As far as firing mechanisms go, the idea of using a trigger to activate a weapon was not a new invention, as they had been used by crossbows in centuries before. So it was only logical that the idea would be borrowed for firearms as well.
- A - Flash pan cover
- B - Flash pan (with touch hole)
- C - Serpentine (or cock)
- D - Trigger
- E - Slow match (i.e. a lit rope)
- F - Sear
- G - Pivot
- H - Flat spring
- I - Tumbler link
- J - Barrel
- K - Lock plate
You can see an animation of the mechanism working below (if you cannot see the animation running below, click on the image and it will open into a larger window that shows an animated image):
This was the first real firing mechanism used in small arms. It wasn't always reliable though - many a time, the gunpowder in the flash pan could be blown off or become wet in the rain, or the slow match could go out. As a precaution against the rain, the slow match rope would be lit on both ends, so that if one end went out, it could be re-lit from the other end. Sometimes when the trigger was pulled, the contents of the flash pan would ignite, but it wouldn't burn through the touch hole and therefore fail to ignite the main gunpowder charge inside the barrel. Such a phenomenon was called a flash in the pan. This phrase is still part of the English language and now means "something which starts off initially very bright and showy, but soon fails to deliver anything of value."
- It was difficult to use in wet weather because of the problems of the powder in the pan getting damp and the slow match going out in heavy rains.
- It was quite dangerous to have around large quantities of gunpowder. For instance, when a group of soldiers were loading their weapons from their powder horns (i.e. a large container that hangs from the waist and carries extra gunpowder), there was always a chance that the open flame from one person's matchlock could set off another person's supply.
- Since the slow match was always lit, the glow could give away a person's position at night time. The slow match also had a pretty distinct smell that could let people know that a person carrying a matchlock was nearby.