Anvil Firing: Awesome Or Reckless?

The English language needs a word for “awesome and dangerous simultaneously”.

We recently ran into the strange pastime of anvil shooting on YouTube (where else?). The idea is that you pack about a pound (!) of black powder between two anvils and light it up. The powder explodes, and the top anvil gets shot into the air. Hilarity ensues, if everyone’s far enough away and wearing hearing protection.

It’s probably traditional to fire anvils in place of cannons on festive occasions. The modern, competitive version of the pastime is relatively new, and is scored both on how high the anvil flies, and on how close to the launching pad the anvil lands when it hits the ground. It looks like you make everything very level, pack the powder as evenly as possible, and hope for the best.

Now before you go about doing something silly like this, you should know that it can also go wrong (YouTube, naturally) in any number of ways. Smashing black powder between anvils is asking for early detonation. And even if you’re relatively experienced with such things you can still get hurt, as happened during the 2011 US National Anvil Shooting competition. Apparently the man in question lost a thumb to the hobby. Finally, unless you’re taking heroic precautions like X-raying your anvil, you can’t be sure that the anvil won’t break apart.

So we’re not recommending that you try this at all. Instead, stare on in awe at the crazies on YouTube who are taking the risks for you. (Note the use of electric fuses in the last video, which is probably a heck of a lot safer than black-powder fuses. We still don’t recommend it.)

67 thoughts on “Anvil Firing: Awesome Or Reckless?

      1. Generally in my experience the largest portion of youtube videos of people doing dangerous yet awesome things like this seem to come from eastern europe. I seem to vaguely recall reading they even have a special word for it.

        America definitely has the market cornered on videos of people firing guns incorrectly and injuring themselves though.

      1. Besides, this is a traditional (retrotacular) hack in order to make your common, garden-variety anvil airborne.

        Hack (v)
        The use of equipment or technology in a manner different to the object’s original purpose, usually to achieve added or different functionality

        Hack (n)
        The object of a hack

        1. The flying anvil isn’t used for any purpose. The flight itself is the purpose. Using gunpowder to blow things up isn’t a hack. That’s what gunpowder is meant for.

          So where’s the hack? Are we to assume that throwing anything that is not usually meant to be airborne is now a “hack”?

    1. Cant tell if trolling or serious with this question but I’ll bite. You dont have to stretch the definition of “hack” very far – nay if at all – to see that normally you wouldn’t see an anvil go flying through the air like that. This is clearly taking an object and making it do something well outside its normal operations. If your having trouble with the logic the hack is this: Anvils have been converted to projectile AND launch platform. Last I knew my brothers blacksmithing anvil wasn’t itching to go skyward. Not a very hard hack but people are doing things you normally wouldn’t do with one.

      1. I first perceived this article like a bit of a celebration of “blowing shit up for the heck of it” avoiding any mental stretch. Sort of like Brainiac.
        But fair enough, with your explanation I have to agree that this does qualify as a hack.
        Thank you for your comment :>

      2. Actually, you do have to stretch it too far to include this one as a hack.

        Suppose for example, if we place an anvil on a seesaw and jump on it to toss it in the air, is that a hack?

        In order to really qualify as a hack, the thing in question must accomplish some task. Using an anvil as a doorstop or a counterweight is a hack. Using an anvil as a boat anchor is a hack. Using an anvil as a wrecking ball is a hack. The common denominator is that the anvil is being used in an unconventional way to accomplish something else.

        Just throwing things in the air – with explosives or otherwise – isn’t a hack. First, the use of gunpowder isn’t a hack because that’s what gunpowder does – blow things up. Secondly, accepting that this IS a hack, we would have to concede that tossing anything – such as throwing your shoe in the air – is a hack, and that just dilutes the meaning of “a hack” to nothingness.

        1. “Suppose for example, if we place an anvil on a seesaw and jump on it to toss it in the air, is that a hack?”

          You figure out how to make it go that high by just jumping on a seesaw, and I’ll vote yes again.

      3. “normally you wouldn’t see an anvil go flying through the air like that”

        There’s plenty of things that normally don’t happen but which are perfectly possible, yet them being uncommon doesn’t make them hacks. Otherwise we would have to call every odd or peculiar event “a hack” and that again would completely change the meaning of the word.

        Unfortunately, today simple party tricks like balancing a pair of forks on top of a nail is getting called a “physics hack”, as if you somehow hacked the force of gravity to behave in a different way instead of just placing the center of mass below the fulcrum of the system.

  1. Of course it’s awesome.
    There are, I dare say, very few things that are both “safe” and “AWESOME.”
    And for people who are looking for a hack, YOU BE THE HACKER. Hack up a way to make this so repeatable that it is both safe AND awesome. Add it to the short list.
    And it’s not really strictly a U.S. (‘murica) sort of thing.
    For instance, Hammer Fireworks in Mexico. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVCQElI5T-A

    1. After watching a few amusing videos on YouTube, it becomes apparent that they compete for both height and landing as close as possible to the bottom anvil. Plus it’s just an excuse for a fun day out blowing stuff up while the kids try to dig the anvils out once they land :P If it exists, someone will make a competitive sport out of it…

    2. Since the anvil is fairly dense and the velocities involved are not that high, air resistance can be ignored and you can simply measure the time it takes from launch to “landing”…the more time it spends in the air obviously means it reached a higher altitude ;-)

    3. This is where we come in, we design/build an impact resistant board with accelerometer, GPS, and barometric pressure sensors (yes, I know it could be done with a couple of 555’s and 3 passive components) to measure the height the anvil acheives.

  2. The English language needs a word for “awesome and dangerous simultaneously”.

    The word you’re looking for is ‘awesome’. And whoever realized that anvils should fly is a genius.

  3. Full disclosure we used to do anvil firing, which is the proper term for this activity during our HAM radio activities. We also had a private target shooting range at the same location.

    This is a stretch but there is a bit of hacking going on here. The lower anvil must have a recess milled into it. The shape and size of this pocket greatly effects how high the other anvil goes. Additionally you need to experiment with gasket material and the amount of powder used. I know it’s a stretch but it defiantly used to scratch the same part of the brain that is used in traditional hacking.

    As you were… BTW other countries are into this sort of thing too.

  4. There’s always a way for Darwin to find a way into every human activity. If its not this that takes them out
    something else will. i.e. Microwave oven xfmrs, texting while driving etc.:

    1. “Personally I can’t see the point in doing it more than once unless you are making money from entertaining hill-billies.”
      Are you referring to “the joy of sex” or the anvil firing?

    1. John DeArmond once posted how they a group of guys at a nuclear power plant took 55 gallon barrels, dropped them down the vent tube on the roof, signaled the operator with walkie-talkies that they’d just dropped the barrel.
      The operator would then do an “emergency vent” and the barrel would launch so high that the guys on the roof lost sight of it, until it splashed down in the cooling pond. The fun ended when one landed on a car in the parking lot.

  5. The Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery has been firing a 21 Anvil Salute to the Queen every Victoria Day since 1860. Well, except for 1900. The year Victoria died. It’s a favourite tradition for the holiday in New Westminster.

    1. You’ve got to wonder how those traditions started.
      I can imagine someone firing anvils and a constable coming up and saying “What do you think you’re doing there?” And our quick witted anvil firer saying “It’s in honour of the Queen!”
      “Oh… well then, carry on.”

      Love the portable forge and the firing method.

  6. Aside from agreeing with Joey about ruining good anvils, I’m trying to work out the appropriate safe distance to be from a thing such as this, as to my mind they seemed to be well inside the potential kill-zone. Any physicists / ballsisticians care to comment?

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