Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 393
"Claude, why do you make jackets with brass?"
"Why must the jacket opening be slightly larger than the bullet?"
"Why aren't the bullets round?"
"Why can the bullet fire so far even though it's not rammed deep into the barrel?"
"How did you even come up with revolvers?"
"Oh, and your rapid-fire design is genius. Can you tell me how you came up with it?"
"By the way, if I increase the barrel length and add a stock, can I make a revolving rifle?"
Sonia had become a curious child. She held the revolver delicately, lovingly appreciating it, as she grabbed Claude's hand and emptied her chamber of questions onto him.
His eyes were already rolling as he thought about a reasonable explanation for everything. The only reason the revolver now existed was the cowboy flicks he'd watched as a kid. He could only come up with some rubbish explanations, but with a master like Liboyd listening from the side he had to be more careful. Whether he could recruit the two depended on that.
"Let me go first, Sonia. Many of your questions are repeats of one another," Claude said as he cleared his throat.
He spoke again once she'd let go of him.
"Uncle, Sonia, let's go back to my lab. I have pen and paper there and I can tell you how I came up with the design."
Only Claude, Angelina, Sonia, and Liboyd went to the lab. Little Marcus wanted to learn how to ride a horse, so Claude had Myjack take care of his 'godson'. As for Gum, he stood guard outside the lab.
"I have hated short-barreled muskets for as long as I can remember. Unlike full-length muskets, they're much weaker for no greater ease of use," he began, "I didn't understand why shorter muskets could be so much worse than normal ones despite being half their length--" He turned to Sonia and smiled. "--I was just a junior officer in the last war, so I had to fight personally. Regulations say a junior officer has to carry a shortsword, a standard-issue musket and a short-barreled musket.
"But the short-barrels are completely useless. They're quite literally dead weight. My comrades often casually fired them once then tossed them away so they'd not have to deal with the extra weight. I started thinking of a way to remedy the situation early on.
"The biggest weakness short-barrels have is how long they take to reload. Because they use paper cartridges, the barrels have to be cleaned regularly. On top of that, you have to ram each round individually between shots. Then pierce the cartridge through the hole from the firing pan, powder the pan, and only then fire after aiming.
"You might as well just use a normal musket for all the trouble. You're not going to reload the short-barrel in a fight in close enough quarters for it to be accurate, anyway. I started by focusing on ways to simplify the reload process and up the fire rate. Which brought my attention to the cartridges.
"My first idea was to try to ignite the gunpowder inside the cartridge directly without having to pierce the cartridge each time. I was naive enough to think I could put flint behind the cartridges and install a hammer to strike it inside the barrel.
"I had been serving in Squirrel at the time. Which was when I met you," Claude said, nodding to Sonia.
She blushed at the reminder.
"We explored the thought of loading the musket from the rear. This is the first short-barrel I designed."
He drew a short-barreled musket on the paper. There was only a gun barrel and behind it a hammer mechanism with stock and trigger. There weren't any confusing implements like flash pans attached to the top of the barrel. It was incredibly clean. He then drew a few curved lines below it.
"This is the one I designed. The barrel can be rotated so the bullets can be shoved in from below. The hammer strikes the cartridge and sets off the charge. It greatly simplifies its usage on the battlefield. If possible, I would've liked to add one or two more barrels so I could fire three rounds at once or three times before having to reload--" He shrugged and smiled helplessly. "--But it didn't work. The design looked fine, but actually making it was--"
"--The first breech-loader I designed looked just like this. You could load it by rotating the barrel upside down. Later, when I had ignition powder, I tested it and the range was only 260 metres..."
"You managed to conduct actual experiments. That's better than I could do. I didn't have the luxury in the army. I did do some tests on broken muskets and noticed a huge problem. The issue is the bullets, not the barrel. Paper cartridges just don't do well with breech-loading. The hammers can't strike hard enough in this design to ignite the cartridges.
"Most likely it'll just crumple the paper. When I noticed this, I began thinking of how to replace the paper cartridges.
"During my stay in Squirrel, I discovered a hermit magus. With her help, we ran many experiments and found that the best material to use for making cartridges was brass because of how malleable it is. If we use iron, the cartridge would crack after firing and can't be reused. Gold and silver cost too much, whereas lead and zinc deform too easily. Steel is too hard and brittle, so we settled on brass in the end.
"After choosing that to replace paper, I noticed another problem. The cartridge can easily remain stuck in the firearm and it will take a lot of trouble to get it removed. It troubled me for quite a long time. It was only after I saw a cannoneer drill that I understood the reason behind it."
He took out another piece of paper and drew a simple cannon. "Did you notice that the cannon's bottom part is thick and the thickness tapers towards the top? I noticed it and was quite curious about it, so I asked a veteran cannoneer why that was the case.
"He told me that if the construction of the cannon isn't tough enough, the explosion inside it would cause it to crack because the gunpowder is concentrated at the bottom. With a firm base, all the energy from the explosion will be diverted towards the heavy round at the top to push it out of the barrel.
"His words gave me an idea. Since that was how cannons fired, couldn't it apply to firearms too? It was only a difference in size, after all. I went back to the drawing board and noticed that firearms only needed an opening on one side for the bullet to travel through. The other parts had to be tightly sealed. Only then would the energy of the explosion be focused in the direction of the barrel's exit instead of leaking out elsewhere.
"If I'm not mistaken, replacing paper cartridges with brass ones essentially means the powder's explosion occurs inside the brass case just like what happens in a normal gun barrel. So, all I needed to make sure of was to set the bullet in the direction of the barrel's opening. That was why I made the case of the cartridge slightly wider than the bullet head. That way, the cartridge wouldn't end up stuck inside the barrel.
"All that remained was to make sure that the cartridge remains secured inside the barrel. That would prevent the case from cracking or deforming too. That's why I don't need better barrels to resist an explosion caused by more gunpowder. Sonia's attempt at filling even more gunpowder into the barrel was misguided in the first place."
Sonia was tearing up. It felt really embarrassing to hear that coming from Claude. Being a gunsmith, she hated herself for being stubborn and single minded. All she knew to do was to continue stuffing more and more gunpowder into the barrel and ended up wasting more than 800 fine barrels in half a year's time without getting any results. Why couldn't she just change tracks to try another method to solve a problem?
"With brass cartridges, making the short barrel became possible. However, its misfire rate was too high. Like I mentioned, the flint at the bottom of the cartridge wouldn't be able to spark every time the hammer struck it. On the battlefield, nobody can guarantee someone enough time to switch out a misfired bullet, so the short barrel I designed wasn't too useful yet.
"Even after a long time, I wasn't able to develop a good ignition powder, so the revolver remained only a concept. It was only after I saw a water wheel that I gained more inspiration. You know the kind that turns to get the bamboo tube to siphon water into the fields? I believe you should've seen them before, right? That was what gave me the idea. What if we could immediately switch to the next bullet if one of them misfired in a loop? A whole round of shots could cause at least two or three bullets to fire. It's still far better than pulling the trigger endlessly in hopes that the same bullet would ignite and fire, right?
"So, I began to design the revolver and it became what you see before you now. After some estimations, I decided that it was most optimal for a chamber to have five to six rounds. Too many would make the operation too complex and leave lots of room for errors. The hammer wouldn't be able to strike the flint at the bottom of the cartridges accurately either. That was why I came up with this six-round chamber. Next came designing the barrel and body of the gun itself. These three revolvers are the end result."
He picked one up, opened it, and removed then chamber before reassembling it. "As I was designing the revolving chamber, I was still pondering how we can reload quickly on the battlefield. Later, I came up with the idea of not having to reload every single slot in the chamber. It would be much faster to pop in another loaded chamber.
"Then again, I still have to thank you, Sonia. If not for the ignition powder you invented, my invention would never see the light of day. Cartridges misfire because of flint too often. Anna ran some tests and there was one occasion when not a single bullet in two chambers fired. So, I decided to abandon the project for the moment."
Liboyd began clapping. "I really have to offer you my praise, Claude. You put a so-called master gunsmith like me to shame. You managed to create a new type of firearm that isn't a matchlock and also perfected it to the point that no further improvements can be made. I only have one question. Why did you name them revolvers instead of spinwheels?"
Claude felt his sweat forming. That's right, why revolvers and not spinwheels? Where would I get an answer to that? He had hoodwinked his way through the thought process he used to come up with it and the last thing he wanted was to be thought of as a mere firearms enthusiast rather than an inventor. How had he been able to come up with such a mature and developed firearm if that was the case?
Thankfully, he asked about the name rather than the actual weapon itself. He wiped his sweat off as he twirled the chamber around in his hand as a lightbulb appeared over his head. "Well, Uncle, it doesn't quite spin continuously. Instead, the chamber revolves a step at a time, hence the name. You can call it a spinwheel if you want, but it doesn't sound nearly as cool and threatening as 'revolver'. By the way, Uncle, could you and Sonia stay behind to help me?"
"Help you?" Liboyd asked doubtfully, "The revolver is a success. How else can we help?"
"Well, Uncle, you should know these guns are fashioned by my sister using an alchemical array. We have to standardise the part sizes if we're to mass produce them.
"Additionally, we have to standardise the brass cartridge production process. I doubt my sister can make more than a few hundred in her lab. She'd definitely get sick of it quickly enough.
"Both my sister and I are outsiders when it comes to standardisation and mass production. We don't even know where to start. I also want to put these cartridges and breech loading on rifles as well. But I think I used up all my insights with this revolver. I can't seem to figure out how a longer version would look.
"Having you and Sonia around would definitely be a great help. If you're willing, I'd construct a workshop for you and satisfy all your needs."
The workshop itself wouldn't cost much, but the machinery and materials was a different story. That was especially the case, with both of them being rune magi. The materials they used were definitely costly. When he saw the lab they made themselves, he found it really run down. It couldn't compare to his sister's. So, Sonia had no choice but to use her father's name to perform experiments on those gun barrels and eventually caught the notice of the auditor due to the sheer number consumed.
Sonia smiled and instantly agreed to his lover. "I can stay to help you..."
Liboyd, however, sighed.
"Claude, it's not that I don't want to, I just can't. A good workshop or production line needs enough water power to run..."
"You don't need water power. We have hot-air engines here."