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Matchlock 29th July 2010 05:45 PM

The Use of Wadding in 14th to 17th Century Gun Loading
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Hi there,

1. There was certainly no 'average' powder measure for each charge. In older sources we read that that the earliest 14th century barrels were loaded almost up to the muzzle so that the ball could literally be seen. Some of the Steinbüchsen of ca. 1400 which I recently posted, with their short actual barrels (Flug) and rather long powder breeches, seem to suggest a barrel length of ca. 2-3 balls imagined to be placed one above the other. No sure aiming ...

2. We know very little, if any, about wadding. Presumably in the 14th and 15th centuries, there was little or no wadding at all and most probably consisted of wooden or hemp plugs. There are illustrative sources of ca. 1400 showing a small stone gun (Steinbüchse) standing upright while being loaded by two men, with the ball seen at the muzzle and plugged by wooden wedges hammered in. This would mean that early plugging of loads actually meant plugging or wadding the ball rather than the powder load.

3. Concluding from the calibers of the earliest preserved barrels (Loshult and Berne guns and others but NOT Tannenberg!) we may assume that in those days, the average caliber of a small handgun was about 3 to 4.5 cm - cf. my earliest small stone ball I posted a few weeks ago. In the course of the 15th century, it narrowed down to ca. 1.5 to 2.0 cm.

4. Following what I said in paragraph 2, I believe that both waddings of the powder measure and double waddings were not common to the 14th and 15th centuries. No felt or hemp waddings are known before the early 16th century; I do have some felt plugs in my collection but cannot date them any closer than '16th to 18th century'. I have never had the chance to extract a wadded loading of an original barrel earlier than the beginning of the 17th century, and that was felt plugging the powder measure and separating it from the lead ball which again was wadded by a bunch of hemp and in some times, printed paper. On the arrival of paper cartridges in the first half of the 16th century it became wide use to rip off the ball with the teeth, pour the measure of powder down the barrel, 'spit' the rolling ball right after it, crumble the paper and put it in the muzzle as a wadding and then just ram the whole load down with two or three stomps of the ramrod.

5. The actual load of powder I extracted from my 1481 haquebut barrel was not very much indeed, maybe 50 grams. I guess it was just the remnants of a bigger original load which, together with the missing ball, had fallen out long time ago. It would therefore be mere conjecture to make a section drawing.

Best wishes,

Matchlock 29th July 2010 06:40 PM

2 Attachment(s)
Chipping off wooden plugs or wedges for plugging the stone ball near the muzzle.

From Codex germanicus, cgm 600, Munich, ca. 1390-1400.


Matchlock 29th July 2010 06:55 PM

Please see my thread

for many illustrations of original earliest Steinbüchsen and their ammunition!


Spiridonov 29th July 2010 07:55 PM

thank you for nice pictures.
What is the diameter of bullet from you handgonne of 1481 year? I think that it must be less than calibre (27mm).

Matchlock 29th July 2010 09:26 PM

Exactly, Alexander,

As I wrote, the ball, along with probably most of the powder charge, must have gone lost long time ago, they sadly are not with me, apart from what I think is a part of the powder charge.
I'm convinced though that the diameter of the ball was somewhat smaller than the bore of the barrel, so it would have made it a rolling ball (or rather rollerball?! Rolling stone?! . :D Maybe there was just a wadding of crumbled hemp or paper above the ball which had shrunken over the centuries and in consequence had given way to the rest to get lost.

Again: you'll see and handle it all - just let me know what day exactly you're going to come and view my collection!!! :) ;) :cool:

Excitedly looking forward to seeing you,

Matchlock 29th July 2010 11:29 PM

Why for heaven's sake did that one appear double?

To the mods: Hown on earth can I delete the second identical posting? Or could somebody do that for me: :confused:


fernando 30th July 2010 09:06 AM

Done, Michl :)

Matchlock 30th July 2010 09:16 PM

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Thanks a lot, 'Nando!

Here is a cross sectional drawing of a ca. 1360-80 small bronze handgun barrel which proves that the ball reservoir (or should I say ballroom? :rolleyes: ) of this special gun is notably longer than the powder chamber.


Matchlock 2nd August 2010 09:25 PM

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O.k., here are the real things from my collection - ammunition from five centuries:

- extreme left, standing upright: a glass with a ball and powder load extracted from a ca. 1470 Nuremberg bronze haquebut barrel; the powder pillar measures about seven ball lengths!

- next from left: ball moulds from ca. 1500-1580

- foreground left: linen patches, 17th-19th centuries, felt plugs (waddings) of the same period; paper cartridges, 16th/17th centuries, and cast lead balls retaining their sprue (German Gusszapfen) for binding into a paper cartridge

- foreground, right half: two hemp waddings, a length of matchcord, a piece of tinder, French 'blond' gun flints retaining their lead or leather linings, and excavated reddish brown pyrites for wheel-locks retaining their original lead lining (Bleifutter)!

- background right: earthenware grenades and a small iron hand grenade, Thirty Years War, all retaining their original fillings and fuses!

- a fuse cut sectionally, made from a thick dried grass stem and hollowed out to receive the powder line still present!

These are by far the greatest rarities ever to get your hands on, and not even available in the big museums! :cool:


fernando 2nd August 2010 10:18 PM

Done, Michl
You may wrap them all :cool:
I'll come by next week, to pick them up :eek:

Matchlock 2nd August 2010 10:28 PM

That's just so great of you, 'Nando -

and just in time as well. I 've been planning to throw them away for so long but was not sure where to properly get rid of them.

Thank you so much, amigo - of course all costs will be on me; :cool: :eek:

Looking forward too seeing you (not a joke!)! :)

Best wishes and good night to Portugal,

fernando 2nd August 2010 11:19 PM

Originally Posted by Matchlock
... Looking forward too seeing you (not a joke!)! :) ...

One of these days ... when you least expect :D .

Matchlock 3rd August 2010 07:31 PM

That's exactly what I was afraid of ... :p


Matchlock 8th August 2010 06:45 PM

5 Attachment(s)
This a mid-15th century wrought iron breech for a breech loading cannon retaining both its original powder load and wooden wadding plug. In the case of breech loaders, the ball was shoved in the barrel from behind manually before the breech was put in and plugged by a wooden wedge at the rear.
Of course, this 15th century rapid firing method only made sense with a number of loaded breeches right at hand.

Actually I posted these before in my thread "Breech Loading 1450-1550" but given the fact that this rarest stuff is hard to grasp, and even harder to remember after long time passing, I hope not to be blamed too severely for a little repetition now and then. ;)


fernando 9th August 2010 12:56 PM

Hi Michl,

Originally Posted by Matchlock
... I hope not to be blamed too severely for a little repetition now and then. ;) ...

Your'e not repeating; your'e just letting us see it once more :cool: .
Say, wasn't there a version of chamber (breech-block) in which the ammunition ball was also plugged into its mouth, instead of shoved into the barrel?

Matchlock 9th August 2010 02:26 PM

Hi 'Nando,

Not to my knowledge. It's extremely rare to find such old things still loaded but the fact alone that these breeches are notably narrowed denotes that the ball must have been loaded separately.

In the late 15th to 17th centuries when small iron cartridges were used with breech loading long arms and hand firearms, they might have also contained the ball. All this is mere speculation though; I do not know of one single small iron cartridge that would still hold its load.

That should prove to all of us how little we actually know of these weapons.


Spiridonov 10th August 2010 08:37 AM

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History of Alexander about. 1459

fernando 10th August 2010 01:15 PM

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This is what partly influenced my doubts.
I see that probably D. Pope was giving wings to his imagination :shrug:


Spiridonov 10th August 2010 05:08 PM

written sources of the 15 th century (artillery manuscript) says that chamber was charged without the ball. I can find original text if you want

fernando 10th August 2010 05:42 PM

No need Alexander; it is enough if you say so.
Also Michael has the same conviction.
This drawing was only to justify my query.

Matchlock 14th August 2010 05:45 PM

Originally Posted by Spiridonov
written sources of the 15 th century (artillery manuscript) says that chamber was charged without the ball. I can find original text if you want

Hi Alexander,

I would be very grateful if you could find and publish the original text and give the bibliographical source (codex ...).

Thank you so much in advance! ;) :cool:


Matchlock 18th March 2014 05:44 PM

12 Attachment(s)
We may assume that the small pleated leather pouch which is found nailed to some types of 16th c. military powder flasks, ranging from ca. 1530/40 to ca. 1570, was also meant to keep wadding and little cleaning tools like scourers etc. that could be screwed to the threaded finial of the ramrod.

The general and ready-at-hand term 'ball pouch' proves fallacious and hasty on close examination; most of these pouches are actually so delicate that they were not even apt to hold several heavy leaden balls even then when they were fresh and new.

The same is true for some pouches on arquebusier's and musketeer's side bags (generalizingly but hastily called 'purses') and bandeliers that are divided into various sections.

I attached photos of three 16th c. powder flasks with additional leather pouches from my collection, plus two early to mid-16th c. Swiss arquebusier's bandeliers, their powder flasks decorated with the city arms of Basel, the episcopal staff; please note their spacious leather pouches that could hold various kinds of accouterment.
Attached at the bottom: two scourers for cleaning the barrel, ca. 1560-1600; length ca. 7 cm each.

Please see my threads


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