Nine Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know About How A Gun Works

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Gun manufacturers have spent centuries refining the techniques and materials used to make firearms. The inner workings of a gun are fascinating and learning how a gun works will give you a better idea of how much precision and technique go into manufacturing firearms. Here are some amazing facts about what goes on inside of a gun.

How Did The Ancestors Of The Gun Work?


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Different early devices precede the invention of the firearms we know today. The first ancestors of the gun date back to 9th century China.

The invention of black powder was a significant turning point in warfare development and resulted in innovations such as the fire lance. The fire lance was essentially a tube filled with black powder.

Soldiers used this weapon during the Jin-Song Wars for close-range combat. The fire lance had a devastating effect thanks to the use of rigid bamboo tubes, black powder, and shrapnel. Soldiers would typically attach this device to a spear or other weapon.

These devices slowly evolved. Metal tubes replaced the use of bamboo to create a more durable and reliable firearm. Soldiers started using different projectiles, and more advanced techniques appeared to control the use of black powder.

The 13th century saw another major turning point in the history of firearms as metal fire lances became standalone devices rather than being attached to a spear.

What Are The Main Parts Of A Firearm And Their Function?


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Looking at the different elements of a firearm is a great way to gain a better understanding of how they work. These elements of a gun will vary from one design to another, but all firearms share a few basic components:

  • The action or trigger. These parts fire the cartridge. The action mechanism includes the trigger itself, and the hammer that either strikes the firing pin or hit the round directly.
  • The frame. The frame of a firearm includes the handle or grip and metal housing. The frame keeps the other parts together and protects them.
  • The barrel. The barrel is the metal tube that fires projectiles. The muzzle is the part where the projectile exits the gun.
  • The magazine or cylinder. Depending on the firearm design, a magazine or cylinder will hold ammunition.

How Are Guns And Internal Combustion Engines Similar?

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The basic functioning of an internal combustion engine is a great starting point to gain a better understanding of how a gun works. Engines use pistons to compress air in a chamber where a mixture of fuel and air is present.

The ignition process triggers the combustion of the fuel and air mix in this chamber.

Combustion causes hot gases to be released, and these hot gases exert enough pressure to push the piston out of the chamber. This process is how internal combustion engines create the energy needed to make a vehicle move.

This process is somewhat similar to what happens inside of a gun. The gun barrel serves the same purpose as the chamber. A projectile that fits the barrel serves the same purpose as the pistons inside of an engine.

The controlled combustion process that releases hot gas and creates enough pressure to push the piston or projectile out is similar. However, the materials used and chemical characteristics of this combustion process differ. Gun manufacturers have used different materials and technologies to create this controlled combustion process, but the principle remains the same.

What Causes The Noise You Hear When You Fire A Gun?

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The combustion process that happens inside of the gun barrel isn’t the source of the noise you hear when firing a gun. Combustion causes a release of energy, and this release can take place in the form of deflagration or detonation. What happens at this stage of the firearm discharging is a deflagration.

A detonation causes the release of excessive energy within a concise timeframe. During this process, overpressure happens, and there usually is a significant shockwave. The front of a detonation travels at a speed that exceeds the speed of sound, which is the cause of the noise you hear.

A deflagration has a much slower speed. Energy propagates in a much more controlled manner. However, the projectile will gain momentum as it travels down the barrel and eventually exceeds the speed of sound, even though the initial front of the combustion process doesn't.

The sound you hear when you fire a gun is the release of the pressure that has built up inside of the barrel as the projectile exits it.

How Do Explosive Compounds Work?

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Black powder is a mixture of fuel compounds and oxidizing compounds. It's the earliest explosive compound known to man, and its invention was crucial to the development of firearms.

Black powder or gun powder is no longer in use. This compound has been replaced by smokeless alternatives that deliver more predictable results.

Burning wicks were one of the earliest mechanisms used to ignite the black powder. The first guns had a flash pan that soldiers had to fill with black powder. Soldiers had to keep the wick burning to ignite the powder.

This mechanism meant that two soldiers had to operate the gun or that a person had to steady the gun on a surface or device.

The matchlock is an innovation that changes how the ignition process of the black powder and no longer required two people to operate firearms. The first matchlock design was a small lever with a clamp called a serpentine. The clamp would maintain a slow match in place to replace the burning wick.

The invention of the flintlock mechanism during the early 16th century marked another turning point in the evolution of firearms. Pulling the trigger would cause a part called a striker or frizzen to hit a flint and create sparks that would ignite the black powder.

Percussion caps are another technology that changed firearms. These caps use an explosive compound called mercuric fulminate. This compound ignites when there is a shock. The invention of percussion caps is significant, but this compound didn’t replace black powder. The percussion cap would ignite when struck with the gun’s hammer and cause the gunpowder to ignite as well.

The invention of percussion caps created new possibilities for firearm manufacturers.

This mechanism played an essential part in the creation of the early revolvers. It was possible to load individual charges of gunpowder, projectiles, and percussion caps in the six chambers of the revolver instead of firing one charge at once.

The percussion cap eventually led to the invention of cartridges in the 19th century. Instead of having the percussion cap, powder, and projectile as separate elements, the cartridge combined these three elements into one. A primer located at the bottom of the cartridge replaced the percussion cap.

What Happens Inside Of A Gun Barrel?


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The inside of the barrel has a significant impact on range and accuracy. The discovery of the rifling principle during the late 15th century made a huge difference in how a gun works.

The inside of a gun barrel or bore has a fascinating design. You will notice grooves and other patterns that shape and control the trajectory of a projectile.

Having a projectile spin when it travels increases the accuracy and range. This spinning motion is what allows the projectile to maintain a steady trajectory.

Gun manufacturers use many different rifling patterns. The shape and size of the lands and grooves vary from one gun to another. The direction of the grooves can also vary, and you will notice that the twist rate of the grooves changes depending on the type of ammunition the gun can fire.

Some firearms have a twist rate that increases towards the end of the barrel. This higher twist rate helps stabilize the trajectory of the bullet as it exits the barrel.

Even though the discovery of the rifling principle dates back to the end of the 15th century, this innovation didn’t immediately have a significant impact on firearm design and performance. Achieving a precise twist rate in a bore is very difficult and requires the use of precision equipment.

This technique didn’t revolutionize firearms until the 19th century when manufacturers developed the technology needed to get precise results when rifling the bore of a gun. It’s interesting to note that the concept of having a projectile spin in the air dates back to the use of bows and arrows, but it wasn't possible to apply this concept to firearms without making significant technical progress.

Before rifling became commonplace, firearms would have smooth bores. Smooth barrels decreased the precision of weapons since projectiles couldn't be exact fits for the barrel. Projectiles would sometimes bounce off the walls of the barrels and have an unpredictable trajectory.

What Is Inside Of A Cartridge?


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Modern firearms use many different types of cartridges. The caliber of a cartridge corresponds to the diameter of the gun barrel, but a lot of weapons can fire different types of ammunition within a specific caliber.

Early firearms would use lead balls as projectiles. The black powder and ignition mechanism were separate from the projectiles.

Modern bullets didn’t appear until the 19th century. We already talked about the invention of the percussion cap. Cartridges that replaced percussion caps with a built-in primer at their base eventually appeared.

During the 1880s, other compounds appeared as alternatives to black powder.

Nitrocellulose, also known as guncotton, became a fairly common alternative. Modern cartridges use different compounds or propellants.

Modern cartridges have an outside case that protects the different components. You can find the bullet or projectile in the front end of the cartridge. Depending on the cartridge design, the casing may or may not cover the bullet.

You will find the primer at the bottom of the cartridge. The tube or body of the cartridge contains the propellant or compound. When the primer detonates, the compound ignites, releases hot gases, and causes the ejection of the bullet.

You can find cartridges with different designs and components. Manufacturers use many different alloys and materials in function of the characteristics needed.

How Do Repeating And Fully Automatic Firearms Work?


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Early guns were exclusively single shot firearms. Users had to load the gunpowder and projectile separately by pushing them down the barrel of the firearm. Reloading guns was time-consuming and not practical.

Revolvers are a significant innovation because the use of revolving chambers allow gun owners to load several charges. The invention of moon clips sped up the process of charging these firearms since these clips would bundle charges together.

The Gatling gun invented during the 1860s is another significant step towards the invention of automatic firearms. This heavy artillery firearm required the use of a hand crank to operate revolving barrels. Each barrel had its own firing mechanism.   

Firearms with multiple chambers or firing mechanisms preceded the invention of repeating firearms that would use springs to push additional cartridges into firing position. The Spencer repeating rifle was one of the first firearms to use this design. This rifle had a magazine with a tubular shape built into its butt, and a spring would keep pushing cartridges into the firing mechanism.

The next technical innovation towards the creation of repeating firearms was the invention of an automatic cycling mechanism for the hammer. This automatic cycling mechanism allowed for continuous action when the trigger is depressed.

Gun manufacturers also had to find ways to eject cartridges automatically to allow for continuous operation. Recoil was sufficient to discharge cartridges on some firearms.

During the early 1900s, Winchester developed repeating rifles that used blowback to eject cartridges. Remington created some semi-automatic designs in the same time frame. The 1930s saw the rise of gas-operated rifles to replace bolt-action mechanisms.

Modern firearms often use detachable clips to continuously feed ammunition into the firing mechanism along with an automatic cycling mechanism to load and eject cartridges.

How Does Gun Safety Work?


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The purpose of the safety is to prevent a firearm from accidentally discharging. Gun manufacturers developed this feature as guns became easier to fire and no longer required an extensive loading and firing process.

Adding a loop around the trigger was one of the earliest safety features. The purpose of the loop is to prevent the trigger from being accidentally depressed if the gun drops or if the trigger gets caught on something.

The use of an external hammer also requires the gun owner to pull the hammer back in to fire the gun. Keeping the hammer in a down position acts as a safety mechanism.

During the 1880s, Smith & Wesson created a revolver with an internal hammer, eliminating the need to pull back the hammer before firing the gun manually. These revolvers featured a grip safety located on the back of the grip. The gun owner had to squeeze this grip safety at the same time as the trigger for the gun to fire. Some firearms still use this design.

The most common safety feature is an internal lever that prevents the firing pin from dropping. Some firearms have additional safety features, such as a trigger safety that prevents depression if a finger isn’t on the trigger.

These facts should give you a better idea of how firearms work. There is a lot more to learn about this topic and the history of how these features evolved now that you have a basic understanding of guns!