Do you know how to make gunpowder? It’s surprisingly easy and you can do it at home in less than an hour.
Now, you may wonder why on earth would someone want to make a black powder at home? Truth be told, you can obtain commercially manufactured gunpowder of higher quality and performance. But, creating something on your own brings much more satisfaction. And even more importantly, you won’t be in the lurch in a TEOTWAWKI situation, when stores don’t work.
Make no mistake, though. Dealing with highly combustible ingredients can be very dangerous. So, you need to be very careful and take all precautionary measures to avoid accidents and potential injuries.
While homemade gunpowder can be useful, it is usually made by homesteaders or historical weapons enthusiasts. Or people who want to learn primitive and ancient skills.
Gunpowder was invented long before cannons and muskets. It is one of the Four Great Inventions from ancient China, the other three being a compass, printing, and paperwork. The history of gunpowder begins in the 2nd century AD. Taoist alchemists experimented with sulfur, saltpeter, and other powders to create an elixir of immortality! While we can’t prove that they created gunpowder, one of them wrote about “the mixture of three powders that fly and dance violently”.
Ancient Chinese civilization is so fascinating with its blend of philosophy, magic, and science. Even a compass had been used for fortune-telling and geomancy for hundreds of years before it has become a navigating tool! Anyway, back to our story, for the next 7 hundred years there are occasional references to gunpowder-like mixtures and formulas. They were still a part of the quest for eternal life. We don’t know how it worked and if it was useful.
Finally, in the 9th century AD, there are several proofs of using gunpowder to make fire arrows, fireworks, and eventually explosive devices. So, the pursuit of eternal life led to the invention of deadly weapons! By the end of the 13th century, this new warfare technology spread throughout most of Eurasia.
How to Make Gunpowder – Get These Ingredients
While there are many homemade formulas that include alcohol, sugar or honey, and other ingredients, the basic mixture is as simple as it gets. All you need is charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate (better known as saltpeter). These three powders were all it took in ancient China, and so it is today.
If you’re a purist, you can create charcoal by yourself, but for our quick recipe, it is better to buy it. Any standard charcoal will do, but I prefer activated charcoal. It comes in a form of powder which is necessary for gunpowder making. Activated charcoal is an excellent purifier, so you can use it for multiple purposes on your homestead. From purifying water and air to removing tooth stains. Anyway, if you have charcoal in any other form, you need to grind it to a fine powder.
If you want to make it by yourself, it is best to use soft wood such as willow, hazelnut, redwood, or cone pines.
Sulfur is pretty common in nature. Historically, it was mined worldwide, especially in volcanic regions. Today, it is produced from fossil fuels.
It is very unlikely that you’ll either dig or process fossil fuels. Instead, you can get elemental sulfur in every gardening store. Besides making black powder, you can use sulfur as a fertilizer, fungicide, insecticide, and as a soil acidifier.
Saltpeter is the largest part of your batch. It is possible to create it naturally by extracting it from bat guano or making it from urine and excrements. However, these processes are not only gruesome but also months-long and unreliable.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution – a stump remover. Commonly, it is pure saltpeter. So, now you have all the ingredients.
Equipment for Making DIY Gunpowder
You don’t need any sophisticated equipment. All you need is a couple of items. These are:
- Mortar and pestle or ball mill
- Wooden spoon
- Fine-mesh sieve
- Container (ceramic, glass or plastic)
How to Mix It – The Easiest Gun Powder Recipe
I can’t say it too many times: be careful. Work slowly and meticulously. These are highly combustible materials. While they won’t explode unless they are confined, they burn violently. Also, none of it is friendly to your lungs. It is best to do your work outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. Even static electricity can ignite the mixture, so make sure you follow the precautions to the letter.
Step 1: Measure Your Ingredients
Here are the proportions: 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. That’s your magic formula. You can use scales or a measuring cup and you don’t need extreme precision. 1% more or less won’t make a difference.
Step 2: Grind Each Ingredient Separately
Use mortar and pestle or a ball mill for grinding. It’s important to grind each ingredient separately. And you need to grind them to a fine powder. Clean your tools in between uses.
Step 3: Mix Them Together
This is the most important part of the process. The quality of your product depends on the quality of mixing. So, you want your ingredients to incorporate as well as possible. You can also use a ball mill for mixing. It is a slower method, though. Most recipes recommend mixing charcoal and sulfur for 4 hours and then another 12 hours to mix it with saltpeter.
The faster method uses a fine-mesh sieve. Use a wooden spoon to tap a sieve with a small amount of mixture. This kind of slow sifting will allow proper mixing. Still, once you sift it all, it won’t be completely incorporated. Repeat the sifting at least twice and you’ll get a perfect mixture. The slower you sift, the better it will incorporate. If you try to rush it, you may need to repeat the process.
Step 4: Test It
This is still a homemade recipe so it’s a good idea to test it before you use it.
Pour a line of gunpowder onto a piece of paper. Light the edge of the paper and keep your distance. Once the fire reaches the mix, you’ll get your little inferno! Of course, it won’t explode because it is in the open air, but it should flare-up in a flash, and it would burn out just as quickly.
Step 5: Store It
If you don’t use your gunpowder, you need to store it safely. Make sure to check laws in your state as some of them have pretty strict rules about keeping and storing gunpowder. Specialized black powder containers are available and they offer a high level of safety. Whatever you use, keep your container away from heat sources and high temperatures.
Actually, it is safer to keep your ingredients in separate containers and mix them only when you need gunpowder.
Homemade gunpowder isn’t a top priority for your survival items list. Even if you own a muzzleloader, it’s not very likely that you’ll use your homemade black powder to load it. Still, you never know what can happen and when this skill can become very useful. For starters, it can be a lot of fun. You can make some awesome fireworks or signal flares.
Also, there’s an interesting community of people with different hobbies and passions that revolve around black powder, muzzleloading firearms, and gunsmithing. Making gunpowder can be your ticket into this world where you can gain amazing experience and learn new skills.