The art of shooting the flintlock

kovas_muskétaWhen I first attended an international shooting event I was amazed how fast the ignition was of the flintlock smooth bore guns used for clay target shooting. By that time I only shot percussion guns, and flintlock was only a nice story from the history of firearms, that was really not capable of high scores just like the caplock.

However the passion of shooting muzzle loaders guided me back in time to the age of flint and steel. To avoid misfires in the 13 shots of the competition is a challenge itself with a flintlock, but to have a quick ignition, it is an art. It is not as hard as it seems for the caplock shooters. You need more practice and care for your gun, but you can achieve nearly the same ignition speed as with percussion caps, if you are persistent in the work.

There are several basic rules you have to keep, and then you won’t have a problem. The muzzle velocity of muzzleloaders is often low (below 300 m/s), and the guns have longer barrels, than the modern firearms. This means that your bullet is traveling for a longer time in the barrel, that can multiply the effect of a flinch or jaw. You don’t really want to lengthen this period with a slow ignition. In theory the process seems simple: you need a lot of hot sparks, fast priming powder, and a clean touch hole. In practice there are many things you have to learn of your lock to make it work properly.

The flint

There are three kind of flint stones you can buy these days. You can find traditional black and white flint at your Pedersoli dealer. You can also try synthetic stone as well. All of them can work with your gun, if you choose the right form and size for your lock.

The size of the flint

flintYou can buy flints in many sizes. It is not hard to choose which size will suit you gun. There are two basic rules you have to follow.

  • The length: the correct length of the flint can be verified if you put the hammer in half cock, and close the frizzen. In this position the edge of the flint must not reach the frizzen. A 1 or 2 mm gap must be between them
  • The width: your flint must not be wider than the firzzen. If it is wider, that the sides of the stone will not wear as quickly as the middle, so after a few shots the center of the stone will not reach the steel, and will not give sufficient sparks. Therefore it is much better to have a smaller stone, than a wider.

 

If you want to choose flint for your Pedersoli gun, here is some help with the sizes:

  • Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Scout, Mortimer pistol, Charles Moore, LePage, Continental Duel, Queen Anne, and all other guns with small pistol locks: 5/8”
  • Mortimer rifle, Jager rifle, Frontier rifle, Harper’s Ferry pistol and all guns with medium rifle lock: 3/4”
  • An IX pistol, An XIII pistol: 7/8”
  • All flintlock muskets: 1”

Be patient when you start using a new stone. It will take a few shots to break in the new one.

Securing the flint in the jaws

Basically you have two options to choose from: you can use leather or a thin sheet of lead to secure the flint into the jaws of the hammer. I cannot tell you which one is better, as I know top shooters who use lead and top shooters who use leather. I like leather better as, lead is not flexible as leather, so it can release the stone. It happened to me several times, and I lost a few good shots because of these, but this problem can be overcame with checking the stone after every shot in competition. On the pictures you can see two easy designs for both materials. Choose the one that you like. If you do it correctly both will work.

Spring tensions and the frizzen

For flintlock you need a stronger main spring than for a percussion lock. To make a percussion cap go off sometimes you only need the weight of the hammer, but this is not true with the flintlock. The flint will travel a long way on the steel, and you need force to help it in cutting small metal parts from the steel. If you do not have enough power in the main spring, the stone will fail to do this. It is also important to have an adequate balance of the spring tensions. You need the strong mainspring, but you need a weak frizzen spring. A good lock will give enough sparks without even the frizzen spring. The strength of the frizzen spring must be around 1/3 of the strength of the main spring. Its only job is to hold the frizzen closed. If your frizzen spring is too strong, the hammer will fail to open the pan quickly, and your flint will break more often.

To have enough sparks we need a stone that is traveling the longest way possible on the steel. Put the hammer in halfcock, and examine where the flint points. The first point of impact should be at the ¾ of the total height of the steel. If you have a good balance of spring tensions, the pan will open exactly at the point when the flint reaches the bottom of the steel.

A roller on the frizzen is a great help. This small part eliminates all the friction between the frizzen spring and the spur of the frizzen. Locks with roller are more expensive, but if you want to have the quickest ignition that is possible, pay that few more euros for this feature.

Some cheaper replicas usually have frizzen surfaces that are too soft. In this case the sparks will not be hot enough to have a strong ignition. Hardening the surface is not an easy job, but can be done at your home workshop as well with the help of some Kasenit (Heat the work uniformly to a bright red (1650 – 1700 degrees F), remove any scale with a wire brush, dip, roll or sprinkle the Kasenit powder on the component. The powder will melt and adhere to the surface, forming a shell around the work. Reheat to 1650 – 1700 degrees F, hold at this temperature for a few minutes and quench in to clean cold water. This will give the component a completely hard case of uniform character and depth.)

Cleaning the flint and the steel

This is one of the most important points in this list. The residue from the priming powder quickly builds up a greasy layer on the surface of the steel and the bottom of the flint. You can easily remove this with a small rag saturated with just a little alcohol (No you don’t have to use that fine palinka, stay with the medical alcohol of 70%!) You can also use water for the saturation of the rag, but water will not evaporate as quick as alcohol, and during flintlock shooting you must watch out for you time.

Sharpening the flint

When the flint strikes the steel, it cuts small particles of smoldering metal from the frizzen. These are the sparks that will ignite the primer. In the meantime also small particles of the flint leave the stone, so the flint is decreasing from shot to shot. This process may not be equivalent on the complete edge of the stone. Some areas break off more easily some wear slowly. To equalize this effect, you have to break off the parts that wear slower than the rest of the edge. This work is dona with the help of a very simple brass tool. (It must be brass, as it will not create sparks on the flint!). The sharpening tool is a 5 – 6 cm long and 0,5 cm diameter cylinder, with a smaller diameter cut in one end. Be extremely careful when sharpening the flint during competition. Safety rules:

– Sharpen the flint when there is no charge in the barrel.

– if there is a live round in the barrel open the pan, remove the priming charge and put a brass wire in the touch hole. Be careful, even one grain of blackpowder can ignite the main charge!

– always perform this process with the hammer in half cock

The pan

If you want to have a secure and quick ignition you must have a shallow and wide pan, with the touch hole located exactly in the middle. If you have wide pan, your sparks will fall more often on the priming powder. It is also advisable to polish the inside of the pan. If the pan is not polished, the metal will tend to collect moisture from the air, and in wet condition it will be harder to get a fast ignition. It is also helpful for the cleaning as well.

Size and form of the touch hole

Old hunting books said you must have a touch hole that’s size is equal to the size of two grains of the blackpowder you use. This is pretty much truth these days as well. The best size you can have is around 1,7 mm. If it is smaller, your ignition will be slower and insecure, if it is bigger, you will loose too much energy through the hole, and it is going to act more like a rocket. The inside of the touch hole must be coned, so the first ignited particles of the powder can spread the burning to many other particles. The ignition of the main charge is somewhat different from the percussion system. The percussion cap generates a strong ray of hot plasma, that can ignite most of the blackpowder in the chamber nearly immediately. With the flintlock it is different: the burning is transmitted from particle to particle, so the build up of pressure will be slower compared to a same charge, same barrel, but with percussion lock.

The priming powder

You will have to use the finest grain blackpowder you can find on the market. The particles of blackpowder are ignited from the surface, if you have smaller particles, you can have more in the same volume, with more surface. This is a key element in fast ignition. You can use 4Fg powder for priming, but if you want to have the best result, try Swiss 0B. If you did your job correctly, you will not feel the difference in speed compared to a percussion lock.

Position of the priming powder in the pan

This point will depend on what your lock likes. Some locks like if you put only small amount in the outer third of the pan, some like it in the middle, and some close to the touch hole. What every you do, never fill the touch hole with powder, and don’t use two much because these will slow ignition. Keep experimenting to find your solution!

 

These are only the 9 most important subjects, but if you start shooting the old firelock, you’ll notice that there are thousands of secrets hidden behind the flint. Keep practicing, and find the solutions that are best for your gun. Be careful: the 30 minutes for the 13 shorts is not a long long time if you have ignition problems. S practice not just for the tens, practice for the secure ignition as well.