This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
The base of smokeless powders is nitrated cellulose which has been treated in one of various ways to make it burn slower than gun cotton, and also to render it less sensitive to heat and shocks. As a rule, these powders are not only less inflammable than gun cotton, but require stronger detonators. As metallic salts cause smoke, they are not used in these powders. The smokeless powders now in use may be divided into three groups: (1) Those consisting of mixtures of nitro-glycerine and nitrated cellulose, which have been converted into a hard, hornlike mass, either with or without the aid of a solvent. To this group belongs ballistite, containing 50 per cent of nitro-glycerine, 49 per cent of nitrated cellulose, and 1 per cent of diphenylamin; also cordite (see further on), Lenord's powder, and amberite. This last contains 40 parts of nitro-glycerine and 56 parts of nitrated cellulose. (2) Those consisting mainly of nitrated cellulose of any kind, which has been rendered hard and horny by treatment with some solvent which is afterwards evaporated. These are prepared by treating nitrated cellulose with ether or benzine, which dissolves the collodion, and when evaporated leaves a hard film of collodion on the surface of each grain. Sometimes a little camphor is added to the solvent, and, remaining in the powder, greatly retards its combustion. (3) Those consisting of nitro-derivatives of the aromatic hydrocarbons, either with or without the admixture of nitrated cellulose; to this group belong Dupont's powder, consisting of nitrated cellulose dissolved in nitro-benzine; indurite, consisting of cellulose hexanitrate (freed from collodion by extraction with methyl alcohol), made into a paste with nitrobenzine, and hardened by treatment with steam until the excess of nitro-benzine is removed; and plastomeite, consisting of dinitrotoluene and nitrated wood pulp. Cordite is the specific name of a smokeless powder which has been adopted by the English government as a military explosive. It contains nitroglycerine, 58 parts; gun cotton, 37 parts; and petrolatum, 5 parts. The nitroglycerine and gun cotton are first mixed, 19.2 parts of acetone added, and the pasty mass kneaded for several hours. The petrolatum is then added and the mixture again kneaded. The paste is then forced through fine openings to form threads, which are dried at about 105° F. until the acetone evaporates. The threads, which resemble brown twine, are then cut into short lengths for use.
Another process for the manufacture of smokeless powder is as follows: Straw, preferably oat-straw, is treated in the usual way with a mixture of nitric acid and concentrated sulphuric acid, and then w;<shed in water to free it from these, then boiled with water, and again with a solution of potassium carbonate. It is next subjected, for 2 to 6 hours, to the action of a solution composed of 1,000 parts of water, 12.5 parts of potassium nitrate, 3.5 parts of potassium chlorate, 12.5 parts of zinc sulphate, and 12.5 parts of potassium permanganate. The excess of solution is pressed out, and the mass is then pulverized, granulated, and finally dried.
The warning as to the danger of experimenting with the manufacture of ordinary gunpowder applies with renewed force when nitro-glycerine is the subject of the experiment.
This is composed of chlorate of potash, 1 part: chromate of potash, 0.1 part; sugar, 0.45 parts; yellow wax, 0.09 parts. The proportions indicated may vary within certain limits, according to the force desired. For the preparation, the chlorate and the chromate of potash, as well as the sugar, are ground separately and very finely, and sifted so that the grains of the different substances may have the same size. At first any two of the substances are mixed as thoroughly as possible, then the third is added. The yellow wax, cut in small pieces, is finally added, and all the substances are worked together to produce a homogeneous product. The sugar may be replaced with charcoal or any other combustible body. For commercial needs, the compound may be colored with any inert matter, also pulverized.