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Newbie: A Few Basic BP Questions

bp black powder newbie pyrotechnics back to basics

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#21 spectra1

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 02:06 PM

It also lasts just fine in terms of durability. Mind you I'm not making hundreds of lbs of BP. I have probably made over 50 lbs of BP with my little tumbler.

#22 Mumbles

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 06:23 PM

Both the single and double drum rock tumbler have the same motor. I found giving the jar a hand start or starting the rollers and stopping the jar on worked fine for me, but it would struggle to start from a stop in its own full of lead. The biggest downside to the single jar mill is that the jar is rubber and tends to run more and might stick a bit without a spacer. Furniture sliding pads work great.

Your mill time will vary. For some 3hr might work, for some 12. I found 8 was optimal for me. I think it depends a lot on the particle size of material you're starting with, and how soft or hard your charcoal is. Media diamter, media material, any caking, and a whole host of other things will also affect milling time. Just find what works for you.

Harbor freight mills turn about half of the optimum rpm. The 8he I mentioned above is on a stick setup. Speeding it up or building a better base down the road can cut down on the time required.
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#23 AntarcticFX

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 07:34 PM

It also lasts just fine in terms of durability. Mind you I'm not making hundreds of lbs of BP. I have probably made over 50 lbs of BP with my little tumbler.

 

 

Both the single and double drum rock tumbler have the same motor. I found giving the jar a hand start or starting the rollers and stopping the jar on worked fine for me, but it would struggle to start from a stop in its own full of lead. The biggest downside to the single jar mill is that the jar is rubber and tends to run more and might stick a bit without a spacer. Furniture sliding pads work great.

Your mill time will vary. For some 3hr might work, for some 12. I found 8 was optimal for me. I think it depends a lot on the particle size of material you're starting with, and how soft or hard your charcoal is. Media diamter, media material, any caking, and a whole host of other things will also affect milling time. Just find what works for you.

Harbor freight mills turn about half of the optimum rpm. The 8he I mentioned above is on a stick setup. Speeding it up or building a better base down the road can cut down on the time required.

 

 

@spectra1 I'm not going to be making large scale batches of BP at one time either, so that may just be the perfect option for me, and it's fairly cheap.

 

@Mumbles Thanks for the helpful tidbits on the Harbor Freight mills. Also, I'm not pressed for time. Even when I do get a mill, 12 hours of milling time won't bother me any if that is the case to produce decent powder, at least for now. If things work out as planned I could see myself investing much more money into the hobby and then at that point, I would want to be able to turn out a batch of BP in about 3 hours if I'd be using a lot of it very quickly.

 

Just getting my bearings on making good BP allows me the luxury of benefiting greatly from even a basic Harbor Freight mill, so I think I will stick with purchasing that and some decent non-sparking media in the near future.

 

Out of curiosity, with the standard jar that comes with a Harbor Freight mill, what is the largest batch of BP you could make at one time if half of the jar is to be filled with media? 


Edited by AntarcticFX, 19 March 2019 - 07:38 PM.


#24 Arthur

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Posted 20 March 2019 - 02:38 AM

People have used pestle and mortar powder, BUT in real life the absence of good powder in an assortment of size grades will impact negatively on everything that you want to do.

 

Get a starter mill and make (and store safely) three different size cuts of powder. Then to make an item you can simply weigh out what your design says that you need. Even having powder that is properly dry helps making reliable and repeatable products. 



#25 BetICouldMake1

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Posted 20 March 2019 - 08:00 AM

The optimum load for a single jar is about 4oz. 

 

This is where many have started for their first mill https://www.skylight...owder-ball-mill

 

These mods are cheap and easy and will make a big difference in the necessary mill time. 

 

 

Also, casting your own lead media is not difficult, though it is time consuming. Even if you factor in the cost of buying a mold and the lead ingots, it will be a fraction of the cost of buying media. A casting pot is nice, but you can get buy using a sturdy pan on camp stove and a ladle if you're trying to minimize cost. The other nice thing is once you're set up to cast media if you decide to upgrade your mill you are set up to cast more media. I recently upgraded from the harbor freight mill and cast 35lbs of media for under $50 rather than buying it for about $200. 



#26 AntarcticFX

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Posted 20 March 2019 - 08:59 AM

People have used pestle and mortar powder, BUT in real life the absence of good powder in an assortment of size grades will impact negatively on everything that you want to do.

 

Get a starter mill and make (and store safely) three different size cuts of powder. Then to make an item you can simply weigh out what your design says that you need. Even having powder that is properly dry helps making reliable and repeatable products. 

 

 

The optimum load for a single jar is about 4oz. 

 

This is where many have started for their first mill https://www.skylight...owder-ball-mill

 

These mods are cheap and easy and will make a big difference in the necessary mill time. 

 

 

Also, casting your own lead media is not difficult, though it is time consuming. Even if you factor in the cost of buying a mold and the lead ingots, it will be a fraction of the cost of buying media. A casting pot is nice, but you can get buy using a sturdy pan on camp stove and a ladle if you're trying to minimize cost. The other nice thing is once you're set up to cast media if you decide to upgrade your mill you are set up to cast more media. I recently upgraded from the harbor freight mill and cast 35lbs of media for under $50 rather than buying it for about $200. 

 

@Arthur, due to my own testing using the methods I have currently been using I can attest to the fact that it is extremely unconventional if you then need to use a variety of different sized powders / performance with what you're making to achieve different results. It takes a lot of time doing it by hand to the point where it would become almost daunting thinking about doing that. My main focus right now is just getting what I need to at least make acceptably fast and hot meal powder. My powder right now works, but it's by no means "fast". Test firing a 7g dummy round out of my miniature cannon using 0.7g of the powder I made produces more of a "lob" than a shot, lol. It fires the round maybe 20 / 30 ft. Aesthetically speaking it's great, I get a nice large, bright, nearly white muzzle flash that shoots out about 2 1/2 - 3ft.

 

@BetICouldMake1, I unfortunately won't be casting my own media, at least not at this moment. I don't really want to mess with casting lead. I know it would be far cheaper to do so, but it's not something I'm willing to do right now. Thank you for the link to that page too, that will make properly setting up and using my ball mill much easier once I'm able to purchase one.



#27 Arthur

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Posted 20 March 2019 - 02:21 PM

In the full range of fireworks there is a use for powder from Fa to FFFFFa and having a stock of what you want will ease production. Someone will likely offer a chart of mesh sizes (McMaster Carr in the USA) to sort out the milled and granulated material.

 

My mill was a 2 kilo rock tumbler which took 1kilo of ceramic balls and 1 kilo of ingredients to produce good milled powder in 6 hours. If I really wanted I could have several lots of ingredients weighed out and empty and reload the mill in under five minutes and make several kilos per day.



#28 AntarcticFX

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Posted 21 March 2019 - 08:00 AM

In the full range of fireworks there is a use for powder from Fa to FFFFFa and having a stock of what you want will ease production. Someone will likely offer a chart of mesh sizes (McMaster Carr in the USA) to sort out the milled and granulated material.
 
My mill was a 2 kilo rock tumbler which took 1kilo of ceramic balls and 1 kilo of ingredients to produce good milled powder in 6 hours. If I really wanted I could have several lots of ingredients weighed out and empty and reload the mill in under five minutes and make several kilos per day.


@Arthur, that's a pretty hefty amount of powder at one time. I suppose it isn't too much if you're using it all of the time though.

An with five different granulation grades as well as meal powder / polverone that would be a nightmare to sort without me having the proper screening materials.

#29 Arthur

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Posted 21 March 2019 - 11:41 AM

Once you get to make 4" and larger shells then powder consumption goes up dramatically. The last shell I made had 3Lbs of lift and used about 10 Lbs of meal powder in the break charge. All easy when you have materials to hand, all a problem if you do not.

 

A worth while project comes together quickly, BUT all the ingredients will have taken weeks to source and prepare.



#30 Maserface

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Posted 22 March 2019 - 08:11 AM

In the full range of fireworks there is a use for powder from Fa to FFFFFa and having a stock of what you want will ease production. Someone will likely offer a chart of mesh sizes (McMaster Carr in the USA) to sort out the milled and granulated material.

 

My mill was a 2 kilo rock tumbler which took 1kilo of ceramic balls and 1 kilo of ingredients to produce good milled powder in 6 hours. If I really wanted I could have several lots of ingredients weighed out and empty and reload the mill in under five minutes and make several kilos per day.

 

 

The mill you describe seems either under-loaded on media or overloaded on chemicals. What are the jar dimensions?



#31 Carbon796

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Posted 22 March 2019 - 12:47 PM

@Arthur, that's a pretty hefty amount of powder at one time. I suppose it isn't too much if you're using it all of the time though.

An with five different granulation grades as well as meal powder / polverone that would be a nightmare to sort without me having the proper screening materials.


At most, you really only need 3 cuts of home made BP or polverone. A coarse, medium, and fine cut. If your not making cylinder shells you don't even need polverone. If your not producing items bigger than 3 " you dont even need the coarse cut.

Being as of right now, you're just trying to make decent usable BP, in sub pound quantities. You don't need to over complicate things. Most people will naturally scale up to where they need to be, based on their experience and goals.

Edited by Carbon796, 22 March 2019 - 01:12 PM.


#32 Ferret

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Posted 22 March 2019 - 06:39 PM

4 ounces would be about.... 100 grams? I don't work in imperial lol. This is science we use metric.

 

I use the harbor freight ball mill jars, and I mill 150 grams per batch. I upgraded my mill to a homemade version but sill use the jars. I recently tried around 180 grams and it was too much, 150 seems to be around the sweet spot. That's with the volume half loaded with round 1/2" lead media. 

 

However when I was still using the harbor freight mill I increased the RPM by wrapping tape around the axle until the jar rotated at about 90 RPM. With these mill jars, your optimum RPM is around 90, without modification the jar turns around 60 RPM on those. 

 

For BP grades, for starters I recommend two grades; 3FA and 2Fg - this only requires 3 screens, about $10 each from mcmaster

3FA = -10+16mesh , used for lifting and breaking 1.75"-4" shells

2Fg = -16+30mesh , used for lifting and breaking small shells/bombettes, and a plethora of other uses. 2Fg is really the "universal" grade to me. You could even use it for lifting bigger shells probably. It just works everywhere. 

 

Hopefully any of that was useful to you


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#33 Arthur

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Posted 23 March 2019 - 05:15 AM

 

 

The mill you describe seems either under-loaded on media or overloaded on chemicals. What are the jar dimensions?

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#34 Mumbles

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Posted 23 March 2019 - 06:50 PM

Arthur, that jar should take at least 4 kilos of media or normal dimensions.
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#35 hcb

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Posted 18 April 2019 - 09:50 AM


@BetICouldMake1, I unfortunately won't be casting my own media, at least not at this moment. I don't really want to mess with casting lead. I know it would be far cheaper to do so, but it's not something I'm willing to do right now. Thank you for the link to that page too, that will make properly setting up and using my ball mill much easier once I'm able to purchase one.

 

As I am on a similar path regarding milling, and having tried this BP stuff 30 years ago as a teenager, I'll throw this in, FWIW.  And, yes, the thread is getting dated but maybe this will help a future reader, too:

 

I tried the rock tumbler mill idea those many years ago.  I used steel chunks for the individual components and then pennies for the mixture.  Neither medium was ideal, but I got a fine powder, and it was a pill doing the job.  However, it was far superior to hand smashing or mortar-n-pestal work.  Now, 30 something years later and a father myself, I want to make some model rocket motors with my son, so I'm re-visiting my past endeavor...but I learned some stuff in the intervening years.

 

For lead media, I am choosing to cast my own from tire weights.  However, if you don't want to cast your own, Hornady makes lead balls for firearms, and they're available to at least as large as 0.530", sold in boxes of 100, and cost about $13-15 per box.  These are sold by a variety of online sellers, of course, but are also carried by Cabela's and, probably, Bass Pro.  My "local" Cabela's shows to have them in-stock, FWIW, maybe, if you have one near you, will, too.  Inside of a rock tumbler, this size/count, might be sufficient.  This might be a cheap way to get to a mill quickly.  Also, a number of companies make tumblers for brass cartridges (reloading), which, while not ideal, might work fine for a quick drum (replacement drum) but not a cheap solution (cartridge media tumblers seem to run about $200, maybe a little less "on sale").

 

For a tumbler cradle, if you wanted to try a homemade one (I will try something like this): you could use some pillow block bearings for 1/2" shafts (four of them) and wrap them with heater hose (automotive) and put a pulley on the end of one of the parallel shafts and drive it with a sewing machine motor.  Amazon has at least one sewing machine motor which appears to have the speed control and motor for about $30, free Prime shipping.  The speed controlability of sewing machine motor is interesting as it means you may not have to worry to much about sizing the pulley to precisely.  Pulley's can be gotten easily including Tractor Supply (nationwide or close to it) and which will fit 1/2" shafts.  The shafts can be bought as bare round stock or zinc-coated round stock at stores like Lowe's, Home Depot, and Tractor Supply.

 

For a drum: perhaps a replacement media tumbler part (mentioned above), or simply a plastic bucket with a lid, available in a variety of sizes, might work well. 

 

For my food dehydrator cum brass cartridge dryer, I bought a wall-wart timer at Lowe's.  It's digital and basically is a light timer like you'd maybe use if you were going to be away from home for a few days and wanted a light in a room to go on and off to make it appear that someone is home.  The one I bought has a neat feature; it has a simple timer which, when activated, runs the 120v output for a settable amount of time.  I use it to keep my food dehydrator I use for drying brass from running too long and discoloring the brass.  I will use it to control power to my tumbler so I can turn it on and just leave it to run for however long I want to mill my stuff without having to return to shut it off (set it and forget it).

 

I don't know if any of this will help you, but I hope so.  If not, maybe a future reader might benefit.

 

--HC



#36 MBaggs

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 05:24 AM

"Is it possible to get 20-30 size mesh screen at any major retailers in the states, or would I have to order them online like the bucket screens?"

 

 

I'm not sure about the state of gold panning in Florida but IF there is a mining/panning supply store close to you they usually carry screens (for some reason they call them “Classifiers”) from 4 mesh  to 80 or even 100 mesh.

Also ask around about a black powder shooting club. You probably can quickly find a member who will cast round balls for you if you get them the linotype or wheel-weights.



#37 cevmarauder

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 09:40 PM

Not sure if you've bought your Harbor Freight special rock tumbler yet, but if you haven't, here's the Harbor Freight Coupon Database--just plug in an item number, and it'll see if there's a valid coupon out there!

http://www.hfqpdb.com/

 

I've been fireworking for a few years now, and honestly, my little HF mill (with the Skylighter-recommended rubber tube mod to the driven shaft to raise the RPM) does a fantastic job, pushing lead-antimony .50 cal balls.  You will curse yourself for all the time you spent hand-milling.

And for those looking for a cheap 1/4-1/2HP motor, I've picked up several at estate sales.  Look for online sales in your area, go to auctions, etc--old guys who actually knew their way around tools usually had a couple of these in the garage.  I got a Dayton 1/2HP motor for $5 at the cash-and-carry table of an auction, and I got a 3/4HP one free with a Rockwell Planer I picked up.  It's amazing what being nice to the folks running the sale can do for you; since it's usually ladies, offering to help them move the heavy stuff and occasionally helping other customers goes a long way toward getting "freebies" that didn't sell or weren't even put up for auction. 

You can also scrounge decent motors out of old fuel-oil furnace burners.



#38 Boophoenix

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 10:47 PM

Antarctic, I apologize I’ve not read every post completely. I just skimmed threw, but I didn’t happen to catch a whole lot of advice to your original question. I’m a newbie explorer of this for a few years now and Carbon is correct from what I suspect as well.

What I didn’t see mentioned or discussed if you pay attention to Dave’s ( aka JustVisiting ) write up is the ratio adjustment. This can be used to overcome the particle size issue to some degree. I have played a little with the concept and had a tiny hand in pushing Dave in that direction I think. We have many long discussions about charcoals and BP. We had discussed it a few times over a couple of years where Dave dismisses my ideas a little since he was headed down another rabbit hole at the time. He likes to stay on a straight path and not side track to much in each round of his explorations. He didn’t have the same interests I did till the challenge was issued. That was enough to spike some intrest from him. I however and very open minded and will follow where ever interest leads me. This difference of paths helps us understand more things and debate multiple perspectives in our discussions.

I did some tinkering once and noticed the exact thing you mention with the unused potassium nitrate boiling into little balls. So in one of my wild hair moments I did some tinkering and found I could shift the residue to charcoal remaining by fiddling with the ratios with just screened powders. These tests were performed with dry screened powders that had not been processed any further. I add that because further processing the powders should very well improve their performance. I’ve run into that before where ungrnaulated comps that would not burn but granulated will. So this leads me to the conclusion that the additional step enhanced the mixture a little. I never found a sweet spot where there was no residue from just the screened dry powders, but I didn’t really expect to either. I didn’t do any further tests in that round other than seeing how they burned.

I think there is a lot of room to investigate here that hasn’t been tapped and recorded by to many people in recent years. Ken and Richard in the UK have done some research on enhancing burn speeds, but found they sacrificed power for speed. If my memory serves me correctly some of that research was published in AFN ( American Firework News ) a couple of years ago or information can be found at their native forum. I’m unsure of Mumbles policy about listing other forums so I will refrain from listing it directly here out of respect.

One thing that I’ve wondered that I do not think has been explored is ratio alterations with good charcoals to see if they can be made to preform better. The reason that interests me if my assumption is correct with a little testing I’d suspect almost any medium to good charcoal could be dialed to a happy medium for consistency in how someone may use their BP. For those that like to cook charcoal this may could mean you could use the most readily available source materials. It sounds like a cool concept I hope to expand on one day.

#39 dagabu

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Posted 30 July 2019 - 12:45 PM

Fortunately, I work from home so being able to tell if the mill is too loud won't be an issue as I'm pretty much here most of the time and would most definitely notice with the quiet environment I'm in....

 

Um, if you don't have the distance or space, you need to find a friend that has land to do this. 


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#40 diggity

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Posted 02 August 2019 - 07:47 AM

A cheap Harbor Freight double drum rock tumbler WILL easily turn a single drum filled half full with lead media. I use mine all the time and make great fast BP. Mill for three hour and granulated with dextran and water. It's simple it's cheap and it works.

I agree. I have a harbor freight rock tumbler, granted, it is a single drum, but i can still make about 200g of BP at a time. This is plenty for the small shells I produce. Although, I run mine for about 24 hrs (using eastern red cedar wood for charcoal). The results are fantastic. You should really just get your hands on one, not all that expensive, I think Ive seen them for about 30$. Good luck!







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