Homemade black powder...

Discussion in 'Firearms' started by dragonfly, Nov 1, 2010.

  1. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    Last night for the first time in many years ( 45-46, YIKES!!!), I decided to "mix" up some black powder. Now in the past, I always mixed very small amounts in the 2-4 ounces sizes. I decided that I had ball milled enough ingredients to do something and it has been sitting for a few months now....I decied to make 1 full lb., all at once.
    I got brave! I mixed my potassium nitrate ( milled to -100 sieve) about the consistency of white table sugar ( but a tad bit finer), and my charcoal, much finer than flour, almost dust! Then the sulfur, which is the tough guy in the group! It is naturally oily to a degree, and clumps like crazy.
    Now, "normally" you'd not mix these ingredients dry, EVER!
    But, I had ulterior plans! I weighed each in turn, and added them to the same container. I measured the relative humidity prior to what I did, as too cool and too dry of weather is a VERY bad thing! Static is a big NO NO, as is friction.
    I did NOT MIX the dry ingredients! I poured in about 3-4 ounces of 91% rubbing alcohol...this helps wet out the dry ingredients, and makes the mixture far more "intimate", so the sulfur will actually "blend" into the mixture, instead of only sticking to the "outsides" of the other 2.
    A LOT of pyrotechnical books say to ball mill the charcoal and sulfur together to get a really intimate mixture, and even though there is not much of any real chance of any ignition or explosion taking place ( unless it is contaminated with the oxidizer: potassium nitrate) I chose not to even take that mere chance ( next to none) I kept it well removed from me!
    Carefully weighing each ingredient, is paramount to getting a good mixture to have decent black powder. Some have too much smoke, some are "lazy" and burn slowly, some have a lot of sparks and there is only one mixture I have found that works well every time.
    75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur.
    The ingredients are also important as far as purity and the actual names!
    Charcoal, some call it lampblack, it isn't! I use ONLY hardwood charcoal briquettes, smashed, crushed, and then finely powdered after hours/days of ball milling into a realy finely powdered mess! ( "don't try this at home" comes to mind about now! I mean unless you have a spare bathroom, and can open a window and have a positive air flow to the outdoors! Man it's a nasty mess!) And NEVER EVER use any charcoal that has ANY additives such as "match light" types!
    Then there's the sulfur...Never under any circumstances, use what is known as "Flowers of Sulfur". That's sulfur that has been washed in sulfuric acid to "purify" it. The result is a sulfur that contains high amounts of resdiual acid, that can and does cause explosions due to reactions to other chemicals such as metals ( aluminum, magnesium, etc.) Use only pure raw sulfur, prills, etc. It has been known to ignite spontaneously!
    I always get the purest (usp) types to work with.
    Meanwhile.....Back to the mixture....
    I pour in the alcohol and it mixes readily with the sulfur ( does not dissolve it) and allows the sulfur to blend better than with water, as with water it tends to float and separate. I suppose that is why so many recommend to ball mill the sulfur and charcoal powders together.
    The alcohol is not much good for the potassium nitrate as it wets it out, but you need the nitrate to actually dissolve and blend in.
    After you carefully mix the combined powders and the alcohol, you get what feels like a sticky black, peanut butter like consistency.
    After it is thoroughly mixed, and it's evaporating quickly, you have to move quickly, but carefully, to make sure everything dry, is totally wetted out!
    Then you add a small amount of distilled water, and thin the mix, which also now allows the nitrate to dissovle and mix ino the charcoal, which is already now saturated with the wetted sulfur.
    Keep the mass in an airtight "soft" as in plastic container, which I normally never suggest as plastic can and does have a tendency to generate static and that's a big NO NO!
    BUT, you have a wet mixture, and as long as it stays wet, it is as safe as mud! Looks a bit worse though! ( I didn't bother to smell it!)
    After the blending, mixing, and yes I even shook it around awhile for the heck of it ( felt brave ya know?) I left it set. I used a small plastic spoon to take a sample and set in on a plastic sheet to dry overnight. This morning, I took the spoon and carefully flexed it to get the dry powder off, and placed it into a folded piece of paper, and gently mashed it into small pieces, and powder sized fragments. ( finger pressure only!)
    I took it ouside, spaced the powder into an 11 1/2 inch fold in the paper, set it up on a rock and lit the corner of the paper, (not the powder!).
    It was impressive, as I saw it equal to, or better than, the "Goex" brand I have used before. Talk about fast! POOF! Minimum amount of smoke but a distinct sound as it ignited and burned/was consumed in a split second.
    If you ever decide to make your own black powder/s...don't do so in the kitchen/bathroom unless you meet at least one of the above criteria:

    1) You live alone and don't mind the hideaous smell of burning silfur when you use the stove! ( that powder goes everywhere!)
    2) you are an absolute 'clean freak', and can strip the stove/shower/toilet, etc. and clean every molecule of sulfur up!
    3) You are single, or about to become single! ( then who cares..Right?)
    4) You really don't like your roommates, or their friends!

    Now, you have a black sticky mass of goo that is pretty much worthless, for all intents and purposes....
    Now comes the "hard part"...You get a small piece, of say 12 x 12 inches square, of window screen ( metal type works best) and nail it to a small frame to keep it stretched tightly. Under it, place either newspaper or a tray of sorts...( make one from aluminum foil)
    You are going to carefully and slowly "knead" the dough-like black mass through the screen. Making small sized particles, which will be left to dry, (outdoors in the sun is the best, on a low humidity day) the faster the particles dry, the better the powder is strength wise. After drying, CAREFULLY place the dry powder "granules" into a cardboard or similar "soft walled" container for safe keeping. ( Pringles cans are GREAT!)
    Don't use glass, or metal containers! Remember, plastic can cause real problems with static electricity, and black powder is tempermental about some things! ( Shock, friction, sparks, heat, etc) Keep it cool, dry, and away from any direct heat source and addiional sunlight.
  2. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    As a safety precaution, I'd like to add the following....
    NEVER use any metals in your mixes, despite any formulae or pyrotechnical books you have read! Unless you are a "qualifed" pyrotechnical expert, metals will and do react severely and cause many to lose hands, eyes, and their lives! There are metals you can use, but they have to be pure and they are NOT cheap. And, most have to be "coated" to prevent chemical reaction from taking place. Powdered Metals have the ability to enhnace the explosive force of most powders, by as much as 90%. I do NOT advocate their use, and never for use in any black powder firearms!
    Most metals and their counter part "reactive" oxidizers today, are on a list and you have to have a special BATFE license to purchase them.
    Even chemical suppliers now have a warning to buyers: IF at any time you are purchasing any chemicals which are deemed to be on the "list" of controlled items, and could in ANY way shape or form be construed as that your are attempting to make M-80's, flash powders, etc, you will be banned and you will be turned over to the authorities!
    I have already run afoul of one such rule and after a great length of time and explanantion, it was found that all I wanted was, a ground flare composition!
    Nothing more than that!
  3. Hispeedal2

    Hispeedal2 Nay Sayer

    Very cool post!

    I would like to see a pictorial ;)
  4. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Many of the metal mixes are hygroscopic in nature and when in the presence of water can give off explosive gasses...
  5. Seacowboys

    Seacowboys Senior Member Founding Member

    I use a ball-mill made from a two-drum Harbor Freight rock polisher filled with .44 lead balls. I mix the saltpeter, sulfur, charcoal and red-gum and mill it for several hours way outside. Once the milling is complete, I mix the powder with denatured alcohol into a paste and spread the paste onto wax-paper to dry. While wet, I score the paste with the edge of a ruler into little squares to break apart easily and use these as stars in mortar rounds (fireworks). I screen some of them into flake and fine some into panflash.
  6. jungatheart

    jungatheart Beginner's Mind

    Great thread, thanks.
  7. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Dealing with static electricity

    Would a grounding strap help reduce the risk of static electricity?

    I can remember visiting an ammunition depot once and the Ammunition Technical Officer who took me on a tour of the bunkers where large calibre ammunition was stored, packed and maintained would religiously touch grounded copper touch plates that were sited on both sides of door thresholds throughout the complex. Sparks were taken very seriously there.
  8. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    additionally don't wear nylon or clothes that could create static electricity... i've seen AP's slide across the seat of their vehicle to pick up a lose 20mm round and blow their fingerrs off... and yep a grounding strap would be good...
  9. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    Change in plans....
    I now have 4lbs made up!
    I mixed 3 wet, and 1 dry, then after a bit of air drying the wet mixes, I hand mixed in the dry. Nasty stuff! That cotton pickin' charcoal dyes everything black as coal! I used vinyl gloves, but it still penetrated!
    Will be testing a batch this am.
    Feels and looks good, so far!
    I also use the ball mills, but I use square glass cubes ( heavy leaded) that have rounded corners....I had some contamination once from lead balls.
    I looked for stainless balls and only found some really expensive ball bearings!
    I understand that large ( boulder/shooter sized) marbles work very well also.
    Now here's an interesting item.....All the places that sell charcoal, have the stuff made from hardwoods, but, I have been told that to get a faster/hotter mix, I should use softwood charcoal. ( willow or white pine) I can't find any anyplace online! I'm NOT that dedicated to build a unit just to make my own charcoal! I did not like the screening process, so I switched to what is referred to as "corning". I let the mix dry pretty much, and then broke it up by hand into smaller pieces. Then I can sieve/screen the sizes from there.
    It looks like I have all sizes from 1/4 inch, down to meal or the FFFFg grade.
    When I first screened it , it was still damp enough to stick together and clump in big globs....
  10. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    Most black powders are hygroscopic in nature, and moisture is it's enemy!
    When there is a mix of certain metals, that moisture makes things get UGLY, really fast. They get a reaction going from acids ( generally from sulfur) and then you get a loud ringing in the ears! The biggest problem was with people trying to make "flash powders". Potassium chlorate and potassium perchlorate are bad boys, and they do NOT like sulfur! Most metals like aluminum and magnesium, have to be pre-treated/coated with a solution of potassium dichromate to avoid reactions. I quit making fireworks long ago, as it got too expensive and it takes a nice quiet place to work with all the chemicals. Today you can get into all kinds of problems when you try to order some chemicals! Just not worth the time and trouble today.
  11. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    New lessons learned!
    I just discovered that I had yet another set-back in making large quantities of powder! I looked at the powder again this morning and it's dry as a bone....It's also quite gray! Hmmmnot good! I contacted a master fireworks person in Washington DC and was told to look for ( and yes, I found it!) small shiny diamond like jewels of the potassium nitrate! It had resurfaced and crystallized as big as before it was ever milled to fines!
    The drying time was way too long! The longer it takes, the more the potassium can leech out and reform as big old crystals! Rats!
    Now, I'll have to re-wet the entire mess and begin again.
    But, the clue is to make smaller, much dryer batches to begin with, and to use sunlight ( if the humidiy is low) or, build a dryer box that is made of plywood sides and ends and bottom, with a hinged top, and removable screens stretched over 2 x 2's or whatever, and has a heater and blower at one end! ( not wise to put this into a stove's oven!)
    Back to the ole drawin' board!
  12. melbo

    melbo Hunter Gatherer Administrator Founding Member

    Nice thread. Moved out of the 'Firearms and Related' area of Buy Sell Trade.
  13. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    So....have I got it right??? Swap the bra straps for grounding straps, swap the synthetic bustenhalter and parachute for cottons....and no sheer nylon panty hose......sheesh you make it difficult for the Cpl Klinger cross dressers...I suppose that a gal can't even have lacquer on her nails : O Just as well my wig is made of horse hair instead of acrylic ; )
  14. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Chell... i'm sure you are attractive in your pumps... but yep man up when you make black powder...;)
  15. Maxflax

    Maxflax Lightning in a bottle

  16. Cephus

    Cephus Monkey+++ Founding Member

  17. Maxflax

    Maxflax Lightning in a bottle

    That tumbler is sold at Harbor Freight tools for $50 right now.. on sale

    Dual Drum Rotary Rock Tumbler

    I have a 50 caliber RB bullet mold and could easily cast my own hard cast balls. It is a custom NEI and leaves no sprue

    I don't think I would attempt it unless I had a small disposable shed or even maybe a semi sealed barrel (if there was rain) far from the home, and there was no possibility of starting a forest fire in case it blew. I would also want a remote off switch or even just an electric cord for the power so you could unplug it first. Things that can make big bangs should be respected
  18. Cephus

    Cephus Monkey+++ Founding Member

    I was talking about at the bottom where they have a kit to make 10# of black powder !!
  19. Maxflax

    Maxflax Lightning in a bottle

    Yeah, just trying to save someones $$ on the tumbler. They can be used for brass tumbling as well
  20. -06

    -06 Monkey+++

    All the old commercial powder making "sheds" that I have read about had "blow out" walls. That way if-and when there was an explosion the walls would remain intact except the rearward one. All processes were staggered so that no room was drying next to another that was in a "dangerous" condition.
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