I am posting this information in response to an article recommended on another blog. Not all the information is correct in that article & to follow its instruction could be dangerous. When writing on such a subject in the public domain, one must be clear & precice & leave nothing that can be wrongly interpreted.
1) Always load with a seperate measure. NEVER load from the horn or a flask with or without an attached measure. Any ember inside the barrel will cause the powder to be fired, & this in turn would ignite the powder in a horn or flask if it were being used.
2) Load the gun first, and prime last. I know the original military way was to prime first and load second, but this is a dangerous practice. I DO NOT recommend priming first.
3) Original smoothbores did not used a patched ball. If you wish to use patching you may do so. Originally a wad or wadding was rammed down on top of the powder charge, then the ball, & then more wadding. Whether you use wadding or patch material, the ball MUST be firmly seated on top of the powder. NO GAP should exist between the powder and the wadding & ball or patched ball. IF you leave such a gap, the pressure at that point will quickly expand & can result in the barrel exploding. However, you should not ram so hard that it crushes the powder in the load. Just a steady firm push will do the job, & a light tamping so that you can feel it is firm.
4) When loading you can place a quill in the touch hole to prevent it from filling with powder. Alternately you can use your vent pick to ensure the touch hole/vent it not blocked with powder before priming. When you prime, you do so from the main horn, & you only use a very little gunpowder in the pan. Any excess should be wiped away.
5) If your gun is loaded but not primed & is not to be used immediately, place a quill in the vent/touch hole to remind you that the gun is still loaded. This serves two purposes: 1) it ensures you do not store a loaded gun, & 2) it stops you from loading the gun twice!
6) Always use a leather hammer cap. This is an added safety feature that will prevent your gun from accidently being fired.
7) The COCK holds the flint, & the flint strikes the HAMMER or STEEL.
8) Always use the correct grade gunpowder/Black Powder for your gun. NEVER load with FFFFG priming powder. A rough gauge for grades is: up to & including .45 cal, use FFFG/3FG.
From .50 cal upward use FFG/2Fg. Cannons to my knowledge use FG/1FG.
This is not carved in rock, you can use 3FG in a .50 cal, but you need to use less of it otherwise it will generate too much pressure.
9) Always replace the plug in your powder horn after use & before firing the gun. Whenever possible swing your powder horn to your rear/back after use & before firing. Gunpowder can become ingrained in/on the shaft of the plug, & a stray spark landing on the plug can ignite the ingrained powder.
10) If using a rifle, I recommend that you wipe the bore between shots to stop the build up of powder residue. If a ball gets stuck part way down the barrel when loading, DO NOT try & force it down, pull the load. If you are using one of the modern gas pressure methods to blow the ball out, make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction as this method has been known to fire the load! Personally, I would wet the load by pouring water through the touch hole before pressurizing the barrel.
11) If you get a missfire/flash in the pan, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction & wait a few minutes before cleaning the vent with your vent pick & re priming. An ember could be lingering & could still fire the main charge.
12) If you have trouble with the gun not sparking, you can either replace the flint for a new one or knap a sharp edge on the old one. Wipe the flint & wipe the face of the hammer/steel. If the problem persists, the fault could be with the steels hardness or lack of it, or the hammer spring could be too strong or too weak.
13) When making your own powder horn, or purchasing one, ENSURE that the base plug is only sealed with beeswax & is NOT glued! Also ENSURE that the base plug is only secured with 6 or less small diameter one eighth of an inch pins of metal or wood. This is my personal preferance. IF the powder in the horn should ever take fire, the base plug should blow out of the horn & not explode the horn. If the base plug is secured with glue or too many pins or overly strong pins then this "safety valve" will not work. I recently had some communication with a chap who makes the most beautiful powder horns, & he assured me that he was taught & advised by an expert. This chap has been glueing the base plugs into his horns. Please check any horn you purchase carefully & recieve a gaurantee that the base plug is only secured with pins, & only sealed with beeswax.
14) NEVER place your hand over the ram rod or wiping stick when loading. If your ram rod is too short to hold when loading, get a LONGER ramrod!
15) Until you get used to knowing when your gun's load is properly seated, make a mark on your ramrod so you can tell when the load is properly seated. In this way you can also tell whether or not a gun is loaded. I have known second hand guns to be sold with a load already in the barrel! Always check, & keep that muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
16) NEVER use smokeless gunpowder in a muzzle-loading gun, EVEN if the colour looks black! Only the correct "Black Powder" gun powder should be used. Any ammount of Smokeless powder creates TOO MUCH pressure for use in a muzzle-loading barrel. Smokeless powder will blow your gun up!
I realise that this information can sound scary, one mistake & you can blow yourself up. But really it is much like anything else. Learn to do it properly & the dangers are minimal. Far less dangerous than using a chainsaw!
Note the leather hammer cap tied to the trigger guard of this flint rifle.
Here you can see the hammer cap in place on the hammer on my fusil.