No. III During the year 1866, a new kind of blasting powder, which promised to supersede gunpowder in mining operations, was introduced to public notice in England. This was the invention of M. Gustave Adolph Neumeyer, of Taucha, Saxony, and to which the term " inexplosive" may appropriately be applied, inasmuch as there is no possibility of its exploding, either during its manufacture, storage, or manipulation. Not until the proper moment of ignition arrives, when it is well rammed home and prepared to do its work, is its energy developed. Then, and only then, it manifests a power, when used weight for weight, considerably in excess of that possessed by gunpowder. M. Neumever, all his life connected with the management of quarries, and himself the possessor of a quarry near Taucha, had his attention forcibly drawn to the distressing accidents, which are of such frequent occurrence in blasting operations, and he conceived the idea of producing a blasting powder which should combine the desired degree of strength, with perfect safety when in work. After a long series of trials and experiments, he succeeded in effecting his object, by the invention of a powder which unites in itself the above important qualities. Within two years from the date of his discovery, M. Neumeyer was manufacturing this powder on a large scale; extensive mills with steam power having been erected for its production in the city of Alten-burg, and in two other places in Germany. Although Neumeyer's powder differs in color as well as in action from gunpowder, in that it is slow burning instead of violently explosive when in contact with air, it is composed of precisely the same materials as ordinary gunpowder. To these no other substances are added, the whole secret of the extraordinary result arising simply from the method of proportioning and compounding the ingredients. A reduction is made in the amount of sulphur employed, by which means a much smaller quantity of the noxious vapors is evolved on its ignition than is produced by the combustion of ordinary gunpowder a point of great importance in underground mining operations. Some difference is made in its preparation, according to the use for which it is required, whether for military or for mining purposes. As a consequence, there results, in the former case, a powder which, when hermetically confined, explodes at the same temperature as ordinary gunpowder, while when prepared and charged for blasting purposes, it requires a somewhat higher temperature. This, so far from being objectionable, is positively advantageous, inasmuch as it makes the possibility of accidental ignition more remote. Bickford's safety fuse, which is now so extensively used in our own and continental mines, is best adapted for the ignition of this powder. Another important feature in Neumeyer's powder is, that although no coating or glaze is imparted to it in manufacture, it is not more hygrometric than ordinary gunpowder, while, if wetted and dried, it is said to retain all its good qualities in full force. Ordinary powder is more powerful as the size of the grain is increased, but Neumeyer's powder, when in a condition of fine dust, is equally if not more efficient than the other. From what has been said, it will be seen that the new gunpowder embodies safety in manufacture, in transport, and in handling, preparatory to actual use ; while it has been proved to be superior to ordinary gunpowder, in point of effective power, so ;that it may fairly be said to be a safe and efficient substitute for our old powder. In support of the above assertions, both of its inexplosive-ness and explosiveness, the author would observe that he has made some trials, which proved conclusively that Neumeyer's powder possessed both those qualities. But as a greater value attaches to trials made publicly, and the results of which have been placed publicly on record, the author prefers to give these in place of his own limited experience of this powder. First, then, as to its inexplosiveness. This was proved by several experiments made in the grounds of the Crystal Palace in December, 1866. The most conclusive test of this quality of the powder was the following: A small house, 5ft. square, built of brick and roofed with slate, and having two chimneys made of 5-inch drain pipes, was constructed, and in it B51bs. of Neumeyer's powder, half blasting and half gunpowder, were placed. On firing this mass an immense body of flame issued through the openings in the roof, but the powder simply burned, and moved neither brick nor slate. On 31bs. only of ordinary gunpowder being placed in the same structure and ignited, a violent explosion took place, which rendered the building a mere wreck With regard to its explosiveness, the author has a number of authenticated reports of numerous and varied trials illustrative of this quality. A few are selected which have been made in mines and quarries in England. The first trials to be noticed were made on the 4th of December, 1866, at the Bardon Hill and the Markfield Granite Quarries, situated near Leicester, and owned by Messrs. Ellis and Everard, The rock at Bardon Hill, which is of a very hard and stubborn character, was rent and cracked in a most satisfactory manner, and a large quantity of material was thrown down, the results being considered highly successful. At the Markfield Quarry one hole was bored horizontally at the foot of an unbroken face of a large extent of solid rock; others were bored vertically. Onfiring the horizontal hole, the face of the rock was blown out to a considerable extent in every direction, and an unusually large amount of stone was displaced. The vertical shots proved equally successful, and the results generally were highly satisfactory, the quantity of the new powder used being less than that of ordinary powder required for the same amount of work. In a hard, compact rock, too, such as at Bardon Hill, the effect produced by a given quantity of the new powder is much greater than that produced by an equal quantity in a soft or loose rock. It may be as well to mention here. t]jat, bulk for bulk, Neumeyer's powder, when well tamped, is equally as strong as if not stronger than ordinary powder; while weight for weight, Neumeyer's powder is the stronger of the two. In point of weight, the new powder is one-sixth lighter than the old, which, supposing we take them at even prices, gives over 15 per cent advantage to the former, owing to the fact that bulk for bulk (or one-sixth less weight) gives an equal, if not a superior result, to the best ordinary power. Having seen the successful action of the powder upon granite, we will now notice its behavior in slate quarries. On the 11th of December, in the same year, five shots were fired at the quarries of the Welsh Slate Company, Khiwbryfdir, Carnarvonshire. The first shot was in hard rock, the hole being 2ft. 6in. deep, and lin. in diameter ; 2lin. of the new powder were used, and found to do more work than the same bulk of ordinary powder. The second shot was fired in a hole of the same diameter as the last, but 3in. deeper, cut in the same description of rock; the same depth of powder was used, the result being similar to that obtained with the first shot. Shot No. 3 was in a hole 3ft. 6in. deep, by lin. in diameter, the material bered being pure slate or pillaring rock; the powder filled the hole within lin., which was occupied with the tamping. The result of this shot was the discovery that the powder was much too powerful a fault certainly on the right side, and one easily remedied. The next hole was in the same rock as the last, and was 5ft. 8in. deep, with 4ft. 6in. of powder and a light tamping; this gave exceedingly satisfactory results. In another 1-inch hole, 4ft. 6in. deep, 2 . of powder were used, with 2ft. 6in. of hard tamping; the result of this shot was decidedly good, the rock being shattered. On the following day three more experiments were made at the same quarries. With 2ft. 6in. of powder in a 1-inch hole, 3ft. 6in. deep, the shot proved much too strong. The second shot was highly satisfactory; but in the third .too much power was again developed The general result of these experiments is to prove that, bulk for bulk, Neumeyer's powder is much stronger than the powder in ordinary use at these quarries, and which was of the very best description. The question, therefore, arose as to how the strength was to be reduced when pillaring. It was proposed to have paper cartridges of much smaller diameter than the holes, and which would hold only about one-third or one-fourth of the present charge of powder. These cartridges, it was believed, would answer the purpose exceedingly well in the pillaring rock, where it was desirable to cleave the slate without fractnre, and would beside produce a very considerable saving of powder. A few days after the foregoing experiments, a series of trials were made with the new powder at the slate quarries of Messrs. Matthews Sons, at Festiniog, Merionethshire. Here two holes 2ft. deep, in a hard rock of an underground chamber, each half filled with Neumeyer's powder, and two similar holes in a slate rock, were fired with perfectly satisfactory results-. Two more shots in the hard rock of the tunnel were not quite so successful; but it was owned that the tamping had been imperfectly rammed, the man having fired them before they were inspected. The two next shots were stated to have done as much with Hin. of Neumeyer's powder as with 15in. of ordinary powder. In another hole, in very hard rock of the tunnel, the result was completely successful, it being stated that with ordinary powder two holes would have been necessary, or the shot would not have succeeded in effecting the required detachment. A 1-inch hole, 8ft. deep in hard rock in the open air, was charged with 4ft. 6in. of powder. This shot was considered very successful, for although not much rock fell, an enormous bulk was loosened, which was readily brought down with a small blast of ordinary powder placed in the rent. Experiments have since been made in various collieries to test the capabilities of this powder in the working of coal, and the results have been exceedingly satisfactory, and have fully borne out the expectations formed. Experiments in the copper mines of Cornwall have also given similar results.
This article was originally published with the title "Explosive Compounds for Engineering Purposes" in Scientific American 20, 16, 243 (April 1869)