How Long Does Black Powder Last? | Shelf Life & Storage Tips

how long does black powder last

It’s not uncommon to find containers of black powder dating back decades with their contents still intact. That’s not surprising considering black powder has been around for hundreds of years.

But how long does black powder really last? Can you still use black powder years or even decades after it was produced?

When stored correctly, black powder lasts indefinitely. Dry, cool conditions are best for black powder but even if it gets wet, black powder is still usable if you give it time to dry out. This is due to how simple its mixture is.

It doesn’t matter if your black powder has been sitting in a cellar for 25 years, it should still fire without any trouble. If you’re interested in getting some for yourself, you’ll find everything you need to know about black powder below!

What Is Black Powder?

Believed to be created in the 9th century in China, black powder is an early, crude version of gunpowder that still comes in use today. While gunpowder is cleaner and used in more modern firearms, black powder was used to fire the likes of cannons and fireworks further in the past.

Black powder is made up of three ingredients – potassium nitrate or saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal.

The process to make black powder isn’t as easy as mixing these three ingredients together. You have to go through a process of soaking and drying them so that they bond together. That way your black powder has the reaction you’re looking for when you light it up.

Manufactured black powder is rated by grain size. Smaller grains of powder burn faster and are used for smaller calibers. FG is the largest rating while FFFFG is the smallest.

The Difference Between Black Powder and Smokeless Powder

Black powder and smokeless powder are both variations of gunpowder but are both very different from one another. Smokeless powder is a much more modern, more powerful version of gunpowder.

The main differences between black powder and smokeless powder are:

  • Black powder produces smoke while smokeless powder is, of course, smokeless.
  • Black powder has a more pungent odor than smokeless powder.
  • Smokeless powder is far more powerful than black powder, giving it a longer range.
  • Smokeless powder is most commonly made of a base of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine.
  • Black powder makes firearm maintenance more difficult with far more cleaning time required.
  • You can’t use smokeless powder in firearms designed for black powder but black powder can be used in any firearm that’s safe to fire.

There are pros and cons to both kinds of gunpowder. What you choose to go with really depends on, first and foremost, the kind of firearm you own. Black powder can also be used in fireworks, cannons, flares, and special effects.

How To Store Black Powder

Black powder is considered an explosive and so you have to be cautious with how you store it. The way it’s stored will also contribute to its practically endless shelf life. When kept in good conditions, black powder will shoot as well ten or more years from now as it does today.

If you’re buying commercially manufactured black powder, it’s best to store it in the container it came in.

It’s not recommended to store black powder in metal containers. If it gets too hot, it could cause the container to explode, almost like a grenade. Cardboard and non-static plastic containers are ideal for storing black powder. Even better if the individual containers are stored within a wooden box to keep the powder safe and dry.

Don’t worry if your black powder gets wet or ends up freezing along the way. Because black powder is soaked in water or alcohol when being made, it won’t be ruined by a little moisture. All you have to do is dry it out again and it should be good as new.

One of the most important tips for storing black powder is to keep it in a temperature constant area of your home.

Leaving black powder in your car, placing it in direct sunlight, or allowing it to heat up too much can cause it to ignite. It’s also incredibly important to always wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with black powder, especially if you plan to use a stove or lighter afterwards.

Black Powder Substitutes

Like most things in the world, it’s possible to purchase substitutes for black powder to use in your firearms. These substitutes are propellants rather than explosives, which means transporting, selling, and storing them isn’t subject to regulations as strict as true black powder.

By far the most popular black powder substitutes on the market are Pyrodex and Triple Se7en.

Black powder substitutes are useful in places where genuine black powder is almost impossible to get your hands on. In some areas, these substitutes are a great alternative. They burn cleaner, pack more of a punch, and are easier to purchase.

However, it’s important to note that not all firearms can properly shoot all black powder substitutes. It’s crucial to do your research and make sure the substitute you buy will work with the muzzle you’re loading it into.

While many people like having the option of black powder substitutes, there are many others who stand by the real deal.

The reason these substitutes aren’t classified as explosives is because they are harder to light and slower burning, making them less dangerous. Some argue that also makes them less effective. 

Not to mention, black powder substitutes do have a shorter shelf life than real black powder (which is basically forever) and won’t bounce back if they end up getting wet.

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