Part 5 — Timing Powder locations in Pan

Is it better to bank the black powder priming away from the vent? This piece of conventional flintlock wisdom will be tested.

Part 5 of our test series will examine the question about where in the pan provides the best ignition. Conventional wisdom has told us that banking the priming powder away from the vent will produce the fastest ignition. Practically avery black powder shooter has heard this. This theory is based on human senses or what looks and sounds fast. The current test is designed to see if conventional wisdom is correct.

Early attempts showed a trend developing but had results that did not fit the rest of the range. A careful plan was developed to remove as many variables as possible especially those that were caused by fouling. Between firings the following were done:

The barrel was wiped. An additional step was added here and explained in the video.

A pan brush was used.

A pipe cleaner was used in the vent.

Compressed air was blown into the vent.

The priming powder used was Swiss Null B weighed on a balance scales. Since earlier testing showed its consistency, .75 gr was used. Because the placement of priming powder was the variable, care was used in its placement. The charge was poured into the pan and moved into the test positions using pencil with a rounded eraser. Powder could be pushed to the outer edge of the pan as well as very close to the vent. In both of these positions I felt that I was using more care in the powder placement than the normal firing of the lock in the gun. I realized that I chose the extremes in powder placement, and that a shooter would fall somewhere in between.

The tests were run in a 24 hour period with temperature controlled by thermostat. The day was picked with humidity in mind. The humidity varied within a range from 60 – 66 %. This is noted on the spreadsheets. Each battery of tests consisted of ten trials each – prime banked away from the vent, and prime placed as close to the vent as possible without covering it. To insure that no priming method had a unfair advantage, the trials were alternated so that a complete test battery included 10 trials each, alternated for a total of 20 trials.

At the end of the test session the ten trials for each priming method were recorded and all parts cleaned. Battery 1 was done in the afternoon at 60% humidity. Battery 2 was done in the evening at 66% humidity. The final battery was done the following morning at 60% humidity.

I made a short video that showed the processes involved:

The results are shown in the spreadsheet below.

The obvious conclusion is that banking the prime away from the vent doesn’t produce the most rapid ignition as we once thought. Banking the powder way from the vent actually reduced the ignition speed by 16%. This conclusion runs counter to conventional wisdom heard for years in muzzle loading circles. However, it is consistent with earlier tests where we saw photos with brighter fire from a close positioning of the prime.

While these results change the way I will prime my flintlock, there are other considerations that must be dealt with. In my tests the pan was ignited by a copper wire heated red hot. In the real flint world the sparks need a bed of powder on which to land, and this must be part of or priming procedure. This means that when I prime my locks, my emphasis will be close to the vent rather than away from it, but the bottom of the pan must have sufficient prime for sparks to land in. Thus, how well a lock places its sparks in the pan becomes an equally important consideration.

One other result of this experiment is that I have become increasingly skeptical of human senses in how I perceive flintlock ignition. And, there are more questions. What about low vent locations? This has always been rejected as a cause of slow ignition. Maybe we’re wrong about that as well. We’ll look at that in Part 6.

Pan Vent Experiments — Introduction

Part 1 — Black Powder Ignition Characteristics

Part 2 — Initial Pan Experiments

Part 3 — Photography through the muzzle

Part 4 — Priming Powder Amount by Weight


Part 6 — High and Low Vent Experiments


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