How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way in Less Than 30 Minutes

James Walton
By James Walton December 30, 2016 14:33

How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way in Less Than 30 Minutes

by James Walton

Would you believe that this powerful propellant, that has changed the world as we know it, was made as far back as 142 AD?

With that knowledge, how about the fact that it took nearly 1200 years for us to figure out how to use this technology in a gun. The history of this astounding substance is one that is inextricably tied to the human race. Imagine the great battles and wars tied to this simple mixture of sulfur, carbon and potassium nitrate. Mixed in the right ratios this mix becomes gunpowder.

In this article, we are going to talk about the process of making gunpowder.

We have just become such a dependent bunch that the process, to most of us, seems like some type of magic that only a Merlin could conjure up. So, we will lift the veil on gunpowder.

Related: The Lost Art of Cut Shells

Gun Powder Formula:

  • 75% Potassium Nitrate
  • 15% Charcoal
  • 10% Sulfur



  • Digital Ounces Scale
  • 2 Glass or Plastic Mixings Containers
  • Plastic spoon
  • Blunt object for smashing potassium nitrite (I used the handle of a small tack hammer)
  • Fine mesh sieve



A little safety first before we get into steps and instructions. Sulfur can kill you and the gas it gives off when burned can kill you. Potassium nitrite is no picnic either, it can damage your vision and poison you if ingested. Gunpowder is highly flammable/explosive and could cause you great physical harm.

  • Wear eye protection
  • Use gloves
  • Use a dust mask
  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Most importantly use common sense


How To Make Gun Powder:

#Step One

Gather your ingredients and measure them based on the black powder formula above. Whether you are making 1lb or 10lb the breakdown will be the same 75% Potassium Nitrate, 15% Charcoal and 10% Sulfur.Step One How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Two

Next mill or grind your saltpeter. Most recommend doing this in a ball mill but I wanted to do this all by hand to get an idea of how it would work without conveniences.Step Two How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Three

Once the potassium is ground add the measured charcoal and sulfur and begin to mix the ingredients thoroughly.Step Three How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Four

As you can see in the photo above the mix was not completely smooth so I ran it through a mesh sieve to remove and potassium nitrate that had not been ground fine enough. This process created a much finer powder and helped incorporate the three ingredients.Step Four How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Five

It worked so much better than hand mixing I just ran it through the sieve again. You can really see it becoming something at this point. The sieve was crucial to this process if you are going to be doing it by hand. The finer the sieve the better.Step Five How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Six

The final product looked something like this. I was very happy with the consistency achieved in such a short amount of time. This whole process may have taken 30 minutes. Most people recommend you run the ingredients in a ball mill for 12 hours! That said, their black powder is of a superior quality in comparison to what was created here by hand. Still, this stuff would get the job done.Step Six How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Seven (Optional)

I folded a small piece of paper in half and laid that on a rock before lighting it. Light this stuff from a distance with a torch or a long piece of paper. Especially the first time. You will not know how good your black powder is and you don’t want to find out by having it scorch your face.Step Seven How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way

#Step Eight (Optional)

If you want to make it more powerful here are two great tips for powering up your gunpowder:

  • Add water to the mix and stir it into a paste then allow it to dry. This really gets the three powders to mingle thoroughly.
  • Add (isopropyl) alcohol to the mix depending on batch size and this will make it really angry when the fire hits it.

Making gunpowder at home is one of those cheap and easy endeavors that will surprise you. It’s also puts you in contact with a process that changed the course of history! Just be safe and smart as you are creating a highly combustible substance!

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Disclaimer: I am not a gun powder expert. Accidents can happen. If you choose to take the advice in this article, all risks are on you. I made gun powder for recreational purposes and as an experiment to train myself for when SHTF.How To Make Gun Powder Step BY Step With Pictures Infografic

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James Walton
By James Walton December 30, 2016 14:33
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  1. Dean Humble December 30, 16:15

    Have you tried to use sugar in place of coal or charcoal?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Jim A. Paschis. December 30, 16:22

    Tell typical retail store type that the ingredients may be purchased from.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Jim A. Paschis. December 30, 16:28

    I recall getting some bulk gunpowder (from a fire destroyed sporting goods store). It was shaped like 2 mm doughnuts. I had some fine bronze wire and threaded the little gunpowder “doughnuts” on to the wire for a total length of about 6 inches. Yes, it made a nice fuse.

    Reply to this comment
  4. dougnicholson December 30, 16:51

    Your instructions don’t say specifically what you did with the results after running it through the sieve. I would assume that the product that didn’t fit through the sieve was then crushed further and run through the sieve again, etc., until all ingredients were included in the mixture. Is this correct?

    Reply to this comment
    • whiskers December 30, 19:07

      Don’t want to recrush finised product until you increase life insurance policy, so that your wife gets a good start with her new husband.

      Reply to this comment
    • Chas February 24, 16:43

      If you are removing that much Potassium Nitrate from the mix in this sifting procedure, won’t that throw you mix ratio off. I would say sift the components prior to mixing, and get the grind size right first. so you don’t have to deal with any clumps.

      Reply to this comment
    • steve March 25, 15:25

      gring ALL components separately and dampen the mixyure thoroughly before mixing or you could blow your arm off.

      Reply to this comment
  5. fgduncan December 30, 17:07

    Good process/procedure but you need to proofread your article to correct “nitrite” to “nitrate” in a couple of places. As a chemist, that difference is significant.

    Reply to this comment
  6. hdcr1 December 30, 17:11

    I have found that adding the water makes it a little safer to work with because it cuts down on the dust but then you have to let it dry and you must break up the clumps . that is unless you have a cannon. just be very careful. This is no joke you don’t want a few pounds of this stuff going off in your house.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Chuck December 30, 17:44

    Nice to know how to make it

    Reply to this comment
  8. left coast chuck December 30, 18:03

    The last time there was an article on this site about making your own gunpowder I checked the stump remover I had in my garage and found that it contained a very low percentage of potassium nitrate. The percentage was so low that I guessed it would be useless to make anything but the lowest grade of gun powder. I am not a black powder aficionado by any means, but I do know that different grinds of black powder are used for different firearms. Black powder is measured by the number of Fs assigned to it. F is very coarse, FF is less coarse down to FFFF which is very fine and is generally used in flash pans for flintlock weapons. Much like smokeless powder, there are different degrees of burn rate. Bullseye is a very fast smokeless powder and is used in small amounts in handgun cartridges. Retumbo is very slow and is used in magnum rifle cartridges. Any hand loading book can give you the burn rates of various powders. So how does all this useless info apply here? I assume the author of this article intended to use the black powder he made for use in a firearm. I would suggest that without some experience in using black powder now, this information would be extremely dangerous. The usual dictum is that you cannot blow up a black powder firearm but some experiments have proved that to be incorrect. If your future plans involve making your own black powder to use in a firearm, I would strongly suggest that you get involved with shooting black powder now and subscribe to some magazine dealing with same and join a black powder shooting club to get familiar with using black powder. It’s more complicated than the article would suggest.

    Reply to this comment
  9. PB dave December 30, 21:15

    This is old hat to us 60 year olds who got chemistry sets for Christmas. Bring backs boyhood memories of making our own fire crackers. Thankfully God watches over fools and small children 🙂 .
    To say be careful is an understatement, but maybe a sister article on safe storage and powder magazine design would be in order.

    Reply to this comment
    • Buzz February 19, 10:43

      LOL A friend and I used to make this at the ripe old age of 14 we made bombs out of metal pipe, we also used Carbide for big bangs. We sure had a lot of fun no wonder I wear hearing aids now. lmbo

      Reply to this comment
  10. link December 30, 21:37

    a old formula the french used was to add urine to the dry mix mix it real good and air dry then mill it in a powder mill had no metal parts all wood and stone then sieve for grain size had the best powder in europe ; and some one asked about putting sugar in there black powder won’t shoot worth a damn but makes simple rocket fuel ;and no the loading data for smokeless powder does not apply to black powder black powder shells for rifles had a lot of powder in them like my friends rifle took 90 grains it was a 45/90/110 remington as45 cal. 90 grains shell length was i think 110 MM also as a kid like 9 or 10 i made about a half pound of home made black powder and tried to dry the mix in my mothers oven with just the pilot light on; on a gas stove it was interesting to say the least almost blew up the stove and lied to my mother and said i was using sulpher smoke to kill roachs

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck December 31, 01:58

      @link:: While you are certainly correct that there is no correlation between black powder loads and smokeless powder loads, I think your memory has slipped regarding the .45/90. That designation was the caliber of the bullet and how many grains of black powder was loaded. Below is taken from a Wikipedia explanation of thr .45/90 and 50/110 cartridges: “The standard factory loads, produced and sold by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company and the Sharps Rifle Company were .50/100/425 (.50 caliber/100 grains black powder/425 grain grease grooved bullet) and .50/100/473 with a paper patched bullet. Factory loads manufactured by any of the Sharps companies were mostly hand-loaded which made them expensive to produce. This naturally invited competition. Winchester offered the cartridge loaded .50/90/473 with paper patched bullets which may be how the cartridge came to be commonly known as the .50-90. The .50-90 Sharps is similar to the .50-100 Sharps and .50-110 Sharps cartridges. All three use the same 2.5-inch (64 mm) case, the latter two being loaded with more grains of black powder. All rifles made for the .50-90 Sharps should be able to use the .50-110 and .50-100 cartridges due to the case dimensions being nearly identical”

      Reply to this comment
      • sureshot1 January 1, 13:48

        I have a Sharps .45-120 rifle sold by Taylor’s and Co. known as a Quigley rifle because it was the type used by Tom Selleck in the movie Quigley Down Under. Tom’s rifle actually was a .45-110 rifle and not a .45-120 like mine. I have several different cartridges and loads for my rifle, but the most accurate load is a Federal 215 mag primer with 120 grains of 2F Goex black powder behind an over powder wad column with 2 fiber wads and 1/4″ of beeswax lube wad topped off with a 450 grain pure lead cast bullet. I have shot under an inch groups with that load and open sights. I love the rifle,but it is a little brutal to shoot after a while.

        Reply to this comment
    • WarDog January 13, 14:33

      Dude, ever think about using a period or a capital letter when you write?!? Sure would make it easier for the rest of use to read your stuff… just sayin.

      Reply to this comment
  11. lc65 December 30, 23:28

    Where do you buy ” activated charcoal ” and sulfur ?
    Also, seems like you need to shoot it and see how it works for your last step.

    Reply to this comment
  12. John John December 31, 03:57

    As a kid, I had a friend who’s Dad made flint-lock rifles. So indirectly I had access to gun powder. My friend knew the danger, but I did not.
    I had an Idea to make my own rocket out of a Bic pen. I pulled apart the pen, put a fire-cracker in one end with the fuse inside, I filled the pen with powder, and then propped the pen on an angle and made a line of gun powder for a fuse. My friend lit a match and dropped it next to the line of gunpowder and jumped back like he was afraid. The match stayed lit–sitting right next to the powder line, but never touched it. I wasn’t afraid. I’ve watched dozens of westerns and I believed the “fuse of powder” would burn slowly. It didn’t.
    I reached down and turned the match over onto the powder. The powder burned instantaneously, and the rocket shot out 40-feet and the fire-cracker “popped” on queue. SUCCESS, except for the 3rd degree burn all over my hand.
    I lied to my Mom and said I burned my hand on the Hot water heater pipe. It took over three weeks for my painful burn to heal.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Reticent Rogue December 31, 13:58

    Mixing the ingredients dry is not recommended. One spark of static electricity and you are done. The old timers mixed it wet, using stale urine to give it an extra kick. Get the mix to a consistency of bread dough and make a ball. Rub the dough ball against a screen onto a cookie pan or other flat surface to get the right grain size and let dry.

    Reply to this comment
    • snow4feetdeep January 8, 00:35

      Thank you for sharing a very helpful process by which to attain what everyone who reads this thread is thinking about, as good a quality of gunpowder.

      You alone, thus far down the forum, have truly made this quest simply easier, likely to produce a gunpowder that will reliably give the same, or expected, results every time.

      Just because we may be without modern amenities, a supply of any of the ingredients, the actual experience in life to have or know where to procure the needed supplies, and on and on, doesn’t mean a determined average person couldn’t find them. After all, do you think the earliest makers of gunpowder back in triple-digit AD had a clue as to what was finally gonna work? Somebody had to be experimenting, and they may well not have been trying to make gunpowder, but stumbled upon it, and other useful results.

      So, if y’all will share further information as to where one might find the ingredients, should they not be thus informed, it might just end up like the majority of posts here, read.

      I would be much appreciative of this knowledge myself. Even though I’ve traveled through most of the United States, ascertaining where I might find gunpowder ingredients no matter where I was, was not something I did. Indeed, a long list of places I could find them would be spectacular. I’m not talking about supply stores or other overly obvious places, but such as acquiring salt peter from pharmacies, and more obscure places that might not be thought of. Together with the places in your area where the acquisitions can be made, this information would create a colossal sourcebook for each of us and anyone else who wanders this way.

      Heck, we could eventually compile a printable resource database for anywhere just by sharing what we know or are willing to find out and post,about our area.

      Hope this helps somebody. I gotta go get started.

      Reply to this comment
  14. Red January 1, 22:28

    I believe that there is a typo/misspelling in the technique section. It says, “Potassium nitrIte is no picnic…” The rest of the article says potassium nitrAte. (Capital added for emphasis.)

    Reply to this comment
  15. Ray C. January 3, 05:05

    Well, I believe I am the culprit who ask for this recipe. I own a black powder cartridge rifle in .45/70 and shoot 550 grain lead bullets. The reason for the article is not because I need to know how to make black, it is because others don’t know how and should learn. I started making black when I was in high school and lived around people who came from the Ozarks, great folks, taught me a whole lot of stuff, especially how to make black.The formula is 100% correct, I have fudge it on every one of the ingredients and it doesn’t help. I suggest everyone who is interested in the knowledge of how to make black go check out YouTube, many videos their that show how in detail. The biggest danger there is with black is any type of spark, it will go bang in a big way. an ounce, not much enclosed in anything will blow your arm off, no shit. If you use black in cartridges, they should be as close to straight wall as possible, you also need to compress black to make it work right. Never leave an air gap between the powder and the bullet, the over pressure will ruin a real sturdy firearm.

    Reply to this comment
  16. CrustyMac January 3, 23:39

    Wish I had known about grinding up the salt peter when I first tried to make gun powder in 3rd grade. All we got was some very flammable, though not explosive, powder.

    Reply to this comment
  17. bobthemoron February 15, 22:14

    Used to make this stuff all the time when I was 13-14 years old. But then came girls. The formula is good but there are better formulas and practices that produce a more efficient black powder.

    Reply to this comment
  18. montana hunter February 26, 17:18

    anybody ever try miracle grow as a substitute? makes a really big bang!!! but does require a hot spark i mixed 10% black powder substitute.

    Reply to this comment
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