The Epic Rise (And Fall) Of The Snaplock Gun

Key Point: The snaplock gun was an early firearm that used an upgraded firing mechanism (the snaplock), that resulted in quicker and more reliable firing.

Today we are taking a look at the snaplock gun. What is it and how it worked? And also why it only had a brief stint in firearms history. Now, before we go any deeper it’s important that we have a clear definition of what a snaplock gun is. So, let’s answer that question first. What is a snaplock gun?

A snaplock gun was a popular firearm from parts of the 16th and 17th centuries. It gets its name from its unique firing mechanism. This mechanism involved a piece of flint striking against a steel plate, creating a spark that ignited the gunpowder in the pan. The resulting ignition of the main charge in the barrel would then fire the gun. While the snaplock improved earlier matchlock firearms in terms of reliability and speed, it was eventually replaced by a more advanced flintlock mechanism.

That was a short definition. Now, let’s take a look at its origins and history.

Origin And History Of The Snaplock Gun

The snaplock mechanism was developed in Europe in the early 1500s, and it represented a significant improvement over earlier gun-lock mechanisms. The snaplock was initially used in firearms that were designed to be used on horseback, where the ability to quickly and reliably fire a shot was essential.

Despite its limitations, the snaplock played an important role in the development of firearms and helped pave the way for more advanced ignition mechanisms such as the flintlock. By the mid-1600s, the snaplock had largely been replaced by these more advanced mechanisms, but it remains an important historical innovation in the history of firearms technology.

Now, what were a couple of famous examples of Snaplock guns?

A Couple Of Famous Examples Are …

There were several famous firearms in the 16th century that used the snaplock mechanism. One notable example is the German wheellock rifle, which was a highly prized hunting weapon of the time. Another notable firearm was the arquebus, a type of musket that was widely used by European armies. While the arquebus initially used the matchlock mechanism, many later models used the snaplock mechanism.

Additionally, many early pistols and other small firearms also used the snaplock mechanism.

How The Snaplock Gun Works

You can see in the 54-second video below, how the snaplock gun works. While the video quality is horrendous, it is still worth a look to see how a snaplock mechanism functions.

How The Snaplock Musket Works

But, if you are a fan of reading, you can see the description below. Here is how the snaplock works. The snaplock mechanism consists of a spring-loaded arm that, when released, snaps forward and strikes a small piece of pyrite or flint. The flint (or pyrite) is held in the jaws of a vise. This action creates a spark that ignites the gunpowder in the priming pan.

This in turn ignites the main powder charge in the barrel and propels the projectile out of the firearm. You might be thinking: “Okay this sounds a lot like the flintlock mechanism”. Yes, you are correct. But here is the difference …

Snaplock vs. Flintlock – What’s The Difference?

The snaplock mechanism is similar to the flintlock mechanism, but it has several key differences. For example, the snaplock’s arm is held in place by a catch, rather than a frizzen, and the priming pan is located on the side of the firearm, rather than on top. And of course, the snaplock is generally simpler than the flintlock. Although it is slightly less durable and requires more frequent maintenance.

Since, we mentioned the flintlock mechanism, it’s about time we move on to the segment detailing why the snaplock stopped being used.

Why The Snaplock Stopped Being Used

The decline of the snaplock came because of its inherent design limitations. That includes its unreliability and the fact that it was difficult to manufacture consistently. The flintlock, on the other hand, was much more reliable and easier to produce. And the flintlock was generally better. That combined with its lower cost, made it a more attractive choice for military and civilian use.

As a result, the flintlock quickly surpassed the snaplock in popularity and the snaplock mechanism became largely obsolete by the mid-1700s.

Remember when I mentioned it is hard to manufacture? Well, let’s touch on that for a second. And how it played a part in its decline.

The Snaplock Was Hard To Manufacture

The snaplock had a pretty complicated design for its era. It had many moving parts which were a challenge to produce consistently. As you can imagine the manufacturing capabilities before the industrial revolution, kind of sucked. To complicate things even worse the snaplock’s shape was difficult to cast. Meaning skilled craftsmen had to create the complex shapes needed for the mechanism to function properly.

All of this added to the manufacturing complexity and of course cost. The flintlock was rather simpler to produce and thus was a lot cheaper.

And as always, the cheapness and speed of production often dictate how widespread the use of the weapon is.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish to continue learning I suggest taking a look at my article on the Arquebus vs the Blunderbuss gun right here.

Or feel free to take a look at my article on the anti-infantry cannon used by guerillas in Afghanistan. The Zamburak, right here.

Take care!

Source: DK Publishing. Firearms: An Illustrated History. London: Dorling Kindersley