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Starting a Fire with a Flintlock Rifle

September 1, 2011

Here’s an interesting variation on the flint and steel fire. Old-time woodsmen often used their flintlock rifles to start a fire, and if you have a flintlock you can do the same thing

For those of you not familiar with how a flintlock works, I’ll provide a very brief description of the relevant parts. The “lock” or hammer assembly is on the side of the gun just above the trigger. The outside of the lock has four main parts: (1) the hammer, which has a clamp holding a small piece of flint-rock, (2) the powder pan, which is a small pan that holds priming powder, (3) the pan cover, which is a small, hinged lid that closes over the top of the powder pan, and (4) the pan spring, which keeps a little tension on the pan cover to keep it closed. When you pull the trigger, the hammer falls and the flint rock strikes the upturned portion to the pan cover, called the frizzen. The pan cover is knocked open and a shower of sparks from the flint falls into the powder pan. Pictured below: Lock of a flintlock rifle.

As you can tell from the above description, the flintlock uses flint striking steel to produce a spark; just like you do when you use your fire steel and a piece of flint.

So, here’s how you start a fire with a flintlock rifle. First MAKE SURE THAT THE GUN IS NOT LOADED. Never, never, never try to do this with a loaded gun. The gun may discharge and injure you or someone else. After you’ve made dead certain that the gun isn’t loaded, cock the hammer back to half cock, lift the pan cover, lay a piece of char-cloth on the open pan, and close the pan cover. Pictured below: top, flintlock with pan cover raised and char-cloth in pan; bottom, pan cover closed on char-cloth.

Now all you have to do is point the gun in a safe direction (safety first, even though you made sure that the gun wasn’t loaded), pull the hammer back to full cock, and pull the trigger. The hammer will fall, the sparks will fly, and your char-cloth will be burning. Pictured below: top, Flintlock after trigger pull; bottom, glowing spark on char-cloth.

Calmly open the pan cover, retrieve the smoldering char-cloth, and place it in your tinder bundle. Blow gently and the tinder will ignite. Pretty simple huh?

Back in the day they actually made a device with a flint lock and an attached hopper to hold tinder. It was designed to do nothing but start fires. Kind of an early version of the cigarette lighter.

Speaking of cigarette lighters, you can actually use a smoldering piece of char-cloth to light a cigarette, cigar, or a pipe. I occasionally smoke a pipe, and I have used this method of lighting it many times.

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