Flintlocks 101

Everything you wanted to know about your flintlocks and then some.

 

Flintlocks: How to Shoot Them

 

Because everything goes down the muzzle, we (properly) call them muzzleloaders, and pretend we are doing things the way Daniel Boone and Davie Crockett, or the men on the Lewis & Clark Expedition did it 200 years ago. Add to that bad legislation passed by Congress to give us a little more false security, which restricts how black powder is sold transported and stored, and even finding a store that carries black powder is a chore. Finding Flints? Where do you start to look? If you live on the West coast, you are a long way from Friendship, and even Arizona, where the NMLRA holds it winter matches and all the products you need are available, just like at mountain rendezvous in the 1820's.

A myth has been spread by lazy, uneducated gun store clerks, and accepted by the public, that flintlocks are hard to get to fire, are slow to fire, and just can't be as accurate as a modern rifle shooting jacketed bullets in front of smokeless powder. You will even hear that flintlocks are slower firing than side action percussion guns.

Another problem that has become all too common is kind of a reverse snobbery among some flintlock shooters, who disdain anyone who doesn't shoot a rocklock, and don't want to teach people how it’s done. Some fear the competition they will have at the rifle matches, and don't want to give away any secrets to protect their edge--as if they are winning thousands of dollars in prize money at any rifle match held today! They pretend to be great shooters, who know all there is to know about flintlocks, when they usually are just mimicking something they saw their fathers or grandfathers do, and haven't a clue as to why it is done. The literature on shooting a flintlock is also lacking, so it is no wonder that young shooters have trouble finding information.

MYTHS DISPELLED

Flintlocks are actually faster to fire than a percussion gun, all things being equal. By that I mean, if you have two side lock actions, one flint and other percussion, and the flintlock is tuned properly (has the flint mounted properly in the cock, has a good frizzen that sparks, the angle of the cock will throw the sparks into the middle of the priming pan, and the main charge has been poked with a vent pick to allow more than one granule of powder to be ignited by the priming charge at one time), the main charge in a flintlock will be burning before the hammer on the percussion gun strikes the percussion cap. The priming powder ignites and in turn ignites the main charge in the barrel before the cock finishes its stroke and comes to a rest. The percussion gun, by design, has to strike the cap between the hammer and the nipple to cause ignition, so the flintlock has to fire sooner. Flintlocks fire quicker, lock time being equal.

SECRETS

The secret of shooting flintlocks are few, but important. With the current celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 200 years ago, west coast shooters are likely to see a lot of flintlocks being fired at ceremonies. So will people all along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers from Wood River Illinois, where the expedition began, to Astoria Oregon, where it wintered over 1805-6 before returning. When you watch the flintlock shooters, check to see if they do the following:

  1.  In a flintlock, you don't pack the powder by ramming the ball down hard on the powder charge. A flintlock has to burn the powder one granule at a time, while a percussion cap sends a flame burning or pushing its way through the powder charge, igniting lots of powder all at once. A percussion cap actually detonates the powder, much like the primer in a cartridge does today.

The flintlock was designed to start a fire that quickly ignites all the powder to create the gases needed to expel the projectile. Load the ball using a marked ramrod, so that you load to a mark you have made on the ramrod that represents where the ball just begins to touch the powder under it. (You can feel and sometime hear a grinding action when the ball touches the powder). Leave extra air between powder granules, to speed the burning process in a flintlock. Actually, there is enough oxygen in the powder itself to provide all the O2 it needs for combustion. But extra oxygen helps it burn faster. (That is the secret!)

  1.  A flintlock works best if your priming pan is wide and shallow, holding the powder over a wider surface so that regardless of how you set the flint in the jaws of the cock the sparks will hit priming powder and ignite it. This may require use of a Dremel tool to grind the sides of the current locks to widen them, but the effort will pay off with more positive and faster ignition. There is nothing more conducive to a flinch than a misfire, or a "flash in the pan."

Polish the surface of the priming pan to a mirror finish so that it attracts less moisture from the air to foul your prime. A smooth finish also makes it easier to wipe out residue after the prime has burned, so that the residue does not attract water.

In humid areas or conditions, use the same powder used in the main charge to prime your gun. Leave the 4F priming powder for sunny days at the range. The coarser powder will burn just a tad slower, but that time is measured in millionths of a second, and you won't hear the difference or react differently in the interval between the two powders.

I also find that in some guns it helps to bank the powder in the pan away from the touchhole, so that there is air under and around the touchhole for the flame to go towards. This helps direct the flame from the prime into the touchhole and to the main powder charge. Make sure the touchhole is above the priming pan, and never cover the touchhole with powder.

There are compounds sold that you can mix with your prime to decrease its affinity for water, but no one with much experience relies on these compounds in lieu of common sense. When I hunt in the rain, I leave my priming pan dry, with a feather or toothpick in the touchhole to keep moisture out of the main charge. I wrap the muzzle with plastic. If you are trying to be period correct, a leather collar that has been water proofed using tallow, or some other grease, can be tied over the muzzle.

Animals such as deer and elk move slowly when its raining, if they move at all, because they are robbed of their sense of hearing by the sound of all the raindrops hitting branches and leaves around them. That gives a hunter time to take the feather out of the touchhole, remove the muzzle cover, prime the pan, cock the hammer, and take an aimed shot while the quarry is still in sight.

Wipe the underside of the flint with a swipe of your index finger as you cock the hammer. This removes moisture that may have condensed on the underside, where you can't see it, and your gun should fire as expected.

  1.  Use a vent pick to poke a channel in the main powder charge in the barrel. This allows room for the flame from the prime to enter the barrel through the touchhole, and burn several granules of powder simultaneously. This speeds ignition so much that I have had club members come up to me while reloading to ask if I am shooting a flintlock or a percussion gun! When I show them the flint action, they all want to know how I do that. Now you know.
  2.  Wrap your flints with lead, not leather. Leather tends to act as a shock absorber, and the flint will rebound or bounce off the face of the frizzen just at the time it is cutting into the steel and starting to shear off bits of steel at the high temperature required to ignite the priming powder below. Instead, when the flint rebounds, it tears bits of steel off that are then caught on the edge of the flint. The second repeat hit will produce a few sparks that may ignite the prime.

Within a few shots there will be usually so much steel clogging the edge of the flint that it will not throw a spark from the frizzen into the pan. Misfire! Then you will see the shooter take out his knife, or a hammer, or some other device, and begin pounding on the front edge of the flint. He has to knock off enough of the edge to make a new one, free of the bits of steel that are clogging the edge. That takes at least 20 shots out of a flint, takes time, leads to flinching, and a general distrust and dislike of flintlocks in general. Finally the shooter buys another muzzleloader that uses percussion caps or shotgun primers for ignition! And all because he wrapped the flint in a leather shock absorber instead of lead.

Lead does not give, or bounce, and it doesn't let a flint bounce when it hits the frizzen. Lead holds the flint firmly in the jaws of the cock, and provides weight to drive the flint into the frizzen and down in a scraping action to cut and throw very hot steel bits into the priming pan. If the lock is tuned properly, the angle of the cock to the frizzen will be correct and the flint will not only scrape steel from the frizzen in one continuous stroke, but will be self-knapping. That is, it will make a new edge every time the gun is fired. There will be no need to knap the flint, as it will not clog its edge with steel.

It takes a few shots for a flint to "set up" in lead, unlike a leather wrap, so you have to initially check the tension on your cock screw about every 5 shots, but it will hold the flint firmly once the lead forms to the smooth surfaces of the flint. About every 30 shots you will need to check the flint to see where it is throwing the sparks. You may have to move it forward in the cock, and use a piece of twig behind the lead wrap to keep the flint wedged in the forward position. Aren't you glad that Mother Nature provides us with twigs virtually everywhere?

  1.  Springs. Most modern locks have springs that are out of balance and are too strong. The result is that they crush expensive flints, and damage the frizzen unnecessarily, and jar the gun, making it difficult to achieve consistently tight groups. The frizzen spring should provide such tension that it takes no more than 3 pounds of weight to open the frizzen.

Use a trigger pull gauge to measure it. Just hook the trigger pull gauge over the top of the frizzen, and slowly pull in a straight line forward until the frizzen opens. Another test is take the frizzen spring off, and put some priming powder in the pan. If the cock is angled correctly and the flint set properly in the jaws, the flint should cut steel and fire the prime without the frizzen spring providing resistance.

The mainspring only needs to be about 10 pounds to ensure proper ignition. Today's locks often require more than 40 pounds of tension to cock them. Put your rifle or shotgun butt down on your bathroom scale, make a note of the weight of the rifle on the scale, and then slowly cock the hammer back to full cock while watching the dial of the scale. Subtract the original weight of the rifle, and you have the amount of spring tension measured in pounds.

If your gun is a large musket with a large lock, the spring may be even heavier than 40 lbs. Those big locks require very expensive flints, and I have seen men with locks that literally shattered the stone in one blow. Even in the days of the Brown Bess, paper cartridges came boxed 20 to a package, and with a new flint for the gun. They did not expect the flints to shoot more than 20 times before being replaced!

Think you are better off with the new in-lines? I doubt it. Modern arms makers want to protect themselves from product liability lawsuits, so they sell us guns that are intentionally over-engineered. That means heavy springs. Can't shoot consistent groups because of the hammer jolt that shakes the gun when you fire? You will need to do something about those springs. A competent gunsmith can reduce the tension on the V-springs found on modern replica flintlock actions. He can remove the rattle and tickle that destroys accuracy, while still allowing your gun to shoot each time you pull the trigger and save your flints.

  1.  For the past 60 years or more we have been stuck with the idea that the cloth patch we use with a round ball performs two functions: it grabs the ball and imparts the spin of the rifling to the ball as it travels down the barrel, and it seals the bore so that gases behind the ball cannot cut past the edge of the ball and melt or blow away parts of the ball. We measure our patches and tweak our loads with micrometers to find the right ball and patch combination to achieve this mythical goal, so that we can provide that perfect seal. But, even in the best of guns, time lapse photography shows that gases make it past the patched ball and exit the barrel in front of the ball. Our guns are rifled fully to the muzzle, and we have to use a short starter to seat the bullet or ball. When we examine 19th Century possible bags we find no short starters before 1870, and no loops or straps to hold the short starter in the bag. When we examine old guns, the muzzles all appear to be worn, but tighten up a couple of inches below the muzzle. What happened?

Davie Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Simon Kenton did not take micrometers to the range with them to measure cloth thickness. And they surely didn't carry such a thing through the Cumberland Pass into Kentucky, where they spent as much as a year at a time, hunting and exploring the country while planning to move their families west.

The Cloth they had was homespun, not cloth made at a mill. Yes, expensive cloth was available to the wealthy city people from the mills in England and other European countries, but the folks who explored and settled this country lived a far rougher existence.

If they had clothes made of cloth, it was homespun wool or flax (linen). Cotton came later. Wool was turned to thread using a spinning wheel, and then the threads were made into cloth using looms. The cloth these explorers had was anything but consistent, and no one had any accurate method to measure its thickness, anyway.

The muzzles of their guns were routinely coned, or tapered, so that the patch and ball could be pushed into the barrel quickly with the thumb, and would be centered and slowly grabbed by the patch as it was pushed down with the ramrod. No short starter needed. No manufacturer today cones its barrels.

So, what was really going on back then? How did they get guns to fire so accurately, as we know from historical accounts that they did? I believe that the patch served one purpose, which was to center the ball in the barrel. In a rifle, the patch did transfer the spin of the rifling to the ball as it traveled down the barrel. But they sealed the bore from the gases another way.

There are numerous references about long hunters keeping wasps nests in their hunting shirts, and it is this that I believe they used to seal the powder behind the bullet. If they ran out of wasps nest, they used whatever was available, including rawhide, leaves, tobacco, broad grasses, bark (especially birch bark), weeds, etc.

But the nest was desirable for a couple of reasons. First, it could be found throughout eastern North America. Second, it is made from digested cellulose fibers that are regurgitated by the wasps to make the nest. It has a fine smooth silken texture to it, and it is strong, although it can be crushed easily in the hand when dry, just as can tobacco leaves. A pinch of wasps nest could be crushed between fingers or rolled in the palm of the hand, and then it would be dropped down the barrel of the gun.

About half an inch of this fine material would provide a very good seal for the bore. It would compact under the patched ball driven down on top of it, sealing the powder away from the patch and ball. This gives more consistent velocity to the load, and protects the patch around the ball from being burned, which in turn protects the ball from being melted or cut. All of which contributes to accuracy.

The patch material needs to be thick enough to fill the deep rifling characteristic of a traditional muzzle loading rifle, where each groove is typically cut 6 thousands of an inch deep. We usually use a .015" to .020" thick cloth patch made of pillow ticking, or denim, or some coarse cotton or linen material, and this thickness compresses sufficiently to get down into the rifling.

So, the final secret is to find one patch and ball combination that will serve the function of filling and cleaning out the gunk from the rifling, as well as grabbing and centering the ball in the barrel. Then, to seal the bore, use a separate wad or filler, such as corn meal (yes the same kind you buy to make corn bread), PufLon (a synthetic filler now being sold for straight wall rifle cartridges), or try wasps nest, birch bark, tobacco, or whatever else you can find.

You can buy card wads from Butler Creek in most standard calibers and gauges, or buy a punch from Dixie or Brownells and make your own out of Styrofoam plates. I generally prefer to use cardboard wads, as they hold up well in the barrel and seal well. Celotex, commonly used as an insulating material in construction, is often used to make the thicker shotgun wads. It can be used in rifles, too.

MARKSMANSHIP

Because we do not have a military draft, and colleges dropped their mandatory ROTC training for freshmen and sophomores back in 1964, young men and women today rarely have been trained in proper marksmanship techniques. This is the other reason why shooters look for an easy gun to shoot, with optical sights. No one practices long range shooting standing on his or her two legs, and the art of off-hand shooting is becoming a dinosaur, along with my generation.

LOCKS

The rest of the comments here have to do with the lock, but once you know what optimum is, you can usually do the modifications yourself. A propane torch will provide enough heat to let you bend the top of the cock forward enough to get the proper angle. Use a protractor to measure the angle, it should be 25 degrees from the bottom edge of the flint to the face of the frizzen on contact.

The flint should strike the frizzen between 1/3 and 1/2 of the distance up from the bottom of the frizzen. A belt sander, using your bare fingers, and with water nearby to keep the spring cool, will allow you to reduce the size of the V-springs to useable dimensions.

Coil springs can be cut with a Dremel tool, grinder, or diagonal pliers. I cut them one coil at a time, then reset them in the lock and measure the change. I do the same with the springs in my modern bolt action rifles. You can do it, too, if you understand and obey the rules of firearm safety.

POWDER AND FLINTS

If your local gun dealer does not stock black powder, go online and look up the Goex powder distributor for the area where you live. I found a distributor in California that delivers to 11 states. I also see a distributor in Montana. Certainly the distributor can tell you who his dealers are. And, you can always contact the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association in Friendship, Indiana (nmlra@nmlra.org) for a list of local black powder gun clubs. Members of the club will steer you to sources for powder and flints, gun makers, and black powder gunsmiths. Some club members order powder together so that they can get a discount on the price, and the members buy a year's supply at one time. Flintlock shooters also do this in buying flints, often buying a lifetime supply. I am still using rifle flints I bought in the early '80's, at about 10 cents each.

SUMMARY

The flintlock tips I have written above have been learned from years of practice, trial and error experimentation, and advice from friends--some long dead. The shooter controls how he loads his gun, whether he sets his flint properly, how much powder he puts in the pan, whether he picks the main charge with a vent pick before shooting, and, of course, his shooting skills.

There really is no good reason not to own and shoot a flintlock rifle. Yes, you can't use black powder substitutes, because they don't ignite consistently unless they are contained in a closed chamber and lit with a very hot flame. But, black powder can be cleaned out of a barrel with soap and water, while you have to use smelly commercial cleaners to remove most black powder substitute residues.

You do have to clean guns that you shoot with the substitutes, and even with smokeless powder. There is no getting around that. You have to use one solvent to remove the plastic that rubs off the wad in the barrel, and another to dissolve the salts and other chemical compounds in the residue from the black powder substitute. At the range I use a brush to break up the crud after each shot, so that I can continue to load and not see a change in the point of impact of my shots due to fouling buildup.

Flintlocks are as accurate as any other gun, if the shooter can shoot. Just check the current match records with the NMLRA and compare the scores shot with flintlocks versus percussion guns. There is no difference. And any modern rifle shooter would be proud to have such scores by his name.

 

MECHANICS AND TUNING THE FLINT LOCK

 

When flint on steel ignition came along the energy had to be supplied by a spring. The spring pivoted the hammer, which held the flint, against the steel frizzen creating sparks which fell in the priming pan full of powder. For this to work the hammer had to be released all of a sudden, without disturbing the aim of the shooter.

This is the back side of a flint lock. (Or would that be a flintlock lock?)

flintlock lock

This one is about as simple as they get. The hammer and the tumbler are attached to each other through the lock plate. They pivot on the same axis which can be seen as the dark spot on the tumbler.

The main spring pushes down on the nose of the tumbler (arrow), causing it to rotate counter clockwise.

In this picture the top of the tumbler is against its stop.

 In the next photo the hammer has been pulled back and the sear has engaged the half cock notch.

flintlock half cocked

The main spring has been lifted a little, and the tumbler is away from its stop.

At this point the sear cannot be disengaged under normal circumstances because the prawl (the end of the sear in the notch) is essentially “trapped”. Enough pressure applied to the trigger at this point will eventually overpower the mainspring and probably break the prawl or the notch in the tumbler. The sear pivots around the screw that holds it to the lock plate. To move it, the hammer must be pulled back until the pawl is clear of the notch.

Note that if the pawl or the outside of the notch were to break, the hammer would fall. This is an example of what I am talking about when I say "mechanisms can fail."

 flintlock full cock

Here we see the hammer all the way back, the main spring fully compressed, and the sear engaging the full cock notch.

The sear spring keeps the sear in contact with the tumbler.

When the lock is installed on the gun, the trigger simply lifts up on the right hand end of the sear until the pawl slips out of the notch allowing the hammer to fall.

 


GEOMETRY

When flintlock geometry is referred to, it's usually one of two areas, cock to pan or frizzen snap over.

The Cock Area When the cock is in the down position the shoulder of the cock should rest on the lock plate and the tumbler should have slight clearance from the bridle. The bridle is the backup stop in case the cock or tumbler arbor fails. The bridle must stop the tumbler rotation before the mainspring comes off the tumbler hook. The tip of the main spring should be well supported by the tumbler hook in the down position. The cam/hook of the tumbler is designed so that it will transfer the pressure of the main spring with maximum force at the end of its travel. With the hammer down the mainspring acts near the end of the cam with greatest leverage. As the hammer is pulled back the tip of the mainspring moves along the cam toward the axis of the tumbler, decreasing the leverage. The stirrups in later locks reduced friction by changing from sliding friction to rolling friction. If the main spring is not retained on the hook it can splinter the wood in the bottom of the lock mortise area if the cock arbor fractures. Locks with stirrups also have this hook to catch the main spring if the stirrup breaks during cocking.

flintlock geometry

The flat surface of the pan and the bottom jaw of the cock are your main reference lines for lock geometry. At half cock, the jaw of the cock is parallel to the pan. In the down position a line extended from the bottom jaw points into the center of the pan, making approximately a 40-degree angle with it. The cock must fit very snugly on the tumbler arbor, with no play or free movement. The cock should not touch the lock plate any time during its movement until the shoulder contacts the plate. The jaws of the cock should be long enough to securely grip the flint. The cock screw is set well back in the cock and the screw top must not contact the frizzen during its movement.

cock slanted

The top jaw has the top slanted to the back and down slightly so that the jaw has a more effective grip at its outer edge. The throw of your lock (flint) is the distance from the center of the tumbler arbor, perpendicular to the bottom jaw.



Frizzen Area 

frizzen

The frizzen must cover the pan in the closed position so that no light shows through when viewed from the touchhole side. The tail of the frizzen should only contact the frizzen spring, not the lock plate. The nose of the frizzen should hold the frizzen in contact with the flint until the flint just passes its bottom edge then it should snap the frizzen into its full open position so that it does not block the path of any spark into the pan. Frizzen spring tension is a balance of the frizzen spring and the main spring force. The main spring must be able to scrape the flint across the frizzen with small loss of speed while the frizzen spring maintains firm contact between the flint and frizzen. The flint produces sparks by scraping off white hot particles of metal from the frizzen. On a correctly hardened frizzen these will be abundant and white hot. On a soft frizzen there is not enough friction during this cutting action and particle do not become hot enough. On a frizzen that is too hard particles cannot be scraped off. A correctly hardened frizzen will usually test in the 55+ range on the Rockwell scale. This is about the same hardness as a quality knife blade.

FRICTION-POLISHING

Friction is the major enemy in every lock. Lock filers went to great lengths to reduce friction wherever possible. The stirrup main spring reduced friction by changing sliding friction to rolling friction. Roller were placed on the frizzen spring, again changing sliding friction to rolling friction, slight shoulders were added to the tumbler and other parts creating "Frictionless" locks. Any place on your lock where metal touches metal should be polished and lubricated. The lock plate itself should be perfectly flat inside. The tumbler should be held by the lock plate and bridle so that it rides on only those two points (lock plate arbor and bridle) or as close to that state as you can get it. If either the plate tumbler hole or bridle hole is oversize this may be impossible without parts modification or replacement. You can polish anything you choose for appearance. Polished surfaces are more resistant to rust. Caution: over polishing can reduce the size and strength of parts.

FLINTS

Knapped flints are preferred to cut agate. Bevel up or down doesn't seem to matter, use whichever gives the best spark in your lock. Bevel down can give a longer scraping pass on the frizzen surface of some locks. The flint's initial strike should not be at 90 degrees to the frizzen face, but at a slightly greater angle, a scraping action is desired, 90 degree angle will just shorten flint life. The flint needs to be held very firmly in the cocks’ jaws. Two materials are used for this, leather and lead. Leather is the most common choice. Lead was used mainly in large military locks. Leather has the advantage of holding the flint firmly yet providing a slight cushioning to the initial contact, which can extend the life of flints. It is the scraping action that causes most of the sparks. To hold the flint firmly, it needs to be placed as deeply into the cocks jaws as possible. This distance can be increased by notching the leather or lead for the jaw screw. However, flint contact with the screw can cause notching on the rear of your flint. It is not traditional but it improves the rigidity of the flint if it is glued to the leather. The glue must be water and solvent resistant. The best I've found for this use is the gel type superglue's. Cock screws that are drilled are easier to tighten without damaging the screw. The slot was probably used more frequently in early locks. The slot on cock screws is not tapered like our modern screwdrivers. Using a modern screwdriver will distort this slot. Use a flat piece of metal or file a screwdriver to fit your cock slot.

Keep the flint sharp and clean. Cleanliness is an important part of reliable ignition. Make wiping the flint and frizzen clean part of your reloading practice. Watch for "Shiners" when you wipe powder residue off. Knap any shiners as they appear! Shiner is the term for the dull area that develop on your flint from use. They usually have a shiny metallic color to them, therefore the term - Shiners.

There is a real simple way to re-knap your flint faces. But it does require that you make a small tool. Take a large nail (about 3" to 3 1/2" common nail) and grind or cut the point off square. Then at the side of the now square tip take a file and cut a ledge about 1/8" back from the tip and about 1/2 way through the nail so that you create a "step" at the tip and on the side of it.

step flint tool

Next file on the side of the nail below the step so that the "front" of the step is flat and not the nail's rounded surface. (But don't go too far, leave at least 1/16" of step) Harden with a propane torch and quick water quench.

Take the nail to your flint while the flint is still in the jaws of your hammer. Cock the hammer. Put the step on the front edge of the flint, angle the nail forward towards the frizzen about 30 degrees off vertical (with respect to the flint) Tap the nail head with a small hammer just a light tap, not hard. A small piece of flint should flake off, and if you continue across the front of your flint it will re-sharpen the edge.

PANS, POWDERS AND PRICKS

Priming the pan - The pan should never be filled to the point where powder covers the touch hole. If the touch hole is covered, powder will have to burn down until it uncovers the touch hole before the main charge can ignite. The key is to be sure that the touch hole is clear so that the hot gas flash can get through the touch hole to the main charge. A technique used is to carefully place the charge away from the hole and not fill the pan completely (1/3 to 1/2), then to tap the rifle on the lock side just before firing to jar the powder away from the touch hole. Several late flintlock period manufactures even sloped the cavity in the pan slightly away from the touch hole. For quicker ignition use the least amount of powder that will ignite your main charge. Experiment to determine this amount.

Powder used in priming should be 4 F or finer. Fine powder ignites easier/quicker.

Vent Pricks serve two very important purposes. One is to clear the vent of debris, the second is to open a channel for the hot gas flash to the main charge. For reliable ignition it is common practice to insert the vent prick just before priming the pan and closing the frizzen. Some also force a small amount of priming powder into the vent with the prick, being sure to insert the prick at the finish, far enough so that the open channel is maintained. Since fine powder ignites easier, this small amount can't hurt and actually helps ignite the main charge. You are not trying to create a powder train. You are trying to place a few grains of fine powder into the surface of the channel that you created in the powder with the prick. You are not reducing, blocking or changing the channel in any way. Try it both ways and use what works for you, the important point here is to keep that flash channel open! Vent pricks made of bronze welding rod are recommended because bronze won't wear the metal in the touch hole like a steel prick will. Pricks that have 4 sides work well as the sharp edges help clear the fouling in the touch hole.

 

 

TOUCH HOLES

Size Touch holes generally fall in the 1/16 (.0625) to 5/64 (.078) inch range. Some preferring slightly large for smooth bore. The maximum is considered to be 1/10 (0.1)

Location A straight line across the flats of the pan should split the center of the touch hole. Or if not spilt by this line be just slightly below it. A hole placed too low will tend to get covered with powder causing erratic/slow ignition, too high can also cause erratic ignition by blocking some of the heat flash. A touch hole that is too high will sometime work best with a full pan of powder, often a poorly placed touch hole will need to be replaced by a touch hole liner.

Touch Hole Liners One of the problems with a drilled flash hole is that it results in a relatively long small passage from the pan to the powder charge. Touchhole liners are used for several reasons:

a.) To replace enlarged worn touch holes. Wear and corrosion are the main enemies of your touch hole. Liners are made of hard corrosion resistant materials.

b.) To get the main charge closer to the priming gas heat flash. Touchhole liners can be drilled concave on the inside to allow the main powder charge to get closer to the outside of the barrel and create a shorter path for the hot gas to travel.

c.) To correct touchhole placement.

d.) To be used as an aid in cleaning.

e.) Liners allow removal so that a small amount of powder can be put behind the ball, when a ball is loaded without powder by mistake.

FRIZZENS

The sear and frizzen should work freely when their respective pivot screws are turned in as far as possible. Screw threads should not extend into the pivot area. Polish the pivot area on screws. The frizzen face should be smooth but not polished. A rough face will quickly dull flints. The frizzen should test at a Rockwell Hardness of around 56. A clean frizzen surface sparks best, wipe it often.

SPRINGS

Springs are the heart of your lock. Polish all contact points. (Examples - main spring tip, tumbler hook surface, top surface of frizzen spring.) Make sure that the nose of the mainspring has clearance in the tumbler at the fully cocked position. Polish the springs themselves, a polished spring is less apt to fracture. Any scratches or flaws are potential fracture points. Caution: polish only, do not reduce the strength of the spring. Make sure that the spring does not bind anywhere during its movement. There should be approximately a 1/3 to 2/3 balance between the main spring and frizzen spring (by feel or trigger pull gauge).

WET WEATHER

a.) Use Vaseline to seal the edges of the frizzen and the frizzen-to-barrel line. The vee where the barrel and stock or lock plate meet can channel water directly into the pan. Fill this vee for about 10 to 18 inches in front of the pan. Use wax sparingly as over waxing can hinder lock speed, especially in cold weather.

b.) Change priming powder frequently.

c.) Use a Cow's Knee cover during wet weather.

d.) Carry in a manner to protect the lock from the weather.

 

.69 TOWER REPRODUCTION PISTOL ONLY!!!

Live loads consisting of a .680 ball with a .010 or .015 patch. 40 grains should be a good load. You can use 2F or 3F but the pan charge needs to be 4F and don't cover the touch hole with it. Never pack the ball too hard onto charge or ignition will be hampered. 

Reenactment loads should be smaller. 25 to 30 grains with wadding over powder. Again, a light tamping of the wad over powder is all that is necessary.

 

Loading a Flintlock Rifle

Fix the flint into the hammer. Pull the hammer back to the half-cock position. If there is no flint already in the gun, use a screwdriver or metal bar to loosen the screw which holds the top jaw of the cock in place. Use a rectangular scrap of leather the right size to enclose the flint, and fold it around the back of the flint. Place the flint with the leather in the jaws of the cock so that the sharp end protrudes towards the flash pan and tighten the screw securely.

 

 

 

 

 2.

Cock

Pull the hammer to full-cock. Close the frizzen (the part that covers the pan) and test fire it by pulling the trigger. Ensure the lock produces a shower of sparks that hit the inside of the flash pan.

If it doesn't, remove the flint and reaffix it. Make sure everything is secure and striking appropriately. Take your time.

 full cock

Measure out your powder. Loosen the screw on the side of the brass powder measurement. Draw the sliding end of the measurement back to the line that marks the amount of powder required for your specific gun and tighten the screw.

 powder

Pour your powder into the barrel. Lift the muzzle of the gun so that the barrel is perpendicular to the ground. Level off the top of the powder measurement and pour the powder into the barrel. Tap the side of the barrel with the heel of your hand a few times to ensure the powder all falls to the bottom.

 5.

Load the gun. Place a lubricated patch over the end of the barrel. This patch should be larger than the ball and should be able to wrap around it. Press the patched ball into the barrel using the short end of the bullet starter.

 starter

Continue to slide the ball or bullet down the barrel with the long side of the bullet starter. Use the blunt end of the ram rod to slide the ball down the rest of the barrel until it is seated firmly atop the powder. Use one steady motion to seat the bullet, don't jab into the gun like you see in the movies.

 cock ram rod

Fill the flash pan. Once the ball has been seated, remove the ramrod and lay the gun across your lap. Fill the small brass flash pan powder dispenser with the FFFF powder used in flintlock rifles for this purpose. This can be done by unscrewing the back of the dispenser and pouring powder in until it is about 3/4 full.

Pull the hammer back again to half-cock. If the frizzen (pan cover/striking surface) is not already open, open it, and press the pointed end of the powder dispenser against the bottom of the shallow flash pan to release the powder.

 

Fill the pan with powder making sure to tilt the gun slightly so that the powder enters the touch hole located at the side of the barrel within the flash pan. Once the pan is full, close the cover tightly. Your gun is loaded and ready to fire.