Guest post by Richard Douglas
Editor’s Note: The study of basic chemistry can be an amazing look into how our world works. However, it can also be very dangerous. This article is for informational purposes only.
You’ve just finished up at the range, set your rifle back in its case and cleaned your long range optic. But you’re left with a lot of empty brass. Some would ignore the opportunity and leave, but there’s another option.
Whether you’re a prepper with a stockpile of ammunition or are starting from scratch, bullets are a limited resource. This is why it can help to know how to reload them by making your own gunpowder.
Keep in mind that, while gunpowder is used to reload modern brass cartridges, you’ll still need a reloading press, bullets, and primer. Just follow the manual that comes with the press to use the empty casings and gunpowder.
The 3 Keys
Gunpowder consists of 3 main ingredients: Potassium Nitrate, colloquially known as saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur. You can change out sulfur with a few options, but these will create the best quality.
It’s surprisingly easy to obtain saltpeter in the modern era. Just go to any home improvement store and look for fertilizer or stump remover.
Cold packs are a good alternative if you’re not near a store. Cut open the pack and use the ammonium nitrate crystals inside. If you’re really desperate, or a serious traditionalist, you can use urine and compost but that can take months.
You can probably get this at the same place you find the fertilizer near the grills. Keep in mind that you’ll have to ground it up, though, unless you buy activated charcoal powder.
If you’d prefer to make it yourself, place wood inside a covered metal barrel and rest that over a fire for several hours. The remnants should be nice pieces of charcoal.
Easily the most difficult of the three to find in everyday life, sulfur can sometimes be found at garden stores. If not, or you live in an area that doesn’t sell it, you can order it online.
Sulfur can be changed out, but the chemical reaction of sulfur in gunpowder does produce one of the most effective burns. This is because sulfur lowers the required temperature for the ignition process.
Gunpowder has been made with sugar or lactose formula as a substitute to the sulfur, but it’s far less effective and sometimes dangerous if adjustments aren’t made to account for the chemical imbalance.
What to Use
With the ingredients in hand, the ratio for gunpowder is 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. These numbers are rounded, but they’ll provide the same result.
There are a couple common ways that people create gunpowder and it’s entirely up to the individual.
A ball, or marble, mill is essentially a container with steel balls inside that grind your ingredients into a fine powder over hours.
This is the most recommended way, especially if you’re making a large amount, but it relies on a power source. In a pinch, you can use a blender instead.
Mortar and Pestle
Knowing how to mix gunpowder by hand can be useful. It takes hard work and a lot more of your time to grind each ingredient into smooth powder, but it can also be rewarding.
Mixing It Up
Keeping the ratio of ingredients in mind (75, 15, 10 for saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur respectively), you can begin the process.
Start out by measuring out your saltpeter and, using whichever method you want, grind it into a fine powder. Everything about gunpowder boils down to this: The finer the powder, the better the quality.
Once you’re satisfied that there are no lumps of potassium nitrate, add in the parts of charcoal and sulfur. Work it all down until it becomes a single consistency, usually light gray in color.
If you’re doing it by hand, you might consider using a mesh sieve to save yourself time and effort.
One of the most important things to remember when working with these ingredients and gunpowder is that it’s all highly flammable and dangerous.
Don’t use anything that might create a spark, work in a ventilated area, and keep all of the ingredients away from an open flame.
Once you’ve created gunpowder at home, you’ll need to figure out a place to safely store it. Know that some areas have a law against storing it inside your residence.
If you own a gun safe, you can set your gunpowder inside a box specifically designed to hold it and put that box at the bottom of your safe alongside your weapons. If not, you should still use a gunpowder box that can be found at several hardware supply stores.
With the gunpowder made and the ingredients safely stored, you can start looking into modifying that rifle to see how your hard work looks in action!
Richard Douglas is a long-time shooter, outdoor enthusiast and technologist. He is the founder and editor of Scopes Field, and a columnist at The National Interest, Cheaper Than Dirt, Daily Caller and other publications.