The Wonderful Wheellock
Incredible Early Wheellocks at Henry Krank
The Wheellock is one of those unusual inventions which is absolutely ahead of it's time. First invented circa 1500, 33 years before Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, and closer to the Norman Conquest than to the present day, and allegedly by Leonardo da Vinci, the wheellock mechanism epitomises technological advances and craftsmanship of the Renaissance period. Early gunmakers would most likely have been schooled as clockmakers (hence the reason a number of gun parts share names with clock parts), and this is evident in the wheellock mechanism. Utilising a chain driven spring, much like a clock's escapement, the mechanism uses spring power to drive a serrated wheel to spark against a piece of pyrite held in the jaws, setting off the charge. Cocking is achieved by turning the wheel with a special key. Each component is secured in place by a screw, an exceptionally intricate and complicated fastening device in the period, predating the screw cutting lathe by nearly 300 years.
Inlaid heavily with bone, ebony and intricate carvings, wheellocks would have been exceptionally expensive to produce, and therefore were mainly the province of the extremely wealthy, and would not have seen service on a battlefield of the period in vast numbers. As time wore on, gunmakers found much more cost effective and simpler mechanisms, such as the flintlock, and the wheellock was therefore consigned to history by the end of the 17th century. Today, wheellocks serve as a fascinating insight into the skills and tastes of the time, and are an important milestone in firearms and engineering history.
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