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Building Black-Powder Cannons

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Q. I have been interested in building a black-powder cannon and have had difficulty in finding plans and the laws on possession and the use of such items if anyone has info. on these subjects I would like to hear from you. Civil war era replicas or the revolution era are what I am most interested in. Small bore, around two inch or so in size. What are the best materials, loads and safe distances, etc.?

Rick Mueller
- Gibbon Nebraska


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A. Sorry, I know nothing of replica cannons, Rick. But my son was into model rocketry and I learned that anyone 18 years old or older could buy small rocket engines (these are similar to fire crackers except they burn slowly). But as soon as you got beyond the size of about a 3" long firecracker you had to have an "explosives license" to buy them.

You might need a similar "explosives license" beyond a "toy" size.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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A. I have two model cannons which I load with black powder and scare the neighbors and delight the grandkids. There seems to be little restriction on them at this time but that will doubtless change. So you may want to get something now.

Might use a search engine and check out "black powder cannons".

D.W. Austin
- Chino Valley, Arizona


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A. Dear Rick,

I found your letter today. Generally speaking, black powder muzzle loading cannons are not regulated. The ATF says they are not firearms. What is regulated is the class of guns considered "Destructive Devices", which are those firing an exploding projectile, or those firing "Fixed Ammunition", which is defined as projectile, powder and primer in one piece. This allows for rapid reloading, which poses a threat in the eyes of the ATF.

Good Luck, and keep your powder dry...

Peter Hoyt
The Jefferson Armory - Phoenix, Oregon, USA


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A. Dear Rick,

I have built a functional cannon (three foot barrel), and am currently building a 2" howitzer style gun with a seven foot barrel. I think the neighbors will be the only restriction. Try Dixie Gun Works for barrels and related supplies.

J R Lillibridge
- Belfield, North Dakota


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A. I build and fire black powder cannons. The laws state that as long as it is muzzleloading, and the projectile does not explode upon impact, it is considered a toy. Not a firearm and not under any restrictions. (unless your town has a noise ordinance).

Most of mine are small bore, between .50-cal and 1.75". I also built a 3.75" Cohorn mortar. The best materials to use would be solid round stock and then bore it in a lathe. But if you are like me I don't have one. So what I use is schedule 180 to 200 pipe and then weld one end solid (at least 1" thick weld!) The black powder cannons are only producing around 26,000 psi chamber pressure, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Your loading data depends on bore size and also strength of barrel. In my .50, max load is 120 gr of FFg and it shoots about 400 yds. In the 1.75", max load is 700 grs, and it will launch a golf ball well over 1000 yds.(A 2.5 lb solid lead ball will go over 2200 yds) So be careful where you shoot and know your backstop. Most gun ranges want you to be at least 50 ft away from anyone else during the firing, for safety reasons. And I recommend that you do the same when you first test your barrel.

Have fun.

James Phelps
- Morgantown, Kentucky

December 17, 2012

Mr Phelps
Re: pipe for cannons

I have always read that using Pipe for a cannon is dangerous. A man was killed in Billings Mt December 1, 2012. The cannon was made from a 21 inch long pipe with a 3 inch bore, according to the newspaper. You could find an article in the Billings Gazette

There is a record of a civil war Parrott Rifle that had been fired more then 5000 times exploding. The explosion occurred shortly after the civil war if I recall correctly.

Be careful

W. G. Gilbert
- Dillon, Montana USA


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A. Your cannon needs and questions can be answered through the NMLRA National Muzzleloading Rifle Association, Friendship IN. I believe they have a booklet on the proper loading and the granulation for the size of barrel you will have and the bore size IE. 1"-2" - 3" etc. If they do not have a booklet Dixie gun works will. At Friendship you can usually buy a barrel of approx. 3 feet in length and of a bore around 1 1/2" for around $200.00 so don't get sucked in to one for $500.00 or more. Also our club Ouabashe Valley Frontiersmen purchase Elephant Brand Blackpowder for $5.00 a pound. These people selling it for $9.00 and $10.00 are all wet! The powder can be found on the web for Elephant blackpowder check for the dealer nearest you. You will need granulation size of 1F or cannon powder. This powder comes from 1f to 7f so specify what you need.

Good Luck!

(P.S. nothing impresses the kids at Rendezvous like a good cannon roar.)

Later,

Steve (Twoshots) Eckersley
Ouabashe Valley Frontiersmen - Wellington, Illinois


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A. I have been interested in building cannons for a long time and have found that each state has its own rules concerning the use of cannons. I have built one and am now in the process of building five more as I have found the material to do so. When they are done they will be the same bore size as the first one of 23/8. I use one ounce of ff black power; it shoots real good at about four hundred yds., but the max range is still up for grabs as we haven't gone out to check for distance.

Michael Morrow
- Virden, New Mexico


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A. I have built a one half scale model of a Coehorn mortar with steel tube on the internet ordered from Metal Express Inc... My mortar will shoot a soda can filled with concrete a half mile or more depending on the powder charge. I am building a 1.75 inch bore field cannon to shoot golf balls. You can buy finished cannons on the internet from Cannon- Mania.

You can buy up to 25 pounds of black powder on the internet from Powder Inc. with no restrictions except age. UPS delivers. This is a very exciting and legal hobby.

Lots of fun if you have some place (like a farm) to shoot the cannon.

Bill Rice
- Isabella, Minnesota


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A. Forget regulations on muzzle loading cannons. The only regulations are common sense on loading and not purchasing over 50 pounds of black powder without a distributor's license from A.T.F. Black powder is getting difficult to find in gun shops but, can be ordered online and shipped to your door. You will probably have to buy a minimum of 25 pounds and pay U.P.S hazardous shipping charges but the cost per pound is still about $11.00 per pound, shipped. Not bad. DO NOT use pyrodex or any form of nitro powder in any quantity! I have enjoyed building the carriages as much as shooting the cannons.

Have fun and stay safe.

James L. Davis
- Leitchfield, Kentucky


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Q. If anyone has any instructions or good links to get model cannons please tell me. Thanks.

Note, I don't want a bang cannon.

Mark Sampson
- Morristown, New Jersey


August 29, 2010

Q. I don't know much about powder cannons but have built several air cannons for those who wish not to get in trouble with the law. My first one was a bazooka that can be shoulder mounted and launches a 2 inch nerf football up to 110 yards. My second cannon was a little more impressive. It has a huge 4 inch barrel that is 6 feet long. This on uses spray deodorant to launch a softball 110-150 yards! and man does it sound cool.
I found this website because I want to use either to launch a golf ball but didn't know if I needed a metal barrel if PVC would hold the explosion or if there are laws against big cannons like this.
If you know of a law against it I would love to know.

Seth Woolston
- Boone, Iowa

February 17, 2011

A. I make civil war black powder cannons. Brass and rolled steel. Mortars, mountain howitzers, Carronades. I have a lathe, mill and big band saw. So far seven this year, 116 all toll. Calibers from 1.18" down to .177" they all shoot.

Tom Bailey
- Salado, Texas, USA
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