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What Are Low Explosives?

Updated on July 30, 2010


Low explosives are most commonly used for pyrotechnics, old-fashioned ammunition, warning flares and the like. Unlike high explosives, they do not generate detonating explosions. This type of fast-burning explosion is known as 'deflagration'

Even though low explosives do not detonate, they are able to generate great quantities of force. Enough force to propel a projectile at very high velocity. Such as in a bullet, the pressure produced by low explosive deflaration is enogh to enable a projectile to penetrate solid objects.

Safety Considerations

Compared to high explosives, low explosive compositions are considered "weak". they are still capable of releasing enhormous amounts of energy very quickly, so one should always be very careful when handling them.

Check the equipment you will be using, especially if you are setting off pyrotechnics. Always wear protective eye wear and gloves when experimenting. Work with small quantities and keep chemicals seperate. Do not store large amounts of low explosives in one container, or in places where they can come into contact with heat, sparks, or static electricity.


A very simple low explosive is typically created from a flammable component like carbon, and an oxidizing substance like potassium nitrate, along with a catalyst like sulpher. The result of this mixture leads to a composition that decomposes or deflagrates at a remarkable rate. The rate of deflagration is not as fast as that of high explosives, but the rate is sufficient for generating a small 'explosion', when ignited in a confined space.

Burn Rate

The velocity of the deflagration of a low explosive can range from a few centimeters to approximately 400 meters per second. The variation in burn rates are in accordance with the composition of the low explosive and sometimes the environmental conditions.

Black powder used in aerial shell
Black powder used in aerial shell

Appearance and Properties

Low explosives are typically dry in form, and are often rendered useless when exposed to moisture. A low explosive usually needs to be triggered by contact with fire. This process is called combustion, whereby the heat from the flame causes the chemical composition to react, thus setting off a reaction resulting in the release of the low explosives' energy.

Low explosives are used in creating fireworks or pyrotechnics. Because common low explosives employed for this purpose are generally regarded as “safe”, they can be used in the presence of crowds of people. Specialitst low explosives for this use have a low burn rate and are not easily accidentally detonated.

Low Explosive Cannon
Low Explosive Cannon

Use In Crude Improvised Weapons

Since low explosives are able to propel objects very well, they have been used as propellants for crude guns and cannons. These improvised homemade devices are occasionally employed for urban gang-warfare when conventional firearms are unavailable. Experimentation using low explosives in this manner can result in accidents such as barrel breaches, or injuries from the unpredictability of the device.

Coloring Fireworks made by Low Order Explosives
Coloring Fireworks made by Low Order Explosives

Special Effects

Special effects can be added with the use of coloring substances, usually metallic elements. The color created will depend on the temperature of the chemical reaction and on what metallic substance was used. The coloring substances are only found in trace amounts, so the burning rate remains the same.

Modern Low Explosives

More dangerous low explosives prone to ignition by static electricity are generally being replaced nowadays by safer, more dependable low explosive compositions. All over the world, black powder, commonly known as gun powder, was the most frequently used low explosive for a long period of time. Black powder, which is a very old low explosive, is no longer used for pyrotechnics creation or propulsion since it produces such a large amount of smoke, is relatively susceptible to static electricity, and leaves deposits in gun barrels harmful to the metal.

Boulders drilled after being blasted by low explosives
Boulders drilled after being blasted by low explosives

Innovative Uses

Many rock and concrete demolition companies are experimenting using low explosives to crack hard boulders and pavements by deflagrating a propellant composition, generating gas expansion in a restricted and swift manner. The restricted gas is then lead to a lower part of a short drill-hole and the abrupt expansion of restricted pressure induces the gas to be pushed into tiny ruptures which are produced in the rock throughout the striking or tapping type drilling process.

The fracture characteristic of low explosive safety cartridges vary from high explosives and provide a controlled breakage of the rock being splintered by pressure, rather than detonation.

Uses for Traditional Low Explosives

There are still some die-hard enthusiasts who utilize traditional low explosives, frequently choosing to mix their own. Historical gun enthusiasts still use black powder when trying out their guns. Chinese firework producers still extensively use black powder blended with metal compounds in their explosives as well. Those wishing to build homemade fireworks will always use easily made low explosives


From peaceful and beautiful use in fireworks to propelling deadly projectiles during wars to breaking up rocks, low explosives have a host of uses in the modern world and have played an integral part of human history.

Low explosives provide a controlled release of energy, with their own supply of oxygen and fuel in one convieniant composition. I look forward to seeing further advancements in the safety of these fascinating collection of explosives and many new peaceful applications.


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      sachin dhiman 5 years ago

      how do work low explosive in rocket and missiles? how many type of low explosives and its name.

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      5 years ago

      who is the of this website?