggests made in Settsu, but to an order in the typical style of Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture). The exposed end of the barrel (foreshortened stock) is typical. The moto-meate (near sight) contains the Mori Mon, flat on top for the 'one' stroke, and three Dango balls within.

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Dear Brian,

All ... as far as I have seen are threaded to tighten clockwise. The only thing that is safe to assume however is that all should be allowed the benefit of a few days of penetrating oil ( on the inside of the barrel ) before any attempt at removal. Many are so set by rust between the male and female threading that it is often far better to leave well enough alone and not remove the bizen, but to clean the interior with a brass brush on a cleaning rod from the muzzle end using ample oil to break loose the rust, .... wiping every-so-often with a clean flannel cloth in lieu of the brass brush tip. It is often nigh on impossible to remove every speck of rust from the inside of the barrel no matter whether the bizen is removed or not. Once cleaned of the majority of the rust, ... leaving a good coating of oil on the inside applied with the flannel on the cleaning rod will go a long way to preserving the interior. The gun cleaning rod and dry flannel can then be utilized on the next external cleaning to remove the dirty oil from the inside , ... and the whole process of oil, brass brush, and flannel can be repeated with a final internal oiling before putting the gun away until the next time you clean the exterior, ... so on and so on to infinitity. A good rifle cleaning rod with both a suitably sized screw on brush, and flannel holding tip can be purchased at any sporting goods ( firearm ) store. The main problem is you often must buy two ( take down ) cleaning rods to make up sufficient length to reach the bottom from the muzzle of these long barrels. If the bizen is removed, one may clean from both ends cutting down the length of barrel by 1/2 and thus getting away with a standard cleaning rod length.

Having said all of this, ... the mode of cleaning a blackpowder gun that is still being shot is quite different in that very hot water is used to clean the black powder fouling, along with a brass brush, flannel, and then light oiling. One could write a book just on maintenance ( for example it is important not to mark up the muzzle crown by forcing a steel cleaning rod in such a way as to be rubbing against the muzzle crown ( opening edge ). Forunately most new gun cleaning rods have screw together aluminum shafts which do not mark the edges like steel will ).

.... Ron Watson

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The bizen on this one tightens to the right also. Here is a picture of the muzzle diameter, can the caliber be determined from this? Piers, here is a picture of the mei and a link to more mei pics, if these are not sufficient let me know.

 

http://s831.photobucket.com/albums/zz23 ... ima%20mei/

 

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REMOVING THE LOCK PLATE:The next step was to remove the lock plate, here is a couple of pictures showing the cleaned and oiled barrel channel, no wood was harmed in the process of removing the barrel despite 1 crack in the stock. You can see were the bizen (barrel bolt) rested in the stock and the place in the stock were the mekugi pass throught the mekugi-ana of the barrel.

 

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REMOVING THE LOCK PLATE:The mekugi-ana method is used on all the removable parts, for every brass or wood mekugi there is a corresponding mekugi-ana directly opposite. To push out the mekugi a small round instrument of some type needs to be inserted into the mekugi-ana at the opposite end in order to push out the desired mekugi. The first piece to be removed was the hammer, 1 brass mekugi directly on top of the barrel goes through a shaft connected to the hammer, pushing a stiff piece of wire through the mekugi-ana opposite the brass mekugi pushed it out easily and the hammer pulled right out. The hammer mekugi goes through the large brass barrel ring holding the barrel ring in place.

 

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REMOVING THE LOCK PLATE:The next part to be removed was the outside spring mekugi. The outside spring was held tight with a brass mekugi with a T shaped head. Pushing a stiff piece of wire through the mekugi-ana opposite the outside spring mekugi pushed it out easily. Once the T shaped mekugi was removed the thick brass stock ring could be removed. the stock ring is attached to the stock by the hammer mekugi. Removing the T shaped outer spring mekugi loosened the outer spring enough to wiggle the stock ring forward, this is necessary in order to remove the lock plate as the stock ring covers the front edge of the lock plate holding it in place.

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REMOVING THE LOCK PLATE:The lock plate has 2 other round headed brass mukugi, these were pushed out easily with a stiff piece of wire. Directly opposite the lock plate there is a mekugi-ana that is used to push the lock plate out, by inserting a piece of stiff wire into this mekugi-ana the lock plate was easily pushed out of the stock. The lock plate cavity was now exposed, I applied some lemon oil to the dry wood.

 

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