Black Powder

Black powder is a low explosive material comprised of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulfur and charcoal. While used as a propellant in fireworks and pyrotechnics, it is also used in some ammunition and muzzleloaders. In general, a federal explosives license or permit under the federal explosives regulations at 27 CFR, Part 555 is required to purchase black powder. However, an exemption at 27 CFR Part 555.141(b) states that these regulations do not apply to black powder:

  • That is commercially manufactured.
  • In quantities not exceeding 50 pounds.
  • Is intended to be used solely for the sporting, recreational or cultural purposes in antique firearms or antique devices.

A federal explosives license or permit is not required to purchase and use commercially manufactured black powder in quantities not to exceed 50 pounds for the above stated purposes in antique firearms or antique devices. Individuals do not need a manufacturer’s license if they manufacture black powder for their own personal, non-business use and the black powder produced is not a “commercial” product within the contemplation of the exemption and must be stored in compliance with the appropriate regulations.

Additionally, an individual or company purchasing any amount of black powder for any other purpose, including for use in fireworks or pyrotechnics, or who intends to transport any black powder not meeting the above conditions for exemption, must obtain a federal explosives license or permit. Such persons must also store the black powder in an explosives magazine compliant with the regulations at Part 555. The exemption does not apply to persons engaged in the business of manufacturing, importing, or dealing in any quantity of black powder. Therefore, such persons must obtain a federal explosives license, store the black powder in accordance with regulations, and maintain records of acquisition and disposition.

As a reminder, black powder that does not meet the exemption criteria in 27 CFR § 555.141(b) is a low explosive under 27 CFR § 555.202 and may be stored in type 1, type 2, or type 4 magazines, or in type 3 magazines for temporary attended storage. Explosive materials may not be left unattended in type-3 magazines (day boxes) and must be removed to type 1, 2 or 4 magazines for unattended storage. For indoor storage, explosives magazines are not permitted in any residence or dwelling, and no more than 50 pounds of explosive materials may be stored in any single building.

Records of Distribution

Licensees must establish to their own satisfaction whether purchasers are acquiring black powder under the above exemption. Licensed dealers distributing black powder to non-licensees under this exemption must create a record of disposition. Since the purchaser generally will not have a federal explosives license or permit, the black powder dealer is not required to record the license or permit number in the record of disposition. The record should not contain the name or other identification of the person purchasing black powder under this exemption. The dealer must record all other required information (i.e. the date of disposition, name or brand name of manufacturer (and name of importer, if any), manufacturer’s marks of ID, and description and size) in the disposition record.

Security Awareness

Retail employees involved in the sale of black powder should be aware of the potential for these materials to be used in bombs. ATF, FBI and DHS strongly encourage black powder dealers to establish relationships with local law enforcement agencies. We suggest that industry members integrate awareness and reporting of suspicious behaviors into formal employee training programs. See ATF’s open letter at

Last Reviewed September 2, 2022