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Matchlock 19th September 2008 05:18 PM

One of the world's earliest known wheel-lock mechanisms, ca. 1535-40
6 Attachment(s)
When enquiring about the wheel-lock ingintion on the world wide web you will almost inevitably bump into one story: the legend of a certain Johann Kiefuß of Nuremberg, who is said to have invented to wheel-lock in 1517 exactly.
Sadly, this silly mistake made by writers in the second half of the 19th century when historical weaponry was still taking its first steps in science, is repeated again and again. Still, it is nothing but a story.

As scholars like Claude Blair pointed out decades ago, the wheel-lock ignition principle had been well known since at least the later years of the 15th century and depicted in scrapbooks like Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, although not as a mechanical part for igniting a firearm but as a tinder lighter used in everyday life.

To cut a long story short, the political leaders like Maximilian I very soon grabbed the completely new and dangerous potential of this self-igniting mechanism. For the first time in history, the wheel-lock enabled an assailant to make an attempt out of the blue, with no fondling with either open fire or a smoldering match required! Consequently, Maximilian I released a prohibition edict on self-igniting guns in 1518, I think, which Maximilian's follower, Charles V - though being an avid wheel-lock fan himself - , kept up until his retirement in the mid-1550's.

Due to such restrictions, the number of wheel-locks legally produced was, of course, actually very limited during the first half of the 16th century while increasing rapidly from ca. the 1560's when it was no longer banned.

This stunningly well-preserved sample is almost certainly of North Italian (Brescia?) make and can be dated to ca. 1535-40 on the ground of stylistc features to be found on similar locks dug out from bogs in Hungary; they were part of the equipment of a boat with harquebusiers on board which shipwrecked on the Danube near Komorn in 1541.

The piece of pyrites screwed in the jaws of the dog was pressed on the wheel by a spring, and the wheel was wound up against the main spring. If released by pulling the trigger - rarely enough, the trigger is an integral part of the lock plate here which suggests that this lock was meant to fire a combination weapon like, e.g., a battle hammer, combined with a barrel - the main spring would quickly snap back and force the spinning wheel to produce sparks from the pyrites. These sparks immediately ignited to priming powder in the pan where they were produced; this flame went right through the touch hole in the barrel and made the actual load explode.

I attach a b/w image of a small combined battle hammer and wheel-lock gun preserved in the collections in Schloss Ambras, The Tyrol, in order to convey an impression of what the whole piece may have looked like.

Enjoy this finely file-decorated and extremely rare lock as a sample of the arts and crafts of the early lock-smiths!

Matchlock (Michael)

TVV 20th September 2008 05:20 PM


My knowledge does not allow me to participate in your threads with any observations or even intelligent questions, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate the content you share with us. Early firearms are fascinating and I know I have learned many new things from your posts.

Thank you,


Matchlock 20th September 2008 05:51 PM


I think all of us joined this forum in order to learn from people who have gathered detailed knwolegde by experience, each in his own niche.

It is a great pleasure to a newcomer like myself to receive so much kind acceptance by fellow members, and very awarding as well.

Thank you, folks, sharing with you is fun!


Pukka Bundook 26th September 2008 02:05 PM

Very interesting lock.
I have not seen a sear/trigger that works quite like this one. very simple, but foolproof as well!
If I ever "get 'round" to making a wheellock, this is something to try!
(Been thinking about it forever, but something always gets in the way..)

Thanks for posting the pics.


Marcus den toom 5th March 2014 04:04 PM

Hi Michael,

I saw this thread when browsing through old threads (with a dust mask on). A beautiful piece of engineering :)

But i don't really understand how the pancover works :o Did you have to manualy open the pan before the dog with pyrith is pressed against the wheel?

Hopefully this enquiry will put this highly interesting subject back on the map :cool:

Fernando K 6th March 2014 01:36 PM

Hi marcus

The question is addressed to Matchlock, but let me answer you. The wheel has a cavity in which a lever integral with the pancover, who gets into the cavity when the wheel is mounted, and primed the bread is introduced. When the wheel starts to turn, forces the lever outside the cavity, opening the bread. In turn, this unsightly spring on top of the lock remains closed pancover.

Affectionately. Fernando K

(Sorry for the translator)

Matchlock 6th March 2014 02:53 PM

4 Attachment(s)
Hi Marcus,

It is as Fernando K said:

There is a small, thin integral hook at the underside of the pan cover which reaches into a longitudinal slot at the inside of the wheel. When the wheel starts spinning back it pushes the pan cover open, which otherwise is kept on the pan by the pressure of a long, thin, one-armed spring.

I tried to mark the arm of the pan cover red on the two bottom images.


Marcus den toom 6th March 2014 03:25 PM

Thank you Fernando K and Michael,

A very interesting system, it has a rotating pancover instead of the more known sliding version.

Did all of the early wheel locks have this rotating pancover or where there also other ideas? I noticed the warhammer with a sliding pancover in a early state of development if i may call it that.

Raf 6th March 2014 03:35 PM

The slot in wheel system is the earliest known type of self opening pan . It isn't always appreciated that , apart from keeping the powder in the pan, the automatically opening pan is important to how wheelocks work . Although they will spark up with the pyrites resting directly on the wheel this isn't very efficient as the spring has to accelerate the wheel from rest as well as overcoming the friction of the pyrites. An automatically opening pan allows the spring to first accelerate the wheel , then drops the pyrites smartly onto the wheel when it's turning at its maximum speed. Hence a much better spark.

The single spring locking bar is certainly simple but perhaps not as foolproof as it appears. The danger being that it is only the tension of the spring that holds the sear into the wheel rebate. With the possibility of it not fully engaging and the thing going of by accident. Hence the development of the double locking arrangement where the sear is positively locked into the wheel using a secondary sear lever.

The other lock illustrated has an early form of hook type pancover where the cover and the operating arm are one and the same . The cover is opened by a cam or pin on the wheel . Early Portuguese locks use this very simple system

Fernando K 6th March 2014 05:19 PM

Hello, Matchlock

Thanks for the amazing pictures. It is the best I've seen so far! I'll never get my hands on this device!

Affectionately. Fernando K

Marcus den toom 6th March 2014 06:06 PM

Hi Fernando K,

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Michl's collection and believe me my friend if you see the vast amount of rare items in this firearms Valhalla you never want to leave again (luckily for Michael i did go home) :o :P

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