1. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Gunpowder Decay/Substitutes

    Discussion in 'Research' started by JadeX, Feb 10, 2016.

    My characters have access to ammunition that is 50+ years old. They cannot acquire new ammunition.

    Thing is, according to my research, gunpowder degrades as much as 20 feet per second per year. For 50 years, that's 1,000 feet per second. The average speed of a bullet is 1,126 feet per second. That means that the ammunition they have, as it is right now, is practically useless.

    Is there a way to renew or "revitalize" aged gunpowder to make it more effective?

    Or, alternatively, what can be used as a decent substitute for gunpowder? I found this post about using very-very-very-very-super-finely ground-up matchheads as a gunpowder substitute, but the problem is that this method is very low-yield and time-consuming - my characters need a quick and expedient method to produce enough ammunition to sustain an army.
     
  2. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    There's lots of ways to make things blow up, given time and resources, but my assumption is that your army (of undisclosed size) will need a lot.

    I just finished reading a book set in the 1850s or thereabouts, where a guy made his own guncotton (or nitrocellulose). There's a recipe here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Nitrocellulose/ - I am unclear about the author's assertion that drain cleaner contains nitric acid, but perhaps that is a regional thing. I'd check. To me, drain cleaner's active ingredient is sodium hyroxide, but I haven't checked for a while.

    I don't believe your assumption about regular degradation of the gunpowder is entirely accurate - but I may be wrong. My belief is that it might well degrade to a certain lower potency over the half-century and pretty much remain there. I think the primer in the bullets may be an issue too, but my knowledge of firearms is very scant.

    One thing you might want to consider: as the writer you can set the scene/locations however you wish, and in the case of guncotton, you might have your army near a wreckers' yard (not sure what you cal them, but I'm referring to a place where dead cars are taken so parts can be scavenged), and perhaps there's a nearby, abandoned hardware store where there are adequate supplies of drain cleaner. Car batteries use sulphuric acid so that might be a viable source for the other acid.

    There are countless novels where resourceful protagonists use what's around to cobble together some usable device; MacGyver on TV years ago did that routinely. You just need to make the location and the resources plausible. This might require you to rewrite a tract of your work, including backtracking, but the end result will be worth it. Of course, you might also be able to write in supplies of gunpowder components - just ensure there are enough to meet your needs, or perhaps not, if you'd like to build more tension!

    I don't know if it is possible to "revitalize" gunpowder, but that might be worth a look - I know the charcoal isn't volatile, but haven't checked on the potassium nitrite or sulphur.

    If you just need an explosion or two, then pool chlorine mixed with brake fluid goes well, I believe, but you might want to check on that. There are bound to be a multitude of recipes.
     
  3. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    While I think of it, in my day, high schools had lots of chemicals that might provide another resource-rich location. Of course, if your current location is a desert or uninhabited place, then that makes life a lot harder.
     
  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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  5. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Wiki-how will show you easy steps to make new gun powder. Its not a long process. They could mix more and make new ammo, but they would need other tools to pack the bullets. My uncle use to make his own ammo, in three hours he would pack about 50 new bullets. He didn't make his own gun powder though.
    There are many sites that show you how to make your own ammo.
    Gunpowder has a shelf life of 10 years when stored correctly. So the 50 year old stuff would be pretty much useless and probably dangerous.
    If you are doing some kind of post-apoc. story, then you are pretty much screwed. Maybe you can make it where small settlements have their own ammo factory and are willing to barter?
    The walking dead did a good job in their comics. Rick sees the problem and sets up a small ammo factory that is run by the cowardly smart guy ( can't recall his name right now).
    It's an interesting dilemma you have run across, good luck with it. I wouldn't use the gunpowder made of matches, I would believe making gunpowder out of kitchen spices before that, you would need a massive amount of matches. You can look up the spice gunpowder also.
    Your big problem would be how they pack the new bullets with no equipment.
     
  6. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    It is post-apoc, but here's the twist: they can't get new ammo, not because it is post-apoc, but because an authoritarian government controls everything. So there wouldn't be any "small settlements with their own ammo factory". However, there is working infrastructure and such, and civilization still exists, so it's not like all hope is lost. (And even still, the characters in The 100 made their own gunpowder with absolutely no infrastructure or technology, just a bit of chemistry knowledge and raw materials collected from the wilderness (albeit The 100 isn't as much "hard sci-fi" as my story is))

    Yeah, that's the problem with it. Very time-consuming and incredibly low-yield. Another problem is that matches are designed to be sensitive to friction (that's how we light them after all) so such a substitute could be dangerous if the ammo is mishandled, misfires, or especially if the gun overheats with a magazine full of these things (oh god the horror *shudders*)

    BTW, since it seems I didn't exactly make it clear in my OP, my characters do need this as a propellant for bullets - not as an explosive for bombs. There's a ton of stuff that's easier and more effective for making bombs, this thread is not about that.

    ALTHOUGH - just as I was typing that last bit, it gave me an idea. Obviously the 50-year-old gunpowder would not be safe to use in ammunition, but instead of just throwing it out, could it still be viable enough to use for small explosives, like pipe bombs/grenades? I'm trying to use everything, any way I can. Even if it won't push a bullet very far, it should still go "boom", right?
     
  7. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Good news for you my friend. You made me curious about this, so I typed in "how long will bullets last" and google sent me to some good sites. If stored right, ammo can last well over 50 years.
    Maybe you can have your guys discover a fallout shelter where the builder stored the ammo properly. It will fire and work properly if stored right.
    There are at least 10 sites you can go to for more info.
    Once your characters are armed and begin their fight, make sure they become ammo conscience and try and pick up any they find.
    Your story is doable though with old ammo.
     
  8. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    There is still some ammo from the late 1800's that still fire today. Got that from one of the sites.
     
  9. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Well, that works - the place they found the ammo is actually an underground military bunker/base!
     
  10. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Just make sure you write it in that they tested some of the ammo to make sure it is useable.
     
  11. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    ...or you could do like Clive Cussler in "Sahara" and forget about the degrading part altogether because it's just a story and no one is going to really care about it degrading.
     
  12. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I here you Lewdog, but one thing I learned from being on this forum is someone will catch it.
    I had eight beta readers review a finished chapter, about 13k words. I did my research and everything looked good when I released it to them. 7 thought it was good, 1 thought it was good, but found one paragraph where I missed something in my research. You guessed it, that reader was someone on this forum.
    Now I am thinking of only doing beta reads here. Someone will always catch you on your bullshit here, even if its sci/fi. I've learned more about writing and research on this forum than anywhere else.
     
  13. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    "The 100" did the same exact thing. They found a bunch of 100-year-old guns and ammo in a bunker (which I don't even think was sealed, IIRC) and started firing them off with no problems whatsoever.

    Problem is, in a cruel twist of irony, amateur writers are held to a much higher standard than professionals. Professional writers can make all the mistakes and inaccuracies and blatant disregard of facts they want and very few people will ever care. But if you're an amateur writer, you better be 100% spot-on about everything or else some asshat will come along and rip more holes in your story than there are on a corkboard - because it's easier for people to diss, degrade, and demoralise someone they've never heard of. And people like to be pricks, so they'll do that. You can almost bet money on it. There's always "that guy".
     
  14. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    I try to be thorough, diplomatic and gentle when I critique another's work, and hope for the same in return, but nor do I hold back - if I see an issue, I'll mention it, and if there's something that I like, I'll mention that too. My (perhaps erroneous view) is that people submit their work because they want it to be as good as it can be. Still, I'll make note to avoid your work, lest I find an issue and be branded an "asshat" - whatever that may be - who is also a "prick" out to demoralize you, all because I tried to help or noticed something.
     
  15. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    No, I'm talking about the people who go way out of their way to tear someone else's work apart. The vultures that swirl overhead, eager to swoop down and rip a hunk of flesh from a writer's soul. Not just typical critiques, I mean the people that deliberately look for things to complain about, the people who will spend hours researching a subject just so they can tell you how wrong you are, THOSE are the "asshats" I'm referring to.
     
  16. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that's true.

    I can remember one episode in a Dick Francis (an author who'll generally research what the book's about quite thoroughly) book where his MC is punting down a river and startles a heron. The heron "stalks arthritically away"...a phrase that he got from watching a nature programme showing a heron hunting, NOT from startling a heron. It's a bird. When scared, it'll fly away, NOT stalk.

    The problem is, I read that in a library book, not on this forum!
     
  17. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I understand you completely JadeX, but I just want to say the guy from the forum who found my hole is not one of those guys. The critique was great, I was just trying to say I think now I prefer a beta reader from here. I look at a lot of the critiques here, and I don't think anything is personal. People here seem to really want to help.
    The debate rooms are a different story, but that is where we are suppose to be challenging others with our views.
    Sorry if I came off wrong JadeX, I know what you are talking about, I just have not run across it here yet. Hopefully I will not ever.
    Happy Friday Everyone.
     
  18. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I just remembered. if you want an idea on how they can make a gunpowder substitute, you might want to watch Army of Darkness. It has been awhile since I watched the movie, but at some point Ash teaches the Medieval villagers how to make it.
     

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