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Black powder Magazine
Powder making in the 17th century

A brief introduction to 17th century powder making and military testing

Joseph Furtenbach, well know polihistor in Ulm, described different powder types for different uses in his work Halinitro-Pyrbolia in 1627. He described the composition of a fine powder for hunting rifles, a powder for muskets and small caliber cannons, and 3 powders for cannons. The difference between the powders was not the size of the grains as it is today. By those times the powder was not granulated but it was a simple mix of the fine powders of sulphur, saltpetre and coal. The difference came from the added doses of the diferent ingredients, and also came from how much time the powder spent in the powder crushing machine. The finest powders spent 32-48 hours, the musket powders 16-20 hours, and the artillery powders only 6-8 hours. The problem with this mixed powders was that during long transportation the different weight particles settled unevenly in the keg. Therefore you had different strength of powder in the differentparts of the keg. The longer the transportation was, the bigger the problem became. This problem was only solved in the beginning the 19th century with the invention of granulating methods. But that's another story.


The machine in the picture is the powder crushing machine. The man rotated the axis of the machine. The axis had 8 pins that lifted time to time one of the crushing pistons. The powder was loaded into the container at the bottom.

 

After the manufacturing processes the powder intended for military purposes was tested with special devices. This was necessary as the cleaneness of the ingredients could vary. Especially the coal was a key factor, as the power of the powder depended highly on the type of wood it was made from, and on the time when the wood was cut.

 

 

This is a powder tester designed by Josef Furtenbach for the Hapsburg Army. The working principle is simple: a fixed volume of blackpowder was loaded into the small chamber at the base of the machine. After igniting the escaping gases blew the weight up. The higher it stopped, the stronger the powder was.

 

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