Ian from Forgotten Weapons displays what looks like the ultimate steampunk firearm: a modern reproduction of an early wheellock muzzleloading rifle.
Existing at least as early as 1512, wheellocks of this form are a marvel of firearms ingenuity, inventiveness, and, depending on who made them, craftsmanship.
Ian explains the differences between wheellocks like this and the earlier matchlock muzzleloader, which the wheellock replaced, to some extent, in certain situations. There were, he says, both good and not-so-good attributes to both weapons.
One of the more interesting tidbits he shares is that such firearms were carried by armored knights. The fact that knights rode around on horses in full armor, carrying one or two short barreled wheellock longarms or pistols is where the concept of a cavalry carbine really began. Fascinating!
Ultimately, flintlocks made the wheellock largely obsolete, but they still look like a lot of fun to shoot.
The firing mechanism of the wheellock is also interesting and intricate. Whereas in a flintlock, the flint is in motion and strikes steel to create the spark that ignites the powder that fires the gun, in the wheellock a small wheel of serrated steel spins against a stationary piece of iron pyrite, creating the spark that fires the gun. The weapon’s firing mechanism – the steel wheel – must be wound with a wrench against a spring.
Firing is a multi-step process, which Ian nicely explains.
The men who used these weapons had to be expert marksmen, as they had to hold their sights on target while the gun’s mechanism engaged, ignited the powder in the outer pan, which in turn ignited the powder in the barrel and projected the bullet forward.
It’s tough enough to hold a flintlock steady through its firing process, but the wheellock seems extra cumbersome, especially for us modern shooters, who are used to practically instantaneous firing.
In any event, by today’s measure, these guns look to be a joy to shoot. The process of preparing, loading and firing such a gun imbues the ritual of it with importance and makes each shot seem climactic.
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