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Black powder powder
Heap of powder
Grained black powder
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
Heat of explosion
kJ / kg
approx. 2700
Steam volume
l / kg
from 260 to 340
Specific energy
l · MPa / kg
Detonation velocity
m / s
from 300 to 600
Explosion temperature
approx. 2300
Property comparison
Explosiveness In very little form
Ignition sensitivity very high
Steam volume low
price low

Black powder was the first explosive (as canned powder ) to be used as gunpowder for propellant charges from firearms . As an explosive powder , it is an explosive agent. Today it is mainly used as grain and flour powder in pyrotechnics - especially in the manufacture of fireworks.



Black powder is a pyrotechnic mixture consisting of saltpeter (potassium nitrate = usually potassium nitrate ), finely ground charcoal (because of the low ash content previously mainly from the wood of black alder , also known as wood powder, won) and sulfur is. Black powder consists on average of 75% saltpeter, 10% sulfur and 15% charcoal. This mixing ratio can vary slightly depending on the intended use.

Powder based on sodium nitrate , which is cheaper but very hygroscopic , was made in the form of pellets and impregnated with bitumen against moisture. These pellets were not very suitable as gun powder, they were mainly used in mining, the name is explosive nitrate .

In the early history of black powder, calcium nitrate (initially as wall nitrate) and magnesium nitrate were used instead of potassium nitrate , but these quickly made the powder unusable due to its hygroscopic properties. For this reason, dissolution processes were developed which, with the help of potash, produced a solution with potassium nitrate from dissolved calcium and magnesium nitrate (calcium and magnesium were precipitated as carbonates ). The nitrates for black powder were obtained later by bacterial nitrification (see potassium nitrate ).

Saltpetre serves as an oxidizing agent , although other salts (e.g. chlorates, but not for propellant powder due to their high level of volatility ) can be used. The carbon powder serves as fuel and the sulfur both as fuel and as an ignition means so that the black powder mixture starts to burn with the slightest contact with sparks .

To achieve flame colors for pyrotechnic products , certain nitrates are used, the cation of which provides a corresponding flame color.


The ingredients must be finely ground and mixed evenly. This mostly happens in a powder mill . The mixture is then pressed and dried into cakes , which in turn are ground and either granulated or left as flour powder . In the case of graining, which was already known in the 15th century, the powder is moistened and then formed into spheres while moving. This prevents segregation of the components and the burning rate can be regulated within certain limits via the size of the beads. In addition, when moistened, saltpetre and sulfur penetrate the micropores of the carbon particles. The finished powder is still dried and can then be filled and packaged.

German black powder mills are available in Harzgerode (Sachsen-Anhalt) and Dörntener district Cunegonde the town of Liebenburg (Niedersachsen).

Chemical reaction

Burning black powder creates carbon dioxide , carbon monoxide , potassium carbonate , potassium sulfite , nitrogen and fine dust . It is an incomplete combustion. The following reaction equation is simplified and depends on the percentage composition of the black powder. The residual moisture and the oxygen, hydrogen and ash content in the charcoal were not taken into account.

Exploded pipe bomb filled with black powder from an FBI experimental setup
Broken barrel of a muzzle loading pistol, which was shot at with nitrocellulose powder instead of black powder and which could not withstand the increased loads

The mixture burns quickly, but the internal speed of sound is not exceeded, which is why instead of a detonation, one speaks of a deflagration . The combustion produces a temperature of around 2000 ° 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, plastic and the like is used.

The vapor volume (under normal conditions ) is around 337 l / kg, and around 0.58 kg of solid potassium salts are also 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 nitrate salts. For this reason it has been largely supplanted by smokeless gunpowder based on nitrocellulose .

Black powder is not very sensitive to impact and friction. Static electricity ( sparks ) is extremely difficult to ignite because the charcoal it contains is a good electrical conductor and the electricity can flow away. In addition, modern black powder is provided with a thin graphite layer for safety reasons. 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 required so that the powder no longer just burns off, but always explodes .


Black powder is used in pyrotechnics , in freely available firecrackers , in model rocket drives and the like. a. used.



Black powder was invented in China. Gunpowder is first mentioned in writing in a text from 1044 . The oldest surviving firearm in China, a bronze gun, dates back to 1288 (Heilongjiang hand barrel, found in Banlachengz in 1970 and today in the Provincial Museum in Harbin). The knowledge about black powder possibly came through the Mongol storm or trade contacts along the Silk Road in the Arab region and (directly or through Arab mediation) to Europe. Genghis Khan set up a Chinese catapult unit for his campaigns in Transoxania in 1214 , which, as was customary in China before, shot bombs with gunpowder, and there are reports of a use at the Battle of Muhi in Hungary in 1241. News of this could have passed after Kenneth Chase the embassy (1252 to 1255) of the Franciscan Wilhelm von Rubruck to the Mongols in Europe, including Roger Bacon , who was also a Franciscan, was very interested in the report of the embassy and in 1267 one of the earliest mentions of the use of black powder in Europe wrote.

It is also mentioned in the Liber Ignium (the "Book of Fires") by the fictional Marcus Graecus . This recipe collection from different, partly ancient sources - according to JR Partington, for the most part originated around 1225 with later additions up to the end of the 13th century (especially with regard to the gunpowder recipe) - contains a recipe in the composition 6 parts saltpeter, 2 parts charcoal and 1 part of sulfur, which can also be found in a work ascribed to Albertus Magnus , the attribution of which is very doubtful. Even Roger Bacon mentioned in several writings from 1242 to 1267 several times the powder, including as a children's fireworks toys. Whether he also gave precise information on the manufacture and composition of black powder is controversial. In his story of pyrotechnics, JR Partington follows a reconstruction of an anagram by Colonel Artillery Henry Hime (1904), which Colonel Henry Hime claims to have read in an unclear passage in Bacon (in a book by Bacon, the attribution of which is controversial). The dubious reconstruction provides a composition that differs from the Liber Ignium and later recipes, with almost equal proportions (7 parts saltpeter, 5 parts hazel wood coal and 5 parts sulfur).

The earliest mention of firearms is the illustration of a primitive cannon in an English manuscript from 1326 ( Walter de Milemete ) and in the order of firearms by the Florence magistrate in the same year. One of the oldest European depictions of the early days of gunsmithing and the art of gunsmiths can be found in an illuminated manuscript from the second half of the 14th century that also deals with “gunpowder”.

Gunpowder is said to have been used for the first time in Europe in 1331 at the siege of Cividale by German knights and at the Battle of Crécy in the Hundred Years' War in 1346, although they did not yet play a decisive role. Around 1354 the Danes used gunpowder in a sea battle. Cannons are also said to have played an important role in the siege of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in 1374, and city walls were possibly defeated with cannons for the first time in Europe. In the final stages of the Hundred Years War, field artillery played a crucial role ( Battle of Gerberoy 1435), and siege artillery played a decisive role in the conquest of Constantinople (1453) by the Ottomans.


In the Chinese Empire , incendiary substances containing nitrous were mentioned in the Song-temporal Wu Jing Zong Yao around 1044. However, only the most recent 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. Fire arrows (rockets) were also developed during this period. The Chinese war mandarin Yu Yunwen also used fire arrows of this kind to deter enemies in 1161. Gunpowder was used in the siege of Kaifeng City in 1232. In China and Japan, however, gunpowder was used primarily for ritual purposes, in honor of the dead. However, it is proven that bombs filled with black powder were used as weapons by the Chinese by the 13th century at the latest.


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 Hasan al-Rammah describes the production of black powder, in particular the necessary purification of potassium nitrate.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages black powder was deposited in the German-speaking countries as krud or krut (herb) also "Donner herb" and in the high-German-speaking countries as a rifle powder (z. B. 1432) and powder ( Frühneuhochdeutsch ), respectively. The current name black powder probably does not go back to the Franciscan Berthold Schwarz from Freiburg im Breisgau , who - according to legend - found the driving effect of powder gases on projectiles in the 14th century, but on the black appearance of the powder. Towards the end of the 19th century, black powder was distinguished from the 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 capacity 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, more explosive explosives - such as nitroglycerine , the dynamite based on it , nitrocellulose ( gun cotton ), nitroaromatics, 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 .

Gun salute with conventional ignition through the ignition hole on the Shtandart

In shooting sports , black powder is only used as a reminiscence of the history of shooting , where it is used in various disciplines of muzzle-loading and western shooting or for firecrackers and gun salutes (firecrackers powder). 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 compressed, it burns only 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 bag by pouring it down, but instead forms a plug beforehand, so that the weapon cannot work. In addition, flour powder the property had to be in transit in the barrels segregate . 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 a 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

The explosives or the powder is black as an explosive powder, depending on the use, shooting substances or the pyrotechnic chemicals associated. 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.

Booster charge

In artillery technology as a booster charge (booster) in the firing chain. The lighter primarily ignites a black powder charge , which ignites the other charge bags with NC powder.

Folk beliefs and superstitions, medicine

Black powder and gunpowder were said to have various miraculous properties. In the hunter's belief there was the idea that the addition of powdered animal components, e.g. B. from snakes, worms or birds, increase the power of the powder. Mixed in wine, according to a superstition among soldiers, which has been proven for parts of Switzerland from 1914, the powder makes courageous. It was used as a doctor's caustic agent, and dissolved in liquids and taken or applied, it was supposed to help against sore throat , intermittent fever , constipation , cramps, or cuts in human and veterinary medicine.

Legal Notice

Gunpowder is freely available in hunting stores in Switzerland.

Black powder is subject to the general legal regulations for pyrotechnic objects , as this mixture of substances is considered a pyrotechnic charge . Special regulations for open and built-in black powder are:

  • In Switzerland, neither explosives nor dangerous fireworks may be given to persons under the age of 18. The acquisition and use are strictly regulated in the Explosives Act (Switzerland) and the corresponding implementing ordinances.
  • In Germany, private individuals are entitled to purchase black powder, provided they have a 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 Section 32 of the First Ordinance on the Explosives Act . Such courses are commonly called firecrackers course or muzzle loader course . Only persons are admitted to these courses who, in accordance with Section 34 of the First Ordinance on the Explosives Act, present a so-called clearance certificate , which, depending on the respective official responsibilities, e.g. B. is issued by the district office or the trade supervisory office. In the private sector is following successful completion of the course (as evidenced by an official certificate ) and there is a legitimate need ( customs with firecrackers protecting and exercising the appropriate shooting sport at muzzle-shooters) a license pursuant to § 27 Explosives for dealing with gun powder / gun 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 are in principle permitted to the certified pyrotechnician or person authorized to blast.


  • Joseph Needham: Science and Civilization in China. Volume 5 Chemistry and Chemical Technology. Part 7 Military Technology: The Gunpowder Epic, Cambridge University Press 1986
  • James Riddick Partington: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. Cambridge: Heffer, 1960. Republished: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998
  • Thomas Fatscher, Helmut Leiser: Elaboration on the new gun law . Krüger Druck + Verlag, Dillingen / Saar 2003, ISBN 3-00-012000-9 .
  • Jochen Gartz: From Greek Fire to Dynamite - A Cultural History of Explosives . ES Mittler & Sohn, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8132-0867-2 .
  • Trude Ehlert , Rainer Leng: Early cooking and powder recipes from the Nuremberg manuscript GNM 3227a (around 1389) . In: Dominik Groß , Monika Reininger (eds.): Medicine in history, philology and ethnology: Festschrift for Gundolf Keil . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2003, ISBN 3-8260-2176-2 , p. 289-320 .
  • Gaudenz Schmid-Lys: About saltpetre boilers, powder makers and powder houses. In: Bündner Jahrbuch: Journal for Art, Culture and History of Graubünden, Vol. 45 and 46. 2003. Part 1 , Part 2 .
  • Wilhelm Hassenstein (Ed.): The fireworks book from 1420. 600 years of German powder weapons and gunsmithing. Reprint of the first print from 1529 with translation into Standard German and explanations, Verlag der Deutsche Technik, Munich 1941.
  • Fritz Seel : History and chemistry of black powder. Le charbon fait la poudre . In: Chemistry in Our Time . No. 22 , 1988, ISSN  0009-2851 , pp. 9-16 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19880220103 .
  • SJ von Romocki, History of Explosives, Berlin: Oppenheim, 1895

Web links

Wiktionary: Black powder  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Sprengstoffwerk Gnaschwitz GmbH (Ed.): Technical data sheet Sprengpulver THH . Schönebeck.
  2. Horst Roschlau: Sprengen - Theory and Practice . Verlag für Grundstofftindustrie, Leipzig 1993, ISBN 3-342-00492-4 .
  3. ^ Buckthorn, (powder wood) for the charcoal
  4. This is described in the Pyrotecnica by Vannoccio Biringuccio 1540 and was a standard procedure in the early modern period. Bert Hall, introduction p. XXV. In: JR Partington: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder . The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
  5. Bert Hall, introduction. In: JR Partington: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder . The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, XXVII.
  6. Dörnten locality., accessed on July 13, 2010 .
  7. WANO Schwarzpulver GmbH, Kunigunde 14, 38704 Liebenburg.
  8. ^ KD Meyer: Handbook for the reloader . Journal-Verlag Schwend, Schwäbisch Hall 1977, p. 70.
  9. ↑ In 1986 Joseph Needham devoted an entire extensive volume of his Science and Civilization in China (Volume 5, Part 7, The Gunpowder Epic , Cambridge UP 1986) to the proof of the origin of black powder and firearms in China.
  10. Needham, Science and Civilization in China, 1986, pp. 290, 293 (illustration).
  11. Partington : History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder . Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 250. They also tried to create confusion in Silesia and Hungary with foul-smelling clouds of smoke and fire-breathing heads.
  12. Kenneth Chase: Fire arms, a global history to 1700 . Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 58.
  13. Partington: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder . Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 74; see Bert Hall in Preface to Reprint 1999, p. XXIV.
  14. Kenneth Chase: Fire arms, a global history to 1700 . Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 59.
  15. Volker Schmidtchen : 'Instructions for preparing gunpowder, loading and shooting rifles'. In: Author's Lexicon . Volume I, Col. 364 f.
  16. Kenneth Chase: Fire arms, a global history to 1700 . Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 59
  17. ^ Fritz Seel: History and chemistry of black powder . In: Chemistry in our time , Volume 22, 1988, p. 9.
  18. a b Fritz Seel: History of black powder . In: Chemistry in our time , Verlag Chemie, Weinheim, 22nd year, Feb. 1988, p. 9.
  19. Kenneth Chase: Fire arms, a global history to 1700 . Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 59.
  20. ^ Relics of the Kamikaze. In: Archeology Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2017 .
  21. ^ A b Dieter Lehmann: Two medical prescription books of the 15th century from the Upper Rhine. Part I: Text and Glossary. Horst Wellm, Pattensen / Han. 1985, now at Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg (= Würzburg medical-historical research , 34), ISBN 3-921456-63-0 , p. 165.
  22. ^ Wilhelm Hassenstein: The fireworks book from 1420. 600 years of German powder weapons and gunsmithing. Reprint of the first edition from 1529 with translation into Standard German and explanations, Munich 1941, p. 61.
  23. ^ Concise dictionary of German superstition . Volume 7. 3rd edition. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York, ISBN 3-11-016860-X , pp. 382–383.