Loading and firing Matchlocks

By Colin Armstrong Maître des cannons

This Document will outline the loading and discharging of black powder hand held firearms that have the priming powder ignited by means of a burning cord or match. Larger weapons such as cannon are covered in a separate document that can be found here. This document is still under construction 29/08/2001

Small pole gun or pistola Large pole gun The hand gun Matchlock or serpentine hand gun
Snaplock with match What to do if things go wrong Safety considerations First aid considerations

The principles of loading a black powder weapon are very simple, the safety requirements are likewise simple. As Keith Piggott has been heard to say when teaching gunners " if you should get your powder and match mixed up you will like as not disappear over the trees like a flaming Catherine wheel never to be seen again !" So keep your lit match well away from your powder at all times and we can proceed.

A black powder muzzle loading weapon is basically just a tube with a hole bored nearly all the way down, and with a small hole a  "touchhole" near the closed or "Chamber" end. Powder is pored down the tube from a flask or a measure (including a paper cartridge) and a ball is placed in after it and seated home on top of the powder. A little powder is then placed in the touchhole and the gun is ready to fire. to discharge the ball simply apply a burning match to the powder in the touchhole and Bang the ball is on its way.  Now we just need to do it again and again and again......

So that's the basic idea but doing it well in the confusion of a battlefield is another matter and the main reason behind this document.

Small Pole Gun or Pistola

This is the most basic form of hand gun being a barrel mounted on the end of a wooden stick "not as tasty as some confectionaries but just as satisfying" It is lit be hand either by the gunner (in the case of the smaller versions) or by an assistant called a calliniator (for the bigger ones as it takes two hands to hold them).

 

Step 1

First before using the weapon visually check that it is in fit condition to be used, there are no signs of cracking or fatigue, no rust or serious pitting of the barrel. Then with the rammer, check the barrel is free from obstructions and is clean (if its not clean then clean it ! ) take the vent key or "pricker", and check the touch hole is clear of obstructions. 

It is worth noting that after use the guns are cleaned and oiled. It is therefore possible to have a build up of oil in the bottom of the barrel and this if not removed before loading will cause the gun to misfire which is highly undesirable.

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

 

Step 2

Check you have all the equipment you need for the weapon you are using. You will require, a rammer, a worm, a vent key, slow match, linstock, ball (of the right size) and powder as well of course as the gun. Check also that you know how much powder the gun uses and that you have either:-

  1. A powder flask with the correct measuring nozzle

  2. A powder flask and a powder measure of the correct size for the gun

  3. Paper cartridges containing the correct charge for the gun

  4. Powder in containers pre measured for the gun

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

N.B 

Medieval gunners measured their powder by eye and used experience to "guess" the correct amount. Whilst historically correct it is not an acceptable loading practice for re-enactment. Also note that for re-enactment the ball is omitted from the loading procedure.

 

Step 3

Make sure that you are comfortable and that every thing you need is easily to hand. Now you are ready to light your match and proceed with the battle.

 

Step 4

Place linstock somewhere safe i.e. away from the powder (some gunners like to stick it in their left boot others stick it in the ground) and place the butt of the weapon on the ground. Take your powder (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

Step 5

Place a piece of wadding material into the barrel and whilst covering the touch hole ram it home using your rammer, ensuring that you never place your hand over the end of the rammer. then place a ball into the barrel and a second piece of wadding and ram home, ensuring that the ball is seated firmly against the first piece of wadding and that you keep the touch hole covered. (Wadding is a much debated subject some insist it was not used, others that it was only used occasionally. Keith Piggott and I are of the opinion that it was used, and that the most likely material is sheep's wool as it is readily collectable from any field where sheep have been and it works very well.)  

 (N.B. The rammer must be of wood or a non-ferrous material so as not to cause sparks from contact with the barrel of the weapon)

Step 6

when and only when you are ready to fire the weapon, check the touch hole is clear by using your vent key (you should also feel that there is powder in the bore if not you may have a problem). Prime the weapon by pouring a little powder into the touch hole. Now pick up or ready your linstock, blow any loose ash off the burning end and ensure it is glowing well. Take aim and then touch the burning match to the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming.

Step 7

Place your linstock back to a safe position and blow down the barrel to extinguish any embers in the barrel. You are now ready to load again.

 

Notes for re-enactors

Wading is necessary to provide compression of the powder, to ensure a clean burn of the powder and to make a good "bang". It should however be something that is safe, fairly non flammable and non toxic. Pieces of linen work well as they do not travel any great distance from the weapon and tend not to burn, thus reducing the risk of fires. There are a range of commercial lubricated wads and patches available and I find the felt ones to be very good. For living history events I recommend sheep's wool that has been washed to remove any mud etc.

 

Large pole gun

The larger pole guns require a slight change in approach as it is not possible for one man to hold and fire the weapon without a wall or large pavaise to rest it on. For this reason I will outline the two person approach to using this weapon.

 

Step 1

First before using the weapon visually check that it is in fit condition to be used, there are no signs of cracking or fatigue, no rust or serious pitting of the barrel. Then with the rammer, check the barrel is free from obstructions and is clean (if its not clean then clean it ! ) take the vent key or "pricker", and check the touch hole is clear of obstructions. This is the responsibility of both the gun's crew.

It is worth noting that after use the guns are cleaned and oiled. It is therefore possible to have a build up of oil in the bottom of the barrel and this if not removed before loading will cause the gun to misfire which is highly undesirable.

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

 

Step 2

Check you have all the equipment you need for the weapon you are using. You will require, a rammer, a worm, a vent key, slow match, linstock, ball (of the right size) and powder as well of course as the gun. Check also that you know how much powder the gun uses and that you have either:-

  1. A powder flask with the correct measuring nozzle

  2. A powder flask and a powder measure of the correct size for the gun

  3. Paper cartridges containing the correct charge for the gun

  4. Powder in containers pre measured for the gun

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

N.B 

Medieval gunners measured their powder by eye and used experience to "guess" the correct amount. Whilst historically correct it is not an acceptable loading practice for re-enactment. Also note that for re-enactment the ball is omitted from the loading procedure.

 

Step 3

Make sure that you are comfortable and that every thing you need is easily to hand. Your assistant the calliniator will look after linstock and match, whilst the gunner will take care of powder and ball. Some like to have the calliniator look after the wadding, and ball as well, this is a personal preference. Now once you are ready the calliniator can light the match and you can proceed with the battle.

 

Step 4

With the calliniator supporting the weight of the weapon and covering the touch hole and keeping the burning match clear of the gun (some gunners like to stick it in their left boot others stick it in the ground). Take your powder (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. With larger pieces it may be possible to insert the whole paper cartridge into the weapon. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

Step 5

Place a piece of wadding material into the barrel and ensuring the calliniator is covering the touch hole ram it home using your rammer, ensuring that you never place your hand over the end of the rammer. then place a ball into the barrel and a second piece of wadding and ram home, ensuring that the ball is seated firmly against the first piece of wadding and that you keep the touch hole covered. 

 (N.B. The rammer must be of wood or a non-ferrous material so as not to cause sparks from contact with the barrel of the weapon)

Step 6

when and only when you are ready to fire the weapon, check the touch hole is clear by using your vent key, and if using a paper cartridge inserted into the weapon you will need to pierce it with the vent key (you should also feel that there is powder in the bore if not you may have a problem). Prime the weapon by pouring a little powder into the touch hole. The gunner now supports the weapon in both hands and points it at the target. There are three main ways to hold this weapon, with the hands at waist height and the weapon level with the ground, with the hands shoulder high and the barrel level with the ground (this does allow the gunner to aim quite well) and with the hands holding the weapon so that the barrel is at 45 degrees as in pointing up at a castle. When the gunner is ready the calliniator will touch the burning match to the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming.

N.B. 

It is worth noting that the best way of using these weapons is with a pavaise to rest upon. Crossbowmen used them and they were    commonly found amongst armies of the time, it therefore seems logical that the gunners would have used them as well. There are illustrations of pavaise painted with St Barbara and various other devices including guns. Using a pavaise also helps to keep the weapon away from the gunner avoiding the flash from the touch hole and enables a steady aim to be taken.

Step 7

Blow down the barrel to extinguish any embers in the barrel, and if using an inserted cartridge use a wet mop to extinguish any embers, a dry mop to dry the bore and then use your worm to remove any pieces of cartridge left in the barrel. You are now ready to load again.

 

N.B.

Some people advocate using these large pieces as a one man operation, placing the wooden pole into the ground and discharging the piece like a mortar. I consider this an unsafe practice as firstly it makes the weapon difficult to control under recoil and secondly it places the touch hole in line with the gunner and I have seen gunners get a flash in the face. The company of ordinance does not permit the use of these weapons in this way.

 

The hand gun

This is a basic form of hand gun being a barrel mounted on a wooden tiller like those found on a crossbow.  It is lit by hand by the gunner as it has no lock of any kind. These weapons were the fore runners of the muskets or arquebus.

Step 1

First before using the weapon visually check that it is in fit condition to be used, there are no signs of cracking or fatigue, no rust or serious pitting of the barrel. and no splitting or shaking out of the tiller. Then with the rammer, check the barrel is free from obstructions and is clean (if its not clean then clean it ! ) take the vent key or "pricker", and check the touch hole is clear of obstructions. 

It is worth noting that after use the guns are cleaned and oiled. It is therefore possible to have a build up of oil in the bottom of the barrel and this if not removed before loading will cause the gun to misfire which is highly undesirable.

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

 

Step 2

Check you have all the equipment you need for the weapon you are using. You will require, a rammer, a worm, a vent key, slow match, linstock, ball (of the right size) and powder as well of course as the gun. Check also that you know how much powder the gun uses and that you have either:-

  1. A powder flask with the correct measuring nozzle

  2. A powder flask and a powder measure of the correct size for the gun

  3. Paper cartridges containing the correct charge for the gun

  4. Powder in containers pre measured for the gun

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

N.B 

Medieval gunners measured their powder by eye and used experience to "guess" the correct amount. Whilst historically correct it is not an acceptable loading practice for re-enactment. Also note that for re-enactment the ball is omitted from the loading procedure.

 

Step 3

Make sure that you are comfortable and that every thing you need is easily to hand. Now you are ready to light your match and proceed with the battle.

 

Step 4

Place linstock somewhere safe i.e. away from the powder (some gunners like to stick it in their left boot others stick it in the ground) and place the butt of the weapon on the ground. Take your powder (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

Some gunners do not use a linstock with this weapon but hold the match in a gloved hand. This is fine but a slightly different loading technique is required. Instead of placing the linstock somewhere safe you must make the match as safe as possible. This can be achieved by placing it through the fingers of your left hand so that with your palm up the burning end of the match is pointing down. In this position when the left hand supports the gun for loading the match is as safely away from the powder as is possible. When ready to fire remove the match from the left hand and light the powder in the touch hole. After firing the weapon immediately return the match to the fingers of the left hand.

Step 5

Place a piece of wadding material into the barrel and whilst covering the touch hole ram it home using your rammer, ensuring that you never place your hand over the end of the rammer. then place a ball into the barrel and a second piece of wadding and ram home, ensuring that the ball is seated firmly against the first piece of wadding. 

 (N.B. The rammer must be of wood or a non-ferrous material so as not to cause sparks from contact with the barrel of the weapon)

Step 6

when and only when you are ready to fire the weapon, check the touch hole is clear by using your vent key. (you should also feel that there is powder in the bore if not you may have a problem). Prime the weapon by pouring a little powder into the touch hole. Now pick up or ready your linstock, blow any loose ash off the burning end and ensure it is glowing well. Tuck the butt end of the tiller under your arm, take aim and then touch the burning match to the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming.

Step 7

Place your linstock back to a safe position and blow down the barrel to extinguish any embers in the barrel. You are now ready to load again.

 

Matchlock or serpentine hand gun

This is the first of the muskets that graced the battle fields with the simplest of mechanisms for holding the match and dipping it into the priming powder. I will cover both types here, those with a lock and "trigger" and those with a simple "S" shaped serpentine stuck on the side. I will also give an alternative method for those weapons with a priming pan and cover.

Step 1

First before using the weapon visually check that it is in fit condition to be used, there are no signs of cracking or fatigue, no rust or serious pitting of the barrel. and no splitting or shaking out of the stock. Then with the rammer, check the barrel is free from obstructions and is clean (if its not clean then clean it ! ) take the vent key or "pricker", and check the touch hole is clear of obstructions. 

It is worth noting that after use the guns are cleaned and oiled. It is therefore possible to have a build up of oil in the bottom of the barrel and this if not removed before loading will cause the gun to misfire which is highly undesirable.

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

 

Step 2

Check you have all the equipment you need for the weapon you are using. You will require, a rammer, a worm, a vent key, slow match,  ball (of the right size) and powder as well of course as the gun. Check also that you know how much powder the gun uses and that you have either:-

  1. A powder flask with the correct measuring nozzle

  2. A powder flask and a powder measure of the correct size for the gun

  3. Paper cartridges containing the correct charge for the gun

  4. Powder in containers pre measured for the gun

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

N.B 

Medieval gunners measured their powder by eye and used experience to "guess" the correct amount. Whilst historically correct it is not an acceptable loading practice for re-enactment. Also note that for re-enactment the ball is omitted from the loading procedure.

 

Step 3

Make sure that you are comfortable and that every thing you need is easily to hand. Now you are ready to light your match and proceed with the battle.

 

Step 4

Place the match through the fingers of your left hand so that with your palm up the burning end of the match is pointing down. In this position when the left hand supports the gun for loading the match is as safely away from the powder as is possible. Place the butt of the weapon on the ground. Take your powder (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

Step 4 for weapons with a priming pan and cover.

Place the match through the fingers of your left hand so that with your palm up the burning end of the match is pointing down. In this position when the left hand supports the gun for loading the match is as safely away from the powder as is possible. Rest the gun in the palm of your left hand and pour a little powder into the priming pan from a priming flask or main flask. clean away any spillage and close the pan cover. Place the butt of the weapon on the ground. Take your main powder charge (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

Step 5

Place a piece of wadding material into the barrel and ram it home using your rammer, ensuring that you never place your hand over the end of the rammer. then place a ball into the barrel and a second piece of wadding and ram home, ensuring that the ball is seated firmly against the first piece of wadding. On weapons without a priming pan it is sometimes necessary to cover the touch hole when ramming to prevent the powder being forced from the gun.

 (N.B. The rammer must be of wood or a non-ferrous material so as not to cause sparks from contact with the barrel of the weapon)

Step 6

When and only when you are ready to fire the weapon, check the touch hole is clear by using your vent key. (you should also feel that there is powder in the bore if not you may have a problem). Prime the weapon by pouring a little powder into the touch hole. Remove the match from the left hand and place it into the jaws of the serpentine so that it protrudes just enough to touch the powder in the touch hole when lowered. Blow on the match to ensure it is hot, place the stock to your shoulder, take aim and pull on the trigger or serpentine to dip the match into the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming. After firing the weapon immediately return the match to the fingers of the left hand.

Step 6 for weapons with a priming pan and cover

When and only when you are ready to fire. Remove the match from the left hand and place it into the jaws of the serpentine so that it protrudes just enough to touch the powder in the touch hole when lowered. Blow on the match to ensure it is hot, place the stock to your shoulder and take aim. Open the pan cover and pull on the trigger or serpentine to dip the match into the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming. After firing the weapon immediately return the match to the fingers of the left hand.

Step 7

Blow down the barrel to extinguish any embers in the barrel. You are now ready to load again.

 

Snaplock with match

This is the first of the true lock guns as it has a mechanism that holds the serpent captive against a spring and has a trigger to release it. This trigger however takes the form of a button on the side of the lock plate. These weapons have priming pans and covers.

Step 1

First before using the weapon visually check that it is in fit condition to be used, there are no signs of cracking or fatigue, no rust or serious pitting of the barrel. and no splitting or shaking out of the stock. Then with the rammer, check the barrel is free from obstructions and is clean (if its not clean then clean it ! ) take the vent key or "pricker", and check the touch hole is clear of obstructions. 

It is worth noting that after use the guns are cleaned and oiled. It is therefore possible to have a build up of oil in the bottom of the barrel and this if not removed before loading will cause the gun to misfire which is highly undesirable.

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

 

Step 2

Check you have all the equipment you need for the weapon you are using. You will require, a rammer, a worm, a vent key, slow match,  ball (of the right size) and powder as well of course as the gun. Check also that you know how much powder the gun uses and that you have either:-

  1. A powder flask with the correct measuring nozzle

  2. A powder flask and a powder measure of the correct size for the gun

  3. Paper cartridges containing the correct charge for the gun

  4. Powder in containers pre measured for the gun

Remember "If in doubt, Ask !"

N.B 

Medieval gunners measured their powder by eye and used experience to "guess" the correct amount. Whilst historically correct it is not an acceptable loading practice for re-enactment. Also note that for re-enactment the ball is omitted from the loading procedure.

 

Step 3

Make sure that you are comfortable and that every thing you need is easily to hand. Now you are ready to light your match and proceed with the battle.

 

Step 4

Place the match through the fingers of your left hand so that with your palm up the burning end of the match is pointing down. In this position when the left hand supports the gun for loading the match is as safely away from the powder as is possible. Rest the gun in the palm of your left hand. pull the serpentine back into the locked position, then pour a little powder into the priming pan from a priming flask or main flask. Clean away any spillage and close the pan cover. Place the butt of the weapon on the ground. Take your main powder charge (in what ever form you are carrying it in, i.e. A flask or pre measured charges / cartridges) and checking that there are no open flames or sparks in your vicinity pour a measured amount into the barrel. Remember that too much powder and you risk the weapon exploding in your face.

 

Step 5

Place a piece of wadding material into the barrel and ram it home using your rammer, ensuring that you never place your hand over the end of the rammer. then place a ball into the barrel and a second piece of wadding and ram home, ensuring that the ball is seated firmly against the first piece of wadding. 

 (N.B. The rammer must be of wood or a non-ferrous material so as not to cause sparks from contact with the barrel of the weapon)

Step 6

When and only when you are ready to fire. Remove the match from the left hand and place it into the jaws of the serpentine so that it protrudes just enough to touch the powder in the touch hole when lowered. Blow on the match to ensure it is hot, place the stock to your shoulder and take aim. Open the pan cover and push on the trigger. The serpentine will pitch forward dipping the match into the priming powder. There should be a flash of flame from the touch hole and then after a split second delay the main charge should ignite throwing the ball some where in the direction you were aiming. After firing the weapon immediately return the match to the fingers of the left hand.

 

Step 7

Blow down the barrel to extinguish any embers in the barrel. You are now ready to load again.

 

What to do if things go wrong

Inevitably you will have a problem no matter how well you train and how carefully you practise your loading drill. The first thing to remember is to stay calm don't panic, the second thing to do is to alert your colleagues to the fact you have a problem. Here are the problems you are likely to encounter and how to deal with them.

 

1) Misfire

A misfire is when the priming powder ignites but the main charge does not, this is the incident most likely to occur to a gunner. Common causes are forgetting to put a main charge in the gun, fouling obstructing the touch hole, wadding covering the touch hole (often indicates too little powder used in main charge or touch hole was not covered during ramming of a pole gun) and damp powder ( water spilt in barrel when gunner took a drink) First thing to do is to hold your right hand up and shout "misfire" so that those around you know about the problem. Keeping a firm hold on the gun and keeping it pointing in a safe direction, count to 20 slowly to see if the misfire turns into a hang fire (where the main charge does discharge but after a longer than normal interval). After the count and keeping a firm hold on the gun and keeping it pointing in a safe direction, take your vent key and insert it into the touch hole to see if there is an obstruction and to see if you can feel powder in the chamber. Then take a second priming charge and pour it into your gloved hand. Then using your hand pour the powder into the priming pan. Then light the priming powder and see if the gun goes off. If the main charge fails to ignite a second time Hold up your right hand and shout "misfire" Keeping a firm hold on the gun and keeping it pointing in a safe direction then count to 60 slowly and check the touch hole with the vent key once more. Again with a gloved hand re prime the gun and try to fire it again. If it still will not discharge then raise your right hand and shout "Misfire dead gun" All the time you need to ensure that the gun is pointing in a safe direction. 

A dead gun must be taken off the field to a place of safety ( carried so as not to point it at anyone ), water poured into the touch hole (N.B. Never pour water down the barrel of a loaded gun !!) and left for half an hour after which the worm out process will be carried out. Never worm out a gun on the field.

To worm out a gun take your worm and slowly lower it down the barrel until it contacts the wadding. Then push it into the wadding and twist it so that it winds into the wadding. Then pull out the worm bringing the wadding with it. It may take several attempts to remove all the wadding. If a ball is loaded try and pull it free with the worm or shake it out. If you have no luck then you will need to use a ball puller ( a self tapping screw like device on a rod ) and remove the ball. Then again use the worm to remove the wadding. when you start to pull out the powder pour water into the barrel and flush out the powder. 

Now clean the gun thoroughly. 

Notes

Never put your hand over a rammer or worm whilst working on a gun as if it discharges the rammer / worm will at best go straight through your hand and at worst remove it from you.

Always wear stout gloves, as these will protect you from the flash of the powder and protect your skin from abrasion if a rod or worm are discharged from the weapon whilst being used.

Never look down the barrel of a gun to "see" if there is a problem unless you have checked the gun is clear personally. 

Always ensure the weapon is pointing in a safe direction.

Never prime a misfired weapon from an open flask, as there is the chance of setting the flask alight and turning it into a grenade.

Never pour water down the barrel of a loaded gun as if it does go off the weight of the water is possibly enough to cause the breech to explode.

 

2) Fouling

Fouling is where the build up of powder on the inside of the barrel prevents loading of the weapon. It is first noticed by a difficulty in ramming home the first wadding, and if not dealt with will jam the barrel of the weapon as you will be unable to get the ball or wadding down the barrel to seat on the powder. Having a gap between powder and ball can result in the weapon exploding. Fouling may also clog the touch hole causing misfires.

At first sign of fouling stop loading. If you have  wadding down the weapon and you are sure its seated home discharge the weapon without a ball or second wadding. If you are unsure if it is seated home then the gun must be wormed out. Once the gun is unloaded scrub the bore with a phosphor bronze brush to remove the fouling. Once the gun is clean then it may be used as normal. In some cases (providing a worm is not necessary) this can be done in the field if the gunner is carrying a cleaning kit.

 

3) Premature discharge

This is when the weapon goes off whilst being loaded and is the worst kind of incident a gunner faces. It can happen in a number of ways. 

1)When pouring the powder into the weapon it ignites as there is a burning ember in the barrel or the barrel has seriously overheated. 

2)When pouring the powder into the weapon it ignites from a spark from the discharge of another weapon or careless handling of the match

3)When ramming home the powder ignites shooting the rammer from the weapon. This can be caused by an ember in the chamber of the gun or by over compressing the powder when ramming (not easy with modern powder but still possible) or by having a seriously overheated barrel (called cooking off).

A premature discharge is a serious event as it will almost certainly cause injury to the gunner and quite possibly to those around them. If loading from a flask that is not sealed the flask may explode, the gunner may be set alight and if a rammer is discharged it can kill someone. If you suffer this kind of accident it is likely all you can do about it is be tended to by your colleagues afterwards.

Good loading procedures and using common sense should prevent this type of accident, on small weapons blow down the barrel after every shot, on large weapons consider a wet mop. When using paper cartridges inserted into the weapon always use a wet mop then a dry mop and a worm to remove bits of the used cartridge. Check your barrel after a few shots, make sure its not too hot to touch with bare hands, and if it is stand down and stop shooting.

 

4) Shooting the rammer

Its hard to believe but people have been known to leave the rammer in and shoot it out of the barrel. All you can do if you do this is go to the person in charge of the firing line and inform him of what you have done. If you are lucky no one will have been hurt, but I have seen a rammer go through a man sticking out both sides. He did survive the incident but only just.

Good loading practise should prevent this kind of incident.

 

5) discharging the worm

This occurs when worming out a gun it discharges shooting the worm from the weapon. If the gunner is wearing stout gloves and keeping the weapon pointed in a safe direction there should be little injury occur. This can occur if the weapon is wormed out too soon and the weapon suffers a hang fire with the worm down the barrel ( water in the touch hole should stop this) or if the worm is made of steel and strikes sparks from the barrel ( most likely with the ball puller ) or if the gunner is getting carried away and causes too much friction and thus heat, or traps powder between the worm and the bore and causes it to ignite.

This kind of discharge is rare but does occur. All you can do is follow safe handling procedures.

 

Safety considerations

This should be something that every gunner or gunners assistant should think about every time they use a weapon. Guns are a dangerous thing to use especially when loose powder and lit match are present. Therefore a few basic things should always be considered.

Keeping lit match away from yourself when carrying powder, but also keeping it away from the clothing of the gunner next to you.

Keep an eye on the wind so you know what direction sparks will be travelling, yours and some on else's ( I had a hat set on fire by a gunner next to me as the wind carried his sparks onto me).

Always wear stout gloves to protect your hands.

If possible treat your clothing with a spray on fire retardant (not authentic but useful) and ensure you only wear natural fibres.

Is your firing position safe ? Do you have clearance for the discharge of gasses or is some one too close? Are you too close to another gun or likely to get covered in its discharge or sparks ? Is there a fire near by that might send sparks your way ? Do you have water on you or know where the nearest water is ? Do you have a firm footing or is the ground too steep or slippery ? Can you see clearly all around you or could someone step in front of you with no warning ?

Only carry lit match when you need to

Where ever possible use pre measured charges as in an accident its just a single charge to ignite rather than a whole flask. Also consider this; if you are carrying pre made charges in fireproof containers inside a linen cartridge bag, and the bag catches fire, all that will happen is that the bag will fall apart and the still intact charges will simply fall to the ground. 

If In doubt play safe, its not worth your life!!

  

First aid considerations

The most obvious injuries will be burns from powder flash, lacerations from exploding powder flasks or weapons, severe puncture wounds from shrapnel or rammers / worms and limbs removed by force. All of these wounds are serious and get worse without the proper first aid treatment. There is little you can do differently from that which you were taught when you did your first aid course other than as outlined below.

Burns

Burns can be minor and simply require flushing with cool water to remove the heat from the wound or they can be major. Any burn which results in the skin broken must be considered a major injury. A major burn has a number of additional problems for the first aider, firstly there may be bleeding from the wound, and secondly and in some ways more importantly there will be particles of black powder in the wound. An open burn from a black powder weapon must be flushed to remove the heat as with any burn but all traces of powder must be removed from the wound or blood poisoning is likely to occur. It is unlikely that a first aider will be able to do much in the field but they should make the ambulance crew or paramedics aware of the issue. also sulphur dioxide the main gas given off by the burning of black powder forms sulphuric acid on contact with water and this needs to be kept in mind.

Lacerations

These wounds will need treating as all open wounds and must be cleaned and then covered with pressure bandages used where required to stem the flow of blood. Lacerations are likely to be accompanied by burns and once more there will be particles of powder to be removed. In the field treat as for any laceration but make the paramedics / ambulance crew aware of the problem of powder in the wounds.

Puncture wounds

These wounds are severe in all their forms beyond simple splinter. Where the wound has the causing object in it leave it in place, pack around the object (outside the patients body) to stem the flow of blood. Inform the paramedics / ambulance crew of the issues of powder in the wound. Try to keep talking to the patient as keeping them awake can save their lives.

Loss of a limb

This kind of wound is probably worse for the first aider than the injured person as often the injured person has no feeling of pain for an hour after the injury. Elevate the wound as much as possible and if you have a plastic bag, place it over the stump and secure it with an elastic band. Have another person look for the missing bits. This injury is likely to also include serious burns and is also sure to be contaminated with powder particles. Make the paramedics / ambulance crew aware of the problem of powder in the wounds.

 

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