Flintlock Question - Frizzen lifespan

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Apr 20, 2004

I've got a .36 cal Pedersoli percussion rifle that I bought from DGW several years ago. I've never owned or shot a flintlock. Been thinking about buying a conversion and trying it out.

The stone hits the frizzen which sends a shower of sparks to the pan, etc. I've read that the sparks are actually metal, from the frizzen, not the flint. If this is true then wouldn't that eventually wear out the frizzen? How many shots is a frizzen good for? I'd always assumed that the flint was the "wear" item in a flintlock.
You should get thousands of shots from a frizzen providing that it was properly hardened. Flints are the "wear " item.
Properly hardened frizzen is the key. I have thousands of strikes through my flintlock. My brother owns one that wouldn't spark. He's a blacksmith, so he hardened it himself and it works a little better, but not 100%.

But, you should have nothing to worry about.
The life of your frizzen depends on two main things:
  • The depth of the hardening
  • The surface of the frizzen

A third indirect influence is the strength of your mainspring (read: rock basher)

Sparks are caused by the flint shearing off tiny pieces of carbon-laden iron from the face of the frizzen. The tiny pieces are made incandescently hot by the friction of the flint, and the pieces burst into flame (i.e., combust). The frizzen must have a Rockwell hardness of 55-60 for this combustion to happen. Any softer, and the quantity (if any) of spark is reduced.

Frizzens can be either case-hardened (few mil depth) or through-hardened (eutectic steel). I have a frizzen on my Traditions rifle that is case hardened, while my Siler locks are through-hardened.

Case-hardened frizzens can be re-hardened by first smoothing the face and then treating with a carbon-bearing compound such as Kasenit, followed by oil or water quenching. Alternatively, an oxy-acetylene torch with a "carburizing" flame can be made to work as well.

Through-hardened frizzens must be heated past a certain temperature and then quenched in water or oil to achieve the proper eutectic composition.

Typically both types are heated until they are non-magnetic. There are resources available for more information, if you need more help please PM me. I have re-hardened both types of frizzen with good success.

The surface of the frizzen should be relatively smooth and free of major gouges. You can grind the surface flat with a dremel tool or use a bench grinder if you are careful.

Re-hardened frizzens must be "drawn" back in the toe area to prevent breakage, or tempered overall back to a Rockwell of 55-60.

Be careful when tempering frizzens, you can "de-carburize" them if done incorrectly.

A third alternative is to "resole" your frizzen with a piece of old file or carbon steel blade. This requires the forge welding techniques of a blacksmith.
Instead of converting your Pendersoli, consider putting together
your own. It's not that difficult.

I don't mean a kit. Buy a 90% precarved stock, quality lock, such as
a Siler, assembled and timed by a reputable maker and a good barrel
like a Green Mountain, Coleraine, Rice etc.. Get a book such as Dixon's
The Art of Building the Pennsylvania Longrifle add time and some
odds and ends and you'll have an accurate, reliable rifle that you can
take pride in. You'll end up with new knowledge, new skills and have a
bunch of fun. It wil take more time and money. Depends on what you
want to put into muzzleloading.

You don't need fancy carving or engraving or any of that foofraw. Most
of the guns of the 18th and early 19th century were simple tools.
You get what you pay for and your own labor is a coin of this realm.

Don't buy cheap flints either.

Just a long-winded suggestion and a road to finding the answer to
your original question and to a lot of questions you don't even have yet.
I realize that my earlier post is not immediately helpful,
Allow me to add a few practical thoughts.

Most fixes to the frizzen can't be effected at the point of use.
Flint corrections, however, can, and flint problems are usually
your no-spark culprits.

Align the sharp horizontal edge of the leather cushioned flint
parallel to the frizzen. The leather should be thin so that you
can shim with it.The flint should initially contact the frizzen
approximately 1/3 down the frizzens length. All sparks should
then shower down into the pan. Too early and you waste
mainspring force and accelerate flint edge wear. Early also tends
to inertially flip open the frizzen lessening contact time. Too
late = less contact time and a tendency to push rather than
fip open the frizzen wearing it against the cock.

Shim or knap the flint to proper length (sometimes just turning
it over works) Trying to clamp the flint forward in the jaws will
not work. It will be quickly shoved back against the jaw screw.
You also will tend to over-tighten the jaws in the attempt.

The frizzen surface should be dry and clean of oil, grease, dirt
and soot. Some like to lick their thumb and wipe it along the
frizzen surface, looks cool. Actually depending on your individual
body chemistry and what you had for lunch, you could be greasing
the frizzen. Use a water moistened corner of a cloth or your
shirt and dry with another corner.

Learn to knap your flints with a small hammer carried in your bag.
Not Knapping is akin to throwing away a knife when it dulls, If the
knife is junk you may as well, if it's a good one you re-sharpen it.
Same goes for flints. Some folks swear by cut "flints" made of all
manner of exotic materials. I do not. My opinion, your choice.

The face of a frizzen struck by a hard, sharp, correctly installed
flint should show scrapes but no gouges. No scrapes indicates that
the frizzen is too hard, gouges that it is too soft. Both conditoions
require that it be heat treated. Or it is poor steel for the purpose.
If it looks good but does not spark, it must be treated with a
compound to increase surface ontent or replaced with a frizzen
of higher carbon steel. I understand that the old boys used to
re-sole them with file steel etc.,but this is a difficult pursuit
of dubious value.

Frizzens last a long time. Heat treating is initially necessary and
you may decide to subsequently heat treat. I suggest you learn
from someone expreienced and successfull. They are not necessarily
mutually inclusive. Definitely read about it for background but watch
it done as well. Instrumentation is rarely used by the hobbyist and
terms such as "just blue", "straw yellow" and "cherry red" are too vague.
I believe describing the color of hot steel is in the eyes of the beholder.

I have neither owned nor had occassion to heat treat a case hardened
frizzen and have no knowledge of the process. I have no opinion as to
their use or suitability.

I have, I believe successfully, assembled and fired flintlocks.
There are many fine aspects and techniques which lead to
reliably quick ignition. Should you decide to convert your gun
or stock a new one I would be glad to discuss them with you
and/or point you toward someone more successfull and experienced.

Flintlock ignition can feel just as fast as percussion and is a lot
of fun. Good shooting!
Well, you all have answered my original guestions, in spades. Ron, ky, Ohoian thanks.

I've thought of building one like you mentioned. The Pedersoli I have was a semi-finished kit. It was fun doing the fitting and stock work. Doing a lock-stock-barrel job from scratch would be really fun. When enough fun money avails itself, I'll do it. I have a friend who has an original "hand-me-down-from-my-great-granpaw" original southern style rifle that I'd love to copy. I think that his was originally a flint that was converted to percussion years ago, judging by the cheap appearance of the lock and the nice looks of the rest of the gun. If I do do it, my copy will be flint.

Like your screen name. You gotta be a good guy. :)
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