Black Powder

It’s time to tie a few things together. Last month we talked about our summer camp experience sampling various shooting sports. Among them was black powder muzzleloading. Earlier this week, we looked at fireworks and gunpowder.

Acoording to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, black powder is a term first known to be used in 1861 and is defined as “an explosive mixture of potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur used especially in fireworks and as a propellant in antique firearms.” In our last post, we learned that gun powder was a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. Yes, they are the same thing. In other words, these muzzleloaders use, essentially, the same gunpowder, which is a component of fiery pyrotechnic displays, to propel a round ball projectile downrange.

Aside from typically being used in muzzleloaders (look for a separate post on this topic), how is black powder different from what is used in modern ammunition, such as that used in the rifle that we talked about in an earlier post? According to Russ Chastain’s article Black Powder, over at, it will go off in an immediate flash when exposed to flame or spark, whereas modern propellants, have more of a “slow” burn. When ignited, black powder produces a thick cloud of white smoke and sulfurous odor, while leaving a corrosive residue in the gun’s barrel. Often referred to as “smokeless powder,” modern propellants produce little to no smoke, less odor, and are non-corrosive.