Manufacture of The Copper Percussion Cap

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Source: Quarterly Review, 1858

The manufacture of percussion-caps. The first process in this light and delicate work is the stamping of sheet-copper into pieces of the required form to make the caps. For this purpose the copper is placed beneath the punch of the machine, and immediately it is put into action, small crosses of metal are seen to fall from it into a box in a continual stream, whilst the sheet itself is transposed by the punching process into a kind of trellis work. These crosses of equilateral arms are now transferred to another machine, which instantly doubles up the four arms, and at the same time so rounds them, that they form a tube just the size of the gun-nipple, and by a third operation of the same machine, a kind of rim is given to the free end, which makes the cap take the form of a hat.

This rim marks the difference between the military and the ordinary percussion-cap – the soldier, in the hurry and confusion of battle, requiring this guide to enable him to apply the proper end to the nipple. The metal portion of the cap completed, it is transferred to a man who fills it with detonating powder. As this is a very dangerous process, the artisan upon whom the duty devolves sits apart from the boys, who perform all the other work, for fear of an accidental explosion. To fix the fine dust in the cap, a very pretty machine is employed, which gets through its work with extreme rapidity. The caps are placed in regular rows in a frame work, to which is attached a lever, armed with as many fine points as there are caps in a single row. The motion given by the hand alternately dips these fine points into a tray of varnish, and then into each succeeding line of caps. When the varnish is dry, the powder is fixed and effectually protected from the effects of damp. The caps are now finished, and are ready for the boy who counts and packs them. Machinery is even employed to perform the part of Cocker, and with one gentle shake does the brain-work of many minutes. A frame is constructed, into which fit a number of small trays, each tray being pierced with seventy-five holes. Upon this frame the boy heaps up a few handfuls of caps, and then gives the whole machine a few jerks, and when he sees that every hole is filled with a cap, he lifts out each separate tray and empties it into appropriate boxes. In this manner he is enabled, with extreme rapidity, to count out his parcels of seventy-five caps, the regulation number served to each soldier with sixty rounds of ball-cartridge – the excess of fifteen being allowed for loss in the flurry of action. The British soldier’s clumsy fingers are by no means well calculated for handling and adjusting such light articles.

The lengthy article from which this information has been extracted, ‘Woolwich Arsenal and its Manufacturing Establishements,’ has been reprinted in full in Research Press Digest 2023. The original text is supplemented with footnotes and illustrations.