High Energy Materials: Propellants, Explosives and Pyrotechnics
by Jai Prakash Agrawal
Black powder is a mixture of potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. It is the oldest known explosive and has a history of about 750 years. It was in use worldwide by about 1870 as a propellant in firearms as the bursting charge in artillery projectiles and used as a blasting agent.
Its use declined with the development of smokeless powders introduced for use as propellants and as high explosives were developed for bursting charges and for blasting. Today, it is used primarily in fireworks, a delay charge in fuses and as an ignition charge for smokeless powder and for some types of blasting operations. It is quite useful in soft material such as coal where it's slow explosion produces a push or heaving effect that loosens material without shattering it.
See Gunpowder, Ammunition, Blasting, Fuse, Pyrotechnics