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Old May 3, 2011, 01:40 PM   #1
Rachen
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Smokeless (sulfurless) Black Powder: For the Adventurous :D

(DISCLAIMER: FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT ATTEMPT unless you know what exactly you are doing)

In response to the curiousity displayed by some in the previous thread about sulfurless black powder I decide to start an official thread regarding this subject.

FROM WHAT I EXPERIENCE:
Sulfur acts with a primary role as ignitor in standard black powder, with a secondary role as the fuel. Like what other posters said, sulfur has a very low ignition point and helps greatly in flintlock ignition. That is where the advantage ends when we move into caplock and primer ignition.

POWER:
To obtain nearly the same level of power upon firing as you would normally get from Swiss FFFg or Pyrodex-P, the quantity of Saltpeter has to be adjusted to more than standard black powder. The sole backbone of black powder, saltpeter is what allows the fuel (charcoal) to burn confined by releasing virgin oxygen upon ignition. As a Chinese alchemist once said: "Sulfur is the Minister, while Saltpeter is the Prince". In this case, charcoal is the minister.

RESULTS:
Upon firing in the 1858 New Army/Beals with 33 grains FFFg equivalent and a Lee conical, sulfurless produces only a blue haze which disappears before the echo of the shot dissipates. This powder is EVEN LESS SMOKY than commercial smokeless powder. One question that I have not been able to fathom is that since European militaries HAVE discovered sulfurless black powder in the 1870s, almost a decade before the invention of nitrocellulose powder, why did so many nations bankrupt themselves by discarding their state-of-the-art black powder weaponry and purchasing nitro-proofed guns and ammunition, as smokeless technology had a very finicky beginning in the 1880s.
The fouling from firing this sulfurless powder is very minimal, although I never, ever leave guns uncleaned for more than 5 minutes after firing.
The highest velocity I have gotten with this powder is almost 1050 feet per second with a 200-grain conical. The ratio of ingredients is 85% saltpeter and 15% charcoal

Ignition is no issue at all, because not only I use a hot cap (Dynamit Nobel), I also charge the cone with a nipple charger for boosted heat and power.

QUALITY OF RAW MATERIALS:
I take extreme care to ensure that only the purest raw materials go into making this powder because unlike recreational shooters, my life, safety, and being able to get fresh meat depends on clean powder. The saltpeter that I use is medical grade Humco potassium nitrate, 100% pure. It is far more expensive than garden-grade nitrate but I normally do not fire a lot of rounds. Charcoal is made by vacuum-baking fresh willow twigs in my own homemade furnace. Willow charcoal, even when completely charred, is still springy like fresh willow and I love it so much!

RATIO:
Saltpeter: 85%
Charcoal: 15%

The ingredients are then ball milled for 3-4 hours, with half-dozen golf balls inside the mill drum as the grinding medium.

Afterwards, I mix the meal powder with water to form a thick paste that I call "Zhi-mah-wu", because it EXACTLY resembles the Chinese sweet bun-sweet sesame seed paste that I love so much , also called Zhi-mah-wu. When the paste solidifies into a solid ball, I run it through 1.5mm screens for 3Fg equivalent Pistol Powder.

WAIT: I AM NOT DONE YET
After the powder is completed, I put the 3Fg into a jam jar and mix it with some finely powdered graphite for even distribution, and preservation.
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Old May 3, 2011, 01:45 PM   #2
freedom475
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is that a 85/15 volume ratio or scale weight ratio??
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Old May 3, 2011, 01:53 PM   #3
Rachen
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Quote:
is that a 85/15 volume ratio or scale weight ratio??
Volumetric ratio. I haven't weighed any of the BP/substitutes to be able to calculate ratios by weight accurately.
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Old May 3, 2011, 02:55 PM   #4
ofitg
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Quote:
RATIO:
Saltpeter: 85%
Charcoal: 15%
This is similar to the German formulation for Cocoa Powder -

80% Saltpeter
20% Brown Charcoal
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Old May 3, 2011, 04:40 PM   #5
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What's the fouling like?
Is it hard, soft, difficult to clean or what?
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Old May 3, 2011, 11:03 PM   #6
Hawg
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Seems to me to be defeating the purpose. Half the fun of bp is the smoke.
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Old May 4, 2011, 12:22 AM   #7
Bill Akins
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Thanks for posting this Rachen.

4V50 Gary, I was wondering if you could create a new sticky for us entitled "Making BP & substitutes" so different formulas could be easily accessed by our members? Rachen just posted a formula for sulfur-less BP formula here and I'll be posting a BP formula that uses sugar and rust as soon as I can find it.

I just thought this would be a good subject for a sticky where all the BP and substitute formulas could be easily accessed in one sticky that lists them. Wouldn't have to have all the responses, just the original post formula to keep the sticky uncluttered.

What do you think?

Thanks, Bill.



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Last edited by Bill Akins; May 4, 2011 at 12:32 AM.
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:11 AM   #8
mykeal
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Rachen's use of the term 'smokeless' in the title to this thread is accurate but only in an historical context. Strictly speaking, 'smokeless' powders are simply those that produce remarkably less smoke than traditional black powders; they have an important place in the history of shooting materials. However, contemporary usage of the term implies powders made from nitrocellulose materials.

It's well known that contemporary smokeless powders have no place in black powder firearms, yet it seems every year someone makes that dangerous decision; whether the motivation is simply ignorance (or perhaps stupidity) or misunderstanding that someone meant historical, non-nitrocellulose smokeless powder can be used in a black powder gun, it still happens.

Rachen's parenthetical definition of 'smokeless' as 'sulferless', and his opening caveat are well considered, and I have no concern that the current TFL membership will mistake it or his use of the term smokeless. But if it's made available through an archive (via a sticky or other device) I suggest it include an short explanation that these formulas are not the nitro-cellulose based contemporary smokeless powders, etc. Who knows whether future members, or even nonmembers reaching the material through a search engine, will have the same understanding that we do.
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:16 AM   #9
Hawg
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I think smokeless black powder should be self explanatory but then i just got up.
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:20 AM   #10
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Yep. Should be. But you're not the one I'm concerned about. Heck, if YOU make that mistake there's no hope for any of us.
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:24 AM   #11
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There's no hope for any of you just from association
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