How to Make Gunpowder the Old Fashioned Way

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(Full disclosure: This article doesn’t contain an exhaustive list of every method of making gunpowder/black powder, nor does it contain every minute safety precaution you need to take in that process. Do your research and seek out expert opinions. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.)

How to Make Gunpowder the Old Fashioned Way

It’s one thing to prep for the next hurricane or tornado or economic calamity. There are a lot of really basic skills and supplies that will get you through those situations, and pretty much anyone can acquire them. But the scenarios that are truly difficult to prepare for, are the ones that involve the total collapse of our society for any given period of time. That’s because surviving those scenarios requires you as an individual, to pick up the slack of everyone else in society.

By that I mean you really have to do everything yourself if you want to survive. You have to grow your own food, heal your own wounds, fix your own gear, procure your own energy, and possibly even build your own shelter. When the commerce and infrastructure of society breaks down, you’re truly going to be on your own for a while.

Fortunately, it wouldn’t take long for a society to start functioning again in some capacity. Working together, communicating, and trading is in our nature as human beings. We’d be eager to put the pieces of society back together again. But if a particularly cataclysmic scenario comes to pass, it could take years before our world is back in business. In that time, there would be one substance that would be in short supply, and that is gunpowder.

Reloading spent shells and casings would become a necessity after a collapse, and gunpowder would be particularly difficult to procure. In the modern world, producing gunpowder is child’s play, but when society breaks down it will be an arduous, dirty, and time-consuming task. And it won’t be high quality gunpowder either. You’ll most likely be stuck making black powder, which isn’t as good as what ammunition manufacturers use now but it will be effective nonetheless. Here’s how it’s made:

For starters you’ll need three ingredients. Potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. All of these ingredients should be ground into a fine powder if they haven’t been already. The ratio of these ingredients is 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur, and that ratio is by weight, not volume. These ingredients should be ground up separately before mixing. Grinding them together could cause an explosion. It should go without saying that throughout this process, you shouldn’t let any sparks, static, or open flames get anywhere near your materials.

As far as mixing them together, first add a small amount of water to each ingredient to reduce the risk of combustion; just enough to give it a dough like consistency. Now you can grind them all together with a mortar and pestle (don’t use any utensils or containers made of metal). Most people will use a ball mill to both grind up the materials and mix them together. It’s a bit safer, and will make a higher quality powder.

This moistened paste can then be pressed into a single solid mass, and as it dries you can grind it up again into tiny pellets. This is a process known as “corning.” The product this produces will burn better and will be a bit more stable and consistent, than if you just mixed all these ingredients together all willy nilly with a bowl and spoon. After that, you’re pretty much done.

gunpowder wikimedia
In an apocalyptic scenario however, making black powder is the easy part. What would be really challenging is attaining these ingredients in the first place. Charcoal would be the easiest, since it’s fairly easy to make on your own. Willow, soft pine, western cedar, and cottonwood trees are most commonly used for making black powder.

Sulfur is bit trickier. Depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to get a hold of it in a grid down scenario. Fortunately black powder can still be made without sulfur. Simply mix the potassium nitrate and charcoal together with a 80/20 ratio. It won’t burn as well, but it will still work. Sulfur can also be substituted with iron-oxide (rust).

Your most challenging obstacle will be finding the potassium nitrate. The only natural source of this material can be found in bat guano, and I’m willing to bet that you won’t have an easy time finding that. You’ll have to make your own.

Traditionally this was done by what’s called the “French method.” You have to mix urine, manure, and straw together. Periodically, more urine is added and mixed over and over again over the course of several months to a year. Then water is poured through the mixture and filtered through wood ash, causing potassium nitrate crystals to appear, where they can then be separated.

A more modern method involves a metal drum with a drainage valve near the bottom. A screen mesh is placed inside, and manure, water, and urine is dumped in and mixed on top of the mesh. You seal it up tight and let it sit outside for 10 months. Then you drain the liquid into a wood ash filter, and let it set in a shallow, wooden or plastic container to dry. Once the water dries, potassium nitrate crystals will remain.

These aren’t the only methods though. There are countless more, so it would be a good idea to do some research and find something that works best for you. The Army’s Improvised Munitions Handbook has a recipe for making potassium nitrate that is a lot faster than what I explained above, and it also contains its own procedure for making black powder.

As you can see, making your own gunpowder can be incredibly dirty and dangerous, but having this skill under your belt is certainly empowering. Firearms are among the most useful tools in a prepper’s arsenal, and knowing how to make your own gunpowder means that you can keep on shooting no matter how long it takes for society to be rebuilt.


 Saving our forefathers ways starts with people like you and me actually relearning these skills and putting them to use to live better lives through good times and bad. Our answers on these lost skills comes straight from the source, from old forgotten classic books written by past generations, and from first hand witness accounts from the past few hundred years.  Just like our forefathers used to do, The Lost Ways teaches you how you can survive in the worst-case scenario with the minimum resources available. TLWPH

You can get your paperback copy HERE

Here’s just a glimpse of what you’ll find in The Lost Ways:

Table Of Contents:

Wild West Guns for SHTF and a Guide to Rolling Your Own Ammo
Making Your Own Beverages: Beer to Stronger Stuff
Ginger Beer: Making Soda the Old Fashioned Way
How North American Indians and Early Pioneers Made Pemmican
Spycraft: Military Correspondence During The 1700’s to 1900’s
How Our Forefathers Built Their Sawmills, Grain Mills,and Stamping Mills
How Our Ancestors Made Herbal Poultice to Heal Their Wounds
What Our Ancestors Were Foraging For? or How to Wildcraft Your Table
How Our Ancestors Navigated Without Using a GPS System
How Our Forefathers Made Knives
How Our Forefathers Made Snow shoes for Survival
How North California Native Americans Built Their Semi-subterranean Roundhouses
Our Ancestors’Guide to Root Cellars
Good Old Fashioned Cooking on an Open Flame
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Preserve Water
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Take Care of Our Hygiene When There Isn’t Anything to Buy
How and Why I Prefer to Make Soap with Modern Ingredients
Temporarily Installing a Wood-Burning Stove during Emergencies
Making Traditional and Survival Bark Bread…….
Trapping in Winter for Beaver and Muskrat Just like Our Forefathers Did
How to Make a Smokehouse and Smoke Fish
Survival Lessons From The Donner Party

Get your paperback copy HERE

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Joshua Krause was born and raised in the Bay Area. He is a writer and researcher focused on principles of self-sufficiency and liberty at Ready Nutrition. You can follow Joshua’s work at our Facebook page or on his personal Twitter.

Joshua’s website is Strange Danger

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

24 Replies to “How to Make Gunpowder the Old Fashioned Way

  1. One point not addressed here, is how to separate sodium chloride and organic material from the saltpeter. If you check the U.S Army manual, alcohol can be used. The 1862 South Carolina manual recommends using “glue” or blood, as well as temperature differential in saturation levels.
    Saltpeter refining was once a common skill. Today, all but lost.

  2. Sis you really think this article out?

    Once you have your black powder in the casings with the bullet(I assume you are going to be casting these) how are you going to ignite it? have the firing pin strike a bit of flint?

    Why would you make black powder if you have access to Sulfur and potassium nitrate with Sulfur you can make sulfuric acid, with sulfuric acid & potassium nitrate you can make Nitric acid, with Nitric acid & sulfuric acid you cam make way better explosives than black powder. Including the more unstable ones for your primers.

    1. Hi Bovski,
      Do you have any chemistry links to share? My chemistry is rusty old high school type, but I am interested in both low & high explosives, purely for informational purposes of course… Not sure about some of the ‘net sources I’ve often seen.

  3. Hi,

    Please remember you CANNOT use black powder to reload modern cartridges!!!
    Black powder explodes and modern powder just burns very fast. The difference in the barrel pressures is enormous. Reload a pistol shell with black powder and it has a good chance of blowing up.

    The article is great. But, if you are true prepper you should have at least 1 black powder firearm.



    1. You have that the wrong way, black powder explodes, and gun powder burns fast, but gun powder attains a much higher pressure than black powder ever could, so you can load any modern gunpowder cartridge with black powder and it will fire, but the performance will be severely reduced, and if used in a blow-back semi-auto gun, will lack the power to cycle it, and gas operated guns will not cycle, and will immediately clog up.
      A revolver, bolt action and lever action should work ok, but again, at much reduced velocities.
      Spend some pocket change and get a couple black powder revolvers mail ordered to your home (in most states) and give them a try, heck, even get a cheap muzzle loading rifle, they will still kill an attacker, and will hunt game long after all your modern rounds have been expended.
      I have both a 36 cal and a 45 cal BP Revolver and all the gear needed to use them for a few hundred rounds.

  4. The US army manual mentioned in the article gives knowledge far beyond black powder, there’s a reason it’s highly popular with preppers and other independent folks.

  5. Modern bullets use smokeless powder. Black powder should only be used if you’re using a black powder firearm. using black powder weapons is fun. But I’d prefer to use more modern weapons for hunting. They’re more accurate. How often do you see black powder weapons being used now a days? Or advertised?

  6. old fashioned gun powder was used with flint lock rifles. Not in modern bullets.Very few people use black powder fire arms anymore.

  7. the Gunpowder you are describing is not the same as Smokeless gunpowder. Regular gunpowder does no burn up 100% immediately. It might leave residue in your weapon’s barrel that could cause your weapon to misfire. It also does not have the energy potential that modern gunpowder does.

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