A Muzzleloader can be any type of weapon or firearm from muskets to cannons, in modern times the term most commonly applies to black powder small arms. After the invention of black powder, man soon discovered, that if black powder was put into a strong tube closed at one end, it would channel the power of its explosive charge towards the other (open) end (path of least resistance), pushing any object it encountered in the tube and propelling it at great speed. The early Renaissance period saw the birth of muzzle-loaded weapons. In the next few centuries, different ignition systems were invented, so that the powder would be set off more predictably and reliably.
Hand Gonne, (Early-Fifteenth Century):
The earliest 'hand gonne' was developed in the early fifteenth century. It was a small hand held cannon with a touch-hole for ignition. It required that the user prop it on a stand, rest it on anything that would help support it, hold it with one hand and use his other hand to touch a lighted match to the touch-hole and ignite the powder charge.
Serpentine-Lock, (Mid-Fifteenth Century):
The classic European serpentine-lock gun held a burning slow match in a clamp at the end of a small curved lever known as the serpentine. Upon pulling of the serpentine lever protruding from the bottom of the gun the clamp dropped down, lowering the smoldering match into the flash pan and igniting the priming powder.
The Musket is a type of; usually smoothbore, usually large-caliber, long gun that is muzzle-loaded, shouldered, then a trigger is depressed and fired. This firearm developed in 16th-century Spain. It is a type of long gun that was used by soldiers before the invention of the rifle.
Matchlock, (Early-Sixteenth Century):
The Matchlock Musket secured a lighted wick in a moveable arm which, when the trigger was depressed, was brought down against the flash pan to ignite the powder. By 1540 the matchlock design was improved to include a cover plate over the flash pan which automatically retracted as the trigger was pressed. The matchlock musket was the primary firearm used in the conquering of the New World.
Wheel Lock, (Mid Sixteenth Century):
The Wheel Lock was the next step in musket evolution. The wheel-lock functioned on the same principle of a modern lighter(a spring-loaded spinning wheel). The wheel lock design was eventually improved with more durable springs and a cover over the wheel mechanism to protect it and keep it dry. By 1560 German gunsmiths were using wooden stocks and adorning them with inlays of ivory and horn. Metallurgy had improved and the strongest barrels were of damascene manufacture.
Snaphaunce, (Late Sixteenth Century):
The Snaphaunce musket first appeared around 1570, and was really an early form of the Flintlock. This mechanism worked by attaching the flint to a spring-loaded arm. When the trigger is pressed, the cover slides off the flash pan, then the arm snaps forward striking the flint against a metal plate over the flash pan and produces sparks to ignite the powder. This mechanism was much simpler than the Wheel Lock. The German gunsmiths, continued to produce and improve upon the wheel lock up until the early 18th century.
Flintlock, (Early Seventeenth Century):
The Flintlock musket was developed in France around 1612. The main difference between the Flintlock and Snaphaunce is that in the Flintlock the striking surface and flashpan cover are all one piece, where in the Snaphaunce they are separate mechanisms. This made the mechanism simpler and more reliable than its predecessor. The genius behind the flintlock was that the pan containing the priming charge was always closed and therefore more protected from the elements until the hammer containing the flint would fall, opening it, creating sparks and igniting it. The small flash fire created in the pan would ignite the main charge in the barrel via a flash-hole.
Percussion Lock, (Late Eighteenth Century):
The first Percussion Cap ignition system was patented in 1799 by Joshua Shaw in Philadelphia, and then further developed in 1805 by the Reverend John Forsyth of Aberdeenshire. The percussion lock firing mechanism is a great step in advancement from its predecessors because it does not use an exposed flashpan to begin the ignition process. The key to this system is the explosive cap which is placed on top of a tube that is attached to the main powder charge in the barrel. The cap contains fulminate of mercury, a chemical compound which explodes when struck. When the cap is struck by the hammer, the flames from the exploding fulminate of mercury go down the tube, into the gun barrel, and ignite the powder inside the barrel.