Book in Hand!

April 14, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Blackpowder, saltpeter | Leave a comment

My copy of the Pirotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio was waiting for me at the library today, and I was mightily pleased to see it. I had seen several recipes online from people who had read the book, but I wanted to wait and see exactly what Biringuccio had proscribed back in 1540 (or, to be more precise, exactly what the translator claims he said.)

It was a good thing I waited for the book, instead of trusting the never-reliable Internet, because the instructions are different. To my vast disappointment, no urine is involved in his recipe. Otherwise everything else was the same. It makes me wonder why this single difference? To the best of my knowledge this is the most complete English translation, so it is unlikely other people have been using a different version. The second-oldest recipe I have found is in Agricola’s De re Metallica and is extremely similar, to the point where I suspect that good ol’ Agricola must have read Biringuccio’s earlier work.

Many of the modern recipes I have found also call for urine. I guess that makes a certain amount of sense, since urine has a lot of various salts and minerals and stuff your body doesn’t want. Saltpeter is potassium nitrate.

I’m tempted to try make two batches of saltpeter, one with the urine and one strictly to the Biringuccio recipe, and then see which method is more efficient. I guess it will depend on how many barrels I want to poke holes into and how much wood ash I can cadge from friends.

In other exciting Inter-Library Loan news, I also received a book on medieval fireworks! This excites me greatly, despite the many people who have expressed the opinion that they “don’t trust [me] with a safety lighter, never mind homemade explosives.”

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