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Flintlock debate: French or English?

| Friday, Nov. 4, 2005

More than a decade ago, while attending a rendezvous held by the Blue Ridge Rifles in eastern Pennsylvania, I met an avid flintlock rifle shooter and flint knapper named Bob Winters, who introduced me to French gun flints. I've lost track of him, but since our meeting, I have been searching for a source of these amber colored, durable flints.

I found the Tennessee firm Dixie Gun Works offers French flints in its catalog.

What's the big deal about French flints, as opposed to English gun flints or machine cut agate flints•

Winters said French flints are much harder. When installed in a flintlock rifle, they throw a somewhat better spark shower from the frizzen to the pan, ensuring a more reliable ignition.

After we retreated to a heavily shaded spot in the woods, he had me install an unused English flint and drop the hammer several times to observe the spark shower. The English flint did a great job scraping the frizzen and threw an impressive shower of sparks into the empty pan.

Then, he had me install one of the French flints he had knapped. It was easy to see that the French flint threw a more “intense” spark shower.

However, he cautioned that French flints were a “bit hard” on frizzens. He said he used English flints for rendezvous and target shooting, but he reserved the French flints for hunting. After the impromptu demonstration, I was sold on the idea of using French flints.

French flints are a bit more expensive, but they're well worth it when it comes to reliable ignition for hunting loads. Dixie sells the French flints in three sizes, small, medium and large with prices ranging from $5 to $7.50 each. These flints are hand knapped by a French flint maker and imported by Dixie.

Of course, Dixie offers traditional English flints, too, in eight different sizes with prices ranging from $3 to $3.50 for two or $14.40 to $16.80 per dozen. The late-winter Primitive Weapon season is less than two months away, and it might be a good idea for flintlock shooters to stock up on flints. Since they're “cheaper by the dozen,” it might be a good idea to order a dozen English flints and include one or two French flints in your order as well.

Thinking about flintlock muzzle stuffers calls to mind an event taking place next September, a re-enactment of the Burning of Kittanning. Mike Slease of Milton will be in charge of the re-enactment.

At a planning meeting held at the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau on Wednesday, Slease and his co-planner, Mike Holmsa, stressed the importance of all participants wearing period correct clothing and carrying period correct rifles.

If you're thinking of taking part, the Dixie Gun catalog has everything a mid-1700s era re-enactor might need, including a reproduction of the North Star West Long gun, a circa 1750-era, .67 caliber, smoothbore barrel, light infantry fusil. It's a bit pricey at $1,200, but it also can be purchased in kit form for $650.

Dixie also offers the .75 caliber Brown Bess Trade Gun assembled or in kit form and the 20 gauge Pedersoli Indian Trade Musket.

The Indian Trade Musket caught my fancy. It shoots a .600 roundball with an .015 patch propelled by a suggested load of 70-grains of FFg powder. Its 511?2-inch overall length and 71?4-pound weight would not make it unpleasant to carry on a long march. All rifles are faithful to replicate authentic details of those made in the 1700s.

Dixie also offers patterns for making your own period-correct clothing. Slease said he intends to make clothing requirements for re-enactors simple and at low cost, so Dixie may be the place to find the patterns you need to make your own 1700s era duds.

The Dixie catalog is $5 postpaid. The cover of the current catalog is dedicated to President Teddy Roosevelt. The catalog may be ordered from Dixie Gun Works, Inc. P.O. Box 130, Union City, TN 38281. Or, visit Dixie's Web site at

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