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Black Powder Composition

Chemical Composition of Black Powder or Gunpowder

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Pyrodex is a common black powder substitute.

While black powder still is used for fireworks and some firearms, safer and less-smoky substitutes are used more often. Pyrodex is a common black powder substitute.

Hustvedt, Wikipedia Commons

The composition of black powder or gunpowder is not set. In fact, several different compositions have been used throughout history. Here's a look at some of the most notable or common compositions, plus the composition of modern black powder.

Black Powder Basics

There's nothing complicated about the formulation of black powder. It consists of charcoal (carbon), saltpeter (potassium nitrate or sometimes sodium nitrate), and sulfur.

Notable Black Powder Compositions

Typical modern gunpowder consists of charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur in a 6:1:1 or 6:1.2:0.8 ratio. Historically significant formulations have been calculated on a percentage basis:

 

Formula Charcoal Saltpeter Sulfur
Bishop Watson, 1781 75.0 15.0 10.0
British Government, 1635 75.0 12.5 12.5
Bruxelles studies, 1560 75.0 15.62 9.38
Whitehorne, 1560 50.0 33.3 16.6
Arderne lab, 1350 66.6 22.2 11.1
Roger Bacon, c. 1252 37.50 31.25 31.25
Marcus Graecus, 8th century 69.22 23.07 7.69
Marcus Graecus, 8th century 66.66 22.22 11.11
Source: The Chemistry of Gun Powder and Explosives

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