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Old May 4, 2011, 06:38 AM   #1
Bill Akins
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Sugar & rust BP formula & a Foxfire books standard BP formula too.


I am posting this for entertainment and academic purposes only. I am neither encouraging nor advising anyone to use or make these homemade gunpowder/black powder formulas. I disclaim any responsibility if anyone has an accident while trying to make or use these formulas. These formula articles were written by others than myself, (although I added some narration of my own in the last paragraph to the 2nd formula Foxfire books article beginning where I say...."End of article on black powder making...." and that is all I personally wrote, the rest is written by others).


This idea is from Backwoodsman Magazine. I had seen it originally while thumbing through the magazine at a book store. Why I didn’t buy it I have no idea unless I was feeling more poverty stricken at the time than normal. Well, I kept meaning to send five bucks to the publisher for a copy of that issue, but I had forgotten when I had seen it. Plus, I always procrastinate. Luckily for me, I am no longer so poor I can’t subscribe to the magazine. And, as my luck continues the latest issue has a reprint of that article. July/August 2007 issue, page 45 ( a good omen, the best pistol cartridge made- just as the I-80 exit in Elko is 303, a sign I was meant to live there one day ). I am presenting this information in case you ever really, really need it. Like after civilization collapses. Before that time, just buy the darn stuff. Yes, we need to practice our skills before we need them. But so I don’t get sued by some idiot that thinks I make any real amount of money, I am advising you to make an exception here.
The simple way to make black powder is to use sugar and rust rather than charcoal and sulfur. Saltpeter must be used in both methods, itself a pain to get but at least by eliminating the sulfur you make life easier for yourself. If you do want to make the traditional type, it is a ratio of 75/15/10, saltpeter/charcoal/sulfur. The other way is a ratio of 9/8/2 of saltpeter/sugar/rust ( measured below in tablespoons ). I am not really a big fan of black powder, but there might come a day when all of our brass is gone and we won’t have any choice but to go back to flintlocks. Unless a brass/powder/primer industry comes into being we will revert back to “fair weather warrior” stage. At least half way there, however, we can still use black powder in our old brass in our bolt actions ( another reason not to have semi-autos ). One of these days I’ll cover mercury fulminate as a suitable primer material. If you clean the brass and gun quickly it is a good primer. It does seem a large pain to create, but at least then California will be worthy of existence ( mercury is usually found in volcanic regions ).
Okay, according to the article, saltpeter was formed this way. The chicken run was mined two or three times a year ( the article doesn’t say but I believe the soil needed to be limed first to work ). That soil was placed into a bucket. Use a metal bucket with holes in the bottom. Put a clean heavy cloth on the bottom over the holes. Take a half cup of clean sifted white wood ashes and place over that cloth. Place another piece of heavy cloth over the ashes. Now place your chicken dirt over the second cloth to within two inches from the top. Put the bucket over a second smaller one and gently sprinkle one and a half gallons of boiling water over the soil. Let drain for several hours. Take that liquid and bring it to a boil, then leave simmering. Tiny grains of salt will form, dip out with a wood spoon and discard. When 2/3 of the liquid is simmered away set aside out of the fire for two hours. The crystals that form are nitrate and are strained out and set to dry. One cups plus two tablespoons of this saltpeter are added to two cups water boiling, one cup sugar ( boiled down from sorghum or maple sap ) and two tablespoons of fine red rust ( scrape from any available rusting iron or steel ).
Keep stirring this constantly, until about cooked oatmeal consistency. Spread out about a quarter inch thick on a metal cookie tray. Cut into one inch squares. Put in the sun and cut into smaller pieces every quarter of an hour. Once dried to where none sticks to your fingers you take a teaspoon at a time and rub over a piece of window screen, allowing them to fall on another cookie sheet. Put back in the sun, the inside window sill being good, for about a week until as dry as possible. A third of this was then crushed with a mortar and pestle for the flash pan powder. Left was about a pound of gun powder. Since the powder was used in small amounts to kill small game such as squirrels it lasted quite a time.
As reported to the author, this family recipe was used in the Ozarks since the Revolutionary War. Once a rifle was purchased and using this recipe, nothing else was ever needed to be store bought to go hunting. This could be a lesson to us, as spoiled as we are with twenty four hour super Wal-Marts being supplied from China on a trail of petroleum.

I got this from my Foxfire book and added some narration of my own.

Foxfire mountain lore book #5 page 246. Making black powder.

Black powder isn't hard to make depending on which end you look at it from. It is a long and tiresome task if you make more than ten pounds at a time. Out on the West coast, as in some southern states, the trend by the government is to prevent its sale with mountains of red tape. Making your won black powder, however is not unlawful as yet, as far as I know. By weight measure, black powder is made of seventy five parts saltpeter finely ground, fifteen parts charcoal and ten parts sulfur. All ingredients must be fine ground separately. This can be accomplished with either a mortar and pestle, or with a hand cranked flour mill. Never mix all three ingredients before grinding unless you want to turn your mill into a deadly grenade, or your mortar into a cannon that can blow off your fingers or even your hand. Then the ingredients can be mixed with a small amount of water so the mixture comes out with biscuit dough consistency. Usually when I mix the ingredients, I add just enough stale urine to make the batch bunch about like biscuit dough. The urine, substituted for water, gives the powder more oxygen and higher performance. Flowers of sulfur (finely powder sulfur) is ideal for gun powder, and it can be bought in most drug stores in four ounce bottles or pound cans. It can also be found in pure deposits around volcanoes and in early times, because it was found where molten lave issued from the earth, the sulfur condensed around the rims of the volcanoes was called brimstone.

Today, in certain places around the world, sulfur is recovered from underground deposits by pumping live steam underground through pipes. The sulfur melts and being lighter than water, is easily pumped out at another point close by. Then it is pumped into big ships that haul it to industries all over the world. That's why you can buy a hundred pound sack for about three dollars in most places.

Saltpeter, the chemical that produces the oxygen for the other ingredients when lit off, can be made by putting urine and manure of any kind in a big cement tank mixed with water until you have about three hundred gallons mixed up. Then you put on a tight lid and let it sit for about ten months. You have to have a drain pipe and valve at the bottom and a stainless steel filter screen installed beforehand or you'll have one big mess on your hands. At the end of that time, you run the liquid that drains off though ashes into shallow wooden trays lined with plastic sheeting and let them stand for evaporation in the sun. When the water evaporates, potassium nitrate crystals (saltpeter) will form in the bottom of the trays. In the old days in cities, most outhouses were fitted with trays or drawers under the seats that could be pulled out from behind the building. They had night soil collectors who were paid so much every month by the outhouse owners to keep those drawers emptied, and they'd come around with a special wagon into which they dumped the contents. When the wagon was full, it was hauled out to where another fellow bought the contents and dumped it into concrete tanks where the bacteria works it just like yeast works wine or bread dough. Then the liquid was run through ashes into shallow tiled or plain concrete evaporating trays or basins to recover the saltpeter. Today saltpeter can also be bought in most drug stores in bottles or cans.

Charcoal provides the carbon needed whent he powder is lit off. When burning, the carbon assists in making potassium carbonates and cabon sulfates during the one, one hundredth of a second that it is burning. Most of this is released at the muzzle of a smoke pole in the form of powder smoke. Some remains in the barrel in the form of fouling and should be swabbed out about every third shot if the shooter wants the round ball to continue to shoot true. The charcoal should never be made from hardwood as hardwood has too much ash. Such woods as chinaberry, willow, cottonwood, soft pine with no knots, or redwood and Western cedar make the best grade charcoal. A fifty five galloon drum with a snap on lid and a match stem sized hole in the lid set over a fire pit is a good charcoal maker. The the wood and chip it or cut it into inch chunks and put a bucketful in the drum. Then build a hardwood fire under the drum and when smoke begins to spurt from the vent, light the wood with a match. When the flame goes out, your charcoal is made. Rake the fire out from under the drum, plug the vent with a bit of asbestos fiber or a nail that fits in tightly, and let the drum sit overnight to cook. You can then crush and powder the charcoal with a mortar and pestle, or run it through a hand cranked grain grinder to a flourlike fineness.

By the way, just yesterday I took time out and made a batch of powder and this time when I mixed the ingredients, I added homemade alder charcoal instead of redwood and improved the powder's performance 100 per cent. I recently bought a tight little sheet metal heater stove for camp cooking and by accident discovered that getting a load of alder going good and closing it up tight and dampering it until it went out and turned cold converted the alder into nice pure charcoal.

When making black powder, never add any other ingredients or explosive powders unless you wish to turn your muzzle loader into a grenade that can kill or cripple you for life. Keep your black powder stored in steel, airtight cans in a cool, dry place and out of the reach of children. My parents failed to do that and I've carried powder marks on my face for the last thirty years. A ten year old may think he knows what he's doing, but ten years don't give him enough prudence to think many things out ahead of time before he lights that match. The nice thing about shooting black powder is that commercial black costs about two cents a round and homemade about a half cent a round. The flintlock is by far the cheapest to shoot. It needs no percussion cap primer ---just a flint and primer powder. I'm freely giving the formula because any kid who can read can go into any library and look it up if he wants it bad enough. And I'm not worried about mad bombers because most of them usually use other types of explosives.

End of article on black powder making. This book goes into flint knapping, how to make your own hammer welded barrels out of flat bar stock and how to rifle them using a bit of broken file and a wooden homemade rod attached to an archemedian type of screw that you pass back and forth through a wooden plate that turns the screw and rod so it precisely rifles you barrel. All old time craftsmanship now lost to the modern world. I have the foxfire set books #1 through 9. Great old pioneer mountain living reading. Put together by students back in the '70's from interviewing old timers living back in the mountains right around where I have a bit over an acre on Corundum hill near Franklin N.C. Ya might want to copy and save this post for future black powder making. Hope you enjoyed it.

"This is my Remy and this is my Colt. Remy loads easy and topstrap strong, Colt balances better and never feels wrong. A repro black powder revolver gun, they smoke and shoot lead and give me much fun. I can't figure out which one I like better, they're both fine revolvers that fit in my leather".
"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target".
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:17 AM   #2
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Thanks for that info. It is VERY interesting and more than potentially useful.
A couple of notes extra, though:
The mix of rust (iron oxide), Saltpeter (KNO3) and sugar reminds me of an even simpler formula for solid rocket fuel which is KNO3 and Sugar.
In both, you have an oxidizer and a carbon fuel.
Neither is black powder.
The other info powder is not hard to make.......well, it is actually. At least harder to make than simply mixing the ingredients. The method described gives a mixture properly called "polverone", also known as "green powder". It is black in color but not nearly as effective as finished BP. I say "finished" because there is a step beyond mixing up polverone that results in "proper" BP. To do this last step, you need a ball mill and a place to operate it safely.
Polverone works but not nearly as well.
I have made and used both. I have made polverone pretty much exactly as described in that article and maybe it works for the author but I have never been satisfied with the results.
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:39 AM   #3
Bill Akins
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All those references to "Polverone" is making me think of Mexican sugar cookies (which are also called Polverone) and even more so is making me think of provolone cheeze which is my favorite. Darn it now I'm hungry! Lol. Seriously though, good info darkgael.

"This is my Remy and this is my Colt. Remy loads easy and topstrap strong, Colt balances better and never feels wrong. A repro black powder revolver gun, they smoke and shoot lead and give me much fun. I can't figure out which one I like better, they're both fine revolvers that fit in my leather".
"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target".
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Old May 4, 2011, 07:46 AM   #4
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Presumably the sugar was brown sugar? Refined sugar cost a lot more and back in those days, most of the sugar was brown coned shaped sugar. BTW, you can still buy those in the Mexican food stores.
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Old May 4, 2011, 08:12 AM   #5
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Worth noting, the Fox Fire books sometimes confused 'grains and grams' when discussing black powder. Their weight/volume reccomendations cannot be taken at face value. The reader must use common sense and adjust accordingly.
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Old May 4, 2011, 11:01 AM   #6
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In South Africa there's a pink colored sub powder that's named Sannadex. The dex in its name refers to the fact that it's made from dextrose.

There's a photo and description of the powder on Page 3 of the following pdf:

•Locally manufactured
•Made from dextrose (sugar)
•Synthetic black powder substitute
•Extremely hygroscopic
•Less fouling than conventional black powder
•Cleaner burning
•Less dense than conventional black powder
•Cheap alternative to conventional black powder
•Available in Rifle (ffg) and Pistol (fffg) grain
•Pinkish in color
•Is totally water soluble
•Very good plant fertilizer
•Packaged in 500 gram tin
A simple Google search of Sannadex will turn up videos of guns being fired with it, photos of African hunters who used it with success and threads with information about it. Here's a good video about it, just click the arrow on the page below:

Last edited by arcticap; May 4, 2011 at 11:23 AM.
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Old May 4, 2011, 11:10 AM   #7
Bill Akins
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Great info Arcticap. I wish we had the formula for actually making homemade Sannadex. Considering it's made with dextrose and doesn't foul as badly as regular BP, I suspect it probably is similar to the sugar and saltpeter formulas.

"This is my Remy and this is my Colt. Remy loads easy and topstrap strong, Colt balances better and never feels wrong. A repro black powder revolver gun, they smoke and shoot lead and give me much fun. I can't figure out which one I like better, they're both fine revolvers that fit in my leather".
"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target".

Last edited by Bill Akins; May 4, 2011 at 11:19 AM.
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Old May 4, 2011, 12:52 PM   #8
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Since SDX is reddish in color, I'll bet it's got some iron oxide in it too! Excellent thread. Very interesting.
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