Saturday, June 04, 2011

Flintlocks: How They Work

If you stop me on the street and ask me what a frizzen is, I can tell you.

For the past two days I've been working on a scene in which a character of the 18th century who has never fired a gun before needs to learn to fire a flintlock pistol (not a rifle; those things are big and heavy and she's a small woman, and can't lift one and hold it steady enough to hit a target).

How I've written so many scenes in which characters draw, brandish, fire, and feed their families with flintlock rifles or muskets and never known exactly how the mechanics of said firearms work is beyond me. But I've got it now. Thanks to this site:

How Stuff Works: Flintlocks 

So in case you ever need to know, there you go. There are video clips provided of the firing mechanisms at work.

Click here to see and hear the action of the frizzen.

Click here to see and hear the action of the hammer.

Click here to see and hear the gun fire.

Research is such a kick. So are flintlocks. So keep those pistols steady, and those rifles braced tight to your shoulder!


Revolutionary War era flintlock pistol 
~ photo by Rama, via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Hi Lori,
    I will never forget one of the neatest things about the many things Adam taught me when we met and "courted". He taught me how to use a computer, and he also taught me how to shoot a musket!
    One winter day we went 'out back' and he put a paper target up the hill on a tree. He had a very long reproduction period-correct musket that he uses in battle at reenactments, along with his powder horn with black powder, a horn powder- measure, a tinder box, linen scraps, just to name a few of the accoutrements. He did show me the musket balls, but we did not use any, of course. He patiently walked me through each part of the weapon, and the loading and firing process. It was very fascinating. I know every part of most 17th and 18thc. firelocks now, how they got their names, and how they were used.
    I had never shot a gun of any sort before. I followed every step of the loading process in order, under his direction. I held the musket and fired as he taught me. I saw the 'flash in the pan', and the fire that came from the barrel. I felt the power, and the 'boom' was tremendous! (It always is!)

    I was suprised that it did not 'jerk', or hurt my shoulder in the least, so I guess I was a pretty good pupil. I did not hit the target, but in a few attempts, I came within a few feet!
    My husband is my soulmate and dearest love, and in our '18thc. life' together, as well as in our 21st, he continues to be my best friend, an inspiration, and a teacher of many intriguing things!
    Kindest Regards,

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with Adam teaching you to shoot. I use a scene like it as something of a "courting" scene in my story. In this case it's a Kentucky pistol. She's a small young woman and I figured those long rifles were probably a bit too heavy for her to lug around, lift, and aim with any hope of hitting a target since she's a more delicate town-bred sort. And they are in something of a hurry for her to learn. Maybe after she's been a frontier wife for awhile she'll be able to manage a long rifle!

  3. They are indeed VERY long, and heavy! I could certainly shoot one now, but hauling it around and doing it continuously would be hard to get used to---I so admire our friend Sarah, who belongs to a British rev war military until, and wears the uniform, and fights in all the battles, shooting her musket with the men---(and still shows up at the next Colonial Ball dressed in a gown she made, and looking fetching!)
    I guess some reenactors are like the modern day characters in the romance books---some of us LIVE another century as much as possible, and then when we go to events, we take part in and re-create experiences that our forefathers and mothers may have had!

    All good fortune with your book~

  4. Hello Lori :) I still dont know how to make a blog I want to have my colonial animals illustrations on my bg and I dont have a clue :( but I love flintlocks!!! I collect rare muskets :) pistols..I am crazy for the French and Indian wars and the Rev wars!! and if you ned fotos or info ask me!!
    in need of blog help!!! =D

  5. Birdy, I'd be lost without that Help link up at the top of Blogger's screen. Everything I've learned over the years came from the Blogger tutorial, and trial and error (lots of error!). I don't know HTML, but you don't need to get along with Blogger. Just dive in and try, take it step by step. And it's lovely that while you are fiddling with things you can preview them before you commit to the changes, so there's no real risk. I've spent hours on posts, or the blog design, then changed my mind and erased it all and gone back to the way it was. Wasted time, I guess, but at least I didn't have to make permanent changes to find out I didn't like them.

    Thanks for the generous offer of gun photos and research information. I may just take you up on it! And thanks for stopping by. I love hearing from other 18th century enthusiasts.

    Have you a lot of experience in firing the rifles and pistols? I'm wondering how much kick, if any, a flintlock pistol would have at the moment of firing. Right now in my scene I have it jerk in my character's hand at the moment of firing. How accurate is that description?