needle gunIn the back of my gun safe is a



Before Dreyse developed the military needle gun with a bolt action, he had produced a small stalking rifle with a faucet type breech. The bore is about 10.34mm, but the faucet type breech meant the powder volume was quite small, limiting the power of the gun, like a British rook rifle, for limited velocity and range. The gun is nicely made,

with a little ornamentation, good fit and finish on the mechanicals, with adjustable sights and sling loops. The S/N 9088 either means that quite a few were made or that Dreyse was trying to give that impression. Other examples of the same action show up occasionally, some quite ornate. One type uses a cam as a self-cocking device. This operating lever has an interlock so that the gun cannot be fired unless the breech is fully closed, and the breech is locked closed until the needle carrier is withdrawn after firing.

The gun required a reworked needle before it could be fired. The needle needed to clear the hole in the conical rotating faucet breech but also be able to push through the powder charge to strike a primer cup at the base of the bullet. Extensive searching yielded no information about the bullet or cartridge for the gun, but a combination of the bore and chamber measurements plus the mechanics of the breech determined that the bullet diameter should be about the size of a .38 Special case diameter. No ramrod was provided with the gun, so the gun was designed as a breech loader. I made a set of swaging dies to form a round nose, flat base bullet with a recess in the base to accept a trimmed pistol percussion cap. Presumably, a paper cartridge could be made up, but I was able to load and fire the gun several times with loose powder, and it was surprisingly accurate.

Faucet breeched guns are fairly rare, simply because their powder capacity is usually quite small, and the capabilities of other designs were able to easily outstrip their performance. The breech piece, however, being tapered, can be adjusted to a good working fit with little loss of gas when firing. It is also easily disassembled for cleaning and maintenance. Anyone familiar with the Dreyse military needle gun would recognize the stepped leaf spring piece holding in the needle carrier. Progress waits for no one, of course, and needle guns are historical footnotes today.

As simple as cartridge base priming seems to us today, there are advantages to having ignition at the base of the projectile, and various designs have been tried to initiate the powder burn at the base of the bullet, much like the needle gun system. US Ordinance developed long primers for artillery, circa WWII, for front ignition of the propellant charge for both consistent ignition in various climates plus a flashless and smokeless discharge for concealment. Would modern ammunition perform more consistently with forward ignition? An interesting question, isn’t it?


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