Sciencemadness Discussion Board

First successful nitrocellulose synthesis.

george76904 - 18-4-2015 at 18:14

I am not new to chemistry or even to energetics. But I am new to the synthesis there of. For the past few years I have been an amateur pyrotechnician (not sure if I spelled that right?). I have made and rolled stars and made numerous pounds of black powder for such use. HOWEVER today marked my first successful synthesis of nitrocellulose.i did not have conc. nitric acid. So I used nitrate salts (ammonium nitrate) and conc. sulfuric acid. They have been nitrating for about 10 hours now but around 6 I got a little impatient and removed one cotton ball. I neutralized it very carefully then I dried it using warm (note just warm, not hot) air from the oven for the next hour, then I tested it. It was clear that I had not successfully nitrated everything yet because while most of it deflagrate with a whoosh some just kind of burned. However I also wanted an honest to goodness detonation to be sure. So I put .305 grams into a compacted ball. Held together by a paper towel and masking tape shell. I know it wasn't pretty but I wanted to be sure of it. I then inserted the fuse and lit it. To my surprise it worked brilliantly! The sound was akin to smashing a whole ring of 6-8 of those red caps that were actually meant for capfguns with a hammer (I'm sure more than just me are guilty of that :D) . I was pleased as punch, my first nitration went as smoothly as could be and now I can't wait until tomorrow when I can start drying the entire batch!
Thanks for reading and I'm sorry if I posted this in the wrong area,

P.S. Anyone have some thoughts on some fairly simple but interesting energetics besides nitrocellulose? I am not particularly interested in organic peroxides due to their tendency to be very finicky.

Hawkguy - 18-4-2015 at 20:44

Good work! Sounds like a successful experiment. I'll assume you have the cellulose (trinitrate?) so that could be a fun afternoon right there. If you're interested in projects with the NC, try making some blasting gelatin, a mix of NC and NG. Or, you could also try casting it or something. Good luck and don't blow yourself up!

george76904 - 19-4-2015 at 18:14

I have only nitrated the cellulose once so I assume it is not trinitrate. How would you go about casting nitrocellulose? I attempted to mix up a little plastique by mixing it with a little acetone, but I couldn't get that to do anything but burn. Any thoughts?

LostLandgull - 4-5-2015 at 17:18

Some other energetic materials which can be synthesized easily are erythritol tetranitrate and picric acid. Both can be produced by nitrating their respective precursors, erythritol for ETN, and phenol for picric acid (although I've heard salycilic or acetylsalicilic can work). If you want more in depth instructions there are already plenty of posts about them on SM. I would suggest ETN due to its relatively low shock and thermal sensitivity.

Varmint - 4-5-2015 at 17:56

Frankly, cotton balls are the worst cotton to use, it comes factory equipped with nasty tiny knots and jumbled sections that don't lend themselves well to nitration, neutralization, nor combing out to make "fluffy".

Beauty shop cotton on a roll ($15 for a box of 1" by 150ft) is the best, it's pre-combed, knot free, and works perfectly. Just pull off a section, weigh it to understand your ratios (to see if your mix can handle another batch), and coil it gently into the mix pressing out bubbles etc. in the usual way. Pull it out with tongs, I use another pair of "roller-tip tongs" to squeegee the mix out on it's way up, then similarly coil it into the neutralization vessel. Neutralization is easier thanks to the aligned fibers too, just don't wad it up and make a mess, you won't need to.

You'll probably find 30 minutes of nitration gives you better performance than the cotton balls you used to run for 8 hours or more.

george76904 - 8-5-2015 at 12:21

Thanks for tip varmint, I will have to try that!