Black Powder Basics
also known as Gunpowder, is produced in large quantities commercially and sold in small 1 pound
containers, mainly for use in antique Black Powder guns. It is also normally
sold in different granulations which indicate how fine the Black Powder is
granulated by how many "F's" they put on the container. Coarse
granulations are called "FG or FFG" (aka "1Fg" and
"2Fg"). Finer granulations are "FFFg and "FFFFg" (aka
3Fg and 4Fg).
The more "F's", the finer the Black Powder... and the finer the Black
Powder is, the faster it burns.
Small (fine) granulations burn faster and are used in small bore guns, where
larger (coarser) granulations, are used for larger bore guns & cannons...
and for launching Aerial Firework Shells out of mortars. Using a finer granulation for
these jobs puts too much strain on the gun (or shell or mortar) because the
powder burns much faster and creates a fast pressure increase that could damage
whatever you're trying to launch, or the gun/mortar itself.
Coarser, granulated Black Powder that is used in mortars to launch shells, or in
Roman Candles to shoot out stars, is sometimes called "Lift Powder".
When Black Powder isn't granulated and is in a super fine powder state (similar
to that of Talcum Powder) it is called "Meal Powder".
Powder is not to be confused with Black Powder. Smokeless Powder is actually
Nitrocellulose, and cannot be used in place of Black Powder.
Keep in mind that Black Powder, Gunpowder, Lift Powder, Grain Powder, and Meal
Powder are basically all the same material.
far as fireworks are concerned, Black Powder is used both in its finely powdered
form (Meal Powder) for coating starts and for mixing in other pyrotechnic
formulas, and in its granulated form (Lift Powder) for launching shells out of a
mortar, or stars out of a Roman Candle.
for Black Powder is 75% Potassium Nitrate, 15% Charcoal, and 10% Sulfur... and
like all chemical formulas, it is measured by weight only.
However, you just can't mix these chemicals
together and expect to produce a well functioning Black Powder mix.
The mixing process for Black Powder is
just as important as the formula. Black Powder MUST be made in a Ball
Mill to work properly.
A Ball Mill is a rotating drum with dozens of lead balls inside. The 3 chemicals
are loaded into the Ball Mill, along with the lead balls, sealed shut and
allowed to rotate for anywhere between 1 hour and 24 hours. As the Ball Mill
rotates, the lead balls will crush the chemicals together, forcing some of the
Potassium Nitrate into the pores of the Charcoal and Sulfur. At the same time,
the entire mass will be reduced to a super fine powder. The longer the Ball Mill
runs, the stronger the Black Powder will be. A general rule of thumb for all
pyrotechnic mixtures is " the finer the powder is, the faster it will burn
ONLY lead balls can be used in a Ball Mill as they are completely
non-sparking. ONLY Black Powder can be mixed in a Ball Mill. Other
pyrotechnic mixtures such as Flash Powder, etc. CAN NOT, as they are too
sensitive and will explode. Individual chemicals however, can also be Ball
Milled into a fine powder, but the mill must be cleaned before this is done. If
you are a do-it-yourself type of person, you can build your own Ball Mill. For
those that don't want to go through the hassle of building one from scratch, Ball Mills, complete with hardened lead balls are available from us. They can be
found by Clicking Here.
mill has run for a while, it can be opened and the lead balls separated from the
fine Meal Powder.
As we'll show you below, this Meal Powder can now be used to make all the other
forms of Black Powder for use in fireworks.
Powder vs. Flash Powder
A lot of
people ask which is stronger, Black Powder or Flash Powder... or if Black Powder
can be used in Salutes (exploding fireworks).
In short, there is no comparison. Flash Powder is a high explosive, a shattering
explosive. It converts to a gas so fast, that objects near it, and containers
that hold it cannot move out of they way (or vent) fast enough to release this
gas so they are destroyed into fragments.
Black Powder is a low explosive, a heaving explosive. It converts to gas much
more slowly than Flash Powder, and generally pushes things as opposed to
fragmenting them. If Black Powder is used in a small Salute like an M-80, it
will just make a loud "pop", and push out the end plugs.
Flash Powder in an M-80 will make a loud explosion and fragment the tube into
small pieces. Flash Powder burns so much faster than Black Powder that in larger
Salutes, it doesn't even matter if you've got end plugs on the tube at all, it
will still detonate and fragment the Salute, even with 2 open ends.
You can NEVER substitute Flash Powder for Black Powder or vice-versa. If
you were to use Flash Powder to launch a shell out of a tube, or a bullet out of
a gun, it would barely move the shell or bullet, and completely destroy the
mortar or gun, most probably killing the operator.
need 3 chemicals to make Black Powder, they are: Potassium Nitrate, Sulfur and
Charcoal. Stay away from very low grade materials like "Dusting
Sulfur" and Bar-B-Que Charcoal Briquettes. The Charcoal you use in a BBQ (Bar-B-Que Charcoal
not pure Charcoal. It contains other materials and chemicals that are designed
to keep the material burning evenly and for a long time, but it will make very
Black Powder. If you use low quality chemicals, it will yield a low
quality or non functional Black Powder.
The sale of common oxidizers (like Potassium Nitrate) are being increasingly
regulated by the U.S. Government and they are becoming very difficult to find.
Many customers report that they have used 'Tree Stump Remover', which
apparently is almost pure Potassium Nitrate... and is available in most hardware
or garden supply stores.
The following is the standard formula for Black
A step-by-step procedure
is outlined below....
Open the lid to your Ball Mill and add the following: 150 grams of
Potassium Nitrate, 30 grams of Charcoal Powder, and 20 grams of Sulfur ( if your
lead balls are not already in the tumbling barrel, go ahead and put them in now
). Remember that ONLY
lead balls can be used because they are completely non-sparking.
When complete, this will make 200 grams of Black Powder ( a little under 1/2
pound ). You can make larger or smaller batches, just keep the percentages of
all the chemicals the same. You MUST
use an accurate scale to weigh your chemicals, preferably one that is accurate
to 1/10th of a gram. If you do not have access to an accurate scale, you can
find some for sale on our site here.
all 3 chemicals and the lead balls inside, put the lid on the tumbling barrel
and seal it, then set it in the Mill.
Turn on your Ball Mill and let it rotate for 2 to 4 hours. As the Ball Mill
rotates, the lead balls will crush the chemicals together and reduce them into a
super fine powder. The longer you let it grind, the stronger your Black Powder
will be. Let the Ball Mill do its grinding in an uninhabited area, not in a
place like your bedroom. Although the chance of accidental ignition is very
remote, it is wise to put your mill in the garage, or better yet, outside to do
the end of a couple of hours stop the mill. Lay out a sheet of paper ( newspaper
will work fine ). Open the lid to the barrel, and dump the entire contents (
lead balls and all ) into a spaghetti strainer over your sheet of paper. The
strainer will catch the lead balls and with a little shaking, all the Black
Powder will filter through onto your paper sheet. When Black Powder is in a fine
"dust-like" state like this, it is called "Meal Powder". The
Meal Powder you just made can now be used as-is in a variety of formulas and
projects. By adding a little water and Dextrin to it, you can easily make Black
Match Fuse or Quickmatch.
some applications where very fine Black Powder ( Meal Powder ) will not work
well. If you're going to use your Black Powder to launch shells out of a mortar,
or for small cannons, it will have to be granulated first. Black Powder that is
granulated and used for launching shells and salutes is called "Lifting
The procedure for making lifting powder is easy, but it sometimes takes a few
tries to get it perfect.
Basically all we're going to do is to add a little of a water soluble glue (
Dextrin ) to the Meal Powder, mix it well, get it a little damp, and push it
through the spaghetti strainer again. This will produce small granules of Black
Powder perfect for launching shells or anything else.
The whole trick to this is not to get the mixture too wet, or it will become
gooey and just turn into a big mess.
your Meal Powder into Lifting Powder, take 100 grams of Meal Powder and mix in
10 grams of dextrin. A good way to mix them is to put the mixture in a plastic
container with a snap-on lid and shake well. Pour the powder through the
spaghetti strainer again, this will break up any lumps in the dextrin.
Now place the Meal Powder/Dextrin mix back in your plastic container and add
just a little water. This is where experience really pays off. The idea here it
to get the mixture damp and not wet. What can be deceiving is that you're adding
water to a very fine powder, so it's going to take several minutes of mixing
just to get the powder to begin to absorb any water at all. Add just a little
water at a time, mixing thoroughly. As the powder begins to take in water, it
will turn a bit darker in color.
You want the mixture to be damp enough to where if you take a handful of
it and squeeze it tightly, it will just begin stick together. You do not want to
get it too wet. If you do, it will not go through the spaghetti strainer and
will just clump up on the bottom, or not go through the holes at all. If
disaster strikes and you have added too much water, you can always just add some
plain Meal Powder to the mix to dry it out.
Just FYI, adding the water also increases the strength of the Black Powder by
allowing some of the Potassium Nitrate to dissolve and be absorbed into the
pores of the charcoal particles.
mixture is damp, lay out another sheet of newspaper and dump the mixture into
the spaghetti strainer. Using a wooden or plastic spoon ( or your hands if you
don't mind getting messy ), rub the mixture through the screen allowing the
granules to fall onto the newspaper below. The Lift Powder you're making will
have to dry for a few days before it can be used, so make sure to spread it
around on the newspaper so it will dry more quickly.
mixture isn't all going through the screen, or is sticking on the bottom,
chances are it's too wet. Take the mixture out of the strainer and mix in some
plain dry Meal Powder and try again. If the mixture is going through easily, but
isn't really making granules, it might be a bit too dry. Take the mixture out of
the strainer and add a small amount of water, mix well and try again.