So, having discovered gunpowder, my stone-age tribe needs some timed fuses for their explosive arrows and landmines. However, I am unsure of how accurate their fuses would be. The quality of their gunpowder isn't very high, and their rope is not very even in width or density, so it could take differing amounts of time to burn through. Approximately what will the variance in time for, for example, a fuse that is supposed to take 10 seconds to burn be? Additionally, what can the tribe do to create fuses that are more accurate?

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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, a 'best guess' is as close as a 'fact' when dealing with as many variables as you have. In addition to the powder's direct yield, other factors such as age of fuse, air temperature and humidity, etc. also come in to the results. Most cultures have ( as you might imagine) fallen to simple trial-and-error until a best-case is produced. That concept alone, a Neolithic Experimental R & D could make a fascinating angle in a story...just my $ 0.02 $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ Truth be told you'd probably get your best answer sitting down with a ball of string and a lighter for an afternoon $\endgroup$
    – Pingcode
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ For your reading pleasure let me recommend the history of fireworks, the history of gunpowder, and above all, the history of fire arrows, which seem particularly relevant. Especially since the passage of the arrow (think, "massive supply of oxygen") would cause the fuse to burn very, very quickly. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ It has been a long time (decades) since I used timed fuses in the Defence Force, but I vaguely recall that on a test burn you were looking for a variation of no more than 15% or thereabouts from the "expected" value, although the one roll of fuse was expected to burn at a uniform rate. That was for modern, factory-produced fuses. With all the variables you are describing, you're looking at a massive burn rate variation unless fuse can be standardised. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 0:44

2 Answers 2


Fuses don't typically rely on the qualities of rope; They burn a chemical soaked into the rope, often gunpowder.

So it is the consistency of the powder that matters. If you make a big batch and test some you should be able to guess fairly accurately, the stoneage concept of a second will probably have at least as much variation.


The variance in time for a gunpowder fuse if needed to resemble the quality of the tribe's technological advancements could range from an instant detonation to a dud bomb.


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