Warning: these procedures create a low explosive. You can hurt yourself or others if you do something stupid.

When I was in a situation where I had lost my home I had to move into temporary housing for a bit. I could not take my firework chemicals with me. I needed to dispose of them. The method I choose to use was to just ignite the burnables and dispose of them that way.

I would move across the road to a safe location, pour a pound or more of BP on the ground. Add a slow fuse. Weigh the fuse down with rocks to keep it stretched out. Light the end of the fuse and move away. 30 to 60 seconds later the pile would go up with a POOF and a cloud of smoke along with a flash of light. No BOOM. Very safe.

The guy I was working with asked to do a pile. I kept working on what I needed to do. Even though he had watched me weigh the fuse down to stretch it out, he just stuck the fuse in the pile like a birthday candle. When he lit the fuse sparks from the fuse landed on the pile and it went off.

He suffered major burns. His sunglasses melted. All exposed skin was blistered. EMS was called. He was transported to the local hospital and from there a life flight took him to the regional burn center.


There are only three components that go into black powder:

  • 75% Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)
  • 10% Sulfur
  • 15% Carbon

All percentages are given BY WEIGHT. While KNO3 makes up 75% of the BP mixture it is not the largest by volume. That goes to carbon.

You will need to source some of these but can make the carbon. The cheapest choice is to buy the KNO3 in pellet form. This is used for many things. One of which is making fuel from vegetable oils. If you wanted you could get a 55 gallon drum of the stuff delivered to you.

Pure sulfur is also easy to purchase. It is used in many processes.

Making carbon is actually making charcoal. Not “charcoal briquettes” but actual charcoal. To make charcoal you need a good hardwood, a heat source and an air tight container.

What you are going to do, in essence, is to cook your hardwood into charcoal. Start by turning your hardwood into small chunks. You want as much surface area as possible without making chips or sawdust. Once this is done you need to cook it.

Find an airtight metal can. I purchased an empty paint can from the hardware store. Poke one small hole in the center of the lid. Fill the container with your hardwood. Then put the lid with hole back on.

As the wood cooks it will emit gasses. The hole allows those gasses to escape. The gasses also displace all of the oxygen inside the can. One of the cool things you can do is actually light the gasses that are escaping on fire.

You cook your wood until no more gas is escaping.

If you did everything correctly you should have no ash in the can and lots of charcoal. You might still have some wood inside that charcoal.

Now that you have these, you need to processes them into something usable. For that you will need a mill. The best option for that is to purchase a ball mill. You want a ball mill that is non sparking. That means that you need to avoid plastics that might build up an electrical charge. Remember the life flight above but add to it a BOOM when the spark sets off your mixture will it is contained.

For the best black powder you want a homogeneous mixture. The smaller the particles of the mixture the more homogeneous the mixture will be when mixed properly.

To this end we want to turn our three components into a fine powder. In general, at this stage you want a powder that will pass through a #100 sieve. The following is an example of grading sieves. There are other options that are cheaper. You will need grading sieves at different sizes.

One of the nice thing about the type of sieve listed above is that you can put your material at the top and sift it. Each finer mesh will stop your material and you end up with your powder properly graded.

To make this powder you have to mill the KNO3, Sulfur, and Carbon. There are different ways of doing this. I’m only going to describe the method using the ball mill as I feel this is the safest method.

You need to put your material into the ball mill with some sort of media. You might be tempted to use lead balls. DON’T. At this stage you are best served with a non-sparking material that is hard. I chose to use stainless steel balls. You need a mix of balls from about 1/4″ to 3/4″ inch in diameter. You can find these for sale on Amazon and other sources.

The amount of raw material and media is dependent on the size of your ball mill.

Once loaded and sealed, run your mill until the raw material is a fine powder. Pass it through your #100 sieve. Anything that doesn’t pass through goes back into the mill for another run. Once all your material passes through your sieve carefully package it in an airtight container. You don’t want it to absorb water from the air.

Now wash your ball mill and media. Make sure there is no residue left behind and then let it dry. You do not want the different chemicals to mix while milling.

Repeat the process for the other three chemicals. When you are milling the charcoal you might find bits of wood that has not carbonized. Just return them to your charcoal can to wait for your next run.

Remember to wear a mask while working with powders this fine. They will get into your lungs if you don’t.

Now that you have the three powders you need to measure them carefully by weight.

I choose to use a triple beam scale. This is accurate to 0.1 grams. Our reloading scales are normally good to 0.1gr. 154 grains per gram if I did my math correctly.

This means that your reloading scale is more than accurate enough. What might be an issue is the total amount that you can weigh on your scale or the volume you can hold in your scale. Just be aware.

If you are using any type of scale, make sure you tare your scale and container.

You should now have 3 airtight containers full of powdered chemicals. You should have a spotlessly clean ball mill.

Take your stainless steel media and put it in a safe place. Think of this as removing ammunition when you are working with a firearm and don’t want an accidental boom.

Now you need to mix the three chemicals. Use your scale and measure out 7.5g of your powdered KNO3. 1.0g of Sulfur. and 1.5g of Carbon/charcoal into your mill.

Add your non-sparking media to the ball mill. If you use a hard lead balls you will turn your KNO3 gray which means there is lead transferred. I don’t like the lead ball method. Brass works very well, does not spark. It is expensive. The one most people use is ceramic. It should not spark but there are arguments within the fireworks community as to the truth of this. Finally there is non-sparking stainless steel. The prefered stainless steel alloys for this are 304 and 316.

Remember, if there is a spark in your ball mill at this point, it will go boom.

Now the safety part of the next step.

Get yourself a long extension cord, 100ft is best. Run it out a 100ft from where power is away from all buildings and people. Make sure that the cord is NOT energized. Do NOT plug in the extension cord. Put your jar on the ball mill drive and turn on the ball mill.


If the ball mill starts up, turn it off and go unplug the extension cord.

Now that the mill is on but not running, go back to the other end of the extension cord and plug it in. This should turn the mill on. You might be able to hear it running. Hopefully you don’t see it running.

Remember all those videos of idiots putting tannerite inside things and then shooting said things only to find that there is stuff flying at high speeds towards them? You just filled a jar with an explosive and projectiles. If it goes boom things WILL fly. Don’t be where said speeding things can hit you.

Let the mill run for about an hour. You want a good homogeneous mixture.

This mixture is very flammable. If you put a spark to it, it will flash. Don’t do it!

If you want to test a small amount make sure it is a small amount and you use something that keeps you at a distance when you light the powder.

This is NOT gunpowder this is PB “meal”! There are a couple of more steps.

The meal must be turned into actual gunpowder. This is done by pressing it into pucks and then processing the pucks.

Take your black powder meal and add a small amount of water to it. You want just enough water to be able to press it into pucks. If you put enough water in that it looks wet, you’ve added to much.

No, I can’t tell you how much.

KNO3 is water soluble. This means that as you add water to your BP meal the KNO3 will dissolve into the water. When you press your puck any excess water will be squeezed out and this will carry away some of your KNO3 which changes the ratios of your BP.

One method used is to spritz a fine mist over the powder. One spritz might be enough for this amount of BP meal.

Now you need to make your puck.

You need a container to hold the puck. I used a piece of 2″ PVC pipe that was about 2.5 inches long. I put this on a piece of aluminum, 1/4″ thick and about 5in square. I put a small round piece of wood inside the pipe at the bottom and then added my BP meal on top until there was about an 3/4 to an inch of powder there.

Now I put another wooden round over the top that fits snuggle in the pipe.

Today, because I have a machine shop, I would take a 1/2 sheet of aluminum and mill it to have a boss in the center that exactly fit the pipe. I would make an aluminum plug that would exactly fit the pipe and use that instead of working with wood.

Now press the pipe. I used a big C-Clamp the first time. Today I would use my arbor press. You want to squeeze this hard enough that it sticks together on its own. You can use something like this cheese press to compress your puck.

This is a fancy press that is designed to provide a constant pressure. You don’t need all that fancy. You just need a long lever and a single down rod to press into the top plate of the puck mold.

Because the BP meal is damp it is MOSTLY safe from sparks. This is fairly safe as things go.

Now you need to dry your pucks. Place them on a screen to sun dry. You want both the top and bottom exposed to air and you want to do this in a location where there is no chance of a spark. I’ve used a furnace filter but an actual window screen is better.

Now you have a bunch of very dry and hard pucks of BP. And it is actual Black Powder now.

But it isn’t really usable, what you need now is to create granules that can be used as you want.

Take one of your pucks and put it in a spark proof baggy to control where stuff goes. Now using non-sparking equipment hammer that puck lightly until it breaks up.

I use a wooden mallet and zip lock bags on an aluminum block.

Hammer until you have grains of black powder that are about what you want.

Your Black Powder is sorted into different grades:

  • Whaling – 4 mesh (4.74 mm)
  • Cannon – 6 mesh (3.35 mm)
  • Saluting – 10 mesh (2 mm)
  • Fg – 12 mesh (1.7 mm)
  • FFg – 16 mesh (1.18 mm)
  • FFFg – 20 mesh (.85 mm)
  • FFFFg – 40 mesh (.47 mm)
  • FFFFFg – 75mesh (.149 mm)

To make our meal we used 100mesh. For FFFFg you will need a 40 mesh and a 75 mesh sieve. The grains of BP that pass through the 40 mesh but not through the 75 mesh are FFFFg black powder.

You need two sieves in order to properly grade you powder.

The smaller the size of your powder, the faster it burns.

And there you have it. How to make black powder.

When last I did this I purchased my KNO3 from a company that was selling equipment and supplies for bio-diesel. His issue was that 10#s was a small amount. Other than that, no issues. I picked up the sulfur from someplace, it was no big deal. I grabbed the hardwood from the firewood pile to make it.

It took about 3 days to go through the entire process. Once I was done I used the powder to make BP rockets and a couple of BP salutes, types of fireworks.

Be safe if you try this. You are the responsible person. You shouldn’t take advise from randos on the web.

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By awa

3 thoughts on “Making Black Powder”
  1. In my late 70s. When a teenager I couldn’t afford off the shelf fuel for my model rockets of modest size. Got into making my own. Sulfur from the railroad fusees my Dad had quite a few of (2nd generation railroader), hardwood charcoal from a neighbor, and then there was the time my mother found a box of saltpeter in my closet. She went nuts, knowing Dad had attended an all boys military prep secondary school and they “knew” what saltpeter was rumored to be used for in that case.

    Finding out it was for rocket fuel only changed the discussion, not the concern. And yes, I did blow up a few on the launch pad, but at least I never sent the garage up in smoke. Damned lucky, however. Lucky, not smart. Never did achieve a controlled burn.

  2. This took me waaaaaaay back to the old, good, scout troop and the living history village. Now I’m sitting here with a mug of tea and a head full of pleasent memories thankya good sir.

    Gonna have to take some of the ol bp smoke machines out this weekend methinks.

  3. In Jr. High school I did this, only I mixed the ingredients wet. I figured this would better dispurse the KNO3. The results performed as expected. Is there a reason why the mixing should not be done wet? Seems safer…

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