Firearms have come a long way in the last 657 years. As technology advances, gun features become more and more advanced every year. That being said, they haven’t fundamentally changed much at all.
The same basic premise that rifles, pistols, and shotguns operate under has remained largely the same for nearly their entire history. Whether it be pins, bushings, rails, or springs, these pieces come together to create a whole greater than its parts.
Parts of a Rifle
The musket is history’s first true rifle. As the pioneer of firearms, the musket left much to be desired, but laid groundwork that rifles today still employ.
Notable key rifle parts that appeared with these first firearms include the hammer, striking pin, and primer. Primarily, the stock, barrel, and lock were shared across all models.
These muskets were only capable of firing one cartridge at a time before needing a reload; an action performed by ramming powder and a musket ball down the muzzle of the rifle. Due to this, the ram-rod was also an important inclusion in the list of rifle parts for early muskets.
However, time demanded a more efficient firing method, which antiquated the ram-rod and introduced the magazine as an invaluable part. With the advance of World War I and II, innovation of rifles improved drastically.
As technology progressed, so too did the number of parts. Whereas muskets boasted only a dozen or so, modern rifles are often manufactured with fifty or more parts. Bolt-action rifles showcase the most straightforward firing mechanism, and consequently require the fewest parts. The Remington Sportsman 78, for example, has a modest list of 37 individual parts. Much like the original muskets, this rifle’s stock, barrel, and bolt are the three key parts.
Bolt-action rifles provide the simplest modern mechanism for firing. The magazine holds the cartridges, which are pushed into place through the pulling back and release of the bolt. Once a cartridge is in place, pulling the trigger will cause the mainspring to propel firing pin into the primer of the cartridge, igniting it and causing a shot to be fired.
Then, the spent cartridge will be ejected from the barrel as the bolt is pulled back again. Automatic and semi-automatic rifles require many more steps, and unsurprisingly, many more parts. Though bolt-action requires the fewest parts to function, the inefficiency of a rifle that needs to be cocked before each shot might not be an efficient payoff for the reliability that it provides.
Parts of a Pistol
Though not as long as the rifle’s, the history of the pistol begins near the same time, with a familiar firearm: the flintlock pistol.
These early pistols operated on the same mechanism that muskets did: a piece of flint served as the “hammer” to ignite the primer. The process was rough and extremely prone to weather and misfires, and was eventually replaced by caps filled with black powder. Even later, the cartridge was introduced to pistols.
This innovation gave rise to the revolver, and brought with it an ever increasing complexity to the parts of a pistol.
The parts of a revolver include the cylinder, hammer, and of course, the barrel. While this step forward allowed pistols to fire multiple times before needing to be reloaded, innovation demanded more than 4, 6, or 8 shots per reload. Pistols went the same way as the rifle: magazine-fed firearms. Over time, these new pistols branched away from revolvers. Now needing to accomodate a magazine, the parts of a pistol went up significantly in number. Glock manufactured pistols have only 34 individual parts, arguably the least amount among any modern pistol.
The process of firing a revolver includes several steps, though they all happen near-instantaneously. First, the hammer must be cocked back to ready the shot. After the trigger is pulled, the hammer swings the firing pin into the primer of the cartridge. Afterwards, pulling the hammer back rotates the cylinder to ready the next shot.
Double-action revolvers can perform all of these steps with one trigger pull. Though it may seem tedious to take each of these steps individually, single-action revolvers have a lighter trigger pull and consequently better accuracy.
Alternatively, magazine-fed handguns showcase a process remarkably similar to that of a rifle’s, only on a smaller scale. As with all semi-automatic firearms, the process of pulling the trigger fires the round and also readies the next shot to be fired.
Most modern firearms employ this process, but some, like the revolver, do not. The Glock, notably, does. Rather than needing a hammer to swing the firing pin into place, Glock pistols employ only a firing pin and a spring to ignite the primer. Rounds are held in place by the magazine itself, and are automatically pushed into place by a spring in the bottom of the magazine. When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the cartridge, and the round fires. As the slide is moving back into place, the spent round is automatically ejected and the next round is ready to fire.
Sum Greater Than The Whole?
Though they began as unreliable, muzzle-loading flintlocks, the modern rifle has perfected the process of flinging a lump of lead. Though the process has changed along the way, the parts of a rifle don’t differ too extremely from the parts of a pistol. Whether it be the lock, stock, or barrel, the parts of a gun all have a crucial role to play.