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Today is September 16, 2021


Clichés and flintlocks

By Tony Kinton

Clichés and flintlocks

Clack, whoosh, boom: Tony Kinton’s .32 just sent a ball on its way. No flash in the pan here!

Clichés are handy tools upon occasion. But they became clichés because they had served their purpose, had been overused, no longer rang with import because the objects or conditions to which they refer were lost from experience. Enter the flintlock.

The quintessential flintlock is an entity commonly known as the Kentucky Long Rifle, though these units were not made in Kentucky. They are those long, graceful, and peculiarly handsome firearms, often with stunning maple stocks. This Long Rifle was and is a purely American design, and its influence cannot be dismissed.

Flintlocks are made with three primary components. The lock is the firing mechanism, the barrel holds the charge and sights, and the stock keeps everything together in a neat package. So, if one has lock, stock, and barrel, that one has the entirety.

Flintlocks require a protracted procedure for loading and subsequent firing. Black powder goes down the bore, a patched round ball is placed on the muzzle and rammed home, a dose of priming powder is trickled into the pan, and the frizzen is then snapped shut to make the rifle ready.

Interesting things happen during the firing of these elegant tools. The cock (hammer) carries a piece of flint that strikes the frizzen, opening it when the flint hits. This exposes that pan of powder and the flint scraping the frizzen creates sparks that drop into that waiting pan. There is then a whoosh as the tiny charge ignites. The flame from that jumps through the touch hole and sets off the primary charge. Simplicity and complexity partner during this.

If for some reason the touch hole is clogged or the primary powder damp, that main charge will not ignite. All that occurs is a flash in the pan. This serves little purpose since a charging grizzly or some other adversary is generally not impressed by that flash.

Flintlocks have one primary safety system, and that is the position of half-cock on the hammer. Some malfunction can potentially occur and the hammer fall from half cock. Even at that, the flint may strike the frizzen with enough force to open it and generate sparks. The result is an untimely eruption and stray round ball before the shooter is prepared. A leather sheath covering the frizzen is prudent while moving about with a loaded flinter. That going off half-cocked is a disagreeable occurrence.

So, where do we get cliches? Some definitely from the flintlock. Should we use them? From a former English teacher’s perspective, absolutely not. That said, take care that you don’t go off half-cocked or become a simple flash in the pan and lose out lock, stock, and barrel on some grand elements of life. And by all means, keep your powder dry.


Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. He lives in Carthage and is a Central Electric member. Visit for more information.

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