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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
The Wheellock was the next stage in the evolution of firearms following the Matchlock, it was designed to eliminate the flaws that plagued the Matchlock and has a superior, if not more complicated firing mechanism. The origins of the Wheellock are surrounded in mystery and there is much debate on who invented it and where it originated from, they first started making an appearance in the early 1500’s and were used alongside the Matchlock, the later Snaphance and Flintlock. Due to the complexity of the design and cost of manufacture the Wheellock was never mass produced for military units. They were used by the military, but not in as great a number as other firearms such as the Matchlock, Snaphance and Flintlocks.
The inventor of the Wheel lock is still unknown, there is a great deal of support for the theory that Leonardo Da Vinchi was the inventor of the Wheellock, as it was depicted in a series of diagrams by him that date either from the mid 1490’s, or the early decade of the 1500’s, the exact date has yet to be pinned down. There are also drawings of the Wheellock in a German book of inventions dated 1505 and a document from Austriadated 1507 referring to the purchase of a Wheellock. So there is a theory that the Wheellock was invented by an as yet unknown, possibly German gunsmith, or mechanic, this theory has yet to gain strong support and until it can be proven who did invent the Wheellock, its origins can only be counted as speculation.
Other documentation of the Wheellock proves to be quite interesting as they were the cause of the first gun control laws to be implemented, due to their design they were easy to use and conceal when primed and ready to fire, which was aided by the small size of this firearm. They were first banned in Austriain 1517, by the Emperor Maximilian I and from 1518 other areas of theHoly Roman Empirefollowed suit, with several of the Italian states also outlawing them from 1520’s-30’s.
They worked by a spinning spring loaded steel wheel, which was grooved, pressing against pyrite causing sparks to be created igniting gunpowder in the flash pan, to fire the main charge. This mechanism was highly complex to produce, which made it more expensive to manufacture than the more basic firearms such as the Matchlock, yet it held great advantages over these. It was less likely to be affected by damp, or wet weather, which caused many miss-fires with the matchlock and it could be reloaded quickly and easily, using only one hand, without the need for such close attention by the user, to avoid mishaps when loading. It did not have the tell tale glow and smell of the burning match, which was the case with the Matchlock and did not have the high running cost of having to have a constantly burning match to be ready to fire.
The firing mechanism was comprised of four main parts the dog, the wheel, the pan and the sear, or trigger mechanism, all of which had to function correctly for the gun to fire. The dog was a sprung-loaded arm, which pivoted on the out side of the lock plate holding pyrite in vice like jaws on the swinging end of the arm. The dog had two positions it could be locked into, one of these was the safe position, where the dog was pushed towards the muzzle, which meant that while it was here the gun could not be fired by accident and the operational position, where the dog was pulled towards the operator and the pyrite was brought into contact with either the pan cover, or if there was no pan cover the wheel.
The wheel was made from hardened steel and grooved so that it would cause the friction needed to generate sparks from the pyrite, flint was not used as it would wear down the wheel much faster owing to its hardness. It projected through a slot cut to the exact size for it to fit into the base of the priming pan, held in place by a shaft. This also held a square nut outside the lockplate, which was used for the tensioning of the spring by the use of a wrench and on the other side, there was a forged cam, which was connected to a short, flat chain that was held in place by a grove in a strong v-shaped tension spring. This was normally held in place by a screw and headed bracket that connected through the upstands of the lockplate.
The pan as with the other muzzle loading firearms of its time was there to capture and transmit the initial fire to the main charge within the breach of the muzzle. This was achieved by s small hole, or vent running from the breach to the pan, so that when the powder in the pan ignited the flame would traverse this vent to the main charge, thus causing the weapon to fire. The priming pan of wheellocks, were designed in such a way so that they would provide protection from the elements for the initial charge that they held. The pan could be opened and closed by had, but would also open upon firing by the means of an arm in the lockplate, which was attached to the cam of the wheel.
The sear, or trigger mechanism was constructed around a z-shaped sear that pivoted between two upstanding brackets that were either riveted, or braised to the lock plate, with the trigger engaging into one arm of the sear. The other arm of the sear passed through the lockplate and interlocked into a blind hole in the innermost side of the wheel, holding it in place preventing any rotation, until the trigger was pulled. When this happened the sear made a slight anti-clockwise rotation, retracting the arm in the wheel, thus enabling the wheel to spin and the Wheellock to fire.
However it was the complexity of the firearm which was its downfall, they had to be produced by highly skilled gunsmiths, who could not only put the mechanism together, but build all of the parts needed for the firing mechanism to work. The complexity also meant that if a Wheellock was not carefully and regularly maintained, they were prone to malfunction. The early versions of this firearm were prone to failure due to the poor quality of the spring mechanism needed for them to be fired this problem was soon over come as the proficiency of manufacture improved. Even though it was superseded by the Flintlock, which was far less complicated to produce, cheaper, and less likely to malfunction, the Wheellock was still held in favour by some, due to faster firing it had owing to the sparks being produced directly in the pan, over having to fall from the frizzen to ignite the powder. They also didn’t have to be held upright to fire and could be fired if the gun was held at a 90 degree angle, which in some situations could be advantageous. In a way they do still have an impact on modern day life as the mechanism in mechanical lighters, with the wheel and flint being used to create the spark which ignites the flame is very similar to the ignition process of the Wheellock.
Article by Alastair Millen
The matchlock was the first hand held firearm to incorporate a firing mechanism, know as a ‘lock,’ to fire the shot. This design enabled the gunner to have both hands free to hold the weapon and keep their eye on the target, as the lock ignited the flash pan when the trigger was pulled, over having to lower a lit ‘match’ into the pan by hand. This helped improve the accuracy of the firearm making it superior to the hand cannon in this aspect and this development was to pave the way for the development of the flintlock. The matchlock first started being used in Europein the mid-15th centaury, but the idea of this firearm was first documented in an Austrian manuscript 40 years before they started making an appearance. The first illustration of the matchlock mechanism is found in a manuscript dated 1475 and by the start of the 16th centaury they were becoming universally used throughoutEurope.
The European matchlock used a clamp to hold a slow match at the end of a curved leaver, which was known as a serpentine, commonly mounted in front of the flash pan instead of behind it, attached to this was a leaver that protruded from the bottom of the gun, in later models a trigger was used. This was pulled by the person using the matchlock to fire the weapon, which caused the clamp to be released and drop the slow match into the flash pan, igniting the priming powder. The ignition of this caused a flash to flow through the touch hole, igniting the main charge, which fired the weapon. When the trigger was released the sprung loaded clam would be pulled back from the flash pan, this allowed for the reloading on the weapon, for safety reasons the slow match would be removed from the clamp before this was done. It is also worth noting that both ends of the slow match were lit in case of the slow match being extinguished during the firing process. It could be quickly turned around and replaced into the serpentine, over having to relight it before firing could continue.
There was a version of the matchlock which used a spring to hold the lock in the firing position and this was released by either, pressing a button, pulling the trigger, or pulling out the a string. This was used in Europe from 1465 to 1640 however it was not favoured by troops as often the force of the concussion of the slow match into the flash pan would extinguish the slow match, which was a drawback in combat. It was however favoured by people taking part in target practice or competitions.
One important step forward and developed with the Matchlock, was to lead in time to the development of the revolver pistol. To add to the rate of fire of the Matchlock pistols in the 1500’s some were produced with a series of barrels which would be primed by the user and rotated by hand after each barrel was fired. These would commonly have six barrels and were known as ‘Pepper-Box Pistols.’
The match lock had issues which would lead it the decline in use and the need to devise a superior firearm. One of these was to make it an expensive weapon to use and that was the necessity to keep the slow match burning at all times to enable for quick firing of the weapon. So for example if a man was standing watch all night the slow match would have to be lit at all time and a vast quantity of slow match would be used, in a year up to a mile of the slow match would be burned away. In damp or wet weather the slow match would become damp and would either go out, or become impossible to light, which would reduce the effectiveness of the weapon. The burning slow match at night would betray the gunners position with the glow from it often being visible as well as this it had a distinctive smell, which could also lead to the detection of the units equipped with them.
These drawbacks lead to the need to improve the design to make a more effective and efficient weapon, which was the driving force behind the self igniting firing mechanisms like the wheellock. With the development of these the matchlock was to fall from common use as superior designs were developed.
Article by Alastair Millen
The hand cannons were the first stage in the development of the musket and other firearms. They have a long history starting its life in the far-east and it is believed, by the historical and archaeological evidence found to date, to have originated in Chinastarting its life as the hand cannon. Which is possibly the oldest and simplest portable firearm manufactured, most examples had no firing mechanism and relied on an external ignition source, to ignite the black powder and fire the shot. The earliest evidence of this weapon of war dates back to the 12th Centaury and it is only an illustration of a figure using one of these, found in Sichuan in China. This evidence is the main base of the hand cannons presumed origins. The earliest reliable proof of them reaching Europe is in the 14th Centaury and they were also used by the Arabian nations at around the same time.
It consisted of a barrel, which was attached to some form of stock which was more than likely made from wood, although examples have been found with metal stocks. There are other examples found where there has been metal handles protruding from the barrel instead of the traditional stock. It is worth noting that in some Chinese illustrations the hand cannon was made entirely out of bamboo, with no metal being apparently used. To fire the hand cannon it normally took two people, one to hold the weapon and the other to apply the souse of ignition, either a hot iron rod, smouldering embers, coals, or even slow burning matches. The alternate method only required one person, known as the gunner, who would hold the hand cannon on a rest, or using a hook moulded onto the barrel against a wall, and apply the ignition source himself.
The ammunition used in these hand cannons was highly varied, from pebbles, or small rocks that would fit down the barrel, collected from the ground, bolts of arrows were another form of ammunition utilised. There were also more sophisticated forms of ammunition used as well, that were produced specifically for the hand cannon, which were cast iron ‘cannon’ balls and carved spherical rocks, to try and give a more accurate shot. Owing to the time and cost of producing these, as well as their limited availability in the field, more often they fired what ever was too hand, over the manufactured ammunitions.
The early examples of the hand cannon were not the most efficient of battle field weapons, due to their crude construction and the low quality powder that they used. They were cumbersome weapons, highly inaccurate and often lacked sufficient power to punch through the light armour, if they hit their target, or did not fail to fire. There could well have been some psychological edge to using these, with the loud bangs and flashes, they could have spooked the horses of cavalry units and caused fear to those troops who had never come across these before. The smoke produced could have held the added bonus of providing some cover so that the enemy troops could not see the units enveloped in the smoke they produced when firing.
Later examples held some significant developments which were carried over to later firearms, like the matchlock, which improved the efficiency, but the overall accuracy was still an issue. The addition of a flash pan to the side of the barrel replaced the touch hole at the top of the barrel, which helped keep the touch powder dry and helped prevent premature firing. These flash pans were to being with covered by pieces of leather, but these were replaced by hinged metal coverings as time went on. The addition of the flash pan improved the firing of the hand cannon, but still did not prevent misfires totally. A small quantity of very finely ground powder was placed in the pan and when this was ignited it would ignite with a flash that would pass through the touch hole, setting off the main charge used to fire the shot used. It was the misfiring of the flash pan that lead to the expression ‘A flash in the pan’ developing in the 17th Centaury, which means failure after a flashy showy start, or a momentary sensation/show of no real importance.
The other improvement made to the hand cannon that improved its efficiency against armoured troops, was the development of higher quality gunpowder that had a higher explosive charge which would launch the shot with a much greater and deadly force. So that they went from being ineffective against light armour to being able to puncture heavy armour, this made their use on the battle field more effective. They still had their draw backs, but their advantages started to outweigh them. They were easy to mass produce, the gunners needed little training to use them in the field, they were a good ‘terror weapon’ and their armour penetration was superior to the crossbow and the long bow. In the wet they were not effective, as the powder would become damp and cause misfires, which was a draw back that also affected the crossbow, which in the wet was not an efficient weapon and was also more expensive to produce.
They were more accurate than the hand cannon, but were equally as slow to reload as the hand cannon. Neither of these could match the accuracy of the long bow, which when used with bodkin point arrows was lethal against armoured troops, however to become a skilled bowman it took years of training and continuous practice from a very early age. This training was not needed for either the cross bow, or the hand cannon, which could be used by less highly skilled troops. Also good quality Yew, which was needed to produce the long bow, was becoming in scarce supply as the medieval period progressed and as supplies of Yew became almost exhausted. This bolstered the use of firearms, as there was not the quantity of Yew available to manufacture the amount of bows needed. So despite the hand cannons early draw backs, with improvements made to the design and new firearms evolving from it, they all became much more common, almost ubiquitous ranged weapons of European warfare.
Article by Alastair Millen
We at Scottish Detecting are keen to promote good metal detecting practices so that we all can play a part in preserving the past so that it is there for future generations to see and that the finds made add to the tapestry of rich history that Scotland has to offer. We want people to enjoy this hobby, but at the same time be responsible with it, so that peoples detecting habits promote its validity in playing a part in enriching our historical and archaeological knowledge of the areas we detect.
Getting landowners permission to detect on their lands, not detecting on sites of scientific and historical interest, obtaining Crown Foreshore permits for beach detecting and the reporting of finds that are covered by the Treasure Trove acts. Also following the country code and even helping clear areas of litter whilst detecting. This we feel is the right way to go about metal detecting and we encourage people who are taking part in this hobby to do the same.
There is a blight on the hobby something that is known as ‘Nighthawking’ where, mainly at night, people go out and detect where they like and taking their finds with them to sell on, or keep in their own collections. This is often done under the cover of darkness, especially on sites that metal detecting is not allowed and the history is, well stolen away. This gives the whole hobby a bad name and at times a lot of bad press, which casts a stain over metal detecting as a whole.
Landowners whose lands have been pillaged by these ‘Nighthawks’ are far from inclined to give permission to people wishing to detect on their lands, owing to people abusing their land. It is a side of the hobby that we all would be better off rid of. It is not something that we can stamp out over night, but by promoting and practicing good metal detecting etiquette we can alleviate the damage caused by these ‘Nigththawks’ to the image of the hobby. If we all band together and follow these simple steps and promote good metal detecting practices it will show that not all of us act out of personal gain.
‘Nighthawking’ is against the law, and lead to prosecution over the following
Trespass: Nighthawking is often performed on private land where permission to survey and dig has been refused.
Digging on Scheduled Sites: Digging on any sites which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments without Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is illegal.
Declaration of Treasure: The Treasure Act 1996 requires all finds that are legally defined as treasure to be declared to a local coroner or the police within 14 days. Breach of this law can result in a £5,000 fine, a term of imprisonment up to three months or both.
Theft: In theUK, ownership of finds on private lands, unless declared treasure, rests with the land owners. As many ‘Nighthawkers’ take finds to sell on to private dealers, this counts as theft under UK Law.
A study into ‘Nighthawking’ has been undertaken and you can read more about it and the findings of this study here: http://www.helm.org.uk/server/show/nav.20434
So please, if you are new to the hobby get in touch with local Metal detecting clubs and other enthusiasts, and join them on their detecting days. Not only will you get some great hints and tips on how to get the best out of this hobby, it will also help promote good detecting practice and etiquette.
Article by Alastair Millen
Today at approximately 3pm I receive a knock at the door and here I see the postman with a box sealed shut with Minelab tape keeping it secure. I rush inside to open the box to find the following items inside -
Minelab Backpack (A must for any true detectorist)
Minelab Bottle Opener Keyring
Minelab Hat (Hurry up winter lol)
Minelab Lip Balm x 2 (Trying to say I’m a girl are we Minelab?) lol just kidding
Minelab LED Torch (Excellant little gadget)
Minelab Hand Sanitiser
Minelab Water Bottle in anodised red (Very useful!!)
and a Minelab 1GB USB stick which contains their latest catalogue too
It also had a little note saying “Hi Rob, Enjoy!, Rachel”
I would just like to say a huge thank you to Sonya and Rachel from Minelab and to Minelab themselves for sending this out and putting a big smile on my face , should you guys ever want any product test/reviews done on our site please let us know.