View Full Version : wheel lock

January 30, 2001, 12:40 AM
howdy all --

Out of a wild curiousity, I've been looking recently at information on the old wheel-lock muskets. Most of what I've read so far says they were insanely expensive for the time, and unreliable and persnickety to boot. Does anyone out there have some real life experience with the things to verify the latter?

Also, I remember hearing at one point they were banned in one kingdom or another, effectively halting firearms development for some years before someone finally came up with that delight of modern engineering, the flintlock. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name or country. Can anyone verify this?

Thanks muchly!!


Doc Hudson
January 30, 2001, 02:07 AM

We have the wheel-lock to thank for the development of real pistols vs. the handcannons of earlier years. Matchlock pistols just were not practical.

The wheel-lock's mechanism is very complicated, especially in comparison to the matchlock. Any competent blacksmith could make or repair a matchlock. To repair a broke wheel-lock took the services of a jeweler or gunsmith.

The Wheel-lock was also the first practical hunting firearm. Kind of hard to stalk a deer or boar while fumbling with a lighted slowmatch.

I do not know of any country banning the wheel-lock, how ever England at one time banned the manufacture of firearms less than three feet long. History has repeated itself and they've recently done the same thing again.

If you are interested, Dixie Gun Works offers an Wheel-lock Musket for sale. I think it is abou a .70 caliber gun.

A question for you. Do scholars still credit Leonardo daVinci with the invention ot the wheel-lock mechanism?


Alex Johnson
January 30, 2001, 09:30 PM
Unless Dixie's got something new in their catalog I think the musket your referring too is a Matchlock (a pretty nice one though). Wheelocks can be very reliable if their made correctly, the trouble is that there are some serious weaknesses too the mechanisim. In all fairness a lot of the complaints about the reliability of wheellocks came from the really complicated ones that had self priming pans, automatic pan covers and a host of other innovations. The dead simple models, used by the military and non-royal hunters were often more reliable in these respects (the more tricks and gimics a mechanisim has the more that can go wrong with it, it's true with mechanical and electrical systems to this day). Today a properly made wheellock can prove to be almost as fast as a good flintlock and considerably faster than a flintlock that missfires on the first shot (wheellocks seldom do this). I'm building a reproduction of a wheellock mechanism right now, I might even get it stocked some day. I beleive that there are some companies that supply wheellocks fully assembled and ready to shoot, but I didn't think that Dixie was one of them.

Doc Hudson
January 31, 2001, 02:23 AM
By thunder Alex you are right!!!!!

Not just one matchlock but two, an English style musket and a Japanese style snapping lock matchlock.

I'd have sworn that I could remember seeing a wheellock musket, or pistol in a Dixie catalog a one time. I also thought I remembered a Wheellock being offered for sale along with their various flint and percussion locks.

It's hell getting old. If it's not CRS it is halucinations.

Doc :o

Alex Johnson
January 31, 2001, 08:14 PM
I believe your right, Dixie some years ago did offer a wheellock with the rest of their percussion and flintlocks. I never got a chance to examine this lock close up, but as I recall it was fairly expensive for the time. I know that someone does manufacture a wheellock pistol, I have seen advertisements for it from time to time, but can't remember who was doing it.

4V50 Gary
January 31, 2001, 09:57 PM
There's a fellow, Dale Shinn, who makes his own matchlocks and wheellocks. His customers are ECW reenactors and some of his work is quite good (they're suppose to stand up to skirmishing - getting struck with a saber or deflecting a pike).

February 1, 2001, 01:44 AM
Thanks for the info guys!
Got a question.. most of the pictures I've found online of these things seem to be pretty chunky, highly ornate German hunting arms. Were they used for regular military service much at the time? Also, were they used much on this side of the pond for hunting/defense, or were they pretty much obselete by the time the Colonies really got going (1710-ish, as I recall, for the lasting settlements?)

Did wheel-locks ever make it onto what we'd call long rifles today, or were they pretty much confined to muskets, pistols, and whatever you'ld call those smoothbore things in-between in size?

And lastly.. a call for wild speculation. *grin* Had the flinter and snap-haunce not come along, do you think the wheel-lock was advanced/servicable/cheap enough that firearms still would have rose to prominance, or would they have remained a pricey curiosity while most folks held onto their crossbows?

Thanks again for the knowledge -- it's great to hear!


Doc Hudson
February 1, 2001, 11:18 AM

The wheellock did see some military service, but not as a general issue service weapon, cost was too prohibitive. Wheel lock pistols were used widely by elite cavalry units for attacks against infantry positions. They would charge by waves and discharge a pair of pistols, and clear away for the next waves, reforming and reloading for a fresh asault. Using these tactics, a well trained cavalry unit could keep up a steady withering fire on a line of pikemen and musketeers.

BTW, I found preferences to some bans on wheellocks. First the Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire/Austrian Empire forbade the making of wheel locks in 1517. He died the next year and it is doubtfull if the ban was ever enforced. Also in 1522 the Italian city of Ferrara forbade any one to carry a crossbow or firearm, especially wheellocks, in the city. Modena, Milan, Florence and other cities enacted similar laws.

I will not state that there were no wheellock guns made in Colonial America, but I've never seen any reference to one. There were wheellocks brought by the Explorers and Settlers, but generally speaking the action was too expensive, too delicate and too tempermental for use on the frontiers.

Wheel lock rifles were indeed made. Not along the Pennsylvania/Kentucky Long Rifle pattern, but there were many wheellock rifles built, including some relatively successful breech-loading rifles. One made for Henry VIII is on display in the Tower Weapons Collection.

Most wheellocks were indeed overly ornate for modern tastes, but in a way it makes sense. Most of these surviving guns were made for members of the nobility. They were built by the premier gunsmiths of the day and were intended to be works of art as much as weapons. Hence the enlays, engraving and plating. I have seen photos of some very practical and workman like wheellocks that I would not hesitate to take to the hunting fields or the shooting range. In fact I have a photo of what was probably the last wheellock made for serious use. It is an elegantly functional dueler built by LePage in 1829.

I believe that the snaphaunce and the flintlock were natural developments from the wheellock, and were inevitable. Had they not come on the scene when they did, I suspect that the matchlock would have been used even longer than it was. After all, the matchlock musket remained a Eurpoean standard infantry weapon almost to 1700, long after the development of the flintlock. The wheellock was simply too expensive the build for the ordinary freeholder, long hunter or frontier settler.

BTW, as an ineresting aside,there was even a wheellock capable of being fired underwater. It was invented by a French watchmaker named Peirre Bergier in the 1620's.

Doc Hudson