How is gunpowder made?

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You asked:

How is gunpowder made? — Nick, Swansboro, N.C.

Marshall Brain Answers:

People have been making gunpowder for many centuries. The basic recipe is therefore well-known and looks like this: 75% Potassium nitrate, 15% Charcoal, 10% Sulfur

What you are trying to create with gunpowder is a fast-burning solid fuel. So you need a fuel, which in this case is the carbon in the charcoal. And you need oxygen, which you find in Potassium Nitrate. The sulfur is a second fuel and an accelerant – without it the gunpowder doesn’t burn fast enough, and it takes too much energy to ignite it.

Charcoal you can make. Sulfur is a common element that is mined, often around volcanoes:

Potassium Nitrate (aka saltpeter) is manufactured, so you either buy it or make it. It can be made from cow manure as shown here. Here is one way you might make it at home:

Now that you have your ingredients, you mix them together:

For more info see:
- How Rocket Engines Work
- How Fireworks Work

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