The Gatling gun is an iconic weapon from the Wild West era in the eyes of many who are not gun enthusiasts, but the gun aficionado sees it as so much more than that. There is much potential in the building of a Gatling gun, even though the traditional versions were retired from U.S. Army use over one hundred years ago.
Building one can be a great way to reconnect with the past, develop a love for military weaponry, or simply own a piece of history. They are not considered a fully-automatic weapon, since they require cranking for continuous fire, but they behave very similarly in that many rounds can be fired in a very short period of time with little work from the gun wielder.
Gatling Gun History
Dr. Richard Gatling designed the first Gatling gun as a “solution to the number of deaths by combat/disease and to prove the futility of war” in 1861. It was patented in November, 1862, and quickly pressed into service for the American Civil War. Although not truly an automatic weapon, it represented great innovation for the gun industry, and showcased modern technology nearly unheard of for its time in the field of weaponry. At that time, there were only a few other weapons capable of firing en masse, but these had to be reloaded once fired, making them cumbersome and inefficient.
The Gatling gun’s ability to fire at a high rate of speed without having to reload each time made it instantly popular, an effective and efficient choice for the battlefield. Even soldiers who had not been trained to use the weapon could fire upwards of 200 rounds per minute in most cases, a tremendous asset to say the least. The Union Army first purchased the Gatling gun for Civil War use, with the American Army as a whole adopting the weapon in 1866. During the late 1870s, it was also used as an effective battle weapon for the Peruvian army, and continued to act as thus until well into the 1880s.
Types and Modifications of Gatling Guns
The first Gatling guns featured six to ten barrels rotating around a central shaft, with different forms of dampened material between the barrels to attempt to prevent them from overheating.
As the gun’s design evolved, one of the earlier modifications eliminated the need for the damp material and made the gun more efficient. These early models also featured black powder-charged steel cylinders primed by use of a percussion cap until the development of self-contained brass cartridges, with each barrel having its own mechanism for firing. A few years after the Gatling gun was patented, modern brass cartridges took the place of the old paper ones.
Modifications in firing mechanisms, cartridges, housing, or other components led to the development of several types of Gatling guns over the next few decades. However, by 1911, all Gatling guns were no longer in service for the U.S. military.
- Model 1881: Used the Bruce-style system of feeding in order to accept double the number of .45-70 cartridges (two rows) so that sustainable fire became a viable option. However, this weapon required four people to operate, firing at 400-1200 rounds per minute on average.
- Broadwell drum: This modification allowed a special drum to be used, which replaced the prior curved magazine. The new one allowed manual rotation for each new magazine so that all 400 rounds could be fired before it had to be reloaded.
- M1893: Capable of firing 800-900 rounds per minute initially, this version was adopted around 1893 and featured six barrels. In later years, an electric motor and motor-driven belt were adapted for driving the crank on this weapon in order to achieve fire up to around 1500 rounds per minute.
- M1895: With a few small changes from the M1893, this version incorporated the Bruce feeding mechanism and was the first to have some parts painted Army green (olive drab) and others left with the standard bluing. This type, with a total of ninety-four produced for the U.S. Army (by the Colt Company), was the first to be used by the Cuban military in 1898.
- Model 1900: Very similar to the prior version but mostly blued components, and all models from 1895 to 1903 were mountable on armored field carriages.
Building a Modern Gatling Gun
This type of weapon, while technically legal in most states, is only legal when it is a type operated by the manual crank. All modern innovations, such as those that make it very simple to fire many rounds without cranking, are illegal due to their destructive capabilities. However, make sure to check the legality in the appropriate region to learn about restrictions before building this weapon.
Since it is costly to build, it would be a waste of time to put that much time, effort, and money into something that lands the owner jail time or hefty monetary fines. The builder/owner has the right to enjoy his or her creation!
One great way to find out whether a weapon is legal in the area is by checking out local gun shows, according to gun experts. Chances are very good that a weapon on display is legal unless there is a posting that dictates otherwise, which can be really helpful for new gun enthusiasts. It can also help a new gunsmith learn the look of a gun in real life before beginning to build that particular model, helping to ensure a more accurate weapon in most cases.