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For other uses, see Flintlock (disambiguation)

A flintlock pistol being fired.

Flintlock was the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, and continued to be in common use throughout the next century and the Golden Age of Piracy.


The flintlock mechanism produced sparks when a piece of flint, held in the jaws of a spring-loaded hammer or "cock" struck the hardened steel face of the "frizzen", knocking the frizzen forward to uncover a small pan of gunpowder underneath. The resulting spark ignited the powder in the pan and this flame was transferred through a small hole to ignite the main powder charge inside the barrel. Under damp or rainy conditions, the gunpowder in the pan could get wet and the gun would be unable to fire.

Throughout 17th century, firearms with the flintlock mechanism have been used, most notably in the Golden Age of Piracy. Individuals that were either pirates or officers of the British or Spanish Royal Navy have been known to use this weapon.



Main article: Pistol

Flintlock pistols were used as self-defense weapons and as a military arm. Their effective range was short, and they were frequently used as an adjunct to a sword. Pistols were usually smoothbore although some rifled pistols were produced. Arguably the most elegant of the pistol designs was the Queen Anne pistol, which was made in all sizes.


Flintlock muskets were the mainstay of European armies between 1660 and the mid-18th century. A musket was a muzzle-loading smoothbore long gun that was loaded with a round lead ball, but it could also be loaded with shot for hunting. For military purposes, the weapon was loaded with ball, or a mixture of ball with several large shot (called buck and ball), and had an effective range of about 75 to 100 meters. Smoothbore weapons that were designed for hunting birds were called "fowlers." Flintlock muskets tended to be of large caliber and usually had no choke, so they could also be used to fire a ball.

Military flintlock muskets tended to weigh approximately ten pounds, as heavier weapons were found to be too cumbersome, and lighter weapons were not rugged or heavy enough to be used in hand to hand combat. They were usually designed to be fitted with a bayonet. On flintlocks, the bayonet played a much more significant role, often accounting for a third or more of all battlefield casualties.



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