DIY Small Scale Artillery – A Black Powder Cannon

My father, “Pops”, was a welder by trade, as was his father. Both did far more than just weld, being from the same stock that built this country into the great powerhouse that it once was. Rare was the time either my dad or granddad would call out someone to repair or build something for them, preferring to just do it themselves. This included things like building a shed or garage, fixing a car, or turning a pile of spare parts into a tractor-powered hydraulic log splitter.And keep in mind, this was all before there was Google or YouTube. These guys were HANDY.arc welding

I learned quite a bit of that from them, and have expanded a lot of that ability. However, I’m sure there was a little disappointment in the fact that I didn’t become a welder. I DID learn the basics of the skill, and could probably get an entry level job at it with what Pops taught me.

I looked at using a welder about the same as how to use pliers, a hammer, or a gun. The skill to use a certain tool was a way to allow myself to get things done,

Tools - Each with a special use...but useless (or even dangerous) without the knowledge on how to use them
Tools – Each with a special use…but useless (or even dangerous) without the knowledge on how to use them

a mindset that my kids just don’t seem to understand often enough. I picked up enough welding knowledge to get the work done that I was told to do, along with being able to fix, make or mod some of my personal interests – lawn mower to go kart conversions, motorcycle repairs, and a unicycle that my brother and I made out of a bicycle seat, 20 inch bike tire, and the front forks of a 26 inch bike. That thing was UGLY….but it WORKED. (And went well with the juggling we had taught ourselves. The things we did when we got bored and our imaginations were piqued….again, before the Internet – we were self taught. How many kids do that today?)

(Sorry, went off on a tangent, this is supposed to be about small scale artillery. Give me a minute, I promise to get there.)

Pops was a fisherman, gardener, and most of all, a hunter. If there was a hunting season he knew about, he got involved. He was one of the first people in our area to start bow hunting for deer back in the mid 70’s in rural West Virginia. And when he found out about black powder, he got involved in that as well.

Pops worked for a company that build all sorts of heavy industrial equipment. At work, he had access to welders, materials, and time. (Did I mention that he was the Boss?) While his black powder interests were just getting started, he did some thinking on possibilities for some of the materials he had on hand and came up with a design for a little “toy”. This:



Here is what I know of it as a kid, and what I can see of it now as an adult 30 years after it was built.

The bore is a thick-walled 1 inch inside diameter pipe. The breech section is the same pipe inserted into a larger diameter pipe for added strength. Through the top of this, there was a 1/8 inch hole drilled, a perfect fit for a piece of cannon fuse.

Wheel Valve
A large Wheel Valve…

The base, side walls, and heel stop was 3/8 inch plate steel. Originally, on the back was a metal index card box used to hold wadding (old tshirts) and spare fuse, however this is no longer there. The wheels were from large valves for heavy pipe, probably 4 to 6 inches (or larger).

Everything was welded together, then brushed, rough edges ground smooth, brushed, sanded, then degreased, wiped a cannon wheel
…to a cannon wheel

down, and a couple of coats of high-heat black paint applied. The cannon will roll, and is small enough to carry around, though cumbersome.

The cannon is really too large for a tabletop, but too small to call anything other than a novelty. I cannot come up with any valid use for it, other than to make a loud BOOM, and scare the neighbors, possibly initiate a visit from the local law enforcement, and make any skittish folks wet themselves.

For a load, we would use 777 black powder, the amount (depending on how much alcohol the operator has drank) was 250 grains. The projectile can be a broom handle slug, though normally, a simple plug of wadded aluminum foil, newspaper, paper towel or cotton tee shirt were all that was used. Many times the idea of loading it with more serious ammo was considered, such as a roll of BBs, a half dozen ball bearings, or a handful of nails. With a smooth bore black powder weapon of this design, just about anything that would fit down the bore would be a viable projectile. It simply is not picky.

According to my Uncle Gravy (yes, this is what he is called), the current owner, to load, he takes a pipe cleaner and cleans the fuse hole. The next step is to put the fuse pin, a piece of wire with a small handle, into the hole, leaving it in while loading. He then adds the appropriate amount of black powder. Then, using a paper towel for the wad and an old arrow for a ramrod, tamps it all home. Replace the fuse pin with a 6 inch or so piece of fuse (depending on the burn rate). Point the loaded cannon in a “safe” direction, light the fuse, then move back. Or run. Quickly.

The current owner only brings the cannon out to be fired at New Years. And 4th of July. And special three day weekends. Or any day after the 7th beer. (I am not condoning mixing alcohol and black powder. I am simply describing how things work in the Hillbilly World.)

Inevitably, somewhere during the “special event”, the worlds “Hey, Y’all, watch this!” are heard. This should not be surprising.

Pops originally gave it as a gift in 1980 to his father in law, my grandfather, around the time my grandfather moved down to Florida to retire. Several years later, it was picked up by my uncle, the current owner.

Here are some photos:

(Click on a picture to enlarge it.)

Home Made Blackpowder Cannon
Home Made Blackpowder Cannon


And here is a video of it being fired:

Since this world is full of idiots being protected from themselves and thinning our gene pool with potential Idiocracy stereotypes, let me add this disclaimer:

This information is for entertainment purposes only. Do not try this at home. Any attempts to make, build, or fire a cannon based on the information found here is not only foolish, but will probably end up as a byline in this year’s Darwin Awards. I can not be held liable for your blatant disregard for my warnings about using the information outlined here in this article about home made cannons. In fact, should you try to sue me, please understand that I’ve made every effort to keep my net worth well below the typical legal costs of suing me. (With the current economy, this has been rather easy.) Thus, by trying to sue me for everything I am worth, you’ll be chasing a ghost, and running up bills that cannot and will not be paid by me. Plus, I already have a lawyer on retainer, and he reads all of my articles. So try this at your own risk, and don’t blame me if you do. Remember, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. Don’t be a dumbass.

No go watch the video again, and note that of the twenty or so people that were watching at that particular firing, at least two of them peed themselves a little bit.


Damn, but black powder is FUN!


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  1. In the absence of black powder, do not use smokeless, and do not ram a potato down the barrel. I saw it happen and it made a big BOOM…luckily no one was hurt. I didn’t do it. :)

    1. Good advice on the smokeless powder…

      But with the black powder, you can probably get away with the potato…tho not much would be left after firing….

  2. Very interesting article! My son rides a unicycle, juggles and the kids all built big, powerful potato launchers that would send a potato 200 yards across a field. Lots of crossover with your family and mine. Wish we had a black powder canon too. Maybe someday. ;o)

  3. When we were young,(6or7) we took of the tops and bottoms of 4 old “Steel” 7-up cans and taped them up put a tennis ball in and a little lighter fluid in the bottom. That was a kids toy in the 60s. Good Clean Fun

    1. Oh, you must have been rich to have tennis balls…and lighter fluid…and 7-Up!

      We played ball-tag with a ball made of rolled up socks….used “drip” for our accelerant…and drank sassafras tea from roots we dug ourselves :)

      1. Yea, we were quite well off back in the 60s. Well enough to send we 3 boys to a private Jr. Military school during the Cold War in 70,71 and 72. Then the democrat unelected tyrants knowing that it was not funded by the guberment and taught by Nuns closed the school by mandating that the school be installed with fire sprinklers. There was never a fire at the school. This caused the school to be closed and torn down.
        The Mothers Day Parade was the Hit Of the Town.
        Youtube; “Me at Barbour Hall” (thats not me) Only film I found but it brings back memories …

  4. What a fun family to grow up in! I’ve seen smaller versions of these over the years but that’s the most impressive homemade cannon I’ve seen yet…got me to thinking about what I have in the scrap pile…

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