What is black powder?

A black powder recipe contains sulfur.

Black powder is an explosive produced by mixing charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter. Until the mid-19th century, it was the main explosive used to fire weapons, make fireworks and detonate in mines and quarries. It has since been supplanted by more efficient and stable explosives, although it is still used by antique weapons enthusiasts and some special effects specialists. Black powder is available from a number of manufacturers, although this easily combustible substance is dangerous enough that its possession and transport are restricted in some regions.

Black powder is used to propel bullets.

The oldest black powder was developed by the Chinese around the 9th century CE. The Chinese used it for firearms and fireworks, along with other applications, and it slowly spread to the West. As firearms became more sophisticated, the use of this explosive became widespread, until the development of other explosives such as smokeless gunpowder and nitroglycerin.

Gunpowder can also be called black powder.

A basic black powder recipe has 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur. These ingredients are ground to create a powder of uniform texture, which will have a variable burn rate depending on the size of the powder grains. One of its main flaws is that when burned these ingredients create particulate pollution and sulfur tends to break down into a corrosive compound that can be harsh on the weapons it is used in.

Black powder was used by the ancient Chinese in fireworks.

One of the most classic uses of black powder is in firearms, where it is used to propel the bullet. It burns very quickly and, in the confined environment of a gun barrel, produces a rapidly expanding burst of hot gases that forces the bullet out. Modern bullets incorporate their explosive charges into their casings, but traditional weapons must be packed with gunpowder, stuffed and fired in a painstaking process that can be dangerous in the chaotic conditions of battle.

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In fireworks, black powder can be mixed with various colored substances. It has also historically been used as an explosive charge in mining and to shape stone for masonry, although this use has since been abandoned in favor of safer, more reliable explosives. Modern antique gun enthusiasts sometimes gather for black powder shootings and other events that celebrate the heritage of this weaponry. Many modern formulations are designed to produce less waste and pollution, making them more pleasant to use.

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