Harmless Steam Cannon Shoots Ball Bearings (Oct, 1936)

Harmless Steam Cannon Shoots Ball Bearings

THIS tiny steam cannon operating in much the same manner as Archimedes famous cannon will prove an interesting project for the workshop. The cannon works in a very realistic manner simply by heating 3/8-inch steel bearings until they are red hot then dropping into the barrel of the cannon in which a small quantity of water has been poured. The hot bearing striking the water converts it into steam which immediately expands and shoots the bearing out of the cannon.

To build the cannon secure a 10-inch length of 3/8-inch pipe with a smooth inside surface. Tap one end and attach a cap and at the same time braze or solder two rods to the sides of the cannon barrel for swinging in the wooden cradle. The cradle is constructed from scrap stock with small cross braces inserted to add to the rigidity. Cut recesses in the top of the cradle to allow for the barrel axel rods then fasten the barrel in place by fastening metal straps over the rods as indicated in the pictorial diagrams. A short length of chain attached to the cap end of the cannon barrel permits adjustment of the barrel when firing the cannon.

For ammunition secure a number of 3/8-inch steel ball bearings then place over a wire grill and heat until red hot. A small amount of water is poured into the cannon followed by the hot bearing. The steam pressure will shoot the pellet high into the air.

12 comments
  1. Eamonnanchnuic says: September 10, 200710:45 am

    While this is the coolest toy I’ve seen in a while I can easily think of a half-dozen ways to kill yourself with it. For all extensive purposes this is a steam powered musket.

  2. jayessell says: September 10, 200711:40 am

    ‘This is obviously some strange usage of the word “safe” that I wasn’t previously aware of.’

    (Thanks and apologies to Douglas Adams.)

  3. Julie says: September 10, 20071:53 pm

    Shoot frolicking passers-by in the back with 3/8″ steel ball bearings! Harmless fun for everyone.

  4. Village Idiot says: September 11, 200712:47 pm

    Ball bearing cannons don’t kill people, people… aw, nevermind. At least the thermal mass of the likely still-hot bearing will cauterize the wound channel as it goes through your little sister.

  5. Erika says: September 11, 20075:23 pm

    now there’s a fun birthday gift for the whole family. Everything about it screams ‘Safe’, oh, except for the steam, cannon and hot ballbearing bits.

  6. MaggieL says: September 18, 20071:21 pm

    With any kind of luck, the hot steel ball will miss any living targets…we hope the cooling effect of making the steam will have cooled it below the ignition point of whatever it does land on.

    (“For all intents and purposes” is the idiom. I’ve heard it mangled to “all intensive purposes”, but “extensive” is a double-mangle.)

  7. Charlie says: September 18, 20071:32 pm

    All my life I thought it was “intensive purposes” until I was reading something in college and saw it written down. It was quite a “Doh!” moment for me.

  8. Finch says: May 5, 20086:19 am

    Well see the title says harmless “Cannon,” the non-harmless parts are the bearings. The cannon itself is safe as it gets.

  9. Curtis says: January 31, 201012:15 am

    How fast would that ball bearing be moving? I figure a red hot ball bearing moving at any speed would be quite damaging to someone.

  10. Rudy Eckner says: April 19, 20107:03 pm

    No, it is not dangerous. Maybe for crazy American kids it
    is not appropriate, but most technically inclined youngsters
    in the rest of the world know how to be careful with such
    things. At least adults don’t get hysterical letting them
    try interesting projects like this.

  11. Robert says: December 29, 20104:56 am

    Multiple ways to burn and injure, fun for the whole family.

  12. BaSH PR0MPT says: February 1, 20122:34 am

    Comment #1, “For all intents and purposes…”

    Further, I doubt you can think of a dozen ways to kill yourself with it, Eamonnanchnuic, as there are only four, three if ‘shooting yourself dead’ with it doesn’t work.

    1. Asphyxiate on the water.
    2. Stab yourself critically with the tube.
    3. Swallow enough ball bearings to choke to death.

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