Colonial era blackpowder vs today's black powder.

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Dr5x

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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.
A GOOD QUESTIOON AND HARD TO CHECK. IN MY READING I HAVE COME ACROSS NUMEROUS REFERENCES TO POOR QUALITY BLACK POWDER.. THE INGREFIENTS VARIED WIDLY IN PROPORTION ETC. ARE BEST POWDER IN THOSE DAY PROBABLY AME FROM BRITIN AND DURING THE WAR OUR HOME PRODUCTION OF B POWDER WAS A MKE SHIFT PROPOSITION CREATED BY AMATEURS BUT IMPROVING AS TIME WENT ON.
BRITAIN HAD WISELY DONE A LOT TO RESTRICT OUR SELF DEFENCE BECAUSE THEY KNEWIT COULD BE USED AGAINST THEMM. THE BATTLE OF CONCORD HAPPENED BECAUSE THE BRITS SET OUT TO CONFISCATE SOME POWDER THEY THOUGHT WE HAD.
DUTCH
 

Carbon 6

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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 ,
A lot of factors affect the strength of gunpowder.

Method of manufacture.
Purity and source of ingredients.
Granulation,
Glazing or graphite coating.
Volume
Fillers
Moisture.

Water, or moisture is one factor that people often over look. Powder is hygroscopic in nature but is also made wet during manufacture. Even dry powder straight from your can still contains a percentage of water within it. This quantity of water could be possibly be reduced or increased by time and storage conditions, accounting for some of the differences in testing.
 

RAEDWALD

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A factor not mentioned is money. In material terms people were much poorer then. There was a market for cheap powder even if it was bad. Also in rural areas the choice was what was on the shelf in the village shop i.e. use it or do without powder. Folk might have wanted best powder but they could not afford it. There always some who can afford the best but most were counting the pennies, or indeed the farthings. Maybe your true pioneer wandering off alone in the mountains and Indian territory (technically all of America was Indian territory I suppose) could only carry so much powder and would have invested in the best so as to use as little possible at each shot. Just as with the ball size. But your average small farmer would buy cheap working powder for his cheap workaday gun.
 

TFoley

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Powder testers, commonly called epreuvettes, were part and parcel of every quartermaster's tools of trade.They usually take the form of a firelock in a stand, a measure for the powder being tested, and a gauge against which the strength of the powder can be determined - often a simple weight which is driven up a vertical gauge,or ballistic pendulum whose maximum swing can be determined by a sliding collar, much like a Fortin's maximum and minimum thermometer.

This one, made by Palmetto, uses a small charge of 2gr to rotate an inscribed disc against a ratchet - with thanks to capandball...

 
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Carbon 6

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But your average small farmer would buy cheap working powder for his cheap workaday gun.
Yes, "working powder" for stump removal, log splitting, and other land clearing etc. we often overlook the utilitarian uses of black powder like mining, building railroads, canals, roads, etc. It wasn't just for guns.
 

hanshi

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True; High explosives will shatter stone blocks (think rock quarries) so black powder is used to move and split the large blocks out.

Quite a few years ago I could only get Elephant. It must have been at a good time in the mfg process because it performed quite well for me.
 

smoothshooter

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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.
The huge Confederate powder mill constructed somewhere ( don't remember the name of the nearest town) in Georgia after the war started was considered to be producing some of the best powder in the world, rivalled only by France's best efforts, and many thought the Georgia powder better, on average. All of the equipment was state-of-the-art, and much of it purchased in Europe.
The powder mill complex was a series of large buildings that stretched on for about a mile along the bank of whichever river they were located on.
Seems like a shame that it was only in operation for two or three years, and was abandoned after the war ended.
 

Carbon 6

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Confederate powder was mostly sh-t, literally.
Joseph LeConte, a professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina University, wrote a pamphlet for the Nitre Bureau on the process for the manufacture of saltpeter in 1862 from liquid manure, such as urine, dung-water, water of privies, cess-pools, drains, &c.

The CSA was so desperate for powder that they sourced the ingredients from wherever they could, as a result, the purity, quality and consistency suffered greatly.
 

RedFeather

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I believe towards the end the CSA was using sugar and bat guano. Saw a show about a cave from which the guano was secretly harvested and the equipment used to shift it. Considering how detrimental to their health that was, it's a measure of their desperation.
 

Dr5x

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Confederate powder was mostly sh-t, literally.
Joseph LeConte, a professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina University, wrote a pamphlet for the Nitre Bureau on the process for the manufacture of saltpeter in 1862 from liquid manure, such as urine, dung-water, water of privies, cess-pools, drains, &c.

The CSA was so desperate for powder that they sourced the ingredients from wherever they could, as a result, the purity, quality and consistency suffered greatly.
WASN'T THERE SOMETHING THEY GOT FROM SCRAPING SOME WHITE STUFF THAT WAS TO BE FOUND ON OLD BRICK WALLS AND BUILDINGS?
A DIM MEMORY MAKES ME THINK IT WAS SALTPETER.

DUTCH
 

dave_person

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Hi,
Lavoisier, the great French chemist, improved the manufacture and composition of gun powder during the 18th century. His refinements, which included understanding how potassium nitrate contributed oxygen to the explosion and thus the force, greatly enhanced the quality of gun powder. E. I. Dupont was one of his students and brought those improvements to his powder manufacturing business in America after the French Revolution. Generally, late 18th century gun powder was better than earlier in the century and other countries produced quality powder as well. British powder was not admired very much but German rifle powder was. So much so that Ferguson demanded its use in his breech loading rifle. It was referred to as German superfine double strength powder and it cost almost 5 times the cost of musket powder. The secret was pure, refined ingredients, proper formulation, precise granulation, and glazing. Shooting a Ferguson today gives a sense of historical powder strength because of the fixed size of the powder chamber. Today, Swiss 3F powder seems to have performance similar to the 18th century German rifle powder, and Goex is not as good.

dave
 

looney

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WASN'T THERE SOMETHING THEY GOT FROM SCRAPING SOME WHITE STUFF THAT WAS TO BE FOUND ON OLD BRICK WALLS AND BUILDINGS?
A DIM MEMORY MAKES ME THINK IT WAS SALTPETER.

DUTCH
Yes, it was saltpeter. You may want to refine it a bit (mix with water and dry thoroughly to separate contaminants) before mixing it with your other ingredients.
 

looney

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Confederate powder was mostly sh-t, literally.
Joseph LeConte, a professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina University, wrote a pamphlet for the Nitre Bureau on the process for the manufacture of saltpeter in 1862 from liquid manure, such as urine, dung-water, water of privies, cess-pools, drains, &c.

The CSA was so desperate for powder that they sourced the ingredients from wherever they could, as a result, the purity, quality and consistency suffered greatly.
That's interesting. How/where did you get your information on the quality of CSA black powder? Actually, there was a very large black powder production facility in Augusta, Georgia. Yes, they used liquid manure, etc. to the point that wagons made regular rounds of homes in Augusta and elsewhere to collect the morning contents of chamber pots. Once the wagons returned to Augusta the filtering and refining began (https://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/lecontesalt/leconte.html). When this facility became fully functional, it was producing multiple tons of powder each day. It was said that, at full production, this facility supplied all, or nearly all, of the needs of the CSA and the quality was as good or better than any black powder available anywhere. When "them yankees" took Augusta, they made a point of shipping the black powder to their own troops because it was better than their own powder. Apparently, some of the black cannon powder remained in Augusta because it was written that over a decade latter it was still in excellent condition and used to fire cannons on the 4th of July. If need be, I can find you the source for this information.
 

Coot

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I believe towards the end the CSA was using sugar and bat guano. Saw a show about a cave from which the guano was secretly harvested and the equipment used to shift it. Considering how detrimental to their health that was, it's a measure of their desperation.
Health hazards were hardly as well understood in the past as nowadays. Bat guano was a primary source for saltpeter for many many years. During the War of 1812, wagonloads (of bat guano refined into saltpeter) were shipped from Mammoth Cave in KY to the Dupont plant in DE and Dupont powder was considered the best made in America at the time. The CSA plant in Agusta GA was also considered to make some of the best quality powder.
 

Dr5x

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That's interesting. How/where did you get your information on the quality of CSA black powder? Actually, there was a very large black powder production facility in Augusta, Georgia. Yes, they used liquid manure, etc. to the point that wagons made regular rounds of homes in Augusta and elsewhere to collect the morning contents of chamber pots. Once the wagons returned to Augusta the filtering and refining began (https://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/lecontesalt/leconte.html). When this facility became fully functional, it was producing multiple tons of powder each day. It was said that, at full production, this facility supplied all, or nearly all, of the needs of the CSA and the quality was as good or better than any black powder available anywhere. When "them yankees" took Augusta, they made a point of shipping the black powder to their own troops because it was better than their own powder. Apparently, some of the black cannon powder remained in Augusta because it was written that over a decade latter it was still in excellent condition and used to fire cannons on the 4th of July. If need be, I can find you the source for this information.
WITHIN THE PAST 20 OR SO YEARS A CIVIL WAR RIVER GUN BOAT, SUNK DURING THE WAR WAS RECOVERED FROM THE MISSISSIPPI OR CONTRIBUTING RIVERS AND A LARGE QANTITY OF BLACK POWDER, QUITE WET, WAS RECOVERED, DRIED AND DESTROYED. WHEN DRY IT TESTED AS GOOD AS NEW. OR SO WE WERE TOLD. I ASSUME IT WAS A YANKEE BOAT. THE SOTH SANK A LOT OF THEM.

DUTCH
 

tenngun

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Health hazards were hardly as well understood in the past as nowadays. Bat guano was a primary source for saltpeter for many many years. During the War of 1812, wagonloads (of bat guano refined into saltpeter) were shipped from Mammoth Cave in KY to the Dupont plant in DE and Dupont powder was considered the best made in America at the time. The CSA plant in Agusta GA was also considered to make some of the best quality powder.
Silver dollar city, in Branson Mo.now a Disneyland like tourist trap. It’s fun, but it is what it is. When opened it was a touristy living history place. All ozarks crafts and 1890s life. Quilts and blacksmithing wood carving gunsmithinf glassblowing ect. And lots of country food.
It was built on a ghost town for an ozarks mine, over the top of a good sized cave.
Famous amusement park built on bat poop.
 
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