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Old July 27, 2008, 10:37 PM   #1
nemo2econ
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Firing my antique flintlock pistol...

Okay, I know it's a crazy idea, so please don't fill up the comments with ten "you're crazy" posts for every one substantive reply.

Let's say I have invested in a pre-1840, well-made British, French or American flintlock single-shot pistol--not a reproduction. A bonafide "antique" with some non-trivial market value. Assume that the gun is in "good" condition, clean, no rust, mechanisms seem to work, gaps are what they should be, etc. Further assume that I am willing to take the risk of losing my investment in a good looking antique pistol if something goes badly in the test process of seeing if this thing can still shoot. But I don't want to have all my antique pistols be "just for looking at." I don't want to fire the pistol regularly; I just want to know that "that one is a live shooter" and here's my story about it...

Assume I would like to safely test operability of the pistol with small black powder charges first before using a "typical charge" with a tamped ball. (You can assume I have access to a chamber where my gloved hand could fire the pistol while inserted into a container, open at the muzzle end, with only a small hand-size opening on the grip side in the event operation is not as intended.) Assume I would have a gunsmith familiar with black powder firearms first go over the pistol before I initiate any test sequence.

What constructive advice would FiringLine Forum readers offer me? I would especially like to hear from those who fire reproduction flintlocks of the same period. Thanks.

Last edited by nemo2econ; July 27, 2008 at 11:05 PM. Reason: fix typo
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Old July 27, 2008, 10:40 PM   #2
Rocked
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Ive always had a fascination with the flintlocks. Though no actual experience.

With that being said, they are your guns. Do what you want with them. Just video tape it for us to see. It should be good for either a good cheer or laugh. Best of luck.
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Old July 27, 2008, 11:11 PM   #3
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I won't own a gun I can't shoot, but that's just me. Since you would have a pro look at it first and deem it safe to fire, and you intend to use smaller powder charges...I say have fun with it!

That's what they were made for anyway...to shoot.
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Old July 28, 2008, 06:04 AM   #4
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Use ffffg (that's 4fg) real black powder for priming - do not cover the touch hole. Polish the pan to a shiny, even mirror like finish. Check the touch hole diameter - should be 5/64" at the max, about a #50 or #51 drill bit would be ideal.

Obviously you want a clean, bright bore with no pits, but be sure there are no bulges. That's the gunsmith's first priority. Use only real black powder, no synthetics.

Mike or slug the barrel to be SURE what the groove diameter is, then use a loose ball/lubed patch combination and just 20 grains or so of powder. The ball/patch needs to seal the gases but should move at the first hint of pressure.

Test fire the gun dry a few times to be sure the frizzen will spark, and to clean the face of the frizzen.

Build a wooden fixture to hold the gun so you can pull the trigger remotely with a line. A glove is no protection for your hand, and there's no reason to take that kind of risk when a simple wood structure to hold the stock is easy to make. Just be sure you don't enclose the breech or the first few inches of the barrel - making splinters is just as bad - in fact, worse, than shrapnel.

Fire three or four, maybe even five shots, increasing the powder load and/or using a tighter ball/patch in the fixture before shooting it with your hand. One shot may just weaken the metal; three or four will proof it.
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Old July 28, 2008, 06:33 AM   #5
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What Mykeal said.
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Old August 23, 2008, 08:38 PM   #6
Dave Gafvert
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Shooting original flintlock pistols

Hi. I have been collecting AND shooting and repairing original antique guns since 1951. I have a number of original flintlock pistols ranging form 45 cal, to 75 caliber. After inspecting the pistol as to it's condition and functonabilty
and magnafluxing the barrel and checking the bore dia, I get a mold that will
cast a lead (soft NOT wheel weights) that is .015 two .020 smaller than the bore dia,. Then I find the right thickness patch that will let the patched ball
slide down the barrel (drill a hole in the ball) so you put a piece of wire in it so can pull it back out, grease the patch and it does not have to go all the way down, about 3 or 4 inches. I use 4F powder for priming the pan and 2F for the main charge I do not know the caliber of your piece but I've found that the larger the bore the smaller the powder charge. My 45cal, 35grns, the 50cal, 30 grns, 54cal, 25 grns, The large bores 69 and 75cal, 25 grns. Believe me that big lead ball
lets a lot of air in and alot of blood out! The ranges they fired at were not
much over 20 or 30 feet. mine are all smooth bores. Be sure to have the bore checked back by the breech because that will be the area where you
will find the most rust pitting. you might also need to hone the rough spots
out with a breake cylinder hone. Cheers Dave
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Old August 23, 2008, 09:13 PM   #7
Hawg
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Most flintlock pistols are smooth bore. Hardness of the ball makes no difference in a smooth bore or with a PRB in a rifled barrel for that matter. Stick on wheel weights are 99.5% pure lead with a BHN of 6. Pure lead has a BHN of 5. A BHN of 6 is plenty soft enough for conicals in rifled barrels.

Last edited by Hawg; August 24, 2008 at 04:27 PM.
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Old August 24, 2008, 02:42 PM   #8
Dave Gafvert
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Shooting original flintlock pistols

Not so, I have a good number of rifled flintlock pistols, und the use of soft lead balls in the old pistols will provide a safety margin in that if the bore is rusted it well could cause the patch to bunch up between the ball and the bore. Thus the soft lead ball will give where the hard ball will cause a bulge
in the barrel. I have seen this happen twice. It is common knowlege that
muzzleloading arms MUST use soft lead projectiles. I have been a antique
gun gunsmith for over 40 years. you need to read up on muzzle loading arms
and the do's and don'ts involved.
Dave Gafvert
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Old August 24, 2008, 03:24 PM   #9
simonkenton
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I like your spirit! Guns should be fired.
Like the man said, build a little wooden stand and let 'er rip.
Be sure to let us know how it goes.

I have never owned an antique muzzleloader but if I did I would sure be shooting it, once I got it checked by a gunsmith.

Here is a heartbreaker. My grandmother owned a rifle. All I know about it is one of my uncles "brought it back from the war."
So they were having a Fourth of July parade in the little town in South Dakota.
One of the boys was riding on a float, and he was dressed as Daniel Boone.
My dad, 14 years old, lent him the rifle, my grandmother didn't know about it.
This was about 1938.
The damn kid loaded the gun with a .410 shotgun shell. In the middle of the parade, he fired it up in the air.
Didn't go over too well with the grown ups, though I am sure the kids enjoyed it.
The next day my grandmother gave the rifle to the museum.

I am the only one in the family interested in guns, that gun would be hanging on my wall right now if not for those dumb kids, and it would be my most prized possession.
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Old August 24, 2008, 03:27 PM   #10
4V50 Gary
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What Dave says especially about magnafluxing the barrel before even shooting it. Any latent fissures or cracks will be revealed by the magnafluxing. Also check the breech plug to make sure that it isn't rotted or rusted out.

I'm also against firing an antique. Have a reproduction made instead (at least I would).

If you are going to fire it anyway, remove the barrel from the stock and clamp it with a vise. You don't clamp the barrel directly (lest you crush it) but cut wood to fit the barrel's profile on both sides of the vise jaw. With the barrel secured, load and light it with a cannon fuse. If the barrel goes, better to lose the barrel than the entire gun. With the stock and lock being separate, you can at least put a new barrel on an otherwise antique gun.
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Old August 24, 2008, 04:35 PM   #11
Hawg
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Quote:
It is common knowlege that
muzzleloading arms MUST use soft lead projectiles. I have been a antique
gun gunsmith for over 40 years. you need to read up on muzzle loading arms
and the do's and don'ts involved.
I'll give you the part about a patch possibly bunching up if the ball was too small to start with but I think if the barrel would have bulged with a hard ball it would have with a soft one too. I'm no novice when it comes to bp. Been shootin bp for 39 years. With a PRB the only difference between a hard lead ball and a soft one is the hard one doesn't shrink as much so you need a thinner patch. Soft lead is only needed when using conicals or minies. Stick on wheel weights are plenty soft enough for either one of those. There's a guy over at the MLF forum that's been conducting accuracy tests with patched marbles and doing real well with them.
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Old August 24, 2008, 08:43 PM   #12
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I'll second most of what the other have already said. Magnaflux is just one non-destructive manner of testing the barrel, Eddy Current, Ultrasound, X-ray are a few other common methods - the cost of testing equipment has come way down and many machine/precision welding shops have the capability for a reasonable fee. Definitely have it checked by a competent "black powder gunsmith" too.

Once it's known good, use light charges and properly sized patch/ball combo and yes, I'll say use only pure lead balls in the antiques. If you've got good spark, there's no reason why 3F will not work well for the primer charge, I use it all the time in my flinters, I use 2F for priming sometimes too. Use only 2F or 3F in the barrel, never use 4F for the main charge! Light charges on the antiques, there's no reason to ask for problems or destroy a piece of history - if you want a high powered flintlock pistol, email me.

Quote:
Mykeal said:
Obviously you want a clean, bright bore with no pits, but be sure there are no bulges. That's the gunsmith's first priority. Use only real black powder, no synthetics.
That's excellent advice well worth repeating!

I won't get into the patch/ball bunching & crushing debate because there are far too many variables to consider and if there's a possibility of trouble, the barrel should not be used - If the barrel is bad or "suspect" your options are: either replace the barrel or finish the restoration and keep that pistol as a historical wall-hanger and buy a shooter.
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Old August 25, 2008, 12:03 AM   #13
4V50 Gary
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Why not get a reproduction barrel fitted to the handgun stock? That way you can fire it with great confidence of model metallurgy and still preserve the original barrel?
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Old August 25, 2008, 02:43 PM   #14
Dave Gafvert
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Shooting original antique pistols

I thank you gentlemen for all the feed back. I've been shooting and repairing
antique guns since 1951 (57 years. I have seen alot of fine guns destroyed
by not knowing the basic laws of black powder. Common sence would requier
the person to do as much research as possible on the subject. All of you have given some good points. back in 54 I was stationed at camp Gordon GA.
and met Turner Kerkland at a gun shop, we hit it off and had lunch. In his
catalog he has a very good list of do's and don'ts. When I was ststioned in England I had the oppurtunity view some super high quality cased sets of English pistols. And in talking to the dealers gained alot of knowledge on the
care and use of these fine guns. Alot of these arms had cast balls and molds
with them. I found that some of the smooth bores had cast balls balls that
had round balls that had only 0.003 to 0.005 clearence between the ball and
the bores ! that would suggest that they were fired with wads under and over the bullet. I shoot them because I want to evaluate them so I can see
what the owners had to work with/contend with. I test fired a 50 Cal, screw
barrel with a bullet size that was fired with a ball 0.004 over the bore diameter, from a distance of 3 feet it DENTED a pine plank ! So if the man that fired it would have given his thug a very nasty bruise if he were wearing
a heavey jacket. I have also run tests on 41 RF, 32 RF shorts and longs.
Cheers to you all
Dave
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Old August 25, 2008, 03:44 PM   #15
James K
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I have not fired bunches of flintlocks, but I have a couple of Model 1816 muskets, two Mode 1836 pistols, and a flint Pennsylvania rifle that I fire. I second checking for defects before firing and also for determining the original powder charge and not exceeding it.

But I have to ask mykeal what is accomplished by polishing the pan to a mirror finish? The touchhole isn't at the bottom of the pan, so I fail to see what polishing it accomplishes.

Jim
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Old August 25, 2008, 07:33 PM   #16
mykeal
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Polishing the pan keeps it from building up combustion byproducts as quickly as it might otherwise. The pan doesn't get the benefit of the lube the bore gets. It's very easy to just blow the byproducts out. And post shooting cleaning is easier, also.
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Old August 25, 2008, 08:16 PM   #17
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I've only been building and repairing ML's for 27 years but Dave is correct, most of the original, especially English made, ran the balls close to bore diameter. I've never personally seen any pistols loaded with wads & ball but I know the use of paper cartridges were fairly common - the additional thickness of the paper wrapped around the ball combined with the remainder of the empty powder section of the cartridge that was wadded up under the ball as it was inserted in the bore all helped in creating a half decent gas seal but some clearance was just about always allowed to counter the build-up of fouling.

Polishing the flash pan isn't "necessary" but it's not a bad thing either, also polishing the flash pan cover (bottom of frizzen) is a benefit too. Being that it's an original, you may want to limit the amount of modifications you make to it. It may not have a considerable value right now but 10, 20 or 40 years from now, it may fetch quite a tidy sum....just something to consider.
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Old August 27, 2008, 10:07 PM   #18
Dave Gafvert
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Shooting original antique pistols

Thanks. Why take a chance removing the barrel and loading a heavy charge
to test it. If it blows you have what is left of a fine piece of history that
is now a parts gun. THEY DID NOT SHOOT HEAVY LOADS, there was no reason for it. Alot of these pistols were of the same caliber as the muskets of the time but that doesn't mean you use the same powder charge. Be very
careful when you remove the barrel as most of them were pinned to the stock and the pins would rust in place and damage the stock when you try to remove them. I always put a pice of duct tape on the side you are going to press the pin out so it will not rip a splinter of would when you push it out,
und alway pick the side with a bit of a countersink this also lessons the chance of damaging the wood. when you have removed it polish it and put
soms beeswax in the hole and on the pin to keep it from rusting in place.

Cheers Dave
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Old August 28, 2008, 02:52 PM   #19
Dave Gafvert
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Shooting original antique pistols

ERROR ERROR...... primary directive.....self destruct "Wood" not "would".
My apologies.
OLD guy
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Old September 2, 2008, 12:04 AM   #20
nemo2econ
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Thanks for the great technical advice!

I want to thank all of you gentlemen who have taken the time to share so much good wisdom and experience of many years of working with flintlocks in attempting to answer the question I started this thread with. Your particular knowledge of this specialized field will not return empty. Many an antique flintlock owner will benefit from it. Godspeed.
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Old September 2, 2008, 08:25 PM   #21
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It's all about community and friends for those of us on the darkside!
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Old October 2, 2008, 12:17 AM   #22
Arquebus
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So, nemo2econ, have you shot the flintlock pistol yet? We want a report & pictures!!
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Old June 8, 2009, 08:46 PM   #23
Chicago antiquez
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I need some info on this flintlock

I need some info on this flintlock armilonic@yahoo.com
Attached Images
File Type: jpg l_b7226736157a480187e1861ae4abd56e.jpg (18.8 KB, 119 views)
File Type: jpg l_d506daa6353c4141a2ac127574548811.jpg (23.2 KB, 88 views)
File Type: jpg l_a3899d7289f148bd9ed80e4122b383d7.jpg (18.0 KB, 71 views)

Last edited by Chicago antiquez; June 8, 2009 at 08:47 PM. Reason: forgot to specify
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Old June 8, 2009, 11:39 PM   #24
4V50 Gary
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Looks like a Spanish Lock to me. One spring does all instead of two springs found on French, British or German or other Europeans locks.
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Old June 18, 2009, 10:56 AM   #25
Dave Gafvert
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Wasit?

I must agree. It is a Spanish lock, are there any proof marks on the the
barrel or lock plate.
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