Picture of How to make Nitrocellulose (Gun Cotton)
Nitrocellulose is the same chemical ping pong balls, fingernail polish, guitar picks, and fine wood varnish is made of. It is also the primary chemical in smokeless gunpowder. The raw cotton form, known as flash cotton or gun cotton, is used for magic tricks and small special effects. It also has a number of uses in the production of fireworks.

As you will see in the following video, nitrocellulose has a fairly unusual property to be able to ignite on an open hand without passing enough heat to the skin to leave a burn. This can only be done if the nitrocellulose has been very well made or it will burn too slowly and the heat will be in contact with the skin long enough to cause damage. Needless to say, I do not recommend trying this for yourself:

Before I go any further there are some things that must be taken into consideration...

Safety Notes:

This process involves concentrated sulfuric and nitric acid in solution, and acid vapors in the air. It must be done outside on a windy day with nothing downwind, or in a fume hood. Nitrocellulose may only be made in the quantity described or smaller, never larger. If a larger quantity is attempted, or if the ice salt bath is not used, a runaway reaction is likely to occur that evolves a lot of very toxic nitrogen dioxide gas. If a runaway starts to occur (as evidenced by red colored nitrogen dioxide gas), avoid the gas, and drop the reaction beaker into a water bucket standing by. This will dilute the reactants and stop the reaction.

Even when a runaway reaction is not occurring, the solution will constantly give off colorless acid vapor which should also be avoided.

Safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves must be worn at all times to protect from acid splash that occurs from stirring. Should any acid come into contact with your skin or clothes, the water bucket that should be standing by in case of a runaway may be used to quickly wash.

So lets get to it...
sparhawk72 years ago
see my instructable on potassium nitrate for help with getting it. 
gabeak472 years ago
Where can I get potassium nitrate
Mrdosht2 years ago
Would you be able to use something like bullitt drain cleaner, which contains 96% sulphuric acid, or would this impurity affect the formation of nitric acid from the nitrate?
NightHawkInLight (author)  Mrdosht2 years ago
96% should be adequate. There is no nitrate that survives, but much of the sulfuric acid should remain in solution. There will still be some sulfates that are the remainder of the nitrate and sulfuric acid reaction gelling the slurry, but they are nothing to be concerned about.
Mrdosht2 years ago
One more question: when the nitrate reacts with the sulphuric acid, is there any nitrate or sulphuric acid left or is it all converted to nitric acid and other stuff?
sulfuric acid is neetly disguised as liquid drain cleaner.. available at most hardware stores.
Pottassium nitrate is also know as salpeter and can be purchased at many drugstores.
along with sulfur...*wink*... now I dont have to tell you were to get charcoal!
mzz2 years ago
im sorry but whats that reaction vessel?
question where did you get your sulfuric acid.
I've got to wonder if "Homeland Defence" will be at your door when you try to procure what is required.
they can go to you door for just about anything. i had a friend who was playing air soft with all of his friends and some genius saw them and thought they were real gun. in minutes swat was at there door.
NightHawkInLight (author)  burnerjack013 years ago
No. There is nothing illegal about owning any of the chemicals required in the USA.
CatfishTom3 years ago
1 word sums this up - "AWSOME"
Can any form of cellulose be used like flax fibers (NZ kind call harakeke) or does it specifically need to be cotton
Cotton works well because the fibers are very small. Anything more course will not burn as quickly.
slightly slower burn is kind of what I'm aiming at any recommendations.
cool it in a chest freezer.
Chrismb13 years ago
I am curious if you are familiar with 'the rest of the story' about Nitrocellulose? Why it was first created, by whom, and what can be done with Methyl Ethyl Ketones? I discovered this process when I was in high school (35 years ago) and had several 'colorful' moments in the high school chem lab. Anyway, very interesting history on NC. Great instructible, very good teaching skills.

bigdog12573 years ago
Who needs hand warmers??
You have my vote!
hopeing all of this is legal in canada...it would be much more effective in an inclosed space like an igloo!! ;)
Thank you for this! I've been after gun cotton ever since I read Jules Verne, and since going out into a field for dominion day isn't very much fun when the gunpowder you can get here barely sets off anything, this will be really useful.
tinker2343 years ago
wow i was wondering if this could be used for a parachute so when you land you can easily move
NightHawkInLight (author)  tinker2343 years ago
yeah I suppose it could, if you didn't mind a tiny spark being enough to send you plummeting to the ground, or catch your plane on fire for that matter...
just keep out of direct sunlight
yrmaliska3 years ago
it's great. Thanks for the article.
Misac-kun3 years ago
damn! potassium nitrate is military controlated on my country! much problems with homebrew bombs on soccer stadiums
NightHawkInLight (author)  Misac-kun3 years ago
That is the fault of unfortunate government ignorance. Potassium nitrate is a very useful chemical, and much less dangerous than any number of essential chemicals that could never be controlled. That being so, I would still never suggest that anyone disobeys the laws of the land.
kwibus243 years ago
cool how do you make it?
check this!
GASSYPOOTS3 years ago
and where could i get all this stuff!?!
mikeasaurus3 years ago
This is awesome!
NightHawkInLight (author)  mikeasaurus3 years ago
Thanks Mike!