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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Sat 31 Mar, 2018 7:34 am    Post subject: Historical use of stone musket shot         Reply with quote

Was just curious how much historical evidence there is for the manufacture/use of stone musket balls? I know stone would have its limitations compared to something like lead, but I've seen a good deal of evidence that stone round shot was used in smoothbore muzzle loading cannons at various points in history, and given that the basic principle isn't much different from a smoothbore matchlock or flintlock musket I was curious...
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Sat 31 Mar, 2018 9:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I dare say stones/pebbles may have been rarely used in an *emergency* situation..but I don't think it was common. Stone cannon balls made some sort of sense back in the early days when large metal balls were hard to come by. But they weren't all that effective.
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 1:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can see properly shaped stone musket balls (not just random chunks of rock or pebbles which would ruin your barrel) being useful for parts of the world where metallurgy skills weren't readily available and they were looking to find a cheap alternative ammo that they could make locally. Would they be as effective as lead balls? Of course not. But there are plenty of examples in history where cost/simplicity overrode increased effectiveness...
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stone shot were often used when people ran out of ammunition, such as at the battle of Batoche in 1885. As far as I know they just used available pebbles, not shaped stones. All you need to cast bullets is a crucible, a mould, a bar of lead, and a campfire ... that is much simpler than the skills and equipment you need to keep a musket in working order.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 2:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A good case study is Patrick M. Malone, The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England Indians (1991, paperback reprint 2000). Powder tended to be the limiting factor, because saltpeter is surprisingly hard to make and absorbs water from the air, whereas lead can be stored anywhere.
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 3:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
All you need to cast bullets is a crucible, a mould, a bar of lead, and a campfire ... that is much simpler than the skills and equipment you need to keep a musket in working order.


Not sure if it's simpler or cheaper than chiseling out a round ball from a hunk of rock (definitely requires fewer tools and no access to lead source) but I get your point. Was just wondering if more knowledgeable folks than me here had actually heard of stone musket balls being used, but I guess not. Thanks anyway guys for the replies.

edit:
Sean Manning wrote:
A good case study is Patrick M. Malone, The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England Indians (1991, paperback reprint 2000)


Thanks, I'll check it out.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 6:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Miko H. wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:
All you need to cast bullets is a crucible, a mould, a bar of lead, and a campfire ... that is much simpler than the skills and equipment you need to keep a musket in working order.


Not sure if it's simpler or cheaper than chiseling out a round ball from a hunk of rock (definitely requires fewer tools and no access to lead source) but I get your point.


Well, for a cannonball you need a piece of stone that you can easily hold and brace while you're working. You can apply solid blows with hammer and chisel, etc., to work effectively. For a musket ball, you are working on a tiny spheroid, less than an inch in diameter. How do you even hold something that small, securely enough to strike at it? Or even for grinding it on another stone? It's going to take a while, and the tolerances are a lot finer at that size. I have no doubt that an experienced stone worker *knew* how to do something like that--heck, we know children's marbles were pretty common toys, but *most* people wouldn't have the skills or tricks to do it efficiently.

For the time you invest in it, you could easily gouge out a wooden mold for lead balls, or form one out of clay. If you don't have lead, roll clay into balls and bake them. Granted, if you aren't a potter and don't have decent clay, many will be failures, but it should be a LOT faster than stone.

I've heard of bullets being hammered out of nails (by Zulus in the 19th century). If it were me and I had no other options, I'd go for finer gravel or a number of small stones, to serve as buckshot. A few minutes sorting should yield a good bag-full, vastly easier than trying to make a viable stone ball.

BUT no, I haven't run across any anecdotes of shaped stone musketballs, that I recall.

Matthew
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Solid points there Matthew, I have to agree with what you're saying. I've definitely also heard of gravel/pebbles being used for shotgun loads, though usually just in emergency situations due to the higher likelihood of fouling the barrel than properly made lead shot. I can see your point about stone musket balls not really being worth the effort for what you'd get out of them.

Thanks again guys for the replies, interesting to hear your perspectives on it.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 12:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shot? Perhaps. A quantity of considerably undersize (to the barrel) shot, could be minimally effective at close range. Single musket ball? I doubt it very much. Biggest problem is irregularity of shape in a smooth bore would destroy any accuracy that might be otherwise available. Chiseling a round shape out of rock by hand is totally impractical. It would have to be a pretty desperate situation to resort to stone as a musket ball.
Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin Robinson wrote:
Shot? Perhaps. A quantity of considerably undersize (to the barrel) shot, could be minimally effective at close range. Single musket ball? I doubt it very much.


Sorry if there was confusion there, just came to me that in English "shot" is mostly used for shotgun type rounds rather than a single musket ball...

Lin Robinson wrote:
Biggest problem is irregularity of shape in a smooth bore would destroy any accuracy that might be otherwise available.


Not that smoothbores are terribly accurate to begin with Wink
But fair point I guess.

Lin Robinson wrote:
Chiseling a round shape out of rock by hand is totally impractical. It would have to be a pretty desperate situation to resort to stone as a musket ball.


That was mentioned, I'd agree with that. Maybe not totally impractical, but perhaps more of a tricky task than necessary for what you'd be getting out of a stone musket round compared to a lead one...
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Apr, 2018 7:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's another point to consider - if stone musket balls (not "shot") were not *accurately "made, an off-round ball would run the risk of jamming in the barrel. Having something jam in the barrel when firing is NOT a good thing to happen Sad At the least you'll get a bulged barrel..more likely it'll burst,,not a good thing for anyone holding the gun at the time Sad
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Mon 02 Apr, 2018 1:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
There's another point to consider - if stone musket balls (not "shot") were not *accurately "made, an off-round ball would run the risk of jamming in the barrel. Having something jam in the barrel when firing is NOT a good thing to happen Sad At the least you'll get a bulged barrel..more likely it'll burst,,not a good thing for anyone holding the gun at the time Sad


Yep, definitely a good point. I've come across people who think smoothbore guns (especially shotgun types like blunderbusses) could be loaded with pretty much anything you wanted. While they could be loaded with other materials than standard lead shot or round ball in a pinch, whether that was always a good idea is definitely not guaranteed. Even improperly sized bits of shot in something like blunderbuss could risk messing up your barrel...
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Apr, 2018 2:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Somewhere, in the murky depths of my memory bank, I remember reading something once about rock-salt being fired from muskets as a non-lethal method of riot control. WTF?! Don't ask me...I've not a clue...just the memory. Worried ....McM
''Life is like a box of chocolates...'' --- F. Gump
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Apr, 2018 3:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rock salt as a nonlethal/nuisance load is a modern thing. Some modern ammunition companies sell them for shotguns.
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Apr, 2018 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe that's where my memory comes from. The old brain ain't what it used to be, and I'm not a big fire-arms guy. Worried ...McM
''Life is like a box of chocolates...'' --- F. Gump
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Tue 03 Apr, 2018 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sir James Turner mentioned that lead bullets should only be used by small arms since a lead ball fired out of a cannon would flatten when striking a stone wall and do little damage. Unfortunately he doesn't touch on the reverse though.

I don't think a stone musketball would perform very well though. Even the difference in density between lead musketballs and iron or steel ball bearings is enough to greatly increase drag and drastically reduce accuracy at longer ranges, and a small stone bullet fired at a super-sonic velocities would only slow down eve quicker.
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Miko H.





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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2018 8:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:

I don't think a stone musketball would perform very well though. Even the difference in density between lead musketballs and iron or steel ball bearings is enough to greatly increase drag and drastically reduce accuracy at longer ranges, and a small stone bullet fired at a super-sonic velocities would only slow down eve quicker.


Ah yeah there's no question in my mind that stone musket balls would be less effective than lead, I didn't open this topic to try and argue that. I was just curious if there were any historical accounts of it being done.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2018 3:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stone cannonballs had some distinct advantages. Iron balls had better penetration and pulverising power but stone balls -- being lighter -- could be about two or three times the diameter for the same weight and delivered more shock over a large general area. It was common in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance to undermine old-fashioned curtain walls by weakening the bottom with iron balls before firing a large stone shot against a point higher up on the wall to finally knock the section down. This didn't work so well against the new low, thick Italian-style earthen or brick rampart and the cost of labour needed to make stone cannonballs rose faster than the cost of materials for iron ones so stone balls were fairly rapidly abandoned over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The same cannot be said for small arms -- larger stone balls would have required larger and heavier barrels, while smaller normal-sized barrels would have made the stone projectile too light to have any serious stopping power (considering that round balls lose velocity much more rapidly than spin-stabilised rifle projectiles).
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 12:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good points. I also seem to recall hearing at somewhere that stone cannonballs were also preferred in naval warfare much of the time since they could smash larger holes in ships, a bit like the later carronade. Over time though it apparently became cheaper and easier to carry large numbers of smaller iron cannonballs on ships.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the subject of historical evidence, we do have surviving examples of medieval "canister shot" consisting of a wooden container filled with small rocks:



^Not my picture. But the ones I saw on display next to the Loshult gun in Stockholm were around 2 or 3 inches in diameter, so not really musket-sized, but perhaps small enough to be fired by something technically considered a "handgun".

Many of the individual stones themselves were definitely small enough to be fired out of a musket if you really wanted to.
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