Flint and Percussion Weapons

Metallic cartridges appeared in the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to this time, weapons were of either flintlock or percussion design. In both types of weapons, a measured amount of black powder was poured down the barrel. This was followed by either a paper or cloth wad and a lead ball — all rammed down the barrel by a ramrod. The ignition system of these weapons was called the "lock." Thus, a weapon consisted of "the lock, stock, and barrel."

The lock of a flintlock consists of a cock (the hammer), a piece of flint attached to the cock, a pan containing loose powder (the primary charge), and a steel right-angle cover hinged over the pan (the batterie or frizzen). After the barrel had been loaded with the powder, wad, and ball, a small amount of loose powder was placed in the pan. The weapon was cocked and the trigger pulled. The cock fell causing the piece of the flint to strike the frizzen. This blow pushed the hinged cover back, exposing the priming powder in the pan. The flint sweeping across the steel frizzen produced sparks that ignited the powder in the pan. The resultant flame jumped from the pan through a small hole in the base of the barrel (the flash hole), into the bore, igniting the main charge and firing the weapon. Occasionally, the powder in the pan would ignite but the flame would fail to ignite the main charge in the barrel. This was a "flash-in-the-pan."

The percussion lock appeared in the early nineteenth century but rapidly became obsolete on introduction of metallic cartridges. In percussion weapons the piece of flint, the pan, and the frizzen are all eliminated. The lock consists of a hammer and a nipple. The latter has a flash hole that connects with the bore. A percussion cap is placed over the nipple after the barrel is loaded with the powder, wad, and ball. The cap was essentially a primer containing fulminate of mercury. To fire, the barrel is loaded, a percussion cap is placed over the nipple, the hammer is cocked, and the trigger is pulled. The falling hammer strikes the percussion cap, detonates it, and sends a jet of flame through the flash hole into the bore igniting the powder.

For most of this century, flintlock and percussion weapons have been only of historical interest. In the past few decades, there has arisen an interest in replica black-powder arms. Numerous weapons of this type have been sold. These range from precise replicas of historical weapons to totally new designs. Most of these weapons are manufactured abroad. They are available as flintlock and percussion muskets, rifles, and shotguns and percussion revolvers. Calibers range from .31 to .75, with bullets varying from round lead balls to Minie bullets.

Percussion revolvers are of particular interest in that they have been involved in some homicides and suicides. These weapons may fire either ball or conical bullets. To load the weapon, the hammer is put on half-cock so that the cylinder may be rotated. Black powder is poured into a chamber of the cylinder from the front. A lead ball having a diameter slightly greater than that of the chamber (0.001 to 0.002 in.) is placed over the powder charge. The cylinder is rotated so that the chamber is positioned underneath the loading rammer and the lever is activated to ram the bullet home (Figure 1.21). Conical bullets have a reduced diameter heel so that the shooter can start them in the chamber with their fingers before the loading rammer is used. After all the chambers are loaded, a percussion cap is put on the nipple at the rear of each chamber. The weapon is now ready to fire.

Figure 1.21 Black powder revolver with (a) rammer lever and (b) loading rammer.
0 0

Post a comment