How To Make Gunpowder? – 7 Easy Steps

Gunpowder has many uses that make it an essential component to know about. Making gunpowder at home is not at all challenging. And if you are determined, you can have it in a few steps.

Gunpowder is widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rocketry, and pyrotechnics. Some people also use it as a blasting agent for explosives in quarrying, mining, or road construction sites.

There might be other uses. But regardless of what you plan to use it for, it is crucial to learn how to make it.

In this article, we will outline all the steps required and ingredients needed to make gunpowder. Keep reading to find out more!

What Is Gunpowder?

What Is Gunpowder?

The dictionary definition of gunpowder is a powdery mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal used for quarry blasting, fuses, fireworks, and others.

When gunpowder is heated, sulfur ignites first to start burning the charcoal. The heat produced by the burning charcoal decomposes nitrates in saltpeter to release oxygen that sustains the combustion.

Gunpowder is categorized as a low-energy explosive that decomposes slowly and produces low brisance. However, its use should be controlled and should never be left with children.

The Ingredients Needed To Make Gunpowder

Gunpowder is made from a list of ingredients that you should first collect before continuing with this article on making gunpowder.

You need three main substances to make gunpowder, and they include the following:

  • Saltpeter or potassium nitrate
  • Charcoal
  • Elemental sulfur

Each of the listed items plays a role when gunpowder is in use. Let us get into details.

Saltpeter/Potassium Nitrate

Saltpeter/Potassium Nitrate

Saltpeter is a compound of potassium nitrate that is not only used for making gunpowder but also in fertilizers, fireworks, and many other sectors.

In other parts of West Africa, saltpeter is used as a thickening agent when preparing local cosines such as okra soup and isi ewu.

When used in gunpowder, potassium nitrate decomposes under the intense heat of burning charcoal to produce oxygen. Oxygen is needed to sustain combustion.

That means gunpowder does not require exposure to air to burn. Fireworks will also not stop burning even if you smother them because of saltpeter that decomposes to release oxygen.

How do I get Potassium Nitrate? Saltpeter occurs naturally in the sap of plants such as sunflower, tobacco, celandine, and common borage.

Potassium Nitrate

You can also make it with ammonium nitrate and potassium hydroxide. But if you cannot get potassium nitrate through the methods mentioned, you can buy it from a nearby chemical store.

But you might be asked to state the reason or produce an authorizing document before it is sold to you.

Obtain Charcoal

Obtain Charcoal

Charcoal is a raw carbon that contains some traces of undecomposed cellulose from plants. Charcoal acts as the fuel in gunpowder.

It is preferred over pure carbon because it ignites at a much lower temperature and can explode.

How do I get Charcoal? You can make charcoal by burning pieces of wood under a limited supply of oxygen. Check out how to make charcoal at home from our previous post.

Kamado Joe KJ-Char Big Block XL Lump Charcoal

Alternatively, you can buy it from a nearby store at a fee. Charcoal for making carbon powder should not cost you much.

Elemental Sulfur

Elemental Sulfur

Elemental sulfur is a crucial component of gunpowder. It is also used as a fuel and is the component responsible for increasing the rate of combustion.

Sulfur ignites at a much lower temperature, reducing the overall ignition temperature or the mixture.

Elemental sulfur makes gunpowder burn rapidly, releasing the energy needed to propel the bullets and fireworks or blast rocks in quarrying sites. Sulfur is a fire risk and should be kept safe and far away from fire.

How do I get Elemental Sulfur? You can easily make sulfur at home. To do that, put 12.9 grams of sodium thiosulphate in a beaker or any other container made of Pyrex glass.

Add about a minimum amount of water and add about 15ml of nitric acid into a beaker.

Let the resultant mixture settle in a warm place for a couple of hours and filter sulfur that settles at the bottom of the beaker.

The number of chemicals you use depends on the quantity of sulfur you intend to make.

Alternatively, you can buy sulfur from a nearby chemical store to save time.

Tools And Safety Devices

Chemicals for making gunpowder are dangerous and become highly volatile once they are mixed together.

Before you start the process, you have to be in terms with the fact that you can explode into pieces at any time. However, you should be safe if you take all precautionary measures.

You will need the following tools and safety devices:

  • Weighing scale
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Fireproof Box for storing the powder
  • Hand gloves and gumboots
  • Fire extinguisher in case fire erupts

7 Steps To Make Gunpowder

7 Steps To Make Gunpowder

With all ingredients and tools ready, you can make gunpowder in just seven steps, which include the following:

  • step 1: Finely grind each ingredient
  • step 2: Measurement of gunpowder components
  • step 3: Mix the ingredients together
  • step 5: Sift this mix to have a well-incorporated mix
  • step 6: Consider adding water and done
  • step 7: Take a small amount and test

In the end, you will have gunpowder ready for use. But you should take great care when handling the final product. Your safety and that of your family are at stake.  

The details of the above-listed steps are as follow:

Step 1: Finely Grind Each Ingredient

Use a mortar and pestle to finely grind each component into fine powder. Grinding increases the surface area for chemical reactions to take place when the mixture is ignited.

Remember to always clean your mortar and pestle between uses.

Step 2: Measurement Of Gunpowder Components

Use the weighing balance to measure the ingredients. The quantity of each depends on the amount of the final product.

The mixing ratio should be 74.8% saltpeter, 13.3% charcoal, and 11.9% sulfur. So, do your math and weigh everything accurately.

Other gunpowder ratios or formula you can consider are outlined in the table below:

Formula% Saltpeter% Charcoal% Sulfur
Bishop Watson, 178175.015.010.0
British Government, 163575.012.512.5
Bruxelles studies, 156075.015.629.38
Whitehorne, 156050.033.316.6
Arderne lab, 135066.622.211.1
Roger Bacon, c. 125237.5031.2531.25
Marcus Graecus, 8th century69.2223.077.69
Marcus Graecus, 8th century66.6622.2211.11
Gunpowder Ratio

Step 3: Mix The Ingredients Together

You are advised to add water to the mixture when carrying out this step for safety reasons. Put the measured ingredients in a mortar and continue grinding for at least 10 minutes.

If you are using a ball mill, mill charcoal and sulfur together for about 4 hours. Add saltpeter and continue the milling process for another 24 hours.

Be more cautious with the methods that follow because you have already created highly volatile gunpowder.

Step 5: Sift This Mix To Have A well-incorporated Mix

This step is necessary but optional. Shifting the mixture will ensure that you have a well-incorporated mix. But you can safely skip it without affecting the functionality of the final product.

Step 6: Consider Adding Water And Done

Gunpowder, which is about 8% water, is said to burn faster. So, continue adding water in bits as you stir the mixture to obtain a thick clay.

The result here will be balls of gunpowder. Use a kitchen sieve to break it out into small pieces. Let us again stress that you have to be careful when handling gunpowder.

Step 7: Take A Small Amount And Test

You have to test the gunpowder. For this exercise, take a small portion and conduct the test, which depends on the intended use of the gunpowder.

If everything is okay, make more and safely store, as we will describe in the next section.

How To Store Gunpowder Safely

Gunpowder is best stored in designated fireproof boxes and in a safe place with no close flames.

The temperature should remain relatively low. Buy one at a nearby store or online. You can also improvise an empty paint can that can tightly close with a lid.

You should be on high alert all the time with your gunpowder. The best way to store it away from a residential building.

Also, check your local regulation about what it says regarding keeping explosives such as gunpowder in your home and abide by it.

Warning

Every step of making gunpowder, including storage, is dangerous. Any slight mistake can leave a devastating effect.

You have to be extra careful when making gunpowder and when storing it. Always have your protective gear on and follow only the recommended procedure.  

Wrapping Up

With the right ingredients and appropriate tools, you can make gunpowder in the seven steps outlined in this article.

As we conclude, we remind you to be cautious when making gunpowder and when handling it because it is a very explosive substance.

We hope you can follow the steps highlighted in this article to safely make gunpowder. We appreciate your time reading this article and encourage you to read our previous posts.

The Em Offgrid invites you to watch out for upcoming posts about other DIY projects. Thank you!