Return to Previous Page

Types of Firearms

The Museum’s holdings feature a wide variety of long guns, rifles, and pistols. The basic components of these firearms are the stock, lock (or firing mechanism), trigger, barrel, mounts (such as the trigger guard), and ramrod.

There is a physical difference between a long gun and a rifle. The surface of the bore, or interior of the barrel, is smooth on a long gun. On a rifle, there is a helical groove or "rifle" cut into the bore. This causes the projectile to spin, aiding in the accuracy of the shot.

The lock is the firing mechanism on a firearm. Although locks on muzzle-loading firearms have evolved throughout history, their essential function is the same: holding and igniting the gunpowder that fired the gun. The fundamental components of the lock are the lockplate, the pan and pan cover, and the hammer. In the most basic terms, to fire a muzzle-loading firearm, gunpowder and shot are rammed down the muzzle of the barrel until they reach the breech of the barrel, where the touchhole is located. The pan, adjacent to the touchhole, is primed with gunpowder. The hammer jaws of a wheellock hold a piece of iron pyrite, and the jaws of a flintlock hold a piece of flint. When the trigger is pulled, it sets off a mechanism to make the pyrite or flint spark, igniting the gunpowder in the pan. This ignites the rammed powder in the barrel, through the touchhole, propelling the shot out of it.

Most of the firearms that were examined and treated during the project have either wheellock or flintlock firing mechanisms.

Wheellock Mechanism

Exterior of Mechanism from Wheellock Rifle, c. 1610
Mechanism and demonstration of wheellock rifle
The wheellock mechanism was developed in Europe in the early sixteenth century as an improvement to the earlier and simpler matchlock mechanism. The wheellock was more dependable and impervious to weather conditions than the matchlock; however, its complex mechanism made for a more expensive firearm. The presentation illustrates the wheellock mechanism, with a demonstration of the gun firing.

Flintlock Mechanism

Exterior of Mechanism from Flintlock Gun of Wilhelmine Charlotte of Brandenburg, c. 1730
Mechanism and demonstration of flintlock rifle
The flintlock mechanism was developed in Europe in the early seventeenth century. It replaced the wheellock due to its greater safety, ease of use, and lower cost. (However, the wheellock mechanism remained popular for hunting firearms in German-speaking lands - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and adjacent territories - through the late eighteenth century.) The presentation illustrates the flintlock mechanism, with a demonstration of the gun firing.

Return to Previous Page