Is gunpowder edible

Gunpowder was the first explosive to be used as a Gunpowder was used for propellant charges from firearms. As Explosive powder it is an explosive device. Today it is called grain or Flour powder mainly used in pyrotechnics, especially fireworks.



Powder explosives
Chemical composition
Explosive components
  • Potassium nitrate,
    rarely sodium nitrate
Other components
  • Sensitizer: sulfur
  • Fuel: charcoal powder
Physical Properties
g / cm³
from 1.2 to 1.5
Oxygen balance
from -30 to -15
Explosion heat
kJ / kg
approx. 2700
Steam volume
l / kg
from 260 to 340
Specific energy
kJ / kg
Detonation velocity
m / s
from 300 to 600
Explosion temperature
approx. 2300
Property comparison
Explosiveness very low
Ignition sensitivity very high
Steam volume low
price low
credentials [1][2]


Black powder consists of a mixture of 75 (weight) percent potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, 15 percent charcoal, primarily obtained from the wood of the buckthorn, and 10 percent sulfur, which must be absolutely acid-free.

Sodium nitrate-based powders, which are cheaper but very hygroscopic, were made in the form of pellets and impregnated with bitumen to prevent moisture. Since they were not very suitable as gun powder in this form, they were mainly used in mining, the actual name is Explosive nitrate.

Saltpetre serves as a supplier of oxygen, although other salts can also be used here, carbon powder as fuel and sulfur as fuel and sensitizer so that it starts to burn with sparks at the slightest contact.

To achieve flame colors in pyrotechnic mixtures, the potassium nitrate can be replaced by nitrates, the cation of which provides a corresponding flame color.


The ingredients must be finely ground and mixed evenly, each process taking several hours. This usually happens in a powder mill. Then the mixture is in cake moist pressed and dried, which in turn crushed and either grained or as Flour powder be left. When graining, the powder is re-moistened and formed into spheres again while moving. This prevents the constituents from segregating and the burning rate can be regulated within certain limits via the size of the beads.

The finished powder is then dried and can then be filled or packaged. It has remained completely unchanged for centuries when packaged airtight.

The only black powder mill still in operation in Germany is in Harzgerode (Saxony-Anhalt).

Chemical reaction

This reaction equation (very simplified) is approximated to black powder with 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur and 75% potassium nitrate. The residual moisture and the oxygen, hydrogen and ash content in the charcoal were not taken into account.


The mixture burns very quickly, but does not exceed the inner material speed of sound, which is why instead of a detonation one speaks of a deflagration. The incineration produces a temperature of around 2,000 ° C.

Black powder deflagrates at a burn rate of 300 to 600 m / s, with the residual moisture, the thoroughness of the grinding and mixing of the components, the size and density of the charge and the grain size playing a major role:

While fine-grained powder was used in handguns in order to achieve acceptable firing performance at all, large-caliber guns had to use correspondingly coarse-grained powder in order to limit the final pressure and thus avoid pipe bursts. For fireworks, an insulation made of cardboard, metal, plastic and the like is used.

The Steam volume (under normal conditions) is around 337 l / kg, and about 0.58 kg of solid potassium salts are formed.

The disadvantages of black powder are the rather low power, the strong muzzle flash caused by the flammable gases and the strong smoke development due to the large amounts of solid potassium salts. For this reason it has been largely replaced by low-smoke gunpowder based on nitrocellulose.

Black powder is not very sensitive to impact, but it can quickly ignite due to friction, as the activation energy required for the reaction of the components with one another can easily be achieved in the form of frictional heat. Static electricity (sparks) is extremely difficult to ignite because the charcoal it contains is a good conductor and the electricity can flow away. The ignition temperature is very low (approx. 170 ° C). Black powder is a mass explosive. From a quantity of approx. One kilogram, damming is no longer necessary so that the powder no longer just burns off, but always explodes.



As early as 671, the Byzantines knew a mixture of rosin, sulfur and saltpeter, called Greek fire, invented by Kallinikos from Heliopolis. This substance, which was flammable even on water, played a crucial role in the defense of Constantinople. In the centuries that followed, the “Greek fire” was used primarily in naval battles against the fleets of the advancing Muslims.

In the empire of China, incendiary substances containing nitrous are used in the Song-temporal Wu Ching Tsung Yao mentioned by 1044. Only the earliest copy of the book has survived from the Ming period from 1550, so it is no longer possible to tell whether the notes on the incendiary devices were added later. However, there is evidence that bombs filled with black powder were used as weapons by the Chinese by the 13th century at the latest. [3]

In his book on Mounted Combat and the Use of War Machines (Al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya) from around 1285, the Syrian author Hassan ar-Rammah describes the production of black powder, in particular the necessary purification of the saltpetre. The Liber Ignium (Book of fire) by Marcus Graecus, from around the 11th century with surviving copies from the beginning of the 13th century, contains several recipe variants. Roger Bacon also mentions powder several times in several writings from 1242 to 1267, but with different mass ratios and in 1267 even as a children's toy. Another book, written around 1250 and incorrectly attributed to Albertus Magnus, almost entirely copied the older book by Marcus Graecus.

In the Middle Ages, black powder was also called "thunder herb". Today's name Gunpowder probably does not go back to the Franciscan monk Berthold Schwarz from Freiburg, who, according to a legend, found the propelling effect of powder gases on projectiles in the 14th century, but rather on its appearance; towards the end of the 19th century one needed to differentiate black powder from new white) cellulose nitrate powders.

Until the invention of modern explosives, black powder remained the only military and civilian explosive and the only propellant for artillery and small arms. In the 17th century, its use as a propellant for muskets was made easier by the paper cartridge with a measured filling quantity including a ball. In the first half of the 19th century, the development of the breech loader made the even simpler single cartridge possible. Since the middle of the 19th century, explosive explosives such as nitroglycerine, the dynamite based on it, nitrocellulose (gun cotton) and nitroaromatics and nitramines etc. largely replaced black powder as an explosive and propellant.

Usage today


Today black powder is mainly used for fireworks. It serves as a propulsion means for simple rockets, as a charge for firecrackers and as an ejection and dismantling charge for larger effect carriers such as bombs and bomb beds.

In shooting sports, black powder is only used as a reminiscence of the history of archery, where it is used in various disciplines of muzzle-loading and western shooting or for salute shooting. Black powder is available for sporting or hunting use (as Hunting black powder) in different grain sizes which are marked with the letter F (alternatively also P) (grain size in mm):

  • Fg = 0.900-1.360
  • FFg = 0.670-1.360
  • FFFg = 0.508-0.870
  • FFFFg = 0.226-0.508

Flour powder

Flour powder (engl. meal) is the name for non-grained black powder.

Flour powder is black powder that has not been granulated and is so unsuitable for use in firearms. If it is squeezed, it only burns slowly on the surface (as in a rocket, for example); if it is too loose, it can convert so quickly that the barrel is blown up by the rapid increase in pressure. In addition, the fine flour powder often does not get down to the powder sack by pouring it down, but forms a plug beforehand, so that the weapon cannot work. In addition, flour powder had the property of separating itself in the barrels during transport. Especially on the jerky horse carts it often happened that the three basic components were in shifts after the transport.

In the past, flour powder was often used as explosive powder in mortars, in incendiary balls or as so-called ignition herb in flintlock, wheellock or matchlock weapons. Today it is used in fireworks to stop the burn and thus bring out the effect appropriately.

Explosive powder

Black powder (the oldest known explosive) is classified as explosive powder, depending on its use, as explosives or explosives or pyrotechnic chemicals. The blasting properties are, however, dependent on the residual moisture, the granularity, the mixing and the composition of the powder, as well as the amount of charge, the damming and the introduction of the charge (borehole or applied charge).

An important place of use is in the quarry for the extraction of valuable stones such as marble or granite. Due to the highly destructive effect of detonation explosives, they are not used there. Since explosive powder is not explosive, but has a pushing effect, the rock is broken loose relatively gently, fragments of usable size are obtained and there are no hairline cracks. However, with the advent of modern sawing methods, this process is becoming increasingly less important.

Legal Notice

Black powder is subject to the general legal regulations for pyrotechnic articles, as it is considered a chemical pyrotechnic charge applies. Special regulations for open and built-in black powder are:

  • In Switzerland and Austria, every private person is entitled to purchase black powder. Sales to children are restricted or prohibited.[4] However, their use is strictly regulated in the Pyrotechnics Act (Austria) or Explosives Act (Switzerland) and the corresponding implementing ordinances.
  • In Germany, private individuals are entitled to purchase black powder, provided they have a corresponding permit under Section 7 or Section 27 of the SprengG. The prerequisite for this is successful participation in a corresponding course with an examination in accordance with §32 of the First ordinance on the Explosives Act. Such courses are also becoming popular Firecracker course or Muzzle loading course called. Only persons who, according to §34 of the First ordinance on the Explosives Act a so-called Clearance Certificate submit which, depending on the respective official responsibilities, z. B. is issued by the district office or the trade supervisory office. In the private sector, after a successful course (evidenced by an official certificate) and if there is a legitimate need (customs with gunnery shooters and practice of the corresponding shooting sport with muzzle-loader shooters), a Permission according to §27 SprengG to handle firecrackers / black powder in the private sector, the so-called "27-er permit" issued, which is issued by the locally responsible district office. The private production of black powder is prohibited under German law.

Acquisition, possession and handling is in principle permitted to the certified pyrotechnician or person authorized to blast.


  • Manuel Baetz: Black Powder for Survival - Volume 1 - Improvisation of Black Powder and Similar Mixtures. Survival Press, 2004, ISBN 3-937933-07-7.
  • Richard Escales: Black powder and explosive nitrate. Survival Press, 1914 Reprint 2003, ISBN 3-8330-1124-6.
  • Thomas Fatscher, Helmut Leiser: Drafting the new gun law. Krüger Druck + Verlag, Dillingen / Saar 2003, ISBN 3-00-012000-9.
  • Jochen Gartz: Cultural history of explosives. E.S.Mittler & Son, Hamburg 2007.


  1. Sprengstoffwerk Gnaschwitz GmbH (Ed.): Technical data sheet explosive powder THH. Schönebeck.
  2. Horst Roschlau: Blasting - theory and practice. Publishing house for basic industry, Leipzig 1993, ISBN 3-342-00492-4.
  4. (undated)

Categories: Pyrotechnic Kit | Powder | Mixture of substances