Pistol Section

History

Gunpowder

This is where it all started. The invention of gunpowder.

Basically, an easily portable powder which with the application of spark or flame, will produce a large volume of gas. Confine that gas in a tube and put a moveable object in there, and Hey Presto, the moveable object is propelled out of the tube in the direction of the least area of resistance. We now call that the muzzle, and the gun is born.

So when did all this occur? We don’t really know for certain. We do know that there was an early recording of its use by the Saracens at Thessalonica in 904! In what form that was used is very uncertain.

Our very own Roger Bacon wrote a thesis on gunpowder in about 1269 which was then taken up by a German monk called Berthold Schwartz who is commonly credited with it’s invention.

Black powder is a compound of Charcoal, Sulphur and Saltpetre. The recipe varies according to the history record, and who actually manufactured it…One thing for sure, is that none of the current membership of the MLAGB were around at the time. Close though!

The Gun

I am going to confine this epistle, to pistol. However we must understand that everything started from the same basic tube arrangement, before developing into the rifles, shotguns and pistols we know today.

Similarly, the development of rifling in that tube is a subject best left to the academics. Suffice it to say that rifling spins the missile creating a gyro stabilized bullet or ball, and thereby improving accuracy.

So, what is defined as a pistol? One could also use the term handgun or in historic terms a Hande Gonne. That spelling varies too.

A short barrelled firearm able to be discharged whilst being held in one hand. Brief, but it will do for now. The interesting aspect of all this is the development of ignition systems. These hold true to all firearms. It is just a matter of scale. So let us start with the earliest.

Matchcord or matchlock – This is where a glowing end of a lit piece of rope is introduced to the priming powder at the breech. The craft of producing matchcord which glows with a suitable cone is an art in itself. It is best to buy this from a dealer or someone who is skilled in it’s production.

Initially the shooter of antiquity, would hold the firearm with one hand whilst introducing the glowing match to the priming powder at the breech. The gun would discharge towards the intended target, with not much accuracy. Hence the matchlock. This mechanism allows the match to be lowered into the priming powder under control, and under aim.

In the MLAGB and MLAIC we compete with Japanese Matchlock designs in a competition called the Tanzutsu. The pistols are all smooth bored and in a wide variation of calibres. I will visit the aspects of load later in this.

The Wheel Lock – We don’t use this style of ignition in competition due to it’s fragility and complexity. Basically, alongside the breech is a serrated wheel which is wound up with a key against a spring. Pressing the trigger spins the wheel against which is a piece of pyrites which is held between some jaws. The friction produces sparks which ignites the priming powder.

 

The Flintlock – this follows the wheel lock by virtue of having a moveable set of jaws holding a flint. This arrangement which is called the cock drops under spring power against a frizzen. The frizzen is a hardened piece of metal, and the friction causes a spark. As this spark is being produced, the frizzen springs out of the way to reveal the priming powder in the pan alongside the breech of the barrel. This in turn ignites the priming powder. There were many different styles of flint lock, all with different names, as this style of ignition was perfected. The final flintlock design was really very efficient, but prone to rain causing the powder not to ignite.

Competition under MLAGB/MLAIC rules for the flintlock take place under the title Cominazzo.

 

The Percussion Lock – I referred above to the problems encountered when it rained, using a flintlock. That, as well as the flash and smoke of the primer igniting used to startle the birds, and many a game bird got away.

Enter Edward Charles Howard, and the Rev Alexander John Forsyth. Two gentlemen to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude. Edward Howard for inventing the fulminate in 1800, which made the percussion caps, invented by the Rev Forsyth in 1807, actually work. One puts the fulminate in the bottom of a cup of thin metal, give it a sharp crack and the fulminate explodes. Direct the jet of flame created by this process, to enter the breech of a firearm, and it will ignite any powder inserted there. The locks created to use this system were efficient, fast and waterproof. They were also much simpler to manufacture. There are a huge variety of firearms designed to use this system, including shotguns, rifles, single shot pistols, and revolvers.

Competitions under MLAGB/MLAIC rules are called Kuchenreuter for the single shot pistols. Colt for original Revolvers, and Mariette for reproduction Revolvers.

Every type of ignition has it’s own competition title except wheel lock, and also bear in mind that each type of ignition has a competition for both Originals and Reproductions.