Gun Tools

From WikiPOBia

Revision as of 22:21, 19 November 2013 by Czrisher (Talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Current revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

The Hundred Days contains a description of the various implements used to fight the guns of HMS Surprise or any other vessel of the period, listing "...the coiled muzzle-lashing, made fast to the eye-bolt above the port-lid, the seizing of the mid-breeching to the pommelion, the neat arrangement of the sponge, handspike, powder-horn, priming-wire, bed, quoin, train-tackle, shot and all the rest...."[1]



Sponges were made of sheepskin and attached to a handle of sufficent size and length to reach the breech of the gun. In use, the sponge was dunked in a bucket of water, then spun in the hand to remove the excess. The wet sponge was run down the bore to extinguish any burning particles of powder remaining from the last shot, before the next round was loaded. If the gun was not swabbed out between shots, the next round might be ignited, with fatal consequences for the loader.


Rammers were disks of hardwood used to seat the bag of powder home in the breech, then the projectile on top of the powder charge. They were usualy attached to the handle at the other end of the sponge, and wielded by a single member of the gun crew. On larger guns, the tools might be separate articles used by two or more men.


Handspikes were stout hardwood pry bars used to move the gun back into firing postion, adjust it from side to side, or raise the breech to ajust the elevation. Usually, handspikes were used by two members of the gun crew operating together being, despite any suggestions made by the name, six feet or more in length.

Powder horn

Powder horns were made of cow horns, and filled with fine-grained musket or pistol powder. The horn was used to fill the touch-hole in the breech with powder. When touched by the slow-match, it fired the powder charge to shoot the gun.

== Priming wire ==

Priming wires were used to puncture holes in bags containing the powder charges so the coarser cannon powder would ignite. Priming wires were made of stiff iron with a sharp point, similar to a modern ice pick.

Touch hole

The touch hole was a small diameter hole bored into the breech of a muzzle loading cannon. It allowed the powder charge to be ignited, by use of the priming wire and one of the ignition systems of the time.


The breech is the closed, or back end of the gun, opposite the muzzle. The powder charge would be seated here, opened by the priming wire, and the charge fired by the priming powder admitted through the touch hole. Breeches of muzzle loading cannon were often cast thicker than the barrel to better contain the explosive force of the powder. Still, it was not uncommon for a cannon to burst during firing, with horrific effects on the crew.



Solid shot were cast iron balls made to a specific caliber and weight. The Royal Navy classified its guns generally by weight - a 12pdr (pounder) gun fired a twelve pound solid iron ball. Ball shot was developed from the carved stone balls fired by early cannon from the dawn of the gunpowder age. Solid iron shot would batter its way through the wooden hulls, cut rigging, smash masts and spars, and cut men to pieces.


Shells were hollow iron spheres filled with gunpowder and fitted with early fuzes. When fired, the propellant charge would ignite the fuze and cause the shell to explode as it was over, or inside, a ship or fort. The shrapnel produced would do great damage to an opponent's ships, forts, or troops. Hollow spherical charges first made their appearance in the 1600's as grenadoes, similar to modern hand grenades. However, the difficulty of casting hollow iron spheres and the unreliability of fuze material left them little used until later in the 19th century.

Grape and canister

Grape and canister rounds turned an ordinary muzzle loader into a huge shot-gun. Grape shot were cast iron balls about an inch to an inch-and-a-half in diameter. They were loaded in a cloth bag with a woden base, or a rack-like metal container. When fired, the container would disintegrate, scattering the shot like a modern-day shotgun shell. Canister was little more than a large tin can filled with musket balls, nails, and other scrap metal, and used to the same effect. Grapeshot and canister found wide use in the armies and navies of the time. On land, canister and grape were used by gun crews against massed infantry at close range, so the battery would not be overrun and taken. At sea, these rounds were used to shred sails, cut rigging to pieces, and sweep sailors and sharpshooters from the tops. It was a devastating weapon against a massed boarding party.


  1. O'Brian, Patrick. The Hundred Days. (c) 1998 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, NY: p. 38
Personal tools