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"High Explosives and Propellants"

by Stanley Fordham
Nobel's Explosives Company, Ltd.
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High Explosives and Propellants

by Stanley Fordham
Nobel's Explosives Company, Ltd.

An authoritative, complete, and comprehensive technical reference resource for the professional pyrotechnician, explosives engineer, and propellant scientist.  The author was a long-time scientist at the Nobel Division of Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., in the United Kingdom.

This highly-detailed and accurate work encompasses all of these key subjects:

  • High Explosives
    • General Principles
    • Military High Explosives
    • Manufacture of Commercial Explosives
    • Design of Commercial Explosives
    • Assessment of Explosives
    • Permitted Explosives
  • Blasting Accessories
    • Initiating Explosives
    • Plain Detonators
    • Electric Detonators
    • Delay Detonators
    • Detonating Fuse
    • Safety Fuse
  • Application of High Explosives
    • Commercial Applications
    • Military Applications
  • Deflagrating and Propellant Explosives
    • Black Powder
    • Manufacture of Propellants
    • Properties of Propellants
    • Design and Application of Propellants


The text includes a complete introduction to all kinds of explosives and propellants, then goes on to review their history and development.  He also includes many details about the laws related to explosives and fireworks manufacture.  There are many tables and charts, offering details about commercial explosives production around the world, consumption of industrial explosives by type and industry, costs of explosives versus their energy, etc.


The work also provides detailed data and statistics for explosive densities, energies, streaming velocity, velocity of detonation, detonation pressure, and the variation of velocity of detonation with cartridge diameter.  The book has abundant theoretical and mathematical explanations about the nature of detonation, shock waves, structure of detonation waves, shape of detonation wave head, properties of explosives compounds, and related topics in physics.

The chemistry and manufacture of explosives is also explained in great detail, and many formulae and equations are provided. 

You will find details about all kinds of modern explosives and propellants, including:

  • Nitroglycerin
  • PETN
  • TNT
  • Tetryl
  • Nitroguanidine
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Blasting gelatin
  • Gelatine
  • Ammon gelignite
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • RDX and RDX/TNT
  • Polar blasting gelatin
  • Belex, Unigel, Polar Viking, Unifrax, and other commercial explosives
  • ANFO and other slurry explosives
  • Mercury fulminate
  • Lead azide
  • Lead styphnate
  • Diazodinitrophenol
  • Tetrazene
This text is one of the few we have seen that describes the commercial manufacture of ammonium nitrate.  There is also a comprehensive section on the complexities of making nitrocellulose (guncotton).

A chapter is devoted to detonators (blasting caps), discussing safety, stability on storage, certainty of ignition, initiating power, construction, manufacture, testing, etc.  Another chapter is about electric detonators, describing bridgewires, lead wires, fuseheads, fusehead combs, assembly, firing characteristics, etc.  Delay detonators have a chapter of their own, showing construction details, delay compositions, plus assembly and design details.

Chapter 12 is all about detonating fuse ("Primacord").  This is one of the few resources we have seen that show exactly how Primacord is manufactured, by both the dry and wet processes.  The properties of det fuse is described; low-energy detonating cord and Nonel are also explained.

Another chapter describes the manufacture of safety fuse, with engineering drawings, formulae, properties, testing, and information about "instantaneous fuse" (black match or quick match), igniter cord, etc.

Part Three of the text goes into detail about commercial applications, showing information on cratering, tunneling, mixing and loading ANFO, coal mining, pulsed infusion rounds, quarrying, seismic prospecting, forming metal with explosives, cladding metal with explosives, and the use of shaped charges for tapping blast furnaces.  Engine starter cartridges are also explained, as are electrically-actuated devices (explosive motors).

Military grenades, shells, bombs, torpedoes, and shaped charges are explained in one special chapter.  Another chapter goes in to the design and manufacture of shotgun, rimfire, and rifle cartridges; ordnance propellants, solid fuel rocket motors, specific impulse, grain design, etc. 

There are two full-page tables with design and propellant data for many important rocket engines, including:

  • Fireflash
  • Firestreak 
  • Sparrow
  • Falcon
  • Seacat
  • Terrier
  • Nike-Ajax
  • Hawk
  • Tartar
  • Seaslug
  • Thunderbird
  • Nike-Hercules
  • Talos
  • Bloodhound
  • Bullpup
  • Nord A.S. 30
  • Skybolt
  • Vigilant
  • Dart
  • Lacrosse
  • Matador
  • Sergeant
  • Regulus
  • Triton
  • Snark
  • Polaris
  • Pershing
  • Minuteman
  • Skylark
  • Scout
A large chapter describes details about making black powder, giving information about its properties, mechanism of combustion, and chemistry.  Single-base, double-base, and composite propellants are also covered, and there are several tables of formulae.  A chapter is dedicated to paste mixing of double-base powders, solvent-type double-base propellants, ball powder, solventless double-base propellants, cast double-base propellants, and composite propellants for rocket engines.

The properties of propellants chapter includes considerable chemistry, chemical engineering, and physics information.  It includes information (and a nice drawing) of strand burner testing of burn rates.

One chapter is devoted to explaining how explosives are tested in the laboratory.  This shows how to determine explosive power with a ballistic mortar, Trautzl lead block test, and other apparatus.  Velocity of detonation apparatus are also shown, including rotating mirror cameras, and the classic Dautriche test.  Sensitiveness tests are also described, including the Ardeer double-cartridge test, friction tests (for both liquid and solid explosives), fall hammer tests, torpedo friction tests, and so forth.  This chapter also provides detailed results for sensitivity testing of all common explosives.

Stability in storage is also discussed, as is the topic of fumes from explosions.  One long chapter is dedicated to the use of "permitted explosives" in coal mines, and how permitted explosives are developed and tested.

Each chapter has numerous historical, general, and specific references for further investigation.  The author also provides many details about factory construction and operations--with many safety tips.  The book also has a five-page glossary of terms and abbreviations. and a comprehensive five-page index.

The author warns:

"Do not experiment with explosives or pyrotechnics.  In this volume a considerable amount of information is given on methods of making explosives and pyrotechnics.  The writer and publisher would be most distressed if this text led to a single accident by causing any reader to do experiments on his own.  Do not experiment with explosives--the odds are too much against you."
The tools, techniques, and systems described here have long been used by major British explosives manufacturers, and are known to be factual and highly accurate. Please do not let a cheap book written by amateurs, or a faulty “Poor Man’s James Bond” type CD-ROM lead you to disaster!

Very hard to find and now out-of-print, this "publisher's galley proof" (in good condition, "like new") was found at a booksellers liquidation in Southern Nevada.  ( shows "used paperbound copies" at more than $300.00!)

Professionally printed (NOT a photocopy), 11.0 x 8.5-inches in size, softbound.  215 pages, including many highly-detailed engineering illustrations, tables, charts, and a comprehensive index.  $32.95

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