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"Black Powder and Smoke" Topic


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553 hits since 11 Aug 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Trajanus11 Aug 2018 11:24 a.m. PST

Prompted by the thread on Artillery powder smoke in the Gettysburg movie:

A question I think I may have asked before but I've always assumed modern black powder(s) produce less smoke than what was available "in period" due to more refined production processes.

Any one seen or read anything to support this assumption

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2018 11:54 a.m. PST

When you say 'modern black powder' are you meaning
a substance such as Pyrodex, or Triple 7 or Black Mag3
or the pellet versions of 2 of those ?

Black powder is generally in limited supply these days,
although a few shooters still use it, I suppose.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2018 2:33 p.m. PST

It might be, but it still needs the same components. Almost no one shoots black powder anymore because retail establishments have to store it as an explosive and ship it as hazmat. Pyrodex and other BP substitutes took over the market decades ago.

Trajanus11 Aug 2018 3:32 p.m. PST

Probably ignorance of the changes in substance on my part but what I was referring to is whatever "cap & ball" enthusiasts, Civil War groups and live fire/competition smoothbore and rifled artillery shooters use.

People in videos refer to it as Black Powder regardless of what it might be legally or technically. I was just wondering how the smoke it now produces might compare to the 1860s propellant.

My guess is it makes less smoke even when we see it in what appears to be high volume.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 5:55 a.m. PST

I cannot speak for recent use, but way back when I
did competitions, all the shooters in my unit
of 8 people used Pyrodex (late 1970's).

In addition to being much safer than real BP (less
sensitive to shock, etc.), it did seem to create
less smoke, which was certainly a consideration when
trying to 'shoot down' that upright piece of lumber
which was the target.

JimDuncanUK12 Aug 2018 6:30 a.m. PST

I once saw a firing demonstration of Napoleonic artillery.

There were 2 or 3 guns and after firing a round each you could not see a thing in front for about 5 minutes until the breeze cleared the smoke. Downwind visibility was still poor.

I expect they were using some form of black powder.

It certainly made a big bang.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 9:08 a.m. PST

BP produces more smoke and flame.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2018 10:57 a.m. PST

There were 2 or 3 guns and after firing a round each you could not see a thing in front for about 5 minutes until the breeze cleared the smoke. Downwind visibility was still poor.

That is why the practice for solid shot, not the canister for immediate threats, was for each gun to fire in succession, with several seconds time intervals. One ACW artillery officer stated that his battery at Gettysburg was 'heavily' engaged for an hour at one point. Each gun of the six gun battery had fired 12 rounds in that time, 72 rounds for the hour[give or take] for 1.2 rounds per minute per gun. If they wanted to hit what they were firing at, they had to see where the shot[s] landed.

I am sure the rates varied depending on wind and how quickly the smoke cleared. When the Stonewall Brigade and Iron Brigade met before 2nd Manassas, they fired at each other for about twenty minutes…and stopped firing because neither was sure where or if the opposition was still there. They couldn't see anything, though both sides were less than 100 yards away.

Trajanus13 Aug 2018 3:16 a.m. PST

Bill,

I'd forgotten that practice, well remembered!

Pretty strong indicator of how the density would differ.

Lots of possible indicators to Civil War conditions in general are written down somewhere, my eternal problem is remembering where I read them, or even remembering at all!

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 9:17 a.m. PST

I am not sure that modern black powder is prepared better than 1860's powder. I went to the DuPont works outside of Wilmington Delaware and was surprised at how sophisticated the process was (I recommend the visit to anyone).

I can say that the powder we use for reenactments certainly puts out a lot of smoke. We don't get the full 1860's smoke effect largely because there are far fewer of us than the original cast.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 11:02 a.m. PST

Probably ignorance of the changes in substance on my part but what I was referring to is whatever "cap & ball" enthusiasts, Civil War groups and live fire/competition smoothbore and rifled artillery shooters use.

We use two types of black powder in my artillery unit. It is supplied in various grades, differentiated by how finely milled it is.

Pistol powered is very finely milled, musket is slightly coarser and the largest grains are used in artillery.

link

We use 'artillery powder' for shooting 'live' rounds as here:

YouTube link

YouTube link

For reenactments we use firework 'lifting powder' it's even coarser, it also smells slightly different (like, um fireworks) but it's much cheaper. The amount of smoke produced is the same.

The basic chemical formula hasn't changed since the 16thC and certainly not since the late 19thC when other, more efficient propellants were developed.

Trajanus13 Aug 2018 3:26 p.m. PST

Ah! Now that's what I'm talking about!

I recognise several of the materials on the traders link from videos both in the US and Europe as being used for cap and ball as well as black powder cartridge guns.

The basic formula may not have changed but I bet the chemical purity and manufacturing process has. My guess is few suppliers go around collecting buckets of urine and tons of bird poop these days!

Slightly freaked at the thought of Fedex shipping fifty pounds of the stuff, hazmat or no!

Trajanus13 Aug 2018 3:32 p.m. PST

Also good practical illustration one gun's smoke obscuring the target for the next gun in that second You Tube link.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2018 6:21 a.m. PST

Slightly freaked at the thought of Fedex shipping fifty pounds of the stuff, hazmat or no!

Usually a member volunteers to go a collect go a collected it. Black powder comes in 1lb containers. The lifting power comes in 28lb bags that looks like cat litter. ;-)

Trajanus14 Aug 2018 8:28 a.m. PST

The lifting power comes in 28lb bags that looks like cat litter.

Well at least cat pee would act as a safety device if was deployed wrongly!

Brings new meaning to "keeping your Powder dry"!

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