CanadianAuthor

How to Make Modern Gunpowder.

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My name is Nathan Pedde. I am a, currently, unpublished author. I am currently working on a post-apocalyptic book about the failure of modern technology. More specifically, the failure of electricity. As such, I need help with a couple small details in my book. I have tried libraries and all sorts of web pages. None of which have made me successful in my search for an answer to a question of mine.

 

My first book is about the disaster itself. It is almost done. I am currently working on the first draft of book two. The second book takes place many years after the initial disaster. Electricity still doesn't work properly and civilization has turned into a multitude of small warlords and there small pieces of land. When I took away modern technology in the first book, it effected everything from cars to sanitation. But what it didn't effect was guns. Guns would stay the same. The only thing that it would effect would be the manufacture of new guns and bullets. With everyone fighting everyone else, the world supply of bullets would shrink and eventually disappear completely rendering guns useless.

 

BUT. Black powder can be made from raw ingredients. The hardest thing to get a hold of is the sulphur. But it isn't impossible, just hard. The problem with black powder is that it is very messy. It fouls the barrels of guns like you wouldn't believe. Smokeless powder like cordite doesn't foul the barrels of guns allowing for semi-auto and automatic weapons to be invented. If you were to load a machine gun with black powder, it would jam the mechanics of it before you fired a dozen shots. Rendering all semi-auto and automatic weapons useless.

 

This scenario works for where I want my second book to go. I don't want machine-guns. I don't want Mad Max. I want the 18th century. The big plot-hole that I have is the fact that I have no idea if you can make a smokeless powder from raw ingredients. The supply stores are all empty by now. The supplies of the chemical compounds have been used up. I have to have my characters make the chemical compounds. That means for Black Powder, they have to make the charcoal, find the sulphur, and make the Potassium Nitrate. All of which you can do.

 

My question: Can you using nothing but RAW ingredients, make a smokeless gunpowder like cordite?

If so, how? What are the steps that you'd have to do? Would it be a simple process that you can do in an afternoon, or is this something that would take a few years to accomplish?

 

Thanks for all of your help.

 

Nathan

 

ps. I have tried other forums in the past and got nothing but BS from people. Please be nice. Cheers.

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My name is Nathan Pedde. I am a, currently, unpublished author. I am currently working on a post-apocalyptic book about the failure of modern technology. More specifically, the failure of electricity. As such, I need help with a couple small details in my book. I have tried libraries and all sorts of web pages. None of which have made me successful in my search for an answer to a question of mine.

 

My first book is about the disaster itself. It is almost done. I am currently working on the first draft of book two. The second book takes place many years after the initial disaster. Electricity still doesn't work properly and civilization has turned into a multitude of small warlords and there small pieces of land. When I took away modern technology in the first book, it effected everything from cars to sanitation. But what it didn't effect was guns. Guns would stay the same. The only thing that it would effect would be the manufacture of new guns and bullets. With everyone fighting everyone else, the world supply of bullets would shrink and eventually disappear completely rendering guns useless.

 

BUT. Black powder can be made from raw ingredients. The hardest thing to get a hold of is the sulphur. But it isn't impossible, just hard. The problem with black powder is that it is very messy. It fouls the barrels of guns like you wouldn't believe. Smokeless powder like cordite doesn't foul the barrels of guns allowing for semi-auto and automatic weapons to be invented. If you were to load a machine gun with black powder, it would jam the mechanics of it before you fired a dozen shots. Rendering all semi-auto and automatic weapons useless.

 

This scenario works for where I want my second book to go. I don't want machine-guns. I don't want Mad Max. I want the 18th century. The big plot-hole that I have is the fact that I have no idea if you can make a smokeless powder from raw ingredients. The supply stores are all empty by now. The supplies of the chemical compounds have been used up. I have to have my characters make the chemical compounds. That means for Black Powder, they have to make the charcoal, find the sulphur, and make the Potassium Nitrate. All of which you can do.

 

My question: Can you using nothing but RAW ingredients, make a smokeless gunpowder like cordite?

If so, how? What are the steps that you'd have to do? Would it be a simple process that you can do in an afternoon, or is this something that would take a few years to accomplish?

 

Thanks for all of your help.

 

Nathan

 

ps. I have tried other forums in the past and got nothing but BS from people. Please be nice. Cheers.

 

Modern gunpowder is based on nitrocellulose, with a high nitrogen content. Handling nitrocellulose is a job for experts. In the dry, unglazed, unstabilized form, nitrocellulose is one of the most sensitive and erratic compounds on the planet -- extremely dangerous. There is at present only one plant in the U.S. that makes weapons-grade nitrocellulose.

 

It requires specialized equipment and lots of expertise. The basic raw ingredients are wood pulp or cotton linterrs, sulphuric acid and nitric acid. The hard part is the processing -- and that requires a lot more than laboratory equipment. No, I will not discuss the process -- there are restrictions on that information.

 

There is only one plant in the U.S. that makes black powder. GOEX has had several accidents in the past and has moved the plant at least once following an accident.

 

Making any kind of gun powder requires expertise. Lots of it. And knowledge of explosive safety.

 

P.S. If you think gunpowder is bad, consider priming compound. Modern firearms require primers in the ammo in addition to gun propellant.

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Nathan. Note that 18th century would be mostly muzzle loading flint locks. Black powder made it through most of the 19th century and fowling was much less of a problem with black powder cartridges. It is even less when not using a revolver because the remaining solids don't coat the mechanism and are mostly swept from the barrel with each firing. For example, check out the Gatling gun. It could fire 150 to 200 rounds per minute (up to 600 in the 1864 model) for an hour. The extra barrels were to keep it cool. Black powder cartridges might be a better route for your novel because you don't have to make nitric and sulfuric acid and ether, and have to have oxygen free manufacturing to prevent ignition while washing out the acids (as per the String Junky link). I suggest you talk to some black powder enthusiasts about how to make or modify a modern semiautomatic weapon that could use black powder cartridges. SM

Edited by SMF
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The alchemists had oil of vitriol and aqua fortis.

They would have had cellulose fibre such as cotton, or hemp.

They could have made guncotton.

 

If I needed to, I could make the stuff from "scratch".

I could burn pyrites and oxidise the SO2 formed to SO3 .

I can get potassium nitrate by the decomposition of nitrogenous waste.

http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/lecontesalt/leconte.html

 

So I could make nitric acid.

Sulphur does occur free in nature, but if I had to I could get it from pyrites and gypsum

(roast the gypsum with charcoal to get calcium sulphide; react that with acid to get H2S and react that with SO2 to get sulphur)

As long as the libraries (or at least some of them) are still OK in this post-apocalyptic world, gun cotton is perfectly possible.

In practice this would be a major challenge, but for the sake of a book it's perfectly possible.

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First note: I am not going to show them making gunpowder. Nor its process. I just need to know how possible that it is from scratch and without the use of electricity.

 

Second. What I mean by black powder is the old stuff. The smoky gritty ancient Chinese discovered material. It smoked like you wouldn't believe, tended to rust gun barrels and clogged parts like no tomorrow. Read Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell for an accurate description of it. Smokeless gunpowder has been around since the Boar War. The Boar's had the old stuff, which constantly gave away there positions.

 

Third. The manufacture of black powder is easy to do. The hardest part is making sulphur. Which, as stated above, is possible to make by almost anyone. The modern smokeless powder is what makes modern guns possible. Without it, there is no automatic weapons.

 

Let me restate my question in a different form.

 

Is the manufacture of modern gun powder from scratch possible without electricity? How possible? Can this be done by any geek with a library book or is this an uber technical task that takes years of knowledge and experience? More importantly, if I were to write that they had no modern gunpowder or primers and had to make due with musket style weapons, would I cause a riot from my readers?

 

Thank you all for your help.

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"Is the manufacture of modern gun powder from scratch possible without electricity?"

Yes. There's nothing about making cordite that needs electricity.

 

"Can this be done by any geek with a library book or is this an uber technical task that takes years of knowledge and experience?"

With the information currently on record in libraries it would be slow but possible. I'd say weeks or months because part of the process is the "fermentation" of manure to get potassium nitrate.

 

You would also probably need to be a good glass blower, or be able to find someone who can work glass for you.

 

All this would depend on the availability of the know-how. If someone had burned the books in the library because they needed to keep warm and paper makes good kindling, then they would be stuck with old fashioned gunpowder

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"Is the manufacture of modern gun powder from scratch possible without electricity?"

Yes. There's nothing about making cordite that needs electricity.

 

I presume then that you have some purely mechanical system available to:

 

  • Make nitroglycerine and control the process temperature wile you do it.
  • Make and dehydrate the nitrocelluose, keeping it solvent-wet throughout the process
  • Mix the nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine and salts
  • Extrude and cut the cordite rods
  • Glaze the propellant with graphite without causing any static discharge and blowing things up

 

Note that cordite was typically loaded into brass cases before the case neck was formed -- the neck was formed on a loaded round and then the bullet was added -- so typical reloadong procedures do not apply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Can this be done by any geek with a library book or is this an uber technical task that takes years of knowledge and experience?"

With the information currently on record in libraries it would be slow but possible. I'd say weeks or months because part of the process is the "fermentation" of manure to get potassium nitrate.

 

You would also probably need to be a good glass blower, or be able to find someone who can work glass for you.

 

All this would depend on the availability of the know-how. If someone had burned the books in the library because they needed to keep warm and paper makes good kindling, then they would be stuck with old fashioned gunpowder

 

The necessary know-how is not in books in the library. Much of the know-how for safe manufacture of explosives is in the minds of employees or in proprietary documents belonging to manufacturers. It can of course be re-created, but a lot of blood that was shed to develop the knowledge will be re-shed in doing it over again. Without electricity those lessons will be bloody indeed.

 

Chemistry is important, but there is a lot more to explosive manufacture than just chemistry.

 

Now that you have cordite, you still need primers. Priming coumpound, a real, no-kidding, primary explosive is a lot more touchy.

 

You will also need great confidence in the consistency of your product in order to work up a load that will be effective but not blow up the gun. That usually requires instrumentation that uses some electricity.

 

BTW if you fall back on black powder, you are going to have to also fall back to flintlocks, unless you think you can make percussion caps or primers.

Edited by DrRocket
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DrRocket, Early percussion caps for black powder weapons was fulminate of mercury and was manufactured in the early 1800s. SM

 

EDIT- a quick search finds http://www.powerlabs.org/chemlabs/fulminate.htm which shows how to make fulminate of mercury. I think that this may be illegal because it is a high explosive, but might be useful information for the OPs novel.

Edited by SMF
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"I presume then that you have some purely mechanical system available to:

 

Make nitroglycerine and control the process temperature wile you do it.

Make and dehydrate the nitrocelluose, keeping it solvent-wet throughout the process

Mix the nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine and salts

Extrude and cut the cordite rods

Glaze the propellant with graphite without causing any static discharge and blowing things up"

 

No, I would have some bloke with a thermometer do it.

The alchemists had access to alcohol and distillation. You can get acetone by distilling wood tar or calcium acetate.

Glycerine is a by product of soap making- again that was well known before the 18th c

 

My mum's old meat mincer would do the extrusion.

 

You can run a tumble mixer with a water wheel with even less chance of sparks than using an electric motor.

 

"Chemistry is important, but there is a lot more to explosive manufacture than just chemistry."

I know: I sometimes work with them.

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My mum's old meat mincer would do the extrusion.

 

You can run a tumble mixer with a water wheel with even less chance of sparks than using an electric motor.

 

"Chemistry is important, but there is a lot more to explosive manufacture than just chemistry."

I know: I sometimes work with them.

 

In that case you would know the history of twin screw mixer/extruders in the explosives industry -- KABOOM

 

I would be rather careful with your "mum's old meat mincer.

Edited by DrRocket
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I know enough about explosives that I know about remote handling. (incidentally, it was single screw).

I could screw it to a bench on one side of a thick wall, and fit an extended axle on it that runs through to the other side of the wall.

Do you think that would be beyond the capability of someone from the 18th c?

 

 

I don't, on the other hand know a lot about book writing. Nevertheless, your point about the relative rarity of such information in books might be an advantage to our would-be author.

Imagine that, for some reason the world goes to pot.

If I was alive one thing I'd try to do would be move South. The North of England is cold and wet. I'd have a better chance of making a living by farming somewhere warmer.

I'd not be the only one to do this so I suspect a lot of people would abandon towns + cities in the colder parts of the world. They might well abandon it before they ran out of paper- after all, literacy wouldn't be a high priority for a lot of people.

That's OK for a while but think about "adventuring" (because people are like that).

 

So it's possible that some adventurer treks North to see what he can find and comes across an old abandoned explosives factory. All the timber and building stone is gone. The corrugated iron roof is a wreck but one of the old store sheds is still more or less intact.

The old door must have been bolted securely when "the event" happened or the place would have been stripped, but a good few years of rust has addressed that.

He breaks in and finds the entrance to a cellar- the old factory's library.

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That's exactly it.

The factory is cleared out of all materials, but they have the books. The manuals on how to make modern gunpowder. They also have a chemist. An expert who knows a thing or two. Now the chemist has to built mordern gunpowder from the raw materials of the country side.

Can he do it?

Let's say that he has the possibility of at least roughing together the tools and equipment into making the gunpowder.

Can he do it?

How hard would it be?

My guess is that it is going to be really hard and he'll end up killing himself in the process. My guess is that in my book, the knowledge in making modern gunpowder will be a lost knowledge. That they'll end up using flint-lock muskets and such. That the last bits of modern gunpowder will be a prized commodity. Only the rich and powerful will have it.

How long does modern gunpowder last before it looses it's potentcy?

 

You guys have been lots of help. If you could ansewer my last couple questions, it would be great.

 

Cheers.

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Curious if you have the books published or not. (I'm a huge fan of these types of books and the information these provide)

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Why don't you get a copy of The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives by Tenney L. Davis and you can discover how to do it for yourself.

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Just an observation. I just came across this post googling around. One; ---- the author must have been lucky and picked up a movie deal or two someone stole his idea because "Revolution" has been on TV as a series for several months now. Secondly; --- in reference to the Fulminate of Murcury in the primers. We were taught in our survival manuals how to remake expended cartridges including the primers. I won't go into detail about the fuel for the cartridge but primers can be rebuilt by removing the three legged anvil in the primer cup and using the tips of strike anywhere matches replace the percussion mechanisim. Write on my Northern friend.;)

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preparation of gunpowder which we use for preparation

step1

HNO3+H2SO4 WE BRING THERE TEMPERATURE DOWN UPTO 18C

STEP 2

THEN WE soaked cotton in this solution for 1 hour.

step 3

then by using drier we dry cotton and by using soda (cloth NANO3) to remove the acidity if any and neutralize the mixture

then again by using drier dry the mixture.then we trnsfer the mixture to hydromachine in which water and acetate is present and then steam is passed through it which warmth the mixture.we allowd the mixture for 4 hours in the hyromachine this il evaporate the acetate than water is removed from it.than granule is formed.

problem is that...

after that what should we do with sulfur,charcoal in what percentage and at which occassion we can accuratally used these material to obtain our desirable gun powder.tell me about use of aceton its percentage because its also has use in our formula.tell me about whole mixing procedure and lead us in accurate direction.if there is any procedure and beneficial step which we forgotton.is there any role of nitroglycerin in our gun powder if yes then tell us about there use and step at which we can use it in our procedure.

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Moderator Note

modern gunpowder,

I'm going to have to request that no one respond to your questions, as they goes against SFN's forum rules regarding explosives and dangerous chemicals.




3b. Descriptions of the construction or synthesis of illegal or hazardous devices or chemicals are subject to removal at the discretion of the staff. Remember that many SFN readers do not have the scientific background to know the appropriate precautions and safety procedures; all posts should contain a warning of the potential hazards and safety considerations of any dangerous procedure.


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Moderator Note

Please keep the above in mind when posting here in future.

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Moderator Note

modern gunpowder,

 

I'm going to have to request that no one respond to your questions, as they goes against SFN's forum rules regarding explosives and dangerous chemicals.

 

 

 

!

Moderator Note

Please keep the above in mind when posting here in future.

...and then Big Brother steps in... Furthermore, it would be "...questions, as they go against..." Do you or don't you speak English?

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Moderator Note

If you take issue with a moderator action, even if it is 7 months old, please feel free to report it or PM a member of staff. Do not derail this topic any further.

 

 

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...and then Big Brother steps in...

 

Actually, it's more like our lawyer steps in to prevent a liability for the site. If you prefer, you can picture him descending a rope from a black helicopter....

 

Furthermore, it would be "...questions, as they go against..." Do you or don't you speak English?

 

Well, that's definitely one way to make a first impression.

 

We prefer to attack the arguments here, and leave the people alone. It's possible to make a mistake in English while being fluent in it. I can cite precedence.

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Usable black powder can be made without sulfur according to Ulrich Brescher's measuments http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/recipe.html It is less explosive in a bomb or mortat but a long barreled musket can still get almost as much energy from it, and has the advantage of being less smoky and less corrosive on your weapon, but the black powder armies never realized this because they always assumed the most explosive powder was the best for firearms. His website is also a good source of information on black powder in general, its history and how it was made.

 

In a gas operated weapon the black poder would probably clog up the gas port forcing you to cycle it manually, but a recoil operated machine gun could probably work If you reduced the the strength of the recoil spring. loaded into the cartridges of modern weapons black power would considerably reduce their range and accuracy. Wikipedia lists the muzzle velocity of a black powder .303 rifle as 2040 feet per second bested by some modern magnum revolver pistols. The muzzle velocity of the early smokeless cordite filled .303's is listed as 2441 feet per second however that is the same velocity as a AK47 which shoots a similar size bullet from a much smaller cartridge demonstrating the improvements smokeless powder chemistry in those intervening 53 years.

 

In a post apocalyptic scenario a couple alternatives to flint locks or percussion caps to consider are 1 pneumatic ignition. A spring loaded piston would forcing the air though the fuse hole due to compression would easily reach the ignition temperature of the powder. Diesel engines work the same way. It also make a handy alternative to matches: http://www.primitiveways.com/fire_piston_for_21st_century.html

2: Piezoelectric ignition found on BBQ's depending on how extensive this end of electricity is, quarts it naturally occurring.

 

Some early breech loaders such as the Dresler Needle Gun used paper cartridges. The leakiness of the breech was apparently solved by adding leather washers to the bolt. You could swap the needle for a pneumatic piston and then you dont need the mercury fulmate.

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First off, I am not a professional chemist, nor claim to be any kind of expert in any field, except that which the military trained me in, sniper. But, with that being said, there are multiple books, written by, and for, the military, especially for the special operations community, that describe the materials, and processes, by which to acquire the necessary ingredients, and make certain explosives, porpellents, and much more. We were taught primitive ways of producing both traditional black powder, and smokeless gunpowder, and how to reload ammo in the field with minimal equipment. This, along with other topics, including booby traps, making simple weapons, including firearms, and more, were covered in our teachings, and are in the books, and manuals. I would reccomend anybody interested in any of these subjects, to buy these manuals, some of which can be found on the internet for free, due to the freedom of information act. Good luck, and be careful, because some of these are extremely dangerous, and should be done with the utmost precautions. Hooah!

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I'm just amused that the next thread in line after this is called "regrowth of lost organs and limbs"

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What irritates me, is that we are d--n near to the point of having to manufacture, or I should say, remanufatre, our own ammo. But, I was, also, under their impression, when I joined this forum, that it would cover science, and how to do it safely! So, rather than explain, that to make something such as "gun cotton" (nitrocellulose), requires one to keep the temp at or below 19° C, because it is a highly exothermic reaction, people just jump the port man's case, and reprimand him for even attempting to find the basic process. I have three children, that my wife & I help bring into this world, and we have another couple hundred that call us momma and Papa. If they were seeking to make say, homemade rocket fuel, I would d--n sure hope somebody on here would explain to them the entire process, and safety precautions! I would rather they know how to do it safely, than lose a finger, or worse!

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