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Flint knappers among most popular at Gunmakers Fair

Published July 17. 2010 09:00AM

KEMPTON - Just the name "flintlock" alone should be enough to emphasize the importance of using a quality flint to assure consistent, dependable ignition when in the deer woods or on the firing line with these unique muzzle loading rifles.

Fortunately, for regional hunters and target shooters who began using flintlock rifles since the resurgence of muzzle loading in the mid 1970s, there were enough specialty shops that made finding true flints easier than finding certain calibers of factory ammunition is today.

Fast forward 15 years or so from the Bi-Centennial Year of 1976, and by then a large percentage of casual muzzleloader shooters were beginning to pursue other forms of shooting sports. As a result, many of the muzzleloader-only shops began to close their doors, making it difficult to find a lot of accessories necessary to consistent flintlock performance.

Unfortunately, in their haste to capitalize on this, some major firearms manufactures filled the void with "newer, better, modern" replacement products. Clearly, the worst of these are those whitish, gray prepackaged "artificial" flints that are both unreliable and harmful to the frizzen.

If ever the warning "let the buyer beware" was appropriate, it is so for these three-to-a-package agates labeled "flints." What made the problem all the worse is that even some firearms dealers had limited experience with muzzleloaders and were unaware that "there ain't nothing like the real thing" when it comes to flints.

Because of this, searching out gun shops that sell handmade rifle flints is such a must for flintlock shooters. It is also why flint knappers like Pennsylvania native Bob Winters are among the most popular exhibitors each year at the annual Dixon Muzzleloader Shop Gunmakers Fair, located on Kunkel's Mill Road between Exit 40 of Interstate 78 and Kempton.

A noted historian and authority on Eastern Woodland Indians, Winters travels from his home in Tennessee to attend the three-day event, which this year will be held from Friday-Sunday, July 23-25, to do seminars on his specialty. His topics range trade beads to firearms to tools - including those made of flint.

Winters can hold the attention of even those with a casual interest in history during his seminars, but it is his avocation as a flint knapper that draws hundreds to his work area each year. There, he demonstrates his craft, turning chunks of flint into quality rifle and gun flints that are the correct size for every type of flintlock from smoothbore muskets to rifles to pistols.

"People who build third own or purchase custom flintlock rifles understand that only flints are to be used in the locks of these firearms," Winters said. "Unfortunately, if we are going to maintain interest in our sport and see it grow, we've got to keep the interest of those who are buy production flintlock rifles.

"Too often, people buying one of these rifles to hunt during the flintlock season after Christmas, and if these rifles aren't purchased from a muzzleloader shop or firearms dealer that understands flintlocks, the sales person may not be aware of the need to replace the agates supplied by some manufactures with flints. If these rifles aren't used at muzzleloader shoots during the summer and fall, or not enough time is spent practicing at a range, you won't know how unreliable agates are.

"Most agates fail after a handful of shots, and unlike flints, can't be knapped or sharpened when they become dull. Worst of all, agates damage the face of the frizzen, which must be smooth to provide the hot shower of sparks needed for consistent ignition performance."

Both English flints, which are dark in color, and French flints, which are predominately tan in color, work well in locks that have a casehardened frizzen. When the correct size flint is kept sharp and fitted properly into the jaws of the cock, an English flint is capable of producing approximately 175 shots and a French flint approximately 200.

Winters has been making flints for more than 30 years and said the performance between the two types of flints is too slight to notice by most shooters. All they have to remember is there is a very good reason the rifle they're carrying in the deer woods is called a "flintlock."

For more information on the Gunmakers Fair, contact Dixon Muzzleloader Shop at (610) 756-6271 or access on the Web at

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