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Old 01-18-2017, 07:24 PM
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Make Your Own Black Powder



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Safety Disclaimer: This is my method for making black powder, and while I've never had any accidents, there is always a first time for everything, and your mileage may vary.

Equipment Needed-

o Grinding/Powdering Device- there are many ways to grind your ingredients into a powder (mortar and pestle, coffee grinder (electric) ect) But we will focus on a device called a ball mill, because of its ease of use and quality of product. Whichever method you use, keep in mind the finer you can get the ingredients powdered, the higher quality your powder will be in the end. *A note on the ball mill- Make sure you use non-sparking materials, as you dont want to open up the freshly mixed powder and set the fine dust off in your face and hands! (mine is constructed of a thick plastic container with a lid (duct taped on after filling to prevent the twist on cap from unscrewing) and For the balls I use 50 Cal lead round balls.

o A Corning/Grainer device- This is essentially a screen that you press the mixture through to make your individual grains of powder, in the size you desire. You will also need a wooden or plastic scraper. I use an aluminum window screen stapled to a rectangle made of 2x4's and That gives me grains the size of 2F (FFG) powder. Doubling up on the screen will yeild 3f (FFFG) size grains. I've never made 4F (FFFFG) powder But I suppose you could quadruple the screen and achieve that size.

o A Spray Bottle- (With "mist" setting preferred) Filled with Rubbing Alcohol (this is what I use as It dries the fastest) Water, or if you want to be traditional, Stale Urine with the solids strained out.

o Wax Paper- To lay the grains you form out on so they can dry and not stick when you want to remove them.

o A Ball Strainer- If your using a ball mill, the easiest way to separate the powder from the balls is with a strainer. Mine is constructed from two 5 Gallon buckets. Cut the bottom out of one and replace with some 1/4" screen. To Use- place the screen bottom bucket in the unmodified bucket, and dump the contents of the ball mill in the screen bucket. pull out the screen bucket and viola! a bucket of ball free powder! (This is a fairly dusty procedure so I would wear a painters mask).

o Rubber gloves (unless you want to stain your hands black for a week).

The Ingredients-

o Potassium Nitrate- This is the oxidizer of the mix. (any Nitrate (ammonium, sodium ect) will work, However Potassium Nitrate Is used because It does not attract Moisture like other nitrates do. This can be purchased in bulk online (cheapest option) or from your lawn and garden department as "Stump Remover" (more expensive, and this may have additives- check the label) You can make your own from Poo, Pee, straw, and a plastic covering, but this takes a minimum of a year to grow enough nitrates to make harvesting worthwile and it requires rather frequent inputs and maintenance.

o Charcoal- This is the Fuel of the mix. Any charcoal will do, as long as it is "LUMP" charcoal, and NOT "briquette" charcoal. "briquette" charcoal has clay mixed in to retard the burn rate, and we do not want this contaminating our mix. In the Americas, It is said Wood from the Willow tree makes the best charcoal for gunpowder- This is because Willow is a hardwood that is soft like a Softwood, and was probably preferred because willow trees are easy to distinguish from others. Softwood Charcoal Burns hotter and faster than Hardwood Charcoal because it has more pores in the wood (more surface area) However we will be pulverizing our charcoal into a Talc like powder, so this may or may not affect the burn rate. I personally use hardwood charcoal because it is what I burn in my forge so I have plenty on hand at any given time. STAY AWAY from charcoal made from resinous trees (like Pine) Because it will always have/leave a sticky residue, even if it dosent feel sticky.
Charcoal Can be made by putting the wood to be made into charcoal into an airtight steel container, with a small hole in the lid (I use a 55 gallon drum with lid, but any steel container that can seal will work) build a fire beneath or around the container, and soon smoke, and then a flame will appear from the small hole in the lid. When the flame from the small hole extinguishes, place a nail, piece of mud, or a coin over the hole to prevent any air from entering the container. When the container is cool to the touch, you can take off the lid and remove your charcoal. (the wood will shrink in the process so dont expect to pull out as much as you put in.)

o Sulfur- This is just an additive. This Isnt really necessary to make the mix go boom. The only reason Sulfur is added is to lower the flash point of the powder so it can be set off by a spark or small heat source. This can be purchased online in bulk (cheapest) or again, by heading to your lawn and garden department (more expensive, and may have additives in it- check the label) as a pest deterrent.

The Formula-

The traditional mix is (by weight):
-75% Potassium Nitrate
-15% Charcoal
-10% sulfur

These numbers can be tweaked a percent or two, to optimize the powder for your climate or particular application (priming powder); BUT NO MORE than a percent or two, and NO mixtures that total more than 100%

The Process-

2nd DISCLAIMER- It is not a wise thing to mix two or more ingredients together while grinding at once. However since I am human and therefore a risk-taker, I mix all three at once while grinding to save time and ensure an even and uniform mixture. This is why I use a plastic ball mill, Lead balls, And wear rubber gloves when opening or handling a container, to mitigate as much risk of accidental explosion as I can. (If you grind the ingredients separately, make sure when you mix them to get as uniform a mixture as you possibly can) As stated earlier, this is a rather dusty process in the beginning so I would advise grinding and initial handling outside.

*Note- whetting the powder and corning it temporarily deactivates the mix and prevents the mix from separating and creates a controlled burn rate (thus increasing the "power") of the powder. Do Not skip these steps as separated powder can be dangerous or useless. Not to mention that when non corned powder isnt separated, the fineness of the powder will make any quantity burn completely almost instantaneously- not good! We want a controlled burn rate.

Step 1- Make sure all equipment is in place and ready to be used!

Step 2- Weigh the ingredients and put in ball mill, (as far as charcoal goes, use pieces about 1"x1", no further processing necessary) Screw on the cap and then tape down the cap real good so It cant unscrew while turning. Move the ball mill away from stuff you care about and start it up.

Step 3- After your powder is done grinding to satisfaction (talc powder consistency is what I grind to) (Grind Time is really a trial and error thing. Grind times will vary based on size of mill and how big of batch you are making. I would stop the ball mill and check grind progress every half hour if unsure) Pour contents into the Ball Strainer and Remove the balls and set them aside. Spray the mix down with the spray bottle to stop dust from billowing everywhere.

Step 4- Now you can move the work inside. take a bowl and scoop a small amount of powder into it. Spray it with the bottle and mix until you have a Biscut Dough consistency.

Step 5- Make sure you have some Wax Paper under your Corning/Graining Screen and put the dough on top and with the Scraper, spread the mix through the screen evenly onto the wax paper. Set wax paper with powder on it aside to dry and Repeat the process for the whole bucket. *Note- Do NOT use heat to dry the powder. Let it air dry!

Step 6- Once the powder is finished drying (determined by testing a small amount-usually from the last sheet of wax paper set out to dry- I test mine by sparking a small sample with a fire steel. If It ignites its good to go!) Package it in a sturdy container and Mark the Grade (FFG, FFFFG, 1F, 3F, ect) and date of manufacture (gunpowder never really goes bad, I just do it as a kind of Lot/batch # -that being said, I dont mix "new" powder with "old" powder-just a personal thing)

Step 7- Have fun Shootin yer Boomstick!

*Last Disclaimer- This is to be conducted at your own risk. I assume no responsibility for your manufacturing and shooting/re-loading habits/methods.

References for further study-
-Foxfire 5
-Backwoodsman Magazine
-Youtube (ball mill Idea)

Last edited by sargesforge; 01-18-2017 at 07:30 PM.
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Old 01-18-2017, 09:42 PM
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Thanks for the detailed instructions. Very interesting.

Do you happen to know which issue(s) of Backwoodsman Magazine? I have all issues going back quite a few years.
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Old 01-18-2017, 09:47 PM
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Yep. I've played with making my own. I'm in the process of making a ball mill. Up to now I've been using a coffee grinder, with mixed results.
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Old 01-18-2017, 10:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toomanyguns View Post
Thanks for the detailed instructions. Very interesting.

Do you happen to know which issue(s) of Backwoodsman Magazine? I have all issues going back quite a few years.
I've seen a make your own black powder article run a couple times by different authors in the backwoodsman magazine over the past couple years. I dont remember which issue it was run in last, but I want to say it was 6ish months ago the last time I saw one. I usually read magazines at the store while the wife is busy spending all the money, and I usually dont buy them unless theres an article I really like in them.
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Old 01-18-2017, 10:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dbmjr1 View Post
Yep. I've played with making my own. I'm in the process of making a ball mill. Up to now I've been using a coffee grinder, with mixed results.
I used to use a coffee grinder too, but the results were dismal. I started mortar and pestle'ing what came out of the coffee grinder and that helped alot. I developed some pretty severe carpal tunnel (from various rigorous activities) and saw the ball mill idea on youtube and immediatley made one!
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Old 01-18-2017, 10:23 PM
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My BP needs center around my Salute Cannon. It's got a 5/8" bore. I've made some good batches with the coffee grinder, and a few dismal failures. The latest batch was one of those failures.
Time for a ball mill.
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Old 01-18-2017, 11:09 PM
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Maybe this could become a sticky. Please moderator.
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Old 01-22-2017, 09:54 AM
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I bought sulfur and potassium nitrate from the local farm and ranch store the other day. Yesterday I cut a branch off a willow tree, which after sawing it into 7" pieces was just enough to fill a 1 gallon paint can that I used for a retort. By the end of the day yesterday, I had enough willow charcoal to make approx. 1 lb. or more of BP. First charcoal I ever made. Took a while since most of the willow was green.

I'm grinding up everything individually in a mortar and pestle (the hard way ). Since I don't plan to ever make more than a small batch just for my own education and testing, I don't plan to buy or make a ball mill.

Need to grind up the charcoal and make the corning screen and I will be ready to make a small batch.

The only accurate weighing scale that I have is a Lyman 500 balance beam powder scale, which only measures up to 500 grains. This means that everything I do will be based on multiples of 500 grains for the potassium nitrate, since it is the heaviest component. That's ok with me, though. The tray for the Lyman 500 holds 500 grains of potassium nitrate and about 100 grains of uncrushed charcoal, which is convenient. Made me a little spreadsheet with various multiples of 500 for the potassium nitrate and the corresponding amounts for the other components so I can have a quick reference.

I'm thinking that if this is successful, I may do some chronographing to compare the homemade powder with Goex.
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Old 01-22-2017, 10:16 AM
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Just wondering; I have a large plastic rock tumbler with a lot of 1" ceramic triangles. Wonder if those with some lead 44cal balls would do the trick as a ball mill?
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Old 01-22-2017, 05:08 PM
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Originally Posted by shot410ga View Post
Just wondering; I have a large plastic rock tumbler with a lot of 1" ceramic triangles. Wonder if those with some lead 44cal balls would do the trick as a ball mill?
I think this would work fine with just the lead balls.
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Old 01-22-2017, 06:01 PM
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Tumbling media

Would probably work better with only the lead balls. Larger (3/4 inch or 1 inch) would be better than 44cal.
Also works with brass balls, if that is what you happen to have available (pretty pricey, though).

I played with this process quite a bit many years ago, trying to make my own solid propellant model rocket motors. Definitely turned out to be waaaay more work that it was worth, especially since motors were so cheap then. Home-made BP also seems to be extremely vulnerable to variations in quality/type/origin of the charcoal.

Since it is (relatively) easy to find factory-made BP, I switched over to that.

My own experience with trying to make BP has matched up with experience of others, in that: the more you re-mill and re-corn the stuff, the better it works. As in three-four-five cycles.

And for safety sake, run your ball mill out in the back yard, surrounded by a stack of sand bags. Sheet of plywood roof over the top is a good idea (at least in Texas) to keep the heat (from sunlight) and rain off of your mill. And you may as well start shopping right now for your next (replacement) tumbler.

Last edited by dufferDave; 01-22-2017 at 06:08 PM.
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Old 01-22-2017, 06:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toomanyguns View Post
I bought...potassium nitrate from the local farm and ranch store the other day....
That type of source is good (chemically very pure, as it used for animal laxative and should not include very many other contaminants)

A more common source is the cardboard can of stump remover granules--but that product is typically only like 99% pure

Either way, be careful
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Old 01-23-2017, 07:28 PM
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OK, I made my first batch today. Did not come out as nice kernels the size of the mesh in the window screen but rather as just loose clumps kinda like dirt clods that easily break up into fine powder.

What went wrong? Too much alcohol? Too little? Bad ingredients? ???????

Haven't tried burn test yet.
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Old 01-23-2017, 07:43 PM
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Sounds to me like you have a little too much wetting agent.

Did you re-mill and re-corn your batch?
(Needs to be plenty wet to run thru the mill again)
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Old 01-24-2017, 09:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dufferDave View Post
Sounds to me like you have a little too much wetting agent.

Did you re-mill and re-corn your batch?
(Needs to be plenty wet to run thru the mill again)
I'll try rewetting and running thru the screen again. Might try making a small cake, let it dry, and then crush up the cake (using non-sparking tools, of course.) It's my understanding that the cake method was the primary means of making bp. I believe they used wooden tools to crush the cakes.

I'm wondering how important the purity of the components is. For example, when our ancestors made potassium nitrate from manure piles, it seems to me it couldn't have had a high degree of purity. Just think about the huge quantities used for cannons.

At this point I'm glad I have plenty of store-bought BP on hand.
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Last edited by toomanyguns; 01-24-2017 at 09:37 AM.
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