Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A flintlock is a firearm that operates in the following manner:
- The operator loads the gun, usually from the barrel end, with black powder followed by shot or a bullet wrapped in a paper patch, all rammed down with a special rod;
- A cock or striker tightly holding a shaped bit of flint is rotated to half-cock;
- The flash pan is primed with a small amount of very finely ground powder and the hammer (or variously steel or frizzen) is closed;
The gun is now in "primed and ready" state, and this is how it would be carried hunting or going into battle. The hammer cannot be dropped from half-cock by just pulling the trigger, and the flint is held away from the flashpan so sparks cannot be accidentally generated by bumping the hammer. To fire:
- The cock or striker is moved from half-cock to full-cock;
- The gun is aimed and the trigger pulled, releasing the cock or striker holding the flint;
- The flint strikes the frizzen, a piece of steel or iron on the flashpan lid, opening the lid;
- The contact between flint and frizzen produces a spark that is directed into the flashpan;
- The powder ignites, and the flame passes through a small hole in the barrel (called a vent) that leads to the firing chamber, igniting the powder there; and
- The gun discharges.
Although a few guns of this type are still manufactured for black powder enthusiasts, the flintlock otherwise passed out of common use around 1860, after cap and cartridge-based guns were invented. The last major use of flintlocks in the Americas occurred in the first years of the American Civil War.
The flintlock was in use as the standard weapon used by the military and civilians all over the world for over two centuries, and has left a mark on the English language.
- Lock, stock and barrel: The three parts of a flintlock, this phrase means "the whole thing".
- Going off half cocked: The half-cock position is the safety on a flintlock. Going off from a half-cocked state means someone has done something prematurely.
- Flash in the pan: If the flint ignites the priming powder in the flashpan but does not ignite the main charge in the barrel, that is a flash in the pan. It indicates an event that has a large, dramatic buildup, but fizzles out before significant result.
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