The Sportsman's Pixiedust: The History and Science of Gunpowder

The incredible journey of the firearm, that brings us from the earliest iterations to the modern guns that 45 Blast improves with today’s finest gun accessories is one of innovation. At its core, the idea surrounding the firearm hasn’t changed: a shaft, held on one end by a person, uses fire and gunpowder to hurl a projectile from the other end at a target. In the thousands of years that separate the firesticks of ancient China from the Canik-series handguns, we use today are a variety of styles, materials, and purposes. Some rifles are designed for small game hunting rather than defense, for instance, while some handguns are less practical on the battlefield and are better at disabling things like car engines and electric generators. As one of the more foundational elements of the firearm, gunpowder has gone through its own transformation, both in purpose and composition.

Gunpowder Packs a Punch

Gunpowder doesn’t simply date back to the earliest guns, it predates all other types of man-made explosives and represents man’s affinity for using chemistry as an instrument of warfare. Best characterized for its distinctive appearance as the dry, black sand of its first iteration, gunpowder is a mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal. While it is certainly an explosive agent, it is not classified the same as something far more catastrophic, like a bomb. 

  • Considered a low explosive for burning at a subsonic speed, without the accompanying supersonic shockwave. 
  • When burnt, roughly 40% turns gaseous while the other 60% is converted to white smoke. 
  • Because it burns rather than detonates, its gases can propel a bullet from the muzzle of a gun without rupturing the structure (considering the metals used in the gun are sound).

Thanks to its unique properties as a propellant, gunpowder was considered the most important element of warfare for millennia, having seen action all over the world, from the Mongol invasions to the American Civil War, and all the way to the gun range at the 45 Blast offices. Behind every artillery bombardment, every firework, every lit fuse, there was gunpowder. With so many applications on the battlefield, one could be forgiven for not knowing that its discovery stemmed as a result of Chinese physicians hoping to create a medicinal salve.

From White Smoke to No Smoke at All

Today, gunpowder has fallen out of vogue as a firearm ingredient, changing somewhat its application. Though still widely used to fire squibs, ignition charges, signal flares, and blank rounds, the black powder that had seen so much action throughout the history of the world has largely been replaced by smokeless powder.

  • As the name suggests, this type of powder produces much less smokey burn-off.
  • The chemical byproducts are mostly gaseous, whereas gunpowder only produced around 40%.
  • There is much less residue left in the firing chamber, which significantly reduces the potential for rusting, jamming, and misfires. 

This change in chemical composition, (the smokeless powder being a product of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, which was invented in the 1860s), has made products like the gun accessories created by 45 Blast all the more important. Compensators, especially, have skyrocketed among gun enthusiasts as a must-buy product

Thanks to the characteristic holes on the sides of this muzzle attachment, the substantial gasses produced by this smokeless powder are given more places to safely exit the gun, instead of out the single barrel hole that the bullet passes through. This decreases recoil and muzzle flash, while also increasing accuracy.

Materials Change, Needs Don’t

Even though it has largely been replaced from its primary duties in the military and recreational shooting space, gunpowder will always be considered the king of explosive propellants, thanks in no small part to the many years it was loaded into bullets and pushed down the barrel of a musket. 

No matter what age mankind was using gunpowder, the desire to improve one’s accuracy and confidence behind the trigger has always been a factor. 45 Blast was created to give modern gun owners that confidence with sturdy, functional, and aesthetically-pleasing products. Visit our store today and get outfitted with the best the industry has to offer.