Introduction: Nitrocellulose

This instructable shows an easy way to make nitrocellulose (also known as gun cotton). Nitrocellulose is a fun compound that is safe to handle, burns very fast, and can be used in explosive mixtures like smokeless powder and APNC (acetone peroxide and nitrocellulose), and in fuses, rockets, whatever you can think of.

This isn't the best way to make nitrocellulose. If you want super good nitrocellulose mix concentrated sulfuic acid with concentrated nitric acid 2 to 1 by volume, cool the solution to below 25 degrees F (ice and salt works), then slowly add cotton and let it soak for 12 to 24 hours while keeping the ice fresh. Then clean it with cold water (no baking soda) until there is no acid left. Nitrocellulose made this way can be detonated by hitting a pinch of it with a hammer.

Videos: My nitrocellulose burning (not as good as the batch in the Instructable) Some APNC I made from this and TATP. It will easily detonate unconfined with just heat.

Step 1: Materials

You will need:
-Potassium nitrate (or another nitrate salt)
-mortar and pestel
-a glass cup
-2 containers for water baths
-baking soda (already disolved in water in picture)
-cotton balls
-sulfuric acid (mine is drain cleaner)
-Glass stirring thing (mine is part of a broken jar)

Step 2: Make the Nitrating Solution

Pour some of the potassium nitrate into the mortar and pestel and grind it to a fine powder. Next pour an amount of sulfuric acid (a little more than a cotton ball could absorb) into the glass cup. Mix the powdered potassium nitrate into the sulfuric acid a little at a time until it is very cloudy and almost thick with the nitrate. Do this in a well ventilated area because it will form a fuming mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids.

According to Powerlabs, if you want to make cellulose hexanitrate, a very high energy explosive that is about 1.2-1.5 times as strong as TNT when detonated and has a VoD of ~7300m/s then the proportion of sulfuric acid to kno3 should be 1 gram kno3 to 3.819ml (or 3.325 grams) of sulfuric acid.

Step 3: Perform the Nitration

Using the pliers, put a cotton ball into the nitrating solution. Poke it a little with the glass stirring thing to get it to soak up the solution. Now just leave it for a while. I let it sit for about an hour and a half, and it could have gone a little longer. Also make sure it doesn't get to cold or it will take a long time, but nitration is more complete when cold. Since it was like 40 degrees F when I did this my portable heater/ventalation system was set on warm.

This has never happened to me, but if it starts putting out a brown gas throw it into water and start over. That means it is doing "runnaway nitration".

Step 4: Clean and Dry

While you're waiting, put water in your 2 containers, and dissolve some baking soda into one of them.

After you think it has nitrated long enough, pull the cotton ball out of the glass cup and rinse it in the water bath. Then move it to the baking soda bath and nudge it around while the acid is neutralized by the baking soda. When the bubbling slows, replace the water in the plane water bath and rinse it again. Then put it back into the baking soda one and gently move it around until the bubbling completely stops. Then replace the water in the other cup again and rinse it one last time. (Note, I have read that the baking soda washing will partialy decompose the nitrocellulose, so a better cleaning option is to boil it in distilled water and rinse it a lot).

Squeeze the water out of it and fluff it back up into cotton form by gently pulling at it. To speed the drying, press it firmly between two folded halves of a towel (or your shirt). Then fluff it up again and let it dry thoroughly. After that you are done.



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53 Discussions

try soaking it in barium chloride, which gives fireworks their characteristic green

Well, try soaking it in some copper salt (for example CuSO4) solution, and then dry it. It should help a bit, hovewer i haven't tried it yet.

OK...mixed my pure nitric acid with store bought 9 percent HCl and set some cottonballs in it overnight ill let u all know how it goes...also if anyone wants i can make a vid of me shooting a small cannon with it or blowing smthing up haha

Can I just put this directly in my reloads or do I have to do something to it?

You could skip the baking soda step and just wash with three portions of water, followed by three portions of methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) to speed up removal of the water. Made a batch today - the spirits (which had a purple dye in it) gave the nitrocellulose a blue tint. It almost looked like cotton candy.

3 replies

Yeah I don't use this process anymore. When I clean it I just use runnung water, and I use pure-ish nitric acid instead of a nitrate salt in the nitration since I got retort. Also an ice bath and a long (12-24 hour) nitration can greatly improve the quality. How did your "cotton candy" work? Did you follow the instructable or did you use a better method?

The kids loved it (as did my inner pyromaniac). I normally use concentrated nitric and sulphuric acid and agitate at 0°C for as long as possible. Yesterday's was only 4 hours and I used (approximately) the nitrating mix you suggested in the instructable.

I have tried to make this two times, and the cotton just keeps dissolving into an unusable mush. Any idea why this is happening? Am I using too much sulfuric acid?

you can purchase potasium nitrate fro azuregreen a metaphys supplier online, can also get sulfer aswell, ive always bought it from a local pagan shop near my house , you can also buy it in bulk of up to a pound of wither powder.

What will happen if I put cellulose into concentrated nitric acid without sulfuric acid. Will it form Nitocellulose.

1 reply

I think it would but you probably wont get such a complete nitration. You can try it and let us know if you want... From what I have read the sulfuric acid is important for forming ions (NO2+) that are needed for the nitration.

I found my cellulose becomes a clean solution with nitrate salt and sulfuric acid mixture (i used NaNO3). And it's possible to making 98 nitric acid just by heating up the nitrate salt with sulfuric acid.
another thing is the nitrocellulose shouldn't only wash with NaHCO3 solution, this may cause nitrocellulose detonate after few days. Also, TATP is easy to self-detonate too.
my English is not good, Bah)

2 replies

Are you talikng about distilling the nitric acid? HNO3 Has a lower boiling point than water so if you heat it in sulfuric acid it will come out as nitric acid steam. Do this in a retort and you can collect concentrated nitric acid.

Why would baking soda make it detonate? I have never experienced that, the NaHCO3 is meant to neutralize the acid but using pure water is fine too.

TATP is not as dangerous as everyone who has never been around it says. I think the myths of it's sensitivity come from people who used H2SO4 instead of HCl or didn't cool the solution during the reaction and wound up with DADP, or mabey they didn't neutralize the acid. In my experience TATP is hard to set off from impact and I have never seen it go off for no reason even after longish storage.

It was reported that washing nitrocellulose only with akaline solution will stop the decomposition of SO3H in cellulose (of course if you only use HNO3, it won't cause this problem). The SO3H makes nitrocellulose decompose, and probably it increases the sensitivity of nitrocellulose.
I don't know what will happen if using H2SO4 instead of HCl when making TATP, but it seems to be very difficult to produce DADP. I made a bottle of TATP (stored in water) without cleaning acid and nothing happened. Another time I made it without controlling temperature, and the mixture only splashes out TATP crystals. The dry TATP is extremely dangerous, you can test it by grinding or hitting when it's dry, but only test it in a very small amount (0.05g is enough)

Yes but in this small amount it is fine, I have never seen a runnaway nitration in person.

Thanks, I've been looking for an explanation of why sulfuric acid is used in addition to a nitrating compound, and it's finally been answered after my long search :-D

for those who missed it, the sulfuric acid reacts with the water produced by the nitrating reaction.