The Flint Lock Rifle was the most advanced firearm of its time. Contrary to what most people think, they were very accurate. The rifle shown here has a 60” rifled barrel firing a 50 Cal round ball with a 70 grain charge of black powder. From a bench rest position, a 4” group at 200 yards is easily achievable. These rifles were the sniper rifles of the Revolution and easily outshot the smooth-bore muskets of the British Army.
The barrels were “swamped” meaning that they were thicker near the breach and the muzzle. Because of the rifle’s length, this was done to help balance it in the shooter’s hand.
You will notice components that are common on today’s rifles – over 200 years later.
The Stock provides the components to grip the rifle, a Comb to lay against the shooters cheek and a Butt Plate to rest against the shooter’s shoulder.
The Patch Box was a compartment carved into the Stock to store an assortment of components needed to keep the rifle in shooting condition. We will cover this separately.
The Trigger releases the Hammer of the Lock and the Trigger Guard prevents the Trigger from being released by passing brush and other random items.
The Rear Sight and Front Sight are used to for sight alignment to insure the accurate placement of the shot. A sight radius of over 4-feet provided for extremely accurate shooting.
The Barrels were manufactured using a number of different methods. They were rifled and swamped to increase accuracy and to help balance the rifle as the shooter carried it.
The Ram Rod was used to push the ball and patch combination down the bore of the barrel.
The Lock is the equivalent of the Action in today’s rifles. It will be covered separately.
Let’s take a look at the contents of the Patch Box and the components the shooter carried with him to maintain his rifle.
The Patch Box Cover protected the contents of the Patch Box. It contained an assortment of items needed to keep the rifle in shooting order.
Cleaning Patches were carried to keep the barrel clean. The shooter commonly cut a patch, spit on it and ran it in and out of the barrel. They used spit to prevent a buildup of powder residue at the bottom of the barrel.
Spare Ball Patches were typically carried along with a spare Ball or two.
Since a Flint is critical to the rifle’s operation, spares were also carried. Each Flint had to be manually napped to fit the Cock Jaws and the Frizzen of the particular rifle.
A spare Flint Leather was also carried. It’s used to hold and protect the flint while it is clamped by the Cock Jaws.
A Flash Hole Pick is used to clean out the Flash Hole insuring the spark generated in the Flash Pan can penetrate all the way to the powder charge. And a Goose Quill was sometimes used to plug the Flash Hole after the rifle was loaded. When the shooter was ready he would remove the Goose Quill, charge the Flash Pan and fire the rifle.
The Action of the day was called a Lock. There were a number of different variations available. The one shown here is called a “Common Lock” and shares the same components that most Locks have.
The Flint is wrapped in a Leather strip and clamped between the Cock Jaws. A notch is usually cut out of the center of the fold to allow ease of adjustment of the Cock Jaw Screw. This is what is tightened to firmly hold the Flint is place. The shape of the Flint is napped to fit the Cock Jaws and to insure a solid strike against the Frizzen Face.
The Frizzen is made of steel. As flint strikes steel, flecks of steel are flaked off. The energy used to do this converts the steel flakes to molten steel that is seen as sparks. The trait that allows this to happen is called Pyrophoricity. These sparks strike the Flash Powder that has been poured into the Flash Pan igniting it. Note that the Flash Pan is curved in shape with a curved end as well. This shape helps “roll” the fire into the Flash Hole igniting the primary charge at the bottom of the Barrel.
The shooter typically carried a Powder Horn filled with his primary charge powder and then a separate, smaller flask that was used to pour a primer charge into the Flash Pan. This primer powder typically burned hotter than the primary charge powder to help insure a solid ignition of the primary charge in the Barrel.
The Frizzen had a portion that was used as a Flash Pan Cover. This would allow the shooter to charge the Flash Pan, pull the Frizzen towards the Stock thus placing the Flash Pan Cover over the Flash Pan. When the Trigger was pressed, the Hammer would strike the Flint against the Frizzen Face, pushing the Frizzen backwards, lifting the Flash Pan Cover and allowing the sparks to ignite the Flash Powder. However, attempting to charge the Flash Pan while it was raining, or in heavy morning dew, ran the risk of a damp charge and no ignition.
To counter this, many shooters inserted a Goose Quill into the Flash Hole protecting the primary charge from the dampness. When he was ready to shoot he would remove the Goose Quill, charge the Flash Pan and fire his rifle.
The Frizzen Spring applied the needed tension to firmly hold the Flash Pan Cover in place and provide enough resistance to the Flint to insure enough sparks are generated to ignite the primer charge. The Frizzen Spring Screw allows adjustment of this tension.
A short video will better demonstrate the mechanics of generating a spark to ignite the powder in the Flash Pan.
The shooter’s powder was typically carried in a Powder Horn. These were usually made from the horn of a steer or ox. They were boiled to soften the inside so it could be removed and cleaned out to hold the powder.
A Base was carved to fit into the end of the horn and a Lobe was left to attach a Lanyard to the horn for ease of carry.
The shooter I borrowed this Powder Horn from had carved a Powder Measure from the spike horn of a young deer. It too was boiled and a cup carved that holds exactly 70 grains of black powder. To charge his rifle he pours the powder from the Powder Horn into the Powder Measure and then pours his 70 grains of black powder down the Barrel of his rifle and uses the Ram Rod to ram his Patch and Ball into place.
In today’s vernacular, this was the “Assault Weapon” of the Revolutionary War. The British were marching on the Magazine at Lexington to seize weapons like this along with their musket balls and black powder when Paul Revere made his ride. They have a rich tradition in our nation and if you ever have the chance to shoot such a rifle, take some time to enjoy some of the history of our nation’s earliest shooters and riflemen.