Monday, 25 April 2016

Backwoods Gunpowder Making.

Potassium Nitrate (Saltpeter) found in Australian caves.
Lucas Cave, Jenolan Caves, the Blue Mountains, New South Wales.

Making gunpowder is easy, but how do you obtain gunpowder ingredients in the wilderness? Did 18th century Woodsmen make their own gunpowder?
Gunpowder can apparently be made from Potassium Nitrate & charcoal without the use of sulphur, but this gunpowder is much faster without the use of sulphur, so the amount used must be altered.
Saltpeter has been obtained from caves for centuries, more notably in America, England & Europe, but also it has been found here in Australia. 

I take no responsibility for these recipes below:

Gunpowder Recipe.
A good standard black powder:..100 parts saltpeter + 18 parts coal + 16 parts sulphur.
A powder without sulfur: 
............100 parts saltpeter + 24 parts coal  (makes poor priming powder for flintlocks).

2)  75% willow char to 25% potassium nitrate. 

Good for flintlock priming.
A hopper for producing saltpeter in Saltpeter Cave Kentucky.

A rough hopper from Foxfire Book Volume 5.


Deposit of potassium nitrate, Central Australia

Beneath the Surface: A Natural History of Australian Caves

Modern analysis has also revealed another unusual feature in the Grand Archway and Devils Coach House. Sylvite (potassium chloride) and niter (potassium nitrate) are fragile water-soluble minerals which have formed from the interaction between geological and biological processes - that is, they have formed from the alteration of guano (dung) from the wombats and wallabies which frequented these large open caverns.

The occurrence of potassium nitrate near Goyder's Pass, McDonnell Ranges, Central Australia.

Saltpetre Production From Cave Sediments - An Important and Early American Chemical Industry P. Gary Eller, P. Hauer, C. Hill and D. DePaepe The production of saltpetre (KN03) has been an important human activity for more than a millennium, providing an ingredient for meat preservation, ceramics, gunpowder, and many other commodities. For America, the availability of saltpetre, especially for gunpowder manufacture,
Beginning with 18th Century settlement of the region, caves were used for shelter, food storage, saltpeter mining,
Beginning in the late 18th century, settlers began to clear large tracts of land to extract potash — a potassium-rich mineral used in the production of gunpowder and soap 
was a site for processing saltpeter into gunpowder, a pioneer industry that the Boone extended family had participated in just below the mouth of Big Piney on the Gasconade River 
Caves: Processes, Development and Management Australia. Saltpeter Caves.
Encyclopedia of Caves
Niter and Sylvite from Jenolan Caves, New South Wales, Australia


 "The ladies of Selma are respectfully requested to preserve all their chamber lye collected about their premises for the purpose of making Nitre. Wagons with barrels will be sent around to gather up the lotion"

(signed) Jon Haralson
Agent, Nitre and Mining Bureau
"The Do-It Yourself Gunpowder Cookbook"
“Do you want to know how to make your own gunpowder from such
      easily accessible items as dead cats, whiskey, "fools gold", your
      living room ceiling, manure, and maple syrup?”.
One Kentuckian reminisced about how his family mixed hunting with the processing of saltpeter, a chemical used in the making of gunpowder. He recalled digging nitrates from the soil, boiling it until it crystallized, and then loading it onto packhorses to take to “market.”
and there was some domestic production of gunpowder as well.xlviii
in doing so accumulated backwoods intelligence for the location of salines, lead deposits, and caves for niter mining to produce gunpowder.
Australian resources of sulphur-bearing minerals (2)

"Caves were mined by individuals and also commercially for national defense purposes during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Many homesteaders in the Virginias, Kentucky, and Tennessee had their own individual saltpeter caves and from them would make their own gunpowder in home-constructed V-vats or 'hoppers." 
Foxfire Book Volume 5.

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