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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
In the Chinese culture, there are four great inventions that are celebrated. You may have recognized them at the Beijing Olympics as they made an appearance at the games. They are: papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder.
Although there is a widespread belief that the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks, they also used it in battle and for weaponry. While the Chinese did not put together the rifle as we know it, they were using the explosive nature of the gunpowder to create weapons to kill. There were incendiary arrows and exploding spears, but my favorite was the box of fire arrows that was held by a soldier.
In other words, it wasn’t as benign as the ‘just for fireworks’ claim that often gets thrown around. The mix was created by alchemists looking for an elixir of immortality.
I find it amusing that even back then were trying to cheat death. I feel for the poor guy that tried this elixir and found that it did just the opposite!
What is Gunpowder Made Of?
The basic mix of gunpowder is universal and made of three main ingredients. There are no modifications that need to be made to these base ingredients–it’s merely a matter of finding them and mixing them.
Salt Peter – The best source for this is stump remover and ice packs. I am partial to the stump remover because of its consistency. It is already a fine powder and this makes mixing it much easier than using the thicker more granule pellets.
Charcoal – Whether you decide to use brickets, homemade charcoal, or some activated charcoal from your stock, you will simply need powdered charcoal.
I like to use the activated–again, for consistency and fine powder. This eliminates the step of having to powder it myself.
The Common Methods
Marble Mill – Many people who make gunpowder use what is called a marble mill. It’s very important that you thoroughly mix your ingredients to get the best results.
The marble mill is basically a container filled with marbles that is spun by another source. Most recipes call for a 12-hour mill with all three ingredients inside the mill.
Blender – A blender or a food processor can be used to make some great gunpowder as well. Again, if you can achieve a good incorporation of ingredients.
Another method is to add a little water to the mix and dry the mix again. This helps with the bonding and the mix.
Pulverize – You can also use the old mortar and pestle method. The first time I made gunpowder, I used this method.
It’s a punishing and grueling way to do it, but in a time where we don’t have many options, it’s good to know you can make it happen without electricity.
Though this is a straightforward process you will find that there are many ways to screw it all up!
• Not mixing it thoroughly.
• Varying the formula.
• Using ingredients that are not fully processed i.e. lumpy charcoal or unprocessed saltpeter..
Your Homemade Gunpowder Recipe
- 75% Saltpeter
- 15% Charcoal
- 10% Sulfur
This is the formula no matter the batch size.
- Eye Protection
- Breathing Mask
- Glass Bowl or Container
- Sifter or Colander
- Wooden Spoon
- Glass Jar (I save pickle Jars and stuff to drink out of)
Mix this stuff outside and make sure you use adequate protection. Assure your location has great ventilation if you are not mixing it in the outdoors. It is designed to explode and it is made of some pretty nasty stuff, none of which are meant for your lungs.
Before you start, be sure you have on gloves, eye protection, and a breathing mask.
1. Fill your container with 75% saltpeter. I decide this amount by basically equating 75% to ¾ of the total volume of the container I am using. In this case, it’s ¾ of this glass jar:
2. Break down your charcoal and sulfur next. You do not want to do half and half as that is not the formula, so I make sure to add my charcoal layer first and go heavier on the charcoal.
It’s never exact but remember, the charcoal is what is going to catch fire first so having too much isn’t a bad deal. Fill the jar the rest of the way with sulfur. You should have something that looks like this:
3. The rest of this process is about mixing. The more thorough the mix, the better it will perform. I first use a colander and glass container to sift into.
You never want to work with metal on metal when creating black powder. Sparks can be real bad!
4. Sift this mix once and it will not be completely incorporated. You will wind up with a mix that is similar to the picture below. Once you sift the mix again it will make a big difference.
5. You may find that you have some clumped up sulfur in the mix. Just break it up and sift the whole thing again.
6. From here you should have a well-incorporated mix. I usually turn it over onto itself a minute or so to mix it even more. The ingredients you are using are already powdered so they mix easily.
7. To test your mix, simply grab some paper out of your printer, pour a line of gunpowder onto it and light the corner of the paper.
8. If it worked, you will have a serious flame and bubbling release of heat from your mix.
The best part about this stuff is you can store all of the components separately and make it when you need it. Why will you need it? Well, you can make some really cool fireworks.
Or you can mount an insurgency against NATO forces in the event of a martial-law-like takeover of America. Your call.
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