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rosehips
04-15-2019, 12:17 AM
Hi everyone. I need a little guidance for a fantasy story I'm writing set in the Dakota territory in 1888. I don't need a lot of depth, but I'm just trying to avoid making any huge glaring errors. In my story, I'd like to say that the sulphur in the gunpowder of several rifles becomes magically altered when the people carrying those rifles enter a magical part of the land. I thought I'd pop in here and make sure that rifles in this era would, in fact, still use gunpowder with sulphur in it. How about six-shooters?

I'm also fuzzy on the role gunpowder plays with guns. If someone could explain that in simple terms I'd really appreciate it. I've done a bit of Googling, but I'm always worried that what I'm looking at doesn't apply to the era I'm writing in. It also doesn't always make sense to me. I'm not very well versed in the mechanics of guns. Thanks for helping!

ETA: When the rifles/revolvers are fired, does any sulphur get introduced into the air, like as part of the gunsmoke?

waylander
04-15-2019, 11:38 AM
The technology for pistol ammo was changing around that time with the recent introduction of smokeless powder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokeless_powder) so it is up to you whether your characters still use firearms with black powder.
Gunpowder is formulated to burn very rapidly rather than actually explode. The end result is essentially the same - a lot of gas is produced very rapidly that drives the bullet down the barrel. Sulfur is added as it ignites at a fairly low temperature, setting off the carbon/nitrate main components. The end result of burning the sulfur in this mixture is potassium sulfate - which is solid at room temperature and gets deposited in the gun barrel. This is why black powder weapons need frequent cleaning.

Al X.
04-15-2019, 07:56 PM
Black powder revolvers were a thing. The original Colt Single Action Army model was introduced in 1873. It was the first (I think) metallic cartridge revolver, but they were initially loaded with black powder until the advent of smokeless powder. Prior to that, non-metallic cartridge revolvers using black powder were available around the 1850's, which were basically loaded like muzzle loaders, with the charges loaded individually in the cylinders. Google Colt 1860 Army revolver for a typical example. I'm sure you can find a Youtube of its operation if you need.

WeaselFire
04-15-2019, 10:33 PM
Gunpowder still exists, it's what's in the cartridge most people now use in their firearms. Black powder would be what you'd be using in that time period and The Black Hills would be swarming with prospectors as well as some indians.

There are three parts to a rifle shot, the projectile, the powder and a way to light the powder. In modern ammuniiton, there is also the casing that holds all of these together. In your era, there would be the bullet, sometimes a ball and sometimes more of a bullet shape, the powder and a percussion cap or a spark from a flint. Assuming you're not looking for a flintlock, which would still be in use, your most likely choice would be a cap, which sits over a pin with a hole through it to the rifle's chamber. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer falls and strikes the cap. The cap makes a spark which travels through the hole to the chamber, where the powder is located. There is a projectile, or bullet, in front of the powder and, when the powder burns, it creates an expansion of gas that pushes the bullet through and out of the barrel.

Okay, on to the sulfur. The biggest reason for sulfur as a component in black powder (gunpowder) is to speed up the burning process. Gunpowder is basically charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulfur. It's the charcoal that is the main burning component and power, the potassium nitrate just acts as an oxidizer so it will burn. Sulfur provides the smell of fired gunpowder and it smells like, well, sulfur. Think rotten egg.

So your magic could increase the burning rate or decrease it, both could be catastrophic. Too fast and the gun might explode, too slow and the bullet never exits the barrel. You'll need to figure out what you need for your story, which you should really have known before deciding to magically alter the sulfur. Nobody mixed their own gunpowder, it's a fairly dangerous operation, even today. That means they can't just adjust the amount of sulfur to account for your magic.

Start researching guns of the Old West if you need a lot of detail.

Jeff

waylander
04-16-2019, 01:36 AM
Gunpowder still exists, it's what's in the cartridge most people now use in their firearms. Black powder would be what you'd be using in that time period and The Black Hills would be swarming with prospectors as well as some indians.

There are three parts to a rifle shot, the projectile, the powder and a way to light the powder. In modern ammuniiton, there is also the casing that holds all of these together. In your era, there would be the bullet, sometimes a ball and sometimes more of a bullet shape, the powder and a percussion cap or a spark from a flint. Assuming you're not looking for a flintlock, which would still be in use, your most likely choice would be a cap, which sits over a pin with a hole through it to the rifle's chamber. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer falls and strikes the cap. The cap makes a spark which travels through the hole to the chamber, where the powder is located. There is a projectile, or bullet, in front of the powder and, when the powder burns, it creates an expansion of gas that pushes the bullet through and out of the barrel.

Okay, on to the sulfur. The biggest reason for sulfur as a component in black powder (gunpowder) is to speed up the burning process. Gunpowder is basically charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulfur. It's the charcoal that is the main burning component and power, the potassium nitrate just acts as an oxidizer so it will burn. Sulfur provides the smell of fired gunpowder and it smells like, well, sulfur. Think rotten egg.

So your magic could increase the burning rate or decrease it, both could be catastrophic. Too fast and the gun might explode, too slow and the bullet never exits the barrel. You'll need to figure out what you need for your story, which you should really have known before deciding to magically alter the sulfur. Nobody mixed their own gunpowder, it's a fairly dangerous operation, even today. That means they can't just adjust the amount of sulfur to account for your magic.

Start researching guns of the Old West if you need a lot of detail.

Jeff

Re: the bolded bit. Er...no. Rotten eggs smell is H2S which is a reduction product of sulfur. What is happening here is oxidation, so you will get sulfates, maybe SO2 and a bit of SO3 but definitely not H2S.

PorterStarrByrd
04-16-2019, 02:36 AM
You may also find yourself with an unexpected head-ache from breathing it in.

Bolero
04-24-2019, 07:39 PM
I agree that rotten eggs is hydrogen sulphide, which is a different compound to the sulphur compound mentioned above, but speaking as someone who has fired blackpowder weapons and someone who has smelt rotten eggs (thanks hen for hiding that) - blackpowder pongs in a sulphurous way which is pretty darn close to rotten eggs. Maybe a little less vomit making, but bad enough.

Chase
04-25-2019, 03:24 AM
So your magic could increase the burning rate or decrease it, both could be catastrophic. Too fast and the gun might explode, too slow and the bullet never exits the barrel. You'll need to figure out what you need for your story, which you should really have known before deciding to magically alter the sulfur. Nobody mixed their own gunpowder, it's a fairly dangerous operation, even today. That means they can't just adjust the amount of sulfur to account for your magic.

God, but it's fun to watch us gun guys argue over every tiny thing until the original purpose is lost. :guns:

Rosehips, the above part of Jeff's quote holds the best help for your question. Adding or subtracting the sulfur component isn't feasible, and if you managed to via magic, it would have dire results.

What else can your sorcery affect? Trajectory (path of the bullet) as by powerful winds? Sights (I've been in tournaments where if wishing could've affected a competitor's sights, I might've won :greenie)? How about magic making someone jerk? Involuntary flinching messes up more shots than anything else.