“Like cheese on macaroni”

May 12, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Blackpowder | Leave a comment

Having obtained some commercial saltpeter, I now want to try my hand at making some actual gunpowder. (I will try with my own saltpeter too, of course, but a) it still needs refining and b) I want to try it with the commercial stuff first.)

Weighing the charcoal

Biringuccio, after several pages of discussion that, if he lived today, would be posted on his blog as “gunpowder = awesome!”, tells us that there are several formulas for gunpowder, depending on what sort of guns you plan to use it in. He gives the saltpeter/charcoal/sulfur ratio as 3/2/1 for heavy guns, 5/1.5/1 for medium guns, 10/1/1 for arquebuses and pistols, and 13.5/2/1.5 “to make it better”. I decided to use the last measurement since if I’m doing the math right that works out to 79%/12%/9%, which, out of his four choices, is the closes to the modern 75/15/10. To make my life easier, (and to conserve my materials, since this is an experimental first attempt), I simply used 13.5 grams of saltpeter, 2 grams of charcoal, and 1.5 of sulfur.

After more discussion of the volatility of gunpowder and its ingredients, he instructs us to “take the quanitity of saltpeter that you wish to put in the work and put it in a kettle with as much water” as it needs to dissolve, then “put in the suitable quanitity of charcoal, in pieces just as you have it for less trouble”. I think I added too much water. I used about 1/2 cup, because my standard “I’m poisonous, don’t cook in me!” pot is fairly large and I was worried that too little water would not coat the charcoal. A note for next time: even if the water is barely covering the bottom of the pot, tipping the pot to make the water pool is extremely easy and effective. Sigh.

Like cheese on macaroni

Biringuccio’s next instruction is to add the sulfur “on top while you stir the charcoal and saltpeter with a stick, as is done with cheese on macaroni.” I think that is my new favorite quote of Biringuccio’s, even topping the “Go ahead! Cut down all the trees, we’ll never run out of them!” spiel from earlier.

Next we put aside the composition to “dry out somewhat.” Given the amount of water I used, this could take a while. To look forward to: crushing the mixture up and putting it through a sieve!

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