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Evolution of Firearms

Home > Propellants, Firearms, and Ammunition Development > Evolution of Firearms

Building on the student's basic understanding of chemical propellants, this section studies the firearms for which propellants were developed. To fully cover the complete evolution of firearms would take volumes; this section is presented as an overview, intended to stimulate interest in further research by the student.

In its simplest form, a firearm requires

  • some means of predictably igniting the propellant,
  • some device to facilitate the weapon being held and controlled (frame or receiver),
  • a hollow tube for holding propellant and projectile.

From these three components comes the colloquialism “lock, stock, and barrel.” The ignition device became known as the lock, the stock is the added support material to make the firearm easier to load, aim, and shoot, and the barrel is the hollow tube.

Early firearms development was based on trial and error. More recently, an engineering approach has been adopted.

This has allowed developers to focus on internal ballistics (interior) considerations, including

  • ignition,
  • pressure,
  • function of chamber design,
  • chamber and cartridge dimensions,
  • headspace considerations.

The engineering aspects related to these considerations are out of the scope of this module and further information may be found by consulting thermodynamics, chemistry, and metallurgy texts.

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