How Flintlock Guns Work

Rifle crafted from wood and metal material.

­If you have ever studied American history, you are sure to have heard about the flintlock. The flintlock mechanism was the first reliable and relatively inexpensive system for firing a gun, and was hugely popular in colonial America. It was first developed in the mid-1500s and spread until, by 1660, the English Army adopted the flintlock system for its "Brown Bess" guns. The Brown Bess became famous because of its widespread use during the American Revolution. The flintlock remained popular until the mid-1800s, when it was replaced by the percussion-cap lock. By the time of the civil war, nearly all guns manufactured used the percussion cap. That means that the flintlock, as a technology, lasted about 300 years!

The flintlock gun and the flintlock itself are fascinating devices. There are at least four things that make them so interesting:


  • Next to the pendulum clock, the flintlock gun was probably the most technologically advanced device that anyone commonly owned at the time.
  • The flintlock is incredibly important historically. Colonial America depended on it for food, protection and warfare.
  • The flintlock itself is amazing from a mechanical standpoint.
  • The flintlock is the foundation of all modern guns. If you want to understand how modern guns work, you get the best view by understanding the flintlock. A flintlock gun is the simplest reliable gun possible, and it can teach you a great deal about the technology behind guns in general.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we will look at the flintlock itself as well as the guns that used it so that you can completely understand how it works. In the process, you will learn some amazing things about this important device!