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PISTOL

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 656 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PISTOL, a small fire-arm designed for quick work and personal protection at close quarters, and for use in one hand. It was originally made as a single and also double-barrelled smooth bore muzzle-loader, involving no departure in principle from the History.—Pistols are understood to have been made for the first time at Pistoia in Italy, whence they receive their name. Caminelleo Vitelli, who flourished in 1540, is the accredited inventor. The first pistols, in the 16th century; had short single barrels and heavy butts, nearly at right angles to the barrel. Shortly afterwards the pattern changed, the butts being lengthened out almost in a line with the barrels. These early pistols' were usually fitted with the wheel-lock (see GuN). Short, heavy pistols, called " daggs," were in common use about the middle of the 17th century, with butts of ivory, bone, hard wood or metal. A chiselled Italian dagg of 165o, for example, had a slightly bell-nosed barrel of about 8 in. in length and 14 bore. The German wheel-lock military pistols used by the Reiters, and those made for nobles and gentlemen, were profusely and beautifully ornamented. Pistols with metal hafts were common in the 16th and 17th centuries, many beautiful specimens of which, silver-mounted, were made in Edinburgh and used by Highlanders. Duelling, when in vogue, caused the production of specially accurate and well-made single-barrelled pistols, reliable at twenty paces. The pattern of this pistol seldom varied, its accuracy at short range equalling that of more modern ones, the principle of a heavy bullet and light charge of powder being employed. The first double-barrelled pistols were very bulky weapons made with the barrels laid alongside one another, necessitating two locks and two hammers. There was also the "over and under" pistol, one barrel being laid over the other. This was a more portable weapon, only requiring one lock and hammer, the second barrel being turned round by hand, after the first had been fired, or, as an alternative, the flash-hole being adjusted to the second barrel by a key. These pistols were first made with flint and steel locks and subsequently for percussion caps. Double " over and under " pistols were also made with a trigger mechanism that served to discharge both barrels in turn. Revolvers.—A revolver is a single-barrelled pistol with a revolving breech containing several chambers for the cartridges, thus enabling successive shots to be rapidly fired from the same weapon without reloading. The ordinary pistol is now, and has been for many years past, superseded by the revolver. The first revolver, fired with the percussion cap, was made with the whole of the barrels, six, seven or eight, revolving in one piece, and was known as the " pepper-box." It was " single action," i.e. the hammer was raised and the barrels revolved by the pull of the trigger. This weapon was cumbrous and no accurate aim could be taken with it owing chiefly to the strength and resistance of the main-spring and the consequent strong pull required on the trigger. The principle of a revolving breech to one barrel, which superseded the " pepper-box," is an old one in the history of fire-arms, dating from the 16th century. At ordinary fire-arms of the day. With the introduction of revolvers and breech-loading pistols and the application of " rifling " to musket barrels, came also, in the early half of the 19th century, the rifling of pistol-barrels. first the breech cylinder was revolved by hand, as in the revolving arquebus or matchlock, a specimen of which is now in the ' For the use of long heavy pistols by cavalry in the 16th and 17th centuries, see ARMY: History; and CAVALRY. Tower of London, but this was subsequently improved by introducing geared mechanism, by which the pull of the trigger or the cocking of the hammer, or both, do the work. There exists a pistol of the time of Charles I. which is rotated automatically as the hammer is raised. rapidly fired, if necessary, by the trigger action alone. Many revolvers on the Colt principle were in use during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, and proved of valuable service to British officers. As rim-fire, pin-fire and central-fire cartridges were succes- In 1814 a self-acting revolver mechanism of a crude pattern i sively introduced, breech-loading revolvers were constructed was produced in England. Four years later Collier used a to use them. Messrs Smith & Wesson, of Springfield. U.S.A., produced the first metal cartridges for revolvers. Pin-fire cartridges, paper and metallic, were used on the continent of Europe for Lefaucheux and other revolvers, and these and rim-fire cartridges are still used for revolvers of small calibre. But since the central-fire cartridge has proved its superiority for guns, its principle has been generally applied to pistol cartridges, at first to the larger bores. The alteration of the muzzle-loading to the breech-loading separate spring to rotate the chamber. In 1835, an American, Samuel Colt, produced and patented the first practical revolving pistol, the idea of which was obtained by him, it is stated, from an ancient " revolving " weapon in the Tower of London. The chambers of the first Colt revolver were loaded with powder and bullets from the muzzle end, and each Chamber had a nipple that required to be capped. It was the invention of the copper cap that made the Colt revolver possible. Under the old priming system with exposed powder in a pan the difficulty of separate and effective ignition with the revolving cylinder was almost insuperable. The first American revolver makers caused the cocking of the hammer to revolve the cylinder, while the English makers effected this by the pull of the trigger. In 1855, Adams of London, and also Tranter of Birmingham, brought out the double-action revolver, in which the revolution of the cylinder could be effected by both these methods. When the revolver is cocked and fired by pressing the trigger, greater rapidity ofchamber in the revolver involved no decided change of type. The original Colt, as a breech-loader, remained practically the same weapon as before, with a changed chamber. A hinged flap uncovered the breech-chamber on the right, and as each chamber reached that point the empty cartridge case was ejected by means of an ejecting-rod carried in a tube attached to the under side of the barrel and kept in place by a spiral spring, and the chamber reloaded. The next improvement was greater ease and rapidity of extraction, obtained first by Thomas's invention of making the barrel and chamber slide 11\0sv'rIg V101IIlin,nm,lirli inl s,ninpnnnogBl fire is obtained than when the hammer is cocked with the thumb, but accuracy is impaired, as the trigger requires a long pull and considerable force in order to compress the mainspring and revolve the cylinder. The double action revolver was, there-fore, a great advance on the single action, enabling the first and also following shots, if desired, to be accurately fired by a moderate pressure of the trigger after the hammer had been cocked by the thumb; or, alternatively, the revolver could be forward on the frame of the pistol. The extractor, being fast to the pivot, retained the cartridges until the chamber was pushed clear of them. Then the chamber was made to swing on one side, as in the Colt pistol illustrated, enabling all the cartridges to be simultaneously extracted. Finally, self-extracting revolvers with jointed frames were introduced, in which the dropping of the barrel forces out the extractor as in an ordinary double gun, the extractor acting simultaneously in all the chambers of the pistol. A spring returns the extractor to its place when the empty cartridge cases have been ejected, and brings the barrel to an angle of about 45°, for convenience in loading. The soundness and rigidity of the weapon depend upon the efficiency of the connexion between the barrels and the standing breech, and a top snap bolt has proved the strongest and handiest with the pistol, as with the shot-gun. This type of revolver originated with Messrs Smith & Wesson, but they and other gunmakers have greatly improved upon the original model. Between the American pattern and the English, as made by Messrs F. Webley & Son, the chief difference is that in the Smith & Wesson the holding-down bolt or catch is upon the barrel, and it engages with the top ofhammer and trigger when the latch is pushed to the rear for opening the cylinder, and does not unlock them until the cylinder is positively closed and is locked by the latch. The cylinder revolves and is supported on a central arbour of the crane (E). The crane fits in a recess in the frame below the barrel and turns on its pivot arm (A). The ejector rod with its spring passes through the centre of the cylinder arbour and is terminated in rear by the ejector with a ratchet (y). Pushing against the front end of the ejector rod will empty the chambers, the cylinder being swung out for loading. The thumb-piece of the latch (j) slides to the rear in the left side of the frame, unlocking the cylinder for opening, but upon closing the cylinder, the body of the latch firmly enters a recess in the ejector, locking the cylinder in position for firing. One great disadvantage of revolvers is the escape of gas at the opening between the breech of the barrel and the cylinder. Fin. 5.-Percussion-lock pistol (Royal United Service Institution). the standing breech; whereas in the Webley the bolt is upon the standing breech and grips the extremity of the hinged barrel. Neither mechanism is as strong as could be wished if heavy charges of smokeless nitro-compounds are to be used. This hinged type of revolver is most convenient for use on horseback, as the pistol can be opened, the cartridges extracted and the weapon reloaded with one hand. The Colt's Double-action Revolver, calibre .38, model 1896, used in the United States army, consists (figs. 7 and 8) of the barrel (B), the cylinder (C) with six chambers, the frame (F), and the firing mechanism, all of steel. The muzzle velocity, with a charge of 16 grains of black powder and a bullet of 15o grains of lead, is about 708 ft. per second, giving at 25 yards a penetration of about 5 in. in pine. The lock mechanism consists of the hammer (h), with its stirrup (r), stirrup pin (p), strut (s), strut pin (i), strut spring (g); the trigger (t) ; the rebound lever (l) ; the hand (a), with the spring (z) ; the cylinder bolt (b), with its spring (x) ; the locking lever (v) ; the main spring (m), and rebound lever spring (n). The hammer (h), trigger (t), and rebound lever (l) are pivoted on their respective pins, which are fastened in the left side of the frame. The lower end of the rebound lever spring (n) is secured to the frame and the free end bears under the rear end of the rebound lever so that the latter, when the trigger is released, cams the hammer back to its safety position, and forces the trigger forward. Pressure upon the trigger causes its upper edge to engage the strut, and thereby raises the hammer until nearly in the full-cock position, when the strut will escape from the trigger, and the hammer, under the action of the main-spring, will fall and strike the cartridge. A projection on the upper part of the trigger, working in a slot in the frame, prevents the cylinder from making more than one-sixth of a revolution at a time by entering one of the grooves nearest the rear end of the surface of the cylinder. When the cylinder is swung out of the frame, the parts are arranged to prevent the cocking of the hammer. The cylinder bolt is pivoted on the trigger pin, and its spring, bearing on the rebound lever arm, causes the nose of the bolt to project through a slot in the frame ready to enter one of the rectangular cuts in the cylinder surface. During the first movement of the trigger in cocking the revolver, the nose of the bolt is withdrawn, allowing free rotation of the cylinder. The object of the bolt is to prevent rotation of the cylinder in transportation. The hand is attached by its pivot to the trigger, and, as the latter swings on its pin when the hammer is being cocked, the hand is raised and revolves the cylinder, and also serves to lock the cylinder in position at the time of firing. An abutment on the side plate supports the hand spring in rear. The spring ensures the engagement of the hand with the ratchet (y). The revolver is cocked by hand by withdrawing the hammer by the pressure of the thumb until its full-cock notch engages in the rear sharp corner of the trigger. Pulling the trigger then releases the hammer, allowing its firing pin (f) to move forward and strike the cartridge. The locking lever is pivoted by its screw in a recess in the left side of the frame, and so connected with the latch that it locks the This escape corrodes the surrounding parts and also materially diminishes the pressure in the barrel and the consequent velocity of the bullet. In the Nagant revolver, adopted by Russia, this disadvantage has been overcome by em- ploying a long cartridge case which extends beyond the nose of the bullet and bridges the gap between barrel and cylinder as the cylinder is moved forward. A " mitrailleuse " pistol has also been constructed by the Braendlin Armoury Co., Ltd., on the " pepper-box " principle, with fixed barrels, either four or six, arranged in pairs, and a special striking mechanism, in which there is no revolving chamber and no escape of gas at the breech. It gives stronger shooting than a revolver, but is more cum- brous, and has the serious defect that the shock of the dis- charge of one barrel sometimes prematurely fires a second barrel. In 1865, Sharp, an American, patented an invention to remedy the escape of gas, in which the four barrels of the pistol
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