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Thread: "Roll your own" black powder

  1. #1
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    "Roll your own" black powder

    Iím am getting into making my own black powder mainly because of cost. So far, the commercial powder I buy is about $20.00/lb and I have the costs down to about $30.00/10 lbs or $3.00/lb. Thatís quite a savings.

    By chance, is there anyone here who rolls their own? Iím interested in inexpensive quality chemicals.

    Thoughts anyone?

    Chris

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    Quote Originally Posted by Varmiter View Post
    I’m am getting into making my own black powder mainly because of cost. So far, the commercial powder I buy is about $20.00/lb and I have the costs down to about $30.00/10 lbs or $3.00/lb. That’s quite a savings.

    By chance, is there anyone here who rolls their own? I’m interested in inexpensive quality chemicals.

    Thoughts anyone?

    Chris
    I've done it before. I cooked my own white cedar charcoal, and used stump remover KNO3 that I bought on closeout from Walmart garden center, and 90% garden sulfur. It worked, but I think it had much room for improvement by using a better grade of saltpeter.

    I haven't tried it again using 2 oz. packets of granulated saltpeter that I bought at an oriental market. (it looks like the pharmaceutical grade I bought from the drugstore as a kid)

    There are places online where you can get chemicals for reasonable prices... the name "skylighter" comes to mind, but I don't know.

    I think if you use good charcoal and good saltpeter, the grade of sulfur doesn't really matter much.
    "Nobody wins in a Dairy Challenge" óKenny Rogers

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    Thorough mixing is the key almost to the point that the mix is where almost every atom of carbon (charcoal C) and sulphur (S) is adjacent a molecule or two of potassium nitrate (KNO3).

    I believe the Foxfire books on old mountain lore contained directions on purifying nitre and mixing gun powder, but mine have not been unpacked since my las move.
    Cogito me cogitare; ergo, cogito me esse.

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    Thanks Bob,

    I’ve purchased a few things at Skylighter, but their chemicals are a bit pricy. I already have most of the tools needed from other endeavors, including a rolling mill. I just need to finish casting the hard lead balls.

    Already set up to make my own charcoal and roll it. End up with much better quality that way.

    What started this all off was the acquisition of a mortar. That eats BP quickly, and the pyro shells eat it up as well. Then of course there is my BP shooting.

    Experimenting with all this is fun, and in the long run will be cheaper.....well not cheaper, but more shooting.

    Years ago, I acquired a pin point metal detector that I always take to the range. When possible I mine my own lead, copper jackets and all. Over time, instead of my lead supply decreasing, I’ve either been able to increase it or at the least, stay the same. But one thing that is really good is I’ve been able to increase stocks of soft lead for my BP shooting.

    Chris

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    If you're feeding a cannon, it might be worth your while to find a source of high-grade agricultural potassium nitrate. "Spray grade", or for hydroponics. I found some at a turf supply place in Florida a couple of years ago for about $20 per 50 pound bag, but it was gonna cost way too much to ship it cross-country.

    I don't use enough BP to be that serious about it; I made a pound or two mostly just as challenge. I'm pretty sure I could find a fertilizer wholesaler or co-op a lot closer that could get pure potassium nitrate for me if I really needed it.
    "Nobody wins in a Dairy Challenge" óKenny Rogers

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    Bob,

    Great idea. We are pretty close to "farm" country. Will check that out.

    Thanks

    Chris

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    Hi Varmiter,

    My uncle used to make BP. Ag grade niter is adequate. You are better off using willow charcoal than cedar. Making charcoal is fully described on the net so I won't bother here.

    The MOST important step is incorporation. My uncle had a plastic 55 gallon drum with an axle through it. He would put in the raw ingredients and 30 to 40 pounds of 50 cal musket balls then turn the barrel for about three days. Please note that his "recipe" included 1/4 to 1/2 part of dextrin. The longer it is turned the better the incorporation and the more dependable the powder.

    After incorporation he would dampen the mix just enough for the dextrin to bind the particles together. After it dried he would then put the solid mix in a gunny sack and drop it from a height of 20 feet and using common (plastic) window screening sift out the bigger pieces to break up again.

    Please note that for rifle and pistol you should use niter (potassium nitrate) as it is less hygroscopic. For cannon powder's larger grain the cheaper Chilean saltpetre (sodium nitrate) is acceptable. If you are unsure of the quality of your oxidizer, measure out a 2 gram sample and dissolve with very hot water (90 C) using as little water as possible, weighing the final solution. Leave the solution in the refrigerator overnight. Carefully decant the liquid taking care to separate the long slender crystals formed. Dry the crystals and weigh them. Final weight/2 = purity.
    Last edited by Selena; December 13th, 2011 at 07:13 AM.

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    Wow, I didn't realize there was this much interest or knowledge here. Thanks for the info.

    The Mortar is being set up to launch pyro shells in what I hope will be a big celebration come Nov next year. But a lot of prep and experimenting needs to be done before then.

    Chris

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    http://www.grafs.com/retail/catalog/...productId/5404

    If you decide to get store-bought powder....http://www.grafs.com/retail/catalog/...productId/5404 Paying $20lb would hurt but $13lb better...and you don't get the chance to blow yourself up. You DO know that IS a real chance, don't you? Even the commercial guys have an oopsie now and then. Be careful!

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    I understand all the tools they used around powder mills were made of bronze to eliminate any chance of sparking. (Similar to the tools they used in mines to prevent any methane from igniting.)

    I guess that gives a hint of the dangers involved.

    They also used to build the frames of the mill buildings pretty solid, but just tack on walls and a roof so if an oopsie occured they could just tack everything back togeher.

    I guess that gives another hint of the dangers involved.

    Even for the pros.
    "Gun control is not about public safety, crime reduction, or 'the children.' Gun control is about power. The people have it, and the government would rather they didn't." (An internet poster, not myself.)

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    I guess that gives a hint of the dangers involved.
    Compared to other pyrotechnic mixes and smokeless, black powder is relatively safe to manufacture. The main focus is to prevent sparks, either impact or electrical. Grounding equipment and using non-sparking metals in tools such as bronze or aluminum is a necessary precaution.

    Just as a bit of perspective- it's just as easy to produce an 'explosion' with gasoline or diesel fuel yet million of gallons are produced safely. Likewise, with all the black powder produced, both commercially and by hobbyists it is rare to hear of a fire in manufacture. Are we going to suppress the careful person because some idiot might use mild steel ball in the mill and light up a cigarette while handling product?

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    Well, reloading can be dangerous to those who don't pay attention. With care, BP manufacture is as safe as reloading if one pays attention to detail.

    Incidently, through some extensive research, I now have the cost down to $1.90/#. That seems to be worth the effort.

    Chris

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    Hi Varmiter,

    Don't forget to debark the willow before you make it into charcoal. Hint, don't even think about using charcoal briquets... they are made from the slowest burning charcoal available. Your use calls for the fastest with the largest pore area.
    Last edited by Selena; December 16th, 2011 at 07:24 AM.

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    I saw bags of regular charcoal (unknown wood) for sale in a local Sportsman's Warehouse about a year ago.

    I'm not saying that mfring King Black should not be attempted, just to make sure all your Ps are crossed and to mind your Ts and Qs.

    Hell, I'm the one who advocates the concept that firearms and pyrotechnic technology should not be reserved exclusively for da gummint and da po-po.
    "Gun control is not about public safety, crime reduction, or 'the children.' Gun control is about power. The people have it, and the government would rather they didn't." (An internet poster, not myself.)

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    Selena,

    Willow is somewhat on the difficult side to obtain here in AZ. But will try anything. I’m even goona try bricketts for a lifting charge just to see if it works and if so, how well. Not holding out any hope tho.

    230RN,
    I would certainly try a charcoal of unknown wood. The problem is, if it worked well, I wouldn’t know which wood it was.

    The charcoal is going to be my biggest hurdle and it appears there is going to be a lot of experimenting. Kinda like working up a load for a new gun, if you can call a mortar a gun. Will I guess you can. In any event, I think I will have things pretty well sorted for the Nov 6, 2012 celebrations.

    Chris

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    Make your own charcoal! If you can't find any willow, use paulownia, or white cedar, or balsa wood, or white pine. Spruce is probably good too.

    If you have to buy charcoal, get lump charcoal instead of brickets. It will probably be oak.
    "Nobody wins in a Dairy Challenge" óKenny Rogers

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    White Pine is plentiful in 2x4 offcuts at construction sites. Most of the time....FREE. But I do plan on experimenting with others.

    Chris

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    Willow is somewhat on the difficult side to obtain here in AZ. But will try anything. Iím even goona try bricketts for a lifting charge just to see if it works and if so, how well. Not holding out any hope tho.
    Pity, I can drive over to the south side of the farm and walk around the Monon Basin and collect enough willow to last a healthy Napoleon cannon a year. I'm not familiar with AZ plant life so I'm not much help. Hardwoods are generally a bad idea as the tend to have small pore size and a high percentage of minerals. Conifers tend to have high amounts of tars that "gum up the works" and should be avoided. My uncle also used a hybrid willow called "Austrees" in his later years for his larger grained powder. If watering isn't a problem they could be a good solution for you. The first tree is expensive but they propagate as easy as putting a twig in a glass of water until it roots out. With plenty of water they also have the advantage of being a shade tree in two years.

    Austrees

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    Selena,

    You are just dreadful.......lol

    I live in the AZ desert. Gila monsters, scorpions, rattlesnakes, bedbugs, and numerous other not so nice critters.

    I just had a look outside. Yep....water for willows, hybrid or not, presents a tiny weeny problem.

    However, Mesquite is easy to obtain and going to try it. Somehow, I don’t think creosote would be good. Also, there is abundant cactus wood available and that is worth a look as well.

    But I apologize. Your heart is in the right place, BUT WATER IN THE DESERT can be troublesome.

    Chris

  20. #20
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    goto Lowe's or Home Depot and buy a rough cedar fence picket. Chop and split it up into manageable pieces, and roast them in a charcoal cooker (paint can with a little hole in the lid)
    "Nobody wins in a Dairy Challenge" óKenny Rogers

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    You are just dreadful.......lol
    I'm sorry. Creosote is a variety of tar and is notwhat you want in large quantities. The cactus wood sounds interesting, let me know how it works out for you.

    Tell you what, I have a patient who's son is an otr truck driver. If I find out he's going to be in AZ I'll have him include a mercy faggot (bundle) of year old debarked willow.

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    Bob,

    That is a GREAT idea. A lot of that lying around here, and in various places as well as Lowes.

    Ideas coming out of the woodwork so to speak.

    Chris

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    I don't know beans about the process yet, but I have been considering manufacture myself. I have heard that alder charcoal will yield excellent results as well. Is this correct?
    Hiding in plain sight....

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    Hi Powderman,

    I have heard that alder charcoal will yield excellent results as well. Is this correct?
    Going through my uncle's lab notes, it would appear that his "rule of thumb" was any non-conifer rapid growing tree makes good pyrotechnical grade charcoal. On his list of prefer species, alder does not appear but that could be because we don't have any on the farm or he called it by a different name.

    On the rare occasions my brother or I make black powder he tends to use one of the Austrees for charcoal, while I prefer willow. One batch I made there was a cottonwood tree that the wind had taken a limb down that I used for charcoal. The yield of charcoal was less than half of willow but the powder it made was equal that using willow charcoal.

    It might be an interesting experiment to make a number of small batches from several different species then "test fire" each batch under a controlled circumstance measuring performance. I wonder who got the machine that measures the speed of a rifle ball?

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    Selena:

    I wonder who got the machine that measures the speed of a rifle ball?
    Ballistic pendulum chronos and Le Boulenge chronos have been around for a very long time. The ballistic pendulum was invented in 1742 by Benjamin Robins (1707Ė1751).

    In fact, I was thinking of building a small ballistic pendulum to measure the velocities out of my various gas-powered (CO2, propane, air) guns to see how v changes with successive shots, temp, etc.

    Never quite got around to it though. Busier now that I'm retired than when I was working.

    Mensuration technology in the old days was primitive, yet could be pretty accurate. Here's a black powder tester:



    Terry, 230RN

    REFS:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballistic_pendulum
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boulenge_chronograph
    This latter article only mentions it briefly. The projectile strikes a wire, which causes a rod to drop. When the bullet strikes a second wire, it causes an electromagnet to strike and nick the rod to show how far it dropped between the bullet's striking the wires. This distance could be used to calculate the time involved between wire-strikes, and hence the velocity. Hatcher has a detailed description with a photograph of it somewhere in Hatcher's Notebook, but I can't locate it right now.

    Pic credit in properties. For educational purposes.
    Last edited by 230RN; December 17th, 2011 at 10:33 AM.
    "Gun control is not about public safety, crime reduction, or 'the children.' Gun control is about power. The people have it, and the government would rather they didn't." (An internet poster, not myself.)

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