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beginning guide to muzzleloaders
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History of the flintlock


When one considers the history of firearms in general, it is historically evident that the flintlock system of ignition endured, in one form or another, longer than any other type.

The flintlock system, as we know it today, was invented around 1630 (dates are in conflict on this) and continued until Rev. Alexander Forsyth invented the percussion system in 1807. So the relatively short periods of percussion and cartridge guns is overwhelmed by the long reign of the flintlocks.

In present days muzzleloading, the flintlock is still the name of the game for the true traditionalist, be they Buckskinners, Mountain Men, Primitives, or just the average hunter/shooter. Shooting the flintlocks in any form, ie. rifle, shotgun, or pistol has changed very little since the Penna./Ky. rifle was used on the early frontiers, and the same conditions exist, in the methods of firing, loading and cleaning that existed at that time.

To shoot a flintlock is (at least to me) like walking back in time and experiencing things the way our forefathers did many years ago.

The basic way a flintlock works is that a flint strikes the frizzen, scrapes tiny bits of metal off the frizzen that become white hot, falls into the pan, which has priming powder in it, thereby setting off the main charge of powder in the barrel. Sounds simple enough huh? Well if you've shot flintlocks any legnth of time you'll sooner or later discover that flintlocks do have a charm all their own and have been a source of aggravation for many shooters. While the process of ignition is a simple one, one must make sure of a few things to ensure that almost instant ignition. First and foremost is your frizzen. It must be HARD! Nothing will drive a shooter crazier than a soft frizzen. If a new shooter gets a flintlock with a soft frizzen he or she may not realize what the problem is and overlook this one very important piece of the puzzle. When a frizzen is properly hardened a file will not bite into it. It will simply skate over it. A soft frizzen when struck with a flint will often time gouge the frizzen face. Testing it with a file can tell you for sure if the frizzen is properly hardened. If it is not you should get a replacement frizzen for your lock and either install it yourself or have it installed for you.

Another source of frustration for alot of people is the flints. There are about as many flints on the market as there are shooters nowadays. If you live in an area where flintlocks are a rarity and have to settle for mail order suppliers to assist you then it becomes a crap shoot whether or not you will get quality flints. I know as I've been there. There are several sporting goods stores near me, however they are stocked in caplock supplies with no flints in stock. Or the flints they do have are cut Arkansas flints like the type that you would get if you purchased a set of T/C flints. Now some people may get good ignition with them however I've not had much luck with them. I'm not trying to sell any product over another. This site is to give direction and to tell you what I have found that works for me. I tried the cut Arkansas flints, and several types of mail order flints. Ignition was a little better with the mail order flints but I never knew how many shots I'd get before they broke. Then a new product came on the market called a duraflint. They are the hardest flint I have ever tried. They are so hard it takes a diamond file to sharpen them! Once we started using these flints, ignition time was right up there with a caplock which is where it should be.

Another thing alot of beginner's have problems with is determining exactly the size flint they need to go into their lock. This is not as difficult as it seems although that each lock is made in different sizes. The way to determine what size you need is to put the hammer on half cock and close the frizzen over the pan. Once this is done measure the distance between the top jaw screw and the frizzen face. Subtract 1/8" of an inch which will be for the flint leather and you have found the size you need.

Another source of frustration to some is how much to prime the pan. This is a trial and error to see what your particular rifle likes. I have 2 flintlocks and they like to be primed differently. One likes about a 1/2 of a pan full of powder. The other one likes about 2/3. Just play around with the amount of priming powder and you will soon get the idea of what your lock likes. Also just remember when priming to keep the priming powder from covering the touch hole liner. To do so in effect makes the priming charge a fuse which the sparks of the frizzen have to burn through to get to the main charge resulting in longer ignition. You ideally want your touch hole liner to be level with the pan. If you were to take and draw an imaginary line across the pan you would want your touch hole liner's hole to be right in the middle. Another thing that will help with ignition and fouling is to have a touch hole liner that is coned on both the inside and the outside. The hole itself should be 1/16". By double-coning on inside and outside it helps ignition. The inside cone brings the main charge up closer to the priming charge. The outside cone in effect funnels the sparks into the main charge and also is somewhat self cleaning. Thus reducing the need to run a vent pick into the touch hole liner as often.

My Background

I was introduced to flintlocks in 1992. What you will read on these pages aren't the only way of doing things. I am only trying to give you the basics on how to get started and tell you what works for me. You will have to learn which lube, flint type, powder, etc. works for you. The only way to do this is to get out and shoot your flinter using different types of lubes, flints, powders.

I've added a picture of a flintlock lock assembly to help identify parts of a flintlock for those people who may be unfamiliar with flintlocks to help identify the different parts.

Thanks go to Paints with Lights for allowing me to use a photo of his Harper's Ferry on this page which you see below!