Gun Cotton
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Basic Information

Gun Cotton or nitrocellulose is, essentially, cotton wool nitrated by treatment with a mixture of sulphuric and nitric acid to render it explosive.

Gun cotton is a primary low explosive and can be used as a warhead filler, blasting agent or even a propellant1 but, although more stable and easier to handle than, say, nitroglycerine, it still demands to be treated with respect. Gun cotton can be fired by flame, electric shock or the blast from another explosion. Sometimes it just goes off on its own. The cleaner the gun cotton, the more stable it is and there have been many refinements in the process of washing out excess acid from treatment2. Storing the material damp or under oil can also increase stability.

More worryingly, various unwise people plasticised nitrocellulose with a variety of substances and put it to other industrial uses such as film stock and simulated ivory.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Cringe as the powder monkey blithely flings clods of this stuff about like it was cotton wool.
  • Gasp as what you thought was cotton wool blows a hole in the table.
  • Lose a hand as you forget about the phenomenon of static electricity.
  • Plasticised gun cotton may be great for mad science, gadgeteering or just generally unsafe inventions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Still likely to impress those used to black powder.
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