making black powder, and primers?


July 27, 2003, 11:25 PM
I was thinking about what it would take to be truly self-sufficient as far as firearms go.

How did they make primers in the old days?

I know how to get saltpeter and charcoal, but how would an individual make sulphur?


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4v50 Gary
July 27, 2003, 11:35 PM
You buy your sulphur. The 3 ingredients were wetted down and mixed and crushed together. The wet cake was then put through a sifter and dried. Don't recommend doing this at home. Ka-Booms aren't fun.

Get away from primers. Go flintlock. You can always knap a flint but you can't always get percussion caps. Fulminate of mercury mixed with chlorate of potash was is the composition for early percussion caps. Perhaps wetted down match heads that is ground down and then, while moist, applied to the bottom of a spent cap would work. Dunno and don't wanna try. That's why I have over 250 spare flints @ home plus in excess of 1,000 percussion caps. Just in case the British come at us again. ;)

Sir Galahad
July 27, 2003, 11:56 PM
You don't make sulphur. Sulphur is a mineral. It occurs naturally. You find it at certain hot springs and mineral springs, active geothermal sites and geysers, and around some active volcanic areas. It also occurs, in some cases, in conjunction with larger copper deposits and sometimes with larger silver and gold deposits. There are also large deposits of sulphur by itself, left as a deposit from ancient geothermal activity. Sulphur appears as a crumbly stone or as crystals.

That said, making your own black powder is dangerous. The slightest static spark can set it off because fine dust from the powder occurs once it's dry. Even commercial plants have explosions, that tells you how dangerous it is. GOEX has had a few explosions, though the last one involved Clear-Shot substitute BP. If you want total self-sufficiency, better to set your sights to a traditional bow. You can't blow up your house making arrows from scratch.

4v50 Gary
July 28, 2003, 12:18 AM
BTW, I read in Tarleton's book that some Indians would use moss and grind it between their fingers for a priming compound for their flintlocks. Gotta get some dried moss from the Carolinas and try it someday. Interesting the stuph you can learn from old books.

July 28, 2003, 09:30 AM
I wasn't actually gonna try to make the stuff, just curious.

It seems like sulphur is the tough part of the equation.


4v50 Gary
July 28, 2003, 11:11 AM
Since you're in the Carolinas, try that moss stuff and report back to us. That is, if you have a flintlock.

Mike Irwin
July 28, 2003, 11:26 AM
Sulphur is also an element, which means that unlike charcoal or saltpeter, you can't make it via some other means.

The kitchen matches deal MIGHT work if you used the "strike anywhere" matches, but they're becoming harder and harder to find.

Making fulminate of mercury is possible with some pretty elementary chemistry, but it's UNGODLY foul smelling and quite dangerous, as well.

July 28, 2003, 12:24 PM
Regarding making your own caps...

There was an article about 1-2 years ago in The Backwoodsman magazine about making your own #11 caps. I don't remember the specifics, but paper roll cap pistol caps were part of the recipe.

IMO, if you need to be that self-sufficient, a bow or flintlock would be better.


4v50 Gary
July 28, 2003, 12:36 PM
Forgot about that. Dixie Gun works sells Tap-o-Cap and it consists of a die with which you stamp out your own caps from aluminum cans. You insert one or two roll caps and voila, percussion cap. It works too. I happen to have a little over 100 of these caps stashed away just in case that missing Confederate raider ship shows up after all. ;)

July 28, 2003, 03:20 PM
You can usually order sulfur from any drugstore or lab chemical supply company.

Dixie and other suppliers sell the "Tap-A-Cap device for making caps.

Making your own primer mixture, ESPECIALLY fulminate of mercury, is the fastest way known to "tour the moon". It'll blow you sky high.
Companies that make even MODERN primer mixture, treat it like nitro with a bad attitude.

Making your own blackpowder is not legal in many locales due to the danger.

Some years ago a local "buckskinner" was going so far as to make his own rifled barrels, and tan his own clothes.

He and a daughter were killed while he was making black powder in his back yard. His house was mostly destroyed and a neighbor's house was damaged, and his son injured.

NOT worth it.

Mike Irwin
July 28, 2003, 03:46 PM
"Making your own primer mixture, ESPECIALLY fulminate of mercury, is the fastest way known to "tour the moon"."

I'm still here...

Handling the acids made me more nervous than the end product.

July 29, 2003, 01:34 PM
The foxfire book, i don't know what number, tells how to make BP. Good for reading only as far as I'm concerned. Never made my own caps, but for 10 years I was working for the National Park service in Vicksburg MS as Living history. We fired a cannon and rifles and would make our own friction primers and charges. Felt cool to be 18 years old mixing the goop for the primers and making the cannon charges. We used 1 lb of BP and peet moss. Nice big boom......

4v50 Gary
July 29, 2003, 04:19 PM

Can you share the NPS secret recipe?

BTW, may I bounce some Vicksburg info off of you later? I've been reading about it (didn't read or buy Bearss yet) and am curious as to what info is out there. Have yet to visit that Park site too, but I will someday.


August 2, 2003, 09:02 AM
I am not telling everyone to run out and make their own BP. The truth is that the ingredients are mixed wet, and will not explode that way. Commercial mills use dryers to speed process. This is where trouble is likely to enter. If the mixture is wet, stale urine works best, along with a bit of mucilage, and you sun dry the grains, it is just exactly as dangerous as handling a can of commercial powder. Prolonged drying time will weaken powder, but a 1/4 inch layer in the sun dries nicely.
Expressing fear over things like this, with all due respect, just provides fuel to the anti-gun fire. We engage in a potentially dangerous activity. We should stress knowledge and responsibility, not avoidance. I will never be heard to say that I am so stupid and inept that I can not learn to handle any aspect of my responsibillity. This is just what the antis want to believe.
Knowledge may save you someday. Absorb as much of it as you are able.

October 23, 2006, 02:31 PM
I really don't know if it is considered surphur or not or if it has the same chemical compound but I do know that flower pollen burns similar and when decomposed in water over a period of time reacts like a wead surphuric acid. If anyone wants to experiment with the challenge of finding out the key principles of pollen next spring. Post the results and let me know. How I crossed this discovery was I was trying to figure out a way to make Black Powder from scratch without money, just nature. Just so happened it was around spring and Pollen was on everything. Looked just like pollen, so I collected some up and experimented with it. Black Powder purposes only. Pollen also is an absorbent.

October 23, 2006, 02:44 PM
I have read a topic on the make of matches. Matches are no more than phosphorus and potassium chlorate. White Phosphorus highly flammable and can be ignited by common air. Red phoshorus more stable and used more likely in matches for safety. When red phosphorus and potassium is mixed the mixture can be ignited by a smash of pressure when dry. Common red phosphorus is the strike strip on the match box and potassium chlorate the match head itself.

Maybe this will be helpful to some one!

Me personally I am trying to find a way to obtain phosphorus naturally for survivor purposes and cost effectiveness. If some one knows please do post!

October 23, 2006, 02:45 PM
BP, when processed properly, becomes more than just a mixture of dry materials, pollen isn't going to have any value, unless you want to roast it, and make charcoal. Sulphur is mineral, and an element.
Don't get to messing around thinking you are an alchemist, there have already been a lot of those who put themselves in orbit!:eek:

October 23, 2006, 02:56 PM
"Maybe this will be helpful to some one"!
What will be "helpful" is actual basic knowledge. Sure, you can make stuff out of match heads, if you have too. I can make better primers, however, running around on the net giving out details is likely to get someone hurt, and you in trouble.
As gun owners and shooters we owe our Freedom the responsibility that goes along with it.
I'm not a moderator here, but I don't think this is where most of us go to find "mad bomber" recipes.

October 23, 2006, 07:31 PM
Making black powder safely is possible. I gave it a try a few times many years ago. I won't give the formula, as it's available elsewhere, but the secret is keep the ingredients wet after mixing. Each ingredient is ground seperately. It's safe to grind the ingredients dry, but to be safe, they're wetted then mixed. You corn this wet mix into granules and size them. Anything too small is re-corned until you have all granules and no dust. Then it's allowed to dry.

That said, you'll have a very hard time making GOOD black powder. Not only does the sulphur need to be very pure, but the type of wood used to make the charcoal matters more than you might believe. I don't remember offhand what the best wood is, but there's information about that one one of the black powder manufacturers sites. I ran into it a few weeks ago, but I don't remember which one. Goex maybe, or Swiss?

I don't think there's a safe way to make proper percussion caps at home. I'm sure there are field expedient methods, but I haven't tried any.

Jim Watson
October 23, 2006, 07:39 PM
There were in the day, several formulations of powder that did not contain sulfur. The proportions of charcoal and potassium nitrate were adjusted for best burnup. It was harder to ignite, but it shot.

October 24, 2006, 01:09 PM
Thanks jim watson. Swampsniper for you to know your stuff I'm suprised you haven't seariously hurt your self yet. For your knowledge, sulphur in gun powder is just used to retain moisture. Study more before talking. The posted message was for those who were looking for aternate ways to mix ratio formula;
75:15:10, soft wood muzzle loading-hard wood pyrotechnics.
Just for your info I am in no way affiliated with terrisms, But I do know it takes a terrist to know a terrist am I not right. Or are you some type of supernatural being with perfect actions. Imtimidation is terrisms. I served my country for four years right after high school so don't tell me about terrism.

October 24, 2006, 01:32 PM
You don't make sulfur, as stated above. But it's also not just a 'mineral.' It's an element!

You can buy 95% pure sulfur for dusting crops, roses, &c. at your local garden shop. You can also buy bulk potassium nitrate (NPK designation 14-5-33, I think...) but you're probably likely to get flagged because the rubes (especially the ones at Homeland Security) don't know the difference between poassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate.

You can also make your own potassium nitrate, but it's tricky to get the purity you need and time consuming, not to mention expensive compared to just buying a 50 pound bag of the stuff.

Making charcoal is very simple. I prefer willow, but other hardwoods will work - Don't try to use the stuff that you burn in your grill! Bust up the willow into 6" long or so thin sticks and cook it in a vented retort (a crab cooker with a buncha holes knocked in it works well) over an open fire until it quits smoking. That's your cue that it's all converted to charcoal.

Milling the stuff is the best way to do it. Don't use the "wet" or precipitation methods because they don't work nearly as well. I've found a big rock tumbler with a handful of musketballs does a fine job of milling and mixing the ingredients. The proportions are about 65-25-10, but feel free to experiment... Once the stuff is milled you have what's called "green powder." You can use this, but I don't recommend it in a firearm. After this you have to "corn" the powder, which involves pressing it (a 3 ton bottle jack, some big bolts, and creative application of PVC pipe is recommended) and finally grind the pressed powder into the grain sizes you want.

Some sifting screens are helpful, here.

Words to the wise: Set up your mill to run outside, or at the very least in your garage. Don't use steel media (shot) in your mill, because it can spark. Stick with lead. Even if the mill does go up (I've never seen it happen) it won't cause too much damage with the negligible confinement of the plastic rock tumbler, but your wife probably won't be too happy about you smoking up the whole house for a week.

There are oodles of priming compounds out there but all of them are by nature highly unstable and not something you'd want to trifle with synthesizing until you have some good pyro experience under your belt. Commercial caps are lead azide, if I remember right. You can get away with Armstrong's Mix (red phosphorous and potassium chlorate, very dangerous to work with in quantity) or any number of other shock sensitive mixtures.

October 24, 2006, 02:12 PM
I must be a newbie, because I just don't understand the following:

To make BP, you mix wet ingredients. If you get smokeless wet, it turns to snot. Can anyone explain this in dumb-dumb terms so that I will understand it?


October 24, 2006, 02:31 PM
Black powder and smokeless are not made from the same ingredients, the best way I can explain.

Black Powder is:
Potassium Nitrate

Wikipedia says that smokeless is:
"Smokeless powder consists of nitrocellulose (single-base powders), frequently combined with up to 50 percent nitroglycerin (double-base powders), and sometimes nitroglycerin and nitroguanidine (triple-base), corned into small spherical balls or extruded into cylinders or flakes using solvents such as ether. Other minor ingredients, such as stabilizers and ballistic modifiers, are also added."

October 24, 2006, 03:40 PM
Smokeless generally shouldn't turn to snot in water - it's insoluble. It's soluble in many nitrate esters, though (that's why your Hoppe's #9 gives you a splitting nitro headache) and also in acetone.

If you get really bored you can actually use acetone to plasticize smokeless powder and cast it into shapes. It doesn't burn worth beans afterwards because you've eliminated all the surface area, but you can use it as solid rocket fuel for bottle rockets. Just add some paper drinking straws (plastic ones melt) and some bamboo skewers... But I digress.

You actually can wet black powder to a certain extent, but the potassium nitrate in it is water soluble and will eventually leech out. That's why powder that gets damp doesn't work well, even after you dry it out.

In controlled environments (that is, you're not letting the potassium nitrate go anywhere because you've got it drying in a vessel or similar) you can slightly moisten your powder-to-be to make it press better, or to make it harder to set off in your mill.

Contrary to popular belief, wet powder can burn, but the heat propogation throughout it is reduced. Get enough of it in one place and that point becomes moot, though, even if it's wet.

October 24, 2006, 09:49 PM
The simple way for survival is put up 5000 caps NOW. Or buy a flintlock.

God lined the streams with rocks for flintlocks so they will be pure and make righteous kills.

Them cap shooters will never catch on same as those guns that take the brass suppositories.

October 24, 2006, 09:55 PM
"I have read a topic on the make of matches. Matches are no more than phosphorus and potassium chlorate. ..."

the tribes of Darah Adam Kiel used to knock the dents out of spent primers and refill with matchhead powder to make their primers. The used uncoated chopped up movie film for nitro powder. don/t know what they did for black powder but they were modern sorts making Enfields and even stens on foot powered lathes. Now, of course, they use AK 47s

Jim Taylor the writer has made match head primers and even worked up some usable loads with match powder for porpellent. Probably pretty errosive to your gun though.

October 24, 2006, 11:06 PM
I new nothing of smokeless powder, never messed around with the stuff much. Always had bought my ammunition. Only time messing with the stuff was to make home made solid skyrocket fuel ignition primers for which I never got to work. Which taught me alot about blackpowder due to studying its resources. Made rocket candy once, and like to burned down the house. Wife was Pissed, House was very smokey afterwards. Never did finish the project of making homemade skyrockets. :( Reason I moved from the county to the city where laws are more strict and neighbors safety to consider.

October 24, 2006, 11:51 PM
If your really worried about being self sufficient, get 2 or 3 mausers or mosins and a couple thousand rounds. If all you are doing is hunting with the gun aready sighted in. Should last you a life time. Much easier more reliable, will keep working for ever and ammo is dirt cheap.

However thats not really the point of being in the black powder section of the forum now is it. ;) Also not nearly as fun as making your own powder either. :D

October 25, 2006, 12:14 AM
Thanks EAB I will take the Mauser into consideration. But for Cartridge hunting purposes I have quit a few assualt rifles handy. For example a Remington .243 near by, 30 06. My Hunting Gun of choice though is the 20 gauge New England Shotgun. But I've been checking Benelli Auto Loading Shotguns out.
The reason for common Knowledge of b.p. adn muzzleloading is the availabilty of resources needed to exucute cleaning and firing. Also the quanities of load and weight comparison when having to hike on foot long distances in dangerous areas. Like being stranded miles in the woods during hunting season and battery failure on atv's or communtication devices.

Use what is available to you and make it work.

August 22, 2007, 03:13 AM
If your still looking for the tap-a-cap Dixie does not carry it anymore. Mid South shooters supply does listed as Forsters tap-a-cap

Wild Bunch
March 4, 2010, 12:22 AM
I used to make Black Powder as a kid living on a ranch in Eastern Washington. Had plenty of Saltpeter and Sulfur and charcoal was easy to find. I never tried it in a firearm but it made good firecrackers and warheads for model rockets.

I still have all my fingers, so either I'm really lucky, or making Black Powder isn't all that dangerous. I can certainly think of other stuff I did as a kid that was way more dangerous.

March 4, 2010, 10:24 AM
Real black powder has just ONE recipe, although the measures of Salt Peter, Charcoal and Sulfur have varied over the centuries. Smokeless has a ton of combinations, some containing Nitro and some not for instance. Personally, I wouldn't even think about making either. When Hussein comes after me, I doubt I'll get through my 10,000 rounds of ammo, never mind a dozen pounds of black powder. The key is to get just ONE of the jack-boots. In a war of attrition, actual Americans will win.

March 4, 2010, 10:48 AM
In one of the back issues of Backwoodsman Magazine there is an article called Making Grandmas blackpowder. It was a very interesting read. I recommend you get it.

It was made by leeching out the potassium from the dirt in the chicken run and drying it. Then suger that was refined from maple syrup was added. Last was iron oxide (red rust) was scraped from and rusty metal. This was mixed and dried and then screened. No sulfur or charcoal was used. The powder was a red color and not black.

You can buy 99.5% pure potassium nitrate off ebay. It is far cheaper than buying stump remover. There is another thread here that has a link to a fellow that tells how to make charcoal. Use willow or ash wood and burn it in a closed container like making char cloth.

The best way to do this is to buy all you can now. The factory made stuff is hard to beat. I have a tap-o-cap and I have never got it to work. Not even with a revolver and direct fire into the cylinder.

I have worried about the "what if" thing for years. Like what if I couldn't get anymore could I make my own. I just decided to stock up on what I needed.

I quit worring about having shooting supplies. I learned my lesson in the mid 90s when clinton woke everyone up.

You can buy BP from powder inc for 13.60 per pound if you buy in 25lb lots. And that is with the shipping included. You can't make it for that.

March 6, 2010, 02:10 PM
We made our own powder when I was a teenager. There was a pulp mill nearby with a huge pile of sulphur, BBQ charcoal could be ground up, and potassium nitrate could be bought from a drug store. We generally made pipe bombs and took them to a breakwater with lots of huge quarried rocks that still had drill holes in them. We would drop the pipe bomb into a hole with lighted fuse and run like hell. we broke up some very large rocks. We also made the fuses but I don't remember now what we used.

March 6, 2010, 04:58 PM
Not recommending the making of the holy black, but, this is a good source of information.

March 6, 2010, 10:39 PM
I have been making my own blackpowder for a couple of years now, from information I gleaned mostly from here. I ordered KNO3 and S from Phil's Country Store, and make my charcoal from willow. I do not make more than 8ounces at a time.

Yes, I'm aware that Goex, Elephant and Hodgdon's have all had tragic explosions. But they are making considerably more than 8 ounce batches.

Bottom line: if you can follow the safety precautions of re-loading smokeless ammunition, if you can follow the safety precautions of loading a muzzleloader or cap and ball revolver, and you are willing to follow those same safety precautions, then you can safely make your own BP.

I don't claim my BP is better than factory. It does indeed produce higher velocities than Goex and Elephant, but it is also dirtier. I only use it in my cap and ball revolvers. I tried it in my '92 .44-40 and got whupped up on badly by fouling. Although now I could use it in my '92 as I'm using Big Lube bullets.

Here's the link to the very long thread that got me started:

March 7, 2010, 12:32 PM
try milling your charcoal a lot longer, sometimes the cause of too much soot fouling is due to charcoal being a little too coarse.

March 7, 2010, 11:28 PM
Make sure the willow is debarked as well if you don't already know.....+1 for Phils store, nice guy and great prices. His KNO3 and Sulfur are lab quality.
I haven't bought BP for 3 or 4 years now.

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