My Experience Using Dynamite, by C.L.

As a frequent reader of SurvivalBlog I saw your recent request for articles on the farm and ranch use of explosives.

My story may resonate with many of your readers in that I used dynamite for the projects mentioned here although I had no previous experience with explosives. These episodes occurred many years ago and though the legality issues (permitting, purchasing, etc.) may have changed the techniques of actually using dynamite are still applicable.

Before getting into the heart of the matter I offer the following summary points:

1. I am not offering advice on the use of explosives.. I am relating my experiences in the use of dynamite as an inexperienced user.

2. Dynamite is a useful tool.

3. Dynamite can be used by inexperienced persons who make the effort to learn how to safely do so.

I had no experience using dynamite when I chose a ditching project. There seemed to be no practical way to put the 100 yard ditch where I wanted it. In discussions with others about my problem someone suggested dynamite. The suggestion was partially in jest but on reflection I took it seriously. I bought a copy of the Dupont Blaster’s Handbook. I studied it and the more I did the more I became convinced that I could use dynamite for my ditching project.

After carefully studying the handbook I decided that I could blast the ditch through the low swamp where I needed it. Having made that decision the next step was to procure the dynamite. By looking up “Explosives” in the Yellow Pages” of a nearby large city (This was before an Internet), I found a vendor. This vendor was most helpful. Most importantly he told me that I would have to secure a permit for the purchase and use of the dynamite and furthermore he told me where to go to get the permit from the proper government agency. We discussed my inexperience and he took time to discuss the proper use and equipment I would need to complete my project. When I went to his facility to purchase the dynamite he also provided information on the accessories (blasting caps, fuse, crimping tool, etc.) I would need.

Once I had all the material accumulated I began practicing how to use it. First I practiced lighting the fuse. This is not nearly as simple as it appears in movies and TV. I must have lit a dozen or so pieces of short fuse before I developed a good technique as described in the handbook. I also burned and timed several various lengths of fuse to be sure that it’s burning rate was as specified. Next I learned how to crimp the fuse in the blasting cap. Again I followed the handbook instructions. The only way to know whether it has been done properly is to try it—light the fuse and see if the cap goes off.

Some Practice Capping

After I was satisfied that I could consistently fire blasting caps I began practicing inserting the cap into a stick of dynamite to make a primer charge. I used the non sparking alloy crimping tool and prepared the charge according to the handbook instructions. Up to this point I had not had a cap in close proximity of a stick of dynamite.

The next step was a big one, inserting a fused cap into a stick of dynamite and setting it off. I took a friend with me as a helper and we went to the area I intended to blast the ditch. I crimped a fuse in a cap, inserted it in the dynamite. With a pole I punched a hole about 12” deep in the soft ground. I placed the primed dynamite it the hole, covered it with dirt, tamping it lightly. I lit the fuse–I used a 90 second fuse–and ran.

I waited, 90 seconds is a long time when waiting for an explosion to go off, and—nothing. Three minutes—nothing. I had a misfire.

I reviewed what I should do from the handbook. I primed another stick and carefully carried it and placed it on top of the misfire. I lit the fuse and ran. 90 seconds later—BOOM! I had made my first dynamite explosion. The size and depth of the resulting hole indicated that both sticks had gone off. Now I could blast my ditch.

Regular dynamite is 40% nitroglycerin and 60% filler. It is stable and very safe. Ditching dynamite is 50% nitroglycerin. It is slightly less stable but is sensitive enough so that the explosion is propagated from one hole to another in the ditch by hydraulic shock. Therefore only one hole in the ditch needs to be primed.

From information in the handbook I had calculated that I would need two sticks of dynamite, one on top of the other, spaced every 18” apart. Since ditching dynamite in reasonable proximity will [sympathetically] propagate the explosion from one hole to the next by hydraulic shock I only needed to prime one hole in the string. This time I used a 120 second fuse. I lit it and ran for the high ground. Two minutes later there was an earth shaking BOOM and water, mud, debris sent flying 100’+ in the air. Before the smoke had cleared I ran back to see that I had blasted a beautiful ditch through a cypress swamp. In my excitement I violated a handbook rule. One hour later I had an excruciating headache from breathing the dynamite fumes.

I had otherwise followed the book. I had blasted a ditch just as I wanted in difficult terrain. I had done it safely except for the headache caused by not following the rules.

Lifting Stumps

Some years later I was faced with the chore of removing a dozen or so stumps from a field. Again I determined that dynamite was the best tool for the job.

For the stumps I bought regular dynamite which is more stable and somewhat safer. I also bought electric blasting caps. These are less complicated and easier to use than fused caps.

Again on consulting the Dupont Blaster’s Handbook, I determined that the pine stumps would require two sticks of dynamite, one on opposite sides of the stump, buried at about the 2’ level below ground. I used an iron rod to probe around the stumps and find where I could push it down between roots. I would rod out a hole to the desired depth and then insert the primed stick in it. I would fill the hole with dirt, tamping it in. I repeated this on the other side of the stump. With the dynamite in place I wired the electric cap leads to a long extension wire which would safely reach my tractor battery. I would set off the charge by touching the wire to the battery terminals. The resulting explosion would usually cut the large pine tap root at the depth of the charge and lift the remaining upper portion of the stump out of the ground. Sometimes the stump would be thrown 12’-15’ in the air.

It was an easy job to then haul the stumps out of the field.

Burning Excess Dynamite

The last dynamite challenge I faced was the disposal of some which was left over from the stumping. I had about a case and half left over. I had overestimated how much I would need. I was not concerned thinking that I would find other use for it. Before I realized it a couple of years had gone by. And then a couple more. One day I looked at the old dynamite and was surprised at how much it had degenerated. The dynamite came packed in heavy plastic bags. The bag was inside a heavy corrugated box. I had stored the boxes in a wooden chest. On examination, the corrugated boxes were deteriorated. They looked wet as if with oil. The bottom of the chest looked the same way. I knew it was bad but I did not know what to do.

Not knowing where else to go, I called the Sheriff. He was reassuring and told me that he had used demolition experts from the nearby military instillation to dispose of explosives and that he could call them and ask them to get in touch with me. A couple of days later I got a call from an Officer. He said the Sheriff had asked him to call me. He said that although they had done so previously, their policy had changed and they could no longer dispose of explosives off base.

I was out of options. In desperation I asked him, “If you were going to dispose of the dynamite for me, how would you do it?” He knew what I needed. He didn’t tell me how to do it, he told me how he would do it. I followed his method.

I got the materials together. On a damp foggy morning, I put a bale of hay in the edge of the field. I wet down the rubber mat in the bed of my truck. I used these static electricity suppression measures in addition to the Officer’s description. Using gloves I carefully picked up the boxes containing the dynamite. They were so fragile that they would not have held up if the plastic bag had not been inside them. I put the boxes on the mat in the truck and drove them to the hay. I transferred the dynamite from the truck placing it on top of the hay. I poured almost 5 gallons of diesel fuel over the hay and dynamite and set it afire. I quickly got in my truck and drove away.

I was somewhat reassured in doing this as I had read in the handbook that dynamite could be disposed of by burning but I was concerned about the deteriorated state of these boxes. I did know what to expect.

From a safe distance I watched the fire. For a couple of minutes it burned as expected. Then the flames grew higher and began producing a heavy black smoke, not unlike rubber tires burning. This lasted for ten minutes or more and then the flames died down and went out.

I had burned 75 pounds of old rotten (leaking) dynamite.

I used dynamite to blast a ditch and remove stumps. I was able to safely dispose of old dynamite. My knowledge for doing so came from studying the Blaster’s Handbook and maybe 30 minutes discussion with the vendor and some 5 minutes with the demolition expert. The only part I consider risky was the disposal. I should not have let the dynamite get in that state before disposing of it.

 




16 Comments

  1. I wonder, what purpose tamping serves. If the charge is covered, at proper depth, even if you just applied hand pressure around the charge to keep it snug and in place, shouldn’t that be enough? To me, tamping around 50% nitro seems a bit risky. Then again, I am not versed in demolitions like you described. Interesting article though.

  2. Amazon pulled the book. No longer available. Don’t want us conservatives to have that sort of knowledge, lest we have some muscle to go after the rest of the internet LEFTists who deplatform conservative speech as HATE.

    1. Yes, Democrats are the enemy we know. But Republicans are the enemy we sleep with.

      Amazon made an $11 billion profit and paid no federal taxes. In fact it received a $100 million rebate! It’s called corporatism, a fancy name for fascism. Guess which party wrote the laws creating Big Corporate, its tax indulgences and granted its special protections.

      Corporations are not normal natural businesses. They are a creation of government. They are granted special protections. Does ‘corporate personhood’ and ‘limited liability’ sound natural to free enterprise? Ha. Try taking Amazon to court. Do you honestly think Jeff Bezos would see the inside of a jail? What a joke. He is protected. He has no skin in the game. Corporate CEO’s are a government-created-protected class.

  3. If you do not tamp the charge to contain the explosion for a micro second the power of the explosion will be much less as the expanding gasses will exit the hole instead of applying the force against the sides of the rock or stump or what ever you are trying to move or remove. A good example of the increase in gas pressure is the difference in recoil between firing a blank cartridge and firing a regular cartridge. I get a kick out of watching movies where they tie large quantities of dynamite to bridge supports etc. to rob the train. look up info on shaped charges, they will get the job done with far less dynamite and are less dangerous as the force is directed directly where it is needed. As always know what you are doing with the tools you use, good article about a labor saving method.

  4. I almost forgot to make mention of a way to deal with old weeping dynamite. The liquid leaking from the dynamite is actually the nitroglycerin, and is very unstable. A man named Nobel figure out how to stabilize this unstable liquid and hence the first Nobel Prizes in science were started. Basically the Nitro is mixed with fullers clay and this creates a much more stable explosive. I once found my self with about 20 cases of old weeping sticks of dynamite at a mine I was hired to run. Upon advice from the underground mining engineer I bought a bunch of sawdust from a local saw mill and donning rubber gloves we rolled the sticks in the sawdust to absorb the nitro. We then took the sawdust and saturated cardboard cases out to a cleared area and burned the whole mess with the exception of the dynamite sticks which we used in the mine. Because of the lessened quantity of nitro available they charged the holes with about twice as many sticks as normal. Thus we got rid of the old dynamite and got some useful work out of it.

  5. I gotta admit that the most fun I had in Infantry Officer’s Basic Course at Ft Benning was Engineer Week, when we got to blow stuff up. C4, Det Cord, clackers and blasting caps. Ah the memories.

  6. Hmm, brings back memories of demo class yrs ago, shaped charges, det cord, and military dynamite. Class room time and then field training time, the last example the instructor showed for us was how to take down a 3 to 4 ft dia tree, the right way and the wrong way. the wrong way did a beautiful job of taking off the bark and the right way ( 3 sets of charges in the ground in 3 places around the tree, with 3/4 less explosives ). That was interesting. that was a looonnngg time ago

  7. While attending my sons college graduation in Colorado last year i walked by one of the colleges pickups which said advanced demolitions and explosives. I didnt know they had a course for that!!!! Guess it makes sense though its still a needed commodity.

  8. I used a lot of C-4 during the Gulf War to destroy Iraqi weapons and Ammo. Crimping the blasting cap is probably the most dangerous part of the process. Make sure you wear good eye protection, gloves and hold it away from your body and turn your head away when making the crimp. I Have been looking at different regulations and it appears in my state you can by so much once a year for personal use with little hassle.

    In the future I may be Lucky enough to attend a blaster’s class.

    Can’t remember for sure but I believe one of JWR’s books discuss how to procure legal explosives for survival purposes. Think it was How to Survive TEOTWAWKI.

    1. Survivors [JWR book] has Molotov Cocktails recipe and how to protect yourself in the making. Also, Patriots demonstrates how to blow a home to Kingdom-come. Excellent reads… Thanks JWR for all your work!

  9. I have lived in FL most of my life, but my mother was from E. TN. Her father worked in construction and always had a case or two of dynamite, which was a very useful tool in the mountains. The CCCs trained him to use explosives and as a stone cutter back during the Great Depression. After he passed, the family was cleaning out his shop up on the hill and sure enough, there were a couple of cases that hadn’t been touched in decades… Which gave the local PD a chance to try out their new robot… They were willing and able to safely dispose of the dynamite…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps

  10. My grandfather taught me how to make dynamite and caps, and taught me how to crack boulders and stumps. Back then the cops didn’t care like they do now. Caps are touchy things to press, and at least 1 in 10 would blow while in the press. Got my first drink after moving a case of sweaty dynamite and the bottom dropped out of the wooden crate. Grandpa and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting hammered. We burnt the sticks the next day.

    The safety rules limit the death and destruction when you have your accident. And it is WHEN, and not IF you have an accident. You never know what might sensitize the explosive and set it off. I self trained in improvised weapons and explosives when I was a helicopter crewchief/aerial observer. That job could get you down behind enemy lines in a hurry. Knowing how to fight, hide, and survive are much needed skills. If you’re still in the service, stick your nose in in those books!

  11. Exudation that has leaked onto the floor of a storage facility is safely cleaned up using acetone. If nitro has leaked(exudated) and crystallized, friction or heat will detonate. Water applied will make it safe to move to disposal site.

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