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Can a static spark set off black powder?

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by whistler, Apr 13, 2008.

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  1. whistler

    whistler Member

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  2. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    Yes, a static spark can, which is one reason wood ramrods have brass tips and powder flasks are made out of brass or copper. On the other hand some muskets and horse pistols (carried on a horse that is) did have steal ramrods.

    But be aware that any spark at the wrong time and place can start fireworks.
     
  3. Ghost Tracker

    Ghost Tracker Member

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    YES! A spark is a spark is a spark & the black powder doesn't know the difference.
     
  4. JCT

    JCT Member

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    I'm not totally sold on it. A spark created from metal to metal or flint to metal is a red hot piece of metal or flint.
    I've seen an electric arc placed right into a pile of BP and it wouldn't go. BP requires heat for ignition and I'm not sure that a static spark carries enough heat to do it.
    All that aside, it's best to assume static can ignite BP and to take the appropriate safety precautions.
     
  5. Voodoochile

    Voodoochile Member

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    I've personally never seen a static spark set off a BP charge but I allways lean on the side of safety & try to avoid such a possibility just in case it does decide to st off.

    I know first hand what a 30gr. charge in an ashtray can do as well as a 1Lb. can of the stuff can do when sitting on top of a small hill & set off so I make sure that there is as much safety that I can employ when I handle more than just my preloaded tubes.
     
  6. scrat

    scrat Member

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  7. RyanM

    RyanM Member

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    Ummmm... brass and copper can do static sparks. It's impact sparks that they don't throw. If anything, they'd do static sparks better than steel. Copper is one of the more conductive metals out there. Also, Goex comes in steel cans.

    Aside from the fact that it looks like electrical arcs will not set off BP, you also don't have to worry at all about BP that's in a metal container, like a chamber or metal powder canister. Electricity likes to flow on the outside of things (the "skin effect"), so it's not going to touch anything inside a metal container. That's also why you're safe inside a car during a thunderstorm.
     
  8. Z71

    Z71 Member

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    Sure it can!

    I recall reading a short history of a American Civil War Confederate Colonel or General Rains. This guy was tasked with building a powder mill to help supply the souths needs.

    The book described the powder mill's structures as being "heavy framed" with " lightly fastened boards for siding"! The theory being that the siding would blow off easy to release the energy of any accidental explosions, but leave the buildings basic structure intact. Also engineered the powder rolling beds with overhead water resovoirs help up so as to tip into the grinding stones upon an explosion!

    Then I remember the years ago explosion at a Hallet OK fireworks factory!

    No! working in a explosives factory is not for me!
     
  9. Redd Flynt

    Redd Flynt Member

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    There are some qualifiers to the question. The posted test with electrical current demonstrates that the normal electron flow will follow the exterior glazing of graphite. Other testing performed over the years using a Van de Graff generator has produced different results.

    Investigations of explosions in powder mills and fireworks factories have often been traced to static charges. Those people who work in the manufacture of powder wear static discharge clips and all cotton clothing.

    The very fine unglazed dust particles of powder are more suseptible to ignition from static. A heavy concentration of airborne dust is perhaps the worst situation. Consider what has happened in sugar and flour plants and grain silos.

    In the normal course of usage a static discharge from body capacitance is unlikely to set off commercial BP.

    The spark produced with flint and steel is different from an electrical spark. In a flintlock the spark is caused by steel burning atmospheric oxygen and is of a relativly long duration. A static spark does not oxidize but is produced by a flow of electrons for a very short duration.

    So in summary, the answer to the question is yes with several qualifiers.
     
  10. mykeal

    mykeal Member

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    Redd Flynt is correct

    Electrical current, by itself, will not ignite black powder. Black Powder needs heat to ignite; an electrical current is not heat energy. It can create heat energy when it passes through material with sufficient resistivity, but bp is not one of those materials.

    Having said that, however, it's important to understand that bp can contain impurities which are sufficiently resistive. A 'static' spark can cause those impurities to heat up sufficiently to ignite the powder.

    Now we get into the gray area: probabilities. How likely is it that your powder has such impurities, and how likely is it that any given 'static' spark can contain enough energy to sufficiently heat those impurities? I personally think it's very unlikely in my situation because I believe my powder is very pure, but I am still careful to avoid generating static electricity near that powder. In other words, I act like it CAN and WILL happen.

    It's kind of like carrying a revolver with the hammer down between loaded and capped chambers, or carrying a sidelock on half cock with the nipple capped - the odds are good that those are safe conditions, but when considering the consequences of failure, why would anyone take the chance?
     
  11. Curator

    Curator Member

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    Ordinary static elextricity has a lot of voltage but very low amperage (what makes heat) High amperage static can be made, and electric arcs can generate enough heat to set off black powder (about 350f degrees) Think about piezioelectric starters on your gas grill.

    How about CVA's new "Electra Magnum" series?
     
  12. Macmac

    Macmac Member

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    Getting sparks from the wrong steels, these would be mild steels and not high carbon steels, isn't likely, No muskets are made of high carbon tool steels, and no steel ram rods are either.

    My Bess has a steel barrel and a steel rod, but can't be hardened to the point one can slice a hot enough spark if you can even make them spark somehow to set of powder.

    Not doing anything normal anyway.

    A fire steel is glass hard on the striking face and so is a frizzen. I have seen and fixed both items before.

    I think electrical charges can set off powder, but it would need to be more like a bolt of lightning as I see it.

    I have come home from events wearing wool, and petted my sparky cats many times. At times like that my powder is in a plugged horn and in a leather cat'ridge box with 2 flaps, which was the std of the day back then.

    I worry about compression loading charges in a tight fitting load over stray sparks.
     
  13. Pulp

    Pulp Member

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    Awhile back on Mythbusters the team got excellent ignition with a lawn mower spark plug. They were trying to build an engine fueled by black powder, based on old 17th and 18th century drawings.
     
  14. Macmac

    Macmac Member

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    A spark from a plug is more like a bolt of lightning, just little...
     
  15. DuncanSA

    DuncanSA Member

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    I don't care what the various proofs to the contrary say! As far as I am concerned BP is always ready to "turn around and bite you". I shall continue to treat it with great respect and avoid static and other sparks.
     
  16. .cheese.

    .cheese. Member

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    I once put an 850,000 volt taser up against a small pile of powder (wearing gloves that I ordinarily use for juggling balls covered in gasoline lit on fire).

    Nothing happened.
     
  17. Funderb

    Funderb Member

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    point here is that atomized dust powder hanging in the air is very likely to explode. on the contrary, a pile is much less likely.
     
  18. 66gt350

    66gt350 Member

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    ANY dust that is at a certain concentration will explode. Look at all of the grain elevators that have exploded over the history of time due to the dust.
     
  19. scrat

    scrat Member

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    And what happened
     
  20. Omnivore

    Omnivore Member

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    Mythbusters called it busted, but (ahem) I maintain I could do it. Offer to pay me enough and I'll guarantee it. They did get some ignitions of the powder, after grinding it to the consistency of talcum powder.

    Diesel's original engine was run on coal dust, IIRC.
     
  21. unspellable

    unspellable Member

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    Black powder contains free carbon in the charcoal and is coated with graphite, another form of free carbon. This makes it conductive and able to carry a small current with out heating to the point of ignition. One of the points of the graphite is to reduce the static discharge hazard.

    On the other hand, an actual electrical spark is conducted through air and the ionized air has a VERY high temperature, thousands of degrees. So a spark jumping to the powder has potential for igniting it. It would be a matter of the VERY hot air being in contact with the powder long enought to heat it. Not too difficult to achieve.
     
  22. btg3

    btg3 Member

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    Very true. Even ultra-fine (dust) powdered metals (eg: for MIM) is explosive when suspended in air at a critical concentration. Blend rooms, dust collectors, and HVAC systems can be at risk. Electrical grounding, humidity control, anti-static clothing and tools are among the means to avoid ignition by static discharge.

    As to the OP question of firing a BP breechloader, no, those conditions don't allow for igntion by static discharge.

    Under other conditons, BP dust (not large powder particles) will certainly explode as easily as other dust -- when suspended in air, rather than in a pile.
     
  23. RyanM

    RyanM Member

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    The dust thing is due to oxygen. Like if you have a room full of just propane, it won't burn. It has to be mixed with an appropriate amount of air (or even better, pure oxygen) to burn.

    Flour and stuff by itself is about as flammable as other organics (wood, etc.). But suspended in the air, there's a much greater amount of surface area for combustion, as well as a much greater concentration of oxygen. So you get a deflagration rather than the usual slow burn.

    Black powder isn't really going to care if it's suspended. The "light load detonation" thing is a complete myth. Both black and smokeless powders have all the oxygen they need in the powder (if not more). Extra oxygen won't make any difference. And they already burn so fast that the extra surface area due to being suspended, once again, makes no difference.

    Anyway, I do kind of doubt that a normal static spark could even set off BP with ionized air. When's the last time a static spark burned your skin? Also, on the website posted, you can clearly see the electrical spark (ionized air) going through the pile of powder, and going across the grains in the last pic. You'd need one heckuva powerful spark, like a piezoelectric grill lighter (ever zapped yourself with one? It hurts!) or a stun gun.
     
  24. Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave Member

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    The same is true for gasoline and a spark plug. I have seen a sparking plug in liquid gasoline without any problems. Add a little gasoline to a cubic foot of air, and then add a spark...., BOOM.

    I agree, as commercial BP has added graphite to keep the dust down, and dust seems to be the problem. Can the static from a pair of socks discharge in a room and set the stuff off, maybe not..., but I wouldn't want to test it.

    LD
     
  25. 66gt350

    66gt350 Member

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    this little phenomenom is know as the Lower Explosive Limit and Upper Explosive Limit. A compound, such as propane or gasoline vapors, need to have a concentration above the Lower Explosive Limit and below the Upper Explosive Limit. If the concentration is outside of those limits, then no matter how much ignition source you have the matterial won't ignite.
     
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