Blowing Crap Up

I see that tonight’s episode of Mythbusters includes a segment called “Exploding Lighter.”  They’re testing the myth of whether a small, disposable, butane lighter can explode with the force of several sticks of dynamite.

This reminded me of some of my youthful empirical studies in combustible and explosive materials.

Perhaps at this point I should include the standard Mythbusters disclaimer concerning my youthful antics.  Please do not try this at home, kids.  You’d probably be charged with a felony these days…

Growing up in East Texas I possessed a Daisy 880 pump-action .177 caliber pellet gun as well as plenty of free time during the summers to scour the roadsides for whatever items might be found.  I learned that sometimes discarded Bic lighters still had a little bit of life left in them as well as that discarded Coke bottles explode quite nicely in 100° temperatures when hit with a well-placed BB if the owner had thoughtfully recapped it before littering.  But I digress…

Curious as to whether a lighter would explode when shot with a BB gun, I set up a small experiment, which I conducted at dusk when the light was fading for best effect.  Taking a piece of tape I would light the lighter and use the tape to hold down the stupid little button.  I would then place the now lit lighter on a fence post and retreat to a (relatively) safe distance with the BB gun.  If the gun was sufficiently pumped to destroy the plastic quickly, a nice little fireball could be created when the lighter was hit.

Not that I’d want to have a lighter explode in my pocket, mind you, but it didn’t seem to be all that powerful.  Of course, this was a situation where I orchestrated a quick release of the lighter’s contents.  I would imagine that if you could slowly heat the lighter to increase the internal pressure that it might be much more dangerous.  I never did try that one, though.

Since I’m fairly certain the statute of limitations has expired, I’ll relate another of my youthful experiments.  It involved the heads of about 50 matches, some very fine copper wire, a length of larger wire, a small pill bottle, and a 9-volt battery.  I put all but one of the match heads in the bottle.  The last one I wrapped with a couple of turns of the fine copper wire, which I then joined to the larger wire.  The wrapped match head went into the bottle with the rest and the top was sealed with tape.  I then ran the wire a safe distance from the bottle and applied the battery.  It made for a nice little electrically-activated incendiary device.

Perhaps it’s better that today’s kids have Playstation and other indoor pursuits to keep them occupied.  There’s probably nothing quite so dangerous as a young boy with nothing to do during the summer (although in my defense I will note that I never set anything on fire that I didn’t intend to and no charges were ever filed cool smirk  ).

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