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Black Powder Composition

Black powder is made of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. These ingredients are mechanically combined in an approximate ratio around 75:14:11 to 75:15:10 respectively. The recipe is a bit forgiving as to the exact quantities of each ingredient. In fact, the optimum ratio was not determined until the late 18th century. It is interesting to note that black powder is a mixture of ingredients and not actually a true chemical compound.

Black powder made with sodium nitrate instead of potassium nitrate was available by 1857. The material was cheaper and more powerful than original black powder and was sometimes called soda powder. Lammot du Pont developed soda powder and it began to be used at about the time of the US Civil war. Soda powder was made in several varieties like one named Mammoth Powder that was designed for large artillery. Its use as a propellant was limited because both more modern artillery and guncotton became available at about the same time. As it turned out, soda powder was mostly used for blasting powder.