Got A Light?

One of the firearms that has always fascinated me is the wheellock. If you have ever seen a Zippo lighter and a clock that has a key to wind, then you will understand the basic concept. The National Firearms Museum has a wheellock that is attributed to John Alden, which is called the “Mayflower Gun” because we are pretty sure that is how it got to North America. Sadly, the museum staff has no sense of humor about shooting national treasures, so we asked Dale Shinn to send us one of his excellent replicas, a Germanic, ornate wheellock pistol.

On a wheel lock, a piece of pyrite is clenched in the jaws of a cock that is pressed up against a steel wheel that is powered by a clockwork spring. The pyrite is literally pressed against the steel “wheel.” When you think about the complexity of the mechanism, no wonder it took a mind like DaVinci’s to come up with it. It also took the craftsmanship of a clockmaker to actually fabricate one, and it is a clockwork spring wound with a key that provided the power to move the toothed wheel that creates the sparks that set off the loose powder that acts as the priming charge.

After meticulous loading of the gun and winding the spring, it was astounding how quickly it went off. It seemed faster than a flintlock. Pull the trigger, the wheel spins rapidly, the priming charge goes almost instantly and “bang!” It may have been one of the most technologically advanced machines of its day, but it sure was fun to shoot. Look for live firing of a wheellock this season of “American Rifleman Television.”

Keefe Firing a Wheellock

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1 Response to Got A Light?

Chris Givens wrote:
December 04, 2012

I remember seeing the "Mayflower" gun this summer when my wife and I came to the Museum. Mark, you were gracious enough to give us a personal tour of which I shall never forget. I subsequently became a Life Member of the NRA.Not just because I believe in your mission,but because it is run by quality people like Mark Keefe who gets a kick out of firing an old wheelock or a Nock volley gun. God Bless. Chris Givens