Early firearms relied on igniting the powder in the pan using an already lit substance whereas Wheellock, snaphuance and flintlock weapons used a mechanical action to produce a spark in the pan and ignite the priming powder thus firing the weapon. The Wheellock gained its name from the wheel with a serrated circumference whose edge protruded through the bottom of the priming pan. After loading a weapon a special key or spanner cranked the wheel back and a clamp held a piece of pyrites touching the wheel. When the spring was released the wheel's serrated edges struck the pyrite and generated the required spark. Drawings in Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus and a later drawing of 1505 show early Wheellock designs but in reality the weapons only really appeared at the beginning of the 16th century in southern Germany. Areas of watch making were also the areas where Wheel locks were first produced as the skills of a watchmaker allowed them to make the wheel and spring mechanisms. Early forms were combined weapons with a Wheellock firearm and crossbow combined but soon Wheellock guns and pistols were produced and quickly became widespread. As snaphuance and flintlock weapons started to appear the Wheellock weapons were replaced but in some areas remained side by side the new weapons even into the 18th century, waterproof Wheellock’s also appeared during this long period of development. Another reason for the Wheellock firearms long survival was the fact that the demanding task of making the system was often a compulsory task for craftsman wishing to join the masters’ rank and the gunsmiths’ guild.
How to cite this article:
Dugdale-Pointon, T. (19 April 2004), Wheellock Firearms, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_wheellock.html