So you have decided to bring your geek out and make your own gun powder from home. I can still remember the first time I made gun powder back in 2006 when I was still at school.
Thankfully, we did not burn the class down.
Now it is your turn to make some for yourself, but first, you need to read this article. If you are interested in some of the history and the earliest prototypes, then I also got that covered.
I will explain each ingredient and also the exact recipe that you should use. I will also tell you the exact process that you must follow to grind and also mix the ingredients.
I will also show you how to make it from urine 🙂
Are you ready?
What Is Gun Powder?
Gun powder is a black powder that is used as a propellant in firearms, rockets and also fireworks. It is made out of charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. The charcoal and sulfur are used to provide fuel to the mixture while the potassium nitrate will provide the oxygen needed to start and accelerate the burning process.
Once ignited, it will produce a lot of gas and heat which will also increase the pressure when in a fixed space. When used in a cartridge, the increased pressure will allow the bullet to project out of the casing.
Gunpowder has a great historical significance and has played a crucial part in forming the countries we have today. The Chinese created gun powder during the 9th century.
The History of Gun Powder
When it comes to the history of gun powder, I will refer to its origin which has deep Chinese roots, the way it was founded, some of the earliest weapons that used gun powder and also the progress and development outside of China.
It is hard to talk about gun powder without mentioning the involvement the Chinese had in developing this powder. It was first created in the 900s when the Chinese alchemists made gun powder as a byproduct of medicine that they wanted to make.
Only after the year 1000, the Chinese started to use this substance in the military.
The Chinese Experiments That Led To Gun Powder
The Chinese were already familiar with potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and used to mine it for its medicinal properties. They could easily distinguish it by the purple flame it produced after coming into contact with fire.
They mixed the saltpeter with sulfur to produce several medicinal combinations, and they were also known to mix it with realgar and honey. After they heated this mixture, they realized that it created a lot of smoke and fire. Realgar can also be called arsenic sulfide, and the formula is AsS.
The honey also provided the carbon needed to set the effects in motion. This incident was the first time they concluded that saltpeter mixed with sulfur could be used for more than just medicine. This mixture was also known in Chinese as “Fire Medicine” which led to this discovery.
These discoveries were invented by the alchemists of that time to see what would happen when you heat several elements together.
Earliest Gun Powder Based Weapons
In this section, I am going to discuss some of the first weapons that used gunpowders. Some of these weapons also gave birth to some of the modern weapons se use today. The weapons will include the Fire Lance, Fire Cart (Hwacha), the Rocket Arrows, the thunder crash bomb, and the thousand ball thunder canon.
This Fire Lance can also be considered the first gun powder based weapon. This weapon is basically a spear that has a piece of bamboo attached to it which is filled with gunpowder and debris such as small pieces of rock and iron. It was a short range weapon that could only be used in close proximity.
This weapon had a shotgun/flamethrower effect which could either burn or puncture the opponent. The biggest problem with the earliest prototypes was that the bamboo would explode and the projectiles would fly in all directions which would backfire against the user.
The bamboo tube was later fortified and also replaced by a metal barrel in the 13th century. It also replaced the spear/lance entirely and was used independently. The fire lance was first used in the year 1132 during the Siege of De’an during the Jin invasion of Hubei and Shaanxi.
Fire Cart (Hwacha)
It was developed in the year 1409 by several Korean scientists and proved to be very useful in the battle of Haengju where over 3000 Koreans repelled an attack of 30 000 Japanese with the help of this machine.
The Hwacha also called the fire cart has a structure similar to that of a handcart. This weapon could shoot up to 100-200 projectiles at once. It makes use of a large square shaped box that has holes drilled into it. The holes will play the part of barrels to guide the projectiles in the right direction.
It makes use of Chinese fire arrows which were around 1 meter long which has a paper tube filled with gunpowder attached below the head of the arrow.
These carts were very lightweight and could be easily transported and maneuvered into the battlefield. They were mainly placed in fortifying structures such as castles and fortresses to fire hundreds of arrows upon the enemy.
Rocket arrows also called “fire arrows” was invented by Feng Jisheng and Yue Yifang who first introduced black powder based arrows in the year 969. This type of ammunition makes use of a normal arrow that has a ball-shaped sack attached behind the head of the arrow which is filled with gunpowder.
The ball-shaped sack is made out soft paper and cloth which is material that can quickly burn. It is then covered with molten pine resin which will help fuel the fire and is also very flammable. The sack would then be set alight and the arrow released from the bow.
There are also other versions available such as those that make use of bamboo to store the gun powder. The hollowed out bamboo will be filled with gunpowder and then set alight with the help of a fuse. Once the fuse is burning, the arrow will be released.
Thunder Crash Bomb (Fragmentation Bomb)
The thunder crash bomb or fragmentation bomb goes by many names, and the development process started in the year 1200. You can also call this the first hand grenade ever developed because of its explosive abilities in the field.
It is a hollow ball made out of cast iron with a hole drilled inside. It is then filled with gun powder and attached with a fuse. The fuse will be set alight, and then the ball will be launched by hand into the direction of the enemy.
The worlds first “hand grenade.”
Once it explodes, the cast iron will shatter into smaller pieces in all directions causing wound damage to the soldiers near the explosion.
Thousand Ball Thunder Cannon
This canon was first introduced in the year 1400 and was made out of bronze and was carried with wooden wheels. It also made use of a fuse at the base of the canon, filled with gun powder and then stacked up with iron balls or materials that were lying around to form shrapnel.
It was best used at close range and had a devastating effect on the enemy when used. The shot could take apart several soldiers that were in range at once.
It’s Development Outside China
We are now aware that gun powder has a solid tie to China when it comes to its origin. This powder which was also described as “magic” did not stay very long in China and was later seen in other countries as well.
United Kingdom & Ireland
The first mention of gun powder in England comes from Roger Bacon who was a monk in the year 1216 in England. This was the first time gun powder was introduced in England. The primary use of this powder in England was in the form of cannons.
In England, it took around 60 years for the standardization of gun powder to take place. There was no set formula which caused a high deviation in the results for the use of this powder.
The large scale production of gun powder started to appear in the 14th century which also revolutionized the use of castles as smaller and weaker castles could not stand against the use of cannons.Later on in the 19th century, Andrew Noble and Frederick Abel started to produce a smokeless gun powder which was much better than the original formula. This development also began the genesis of the powder that we see in guns today.
Gun powder was introduced at the beginning of the 13th century in the middle east. Hasan al-Rammah who was a chemist and also an engineer had more than 100 recipes for making gun powder where they were grouped and used for a specific weapon type such as the rocket.
The Ottoman Empire started the large scale production of gun powder during the ages from 1500 to 1800 and was later refined to Turkish gun powder.
The Mongols were the first nation to introduce gun powder into Europe during the year 1241 at the battle of Mohi. After this incident, it was also stated that firecrackers were made out of gun powder used as children’s toys.
During the 14th century, there was also the development of corned powder which was a significant improvement in the manufacturing process. The corned powder was made when the ingredients were mixed thoroughly and then mixed with water to form large clumps.
The clumps were then allowed to dry and then broken to smaller kernels which were then ready for use. Before this process was used, the powder was mixed and then sifted where it was stored in barrels. The problem with the prior method was that the larger particles would settle at the bottom of the barrel.
This problem would cause a variation in the results of the firework because the mixture would not stay constant. The process of the corned powder was able to solve this problem by creating fixed clumps where the larger particles could not be separated.
The Science Behind The Ingredients
It is possible to imagine that there is a lot of science behind the unison of each ingredient to give us the results that we want from gun powder. The ingredients that I will cover is charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. I will include the role that each component will play from ignition to combustion.
Charcoal is the easiest ingredient to be found and can be made from burned wood. It has a blacking appearance and can be milled to a very fine powder.
The purpose of charcoal in gun powder is for it to burn and to provide fuel for the reaction in the form of carbon. The only problem with charcoal is that in the early days that carbon could not be used in its pure form. Charcoal is the end product which comes from the burning of cellulose.
The best way to use charcoal in this reaction is to mill it into a fine powder which will create a larger surface area and thus speed up the reaction. Charcoal’s empirical formula will be C7H4O which is seven carbon atoms, four hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom.
Sulfur is the next ingredient needed to create gun powder. Sulfur does provide some fuel but is mainly used to ignite the powder. Sulfur will also lower the temperature required to ignite the gun powder through exothermic reactions which give off heat which is a good characteristic to have for the combustion.
The chemical formula for sulfur is S8 under normal conditions in its powder form. It has a yellow color with a distinct odor and is also a common element to be found in nature. It can be found in hot springs and volcanic emissions where it was brought up to the surface area. It can also be grounded into a very fine powder.
Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)
This ingredient is the hardest to come by as will mostly be found inside caves and other mineral sources. It is an ionic salt that is composed of potassium (K) and nitrate (NO3). It has a white crystal-like appearance which can be milled into a fine powder.
This component is also known as saltpeter and will start to burn at a high temperature. This ingredient will provide the oxygen needed to drive the rapid reaction that will take place. For anything to burn, there needs to be oxygen present.
As you may know, the gunpowder used in gun cartridges does not have access to oxygen because the cartridge needs to be sealed completely. This is another great benefit for adding potassium nitrate. Charcoal also burns very slow which is why you want to add this ingredient to supply extra oxygen to speed up the process.
The Chemical Reaction
Now that we are more aware of the role that each ingredient plays in the mix let’s talk about the bigger picture and the chemical reaction. It is important to note that when gun powder burns, that it is not a single reaction.Two equations will represent the combustion and reaction of gun powder. The reactions will include the following:
a) 2 KNO3 + S + 3 C → K2S + N2 + 3 CO2
b) 10 KNO3 + 3 S + 8 C → 2 K2CO3 + 3 K2SO4 + 6 CO2 + 5 N2
You should also know that gun powder is not classified as a low explosive where it burns very fast and easy without generating too much force. You need to keep this characteristic in mind when creating explosives vs. ammunition.
For gun powder to have an explosive effect, it needs to have a confined volume which will cause enough pressure to exert enough force to have the desired effect.
How To Make It From Home
In this section, I am going to show you in a step process on how you can make gun powder from home. You might need some equipment that will make your life easier. If you plan to make gun powder at scale, then I would recommend you getting this equipment.
Gun Powder Recipe
The recipe to make gun powder is very easy to remember and is also standard. You must also remember that this recipe is measured in mass instead of volume.
The recipe is below:
- Potassium Nitrate – 75%
- Charcoal – 15%
- Sulfur – 10%
You will notice that the potassium nitrate make out the majority of the mixture because we want a lot of oxygen for this powder to burn at a very fast rate. You can buy potassium nitrate in the form of Saltpeter or Stump Remover.
To get charcoal, you can buy the same type that you use to cook the meat on your grill during a barbecue. You can get elemental sulfur at gardening stores which are used to acidify the soil.
The Equipment That You Will Need
In this section, I will discuss the equipment that you will need to measure, grind and also mix the ingredients into gun powder that you can use.
- Gas Mask
- Eye Protection
- Use Gloves
Make sure that you have access to these gear which will prevent any contamination and prevent the powder and ingredients from coming into contact with your eyes and respiratory tract. You should also make sure to have a well ventilated room.
- Mortar And Pestle
- Ball Mixer
- Fine Mesh Sieve
- Flat Plastic Container
- Digital scale (Needs to be very sensitive)
- Calculator (To calculate your measurements)
Step 1. Measuring The Ingredients
It is crucial to measure the ingredients beforehand so that you can have an idea of how much you should be grinding. You can use a digital scale that can measure the mass in milligrams.
You want to make sure that you place the container on top of the scale and then press the button “zero” which will zero the scale. You also need to know how much gun powder you want to make.
If you want to make a 100g batch, then you will need to measure 75g Potassium Nitrate, 15g Charcoal, and 10g Sulfur. Measure each ingredient separately and put it in the mortar and pestle to grind.
Step 2. Grinding The Ingredients
It is essential to make sure that all three ingredients have the same texture or granule size. If the granules of let say the potassium nitrate is bigger than the charcoal and sulfur, then it will separate and will not mix well.
A great tool that you can use is a mortar and pestle which can be tedious work but will turn the ingredients into a fine powder.
Step 3. Sieve Out The Ingredients Separately
After each ingredient is ground finely, you want to make sure they are the same granule size. To achieve this, you need to sieve out each ingredient separately to get rid of larger granules that will not mix well. Once each ingredient is sieved, you should measure them again.
Step 4. Measure Each Ingredient Again
You might want to measure each ingredient a second time because some of it might have gotten lost during the milling and sieving process. Once you have all of the ingredients in the correct granule size and weight, it is time to mix them.
Step 5. Mixing The Powder
There are several ways to mix the gun powder, but the best way is by using a ball mixer. If you do not have a ball mixer (they can be expensive) and you do not plan to make gun powder again, then you can save money by manually mixing the ingredients together.
Place all of the ingredients in a mixing jar and shake it until ready. For much better results, you should use a ball mixer as follows.
Open the lid of the tumbling container and place the mix inside. Make sure that the volume of the container is big enough to mix 100g. If the container is too small, then use a 50g batch instead of a 100g batch.
You should also only use lead ball because lead does not create a spark. A spark is the last thing you need when making gunpowder as you do not want to blow up your mixer or room.
Once the mix and lead balls are inside, you can place the lid on and put the container inside of the machine. The lead balls will help in grinding the ingredients further which is good but because it is already fine enough you only need to tumble it for 2 hours.
How To Make Gunpowder From Urine
You are well aware that the ingredients for gunpowder include charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. It is not hard to get your hands on charcoal and sulfur, but potassium nitrate or saltpeter is another story. You can easily buy it from a store but what if something such as an EMP strike causes a massive apocalypse?
You now need to rely on your resources and abilities to get your hands on saltpeter if you want to make gun powder. The only problem is that it is hard to find this resource in nature, so you need to use your own body as a potassium nitrate plant.
Our kidneys can filter out all of the chemicals in our blood that does not belong in our body. Animals such as cows and sheep can also be used as they produce large quantities of urine and manure. Let’s start with the French method.
This method involves mixing urine with manure and then to further mix it with ash and straw to create a large pile of nasty concoction. This mix needs to be stored in large barrels or a cement dam as you need to stir it every couple of days. This process can take up to six months for the potassium nitrate to form.
Once you start to see visible saltpeter crystals forming, you can then mix water into the concoction until it is liquid and then filter it through ashed until the saltpeter crystals form on top.
This process is the easiest but will need a stable that stands on a bed of sand. The urine that come from the stable will naturally filter through the sand and will start to form on top.
This mixture containing sand and saltpeter will then need to be mixed with water and then filtered through ashes to isolate the saltpeter.
Are You Ready To Make Your Own?
Now that you know which ingredients to use, recipe and how to mix them, you are now one step closer at creating your gun powder.
Remember not to forget that safety is crucial as you do not want to burn your face off. Please leave a comment below if you have made this recipe and tell me how it worked out for you.