Black Powder Muzzleloaders.
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. Thus the early Renaissance period saw the birth of muzzleloaders and muzzleloading weapons.
Black Powder Muzzleloader Ignition Systems
In the next few centuries, different ignition systems were invented, so that the powder would be set off more predictably and reliably. With the last entry of improved ignition systems in the 20th century, it was introduced in the mid 1980’s by Tony Knight as the inline ignition system.
Black Powder 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.
Black Powder Serpentine Lock (Mid-Fifteenth Century)
Black Powder 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.
Black Powder Wheellock – (Mid Sixteenth Century).
The Wheel Lock was the next step in firearms 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.
Black Powder Snaphaunce – (Late Sixteenth Century).
The Snaphaunce 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.
Black Powder Flintlock – (Early Seventeenth Century).
The Flintlock 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.
This simplicity allowed for more creative gun designs, such as guns with multiple barrels and miniature pistols.
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.
Note: It was at the time of the flintlock that rifling inside the barrel was now seen thus ending the era of muskets and musketeers. The guns without rifling were retained for shooting multiple pellets (shot) at shorter ranges and they were called fowling pieces, or (shot guns) now (shotguns) where as rifled guns (rifles) were used to propel one projectile at a time much further and more accurate do to the spin imparted to the projectile.
Black Powder Percussion Caplock – (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.
This 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. This firing mechanism provided a major advance in reliability, since the cap was almost certain to explode when struck.
The percussion cap was the key to making reliable rotating block guns (revolvers) which would fire reliably, and in the early 1800s several manufacturers began producing these multiple shot sidearms in mass quantities.
Note: It was the Nineteenth Century that the most radical innovations were brought about to firearms and the rifle. Perfection of the percussion caplock, departure from the round ball to the bullet, the addition of rifle scopes on rifles which increased the range of accuracy for rifles and then the invention of rim fire cartridges which led to, the last and greatest innovations of all, center fire brass cased ammunition and smokeless powder.
The first percussion cap ignition system for use with black powder firearms was patented in 1799 by Joshua Shaw in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the first mass produced in-line ignition systems were black powder, revolving cylinder, pistols. (Colt is legendary)