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Black Powder

A Brief History

Before firearms came of age in the late 1800s Black Powder was the propellent for cannons, rifles and pistols. It was also used in dynamite and other early explosives. While superseded by smokeless powder it still is fairly widespread. The boom and recoil from a black powder rifle transports you back to when shots had to be taken with care and diligence. At the point when there was a transition to smokeless powder.

In the most recognizable form black powder was simply a matter of ramming a charge of powder down the barrel, slamming a lead ball on top then priming a pan. A pull of the trigger later sent a piece of flint 'dogged' into the hammer down upon the pan. Thus igniting the priming charge which in turn would in turn set off the main charge in the barrel, propelling the lead ball out of the musket or rifle. For However, prior to the 17th century it was more complex.

The earliest of blackpowder firearms were hand-gonnes, hackebuts and arquebus', the first was like a minature hand-cannon and often risky to use. The latter two were more user-friendly typically. From about the end of the 15th century the stock, trigger and barrel evolved into the arquebus (or hackebutt in England). These operated using a piece of slow burning material that was fitted to the hammer and lowered using a trigger onto the flashpan. Then came the flint-lock musket and rifle. With the rifle though a patch was used to make a snug fit between the powder and ball upon ignition. Also the rifle had spiraling grooves cut inside the barrel to impart spin upon the projectile.

Then in the 1820s percussion caps replaced the flint 'sparker' and the need to 'prime the pan'. Percussion caps were much more reliable to use in the rain and wet conditions, they could be slightly quicker to reload (although sometimes more fiddly). Handguns with a multi-percussion capped cylinder that allowed more than one shot to be fired quickly.

In the WONA / American Civil War Black Powder firearms saw their last major use in a large-scale conflict. Brass cartridges with their own percussion cap and projectile were common. Repeating rifles were deployed by the Union forces with black-powder. Not long after smokeless powder was invented.

Black Powder Firearms in the Modern Age

In the past few decades Black Powder guns have seen a resurgence in popularity. High quality reproductions now are available. For the survival-orientated the Black Powder Rifle category of firearms offers advantages over the more modern types.

Advantages of a Black Powder Rifle / Pistol

  • Rugged Construction.
  • Few working parts.
  • Ammunition can be fabricated from wheel weights incredibly cheaply.
  • No need for complex reloading equipment
  • Flintlock ignition lasts for ages, can be replaced easily.
  • Hard hitting and accurate.

Disadvantages of a Black Powder Rifle / Pistol

  • Slow to Reload.
  • Percussion caps difficult to manufacture.
  • Troublesome to clean after firing.
  • Noisy, delayed-firing compared to SP.
  • Risk of barrel damage and injury if excess powder is used.
  • Not nicknamed a 'Smoke Pole' for nothing, expect lots of smoke on firing.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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