1
$\begingroup$

Could a percussion rifle such as the springfield m1861 be made somewhere between the 15th-17th century? If so how would it be made?

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

A percussion rifle needs two things - a percussion cap and a rifled barrel.

Percussion cap depends on the discovery of fulminates to work. It happened in 1800.

Rifled barrels appeared significantly earlier, but were the pain both to produce in significant amount and to load in muzzleloaders.

Of those two, the discovery of fulminates seems to be a more limiting factor. Unless something changed significantly in some alternative world, I do not see percussion firearms managing to appear earlier then they did - in limited numbers in 1820s and tried out by the militaries in 1830s (there existed a percussion version of M1819 Hall rifle).

If this is a time traveler scenario, I think that all mechanisms after the wheellock are of comparable mechanical complexity to percussion mechanism. So a time traveler would be able to have one custom rifle made with a percussion mechanism any time after 1500s.

If he has means to produce mercury fulminate primers (which is its own big assumption) and wants to arm a significant amount of people with percussion firearms, he is better to go with percussion muskets - he will not be able to have standardized rifled barrels of a single caliber made any time before 1800s.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't think that making the mercury fulminate is a big issue; if you know the trick, you might well be able to do it quite a long way back into antiquity because the key ingredients aren't particularly exotic. This issue is one of the development of chemistry to the point where someone discovers it, I think. I'll add 'percussion cap firearms' to my list of things that can be invented by timetravellers, though ;-) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Apr 28 at 10:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In time travel conditions it is worked out in the 1632 universe, (original book by Eric Flint, now worked on by many people,) there are a few technical essays which are about percussion cap riffles and related guns. Wikipedia page about the series, does not contain link to articles, which are in the paid stories part of the Grantville Gazette website. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1632_series $\endgroup$ – Willeke Apr 28 at 12:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Loading a rifled muzzle-loader is no problem, once you look at it correctly. The answer is called the Minie ball. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 29 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ Kentucky rifles were the reason the American Sharpshooters were feared by the Brits in the revolution - so not sure about that last statement (late 1700s more like). Further, (since time traveler) closest actually used weapon would be the Ferguson Rifle which the British used in the Revolution (high cost mind you). In fact, we can push back breech loading flint guns to 16th century and Henry VIII. So percussion, maybe. Rifle, definitely (Kentucky Rifle). Breech Rifle, possible $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Apr 29 at 2:53
1
$\begingroup$

The percussion cap (patented 1807 by Alexander Forsyth) was only able to be introduced in 1820 because of the discovery of mercury fulminate:

discovered in 1799 by the British chemist Howard (sic)

The answer to the question comes from a later developement:

However a system which was subsequently developed as an alternative - the Maynard tape primer uses a roll of paper (sheltered inside the mechanism) with primer enclosed in "pimples", which are fed by a ratchet mechanism to the hammer plate when the hammer is cocked. When the trigger releases the hammer, it causes the pimple to violently deflagrate - the subsequent explosion is then fed through a channel igniting the powder in the barrel (and trimming the tape at the same time - neat).

Whilst the modern primer (Armstrong's mixture) would require advanced chemistry not available in the 15th century, black powder can be set off by percussion. In principle there is no reason that a similar system could not have been invented as early as metalurgy (with precision smithing and the ability to temper springs), gunpowder and paper existed in your world.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Maynard tape still relied on the fulminate primer, as far as I understand. You will not be able to reliably ignite black powder by hitting it with a hammer, while it's wrapped in paper. $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Apr 28 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, if just ordinary black powder did the trick you would not need a separate primer, or matchlocks, or flint locks or... In addition to the Maynard tape, the modern cap guns use priming compounds as well. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 28 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Cumehtar It was my understanding that it's just gunpowder, otherwise it couldn't be so widley available in children's toys - and you can indeed set off gunpowder with a hammer- quite unwiseley I've done it. Quite right, reliability in the field was a problem - fouling, getting damp etc.. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Apr 28 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi I'm prepared to accept I've got it wrong, but I can't find a recipe online for rolls of caps. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Apr 28 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cap_gun has mentions at the beginning. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 28 at 9:26
1
$\begingroup$

There is an exciting, although somewhat impractical means of making primers using the technology of the times: fulminating gold!

Fulminating gold was the first high explosive known to man and was first noted in western alchemy as early as 1585

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.