How to Make Black Powder or Gunpowder

June 10, 2008 at 9:55 pm 31 comments

Pyrodex Black Powder Substitute (Hustvedt, Wikipedia Commons)Gunpowder or black powder is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter) that has been used since the 12th century for fireworks and later as a propellent and explosive in weapons. It isn’t particularly efficient or safe for use in weapons, plus it produces a lot of smoke, so black powder has largely been replaced for those purposes by other compositions (e.g., pyrodex, shown in the photo), but black powder still has its place in pyrotechnics and as a propellent for certain firearms. You should know how it is made for historical reasons if nothing else. As with my ammonium sulfide stink bomb, if you decide to try these instructions yourself, use proper safety precautions. Be advised that the main problem with black powder is its tendency to ignite from static electricity. Keep this in mind and only use wooden or clay tools (e.g., wooden salad bowl). Store gunpowder in paper or cloth, never plastic (which may build up static).

Black Powder or Gunpowder Ingredients

The usual mixture consists of 75 parts potassium nitrate, 15 parts charcoal, and 10 parts sulfur.

  • 75 g potassium nitrate (KNO3, saltpeter)
  • 15 g charcoal (ideally from burning the wood of a willow or linden, but other sources work)
  • 10 g sulfur
  • distilled water

Making the Black Powder

There are different ways to do this. One is to mix the dry ingredients in a ball mill (like a rock tumbler) with lead balls (not steel! they can spark), run the ball mill about 2 hours, then filter the resulting black powder through a strainer so that the lead balls are retained in the strainer and the black powder is collected onto newspaper or cloth. The black powder is wrapped up and stored in a cool, dry place until use.

Since not everyone has a ball mill, the most common way to make black powder yourself is to do this:

  1. Grind each ingredient separately until it is a very fine powder. I recommend using a mortar and pestle for this, which you can get at any cooking store. If you are grinding each ingredient using the same bowl, rinse it out when you switch chemicals. (Traditionally you would add a little water or wine to dampen the ingredients and grind them all together at once, but that’s unnecessarily risky, in my opinion.)

  2. Boil your water.
  3. Put the potassium nitrate into the bowl. Add just enough boiling water to thoroughly wet it.
  4. Add the sulfur and charcoal.
  5. Stir the mixture for several minutes. It should be uniformly black.
  6. Allow the mixture to air dry. This is usually done outdoors on a warm, sunny day. Some people prefer to spread the mixture out onto newpaper to dry. Others mix in a bit of alcohol to speed the evaporation of the water. You don’t want to over-dry the black powder, since that will lower its effectiveness.
  7. When your black powder is dry, wrap it in paper or cloth and store it until use. This should be obvious, but don’t store it near heat or flame. If you make multiple batches of black powder, it’s not a great move to store it all packed together.

Black powder is used to produce a loud ‘bang’ in fireworks and as a propellent. Yes, it can explode, but so can a can of cola in your freezer. I’m not saying making it is risk-free or smart, just that black powder is mainly used for entertainment purposes, not destructive purposes. Now that you know how to make black powder, my next post will explain how to make a basic firework using it.
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31 Comments Add your own

  • 1. david hoover  |  June 25, 2008 at 8:44 am

    How exactly is adding water and the three chemicals together while mortar and pestling it “unnecessarily risky”? There is absolutely no risk whatsoever if there’s water in the equation. But thanks for the concern, haha. Good article though.

    Reply
  • 2. azareal  |  June 25, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    “absolutely no risk whatsoever if there‚Äôs water in the equation”

    yes, but evaporation is also in the equation

    Reply
  • 3. just call me dan  |  July 6, 2008 at 2:06 am

    thanks, know i dont have to mow lawns for fireworks!!!!

    Reply
    • 4. NEED HELP  |  November 17, 2012 at 5:10 am

      CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHAT ARE THIS THINGS ?? sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter)
      PLZ AND WHERE TO GET THEM FROM

      Reply
      • 5. chris  |  March 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm

        charcoal is a type of chocolate dairy milk make

        sulfur is the toe nails clipping of a dead cow before sunset

        potassium nitrate (saltpeter) is the type is mixture of salt and pepper. It can be found in most resturants

  • 6. how to make black powder  |  July 8, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    [...] my next post will explain how to make a basic firework using it. Add to Technorati Favorites …http://azareal.wordpress.com/2008/06/10/how-to-make-black-powder-or-gunpowder/Printable List New York TimesA few ideas to create the kind of carry-out food that will put the [...]

    Reply
  • 7. Peter  |  August 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I find if you pour the Measured Ammoubts into a bowl and add enough wood alcoholl to turn the mixture into a Paste you can saftely grind the whole mixture ensuring that the mixture is Thoroughly mixed together otherwise it will not combust readidly and thats the whole idea a uniform burn again use wooden utensils and ground yourself too.

    Reply
  • 8. James H. Strotman  |  April 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    will black power ignite or explode with the use of a battery; i.e., usisng a 10 v. battery with two wire to the black powder? Anyone.

    I would try it but don’t have any place to do so.

    Thanks//

    Reply
    • 9. Guy von Troll  |  May 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Yeah, I have this “thing” with fire.

      Reply
  • 10. Francois  |  April 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    If it will spark I believe it will ignite it, if static electricity can then I guess any spark will do.

    Reply
  • 11. mikel  |  April 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    i will not forget you people till the end of my life. please always remeber me.

    Reply
  • 12. Paddy  |  June 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Could u slice the match heads off for the sulfur

    Reply
    • 13. frank  |  August 1, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      no causse thats no sulfur but red phosphorus

      Reply
  • 14. Paddy  |  June 8, 2009 at 11:24 am

    could i scrape red matchs heads into a bowl for sulfur

    Reply
  • 15. Peeing Caught Drunk  |  August 4, 2009 at 7:38 am

    hh. good one ))

    Reply
  • 16. Shyamal Kumar Dey  |  October 21, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I would like to know the different chemicals and correct proportion to be used for making different colors in fireworks.

    thanks

    Reply
  • 17. Amitava Malakar  |  October 23, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I have a few questions. What are the various kinds of rockets (fire crackers)? Could you instruct me on their chemical compositions so that I could make them at home with my son who is 9yrs? I would like less noise but different colours from the same rocket and things that look nice with the skies lighting up brilliantly rather than lots of sound and smoke.

    cheers

    Reply
    • 18. brian  |  December 30, 2009 at 3:25 am

      be careful, there are about a dozen steps in making tour own projectile firework so think it mite be better to buy them

      Reply
  • 19. Pat Burke  |  April 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I made a black powder mix and it burns but doesn’t explode. What did I do wrong?

    Reply
  • 20. Azareal  |  April 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Pat,

    Black powder only explodes when compressed. It’s not an explosive.

    Reply
  • 21. chris e.k  |  May 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    i’m waiting for post that will explain how to make a basic firework using gunpowder, if launched kindly tell from ehere i can get it

    Reply
  • 22. amir  |  July 31, 2010 at 9:32 am

    THANK U FOR YOUR INFORMATIONS

    Reply
  • 23. Brent.s  |  October 23, 2010 at 4:22 am

    I just happened upon this site the other day and I was pleasantly surprised with the amount and types of information available. Azareal has posted a large amount of useful info for the aspiring home chemist, and it will certainly be interesting to learn about how the different elements work under unique situations provided in these experiments.
    thanks Azareal

    Reply
  • 24. david  |  December 17, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    There is sulphur in red matches, but not enough for you purpose – also if you use the match heads in the mixture it could well ignite while mixing – through friction – that’s how red matches light!
    Re rockets – it’s a bit more complicated than just filling a tube with GP. – you need to form a tapered hole in the bottom of the charge so that a large area ignites for the initial thrust – the charge needs to be slightly damp to hold it’s shape, and then VERY carefully dried out.
    I have made most fireworks in my time, but am reluctant to give exact details as these days it may be against the law!

    Reply
  • 25. jack  |  November 20, 2011 at 1:10 am

    its pritty good fro grandulating

    Reply
  • 26. Kier  |  December 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Your proportions are in conflict with traditional mixtures. I think you inadvertently transposed your ingredients. The common ratios are 75% Charcoal, 15% Potassium Nitrate and 10% Sulfer.

    Reply
  • 27. Bob  |  January 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    You said that grinding the chems together is unnecessary,it is NECESSARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. What you are making is green powder you have to grind all of the chems to get meal powder and then make black powder.

    Reply
  • 28. Jon  |  August 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Is the method you describe to make black powder good enough to be used in my black powder cap and ball colt revolver?

    Reply
  • 29. Willem  |  August 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Your method and mixtures is not completely explained. I have been making black powder on “Du Point’s” formula for some time now. The process described as above still needs to be pressed and grained. Standard usage as above will work for bombs but could cause blow up a riffle in your face because it is burning to fast. Golf balls will work perfect for the mixing process in the tumbler, the idea is to have the charcoal absorbing the potasium nitrate (salpeter) and sulpher, I normally leave my tumbler mixing overnight and only use Spirits. My aim is not to give negative comment but only to have people play safe.

    Reply
  • 30. When Our Guns Are Gone | hermitscabin.com  |  September 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    [...] Fact is, you can now build every part of a shell in about any caliber on the market today. You can manufacture the powder, the shot, and the casing, but you can manufacture the primer. The guns used now require a shell [...]

    Reply
  • 31. Bikash shrestha  |  September 18, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I can stop global warming.

    Reply

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