digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















19th-century flintlock pistol, with piece of flint missing.

The flintlock mechanism is a type of lock used on muskets and rifles in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It is commonly referred to as a "flintlock" (without the word mechanism), though that term is also commonly used for the weapons themselves as a whole, and not just the lock mechanism.

The flintlock was developed in France in the early 17th century.[1] It quickly replaced earlier technologies, such as the matchlock and wheellock. It continued to be in common use for over two centuries, until it was finally replaced by the percussion lock.[2]


The flintlock was developed in France in the early 17th century. Though its exact origins are not known, credit for the development of the flintlock is usually given to Marin le Bourgeoys,[1] an artist, gunsmith, luthier (maker of stringed musical instruments) and inventor from Normandy, France. Marin le Bourgeoys's basic design became the standard for flintlocks and quickly replaced older firing mechanisms throughout Europe. Flintlock weapons based on this design were used for over two centuries, until they were finally replaced by percussion locks in the 1840s and 1850s.[3] The key element added apparently by Marin le Bourgeoys was the vertically acting sear. The sear is "catch" or "latch" which holds the mechanism in a position ready to fire; the trigger acts upon, or is part of, the sear, releasing it and allowing a strong spring to act on the mechanism to fire the gun. Previously the sear, located within the lock, had acted through a hole in the lockplate to engage the cock on the outside of the plate. The vertically acting sear acted on a piece called the tumbler, on the inside of the lock which was mounted on the same rotating shaft as the cock. This design proved to be the most efficient in terms of cost and reliability.

Construction and operation[edit]

Sparks generated by a flintlock mechanism
The components of a flintlock mechanism

A typical flintlock mechanism has a piece of flint which is held in place in between a set of jaws on the end of a short hammer. This hammer (sometimes called the cock) is pulled back into the "cocked" position. When released by the trigger, the spring-loaded hammer moves forward, causing the flint to strike a piece of steel called the "frizzen". At the same time, the motion of the flint and hammer pushes the frizzen back, opening the cover to the pan, which contains the gunpowder. As the flint strikes the frizzen it creates a spark which falls into the pan and ignites the powder. Flame burns through a small hole into the barrel of the gun and ignites the main powder charge, causing the weapon to fire.

Most hammers follow Marin le Bourgeoys's design, and have a "half-cocked" position, which is the "safe" position since pulling the trigger from this position does not cause the gun to fire. From this position, the frizzen can be opened, and powder can be placed in the pan. Then the frizzen is closed, and the hammer is pulled back into the "full cocked" position, from which it is fired.

The phrase "don't go off half cocked" originated with these types of weapons, which were not supposed to fire from the half cocked position of the hammer.


An 1820s gunlock

A gunlock was a flintlock mechanism that fired a cannon. They were a significant innovation in naval gunnery and were first used by the Royal Navy in 1745. Their use spread slowly as they could not be retrofitted to older guns - the French had still not generally adopted them by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).[4]

The earlier method of firing a cannon was to apply a linstock - a wooden staff holding a length of smoldering match at the end - to the touch-hole of the gun, that was filled with loose priming powder. This was dangerous and made accurate shooting from a moving ship impossible as the gun had to be fired from the side, to avoid its recoil, and there was a noticeable delay between the application of the linstock and the gun firing.[4]

The gunlock was operated by pulling a cord, or lanyard. The gun-captain could stand behind the gun, safely beyond its range of recoil, and sight along the gun, firing when the roll of the ship lined the gun up with the enemy and so avoid the chance of the shot hitting the sea or flying high over the enemy's deck. Loading the gun was faster and safer as the gunlock didn't use loose priming powder; the main charge was ignited by a quill filled with priming powder that was pushed through the touch hole during loading and pierced the cartridge bag, containing the main charge of gunpowder.[4]

After the introduction of gunlocks, linstocks were retained, but only as a backup means of firing.

Other uses[edit]

A clock, fitted with a flintlock to light a candle, c.1550. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

Some early land mines, or fougasses, were detonated by flintlocks. Flintlocks were also used to launch Congreve rockets.[5]

A flintlock tinder lighter, or tinder pistol, was a device that saw use in wealthy households from the 18th Century until the invention of reliable matches. It somewhat resembled a small flintlock pistol, but without a barrel and with a candle holder and with legs so it could be stood upright. When the trigger was pulled, the sparks from the frizzen lit dry tinder in the pan, from which the candle would be quickly lit. The device provided a quick and reliable source of light, and flame for the lighting of fires.[6]

Alarm clocks exist that, as well as sounding a bell, used a flintlock mechanism to light a candle. German and Austrian-made examples of these, dating from the 18th century, are preserved in the collections of the British Museum[7] and the Hermitage Museum in Russia.[8] An example dating from 1550 is in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (German National Museum) in Nuremberg.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lenk, Torsten; Translated by G.A. Urquhart (1965). The Flintlock: its origin and development; MCMLXV. London: Bramhall House. 
  2. ^ Flatnes, Oyvind. From Musket to Metallic Cartridge: A Practical History of Black Powder Firearms. Crowood Press, 2013, pp. 31–36. ISBN 978-1847975935
  3. ^ "Pistols: An Illustrated History of Their Impact" By Jeff Kinard, Published by ABC-CLIO, 2004
  4. ^ a b c Rodger, Nicholas (2004). The Command of the Ocean:A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815. Penguin Books. p. 420. ISBN 0-14-028896-1. 
  5. ^ British Rockets
  6. ^ "Flintlock tinder pistol. English, 1780-1830.". www.ingenious.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  7. ^ "spring-driven clock / clock-case / alarm clock". Collection Online. British Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Alarm-clock". Hermitage Projects - Resotoration Programme. The State Hermitage Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 


External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flintlock_mechanism — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

14 news items


Tue, 17 Mar 2015 06:52:30 -0700

The flintlock mechanism, common in weapons produced in the 17th century, is prone to misfiring, though added safety mechanisms to prevent misfire dramatically reduce the speed and efficiency of the weapon. Among its Sahelian partners, American military ...


Tue, 23 Sep 2014 23:11:15 -0700

Explorers and early settlers who ventured across the Appalachians in the late 18th century, depended on their longrifles to feed their families and protect their livestock from wolves and mountain lions. The flintlock mechanism was invented in the 17th ...

The Columbian

The Columbian
Thu, 17 Jul 2014 06:02:27 -0700

The flintlock mechanism of a replica 1762 "Brown Bess"musket. (Steve Dipaola, for The Columbian). Paper cartridges filled with black powder used by re-enactors at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. (Steve Dipaola, for The Columbian). A replica 1861 ...

BBC News

BBC News
Fri, 30 May 2014 07:09:41 -0700

It is a muzzle-loading firearm with a flintlock mechanism and dog lock. An inscription on the gun reads: "Taken at the battle of Culloden 16 April 1746 by Captain John Goodenough with 18 balls in it." Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite force was defeated ...


Thu, 29 May 2014 05:33:13 -0700

The blunderbuss was made around 1670 by John Finch, a leading London firearms maker, and is a rare survivor of its type. It is a muzzle-loading firearm with flintlock mechanism and “dog lock”. The form of early shotgun was used to good effect at close ...
Thu, 31 Oct 2013 19:02:55 -0700

“We get stuff from all over the map,” said McCarthy, “but to have someone bring us a flintlock mechanism was pretty different.” The old gun and the newer one have something in common, he noted. “It's exciting when pieces of the past come to the surface.

BBC News

BBC News
Wed, 04 Dec 2013 02:24:23 -0800

It is a muzzle-loading firearm with a flintlock mechanism and dog lock. The trust said: "As one of only a small group of objects taken from the battlefield, the blunderbuss has powerful associations and provides a tangible link to the past. "It is an ...


Sat, 15 Jun 2013 07:38:38 -0700

Honor is a funny thing: today an attribute talked about, but all too rarely upheld. But what is it? Reputation? Publish esteem? A good name? There was a time that honor was a way of life, and had to be protected at all costs, even to the death. Today ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!

Searchlight Group

Digplanet also receives support from Searchlight Group. Visit Searchlight