3D-Printed Thermite Brings The Heat, And The Safety

Thermites are a double-edged sword. Packing a tremendous energy density, and eager to produce tremendous heat when ignited, thermite is great for welding train tracks. But sometimes you might be looking for a little more finesse. A new approach to 3D printing thermites might just be able to tame the beast.

Most of us do our soldering while sitting safely indoors in a comfortable climate. The biggest dangers we’re likely to face are burnt fingertips, forgetting the heat shrink, or accidentally releasing the smoke monster. But outside of our homes and workshops, there’s a lot of extreme joining of metals going on. No matter where it’s done, welding and brazing in the field requires a lot of equipment, some of which is unwieldy and even more difficult to move around in harsh conditions.

Welding railroad tracks with thermite. Image via YouTube

The utility of brazing is limited by all the complex scaffolding of hardware required to support it. This limiting factor and the discovery of thermite led to exothermic welding, which uses an energetic material to provide enough heat to melt a filler metal and join the pieces. Energetic materials can store a lot of chemical energy and forcefully release it in a short period of time.

Thermites are made of metal oxide and metal powder, often iron oxide and aluminium. When ignited by a source of high heat, thermite compounds undergo an exothermic reduction-oxidation (redox) reaction as the aluminium reduces the number of electrons in the iron oxide atoms. More heat makes the reaction run faster, generating more heat, and so on. The result is molten iron and aluminium oxide slag.

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Enjoying Some Exothermic Welding, With Thermite!

There probably aren’t many people out there who aren’t aware of what thermite is and how it demonstrates the power of runaway exothermic reactions. Practical applications that don’t involve destroying something are maybe less known. This is where the use of thermite for creating welds is rather interesting, as shown in this video by [Finn] that is also embedded after the break.

In the video, one can see how [Finn] uses thermite charges to weld massive copper conductors together in a matter of seconds inside a graphite mold. Straight joints, T-joints, and others are a matter of putting the conductors into the mold, pushing a button and watching the fireworks. After a bit of cleaning the slag off, a solid, durable weld is left behind.

The official name for this process is ‘exothermic welding‘, and it has been in use since the 19th century. Back then it was used primarily for rail welding. These days it sees a lot of use in high-voltage wiring and other applications, as in the linked video. The obvious advantage of exothermic welding is that the resulting joint is strong and durable, on account of the two surfaces having been permanently joined.

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Hackaday Podcast 073: Betrayal By Clipboard, Scratching 4K, Flaming Solder Joints, And Electric Paper

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams review a great week in the hacking world. There’s an incredible 4k projector build that started from a broken cellphone, a hand-cranked player (MIDI) piano, and a woeful story of clipboard vulnerabilities found in numerous browsers and browser-based apps. Plus you’ll love the field-ready solder splice that works like a strike-on box match (reminiscent of using thermite to weld railroad rail) and we spend some time marveling at the problem of finding power cuts on massive grid systems.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Copper Thermite Explodes And Smolders Successfully

It was quite a surprise to learn that thermite isn’t just rust and aluminum powder, but describes any combination of metal powder, metal oxide, and optionally fuel mixed together in a reactive ratio.  [sciencewithscreens] shows us some of the properties of a copper (II) oxide based thermite.

We can only assume he has a thing for copper as an element. After growing his copper crystal it wasn’t long before he followed a winding road of copper based experiments and found himself with a supply of copper (II) oxide after rendering it from common household chemicals. He had two missions for it. The first was to witness an unfettered copper oxide based thermite reaction. Some had assured him it was practically explosive. The other was to attempt refining pure copper using the reaction. That would be pretty cool considering it all started out as an impure blend of laundry detergents and fertilizer.

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Laptop Vs Thermite: Slow Motion Destruction

thermitethumb

Years ago we covered using thermite to destroy a hard drive. The idea is that if you melt through the platters, the data is completely unrecoverable.  There are tons of videos of people doing this, but they all have a similar format. There’s a hard drive, with a flower pot or soda can sitting on top full of thermite. They then light this with a strip of magnesium and a torch.

I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to implement thermite as a self destruct mechanism inside the device. To do this, I had to come up with a way to ignite the thermite. This stuff is very difficult to light. You have to get it really really hot. The easiest way is to use magnesium, which itself isn’t the easiest thing to light.

What I finally landed on was an ignition system that uses model rocket igniters, gun powder, and magnesium to light the thermite.  The model rocket igniter can be set off from the 12v line inside your computer. However, it isn’t hot enough to light magnesium shavings, much less thermite. To get it to work, I needed to add some gunpowder. A small amount of gun powder would get hot enough to light the magnesium shavings, which in turn were hot enough to light the thermite. I had to be careful though, because too much gunpowder would cause a rapid expansion, blowing the thermite everywhere instead of lighting it. You can actually see some red thermite being blown out of the external hard drive and the laptop as the gunpowder ignites.

Effectiveness of external hard drive self destruction:

I wasn’t sure about this one. There isn’t a whole lot of space for thermite and the ignition system inside the box. On top of that, the only space was at the side of the hard drive, where the walls are the thickest. I had no idea if the small amount of thermite I used would penetrate the drive. It did, just barely as you can see in these pictures. It looks as if it pooled in the screw holes  and made it inside. The platters are damaged.

Effectiveness of laptop destruction:

I decided to completely replace the cd rom with thermite. This gave me a ton of space to put things. I was pretty positive this would work. The hard drive is in the center of this laptop, which meant I had to place it on its side for this to be effective. You can see the thermite work its way down toward the drive in the video. As you can see in the pictures below, the drive cover is completely gone and the platters are destroyed. Success!

Since this system can be powered by batteries or the internal power of your computer, it can be put inside a working device only to be used when needed. Obviously it is a ridiculous fire hazard that no one should bother with. It was a fun experiment though and I really feel like it is something that would fit in well in the world of [James Bond]

Thanksgiving With Thermite

For those in the states, Happy Thanksgiving. Whether or not you celebrate the traditional holiday, you might still want to take a moment to think of what you are thankful for. We are thankful for our readers, who drive us to keep posting projects and challenge us to improve our skills. The Hackers, who supply us projects to write about, both simple and complicated. We are thankful for our bosses, who employ us to do this awesome stuff and only beat us occasionally. And we are thankful for thermite, which burns oh so bright and looks oh so pretty.

Join us after the break to see a turkey, roasted with thermite in slow motion.

[via Neatorama]

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Hard Drive Destruction Plan

[Wolf] emailed us to show us his Self destructing Hard Drive tutorial. He’s using thermite, like we did, but he’s put a little more effort into the delivery system. In the video, you can see a huge spray molten iron. This is because his “jet”, the block of wood hollowed out to focus the thermite on to the hard drive didn’t hold a seal at the top. Not too bad for try #1. He could probably build this to be more contained, but even then it will most likely turn into “entire self destructing office” if it were to actually be used. A little common sense goes a long way here folks, this is molten metal and is extremely hot and dangerous.