Colonial era blackpowder vs today's black powder.

Discussion in 'General Muzzleloading' started by NorthFork, Dec 27, 2019.

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  1. Dec 27, 2019 #1

    NorthFork

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    I know that this is likely an impossible to answer question but there are quite a few knowledgeable fellows on here that might have some insight on this.

    How would blackpowder from the colonial era compare to today's blackpowder in terms of velocity? We all know that today's Goex generally produces slower velocities and pressures than today's Swiss (assuming the same granulation). GENERALLY speaking was the typical powder of that time period slower and dirtier like Goex or faster and less fouling like say Swiss?

    I'm sure that just like today there were different qualities or grades if you will, just curious if the powders available back then trended in one direction or another.
     
  2. Dec 27, 2019 #2

    Zonie

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    The powder in the Colonial era was terrible by modern standards.

    It wasn't until 1802 that Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours, a refugee to America from the French Revolution, built his first powder mill. He brought with him the secrets of how the French made their black powder which was often considered the best in the world at the time.

    Before his coming, the typical black powder was weak and dirty. Perhaps somewhat like "Elephant" brand powder that used to be sold in the US before that Brazilian company went out of business a few decades ago? I used to shoot Elephant powder and it was nasty stuff.

    Maybe someone else will be able to give more precise comments about the black powder used back then?
     
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  3. Dec 27, 2019 #3

    ppg1949

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    Zonie, very well stated. I wonder how the powders produced by the CSA compare. I'm sure their earlier powder was rather poor when compared to DuPont powders.
     
  4. Dec 27, 2019 #4

    azmntman

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    CSA powders have been found in loaded recovered weapons so should be some info. I cant recall any colonial area powders ever being found?? Be interested myself.
     
  5. Dec 28, 2019 #5

    tenngun

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    Middle eighteenth century a man named Robins invented a ballistic pendulum. The ball and pendulum were weighed then the ball was shot at the pendulum. Seeing how far it swung gave you info needed to work out it’s velocity.
    Not a modern chronograph but pretty accurate. It turned out velocities in the range of what we see today.
    Often we read about common powders and best powders, and a fair difference in cost.
    A common item carried was a powder tester. A small pistol with a spring cap. When shot the cap would blow open so far. A gentleman could test a batch and adjust his loads as needed.
    Loading info for Brown Bess muskets varied greatly from as little as fifty shots to a pound to as much as twenty five shots to the pound( 140-280 grains) and may well represent different grades of powder. There was some powders that may be as good as modern and some that were ‘coal dust’.
    Dupont could not find good powders so set up his business. So it means he had to have been familiar with better powders.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2019
  6. Dec 28, 2019 #6

    Coot

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    I have visited both the Dupont plant at Hagley Mill (where there is a wonderful research library on early industry) and the site of the CSA bp plant in Agusta (which was the worlds' largest at the time & was reconstructed as a cotton mill post war). In both cases, the powder was considered of excellent quality due to the testing and tight controls over the raw materials used and the testing of the finished product. Dupont was able to outsell rivals due to the superior quality of powder produced at Hagley.
     
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  7. Dec 28, 2019 #7

    fleener

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    Keep in mind that black powder was manufactured by several different small business back in the day. Quality would depend on the ingredients, and the care that the small company take in making their product. I had a book on the history of black powder, interesting read. I no longer have the book, sent it off to a guy I know from another forum.

    Fleener
     
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  8. Dec 28, 2019 #8

    Smokey Plainsman

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    When did they start adding graphite to make the Fg style of powders?
     
  9. Dec 28, 2019 #9

    Ben Meyer

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    I "inherited" a pound can of Elephant 2f powder and had been wondering if I should give it a try. I usually shoot Swiss. I think I'll pass....it can sit for another couple decades, being for emergencies or something.

     
  10. Dec 28, 2019 #10

    Eddie2002

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    The recipes of black powder has changed over the years. Some of the documented early recipes from the French and English in the 18th century use more sulfur and potassium nitrate than the current commercial recipe. The type of wood that the charcoal is made out of also is the main factor as how clean burning the BP is. It's not that hard to make your own quality BP, just for hoots and hollars I made a few pounds last year which shoots just fine in a front stuffer. Getting home made to be as dense as commercial is the hard part. My home made was 35% lighter by volume which meant the load had to be increase by that amount to equal commercial powders. I would think the same if not worse discrepancies in early powders would of existed also.
     
  11. Dec 28, 2019 #11

    excess650

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    IF your can of Elephant is black, shiny, and pretty uniform grain size, its lot 25/99 or later and on par with Goex. If its grey, dull, and lots of fines, its the old stuff. It works, but make more (soft) fouling.

    The Elephant plant was flooded and shut down. It was sold, relocated, and produced Diamondback blackpowder which was similar to the 25/99 lot of Elephant.
     
  12. Dec 28, 2019 #12

    Ben Meyer

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    I'll have to take a closer look at it. I'll pour some 2f Goex on a white sheet of paper to compare.

     
  13. Dec 29, 2019 #13

    Loyalist Dave

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    1857 was when graphite was added. DuPont got the patent.
    I was always taught that the "g" meant graphite. In fact I was asked back in the 1990's by a US Army ordinance tech if the black powder my group was bringing to Fort AP Hill was "glazed"...and he meant with graphite.
    Glazing goes back at least to the first half of the 18th century, and was different during the F&I and AWI than what is done to powder today.

    The "g" means glazed, which is a tumbling and polishing process....

    "JUST IMPORTED, And to be SOLD by DANIEL CHESTON, at John Biddle's, next Door to the Indian King in Market Street: EXCEEDING good Scotch Snuff, Cutlery Ware, Dutch Gun Flints, drop Shot,, mould ditto, and bar Lead, (Fly ye Plovers!) Gun Powder glazed and unglazed in twelve Pound Caggs, Lamb Gloves white and colour'd, Pins, &c. Also, right Herefordshire SYDER, from the red streak Tree in the Strand, and Bristol BEER." PA Gazette July 5th, 1739

    AND...,
    "The Cartridges therefore used at Common Exercise should not be under sixty to a pint, though at other times, fifty may be the calculation." Cuthbertson 1775

    That's 115 grains of for practice, and 140 grains of powder for combat.

    LD
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2019
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  14. Dec 29, 2019 #14

    Smokey Plainsman

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    Thanks, LD!
     
  15. Dec 29, 2019 #15

    Rudyard

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    English powder improuved greatly in the later 18c due to one Major Congrieves efforts .testing was done a few years ago a noted author made tests to compare original powder to todays his finding gave better performance than todays powders . .suppriseing .But in its day Black gunpowder was THEE only powder and today I think we are just a minor user compared to fireworks on general . Rudyard
     
  16. Dec 29, 2019 #16

    Carbon 6

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    Powder back then wasn't as strong as later
    William Greener wrote in 1858.

    "Considering the difference between gunpowder in 1783 and gunpowder in 1858, I cannot say, with Hutton, that the force is doubled now to what it was when he wrote; but I believe that this would not be far from the truth; "

    Hutton, was Charles Hutton of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
     
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  17. Dec 29, 2019 #17

    Carbon 6

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    Not sure it was the "ONLY" powder. There were many different formulas with different strength levels. Black powder reigned supreme in part because the strength of steel and iron barrels could not withstand other powders.

    The British had a variant called "brown powder" that supposedly rivaled modern smokeless.

    "In 1809 the French succeeded in making powder of which potassa forms one of the component parts, and they say it ranges the projectile double the distance;"
    This powder closely resembles Modern Pyrodex.

    Gun-cotton was around in 1846, Greener wrote;

    "Gun-cotton has been before the world for some years, but, except as a curiosity, it has attracted little public attention; neither has it gained any reputation as a projectile force. ---------------- the result is an explosion approaching as nearly as possible to the instantaneous: in consequence of its rapid ignition it produces a violent kick; sufficient time is not given to put heavy bodies in motion, hence it cannot be usefully employed as a projectile agent. No one who values his limbs should trifle with it, for fearful accidents have resulted from its exposure to the heat of the sun, and other very simple causes."


    He also wrote;


    "All military and naval gunpowder is not manufactured of the greatest strength that can be acquired “at the Government mills;” a sample is furnished to each contractor with each contract, and to this strength he is limited."
     
  18. Dec 29, 2019 #18

    tenngun

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    Ballistic testing seems to put performance in the same range. Even if the shooter needed to give a bigger charge to his gun. First third nineteenth century showed results in the range of what we shoot today, I would hazard that our powder is on par with that era.
    Eighteenth century seem to have charged to get similar velocity.
     
  19. Dec 29, 2019 #19

    Realwarrior

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    Remember too that a lot of powder on the Old Frontier was homemade with no quality control, I'm sure some was great... Some was probably pure guano.
     
  20. Dec 29, 2019 #20

    Rudyard

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    Refering to my point that modern powders do not have the strength of late 18c powders for Service purposes .The test was carried out using a replica of the East India Company's 'Lawrences pattern' The best of todays powders gave 1,241 fps as apposed to period powders in the 1,700 or so fps range in c 1792 all things being equal as to ball weight & cartridge. . Such velocities where affected by dry v damper days performance .
    What relevance this has to the 'Colonial' powders is any ones guess ,
    We today have a range of qualitys and prices . Iv'e never used Swiss, be happy to try it. (Wouldn't dream of using Plastic pyrodex or similar ) found Elephant useless, and am currently using old old Curtis & Harvey's number four which hasn't been made since the mid 60s . I mixed it all well, all 7 pounds of it and dried it in sun hot bowls to reseal it tight as possible because tins will vary with the batches and the worst thing is to sight in, get half way through a match & top up the charger with an untried refill . Some of the best powder I used was bought in 50 pound boxes labled A5 F0 triangle looked grey & we called it' soot' .But it was good powder .. Rudyard
     

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