How to Mount a Flint on American and British Muskets: A
Flints came in a number of different patterns. The first gunflints were termed gun spalls and were napped so as to have a rounded back and were a simple wedge. They are found in 17th and 18th century archaeological sites but this design was also used as "strike-a-lights" and hide scrapers. The second type was the wedge style that finishes with a square back or heel. This pattern was widely used throughout the 18th century. The third type has a flat bed on top and was considered the best for a regulation military musket lock. The fourth style came to a point on top but was considered inferior to the flat bed style. The last two types dominated flint production from the late 18th century and the 19th Century. There were lesser quality or common variations of the styles of flint.
Grades of flat bed Musket flints: Thick Best (left) Thinner Second Quality (middle) and Common (right)
British troops received their supply of musket flints in a small 70lb cask (called a half barrel) which contained two thousand of the napped stones. Each infantry company was expected to keep 200 extras for replacing used up flints. Generally each musket flint was about a inch wide and an inch and a quarter long. However because the locks were handmade, the half cock position varied greatly effecting the size needed. One soldier at the St George's Massacre in 1768 noted that his flint was too long stopping his hammer (frizzen) from closing and he had lost his priming.
As a result, flints had to be further napped to ensure each soldier had the right flint for his unique situation. This conclusion is supported by a 1773 sportsman shooting manual which stated "the size should be suited to the lock of the gun, and be neither too large and thick, nor too small and slight; the first will not give fire freely, and the other will be vary apt to break." The same manual suggested clear flints were best "but whether the dark or light sort is immaterial as there are good of both kinds."
How often did soldiers change their flint in battle? Many factors impacted this. The quality of the flint, the strength of the main and the frizzen spring and the hardness of the hammer (frizzen) all effected the longevity of the flint. Sportsman manuals of the time do give a hint to the answer. When hunting fowl, a misfire was to be avoid by changing your flint more often. A 1789 shooting treatise recommended changing the flint after 15 or 18 shots, while an 1814 shooter's manual suggested swapping out the flint after just 7 or 8 shots! An order in 1770 noted that British soldiers in Bombay were expected to carry two extra flints in their cartridge pouches, along with a wood snapper to use inside of a flint while practicing drill. Soldiers changing their flint in battle created discipline issues:
The first to write on the subject for military musket flints was Bennett Cuthbertson in 1768: "The flints should always be screwed firm, between a thin piece of lead, it having a more certain hold, than leather, or any other contrivance". This belief was echoed by Thomas Simes in 1777 in his work A Military Course for the Government and Conduct of a Battalion, who also repeats the 1773 sportsman advice mentioned before:
It appears this advice was adopted to some degree by the various British regiments. However it was not until 1809 before any sort of official army position was taken. Likely concerned with the various regimental methods of fixing flints, the British Adjutant-General found it necessary to issue a memorandum on the subject.
The United States Infantry issued a similar regulation, published in 1820:
On his tour of Europe after the war, Winfield Scott collected every book published in French or English on the army. In 1818 he sat down and compiled the General Regulations for the United States Army. Made an act of Congress in 1821, orders regarding mounting the musket flint are even more insightful:
Material Used to Secure the Gunflint in the Jaws
Scott touches upon the subject of the material used to assist the securing of the flint in the jaws of the cock. In the 18th century, both Simes and Cuthbertson suggested a thin piece of lead and evidence seems to point to this being most common. Even sportsman manuals recommended lead first, and a piece of stout leather as a second choice. Further archaeological finds show that the use of lead to secure the flint in place dates back to the 17th century.
In 1809, for example, the 71st Highland Light Infantry ordered "the flints to be put in between a piece of lead, nicely beat out and notched." The "notched" is a reference to a notch out of the lead to allow the screw for the jaws to pass as close to the rear of the flint as possible, along with the rounding of the corners to prevent injury. Archaeological finds in the American Revolution show a use of various notches. There was the elongated pattern that allowed a little more adjustment. There was also single hole pattern (illustrated below), but the elongated hole seemed more popular. It should be noted that sheet lead without notches was quite common throughout the entire period.
Though notched, one of the patterns used by the French for pistols or carbines was quite different. Illustrated below, the French lead piece only secured one side and part of the other. However the lead piece had a decoratively stamped edge to further increase the hold. During the Napoleonic Wars the French also had single lead pattern with an elongated hole like the British but with folding tabs for the side of the flint. By the 1820s that pattern started appearing with some units in the American Infantry. The below pattern also spread to North America and has been found in archaeological digs on the American frontier.
Use of a single piece of lead has not universal in the British Army. For example the 12th Regiment of Foot ordered their men to always fix their flints between two pieces of lead. In 1809 the Britain's West York Militia also directed "The Flints must be well fixed in the Firelocks and always between two pieces of lead beaten thin." Archaeological finds support this technique throughout the 18th and early 19th century.
In the end, lead fixing pieces varied greatly in pattern, thickness and size. Generally speaking, prior to 1750 wrapping your flint with thin lead in whatever way gives the best grip is the easiest for authenticity. For the French and Indian War or the American Revolution, a thicker piece of lead with a round notch works for both American and British muskets. However you are not wrong if you do the method mentioned in the previous sentence.
A more interesting variant was the use of soft copper or brass instead of lead. The 29th Regiment in 1812 noted that the musket flints were to be fixed "with a regimental copper-plate." The "regimental" in this context usually refers to an approved regimental pattern and not regimentally marked. This pattern likely looked more like the French pattern. Some were reported being found under a War of 1812 guardhouse at Fort George in the 1970s, They were described by the archaeologist as "scrap sheet brass, semicircular outline, serrated front edge, triangular notch."
Whether using lead, copper or leather, changing the thickness of the piece either above or below the flint helped to get the proper angle for the best sparks. In his 1804 book on the Baker Rifle, Ezekiel Baker noted the following:
Today the use of lead is frowned upon for health reasons and more often than not leather has been substituted for holding the flint in place by black powder enthusiasts. To date I am unaware of anyone using cooper or brass as a substitute and since it was the choice of at least one regiment, it may prove an interesting alternative to "firing true and well."
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