Black powder's UGLY brother

Discussion in 'Firearms' started by dragonfly, Nov 4, 2011.

  1. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    I am not going to get into the exact composition and ingredients to make black powder, as it's easy to find almost anywhere, and available commercially.
    What I wanted to let you know in this thread, is what you may see or find, especially IF you happen to be making up your own batches of black powder. Things happen, that are strange!
    Nearly every schoolboy knows the ingredients and the measurements (by weight, not volume) are 75%-15%-10%.
    It's all about the process.

    When you 'normally' make up your black powder, you use the 3 basic ingredients and, measure them out carefully.
    You then have a choice of HOW you mix them for the best results. Some mix by hand, some ball mill them, and some use additional techniques such as wetting out and screening, or by wetting out and corning.
    The screening and corning are both good methods. But it's best to ball mill the mixes before that step. Some even use a binder such as RED GUM to get satisfactory results. It's faster than most methods....No ball milling needed! That saves time and money!

    The "trick" to most black powder lies in 2 things: 1) the type of soft wood used to make the charcoal. 2) the amount of moisture added prior to screening or corning.
    Screening is one of the simplest, but messy process'. You have to have just enough moisture to bind the ingredients then force them thru a screen of the appropriate size then dry the "grains" as quickly as possible. ( If you don't, you'll have one big gelatinous mess that is garbage!)

    I did that, not once but twice! Both were 5 lb. batches each and that's costly! The "corning" process is similar, where you have to dampen the mix, and blend it by hand. Then you "press" the dough into small thin wafers that resemble hockey pucks. You have to dry them rapidly, then afterwards break them ( by hand) into small pieces and then "screen" by sieve (only) no forcing! That way you get your grains.
    This is all time consuming and messy. But it is what has worked for a long long time. You'll need a lot of screens in various sizes to get the right sizes of grains and that is a mess in itself, and there will be a lot of dust involved!

    Now I am about to tell you about an "accident" which happend as I was trying to make batches of black powder. I was making mess after mess...I was totally ready to throw in the towel. The cost and mess and ruined screens were getting to me. I had done everything just so-so and yet it was always a bad mix in the end. I managed to get it finally resolved, by using a LOT less water ( and I had even tried using 91% alcohol...but no dice!) I ended up hand screening the doughy mess and got actual grains of black powder, that actually worked very well....

    BUT, there's a process that I had started and was too busy to keep track of, and it got away from me....I had placed the "what is referred to as green powder" or simply "hand mixed ingredients", into the ball mill and forgot about it!
    Now that can be a VERY BAD THING to do!

    Most ball mills use lead balls to grind the ingredients to a finer and more intimate mixture prior to wetting out the mix and doing one of the other process'. I had tried several things and was disappointed and didn't want to use the lead balls, as I had been told long ago that the lead will impart a coating to the powder, making it nice and shiny, but harder to ignite.
    (Most commercial powders have a coating of graphite.)
    I also knew that I had tried brass balls and even 3/4 inch brass rods cut to fit inside the drums. Not a good result. So I bought some glass squares ( rounded) that are used in the bottom of floral decorations, and that too was a miserable failure! I knew you should NEVER use the ceramic type of balls ( they spark!) or the stainless steel balls as they can cause ignition as well. So, I was stymied for awhile. My powders were terrible and I was about to quit,then I finally found the right media for my ball mills. MARBLES!
    I bought a bunch of kids glass marbles and they work pretty darned good, at least for me anyway! I put 50 in the first batch and it was just less than a disaster. So, I put in 100 marbles which was half a drum full, and then tried that. It was better, but something was still missing!
    I even changed my charcoal type and source ( advised to do so by a PGI Master) "Pyrotechnical Guild Institue". But again, nothing was working. I experimented with milling wet, then only alcohol. It just got worse and worse as I pushed it! By complete accident, I've discovered something that was great and horribly frightening, all at the same time. I had left my one ball mill running, for 4 hours! Now that's NOT advisable!

    (Now when I run my ball mills, I don't have a bunch of sandbags and a wooden crate to keep things from getting tossed around, IF anything should go wrong. I do have an old small refrigerator, which died long ago, and I used it as a cabinet. I can put 2 ball mill units inside and I leave the door propped open about 6 inches to VENT, if there should be a problem. I also use a long extension cord and keep the whole thing covered in heavy plastic totes, which will fly upwards, absorbing any shock and help to dissipate any sudden noises! (The refrigertor is stripped clean inside)
    The long extension cord is NOT plugged in until everyone is safely away ( 50 feet or more) and unplugged and let the mills sit "quietly" for a half an hour before I even touch that refrigerator.)

    What happened is a mystery to the PGI master and a manufacturer of fireworks and black powders. I was asked IF I could duplicate it again and again. I did. ( I ended up with 20 lbs of it!) What happened was that by milling for twice the recommended time, the mixutre ( dry by the way) had become a whole new dimension in powders. It came out a nice light gray color. We did figure that part out, as the mix was dry and the white + yellow + black will become gray. If it is "wetted" it then becomes a nice black! Ok, so we get the color, but what we did not/do not, to this day understand, was the dramatic increase in power.

    So I did a burn test. It nearly detonated in my face. It doesn't BURN per se, as it just goes OFF! It is similar in ALL aspects to that of "FLASH POWDERS", except none of the chemicals used to make flash powders is used. Most are "controlled" substances today anyway! ( Chlorates and Perchlorates)
    I have no way to test the energetics and volatility of this powder, but it is absolutely dangerous for all accounts.
    If it were EVER placed in ANY black powder firearm, or say a cannon, there would be catastrophic results. It would destroy a weapon and turn it into lethal shrapnel. Not what YOU or I want!
    I put less than a tablespoon of this new ( what I now call "COYOTE") powder on a single square of toilet paper, laid flat on the ground, and proceeded to light the corner of the paper. I almost made it safely away!
    It went off so fast, my son was videotaping the result and he was 12 feet away, and it blinded him for a few minutes...I was busy moving and did not watch the flash, but it lit up some large area of the neighborhood, and made one heckuva "whoosh", nearly exploding.
    He said NOT to call him to videotape anything I make, ever again!
    Gee go figure! I think he got shaken by the sheer power and volume of smoke and white flame...I was. ( hair grows time)

    So, if you are ever making your own black powder and happen to come across this stuff.....My suggestion to you is simple: wet it out!
    Make it black, and keep it safe.
    Next, I am "experimenting with some really volatile stuff: magnalium (a 50/50 mix of fine magnesium/aluminum powders) and zirconium powder( seen those 12 gauge shells adverised as: "dragon's breath"?)
    Now that Looks like FUN! (I already have the sugar rocket fuel and smoke compositions down pat!)
    Remember, when it comes to chemicals and chemistry, IF IN DOUBT, DON'T!
    chelloveck and jungatheart like this.
  2. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    Your story here reminds me so much of a lost/misplaced brother in arms. I have many stories of his exploits. All funny because no one died or went to jail for more than overnight. Unsafe as hell, with many interesting and unexpected results. All unsafe, some creating spectacular results. I wittnessed a few rare instances of these incidents. Heard of others first or second hand, and often was involved in cleaning up the results in one way or another. If I ever chose to write a humorous book about my life and observations of same I would have to include no less than two or three chapters to this crazy magician and explosives pyromaniac. Doug Robinson, where ever you are, Chief Irvin hopes you are still alive and well. Look me up on TWS. (together we served).
  3. goinpostal

    goinpostal Monkey+++

    Dragonfly,I dont know if it's the same,but believe it or not,it sounds an awfull lot like a hotter varient of powdered non-dairy coffee creamer.
    I've unknowingly hauled 40,000lb loads of the of the stuff(enough to level a town).That was untill someone demonstrated it's power,by touching a pinch of it off in an ashtray.
    Very similar to flash powder,but touchier,and more powerful.
    It wasnt classified as hazmat,much less considered an explosive untill about ten years ago.
  4. beast

    beast backwoodsman

    an old friend told me to use stale urine as my wetting mix
    said its more stable and potent
    he also only uses willow charcoal
  5. gunbartender

    gunbartender Monkey+++

    I was always told you are supposed to use urine too...
  6. Seawolf1090

    Seawolf1090 Retired Curmudgeonly IT Monkey Founding Member

    Hmmm.... stale urine contains some quantity of ammonia - maybe it helps moderate the reaction?
  7. jim2

    jim2 Monkey+++

    I heard chinaberry charcoal is good. Never tried mixing ANY of the stuff though.
  8. goinpostal

    goinpostal Monkey+++

  9. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    How to Make Cremora Fireballs

    Yes, most fine powders are very dangerous, especially once they get airborne!
    (See: recently a grain silo exploded!)
    Urine was used a long time ago to enhance the nitrates.
    In the bookset "FIREFOX", that is discussed.
    (But Personally, I think it stinks! Yukk!)
    If you need more energy, use potassium perchlorate instead ( See: ingredients for Pyrodex) But beware, it can ( and most likely will) react violenty upon contact with any sulfur. BANG!
    Ammonia nitrate is too hygroscopic for most uses.
    It has to be "prepared" by drying ( heating it for an hour or more, depending on thickness/amount of the chemical being prepared) prior to any use, except for fertilizer. Even then, it must be quickly mixed ( in a dry environment) to prevent it absorbing more moisture.

    Harry Gillam of and Ned Gorski, his cohort as it were, (PGI master) are 2 people I rely on for valid information....Very good articles and free information, as well as some sites that are forums for these types of things.

    What has been discovered about the powder I ended up with, is that it is superfine and quite intimately mixed, so much so that it is dangerously sensitive to heat, shock, and friction, much like flash powders.
    I can "dilute" it by either wetting and graining it, or adding baking soda, to make it slower and safer.
    goinpostal likes this.
  10. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    BTW: Ned Gorski gave me the formula for his own "flash powder" and it's NOT something I want to touch...He used corn flakes to keep the chemicals separated, until the charge was detonated, way up in the air!
    Most are basic 2 chemicals, you only mix a little at a time, on a sheet of newspaper, and VERY gently let one chemical flow over and into the other. No other way is safe. Once it is mixed it is explosive, and all you have to do is use harsh language, raise your voice, or look at in a bad way!
    Seriously! Nasty stuff.
    Similar compounds/mixtures are found in a lot of everyday fireworks, such as whistles! There's another one I want nothing to do with! Check out skylighter and read how dangerous they are and the way things are made...puts a whole new perspective on things! I started making powders at 10 and still have all my fingers, and eyes, and ears...Lost some hair, a bit of hearing, and my mind somewhere along the way, but I accepted that part!
    ( as Harry always says: " Now go out and light something"....!
    I worry about that guy!
    goinpostal likes this.
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    There is no Magic in your Grey Powder. The difference is in the Grain Sizes. This is why corning BP is an important step in the process. That step determines the Grain Size of the powder. (FG, FFG, FFFG, and so forth) Your Grey Powder will be in the 4F or 5F Grain Size which greatly increases the sensitivity, to heat and shock, and also greatly increases BurnRate. You can actually see the difference between 2F, 3F and 4F in BurnRate, which you talked about, and demonstrated, in an earlier Post. The grading of the Grain Sizes is done by running the bulk corned Powder thru a Series of Screens with different size holes. Each Grade is used for different weapons. FG is Cannon Powder, with the largest Grain size. and has the slowest BurnRate. FFG is for Large Bore Weapons. (54 Caliber and larger) 3F is for smaller Caliber weapons. (54 - 25 Caliber) 4F is used a FlashPan Powder, and in Pistols, where the fastest BurnRate is required, due to the shortness of the Weapons Barrel, and the Ease of Ignition from Flint of Steel, in FlintLock Weapons. 5F really has no use, and I do NOT believe it is has been marketed, in 100 years. None of these Powders come close to Detonation Velocities. They ALL deflagrate, (Burn very fast) and that is the difference, by definition, between High Order Explosives and Low Order Explosives. Both can be used to move stuff around, but One does so by shear Pressure, and the other does so by both Pressure, and Shattering Shockwaves. ...... YMMV....
  12. beast

    beast backwoodsman

    didnt the flintlocks use a flashpan with ultrafine powder to ignite the coarser mix?
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Yep, that is what 4F BP is used for... That and in pistols, because of the short barrel length. Remember, that to get the most out of your powder charge, it MUST ALL BURN, before the projectile leaves the barrel. Any unburnt powder left in the Barrel, after the projectile exits, gets blown out the muzzle, and just creates a BIG Muzzle Flash, which is usually a very undesirable consequence of overloading the the weapon. With modern steel in BP Weapons, it is almost impossible to cause a Barrel Failure, due to overloading of BP. This is because the pressure in the barrel, drives the projectile out, long before enough powder can burn to over-pressure the barrel, and the unburnt powder gets blown out the muzzle, and all over the ground, out in front of the shooter. This is NOT the case with Modern BP Substitute Formulations. They can in extreme cases over-pressure a barrel, and cause it to burst, or deform. ..... YMMV.....
  14. Seawolf1090

    Seawolf1090 Retired Curmudgeonly IT Monkey Founding Member

    I never knew the volatility of simple powdered sugar til I saw a video of a British "Energetics expert" who poured some into a pipe and lit it off - from a safe distance! WOWZERS!! Gave me a new appreciation for basic home food items! :D

    Had a kid in High School Chemistry who had read of the making of Nitro..... so he starts adding the ingredients in lab one day. Luckily the teacher saw and recognized what he was doing and tackled him before he could dump in the last chemical - he had NOT been using the proper techniques! Don't know if his concotion would have blown, but I'm glad we never found out! :rolleyes:
  15. Tikka

    Tikka Monkey+++

    As the inventor of Pyrodex, Dan Pawlak died when his powder plant blew up be very careful.

  16. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    One of the lesser intelligent (Mississippi resident) members of our local pistol range is a Skylighter. He recently went to dispose of three pounds of flash powder (Sodium Perchlorate and powdered Aluminum) because it was a bit too fine. He poured it into a pile on top of a piece of plywood about sixty feet from his home and placed a 10 ft. long piece of fuse. When he bent to light the fuse, the powder ignited, blowing him back on his ass, destroying one ear drum and giving him first and second degree burns over all exposed body area including his now nearly bald head. The resulting explosion broke three windows from the side of his house and knocked several pictures from the interior walls. Within a few minutes, several Law Enforcement Agencies were on site to investigate the suspected meth lab that had blown up and he was forced to play host to each of them for the grand tour of the premises in spite of being in dire need of a hospital.
  17. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Yes, Playing with Energetic Materials, without doing the research FIRST, can be a "Life Changing Experience". There are many people who have missing Body Parts due to this activity. My own Partner, being one, because of an incident when he was a Teenager, some 4 Decades ago. He is a reTIRED NASA Apollo Engineer, and types on his computer using his Middle Finger, on his Right Hand, because he has No Thumb, or Index Finger. Lesson learned in the School of Hard Knocks. ..... YMMV....
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