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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 09:38
Gun powder/ Black powder question


A couple of points first before i ask the question.

I am in the UK, my exposure to Pyro and energetic is extremely limited, shop brought fireworks is as close as i have been to stuff like that.

So now the question.

Sorry if i have the names wrong, but Sulphur,Potassium Nitrate and Charcoal makes black powder/Gun powder yes?

I watched a slow motion video, the video was actually more about the camera capability than anything else. But what struck me was the colour as the stuff burnt.

It looked very yellow, I have always assumed yellow was from Sodium, while the charcoal could contain Sodium salts, i was expecting More blue.

So the question is..... Can you alter the colour of Black powder? Utterly pointless i know, it burns too fast to see, but from a chemistry point of view I am interested in how the colours are made.

I am aware we can own small amounts of Black powder apparently, but it isnt going to happen for me, my lack of experience and limited ability to find anyone near with experience, means i wont be trying anything out. So this unfortunately is more a theoretical discussion.

The only other question i have, does it matter what nitrate is used? I ask because had i been able to experiment, i think changing the nitrate would of been my first experiment in flame colour.

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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 11:35


Gunpowder would be unrewarding for Colours as there is so much smoke produced.

The nitrate is basically an oxidiser, which means some other oxidisers also work.

Bert's your best hope on all the sparkly coloury fizzy whizzy bangy stuff.

Hope he'll do a Publication one day.




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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 11:45




I just wrote the greatest reply, and the internet ATE it. Grrr.

Until I recover, how about a nice book to read?



Attachment: Chemistry of Pyrotechnics - Conkling.pdf (2.6MB)
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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 12:40


LOL @ Bert, i feel your pain. I really hate it when you do a reply and suddenly its gone! I like reading so not all is lost.

@aga

I am aware it would be pointless to do for a practical reason, but my question is a bit more subtle than that. Apart from the charcoal, which of the other two chems makes the difference to colour? Sulphur has a blue flame, potassium I think is blue as well?

Which leaves the Charcoal, but how come you get so much yellow from Carbon? Do you see what I mean? The bit about changing the nitrate has more to do with colour, for example I suspect barium Nitrate would work just as well, but would the colour be green, or would it mix with the yellow and produce another colour?

The only way i could do the experiment, is with a 11fps camera i get occasional access to or video it with a 4K camera. The video i watched however, was super fast. Its really amazing what you see when you can capture and then slow it all way way down. Last thing i would do is send something that flashes and bangs up into the sky!!
Would be fun to measure how long it took MI5 to turn up though lol. even in areas like where I live, you can bet someone somewhere would be on the phone ;).
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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 13:45


We used to burn off the scraps of black match, quick match and leftover powder from work, to keep this flammable trash from building up to dangerous quantifies. The flames when they hit a bag of quickmatch did look a sort of lilac color, from the Potassium spectrum. You would see bits of quick match with the hand light points we trimmed off fly out of the fire like little lilac colored rockets-

Sodium nitrate based powder does burn yellow, have not seen any of that in a long time. "B" grade blasting powder, the cheap stuff.




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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 14:17


Making good black powder is much more difficult than most people think it is. The issue is the mixing of the chemicals.

As a kid I have tried many times, using home-made charcoal, store-bought flowers of sulphur (very fine powder) and KNO3. The KNO3 already was quite fine (like granules of table salt, free flowing) and the S also was a very fine powder. The carbon had to be crunched.

When I mixed the chemicals in the righht ratio, the powder I obtained only burnt quite slowly. At that age I was impressed, but it is nothing compared to real black powder.

Later I understood that the chemicals must be ground much finer. The KNO3 must not be like table salt, it must be much finer. I later tried with a mortar and pestle (grinding the KNO3 separately and the S+C together and afterwards mixing the chemicals), but even then no really good results can be obtained. Apparently the best way is to add a little water, such that the KNO3 dissolves and soaks the charcoal and then allow the mix/paste to dry. I tried that as well, and the result again is better than my previous batch, but still, I am not really impressed.

Finally, I quit. It seems that you really need a ball mill for making gooed black powder and then use the water and paste method and crunch the dried paste again. I do not have a ball mill and my interest in this does not go beyond the accasional demo for kids. If I now want to show something more impressive, I carefully mix some red P, KClO4 (not KClO3!!) and a pinch of aluminium. The red P makes the mix easy to ignite, but it also makes it weaker (just a fast flame). Adding some very fine Al-powder makes the mix really impressive (not more than 100 mg!!) as a chemistry demo. Even unconfined it explodes, but only if it does not contain too much red P.

Unfortunately KClO4 is not allowed anymore where I live. I can buy NH4ClO4, but that does not nearly work as well as KClO4. It is less powerful (more like burning, less deflagrating). For small demos I sometimes make a little KClO4 from solutions of NH4ClO4 and KCl, but I do not keep it around, it is not allowed anymore.




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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 14:32


It is the same here Woelen, serious experiments in pyro are out for most of the EU, at least for the amateur. Even being caught in possession is not worth the risk.

I do find black powder fascinating though, i love the long history of it, the different accounts of what makes the best mix. One book i am reading suggests that willow Charcoal is the best, another says to use Charcoal from walnut Husks (yes very old texts :D ~). Not sure I would want a ball mill, something of a dark art with some ingredients.

There is currently a superb one on ebay, it is cyclic one, but some £750. That is alot of money just to grind powder. I have been given contact details for someone in the UK, i am going to check that I am allowed to make small amounts.
But even then I am unlikely to do it.

Reading the book Bert linked too, its a highly complex but interesting topic. Bangs etc not so much, but actual fireworks are a real art. I find all colour chemistry interesting.
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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 15:44


Woelen, if the charcoal and Sulfur are sufficiently fine? And you have alcohol, water and a microwave? No ball mill is needed.

Thoroughly mix the dust fine Sulfur and charcoal, it WOULD be OK to throw these into your old rock polisher and let it run with a hand full of ball bearings for a day or so, but not required.

Put the fuels in a bowl several times their volume, and have a way to mix it as you would a batter or dough ready. Saturate it with denatured alcohol (no water, not 70% drug store stuff) just to the point it will hold no more without it running out and puddleing.

In a glass or ceramic vessel, dissolve the nitrate in the absolute minimum ammount of boiling water that should hold it, you will have to alternately stir and microwave it once or twice probably to get it all dissolved as it is a frigorific combination, just like an ammonium nitrate cold pack.

Go OUTSIDE with the large bowl of S and C wetted with straight alcohol and pour the boiling nitrate/water mix into it all at once, stirring as hard and thoroughly as you can.

Alcohol forces the nitrate out of solution. The crystals will be tiny and pervade the fuel very effectively. Billows of alcohol vapor will be given off at the start, the whole thing will quickly become like almost dry mud. And now, as soon as this is cooled- It will already burn scary fast, and will get faster yet when the water and alcohol evaporate.

Before it dries, gather it into a "mud ball" and grate the ball through a coarse screen onto a sheet of polyethylene plastic or similar slick, non reactive surface. Let the alcohol and water evaporate, then one more time, put it through the coarse screen gently to breake it into grains. Store for your occasion carefully, away from fire, children, child like adults and overly officious public safety employees.

(For showing the kids a flash and a puff of smoke, fine Zinc powder with a stoichometric ammount of fine Sulfur, mixed on a sheet of paper with a small paint brush is quicker and easier. Be careful and mix no more than a gram or so, it is like flash powder and may ignite from static discharge, etc.).



[Edited on 10-12-2017 by Bert]




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[*] posted on 10-12-2017 at 23:36


Most of the nitrate salts that impart coloration to flame tend to be hygroscopic, hence their use in BP is somewhat complicated. The only composition that I tried a long time ago was the one with sodium nitrate....it really burned with a stunning yellow flame, but it was notoriously difficult to keep dry in our humid climate. I assume the only way to practical application for such compositions is in very dry areas with natural low humidity.
I remember I also tried calcium nitrate, but that was in Al based compositions for colored stars....it was a really beautiful deep orange colour, but again highly hygroscopic and very hard to ignite.




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 01:44


I didnt think of the hygroscopic nature of most Nitrates. Reading the books helps alot, what i did discover on reading was Charcoal is often Orange flame. So i assume the yellow i saw was down to the camera and screen showing it as yellow.

I need to find out what is legal in the UK, interesting we are allowed small amounts of black powder, this may mean there is more we can use than we think, ok maybe not exotics but maybe variations on black powder. This is all a bit of a side track for me, but fascinating chemistry all the same. Had some fun with a spirit burner and loop doing flame tests, not easy to capture the correct colour even with a decent camera, infact it seems the better the camera the harder it is.

I have access to a Nikon D810, on paper this should be one the very best cameras for colour. In practice there is a massive difference between RGB screens and CYMK printers.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 03:14


I have the impression that the UK is somewhat more tolerant than NL when it comes to rules about pyrotechnics. In NL there is in fact zero-tolerance when it comes to pyrotechnics.

Lighting even a small candle or fountain in your garden may lead to problems. Consumer fireworks may be lit on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and that's all. There now is great pressure to also take away that little freedom and make pyrotechnics completely forbidden, except when you have a special license for shows/performances. For chemistry experiments, igniting a few 100's of mg of some pyrotechnic mix is no problem, but more than that cannot be done.




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 06:45


Quote: Originally posted by woelen  
I have the impression that the UK is somewhat more tolerant than NL when it comes to rules about pyrotechnics. In NL there is in fact zero-tolerance when it comes to pyrotechnics.

Lighting even a small candle or fountain in your garden may lead to problems. Consumer fireworks may be lit on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and that's all. There now is great pressure to also take away that little freedom and make pyrotechnics completely forbidden, except when you have a special license for shows/performances. For chemistry experiments, igniting a few 100's of mg of some pyrotechnic mix is no problem, but more than that cannot be done.


I think we are not far off your rules, things are changing, firework wise we mainly buy small very weak fireworks that are multi shot. No real rules on dates you can buy though. Black powder is a rare exception, i think its something to do with historical reenactments.

Trust me do anything exciting in Scotland and your getting a knock on the door! The rules are pretty stupid, its supposed to stop terrorism, instead it kills off science. In UK schools hardly do ANY lab experiments, how are people supposed to get excited about science??

Chemistry is not a spectator sport! speaking of which....my chems came :D gratuitous photo shot later :D
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 13:51
somewhat related to black powder


I too experimented with the basic black powder
recipe when I was a young kid. Same results as described
here by many others: Lack of fine enough grinding and
thorough enough mixing.

However, one day I reasoned that the charcoal
supplies the carbon, and sugar has plenty of carbon.

In addition to that, both KNO3 and sugar dissolve readily
in water.

Say no more, say no more, Wink Wink Nudge Nudge.:D




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 13:59


Quote: Originally posted by sodium_stearate  
I too experimented with the basic black powder
recipe when I was a young kid. Same results as described
here by many others: Lack of fine enough grinding and
thorough enough mixing.

However, one day I reasoned that the charcoal
supplies the carbon, and sugar has plenty of carbon.

In addition to that, both KNO3 and sugar dissolve readily
in water.

Say no more, say no more, Wink Wink Nudge Nudge.:D


That is a classic form of "white gunpowder", and a close relative of the "rocket candy" amateur rocket fuels. For some real fun, try the gun propellant version with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) instead of sugar, this is much less corrosive than commercial perchlorate based black powder substitutes, and capable of higher performance than the original black powder.




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 14:10


As a 13 year old i also messed with gunpowder.

It kinda fizzled, but not so well until one time i got fed up with grinding it in a pestle and mortar, so left it on a windowsill overnight.

It was Winter and condensation made it all damp by the morning.

Being without much money i tried to salvage it by sticking it somewhere warm to dry out.

Turned out to be the Best i ever made.

A minor burn-hole-in-the-carpet-and-floorboard incident kinda put a stop to the experimentation at that time.




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 14:36


Can we bring this back to UK nanby panby type black powder please lol. I like my eye brows, i have no reason to grow a bald spot! Fizzle and flash is fine thank you very much!! All this talk of perchlorates is making me dizzy with fear.

Seriously though, if you dissolve the sugar and nitrate, just how sensitive are you starting to become. I didnt mind the original version of mixing and grating, but going down these other routes, are you not starting to make something alot more sensitive? or am i being a woos (i dont mind being a woos)?

Actually i got some bamboo powder turn up today, this is actually to replicate something aga did with Charcoal. But its got me thinking is Charcoal just Charcoal, so i might try some different ones.

I am not looking for faster or more powerful, i am actually looking at colour.

[Edited on 11-12-2017 by NEMO-Chemistry]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 16:09


Bamboo charcoal is an odd case- It is very high in Silica, and is one of the lowest performers for strong black powder, according to some tests of charcoal published in Pyrotechnica a while back. I will look for my copy with those tests.

The silica also interferes with Aluminum/sulfide glitter effects, somehow it poisons the delayed flash producing reaction these use.

20171211_182200.png - 316kB




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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 16:19


I remember making gunpowder as a kid about 11 or 12 years old. I used an electric blower that had lots of steel impeller blades like a jet engine to powder the KNO3 fertilizer which blew the prills out the exhaust side into a knotted double pillow case bag. You could feel the gyroscopic force if you tried to twist the motor when it was spinning. It even sounded like a jet the way it spooled up to speed when plugged in. Funneling in the prills and then running the powder through a second time getting smacked around inside the sealed chamber worked well.
Anyway one day I put a few large spoonfuls of the gunpowder into a beer can and then trailed some more out the can for a fuse and then lit it. Well instead of shooting across the yard like a rocket it just went off like a bomb. I can still recall hearing the neighbor kid exclaiming to his mom, "What was that!" There was a fine mist with tiny particles in the air and the steel beer can nowhere to be found. I had three 50 pound bags of KNO3 at that time to play with and mostly I mixed it with sugar which cost more than the nitrate.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 16:25


Quote: Originally posted by Bert  
Bamboo charcoal is an odd case- It is very high in Silica, and is one of the lowest performers for strong black powder, according to some tests of charcoal published in Pyrotechnica a while back. I will look for my copy with those tests.

The silica also interferes with Aluminum/sulfide glitter effects, somehow it poisons the delayed flash producing reaction these use.

Now that is something that interests me, different Charcoals from wood. I still have my drift wood soaking, must dry that out soon and Charcoal it.

As its Christmas I am saving the walnut husks to try out :D, now you mention silica in Bamboo I am wondering if Walnut would be a problem. Its dense but dosnt feel like wood as such, actually it kind of feels alot like bamboo.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 17:09


I've been making black powder charcoal from pepper tree wood with excellent results, the pepper trees are always full of tinder dry dead branches that I break off and make charcoal from then ball mill into black powder.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schinus#/media/File:Gavaran.jp...

I'm not equipped to do any proper performance testing and would greatly appreciate it if someone could, I'm almost certain it would give willow a run for it's money
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[*] posted on 11-12-2017 at 17:21


My thinking (not worth shit though), you know really dry and light drift wood? It really porous after being in the sea a while. If you look at it under a scope its full of voids, so i might give that a try. Which then leads too making drift wood artificially from other woods, then into charcoal.

Does activated charcoal make any difference? There is loads to look at, but how do you measure it? Only way I can think is a set track at a set distance, then film it and play back the film slowly in editing software. Yes reinventing the wheel, but pretty interesting if like me you havnt done it before.

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[*] posted on 12-12-2017 at 11:43


Unless your powder is amazing, an upside-down 1 metre section of angle iron will serve well enough as a track.

Fill the track then measure the weight of the powder that took.

Fill it again with the same weight of powder for each different 'recipe', then light it at one end and start your stopwatch.
Press Stop when the flame reaches the end.

At the point where it happens too fast to even see, you have made the best black powder the world has ever seen.

Edit:

The track should have some powder in it, enough to make a consistent and even depth, but does not to be Full, especially if you use a 6" x 6" angle iron :o

[Edited on 12-12-2017 by aga]




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[*] posted on 12-12-2017 at 16:23


I was thinking a plank of wood just over 1M, simple grove cut in with a router bit. Nice and shallow 3-4 mm wide cutting tool, i should be able to just fill the grove and use a flat scraper to level it without compacting. Not precise but good enough, i dont intend to work with anything but very small amounts.

Its too cold to do much at the moment, my lab is -4 / +2 depending on time of day. Need to make sure i dont leave water in flasks or condensers over night. I hate being cold at the best of times, time to get the radiator fixed in that room!

I wanted to set up my new incubator etc today, but 30 mins in i was shivering lol.
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[*] posted on 13-12-2017 at 12:51


Black powder was one of my childhood follies. I was into rocket engines.
Rode home after school via the local farm stock and feed store. 20kg sack of KNO3 over the handle bars dusting sulphur in the school bag. Ahh those were the days.

I had an old cast iron pot which I put on a bearing and pulley, gave it a motor and an incline. A handfull of roller bearings from an old truck bearing and milled the S and charcoal wet. Didn't take me long to realise that type of charcoal was critical to the outcome. Light fluffy charcoal from soft wood was the best. Hardwood charcoals no matter how well milled made sluggish fuel. The Japanese pyrotechs used to say rice husk charcoal was the best for fast blackpowder.
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[*] posted on 13-12-2017 at 14:40


Quote: Originally posted by Chemetix  
Black powder was one of my childhood follies. I was into rocket engines.
Rode home after school via the local farm stock and feed store. 20kg sack of KNO3 over the handle bars dusting sulphur in the school bag. Ahh those were the days.

I had an old cast iron pot which I put on a bearing and pulley, gave it a motor and an incline. A handfull of roller bearings from an old truck bearing and milled the S and charcoal wet. Didn't take me long to realise that type of charcoal was critical to the outcome. Light fluffy charcoal from soft wood was the best. Hardwood charcoals no matter how well milled made sluggish fuel. The Japanese pyrotechs used to say rice husk charcoal was the best for fast blackpowder.


Hence the use of Balsa in the ref Bert gave. Interesting stuff, seems to go from almost a crawl to hell fire depending on some very small changes.

No idea why but I got some Toluene, so looks like sulphur will also be purified. This is getting out of hand for simple experiments!!

But a nice detour while I wait for the rest of my cell stuff to arrive. Talk about a slow boat from China!
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