The Complete Guide To The Wheel Lock Pistol

Key Point: A wheel lock pistol was an early firearm that used a mechanical ignition system involving a rotating steel wheel to create sparks and ignite the gunpowder.

Ever wondered what is a wheel lock pistol, how it works? This article covers just that.

Here we will discuss the origins of the Wheel lock pistol. How it works. And in the end, we will also touch on what drawbacks of the pistol led to it being replaced.

As always let’s start with the takeaway covering, what is a wheel lock pistol? And who used the wheel lock most often?

The wheel lock pistol is a firearm that was used in Europe during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It uses a wheel lock mechanism. This is a spinning metal wheel that ignited the powder and fired the weapon. The wheel lock pistol was more reliable than the earlier matchlock mechanism and was adopted by wealthy individuals, nobles, and military leaders of the era as a personal defense weapon and status symbol.

This short summary should get you up to speed.

Now, let’s look at its history, how the wheel lock pistol works … how it’s fired and a bunch more stuff.

Let’s begin with the …

History Of The Wheel Lock Pistol

The wheel lock trigger represented a cool advancement in firearm technology. As you can see in the short 3:11 video below.

Video demonstrating the wheel lock system

It was invented in Germany in the early 1500s and quickly spread throughout Europe due to it being more effective than the matchlock system. The exact origins of the wheel lock pistol are not well documented, but it is generally believed to have been invented in Germany.

As always the newest kinds of weapons were very expensive and thus were able to be afforded only by the elites first.

Even with the high cost the wheel lock pistol was a significant improvement over the previously used matchlock mechanism. The matchlock required a separate burning match to ignite the powder, which could be difficult to use in wet or windy conditions.

The wheel lock mechanism on the other hand used a spinning metal wheel to ignite the powder, which was faster and more efficient.

The widespread use of the wheel lock pistol in Europe during the late 16th and early 17th centuries was also a reflection of the changing social, economic, and political landscape of the time.

Why is that you ask? Here is why.

The Role Of Wheel Lock Pistols In Society

The growth of cities and the rise of the affluent merchant class led to a growing demand for personal defense weapons. The wheel lock pistol was well suited to meet that need.

The pistol itself was compact enough to be concealed. And its high cost also in turn made it a status symbol for the wealthy.

Its compactness and status symbol also meant that rich people also used it for duels during this time. So whenever rich spoiled guys threw a hissy fit they took out their wheel locks and engaged in a duel.

Aside from its civilian role, the wheel lock was also used in a limited role in the armed forces. But again, its high cost limited its use.

Despite its many advantages, the wheel lock pistol had several downsides (which we will cover a little later), which is why the growing availability of cheaper and more reliable alternatives such as the flintlock pistol, led to the decline of the wheel lock pistol by the mid-17th century.

Now that we finished with the origins of the weapon, let’s take a look, at how the pistol was fired.

How To Fire The Wheel Lock

The wheel lock pistol

We know that the wheel lock pistol was used mostly in civilian life.

But how is the wheel lock fired? Here is the 5-step process to fire the Wheel Lock pistol:

1. Prepare the weapon: The user loads the powder into the barrel of the pistol and inserts a lead shot or bullet. The next step is to prepare the wheel lock mechanism.

2. Load the wheel lock: The user winds a spring mechanism that powered the wheel lock. As the spring is wound, the wheel is brought into contact with a piece of iron pyrite, which is the striking material used to ignite the powder.

3. Cock the hammer: Once the spring is wound and the wheel lock is loaded, the user cocks the hammer, which engages the mechanism and locks the wheel in place.

4. Aim and fire: With the pistol cocked, the user aims and fires the weapon by pulling the trigger. This releases the hammer, which strikes the iron pyrite and creates sparks that ignite the powder in the barrel, firing the shot.

5. Repeat the process: To fire multiple shots, the user needs to repeat the process, loading the powder and reloading the wheel lock mechanism after each shot.

Now that we saw, how it was fired, let’s proceed to the dimensions of the average wheel lock and the materials from which it is made.

The Dimensions Of The Pistol And What Was It Made From?

This segment is quite short, like the pistol itself.

Wheel lock pistols were typically made from high-quality materials (hence the high cost) such as iron, steel, and brass.

They varied in size, but were generally compact and could fit into a holster or a belt. The length of a typical wheel lock pistol is 12 to 15 inches, with a barrel length of 6 to 8 inches.

The next segment will deal solely with the drawbacks of the wheel lock pistol and how that lead to it being replaced.

Downsides To The Wheel Lock Pistol

Despite its many advantages, the wheel lock pistol has several downsides. One of the biggest issues is its cost.

The complex mechanism and high-quality materials used in its manufacture made it an expensive weapon.

This limited its widespread use. Additionally, the mechanism it used was prone to failure, which could be dangerous in combat situations.

But the big part was the cost.

The fancy system and high-quality materials added to the cost. Which made the cheaper flintlock design much better. You can see more details of how the flintlock pistol compares to the wheel lock, right here.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you learned a thing or two. And I will see you at the next one.

Take care!

Sources: Peterson, Harold L. The Treasury of the Gun. Golden Press, 1962