Gut Rumbles

April 28, 2005

a potato gun

If you never built a potato gun, you didn't grow up in the South. Constructed correctly, it's not really a gun--- it's more like a cannon or a mortar. I made my first one out of aluminum conduit, then graduated to PVC once I discovered that plastic pipe was easier to work with.

I built my mount out of wood, but you can prop your rocket on anything that will point it in the right direction. Just make sure that it holds still when you fire.

Cut off a 2" piece of pipe about two and a half feet long. Cap the bottom and drill a small hole near the end of this "barrel" you just built. When I was a kid, I could walk into ANY hardware store, seed & feed, or gun shop and buy a cannister of black powder. It was cheap, too.

When you get ready to fire, just pour the powder down the tube, pack it down with a piece of rag, then load you missle on top of that. I used baby-food jars, raw potatoes and live toads for ammunition. Soak a piece of twine in fuel oil to make a fuse. Stick THAT in the hole at the bottom, light it, and run like hell.

When that fucker goes off, one of two things will happen. You will have a magnificent explosion that will propell a missle an incredible distance, or your gun will blow itself to pieces and throw shrapnel everywhere. That's why you run like hell when you light it off.

I got pretty good at building the right kind of gun and calculating the right powder charge before I gave up potato guns. I blew up several before I learned to do it the right way. But nobody died and nobody got hurt during my experiments. A few toads had a really bad day, and few potatoes learned that they could FLY, but all my friends and I survived.

Mama would have shit her panties if she had known what we were doing at the time.


My father used to reload his own bullets for the 15 rifles and 5 pistols that we also do not own. So needless to say, I had a treasure trove of explosive materials to play with from all different kinds of gun powder to primers from about age 5-15 when he quit doing it. We would save our spent shells, cast our own leads, measure our own powder, put in the new primers we did it all. I never built a potato gun, but plenty of pvc and steel pipe bombs and other explosive devices which would have caused my mother and father to beat my ass then kill me if they found out. I had tons of fun and no one ever got hurt. I wish my son could experience shit like that now, but alas my "Country Town" is no longer.
Thanks for stirring the memories.

Posted by: gravdigr on April 28, 2005 02:32 PM

I live in rural Texas and the kids here use PVC pipe, but instead of black powder they rig it up to use aerosol sprays and a barbeque grill striker to light it. Raquetballs make good ammo.

Posted by: Jackie on April 28, 2005 02:47 PM

We got tired of using hairspray on our PVC job so we tried an oxygen acetelyne mix since we had some welding bottles handy. Worked real good until we mixed it a little "rich". Blew it into little bitty pieces. Nobody got really hurt and we decided we better not do that again. Besides no more gun since we blew it up.

Posted by: Steve on April 28, 2005 03:03 PM

Yeah, aerosol sprays are the way to go. Friend of mine works for NASA and we used to play with his. A potato hitting a brick wall at something like 150 fps is a satisfying thing to behold.

Posted by: Bruce on April 28, 2005 03:13 PM

My ex and I lived in a row of apartments with an alley running behind the back; each apartment's kitchen had a door that opened onto the alley. Our next door neighbors were three guys that had built themselves a potato-type gun but, lacking potatoes, they used a tennis ball for the projectile..

One of the guys stood in the doorway of the kitchen and aimed the gun at the fence lining the alley, which was relatively new - he was probably standing 20 feet away from it. That tennis ball hit the top of one of the 2 x 4's and broke it clean off....I'd hate to see the damage it would have inflicted on a person!

Posted by: Trish on April 28, 2005 03:42 PM

When I was in the military, we'd cut the tops and bottoms off of enough beer cans to make a 4' tube, and leave the bottom on the last one to make a base plate. Then we'd poke a little hole on the side and dribble a little lighter fluid in, drop a tennis ball down the tube, and light her off. Saturdays, it looked like two pirate ships firing off broadsides at each other as our barracks bombarded the other barracks. And God help the poor idiot straggling in from a night of partying if he got caught out in the open, because we'd all shift our aim and blast tennis balls at him while he dodged and ran like hell. Then we'd have a truce and run out and collect our balls. We'd get bored, and settle down to desultory sniping. You haven't lived until you've been playing a nice quiet game of cards, getting drunk, and a damn tennis ball comes blasting through the window and ricochets around the room while everybody dives for cover and tries to save their beer and money at the same time.

We all agreed that nobody shoot the pizza delivery guys. They were safe.

Posted by: Bane on April 28, 2005 03:57 PM

Had a freind who used to use Drano and something else, (maybe vinegar?) to shoot full cans of soda into Tasker Homes in Philadelphia, later when he was at Temple U, we'd go up on his roof and hit golf balls out into the North Philly badlands. We called it "ghetto golf"

Not a real nice thing to do when you look back on it, but damn, we had fun. And more importantly, we didn't get caught.

Posted by: Terry on April 28, 2005 04:23 PM

My brother in-law has a potato gun his wrestling team built him for being such a good coach. That thing is tricked out! It has a T-joint and removable cap for spraying in the White Rain Hairspray (the best propellant we've found), and a gas grill ignition button to spark and light the fuel. One of the high points of his annual 4th of July hog roast and fireworks extravaganza is launching potatoes over the woods and into the next little property down the road. We don't really know how mnay potatoes make it that far, but when you're drinking copious amounts of beer and watching those spuds sail over the trees, who cares? The deer must like them, to, because the whitetails in the area all look very well fed.

Posted by: Mamamontezz on April 28, 2005 04:39 PM

Bane, thanks for the memories!

Been there, did that! During TWWL (the war we lost), I was stationed in Thailand, at U-Tapao RTNAS, from where I flew B-52 Arc Light strikes againt targets all over the SEA map. We needed diversions that couldn't be found in a fifth of Beam for 90 cents.

We made Tennis Ball Cannons, made from 3 tennis ball cans taped together with 500-mph tape (duct tape that REALLY sticks). Used Zippo lighter fluid for propellant, and got good at blowing just the right amount of air in the touch-hole to make the best air-fuel charge.

After the excitement of measured launches wore off (record was 352 feet), we started an assassination squad of 3 cannons and one breacher. The breacher would crack open the door to a hootch or trailer (trailers were best) and the three cannoneers would stick the barrels inside the door and we would try to fire in unison (since being drunk was an integral part of this game, the unison thing didn't always work). Three tennis balls would be launched into a small space at twice the speed that Arthur Ashe could serve at.

The balls usually made contact with at least three walls before spending their energy, and you could do a lot of damage to the contents of a hootch or trailer. We would melt away into the dark.

Got set up a couple of times when one of the crew ratted us out to the intended victim, and they counter-ambushed us with firehoses or buckets of water.

Finally, the base commander put out orders to stop the carnage, since his civil engineers were having to replace quite a few windows.

Fun times during an ugly war.

Posted by: Rivrdog on April 28, 2005 04:52 PM

I'm with Bane--way back when i was a kid in the 1960s, we used steel pop cans, used a can-opener to cut off both ends, duct taped them together into about a 5 or 6 foot tube, punched a 'touch hole' near the botttom, then we'd spray about a half-can of lighter fluid in it, and then shake the contration back and forth to really mix the fluid with air. Then we'd set the tube up at a 45 degree angle on some milk crates, tape the tube to the crates, anchor the bottom with rocks or logs, then light the end of a long stick and stick it into the touch hole. That was of course after we set a tennis ball on the end. The balls would easily fly the length of a football field.

We never ever considered that the tube could possibly blow up on us.

Posted by: Chico Panther on April 28, 2005 05:42 PM

I started off with soup cans then moved to PVC, but we only used aerosol sprays and sometimes gas.

Posted by: Sean on April 28, 2005 06:50 PM

yeah, we used to make them out of an 18" length of 4" PVC pipe capped off at one end with a gas grill striker mounted on it for an igniter. The other end had a reducer down to 2" PVC that was about 4 foot long for a barrel. Jam an apple or a tater in the barrel, Spray in a little White Rain or Aqua Net in the igniter end (not too much!) and you had one serious shoulder fired mortar tube. I love those things...especially that concussion sound.

Oh we made the tennis can cannons with the lighter fluid too, but they weren't quite as much fun except at night when the tennis ball projectiles would be on fire from the fluid and looked pretty cool.

Posted by: marcl on April 28, 2005 07:17 PM

Bane and Chico: that's the way, boys!

But no mention of bottlerocket fights between the barracks?

Posted by: Joe Momma on April 28, 2005 08:02 PM

4" cast iron drain pipe capped. 2x4 tripod. light a fire under the capped end and pour about a 1/2 gallon of gas in there. Old type oil cans (paper w/ aluminum ends) filled w/ rocks fit real snug in the pipe. Once the gas starts to get hot, sling the can down the pipe. BOOM!

Laucnhed rocks about 3 blocks and broke some windows. Being kids, we didn't even think about which way it was aimed. We had No Idea how stupid dangerous this was either. We fired off 3 rounds before the Cops came and we ran. Non-mobile artillary! They put a picture of it in the local paper tho'!

Posted by: jmon on April 28, 2005 08:27 PM

J.M., I was stuck in California, where you can't even get sparklers. When I was in college, a-holes would flick the lights off in the shitter and then fire a bottle rocket down under the row of stalls. It would hit you in the side of your foot and BLAM! Played hell with you if you were loaded. I learned quick to lift my feet way up when the lights went out.

Posted by: Bane on April 28, 2005 08:50 PM

We used to make sparkler bombs all the time (who am i kidding, sometimes we still do) these are acomplished by straping as many sparklers together in a bundle as possible, (idealy, several hundred), and leaving one lone sparkley higher than the rest in the middle for a fuze. light the fuze and run like hell. also helps to put it in an open area, as any trees, shrubbery or overhead power lines/telephone poles are gona be chared. good clean fun!

You guys should see/here what them bitches do when place in an enlcosed space......IE- mailbox...

Posted by: Heath on April 28, 2005 10:08 PM

Shoot, all my brother and me did was use a stray length of 3/4" wide pipe and firecrackers, and fire little baby grapefruits (or really small garden snails) across our yard. But we lived in city limits so heavy artillery would've gotten us a police record.

We didn't launch the snails so much, because they tended to break up on ignition and there just wasn't anything to watch go flying except little tiny chunks of escargot.

One time I put dichondra seeds -- little tiny grass seeds -- into an air rifle and shot a fly off a piece of yard furniture. All that was left of that fly was a little smear of blood. Miniature shotgun.

Posted by: McGehee on April 28, 2005 10:51 PM


Each county in California decides whether or not to allow fireworks because of the extremely high fire danger here in the summer/fall months.

The county I live in is a designated "no fireworks" zone, except under controlled situations when shows are put on by each city for July 4th celebrations. What's really stupid is that you can drive 15 miles to the next county and find all sorts of fireworks stands there - and their terrain and fire danger is no different than ours.

Posted by: Trish on April 28, 2005 11:32 PM

While I greatly admire the Danes, Trish, I am not one. What I meant re CA, is that no matter how good your fireworks are, they are still certified 'Wimp'. Here in Oregon, same thing. Nothing that explodes or flies. We go to the Reservation to acquire our rockets and high explosives.

Posted by: Bane on April 29, 2005 11:38 AM
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