Caplock Pistols: A Quick Guide

Key Point: A caplock pistol is a type of firearm that uses a percussion cap to ignite the gunpowder, replacing the earlier flintlock mechanism.

Today in this article we will be discussing caplock pistols. More importantly, what are they, when they were made, and why they were really in use for a brief amount of time? There has to be a reason why they were quickly replaced. And you will see what it is, right here.

But before we continue with details, the short paragraph below covers what a caplock pistol is and how it worked:

A caplock pistol was a type of firearm that used a cap and ball system for ignition. The cap is a small metal cup filled with a reactive compound that ignites when struck, thus firing the gun. Caplock pistols were popular in the early and mid-19th century and were used extensively in the American Civil War.

A few decades after their introduction they were displaced by cartridge weapons such as the revolver.

That was a short summary. Now, let’s continue with a more detailed breakdown of the caplock pistol. Starting with its history.

The Origin And History Of Caplock Pistols

The origin of the caplock pistols begins in 1807 when the percussion system, used in caplock pistols, was invented by Scottish clergyman and inventor Alexander Forsyth. From there the system was then adopted in rifles and pistols.

The caplock pistol quickly gained popularity (over its flintlock counterpart) and was widely adopted in Europe and North America in the early 19th century. It was used by military forces, hunters, and civilians for personal protection.

Caplock pistols were also widely used in the American Civil War, where they proved to be reliable and effective weapons.

However, the caplock pistol was eventually replaced by the more advanced cartridge system, which combined the bullet, powder, and ignition into a single, self-contained unit.

This made firearms even easier to use and more reliable. By the late 19th century, the caplock pistol had largely fallen out of use and was replaced by cartridge-fired pistols.

Now, that we have taken a look t its history let us continue onwards to how the caplock pistol actually worked.

How The Caplock Pistol Worked

The caplock pistol, also known as the percussion pistol, worked by using a simple yet effective system to ignite the powder and fire the pistol. The pistol contained a barrel where a powder charge was placed and a nipple where a percussion cap was placed.

The percussion cap contained a small amount of sensitive explosive. When the trigger was pulled, a hammer struck the percussion cap, igniting the powder and firing the pistol. Simple? Yes. Effective? You bet!

So, now let’s take a look at how these pistols were loaded and fired.

How To Load And Fire A Caplock Pistol

So, loading and firing a caplock pistol was a fairly straightforward process that could be completed very quickly.

Here is a step-by-step way to load and fire a caplock pistol:

  1. Open the pistol’s frizzen to expose the barrel.
  2. Measure the appropriate amount of powder and pour it into the barrel.
  3. Place a bullet on top of the powder.
  4. Close the frizzen to cover the barrel.
  5. Place a percussion cap on the nipple.
  6. Pull the trigger to strike the percussion cap and fire the pistol.

So, if it was so easy to reload a gun and fire it then why was it replaced? While the caplock system for firing a firearm was very effective compared to the flintlock or even the matchlock system it was quickly rendered obsolete.

With the introduction of cartridge technology, you got one self-containing unit that contained the propellant and the bullet all in one.

This made the loading and firing process much easier and much faster. And the whole weapon is much more reliable and cheaper in comparison. Hence why the caplock pistols became obsolete rather quickly.

In Conclusion

While caplock ignition for firearms was a huge advancement in its day it was quickly displaced by newer and better technology. That is why despite its effectiveness, you only get to see a few decades of active use for caplock pistols and other caplock firearms. Cartridge guns were far better. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

I hope you learned a thing or two. And I will see you at the next one. I suggest taking a look at my article on the Pepperbox pistol, right here.

To see the cool Nagant model pistol used by the Soviet secret police the NKVD, you can simply go here to learn more.

Take care!

Source: “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Guns” by Will Fowler