Powder Quality in Ye Olden Days

Discussion in 'Shooting Accessories' started by Col. Batguano, May 2, 2019.

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  1. May 2, 2019 #1

    Col. Batguano

    Col. Batguano

    Col. Batguano

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    Let me start off by saying I am NOT discussing the making of black powder, as in how to do it, but the quality, distribution, and diversity of manufacturers in the days before smokeless became the king of the hill.

    As such, powder burning speed varies greatly depending on how well the mixture is integrated through the wetting process, and how fine the granules are. It's relatively simple stuff to make when you have the raw materials. In the old days, it really wouldn't be that efficient to ship it vast distances. My question is really one for historical context; how diversified was the manufacture? Did pretty much every town or county have a manufactory? How about the mountain men, living far from civilization? Did they make their own stuff? Quality and burning speed consistency can vary greatly based on a whole host of reasons. I mean, given the above, all powder is not the same.
     
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  2. May 3, 2019 #2

    Zonie

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    I recall reading that before the Revolutionary War, the British took a rather dim view of the colonists making their own powder.
    After the war there were a few places that did make powder and it was shipped by wagon, barge or boats to other areas.

    I've never heard of any Mountain Man making their own powder. They got their powder at the yearly rondezvous and pelt selling meetings or at the forts if one was handy.

    Before DuPont started making black powder in the US in 1804 most of the powder made in the US was pretty poor. DuPont learned the secrets of making black powder in France and brought the knowledge with him when he moved here.
     
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  3. May 6, 2019 #3

    Artificer

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    Didn't Daniel Boone and the other settlers at Boonesboro have to make a pretty good size batch of powder while they were awaiting an NA attack?

    Bottom line, yes there seems to have been a noticeable, if not huge difference in quality of powders available in the 18th century.

    " Christiansbrunn, the 9th September, 1773

    Most valued Friend Martin Baer,

    At your request I have prepared [completed/finished] a good rifle and sent it over to Mr. John Hopson together with 4 pounds of Powder. The rifle is decorated [inlaid] with silver wire and well made, as well as tested and she shoots right well. It has a double trigger, so that you can fire with the triggers either unset or set. Between the triggers there is a screw with which you can make it lighter or harder to fire. There is also a ball puller with which you can pull the ball out no matter how rusty she gets. She costs 8 pounds all together and with the powder @ 3 shillings per pound makes twelve shillings, for a total of L8.12.-. Because it is very good powder I have added two pounds more than you requested. I hope it will suit you well. You can write me a couple lines to let me know how you like it. Together with friendliest greetings I am your faithful

    friend and servant,

    Christian Oerter

    Gunmaker"
    http://www.flintriflesmith.com/WritingandResearch/WebArticles/1773 Letter from Gunmaker.htm

    There were different grades of powder besides different granulations of powder. "Colonial Frontier Guns" by Hamilton goes into this in some detail.

    British Gun Powder suffered terribly during the AWI both from greed/avarice of the makers and/or suppliers. They actually mentioned it in many letters/dispatches back to England. To give an idea of how much the quality of the powder had deteriorated, the FIW standard load for a Brown Bess Musket Cartridge was 165 grains of powder. However, they had to raise it to 190 grains and later 220 grains in some Regiments in the AWI.

    To my knowledge, the Patriots were not only happy to get French Powder, but it was better to far better than what was being supplied to the British forces in the AWI.

    Gus
     
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  4. May 6, 2019 #4

    Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave

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    The problem in the 18th century, from what I've read, was the quality of the finished ingredients. When the powder maker today, has very pure potassium nitrate and sulfur, and a good hardwood charcoal, and then mills those three ingredients very fine, then you have the basis for a good powder. Apparently the sulfur and especially the potassium nitrate wasn't very pure, and had adjuncts within it that contributed to its not making great powder. Add to that charcoal from a mixture of hardwood and softwood, and then skimp a bit on the potassium nitrate..., increasing the charcoal, and you get not very powerful powder. ;)

    Apparently in the 18th century there was widespread problems with adulterants in not only gunpowder, but in flour for bread, and in liquor as well.

    LD
     
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  5. May 6, 2019 #5

    Col. Batguano

    Col. Batguano

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    Was powder in those days simply mixed dry, or was it whetted as today?
     
  6. May 7, 2019 #6

    Artificer

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  7. May 7, 2019 #7

    tenngun

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    A popular device mostly owned by the wealthy sportsman was a powder tester. A small pistol with a spring gage on it attached to a ratchet. A small charge was loaded and fired blowing the ratchet down. How far it went would tell the shooter how much he had to adjust his load.
    Many years ago I tried Curtis Harvey powder, I think from Scotland. You had to shoot about 30% more to get the same results. But once loaded to the right charge it shot as well. It cleaned the same for me.
    I once read that at the Alamo ‘mere coal dust’was how the Texicans described the poor quality powder they had.
    I also read that mountain men were willing to pay about five times more for DuPont then common powder.
     
  8. May 27, 2019 #8

    sealgaire

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  9. May 27, 2019 #9

    tenngun

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    I do note that in eighteenth century we see some God Awful charges being dumped down guns. By the nineteenth we see charges similar to what we use in our guns today.
    I’ve read the service charge for the spring field rifle was in the 75 grain range, the shorter rifles 60-65, about what we shoot today. Ballistic test done with a ballistic pendulum demonstrated similar velocities in early nineteenth century as we get today.
     
  10. May 27, 2019 #10

    Gene L

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    I read in a Civil War book, nonfiction, that the Confederacy got their powder from England. Claimed it was superior. Of course, they used what they could get by raids, etc., I would bet.
     
  11. May 29, 2019 #11

    Coot

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    While some gunpowder may have come from England, the majority of the powder used by the Confederacy was made by the Agusta (GA) gunpowder works, built expressly for the war, it was the second largest powder works in the world at the time and produced what period records typically described as "first rate" power. As I recall, production was 3.5 tons a day!

    Re the quality of powder over time, I recently saw a document at the Virginia Historical Society from 1622, advising that each colonist (adult male) should provide themselves with an initial supply of 20 lbs of powder and 60 of shot. A ratio of 1 to 3. The Virginia Militia Act of 1750, called for each man to muster with 1 lb of powder & 4 of shot, a ratio of 1 to 4. By the ACW, 60 grains (none for priming) was a standard service load in a .58 rifle-musket. It would appear that powder quality improved considerably over time with powder from the 1860s likely being as good as today.
     
  12. May 30, 2019 #12

    DaveC

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    Union powder charges from The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army (Philadelphia, 1861)
    .69 expanding ball/ Minié 70 grains
    .58 Minié 60 grains
    .69 smoothbore round ball 110 grains
    .44 cal. Army revolver elongated ball 30 grains
    .36 cal. Navy revolver elongated ball 17 grains
    .52 cal. Sharps cavalry carbine 50 grains

    CSA The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty (Richmond, 1862)
    .54 cal. Mississippi rifle 70 grains
    .577 cal. Enfield 70 grains
    .58 cal. rifle musket 75 grains
    .69 cal. rifled musket 80 grains
    .69 cal. smoothbore round ball 100 grains
    .69 cal. smoothbore buck and ball 110 grains
    .54 Merrill carbine 50 grains
    .52 Sharps carbine 60 grains
    .50 cal. Maynard 55 grains
    .44 Army revolver 30 grains
    .36 Navy revolver 17 grains
    .54 cal. single-shot pistol 30 grains
     
  13. May 30, 2019 #13

    mlshooter

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  14. May 30, 2019 #14

    WRustyLane

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  15. May 30, 2019 #15

    jdw276

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    The lyman manual number 1, used CH powder as part of their load tables. Never knew what the CH powder was. Thanks.
     
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  16. May 30, 2019 #16

    Coot

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    The powder testing device is called an eprouvette. Occasionally you see one for sale - at about the price of a good pistol. :(
     
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  17. Jun 1, 2019 #17

    spudnut

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    I read an account from the depression about a guy remembering his grandmother gathering chicken dung charcoal and sulpher and making powder to shoot squirrels with.
     

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