Making Gunpowder From Urine, Natural Materials

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So, one day you’re working on your ranch in Utah, and you think “you know, when the zombie elk apocalypse comes, I had better be prepared. I’ve got a rifle, and some ammo, but what happens when I run out?”

Well, obviously you make your own gunpowder, and to do that you need to watch the following videos from YouTuber Cody of the channel Cody’sLab.

Cody, who is a college student and Mars One mission finalist, had a similar thought one day, and decided to create blackpowder and document his process. The YouTube videos he created as a result, especially the second one, are two of the most exciting and fun Internet gun videos I have ever seen. I watched Part 2 (which covers his success firing a blackpowder cannon with the homemade powder) first, and then Part 1 (which more closely covers his KNO3 production), and in my opinion you could watch them in either order. For the more technically-minded, watch them in order, but if you’re someone who can’t wait to see the stuff in action, watch Part 2 first. Both are embedded in order below:

From a historical perspective, Cody’s gunpowder is very well-made and refined; most of the gunpowder made until the late 18th Century was considerably cruder, and accidents were common. I am sure Cody would agree that there is room for improvement with his product, which is in its infancy, but on the other hand his process benefits from modern glassware and other tools.

Cody is a prolific YouTuber, and his videos, like the two above, are well worth your time to watch. If you feel the same way I do, go ahead and give him your subscription, too, as YouTube is his full time job over the summer when he is not in school.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • TheNotoriousIUD

    The confederacy also mined bat guano to manufacture powder.

    • SP mclaughlin

      The south shall stink again!

    • Bubba

      The US annexed several islands in the pacific just to mine bird crap from them. They are still US property.

    • Tassiebush

      In a goldrush people have gold fever. I wonder if the guano miners were bat$hit crazy?

  • Darren Hruska

    Sooo, does this mean we’re finally going to get Bear Grylls brand gunpowder?

    • Tassiebush

      That would make sense. He can only drink it once. Why waste it the second time…

      • noob

        The more times he drinks it, the more concentrated the urea nitrates will be.

        • Tassiebush

          I’m inclined to agree except kidney failure would create other inefficiencies which would complicate the process. I guess though maybe he can farm that out with some of his contestants on his shows. He can use their kidneys instead.

        • Edeco

          Any bits of kidney stone can just act as birdshot.

          • Tassiebush

            Gives new meaning to passing up the shot and pass shooting…

  • ostiariusalpha

    I did this as a kid. My first couple of attempts were rather more fizzle-ish than bang-boomy, but I was encouraged that I got any reaction. I read a few books that had information about producing better consistency in the powder, and soon I was blasting anthills. Until I ran out of potassium nitrate and interest in making that much of a mess when I could just buy better quality powder for myself. But, at least I remember the process.

  • Allan Segal

    Didn’t Kirk do this to defeat the Lizard counterpart of himself?

    • noob

      The Gorn Cannon! (kirk had to also make the barrel of the cannon out of a local bamboo thing which is a much more iffy proposition)

      • ostiariusalpha

        More iffy than pure potassium nitrate just lying around on the ground? That iron bamboo is more plausible by far.

      • Southpaw89

        You should look up the Mythbusters episode on this, the way it ends is just about perfect.

        • jcitizen

          They are not taking into account the fact that class B fireworks mortars are often made of paper, and they can do some nasty injury on anyone that gets in front of them, even if the bomb is not an exploding one. If you have enough diameter and good enough black powder, and very hard projectiles, plus wrapping the tube with rope, you can put a hurt on an enemy without blowing up the bamboo. I think the Mythbusters over did it. If they thought like a firecracker pyromaniac, they could have easily pulled it off. Bamboo can be a very tough material, and is used in cooking as well. The Chinese used them as weapons right at the discovery of cannon.

    • LetsTryLibertyAgain

      I was going to leave a comment on Kirk and the Gorn, but you beat me to it.

  • sean

    Judge Holden!!!

    • Edeco

      😀 yep!

  • Comrade Misfit

    John Harrolson lives!

    • Cannoneer No. 4

      “John Harrelson, John Harrelson, you are a wretched creature,

      You’ve added to this war a new and awful feature,

      You’d have us think while every man is bound to be a fighter,

      The ladies, bless their pretty dears, should save their p** for nitre,

      John Harrelson, John Harrelson, where did you get this notion,

      To send your barrel around the town to gather up this lotion,

      We thought the girls had work enough in making shirts and kissing,

      But you have put the pretty dears to patriotic p*ssing,

      John Harrelson, John Harrelson, do pray invent a neater

      And somewhat less immodest mode of making your saltpeter,

      For “tis an awful idea, John, gunpowdery and cranky,

      That when a lady lifts her skirt, she’s killing off a Yankee.”

      • Tassiebush

        What a magnificent rhyme! I looked it up and found the last line
        “They say there is a subtle smell
        That lingers in the powder;
        That when the smoke grows thicker,
        And the din of the battle louder
        That there is found to this compound
        One serious objection;
        A soldier can not sniff it
        Without having an 3rection.”

        • Edeco

          Wow, I googled it too. From historical documents it seems there were additions. Sadly, understandably the tone seems to have gotten darker and the form more primitive as the war progressed:

          “Poor Stonewall Jackson on 10th of May he did expire
          parted from his sinistral arm by blast of friendly fire.
          The musket balls flew through the air with deadly power
          sent out from their muzzles by a Rebel golden shower.”

  • smartacus

    May God grant European, Chinese, and North Korean civilians access to these videos.

    • Giolli Joker

      Europeans have access… however most of them just walk into a gunshop and buy smokeless powder…

    • iksnilol

      I usually just go to a gunshop and buy smokeless powder. Less dirty.

  • iksnilol

    I wonder about loading modern cartridges with blackpowder. As in, how effective would it be? I am thinking 7.62×39 with a 9.7 gram bullet. Fired out of a bolt action or a rifle with the gas shut off.

    • milesfortis

      Not as effective as smokeless powder, but more then effective enough for most purposes.
      At the latter stages of BP cartridge development, quite high velocities and excellent accuracy were noted.
      .303 British, and a few other ‘small bore’ rounds still in use today, were originally loaded with BP.

      • Swarf

        Which is why I’m such a fan, as far as reloading, of .38/.357.

        Lots of room in those cases to fill or not depending on your needs.

    • ostiariusalpha

      There is far more of a necessity for thorough & frequent cleaning when shooting with black powder. Other than that, it should work fine. You won’t get the same velocity, so 7.62×54R might get you more of the performance you’re looking for.

    • richard kluesek

      Revolver cartridges like the .38 and .44 Specials and .45 Long Colt were originally blackpowder, these and the Magnums might be better bets.

      • iksnilol

        But that’s like a charted frontier, where’s the fun in that? xD

    • jcitizen

      Or one could learn to make nitro and have something like modern smokless; but a friend of mine about got his eye put out when the tri-nitrates became unstable and blew up his beaker. You have to control the temperature very carefully and let it cool slowly or mix in a stabilizing agent – like wood pulp – It was kinda like making good old dynamite. Well, maybe just like it actually.

  • noob

    the hand held camera makes me feel like he’s about to say “Here in my garage, I got this new rifle. Fun to shoot in the hills around my ranch. But you know what I like more than these materialistic things? SCIENCE!”

  • noob

    hmm if you have a community of 20 people and five of them are fighters armed with jezail type muzzle loaders, how many shots would each warrior have available to them per year?

    This post apocalyptic survival thing looks harder than I thought. You might need a whole town pissing on command before you can call yourself The Bullet Farmer.

    • iksnilol

      SING BROTHER HECKLER! SING BROTHER KOCH!

    • ostiariusalpha

      Having a supply of chickens helps a lot, you can build very productive niter-beds with their poop. You wouldn’t eat any of the chickens themselves till they exhausted their egg laying ability, raising them just for meat is not at all an efficient use of resources. Once you spend the initial months developing the niter-beds, you can harvest from each one every few weeks instead of months; 20 people with chickens can produce a very steady supply of nitrates for gunpowder.

      • joeyskylynx

        Would you mind giving some illustrated guide regarding this? From what I can gather from this, wouldn’t that mean most of the farmers in Australia be able to produce nitrates for home ammunition manufacturing?

        • ostiariusalpha

          I don’t know that pictures are all that necessary. You take some plastic lawn bags (I triple layered mine), fill them with straw or even some grass clippings, mix in a heaping helping of chicken poo, add in something to counter acidity (like Cody does with the crushed limestone), and moisten the lot with a quart or less of piss. Leave the bags open so they get some air, re-moisturize with a little more piss every couple days or so, and turn the bags over about once a month. In no time (that is, an excruciatingly smelly 18 months later) the straw will have blackened and become ready to extract the potassium nitrate. Simple. I’d say those Australian farmers probably have better things to do with there time right now than baby some reeking niter-beds, but after the apocalypse Immortus Joe and everybody else is going to want to be very good friends with them.

          • joeyskylynx

            Haha, love Mad Max, but I was also sorta wondering regarding your comment about how you’ll be able to harvest every few weeks after the initial 18 month harvest.

          • ostiariusalpha

            A lot of the actual chemistry work in the niter-bed will be done by bacteria. The initial 18 months involve the building up a colony of the right kind of bacteria and their conversion of the materials (bird feces, urine, etc.) into something that can then be strained & purified. After the first harvest you’ll still have the full colony at your disposal, so simply replenishing their supply of raw materials will allow them to keep on with their conversion work, but in a much reduced amount of time. Also, remember that you’ll never be able to harvest all the potassium nitrate that has been converted and potentially available in the niter-bed during any single leeching session, so there’s always a bit in reserve that you won’t need to wait for replenishment. Essentially, a fully developed bacteria colony makes production efficient enough for a harvest every 2-3 months instead of waiting another year and a half.

          • joeyskylynx

            So couldn’t you theoretically take some bacteria from another bedding or order it from a sciencey group, and go from their?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Seeding new niter-beds from already developed beds is the much quicker & easier way to expand production. On the other hand, trying to order explosive producing bacteria is probably going to attract some unwanted attention. LOL!

          • joeyskylynx

            These days my friend you could simply be talking about sugar and you’ll attract unwanted attention.

    • richard kluesek

      In days of old there was a profession of urine collector who visited the local taverns to collect the stuff and bring same to the government armory to process into the blackpowder ingredient. During the 7 Years War (1757 – 1763) the stored flour and gunpowder consumed by the Great Powers had been accumulated for storage about 40 years prior to the hostilities.

  • guest

    BAN HIGH CAPACITY URINE AND CHICKEN POOP NOW!!! FOR THE CHILDREN!!!!

    • noob

      In urban areas, keeping your urine or sewage would probably be against city ordinances. better check with your local and state laws.

      • jcitizen

        Just tell them you are an “organic farmer” – they will fall for it hook line and sinker!

  • Giolli Joker

    How is honey/sugar a substitute of sulphur?

    • Swarf

      Calories.

    • Tassiebush

      yeah good question that’s got me pondering it! there are improvised propellant mixes where sugar is used to subtitute charcoal and sulphur. i read that blackpowder without sulphur is just as effective performance wise but it’s ignition temp is higher so lowering ignition temp is the only reason for it’s inclusion to make the ignition more reliable. given that sugar can be used alone I wouldn’t be suprised if adding sugar into the mix with charcoal also lowers ignition temp.

      • Giolli Joker

        Sweet.

        • Tassiebush

          Haha yeah it would be. I’m pretty sure you could make ham with it actually!

  • Edeco

    +Pee ammunition.

  • Bill

    I love people who experiment with home-made energetic materials in their basement labs. Until we have to evacuate a half-mile radius and scrape their remains off what’s left of their house. And now they’ll be soaked with pee.

  • Southpaw89

    Impressive work, I’ve seen videos on making black powder but this is the firs I’ve seen that starts from scratch. I had no idea what sort of time investment was required for such an endeavor, I get the impression that keeping a big bore air rifle handy would be a good way to conserve resources, saving the BP for when it is really needed.

  • roguetechie

    And during world war 2 people were harvesting film to make smokeless powder in China. Stories of exploding ovens ensued.
    actually though from a practical perspective, and setting aside legal concerns for the purpose of this conversation, some of the computer controlled tooling and etc available open source could theoretically make small batch production of even double and triple base smokeless powders safe, fairly affordable, and extremely high quality for the first time ever…
    disclaimer: No I haven’t nor do I intend to experiment down these pathways, nor would I assist others in doing so illegally etc. But the subject has come up I conversation, and it’s a fun intellectual exercise figuring out how you could do it
    personally I would love to some day be in a legal, geographic, and financial position to pursue this.
    but chemistry is serious business, and safety is important… Since the implications of a mistake on your part could be tragic and fatal for others, it’s just an area that is best left to theory by most of us.
    *if you want to do something that only risks your own life I don’t see an issue, but the second others are endangered or affected otherwise I have a big problem with that*

  • Roger V. Tranfaglia

    Okkaaayyyy……Is it CERTIFIED organic???

  • jcitizen

    Reminds me of an improvised munitions hand book that came from the Army – needless to say my book got stolen! Just a little too handy. No worries, it is free online now, although I bet the formulas are purposely dumbed down. Just search for TM 31-210 – you can’t miss.