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Fixing a Flint to a Musket in the British Army 1768-1815
By Robert Henderson

This aricle is a brief study based on a sampling primary source material of the time on the subject of fixing a musket flint in the British Army. The first to write on the subject was, the often quoted, 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... and adds an opinion on the selection of the flint itself:

"The Flints best for service are those most clear, though the colour is immaterial, as there are good and bad of all kinds; neither too small or too thin are best, lest the first may not give good fire, or the latter break: they should be screwed in firm, between a thin piece of lead, it having then surer hold than leather, &c."

It appears this advice was adopted to some degree by the various regiments. However it was not until 1809 before any sort of official army position used issued. Likely concerned with the various regimental methods of fixing flints, the Adjutant-General found it necessary to issue a memorandum on the subject. Taken from the General Regulations and Orders for the Army(London, 1811) the order read ("hammer" is the proper name for the frizzen cover) :

"Horse Guards, 14th July 1809.

The Commander-in-Chief considers the following Memorandum of material Importance, and as such has ordered it to be communicated to the Troops.



THE cause of a Piece missing Fire is generally ascribed to the badness of the Flint, the softness of the Hammer, or the weakness of the Main Spring or Feather Spring; but the real cause will very generally be found to be a want of Correctness in fixing the Flint.

This sometimes proceeds from Carelessness, but it is too often owing to ignorance of the true principles which ought to direct the fixing of the Flint.

It is frequently imagined that an uniformity should prevail on this subject, as it does and ought to do on many others, respecting the movements and management of Arms; instances are not unfrequent where directions have been given that Flints should be fixed in exact conformity to some approved pattern.

This practice is founded in error, and is productive of more extensive mischief than can well be imagined.

In fixing Flints no uniform mode should be attempted: the flat side must be placed either upwards or downwards, according to the size and shape of the Flint, and also according to the proportion which the Cock bears in height to the Hammer, which varies in different Musquets.

This is ascertained by letting the Cock gently down, and observing when the Flint strikes the Hammer, which ought to be at the distance of about one-third from the top of the Hammer.

Most diligent observation ought at the same time to be made whether every part of the edge of the Flint comes in contact with the Hammer so as to strike out the Fire from the whole surface.

A Flint will often appear to the eye to be carefully and skilfully fixed, and to stand firm and square, yet on trial being made as above directed, it will prove to have been very ill fixed, inasmuch as the surface of the Hammer in some Musquets does not stand square, but stands a little aslant to the Cock.

Each particular Flint therefore requires its own particular mode of being fixed, so as to accommodate itself to the particular proportions and conformation of each particular Lock.

It is perhaps unnecessary to mention, that, whatever the position of the Flint should be, it ought to be screwed in firmly; and that the Cock should also be let down, in order to observe whether the Flint passes clear of the Barrel.

Whenever a Piece has been fired, the first opportunity should be embraced of examining whether the Flint remains good, and fixed as it ought to be, and no time should be lost in correcting whatever may be found amiss."

Interestingly enough the above order is silent on the material used to assist the securing of the flint. Both Simes and Cuthbertson suggested a thin piece of lead and evidence seems to point to this being most common. In 1809, for example, the 71st Highland Light Infanty ordered "the flints to be put in between a piece of lead, nicely beat out and notched." The "notched" was possibly 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 pervent injury. This was similar to the French system of the time that had a notched single lead piece but which also had a decoratively stamped edge and side "wings" to further increase the hold. The single piece of lead has not universal in the British Army. For example the 12th Regiment ordered their men to always fix their flints between two pieces of lead. In addition 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. The use of cooper is an interesting alternative to the lead as it was as well a soft metal, though not as soft as lead.

Today the frequent 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 as a substitute and since it was the choice of at least one regiment, it may prove a better alternative. The article may be considered a "work in progress" and anyone uncovering further information are encouraged to the article's growth.

Copyright:The Discriminating General Reproducing of this article in any form is strictly forbidden.

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