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Thread: My experiment with making black powder.

  1. #1
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    My experiment with making black powder.

    Around 2018 I discovered this thread:

    http://castboolits.gunloads.com/show...e-black-powder

    And I resolved to try making my own black powder. As with most of my spur-of-the-moment projects, this was mostly to see if I could do it, but I also thought it would be neat to only pay $3 a pound for black powder instead of almost $30 a pound. Like most of you I probably go through 10 pounds of powder a year and it's quite a jolt when I have to order a batch of it.

    So around 2018 I gathered up all the necessary tools - a Harbor Freight 12 ton press and a Harbor Freight rock tumbler. They say cylindrical mill media works better than balls (less caking in the corners of the mill canister), so I cut 1/2" copper tubing into 1" lengths and then filled them with molten lead. I domed the ends of the tubes to trap the lead inside. I purchased potassium nitrate and sulfur from Duda Energy (via mail order only to discover they are right down the road one town over), and I had a bunch of scrap poplar to make charcoal. I used a 1 gallon paint can as a retort and got as far as making a batch of charcoal before I lost interest and moved onto other things. One of my teammates would always ask me at skirmishes, "Hey, Steve, have you started making black powder yet? Oh, that's right, you're still here, so obviously you haven't!"

    Well, two weeks ago I decided to give it a go. And last weekend, I test-fired my first shots with home-made powder.

    I'd call it a qualified success. The powder works very well. But it is not as powerful as Goex, and it is much dirtier.

    My home-made powder is made using poplar wood from Home Depot. I am using 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur. The sulfur is 99.5% pure and the kno3 is 99.8% pure. I am misting my green meal with distilled water. I am pulverizing the ingredients separately to dust before milling for about 5 hours. I am pressing pucks using a 12 ton Harbor Freight hydraulic press. Pucks are held under pressure for 5 minutes. I'm using a puck die/piston that is 2" in diameter. Pucks are dried using a dehydrator and broken into chunks and ground through a ceramic coffee grinder. Results are screened for 2F and 3F. Fines are recycled back into the ball mill.

    I weighed my charges using an RCBS Chargmaster 1500 scale.

    I can smell a slight difference in the odor of my home-made powder.

    The powder is noticeably dirtier to shoot. Loading became progressively harder, and this happened faster, with the home made powder. With Goex I can pretty much shoot indefinitely with no change in loading effort. In competition, in a 5-minute course of fire I can typically get off 12-14 shots. I feel like loading effort was significantly impacted that it would probably slow down my times and limit the number of shots I could get off. You can see with the picture of the cleaning patches that the patches are quite a bit dirtier when cleaning the home-made powder. Now I only fired 6 shots of the Goex, and 10 of the home made, but still, the patches were way dirtier with home-made.

    For the first test, I fired 6 shots of my normal competition round, the Moose Wilkinson 577-420 bullet, which is a compression style of bullet. It weihs about 426 grains cast in 99.97% pure lead. It has a very small lube groove and so does not carry much lube. I fired 6 shots because the first one gave an error through the chronograph. This bullet was fired with 50 grains of 3F Goex. The average velocity of the 5 good shots was 1043.6 feet per second.

    I then fired 10 shots using my home-made powder. I used 50 grains by weight. 2 shots errored out on the chrono. The average velocity of the 8 good shots was 918.9 feet per second. This is a velocity reduction of about 125 fps.

    I then fired 10 shots using my Pedersoli P58, using the RCBS-500M bullet. It weighs 535 grains when cast with 99.97% pure lead. This is a traditional "minie ball" style of expanding ball bullet. I got 3 errors on the chrono when I failed to realize the sun had moved and my chrono was now in the shade. The average of the 7 good shots was 855 fps. I did not do any comparison to Goex for this round. The charge was 60 grains 3F home-made by weight.

    One very positive thing to note is that as the target shows, the powder is quite effective! Accuracy was equivalent to the equal charge of Goex, for both bullets and guns. The left target is the P58/RCBS-500M, and the right target is the P53/Moose Wilkinson 577-420. The distance was 50 yards. Shots were made from a bench rest.

    So, my take-away from this exercise is that it is relatively easy to make very effective black powder at home. Certainly if you are shooting patched round ball, or any other application where you are not rapidly loading multiple shots, home made powder is nearly as effective, if not the same as, commercial Goex powder. But for rapid-fire competition use, as we need to use it, I would not switch to my home-made over Goex. It might be suitable for revolvers or breech loaders.

    I've got someone sending me some willow charcoal so I am going to try that and see if it makes for a cleaner-burning powder.




    Note on the paper target - all the holes to the right of the paper are from someone else. All my shots are on the paper. As you can see, almost all the shots are in the 4" black.


    Steve
    Steve Sheldon
    Commander
    4th Louisiana Delta Rifles
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  2. #2
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    Too cool for words Steve!!! I'd be interested in "best charcoal," maybe you've already discovered it. Need more more more pictures of the whole process and laid out in SKIRMISH LINE. Some of us have problems with visualize.

  3. #3
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    Your experience was similar to mine. I used whatever Lowes regular 1 x's are made of. Pine? Spruce? I've seen it called "White Wood". Anyway, back when I was trying this, I had read that the softer the wood, the better the charcoal for powder making. Willow being the best. Pine is not supposed to be real good due to the rosin content. I didn't use a chrono, but could tell the difference in recoil and report between it and Goex, with Goex being noticeably better. I didn't crumble a puck, but corned a moist fist full at a time and allowed the grains to dry. My problem was the grains were rather soft. I tried mixing in a small amount of laundry starch to harden the grains with varying results. I kinda satisfied my curiosity.

    When you crumbled your pucks, were the grains of powder hard? Or would they easily pulverize between your fingers back into fines?

  4. #4
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    If you were mushing moist green meal through a screen, that is the "screened" method. It requires some kind of binder, like Dextrin or Red Gum, to keep the grains together. Also, due to the lack of pressure mechanically compressing the ingredients, you end up with much lighter powder. They say this is OK in a muzzle loader where you can just pour in more powder, but you may not be able to get enough into the chamber of a revolver to work well.

    "Real" black powder is made by corning. The green meal is compacted mechanically under tons of force. This forces the ingredients into the pores of the charcoal and makes them permanently bonded together. When the pucks dry and you bust them up and grind them, the grains are hard like commercial powder.

    They say pine makes a good black powder (energetic) but is very dirty.

    Steve
    Steve Sheldon
    Commander
    4th Louisiana Delta Rifles
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  5. #5
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    Steve,

    Yes, that is the method I was using. And I did try the dextrin too. I had forgotten about that. That seemed to work better than the starch. Sounds like yours was probably better than mine. I do not have a press, so will probably not ever try it, but sure sounds like the way to go.

  6. #6
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    Steve if you want to go alittle hotter try Paulownia or Eastern red cedar charcoal. Your HF ball mill is turning too slow for good milling of BP, adding a few more hours may/may not increase its burning speed. Here is a link you may find interesting:

    http://dave2.freeshell.org/ammo/bp59...l%20design.pdf

    https://www.amateurpyro.com/forums/t...l-milling-faq/

    If you really get interested in another hobby join this web sight:

    www.fireworking.com

    $40 annual membership required, well worth it if you want to experiment.

    Kurt

  7. #7
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    So, what was the net cost per pound???

    -Boots
    Mike 'Bootsie' Bodner
    Palmetto Sharpshooter's, Commander
    9996V

  8. #8
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    I'd say the net cost per pound is under $4, probably under $3.

    I think the harbor freight mill is working fine. I pulverize my ingredients into fine airfloat dust prior to milling. The ingredients are absolutely thoroughly mixed after 5 hours of milling, and the resultant green meal is of talcum powder like consistency.

    My density is within limits (on the low end) of what black powder cake should be. Ground to grains it is slightly less dense than an equivalent volume of Goex.

    I think as far as quickness and power this stuff is fine. It's the dirtiness that makes it not as good as Goex.

    Steve
    Steve Sheldon
    Commander
    4th Louisiana Delta Rifles
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