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Development of Primer Composition from Snaplock & Flintock to Non Corrosive Primers

All guns use some sort of primer to initiate the ignition of the powder. Older weapons were external primed, like the flintlocks, wheellocks, matchlock and cap lock. These all utilized an ignition source externally of the breech and powder chamber. The matchlock used a slow match. The slow match was a hemp or flax cord. The cords were treated with potassium nitrate (saltpeter) a salt of potassium or sodium and was referred to as saltpeter because it is chemically a salt and peter meaning rock or salt of the rock (petre from the Latin sal petrae). Potassium nitrate was more popular than sodium nitrate as the sodium nitrate would absorb atmospheric water, neutralizing its combustion. Matchlocks were difficult to light, were dangerous when loading and the English estimated that a single guard would burn a mile of match in a year, i.e. expensive.

Snaplock Firearm

The snaplock was the forebearer of the flintlock. The difference is the frizzen. The frizzen combined the ‘steel’ of the snaplock and a self-opening priming pan cover. The snaplock never caught on with the military and was considered a peasant’s weapon. Keep in mind all of these weapons were smoothbore.

Caplock Mechanism

Flintlocks were followed by the caplocks of the 1830’s using a fulminate of mercury, chlorate of potash, sulfur and charcoal. Held in the cap the hammer struck the cap, this caused the impact sensitive primer mixture to explode sending a flame into the chamber and igniting the charge. Caps were better than the flintlocks in the rain, had a shorter lock time (time from trigger pull to the bullet leaving the barrel, and eliminated the pan priming sequence. The fulminates where not discovered until 1800 and opened the way for the caplocks to dominate the battlefield and sporting weapons. While culmination of the caplock, rifling and Minnie ball the stage was set for the Crimean War and the America Civil War. The first US caplock rifle was the Model 1849 Hall Rifle.

Corrosive Ammo & Metallic Cartridges

The cap was the what make metallic cartridges possible. By incorporating a cap like primer into the hull of a metallic cartridge a fixed round of ammunition was possible. One slight problem, these primers created salts that were corrosive. Between the corrosive primer and black powder propellants the guns had to be cleaned shortly after firing to prevent corrosion. The black powder residue or fouling is hydroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from the atmosphere, leading to corrosion. Potassium Chlorate and Perchlorate are other priming mixtures they do away with the toxic mercury vapor of the fulminates. But on combustion these produce those corrosive salts.

Non Corrosive Primers

Non-corrosive primers use lead styphnate, barium nitrate, antimony trisulfide, powdered aluminum and tetrazene all are non-corrosive but the byproducts and generally toxic to humans. These toxins are emitted in gaseous, not particulate forms and are easily ingested. The byproducts are heavy metals, most of which are toxic. The primary direction of research is a product that has a good shelf-life, is non-toxic, non-corrosive and provides reliable ignition.

Shooting Ranges, Equipment, Bullet Traps & Other Accessories

Clean your gun as soon a possible, particularly after shooting foreign military surplus ammunition, most of which utilize corrosive primers. And wash your hands to remove heavy metal byproducts and other contaminates. Shooting Range Industries offers customized shooting ranges for military, law enforcement and civilian practice and training solutions. Contact us to learn more today!

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