Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recreating Daniel King's Little Howitzer

During the fall of 2012, I began a project to reproduce a King's Howitzer, a small cannon used in the late 18th century.  I had just sold my full scale 3 pounder gun and limber which I had built in 1999.  That gun and limber were heavy, about 1500 lbs, and took a big crew to serve is safely. 

"Miss Rachel" as we called her was gone, but I wanted something smaller, and authentic, that I could use for upcoming War of 1812 Bicentennial events.  A King's Howitzer fit that bill.

In 1790, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne was looking for a small, highly portable field piece that he could use against the Native Americans on the frontier.  He provided some very basic specifications including caliber (2.85 inches) and overall weight and sent them off to Daniel King of Philadelphia.  The gun was to be a howitzer (meaning there was to be a powder chamber in the breech smaller in diameter than the bore.) It was to be conveyed in pack saddles, not towed, and was to have a total weight of no more than 250 pounds.  King was able to provide such a gun and General Wayne was pleased with results.  However, it was soon discovered the little cannon could not take its own recoil and damaged itself upon firing. The solution was to make the bronze barrel beefier in the breech and trunnions, increasing its weight from 38 to 60 pounds.

The little guns were designed to fire exploding shells and grapeshot with a four ounce powder charge. 

A battery of the King's Howitzers opened the Battle of Falling Timbers and continued to serve at various frontier outposts through the War of 1812.  Most had been retired from service at the end of that conflict.  For a complete history of the King's Howitzer, go to this link:

Although several of the bronze barrels have survived, the same cannot be said for the carriages.  Some hints are provided in correspondence of the time, but much speculation must be used in reproducing the carriages.  Most scholars believe they were scaled down versions of the British 5.5 howitzer, and that is where I started in designing my King's Howitzer carriage.

My bronze barrel, or "tube" as they are termed in artillery circles, was cast by Bob Gilmor in Ohio. It has true 2.85 inch bore with a 1.3 inch chamber.  I purchased the wheels from shop, also in Ohio, that specializes in 19th century style wagon wheels.  One of the period references stated the carriages used "cart wheels."  These wheels fit that description and help keep the cannon under its 250 pound target weight.  I got the raw lumber from a local saw mill and dried, planed, cut and mortised it myself based on my reconstructed carriage design.

I had gotten to this point before it occurred to me to start photo documenting the construction process.  I have already cut the cheeks and mortised them for the transoms (cross pieces) and fitted the axle tree. The steel axle is actually a 1 inch pipe that fits the one inch hub on the wheels.  Here you see the bronze tube and the iron work I had made by a local blacksmith. These pieces had to be 1/4 inch or thicker to handle the recoil of the gun. 

Here you can see the cheek iron and axle brackets fitted to the wood, The bolts are in, but the nails holes and nails are not yet made.  The drag hooks were also made by the blacksmith to my specifications.
Here is the same stage from the rear. You can see that the cheek iron is still loose.  The rear drag hooks are fitted and in place.

The trail irons are all made from soft 1/8 inch thick steel.  I made these by carefully measuring and cold bending the steel in a vice and then hammering to get the clean square bends were needed. 
Next was the reinforcing band.  This was also made by cold bending and hammering the steel.  The drag ring is simply a eyelet and ring purchased from Lowe's.  I used square nuts and square lag bolts for all the hardware as hex nuts are a much later invention. 
A view from the front with the tube in place.  I've not yet fitted the cap squares at this point. Those are the half round brackets that go over the trunnions on the side of the tube.

This is the quoin bed, pronounced "coin" bed.  This is a level bed under the breech of the tube where the quoin, sometimes called a wedge is used to adjust the elevation of the tube.  You can see the groove in the quoin the matches the wood of the bed. This keeps the quoin from hopping around when the gun is fired.

I experiment with several types of axle pins.  This did NOT work as it jambed and was hard to remove. The end of the hollow axle will be filled before painting to give the appearance that it is solid iron.


Here is the completed gun minus paint.  Every thing is fitted except the rear bolt hole on the cap squares.  The flower type device on the side is simply a big decorative washer that I cut from sheet steel.  It reinforces the quoin transom bolt.

All the parts are fitted, so I took it all apart to paint it. I painted each piece separately and then reassembled to touch it up.

All of the iron work, ready for paint.

Here are the cheeks and iron work when I reassembled.  I used oil based paints.  We know that King's Howitzer were blue as was most American artillery at the time, because General Wayne specifically ordered "Prussian blue" for carriages.

The finished product!  Painted and back together. 
You can see close up pictures of the finished gun at this link:

 The first shots from the King's Howitzer!



  1. read the Spring-2015 issue of the Military Collector & Historian for the latest original research on the King Howitzer.

  2. What kind of wood did you use? I've been wanting to do an artillery piece for a future project (Making my own tube and every thing), and a small howitzer may do nicely. Here's my face book albums to show how crazy I am..:-)

    1. Thomas, the wheels were are ash and IIRC. The axle tree is oak. The cheeks are hard yellow pine. Most carriages of that time were all oak. I used pine because I did not have access to oak that was thick enough. Plus, oak would have made the gun over the target weight of 250lbs or less.