Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder

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As David Cressy's engaging narrative makes clear, the story of saltpeter is vital not only in explaining the inter-connected military, scientific, and political 'revolutions' of the seventeenth century; it also played a key role in the formation of the centralized British nation state - and that state's subsequent dominance of the waves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. E-Mail: history osu. Faculty and Staff Resources.

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Privacy Policy Questions, Feedback, Accessibility. Skip to main content. Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder. College of Arts and Sciences. Search form Search. After manufacturing grains from press-cake in the usual way, his process tumbled the powder with graphite dust for 12 hours. This formed a graphite coating on each grain that reduced its ability to absorb moisture. Neither the use of graphite nor sodium nitrate was new.

Another suggestion is that it was William Lobb , the planthunter, who recognised the possibilities of sodium nitrate during his travels in South America. Lammot du Pont would have known about the use of graphite and probably also knew about the plants in south-west England. In his patent he was careful to state that his claim was for the combination of graphite with sodium nitrate-based powder, rather than for either of the two individual technologies. Powder used for rocketry can use a slower burn rate since it accelerates the projectile for a much longer time—whereas powders for weapons such as flintlocks, cap-locks, or matchlocks need a higher burn rate to accelerate the projectile in a much shorter distance.

Cannons usually used lower burn rate powders, because most would burst with higher burn rate powders. The original dry-compounded powder used in 15th-century Europe was known as "Serpentine", either a reference to Satan [28] or to a common artillery piece that used it.

Potassium nitrate - Wikipedia

Vibration during transportation could cause the components to separate again, requiring remixing in the field. Also if the quality of the saltpeter was low for instance if it was contaminated with highly hygroscopic calcium nitrate , or if the powder was simply old due to the mildly hygroscopic nature of potassium nitrate , in humid weather it would need to be re-dried.

The dust from "repairing" powder in the field was a major hazard. Loading cannons or bombards before the powder-making advances of the Renaissance was a skilled art. Fine powder loaded haphazardly or too tightly would burn incompletely or too slowly. Typically, the breech-loading powder chamber in the rear of the piece was filled only about half full, the serpentine powder neither too compressed nor too loose, a wooden bung pounded in to seal the chamber from the barrel when assembled, and the projectile placed on.

A carefully determined empty space was necessary for the charge to burn effectively.

When the cannon was fired through the touchhole, turbulence from the initial surface combustion caused the rest of the powder to be rapidly exposed to the flame. The advent of much more powerful and easy to use corned powder changed this procedure, but serpentine was used with older guns into the 17th century.

For propellants to oxidize and burn rapidly and effectively, the combustible ingredients must be reduced to the smallest possible particle sizes, and be as thoroughly mixed as possible. Once mixed, however, for better results in a gun, makers discovered that the final product should be in the form of individual dense grains that spread the fire quickly from grain to grain, much as straw or twigs catch fire more quickly than a pile of sawdust.

Because the dry powdered ingredients must be mixed and bonded together for extrusion and cutting into grains to maintain the blend, size reduction and mixing is done while the ingredients are damp, usually with water. After , instead of forming grains by hand or with sieves, the damp mill-cake was pressed in molds to increase its density and extract the liquid, forming press-cake. The pressing took varying amounts of time, depending on conditions such as atmospheric humidity. The hard, dense product was broken again into tiny pieces, which were separated with sieves to produce a uniform product for each purpose: coarse powders for cannons, finer grained powders for muskets, and the finest for small hand guns and priming.

Modern corning first compresses the fine black powder meal into blocks with a fixed density 1. By the late 19th century manufacturing focused on standard grades of black powder from Fg used in large bore rifles and shotguns, through FFg medium and small-bore arms such as muskets and fusils , FFFg small-bore rifles and pistols , and FFFFg extreme small bore, short pistols and most commonly for priming flintlocks.

Owing to the large market of antique and replica black-powder firearms in the US, modern gunpowder substitutes like Pyrodex , Triple Seven and Black Mag3 [] pellets have been developed since the s. These products, which should not be confused with smokeless powders, aim to produce less fouling solid residue , while maintaining the traditional volumetric measurement system for charges.

Claims of less corrosiveness of these products have been controversial however.


New cleaning products for black-powder guns have also been developed for this market. Besides black powder, there are other historically important types of gunpowder. Prismatic Brown Powder is a large-grained product the Rottweil Company introduced in in Germany, which was adopted by the British Royal Navy shortly thereafter.

The French navy adopted a fine, 3. These brown powders reduced burning rate even further by using as little as 2 percent sulfur and using charcoal made from rye straw that had not been completely charred, hence the brown color. Lesmok powder was a product developed by DuPont in , [] one of several semi-smokeless products in the industry containing a mixture of black and nitrocellulose powder. It was sold to Winchester and others primarily for.

Tiegs on Cressy, 'Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder'

Its advantage was that it was believed at the time to be less corrosive than smokeless powders then in use. It was not understood in the U. The bulkier black powder fouling better disperses primer residue. Failure to mitigate primer corrosion by dispersion caused the false impression that nitrocellulose-based powder caused corrosion. The development of smokeless powders, such as cordite, in the late 19th century created the need for a spark-sensitive priming charge , such as gunpowder.

However, the sulfur content of traditional gunpowders caused corrosion problems with Cordite Mk I and this led to the introduction of a range of sulfur-free gunpowders, of varying grain sizes. Sulfur's main role in gunpowder is to decrease the ignition temperature.

A sample reaction for sulfur-free gunpowder would be. Gunpowder does not burn as a single reaction, so the byproducts are not easily predicted. One study [ citation needed ] showed that it produced in order of descending quantities A simple, commonly cited, chemical equation for the combustion of black powder is. A balanced, but still simplified, equation is []. Black powder made with less-expensive and more plentiful sodium nitrate in appropriate proportions works just as well, and previous equations apply, with sodium instead of potassium.

However, it is more hygroscopic than powders made from potassium nitrate—popularly known as saltpeter. Because corned black powder grains made with saltpeter are less affected by moisture in the air, they can be stored unsealed without degradation by humidity. Muzzleloaders have been known to fire after hanging on a wall for decades in a loaded state, provided they remained dry. By contrast, black powder made with sodium nitrate must be kept sealed to remain stable.

The matchlock musket or pistol an early gun ignition system , as well as the flintlock would often be unusable in wet weather, due to powder in the pan being exposed and dampened. Gunpowder releases 3 megajoules per kilogram and contains its own oxidant. This is lower than TNT 4.

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Black powder also has a low energy density compared to modern "smokeless" powders, and thus to achieve high energy loadings, large amounts of black powder are needed with heavy projectiles. Gunpowder is a low explosive , that is, it does not detonate but rather deflagrates burns quickly. This is an advantage in a propellant device, where one does not desire a shock that would shatter the gun and potentially harm the operator, however it is a drawback when some explosion is wanted.

In that case, gunpowder and most importantly, gases produced by its burning must be confined. Since it contains its own oxidizer and additionally burns faster under pressure, its combustion is capable of bursting containers such as shell, grenade, or improvised "pipe bomb" or "pressure cooker" casings to form shrapnel. In quarrying, high explosives are generally preferred for shattering rock.

However, because of its low brisance , black powder causes fewer fractures and results in more usable stone compared to other explosives, making black powder useful for blasting monumental stone such as granite and marble. Black powder is well suited for blank rounds , signal flares , burst charges , and rescue-line launches. Black powder is also used in fireworks for lifting shells, in rockets as fuel, and in certain special effects. As seen above, combustion converts less than half the mass of black powder to gas, most of it turns into particulate matter.

Some of it is ejected, wasting propelling power, fouling the air, and generally being a nuisance giving away a soldier's position, generating fog that hinders vision, etc. Some of it ends up as a thick layer of soot inside the barrel, where it also is a nuisance for subsequent shots, and a cause of jamming an automatic weapon. Moreover, this residue is hygroscopic , and with the addition of moisture absorbed from the air forms a corrosive substance. The soot contains potassium oxide or sodium oxide that turns into potassium hydroxide , or sodium hydroxide , which corrodes wrought iron or steel gun barrels.

The United Nations Model Regulations on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods and national transportation authorities, such as United States Department of Transportation , have classified gunpowder black powder as a Group A: Primary explosive substance for shipment because it ignites so easily. Complete manufactured devices containing black powder are usually classified as Group D: Secondary detonating substance, or black powder, or article containing secondary detonating substance , such as firework, class D model rocket engine, etc.

As explosives, they all fall into the category of Class 1. Besides its use as a propellant in firearms and artillery, black powder's other main use has been as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road construction including railroad construction. During the 19th century, outside of war emergencies such as the Crimean War or the American Civil War, more black powder was used in these industrial uses than in firearms and artillery.

But dynamite gradually replaced it for those uses. Today industrial explosives for such uses are still a huge market, but most of the market is in newer explosives rather than black powder. Beginning in the s, gunpowder or smokeless powder was used in rivet guns , stun guns for animals, cable splicers and other industrial construction tools.

Today powder-actuated tools are still an important part of various industries, but the cartridges usually use smokeless powders. Industrial shotguns have been used to eliminate persistent material rings in operating rotary kilns such as those for cement, lime, phosphate, etc. Gunpowder has occasionally been employed for other purposes besides weapons, mining, and construction:.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Gunpowder disambiguation.

Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder
Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder

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