To fill a Cannon, a hole was drilled into the top. Then, a plug filled the hole and slow burning powder was used as a fuse.
A touch hole is a small hole through which the propellant charge of a cannon or muzzleloading gun is ignited. In small arms, the flash from a charge of priming held in the flash pan is enough to ignite the charge within. In artillery, priming powder, a fuse, squib, or friction igniter is inserted into the touch hole to ensure ignition of the charge.
The powder in the touch hole was lit either with a slow match, a linstock or a type of Flintlock mechanism that was known as a gunlock.
If a cannon was in danger of being captured by the enemy, its crew would "spike" the gun to prevent it from being used against them. This would involve hammering a barbed steel spike into the touch-hole, which could be removed only with great difficulty. Spiking an enemy's guns could also be done to prevent counterattacks and protect ships during withdrawal, as in the case of the s attack on WhitehavenRanger' during the American Revolutionary War.
Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Bismarck, in his Lectures on the Tactics of Cavalry, recommended that every cavalry soldier should carry the equipment needed to spike guns if an encounter with enemy artillery was expected.
Slow match or match cord is the very slow burning cord or twine fuse used by early gunpowder musketeers, artillerymen, and soldiers to ignite matchlock muskets, cannons, and petards. Slow matches were most suitable for use around black-powder weapons because a slow match could be roughly handled without going out, and only presented a small glowing tip instead of a large flame that risked igniting nearby gunpowder.
The slow match attached to the lock of the matchlock gun was usually a length of hemp or flax cord that had been chemically treated to make it burn slowly and consistently for an extended period. In Japan, however, match cord was made from braiding together strands of bark from the Japanese cypress. The rate of burning was approximately 1 ft (305mm) per hour. The British Army estimated that a single soldier on guard duty, for one year, could use an entire mile worth of match cord. In practical use on a matchlock, both ends of the match cord were often ignited, as the flash of gunpowder in the flash pan could often extinguish one end of the match cord, and the remaining end could then be used to re-ignite the firing end of the cord upon reloading the matchlock musket. To prevent dragging the match cord on the wet ground, a linstock was often carried and used, it being a forked wood support inserted into the ground and used for holding the end of the match cord farthest removed from the matchlock.
Many formulas for match cord exist, providing varying burn rates. The predominant chemical used was potassium nitrate, although sodium nitrate, and lead acetate also appear to have been used. Potassium nitrate, however, had an advantage over sodium nitrate, through being less likely to absorb atmospheric moisture.
Match cord was often used from the 15th century until about 1630, when the flintlock started its rise to prominence. (The arrival of the snaplock after 1540 had only limited impact on match cord use, snaplocks generally being considered a peasant's weapon.) Match cord remained in use with limited numbers of match locks in Europe until approximately 1730, and in Japan until the early 1900s. Even once it became obsolete for small arms use, some artillery users (notably the Royal Navy) continued to deploy it as a back-up until the end of the flintlock era.
Modern-day slow match (used with replica matchlock firearms) is sometimes made of cotton cord, instead of hemp, due to legalities associated with growing hemp plants.
For faster burning and modern-day applications such as for igniting fireworks, tubed black match, sometimes termed quick match, or punk are generally used instead of slow match.
The flash pan or priming pan is a small receptacle for priming powder, found next to the touch hole on muzzleloading guns. Flash pans are found on gonnes, matchlocks, wheellocks, snaplocks, snaphances, and flintlocks.
The flash pan was at first attached to the gun barrel, but was later moved to the lock plate of the gun. A small amount of finely ground gunpowder is placed in the flash pan and ignited. The flash of flame travels through the touch hole igniting the main charge of propellant inside the barrel. Unlike cannon, it was not necessary (or desirable) to place priming in the touch hole itself. The flash alone, and not particles of burning powder was enough to ignite the main charge.
The ignition of the main charge from the flash pan was not a guaranteed operation, however, and sometimes it failed. In those cases the spark would flash in the pan, but the gun would fail to fire. This led by the end of the 17th century to the expression “flash in the pan” to mean a failure after a brief and showy start, or momentary sensation of no real importance.
Flash powder is a pyrotechnic composition, a mixture of oxidizer and metallic fuel, which burns quickly and if confined produces a loud report. It is widely used in theatrical pyrotechnics and fireworks (namely salutes, e.g., cherry bombs, M-80s, firecrackers, and cap gun shots) and was once used for flashes in photography.
Different varieties of flash powder are made from different compositions; most common are potassium perchlorate and aluminium powder. Sometimes, sulfur is included in the mixture to increase the sensitivity. Early formulations used potassium chlorate instead of Potassium Perchlorate.
Flash powder compositions are also used in military pyrotechnics, when production of large amount of noise, light, or infrared radiation is required; e.g. missile decoy flares and stun grenades.
Flash powders even within intended usages often release explosive force of deadly capacity. Nearly all widely used flash-powder mixtures are sensitive to shock, friction and electrostatic-discharge. In certain mixtures it is not uncommon for this sensitivity to spontaneously change over time, or due to change in the environment, or to other unknowable factors in either the original manufacturing, or in real-world storage. Additionally, accidental contaminants such as strong acids or sulphur compounds can sensitise them even more. Because flash-powder mixtures are so easy to initiate, there is potentially a high risk of accidental explosions which can inflict severe blast/fragmentation injuries e.g., blindness, explosive amputation, permanent maiming or disfigurement. Fatalities have occurred. The various flash powder compositions should therefore not be handled by anyone who is unfamiliar with their properties, or the handling techniques required to maintain safety. Flash powder and flash-powder devices pose exceptionally high risks to children, who typically cannot understand the danger and may be less adept with safe handling techniques. As a result, children tend to suffer more severe injuries than adults.
Flash powders—especially those that use chlorate—are often highly sensitive to friction, heat/flame and static electricity. A spark of as little as 0.1-10 millijoules can set off certain mixtures. Certain formulations prominent in the underground press contain both sulfur and potassium chlorate. These mixtures are especially shock and friction sensitive and in many applications should be considered unpredictable. Modern pyrotechnic practices call for never using sulfur in a mix containing chlorate salts.
Some flash powder formulations (those that use single-digit micrometre flake aluminum powder or fine magnesium powder as their fuel) can self-confine and explode in small quantities. This makes flash powder dangerous to handle, as it can cause severe hearing damage and amputation injury even when sitting in the open. Self-confinement occurs when the mass of the pile provides sufficient inertia to allow high pressure to build within it as the mixture reacts. This is referred to as 'inertial confinement', and it is not to be confused with a detonation.
Flash powder of any formulation should not be mixed in large quantities by the amateur pyrotechnician. Beginners should start with sub-gram quantities, and refrain from making large devices. Flash powder should only be made at the site at which it will be used. Additionally, the mixture should be made immediately before use. When made, then transportation, storage, usage, and various possession and illegal "firearms" laws, (including felonies,) may come into effect that do not apply to the unmixed or pre-assembled components.
Normally, flash powder mixtures are compounded to achieve a particular purpose. These mixtures range from extremely fast burning mixtures designed to produce a maximum audio report, to mixtures designed to burn slowly and provide large amounts of illumination, to mixtures that were formerly used in photography.
Because of the above mentioned instability, the combination of aluminium powder and potassium chlorate is a poor choice for flash powder that is to be stored for more than a very short period of time. For that reason it has been largely replaced by the potassium perchlorate mixtures. Chlorate mixes are used when cost is the overriding concern, because potassium chlorate is less expensive than perchlorate. It is critically important to exclude sulphur and any acidic components from these mixtures. Sometimes a few percent of bicarbonate buffer is added to the mixture to ensure the absence of acidic impurities.
The composition is approximately 70% KClO3 : 30% Al by weight for the reactants of the above stoichiometrically balanced equation.
This composition, usually in a ratio of 5 parts potassium nitrate, to 3 parts aluminum powder, to 2 parts sulfur, is especially popular with hobbyists. It is not very quick burning, unless exceptionally fine ingredients are used. Although it incorporates sulfur, it is in fact fairly stable, sustaining multiple hits from a hammer onto a hard surface. Adding 2% of its weight with boric acid is reputed to significantly increase stability and shelf life, through resistance to dampening through ambient humidity. Other ratios such as 6 KNO3/3 Al/2 S and 5 KNO3/2 Al/3 S also exist and work. All ratios have similar burn times and strength, although 5 KNO3/3 Al/2 S seems to be dominant.
The composition is approximately 59% KNO3 : 31.6% Al : 9.4% S by weight for the reactants of the above stoichiometrically balanced equation.
For best results, "German Dark" aluminum should be used, with airfloat sulfur, and finely ball milled pure potassium nitrate. The finished mixture should never be ball milled together.
Aluminum powder and potassium perchlorate are the only two components of the pyrotechnic industry standard flash powder. It provides a great balance of stability and power, and is the composition used in most commercial exploding fireworks.
The balanced equation for the reaction is:
Although not stoichiometrically balanced, a ratio of seven parts Potassium Perchlorate to three parts Dark Pyro Aluminum is the composition used by most pyrotechnicians. However, a ratio of 2 mass units potassium perchlorate to 1 mass unit Dark Pyro Aluminum is closer to stoichiometric, and may produce a louder report.
For best results, the aluminum powder should be "Dark Pyro" grade, with a flake particle shape, and a particle size of less than 10 micrometres. The KClO4 should be in powder form, free from clumps. It can be sieved through a screen if necessary to remove any clumps prior to use. The particle size of the perchlorate is not as critical as that of the aluminum component, as much less energy is required to decompose the KClO4 than is needed to melt the aluminum into the liquid state required for the reaction.
Although this composition is fairly insensitive, it should be treated with care and respect. Hobbyist pyrotechnicians usually use a method called diapering, in which the materials are poured separately onto a large piece of paper, which is then alternately lifted at each corner to roll the composition over itself and mix the components. Some amateur pyrotechnicians choose to mix the composition by shaking in a closed paper container, as this is much quicker and more effective than diapering. Paper/cardboard is chosen over other materials such as plastic as a result of its favorable triboelectric properties.
Large quantities should never be mixed in a single batch. Large quantities are not only more difficult to handle safely, but they place innocent bystanders within the area at risk. In the event of accidental ignition, debris from a multiple-pound flash powder explosion can be thrown hundreds of feet with sufficient force to kill or injure. (Note: 25 grams of mixture is enough to explode in open air without constraint other than air pressure.)
No matter the quantity, care must always be taken to prevent any electrostatic discharge or friction during mixing or handling, as these may cause accidental ignition.
Another flash composition common among amateurs consists of magnesium powder and potassium nitrate. Other metal nitrates have been used, including Barium and strontium nitrates. Compositions using nitrate and magnesium metal have been used as photographic flash powders almost since the invention of photography.
The composition is approximately 50% KNO3 : 50% Mg by weight for the reactants of the above stoichiometrically balanced equation.
Mixtures designed to make reports are substantially different than mixtures designed for illumination. A stoichiometric ratio of three parts KNO3 to two parts Mg is close to ideal, and provides the most rapid burn. The magnesium powder should be smaller than 200 mesh, though up to 100 mesh will work. The potassium nitrate should be impalpable dust. This mixture is popular in amateur pyrotechnics because it is insensitive and relatively safe as such things go.
For photographic use, mixtures containing magnesium and nitrates are made much more fuel rich. The excess magnesium is volatilized by the reaction and burns in air providing additional light. In addition, the higher concentration of fuel results in a slower burn, providing more of a "poof" and less of a "bang" when ignited. A formula from 1917 specifies 5 parts of magnesium to 6 parts of barium nitrate for a stoichiometry of nine parts fuel to one part oxidizer. Modern recreations of photographic flash powders may avoid the use of barium salts because of their toxic nature. A mixture of five parts 80 mesh magnesium to one part of potassium nitrate provides a good white flash without being too violent. Fuel rich flash powders are also used in theatrical flash pots.
Magnesium based compositions degrade over long periods of time, as Magnesium does not form a passivating oxide coating, meaning the metallic Mg will slowly react with atmospheric oxygen and moisture. In military pyrotechnics involving magnesium fuels, external oxygen can be excluded by using hermetically sealed canisters. Commercial photographic flash powders are sold as two part mixtures, to be combined immediately before use.
A flash composition designed specifically to generate flares that are exceptionally bright in the infrared portion of the spectrum use a mixture of pyro grade magnesium and powdered polytetrafluoroethylene. These flares are used as decoys from aircraft that might be subject to heat-seeking missile fire.
This mixture, and similar mixtures sometimes containing pyro aluminum have been used since the early 1900s for small "Black Cat" style paper firecrackers. Its extremely low cost makes it popular among manufacturers of low-grade fireworks in China. Like all mixtures containing Chlorates, it is extremely sensitive to friction, impact and ESD, and is considered unsafe in pyrotechnic devices that contain more than a few tens of milligrams of the mixture.
This mixture is not highly energetic, and in at least some parts of the United States, firecrackers containing 50 mg or less of this mixture are legal as consumer fireworks.
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike black powder which they replaced. The term is unique to the United States and is generally not used in other English speaking countries, which initially used proprietary names such as "Ballistite" and "Cordite" but gradually shifted to "propellant" as the generic term.
The basis of the term smokeless is that the combustion products are mainly gaseous, compared to around 55% solid products (mostly potassium carbonate, potassium sulfate, and potassium sulfide) for black powder. Despite its name, smokeless powder is not completely smoke-free; while there may be little noticeable smoke from small-arms ammunition, smoke from artillery fire can be substantial. This article focuses on nitrocellulose formulations, but the term smokeless powder was also used to describe various picrate mixtures with nitrate, chlorate, or dichromate oxidizers during the late 19th century, before the advantages of nitrocellulose became evident.
Since the 14th century gunpowder was not actually a physical "powder," and smokeless powder can only be produced as a pelletized or extruded granular material. Smokeless powder allowed the development of modern semi- and fully automatic firearms and lighter breeches and barrels for artillery. Burnt black powder leaves a thick, heavy fouling which is hygroscopic and causes rusting of the barrel. The fouling left by smokeless powder exhibits none of these properties. This makes an autoloading firearm with many moving parts feasible (which would otherwise jam or seize under heavy black powder fouling).
Smokeless powders are classified as, typically, division 1.3 explosives under the UN Recommendations on the transportation of Dangerous goods – Model Regulations, regional regulations (such as ADR) and national regulations (such the United States' ATF). However, they are used as solid propellants; in normal use, they undergo deflagration rather than detonation.
Military commanders had been complaining since the Napoleonic Wars about the problems of giving orders on a battlefield obscured by the smoke of firing. Verbal commands could not be heard above the noise of the guns, and visual signals could not be seen through the thick smoke from the gunpowder used by the guns. Unless there was a strong wind, after a few shots, soldiers using black powder ammunition would have their view obscured by a huge cloud of smoke. Snipers or other concealed shooters were given away by a cloud of smoke over the firing position. Black powder is also corrosive, making cleaning mandatory after every use. Likewise, black powder's tendency to produce severe fouling caused actions to jam and often made reloading difficult.
Nitroglycerine was discovered by Professor Sobrero in Turin in 1846. It was subsequently developed and manufactured by Alfred Nobel as an explosive substance, but it was unsuitable as a propellant. A major step forward was the discovery of guncotton, a nitrocellulose-based material, by Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1846. He promoted its use as a blasting explosive and sold manufacturing rights to the Austrian Empire. Guncotton was more powerful than gunpowder, but at the same time was somewhat more unstable. John Taylor obtained an English patent for guncotton; and John Hall & Sons began manufacture in Faversham. English interest languished after an explosion destroyed the Faversham factory in 1847. Austrian Baron von Lenk built two guncotton plants producing artillery propellent, but it was dangerous under field conditions, and guns that could fire thousands of rounds using gunpowder would reach their service life after only a few hundred shots with the more powerful guncotton. Small arms could not withstand the pressures generated by guncotton. After one of the Austrian factories blew up in 1862, Thomas Prentice & Company began manufacturing guncotton in Stowmarket in 1863; and British War Office chemist Sir Frederick Abel began thorough research at Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills leading to a manufacturing process that eliminated the impurities in nitrocellulose making it safer to produce and a stable product safer to handle. Abel patented this process in 1865, when the second Austrian guncotton factory exploded. After the Stowmarket factory exploded in 1871, Waltham Abbey began production of guncotton for torpedo and mine warheads.
In 1863, Prussian artillery captain Johann F. E. Schultze patented a small arms propellent of nitrated hardwood impregnated with saltpetre or barium nitrate. Prentice received an 1866 patent for a sporting powder of nitrated paper manufactured at Stowmarket, but ballistic uniformity suffered as the paper absorbed atmospheric moisture. In 1871, Frederick Volkmann received an Austrian patent for a colloided version of Schultze powder called Collodin which he manufactured near Vienna for use in sporting firearms. Austrian patents were not published at the time, and the Austrian Empire considered the operation a violation of the government monopoly on explosives manufacture and closed the Volkmann factory in 1875. In 1882, the Explosives Company at Stowmarket patented an improved formulation of nitrated cotton gelatinised by ether-alcohol with nitrates of potassium and barium. These propellants were suitable for shotguns but not rifles.
In 1884, Paul Vieille invented a smokeless powder called Poudre B (short for poudre blanche -- white powder, as distinguished from black powder) made from 68.2% insoluble nitrocellulose, 29.8% soluble nitrocellusose gelatinized with ether and 2% paraffin. This was adopted for the Lebel rifle. It was passed through rollers to form paper thin sheets, which were cut into flakes of the desired size. The resulting propellant, today known as pyrocellulose, contains somewhat less nitrogen than guncotton and is less volatile. A particularly good feature of the propellant is that it will not detonate unless it is compressed, making it very safe to handle under normal conditions.
Vieille's powder revolutionized the effectiveness of small guns, because it gave off almost no smoke and was three times more powerful than black powder. Higher muzzle velocity meant a flatter trajectory and less wind drift and bullet drop, making 1000 meter shots practicable. Since less powder was needed to propel a bullet, the cartridge could be made smaller and lighter. This allowed troops to carry more ammunition for the same weight. Also, it would burn even when wet. Black powder ammunition had to be kept dry and was almost always stored and transported in watertight cartridges.
Other European countries swiftly followed and started using their own versions of Poudre B, the first being Germany and Austria which introduced new weapons in 1888. Subsequently Poudre B was modified several times with various compounds being added and removed. Krupp began adding diphenylamine as a stabilizer in 1888.
Meanwhile, in 1887, Alfred Nobel obtained an English patent for a smokeless gunpowder he called Ballistite. In this propellant the fibrous structure of cotton (nitro-cellulose) was destroyed by a nitro-glycerine solution instead of a solvent. In England in 1889, a similar powder was patented by Hiram Maxim, and in the USA in 1890 by Hudson Maxim. Ballistite was patented in the United States in 1891.
The Germans adopted ballistite for naval use in 1898, calling it WPC/98. The Italians adopted it as filite, in cord instead of flake form, but realising its drawbacks changed to a formulation with nitroglycerine they called solenite. In 1891 the Russians tasked the chemist Mendeleef with finding a suitable propellant, he created nitrocellulose gelatinised by ether-alcohol, which produced more nitrogen and more uniform colloidal structure than the French use of nitro-cottons in Poudre B. He called it pyro-collodion.
Britain conducted trials on all the various types of propellant brought to their attention, but were dissatified with them all and sought something superior to all existing types. In 1889, Sir Frederick Abel, James Dewar and Dr W Kellner patented (Nos 5614 and 11,664 in the names of Abel and Dewar) a new formulation that was manufactured at the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey. It entered British service in 1891 as Cordite Mark 1. Its main composition was 58% Nitro-glycerine, 37% Guncotton and 3% mineral jelly. A modified version, Cordite MD, entered service in 1901, this increased guncotton to 65% and reduced nitro-glycerine to 30%, this change reduced the combustion temperature and hence erosion and barrel wear. Cordite's advantages over gunpowder were reduced maximum pressure in the chamber (hence lighter breeches, etc.) but longer high pressure. Cordite could be made in any desired shape or size. The creation of cordite led to a lengthy court battle between Nobel, Maxim, and another inventor over alleged British patent infringement.
The Anglo-American Explosives Company began manufacturing its shotgun powder in Oakland, New Jersey in 1890. DuPont began producing guncotton at Carneys Point Township, New Jersey in 1891. Charles E. Munroe of the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island patented a formulation of guncotton colloided with nitrobenzene, called Indurite, in 1891. Several United States firms began producing smokeless powder when Winchester Repeating Arms Company started loading sporting cartridges with Explosives Company powder in 1893. California Powder Works began producing a mixture of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose with ammonium picrate as Peyton Powder, Leonard Smokeless Powder Company began producing nitroglycerine-nitrocellulose Ruby powders, Laflin & Rand negotiated a license to produce Ballistite, and DuPont started producing smokeless shotgun powder. The United States Army evaluated 25 varieties of smokeless powder and selected Ruby and Peyton Powders as the most suitable for use in the Krag-Jørgensen service rifle. Ruby was preferred, because tin-plating was required to protect brass cartridge cases from picric acid in the Peyton Powder. Rather than paying the required royalties for Ballistite, Laflin & Rand financed Leonard's reorganization as the American Smokeless Powder Company. United States Army Lieutenant Whistler assisted American Smokeless Powder Company factory superintendent Aspinwall in formulating an improved powder named W.A. for their efforts. W.A. smokeless powder was the standard for United States military service rifles from 1897 until 1908.
In 1897, United States Navy Lieutenant John Bernadou patented a nitrocellulose powder colloided with ether-alcohol. The Navy licensed or sold patents for this formulation to DuPont and the California Powder Works while retaining manufacturing rights for the Naval Powder Factory, Indian Head, Maryland constructed in 1900. The United States Army adopted the Navy single-base formulation in 1908 and began manufacture at Picatinny Arsenal. By that time Laflin & Rand had taken over the American Powder Company to protect their investment, and Laflin & Rand had been purchased by DuPont in 1902. Upon securing a 99-year lease of the Explosives Company in 1903, DuPont enjoyed use of all significant smokeless powder patents in the United States, and was able to optimize production of smokeless powder. When government anti-trust action forced divestiture in 1912, DuPont retained the nitrocellulose smokeless powder formulations used by the United States military and released the double-base formulations used in sporting ammunition to the reorganized Hercules Powder Company. These newer propellants were more stable and thus safer to handle than Poudre B, and also more powerful.
Currently, propellants using nitrocellulose (detonation velocity 7,300 m/s) (typically an ether-alcohol colloid of nitrocellulose) as the sole explosive propellant ingredient are described as single-base powder.
Propellants mixtures containing nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin (detonation velocity 7,700 m/s) as explosive propellant ingredients are known as double-base powder.
During the 1930s triple-base propellant containing nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and a substantial quantity of nitroguanidine (detonation velocity 8,200 m/s) as explosive propellant ingredients was developed. These propellant mixtures have reduced flash and flame temperature without sacrificing chamber pressure compared to single and double base propellants, albeit at the cost of more smoke.
In practice, triple base propellants are reserved mainly for large caliber ammunition such as used in (naval) artillery and tank guns. During World War II it had some use by British artillery. After that war it became the standard propellant in all British large caliber ammunition designs except small-arms. Most western nations, except the United States, followed a similar path.
In the late 20th century new propellant formulations started to appear. These are based on nitroguanidine and high explosives of the RDX (detonation velocity 8,750 m/s) type.
Nitrocellulose deteriorates with time, yielding acidic byproducts. Those byproducts catalyze the further deterioration, increasing its rate. The released heat, in case of bulk storage of the powder, or too large blocks of solid propellant, can cause self-ignition of the material. Single-base nitrocellulose propellants are hygroscopic and most susceptible to degradation; double-base and triple-base propellants tend to deteriorate more slowly. To neutralize the decomposition products, which could otherwise cause corrosion of metals of the cartridges and gun barrels, calcium carbonate is added to some formulations.
To prevent buildup of the deterioration products, stabilizers are added. Diphenylamine is one of the most common stabilizers used. Nitrated analogs of diphenylamine formed in the process of stabilizing decomposing powder are sometimes used as stabilizers themselves. The stabilizers are added in the amount of 0.5–2% of the total amount of the formulation; higher amounts tend to degrade its ballistic properties. The amount of the stabilizer is depleted with time. Propellants in storage should be periodically tested for the amount of stabilizer remaining, as its depletion may lead to auto-ignition of the propellant.
Smokeless powder may be corned into small spherical balls or extruded into cylinders or strips with many cross-sectional shapes (strips with various rectangular proportions, single or multi-hole cylinders, slotted cylinders) using solvents such as ether. These extrusions can be cut into short ('flakes') or long pieces ('cords' many inches long). Cannon powder has the largest pieces.
The properties of the propellant are greatly influenced by the size and shape of its pieces. The specific surface area of the propellant influences the speed of burning, and the size and shape of the particles determine the specific surface area. By manipulation of the shape it is possible to influence the burning rate and hence the rate at which pressure builds during combustion. Smokeless powder burns only on the surfaces of the pieces. Larger pieces burn more slowly, and the burn rate is further controlled by flame-deterrent coatings which retard burning slightly. The intent is to regulate the burn rate so that a more or less constant pressure is exerted on the propelled projectile as long as it is in the barrel so as to obtain the highest velocity. The perforations stabilize the burn rate because as the outside burns inward (thus shrinking the burning surface area) the inside is burning outward (thus increasing the burning surface area, but faster, so as to fill up the increasing volume of barrel presented by the departing projectile). Fast-burning pistol powders are made by extruding shapes with more area such as flakes or by flattening the spherical granules. Drying is usually performed under a vacuum. The solvents are condensed and recycled. The granules are also coated with graphite to prevent static electricity sparks from causing undesired ignitions.
Faster-burning propellants generate higher temperatures and higher pressures, however they also increase wear on gun barrels.
The propellant formulations may contain various energetic and auxiliary components:
The United States Navy manufactured single-base tubular powder for naval artillery at Indian Head, Maryland, beginning in 1900. Similar procedures were used for United States Army production at Picatinny Arsenal beginning in 1907 and for manufacture of smaller grained Improved Military Rifle (IMR) powders after 1914. Short-fiber cotton linter was boiled in a solution of sodium hydroxide to remove vegetable waxes, and then dried before conversion to nitrocellulose by mixing with concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids. Nitrocellulose still resembles fibrous cotton at this point in the manufacturing process, and was typically identified as pyrocellulose because it would spontaneously ignite in air until unreacted acid was removed. The term guncotton was also used; although some references identify guncotton as a more extensively nitrated and refined product used in torpedo and mine warheads prior to use of TNT.
Unreacted acid was removed from pyrocellulose pulp by a multistage draining and water washing process similar to that used in paper mills during production of chemical woodpulp. Pressurized alcohol removed remaining water from drained pyrocellulose prior to mixing with ether and diphenylamine. The mixture was then fed through a press extruding a long turbular cord form to be cut into grains of the desired length.
Alcohol and ether were then evaporated from "green" powder grains to a remaining solvent concentration between 3 percent for rifle powders and 7 percent for large artillery powder grains. Burning rate is inversely proportional to solvent concentration. Grains were coated with electrically conductive graphite to minimize generation of static electricity during subsequent blending. "Lots" containing more than ten tonnes of powder grains were mixed through a tower arrangement of blending hoppers to minimize ballistic differences. Each blended lot was then subjected to testing to determine the correct loading charge for the desired performance.
Military quantities of old smokeless powder were sometimes reworked into new lots of propellants. Through the 1920s Dr. Fred Olsen worked at Picatinny Arsenal experimenting with ways to salvage tons of single-base cannon powder manufactured for World War I. Dr. Olsen was employed by Western Cartridge Company in 1929 and developed a process for manufacturing spherical smokeless powder by 1933. Reworked powder or washed pyrocellulose can be dissolved in ethyl acetate containing small quantities of desired stabilizers and other additives. The resultant syrup, combined with water and surfactants, can be heated and agitated in a pressurized container until the syrup forms an emulsion of small spherical globules of the desired size. Ethyl acetate distills off as pressure is slowly reduced to leave small spheres of nitrocellulose and additives. The spheres can be subsequently modified by adding nitroglycerine to increase energy, flattening between rollers to a uniform minimum dimension, coating with phthalate deterrents to retard ignition, and/or glazing with graphite to improve flow characteristics during blending.
Muzzle flash is the light emitted in the vicinity of the muzzle by the hot propellant gases and the chemical reactions that follow as the gases mix with the surrounding air. Before projectiles exit a slight pre-flash may occur from gases leaking past the projectiles. Following muzzle exit the heat of gases is usually sufficient to emit visible radiation – the primary flash. The gases expand but as they pass through the Mach disc they are re-compressed to produce an intermediate flash. Hot combustible gases (e.g. hydrogen and carbon-monoxide) may follow when they mix with oxygen in the surrounding air to produce the secondary flash, the brightest. The secondary flash does not usually occur with small-arms.
Nitrocellulose contains insufficient oxygen to completely oxidize its carbon and hydrogen. The oxygen deficit is increased by addition of graphite and organic stabilizers. Products of combustion within the gun barrel include flammable gasses like hydrogen and carbon monoxide. At high temperature, these flammable gasses will ignite when turbulently mixed with atmospheric oxygen beyond the muzzle of the gun. During night engagements the flash produced by ignition can reveal the location of the gun to enemy forces and cause temporary night-blindness among the gun crew by photo-bleaching visual purple.
Flash suppressors are commonly used on small arms to reduce the flash signature, but this approach is not practical for artillery. Artillery muzzle flash up to 150 feet (46 m) from the muzzle has been observed, and can be reflected off clouds and be visible for distances up to 30 miles (48 km). For artillery the most effective method is a propellant that produces a large proportion of inert nitrogen at relatively low temperatures that dilutes the combustible gases. Triple based propellants are used for this because of the nitrogen in the nitroguandine.
Before the use of triple based propellants the usual method of flash reduction was to add inorganic salts like potassium chloride so their specific heat capacity might reduce the temperature of combustion gasses and their finely divided particulate smoke might block visible wavelengths of radiant energy of combustion.
A hand cannon (also called a gonne or handgonne) (Arabic: ; Chinese: 手銃; Russian: ) is an early form of firearm. It is possibly the oldest type of portable firearm, as well as the simplest type of early firearm, as most examples require direct manual external ignition through a touch hole without any form of firing mechanism. It may also be considered a forerunner of the handgun. The hand cannon was widely used in Europe and throughout Asia until at least the 1520s, when it was supplanted by matchlock firearms.
In modern society, the term "hand cannon" is also used colloquially to refer to a pistol or revolver chambered for a powerful cartridge such as the .454 Casull or .500 S&W Magnum.
The general consensus is that hand cannons originated in China, and were spread from there to the rest of the world. The earliest firearm was "discovered... in Manchuria dating from the 1200s", and the earliest artistic depiction of a hand cannon is a firearm-wielding figure that was found in twelfth-century Sichuan. The earliest reliable evidence of hand cannons in Europe comes from the 14th century, during which time both Europeans and Arabs appear to have begun using them. In Asia, the Koreans acquired knowledge of the hand cannon from China in the 14th century. Japan was already aware of gunpowder warfare but did not mass-produce firearms until 1543, when the Portuguese introduced matchlocks (tanegashima).
The hand cannon was a simple weapon, effectively consisting of a barrel with some sort of handle, though it came in many different shapes and sizes. Although surviving examples are all completely constructed of metal, evidence suggests that many were attached to some kind of stock, usually wooden. Other examples show a simple metal extension from the barrel acting as the handle. In fact, not all hand cannons used metal at all in their construction, as some Chinese illustrations demonstrate bamboo tubes being used instead.
For firing, the hand cannon could be held in two hands while a helper applied the means of ignition. These could range from smoldering wood or coal, red-hot iron rods, to slow-burning matches. Alternatively, the hand cannon could be placed on a rest and held by one hand while the gunner applied the means of ignition himself. Projectiles used in these weapons were varied, with many utilizing a variety of different ammunition. Rocks or pebbles found on the ground could be fired from hand cannon, while more sophisticated ammunition such as iron or stone in the shape of balls and arrows could also be used.
Later hand cannons were made with a flash pan attached to the barrel, and a touch hole drilled through the side wall of the gun instead of the top of the barrel. The flash pan had a leather cover, and later on a hinged metal lid fitted, to keep the priming powder dry until the moment of firing and to prevent premature firing. These features were carried on over to subsequent firearms.
Due to the poor quality of powder that was often used in these weapons and their crude construction, they were not effective missile weapons, as early examples often lacked sufficient power to punch through light armour. All were inaccurate, due to the awkward handling as well as the aforementioned poor quality of the weapons. While the noise and flash may have had some psychological effect on the enemy, many early hand cannons were utilized in a minor capacity and so lacked battlefield presence.
The invention of corned powder, the slow match, and the serpentine around the mid-15th century led to much more effective firearms and eventually to increased adoption. It also prompted the development of the first matchlock firearms, which could be more effectively aimed and fired than hand cannon. Gradually, hand cannon became obsolete, although it found use in some locales up until the 20th century.
Firearms, of which the hand cannon was an early example, gradually came to dominate European warfare, and the reasons are clear. The hand cannon was inexpensive and easy to mass-produce. At the same time, the forging methods required meant that centralized governments had a measure of control over their manufacture (and especially the manufacture of ammunition—an important consideration in a medieval Europe wracked by rebellion). They had superior armor-penetration capability; the longbow was effective against mail armor and plate, thanks to the bodkin point, and the crossbow very effective against heavy armor, but the hand cannon could pierce heavy plate as well as act as a terror weapon to troops and horses that had never seen the weapon before. Furthermore, much like the crossbow, the weapon could be effectively used by non professional soldiers.
The other hand-operated ranged weapons of the time had their own drawbacks. Crossbows had superior accuracy and similar power as compared to early hand cannons. However, they were expensive to make, slow to reload and their performance was almost as severely affected by wet weather as that of hand cannons. While the hand cannon could not match the accuracy nor speed of fire of the longbow, gunners did not require the special training and continuous practice from childhood required of a good bowman. Yew, the primary stave making material for the European longbow, became scarcer as the medieval period progressed. Firearms only supplanted longbows in England after almost all European yew supplies had been exhausted.
Contrary to popular belief, the development of hand gun did not lead to the decline and eventual disappearance of bow and arrows. Rather they co-existed and each occupied a unique niche in the contemporary tactics. Being low on accuracy, hand cannons were preferred as skirmish weapons which the bearers would maneuver as individual or in small group so that they could discharge their deadly guns at the enemy's flanks at close to point blank range in a similar manner to how combat shotguns would be used today. Certain deaths combined with terrifying smoke and noise would break the enemy's morale and help ally infantry to push through. This tactic continued to be employed with superb effectiveness until the 16th century where arquebusiers were deployed on the flank of pike block in tercio formation. While hand cannon gradually became staple arms of the early modern warfare, bow and crossbow fell out of favor as they lacked the superior penetration that hand cannon offered.
In firearm ballistics, primer is a component of pistol, rifle, and shotgun rounds. Upon being struck with sufficient force, a primer reacts chemically to produce heat which ignites the main propellant charge and fires the projectile.
The first step to firing a firearm of any sort is igniting the propellant. The earliest firearms were cannons, which were simple closed tubes. There was a small aperture, the "touchhole", drilled in the closed end of the tube, leading to the main powder charge. This hole was filled with finely ground powder, which was then ignited with a hot ember or torch. With the advent of hand-held firearms, this became an undesirable way of firing a gun. Holding a burning stick while trying to pour a charge of black powder carefully down a barrel is dangerous, and trying to hold the gun with one hand while simultaneously aiming at the target and looking for the touchhole makes it very difficult to fire accurately.
The first attempt to make the process of firing a small arm easier was the "matchlock". The matchlock incorporated a "lock" (so called because of its resemblance to door locks of the day) that was actuated by a trigger, originally called a "tricker." The lock was a simple lever which pivoted when pulled, and lowered the match down to the touchhole. The match was a slow burning fuse made of plant fibers that were soaked in a solution of nitrates, charcoal, and sulfur, and dried. This "slow-match" was ignited before the gun was needed, and it would slowly burn, keeping a hot ember at the burning end. After the gun was loaded and the touchhole primed with powder, the burning tip of the match was positioned so that the lock would bring it into contact with the touchhole. To fire the gun, it was aimed and the trigger pulled. This brought the match down to the touchhole, igniting the powder. With careful attention the slow-burning match could be kept burning for long periods of time, and the use of the lock mechanism made fairly accurate fire possible.
The next revolution in ignition technology was the "wheel-lock". It used a spring-loaded, serrated steel wheel which rubbed against a piece of iron pyrite, similar to a modern lighter. A key was used to wind the wheel and put the spring under tension. Once tensioned, the wheel was held in place by a trigger. When the trigger was pulled, the serrated edge of the steel rubbed against the pyrite, generating sparks. These sparks were directed into a pan, called the "flash pan", filled with loose powder which led into the touchhole. The flashpan usually was protected by a spring-loaded cover that would slide out of the way when the trigger was pulled, exposing the powder to the sparks. The wheel-lock was a major innovation — since it did not rely on burning material as a source of heat, it could be kept ready for extended periods of time. The covered flashpan also provided some ability to withstand bad weather. Wind, rain, and wet weather would render a matchlock useless, but a wheel-lock that was loaded and waterproofed with a bit of grease around the flashpan could be fired under most conditions.
The wheel-lock enjoyed only a brief period of popularity before being superseded by a simpler, more robust design. The "flintlock", like the wheel-lock, used a flashpan and a spark to ignite the powder. As the name implies, the flintlock used flint rather than iron pyrite. The flint was held in a spring-loaded arm, called the "cock" from the resemblance of its motion to a pecking chicken. The cock rotated through approximately a 90 degree arc, and was held in the tensioned, or "cocked" position by a trigger. Usually, flintlocks could lock the cock in two positions. The "half-cock" position held the cock halfway back, and used a deep notch, so that pulling the trigger would not release the cock. Half-cock was a safety position, used when loading, storing or carrying a loaded flintlock. The "full-cock" position held the cock all the way back, and was the position from which the gun was fired. The L-shaped "frizzen" was the other half of the flintlock's ignition system. It served as both a flashpan cover and a steel striking surface for the flint. The frizzen was hinged and spring-loaded so that it would lock in the open or closed position. When closed, the striking surface was positioned so that the flint would strike at the proper angle to generate a spark. The striking flint would also open the frizzen, exposing the flashpan to the spark. The flintlock mechanism was simpler and stronger than the wheel-lock, and the flint and steel provided a good, reliable source of ignition. The flintlock remained in military service for over 200 years, and flintlocks are still made today for historical re-enactments and muzzle-loading target competition, and for hunters who enjoy the additional challenge that the flintlock provides.
The next major leap in ignition technology was the invention of the chemical primer, or "cap", and the mechanism which used it, called the "caplock". Percussion ignition was invented by Scottish clergyman Rev. Alexander John Forsyth in 1807 but needed further refinements before it was gradually accepted in the 1820s to 1830s. By the middle of the 19th century the percussion or caplock system was well established. It was adopted by both sides in the American Civil War, as it was simpler and more reliable than the flintlock. The main reason the caplock was so quickly adopted was its similarity to the flintlock and the ease of converting older arms to use percussion-cap ignition; usually the same lock and barrel could be used with minor changes. The flashpan and frizzen were removed and replaced by a small, hollow horizontal cylinder (drum) screwed into the bored-out and tapped flash hole and carrying a "nipple" over which the cap could be fitted. A "hammer" which also had half-cock (for loading and applying the cap) and full-cock positions replaced the cock. When released by pulling the trigger, the hammer would strike the cap, crushing it against the nipple. The percussion cap was a thin metal cup that contained a small quantity of pressure-sensitive explosive. When crushed, the explosive would detonate, sending a stream of hot gas down through a hole in the nipple and into the touchhole of the gun to ignite the powder charge. In the process of firing, the cap generally split open and would fall off when the hammer was moved to half-cock position for loading. The caplock system worked well, and is still the preferred method of ignition for hunters and recreational shooters who use muzzle-loading arms.
A small number of caseless cartidges use no primer at all, but the primary propellant is ignited using an externally-provided electric charge, such as with the Voere VEC-91 and the O'Dwyer VLe. This is not to be confused with an electrically-ignited internal primer (see below).
Chemical primers, advanced metallurgy and manufacturing techniques all came together in the 19th century to create an entirely new class of firearm — the cartridge arm. Flintlock and caplock shooters had long carried their ammunition in paper cartridges, which served to hold a measured charge of powder and a bullet in one convenient package; the paper also served to seal the bullet in the bore. Still, the source of ignition was handled separately from the cartridge. With the advent of chemical primers, it was not long before several systems were invented with many different ways of combining bullet, powder, and primer into a single package which could be loaded quickly from the breech of the firearm. This greatly streamlined the reloading procedure and paved the way for semi- and fully automatic firearms.
This big leap forward came at a price. It introduced an extra component into each round – the cartridge case - which had to be removed before the gun could be reloaded. While a flintlock, for example, is immediately ready to be reloaded once it has been fired, adopting brass cartridge cases brought in the problems of extraction and ejection. The mechanism of a modern gun not only must load and fire the piece, but also must remove the spent case, which may require just as many moving parts. Probably most malfunctions involve this process, either through failure to extract a case properly from the chamber or by allowing it to jam the action. Nineteenth-century inventors were reluctant to accept this added complication and experimented with a variety of self-consuming cartridges before acknowledging that the advantages of brass cases far outweighed their one drawback.
The three systems of self-contained metallic cartridge ignition which have survived the test of time are the rimfire, the Berdan centerfire primer, and the Boxer centerfire primer.
Rimfire cartridges use a thin brass case with a hollow bulge, or rim, around the back end. This rim is filled during manufacture with an impact-sensitive primer. In the wet state, the primer is stable; a pellet of wet primer is placed in the shell and simply spun out to the full extremes of the rim. (For more on the exact process and one set of chemical compounds that have been used successfully, see , a 1932 Remington Arms patent by James E. Burns.) In the dry state, the primer within the rim becomes impact-sensitive. When the rim is then crushed by the hammer or firing pin, the primer detonates and ignites the powder charge. Rimfire cartridges are single-use and normally cannot be reloaded. Also, since the rim must be thin enough to be easily crushed, the peak pressure possible in the case is limited by the strength of this thin rim. Rimfire cartridges originally were available in calibers up to .44, the latter used in the famous Henry and 1866 Winchester lever-action repeating rifles, but all but the small .22 caliber rounds eventually died out. The .22 Long Rifle, also fired in pistols, is the most popular recreational caliber today because it is inexpensive and quiet and has very low recoil. The most inexpensive brands can be bought for less than US$0.02 per round in cartons of 500, and even the precision Olympic class ammunition is around US$0.20 per round.][
While the rimfire priming method is limited due to the thin cases required, it has enjoyed a few resurgences recently. First was Winchester's .22 Magnum Rimfire, or .22 WMR, in the 1950s, followed in 1970 by Remington's short-lived 5mm Rimfire, based on Winchester's magnum case. In 2002 Hornady introduced a new .17 caliber cartridge based on the .22 WMR, the .17 HMR. The .17 HMR is essentially a .22 WMR cartridge necked down to accept a .17-caliber bullet, and is used as a flat-shooting, light-duty varmint round. The .17 HMR was followed a year later by Hornady's .17 Mach 2, or .17 HM2, which is based on a slightly lengthened and necked-down .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Both of the .17 caliber rimfires have had widespread support from firearms makers, and while the high-tech, high-velocity .17 caliber jacketed bullets make the .17 Rimfire cartridges quite a bit more expensive than the .22 caliber versions, they are excellent for shorter-range shooting and still far less expensive than comparable centerfire cartridges. In 2013, Winchester released the .17 Winchester Super Magnum, which utilizes a somewhat larger case than the .17 HMR, allowing for velocities approaching 3000fps with a 20gr bullet and making it the world's fastest rimfire round.
A pinfire firearm cartridge is an obsolete type of brass cartridge in which the priming compound is ignited by striking a small pin which protrudes radially from just above the base of the cartridge. Invented by Casimir Lefaucheaux in 1828 but not patented until 1835, it was one of the earliest practical designs of metallic cartridge. However, the protruding pin was vulnerable to damage, displacement and accidental ignition. Moreover, the pin had to be positioned carefully in a small notch when loading, making the pinfire's use in repeating or self-loading weapons impossible. The pinfire survives today only in a few very small blank cartridges designed as noisemakers and in novelty miniature guns.
This unique system, much like a refined combination of the pinfire and rimfire, uses a firing pin that strikes a ring of priming compound in the center of the cartridge as described in . Despite its being successful, only experimental batches of the cartridge were made. The primary advantage is that it is struck from the side, which allows the operating system of the firearm to be moved forward allowing a more compact action. No commercial weapons used the system, however.
The identifying feature of centerfire ammunition is the primer -- a metal cup containing primary explosive inserted into a recess in the center of the base of the cartridge. The firearm firing pin crushes this explosive between the cup and an anvil to produce hot gas and a shower of incandescent particles to ignite the powder charge. Berdan and Boxer cartridge primers are both considered "centerfire". Various priming mixtures have been used in different sized primers to effect prompt ignition of the powder charge. Particles with relatively high heat capacity are required to promptly ignite smokeless powder deterrent coatings. Some priming explosives decompose into incandescent solids or liquids. Inert ingredients may be heated into incandescent sparks when the explosive decomposes into gas. Cartridges for military use require stable priming formulations so war reserves of small-arms ammunition will dependably function after years of storage.
The "Teat-fire" cartridges did not have a rim at the back like conventional cartridges, but were rounded at the rear, with a small "teat" that would protrude through a tiny opening in the rear of the cylinder.
Some rapid-fire, and larger military gun and cannon rounds (such as the M50 20mm) utilize an internal electric primer that is activated by an externally-provided electric charge, as opposed to a mechanical impact. The primer in turn ignites the primary propellant.
In firearms terminology, an action is the physical mechanism that manipulates cartridges and/or seals the breech. The term is also used to describe the method in which cartridges are loaded, locked, and extracted from the mechanism. Actions are generally categorized by the type of mechanism used. A firearm action is technically not present on muzzleloaders as all loading is done by hand. The mechanism that fires a muzzle-loader is called the lock.
Manual operation is a firearms term describing any type of firearm action that is loaded one shot at a time by the user rather than automatically. For example, break action is a form of manual operation using a simple hinge mechanism that is manually unlatched by the operator exposing the chamber(s) for reloading.
Anvil firing (also known as an anvil launching or an anvil shooting) is the practice of firing an anvil into the air with gunpowder.
Typically, two anvils are used: one as a base (placed upside down), and another one (also known as the "flier") as the projectile (placed right-side up, atop the base). Alternatively, a single anvil can be fired from a stone base. The space formed by the anvil's concave base is filled with black powder (not modern gunpowders, which have much higher energy densities) and a fuse is made to project out. The fuse is lit, and the resulting deflagration (the rapid combustion of the powder rather than detonation) sends the projectile anvil several feet into the air.
A touch hole is a small hole through which the propellant charge of a cannon or muzzleloading gun is ignited. In small arms, the flash from a charge of priming held in the flash pan is enough to ignite the charge within. In artillery, priming powder, a fuse, squib, or friction igniter is inserted into the touch hole to ensure ignition of the charge.
The powder in the touch hole was lit either with a slow match, a linstock or a type of Flintlock mechanism that was known as a gunlock.
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships.
Professional historians normally focus on military affairs that had a major impact on the societies involved as well as the aftermath of conflicts, while amateur historians and hobbyists often take a larger interest in the details of battles, equipment and uniforms in use.