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The sometimes fatal cost of this hobby


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#41 Frozentech

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 11:36 PM

I myself was almost in the same boat as Tad. I had used my small garage as my shell making area but I didn't store any made materials within the garage. I had been making stars the previous week or two and had also just made up about 25# of homemade lift charge for my shells. This was already on rice hulls so it filled up a garbage bag full.
I came into my garage to do something and stepped on a star that had errantly gotten on the floor which immediately took fire. I noticed which direction that it was pointing to and closed my eyes and ran for the door. I was no more than 10 feet from the door which was closed when the I heard the worst noise ever in my life. I was in the garage for no more that 2 to 3 seconds before I was out the door rolling on the ground trying to put out the fire that was on the back of my shirt.
The fire from the star ignited the rice hull and bp mixture which filled the garage with fire engulfing me. I sustained 3rd degree burns to both arms to the elbow. Burned of a good majority of my hair, which I had the burn unit shave me bald, burns on my back 2nd degree. They took skin grafts from my legs to fix my arms.
The garage sustained major burns but didn't explode since I wasn't playing with flash or anything like. All 100# of my stars burnt up as well as about $5000 worth of chemicals but I am still here.
This happened February 28th, 2006.


Thanks for sharing that. Do you mind if I keep a copy of that post and use it in safety discussions ? I would attribute it to "an anonymous pyrotechnician".
" I'm gonna say we've reached the limitations of that rocket's thrust " - Cplmac

#42 Swede

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 12:20 PM

Dr. Dudley, thank you for sharing that. I had severe burns once (not pyro related) and I understand what you went through.

This is a valuable lesson, and I DO NOT mean to belittle Dr. Dudley IN ANY WAY, but storage of 25 pounds of BP on rice in a garbage bag? Powerful/flammable/explosive comps need to be stored in something much more substantial. If you don't use a magazine, at the very least, put stuff like riced BP inside one (or more) of those HDPE buckets. For $6, you've got a 5 gallon airtight container that will withstand stray sparks, the fallout from minor pops and such in a shop, and the burning, rolling star... the star might have burned through the bucket and ignited the BP, but I think it would have given him time, much more time, to evacuate.

I hope you have all the medical, financial and hopefully (no) legal issues well behind you. Again, thanks, it could hapen to me or anyone, but we need to think about how we store compositions.
Charcoal is a preservative, by which the saltpetre and brimstone are made into gunpowder, by preventing the sulphur from suffocating the strong and windy exhalation of the nitre.

#43 FREAKYDUTCHMEN

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 01:22 PM

Mr dudley, that sounds more like a fireworks factory to me. 100# of stars and a bag full of coated ricehulls.
I'm glad you're still alive and telling this story, that makes us more cautious.

#44 FrankRizzo

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Posted 11 September 2008 - 06:39 PM

Mr. Dudley,

The newspaper article says you lit a fireworks insert and kicked it away into other explosive material?

#45 whitefox77

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 08:00 PM

Mr. Dudley,

The newspaper article says you lit a fireworks insert and kicked it away into other explosive material?


Which would be newspaper ease for saying he stepped on a star which ignited and rolled into a bag of lift charge.

#46 spitfire

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Posted 23 September 2008 - 01:37 PM

I have a pyrobuddy who always tells story's about one of his pyrofriends some years ago. He died in a terrible accident while pouring his 20 pound ballmill contents onto a large sieve, placed over a bucket. It happenend on a cold dry day, so the cause was probably static electricity sparks. He was known for his large round shells, wich he produced in dozens at a time. I didn't knew him in person, but have read a lot from him, seen pictures and footage of him building shells with friends, including my pyrobuddy. His shop was totally distroyed and he died one day after the accident from his burn injuries. leaving behind his wife and 3-year old daughter.

always think twice of what you are doing, never forget what you are working with.
Churchill, you're drunk.... Yes, Mary, and you are ugly. But i'm sober tomorrow.

#47 Swede

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Posted 23 September 2008 - 01:48 PM

Spitfire, do you have ANY idea what the contents of the mill were? If it was plain old BP, that will surely give pause. We all (me included) get a bit too comfortable with BP.

I count myself fortunate in that Texas winters are almost always exceptionally damp.
Charcoal is a preservative, by which the saltpetre and brimstone are made into gunpowder, by preventing the sulphur from suffocating the strong and windy exhalation of the nitre.

#48 spitfire

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Posted 23 September 2008 - 02:04 PM

His millingdrum was made from large PVC pipe and an screw-lid at one end. The lid being almost half the diameter of the drum. So basically, it was a giant bottle from PVC. As i recall the story correct, he used round lead media. At it's maximum load, he milled 10 kilograms BP at a time for 24 hours. That should be around 20 - 22 pounds. It was huge, i might be able to get you some pictures of his mill and shop.
All ingredients he milled where as dry as they could be. So when pooring it out on the sieve, you can imagine what quality this BP might have been. Dry and dusty on a freezing dry day.
it might have been stupid of him, nonetheless he paid the price, and his wife and daughter untill this day.
Churchill, you're drunk.... Yes, Mary, and you are ugly. But i'm sober tomorrow.

#49 Swede

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 07:53 AM

Hmm, I can see that. Mill dust forming a small but dense cloud, a static spark...

Some thoughts: On a cold winter day, it might pay to dampen BP in a mill jar, and respect static as if you were working with FP. Use grounding straps, spray, and a mat. Rather than dumping the mill jar over a screen, scoop it out gently to keep dust down.

Or better yet, make your BP only when the conditions are acceptable, humidity is up.

A cheap relative humidity meter can be had for very little money, and it might be a good addition to a workshop, with a warning, "Thou shalt not risk anything sensitive to static when the RH is below 40%."
Charcoal is a preservative, by which the saltpetre and brimstone are made into gunpowder, by preventing the sulphur from suffocating the strong and windy exhalation of the nitre.

#50 Mumbles

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 10:03 AM

I've seen figures that said that BP was more sensitive to static when damp actually. I'll see if I can find the source of that.
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#51 tentacles

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 10:59 AM

It could have been impact welding from the lead media bashing each other, also. I imagine the media weighed something like 200-300lbs for that size of batch, and more than like they were not mere 1/2-3/4" balls... if you drop lead onto things, if it hits right, it will actually weld itself to what it hit. Also, BP is known to be impact ignitable - it's not easy, but it can happen. With a batch this size, who knows how big the media were, and how far they were falling. More details would be very good to have.

#52 spitfire

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 02:39 PM

More details would be very good to have.



i'll get back to this detail later.
Churchill, you're drunk.... Yes, Mary, and you are ugly. But i'm sober tomorrow.

#53 FrankRizzo

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 02:58 PM

I've seen figures that said that BP was more sensitive to static when damp actually. I'll see if I can find the source of that.


I remember reading the same. IIRC, 4% was the magic number.

#54 Swede

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 08:09 AM

You guys are right, I do remember now reading about that. Maybe a heavier dampness would be appropriate despite the mess. Once separated from the media, the 10% (give or take) damp BP could go right into a press.
Charcoal is a preservative, by which the saltpetre and brimstone are made into gunpowder, by preventing the sulphur from suffocating the strong and windy exhalation of the nitre.

#55 Frozentech

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 09:56 PM

i'll get back to this detail later.


I have seen a U.S. Bureau of Mines study from the 1930's, that said BP was most susceptible to ignition from static at 6% moisture.
I'll be damned if I can find my copy of the paper though. Maybe I can find it again online.
" I'm gonna say we've reached the limitations of that rocket's thrust " - Cplmac

#56 Adrigal1234

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 04:41 PM

I am a real green Newbee and after seeing this and all the articles and the Obituary I am doing nothing more until I have read every last bit of safety information on the entire forum. It is sad I think that his obituary mentions nothing of his obvious love of pyrotechnics. I am Just so glad I joined this fantastic forum.

#57 Juderunner

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 09:08 AM

Hello, I am new here (and new to the hobby), just introducing myself and wanted to ask a question of Dr Dudley. Thanks first, Dr Dudley for sharing that story. I have been lurking in rec.pyrotechnics for a while now and people there don't seem as willing to share mistakes (probably because other posters are very harsh and judgmental at times). It helps to hear stories like that, which are sober reminders about how dangerous can be (are) in this hobby.

I certainly did not know that a star could ignite simply by stepping on it. I haven't progressed yet to making stars, so me not knowing that isn't very significant since I know very little about stars. It (rightly) rattles me to realize that something as innocuous as stepping on a star could have such dire consequences. Your incredibly quick decision-making to leave, rather than try to put out the star or "fix" the situation is admirable. I have read about other people who had accidents who first tried to douse the star, or put out flames, which only ended up burning them worse. I have spent many night over the last few weeks going over my accident plan and trying to train myself to simply RUN when something bad happens, rather than sticking around to "fix" things... as is my nature. Figuring out which situations are "run" worthy, and which should be quickly addressed by using the water bucket, fire extinguisher or sand is something I am still learning/researching.

May I ask, what were the stars made of? Was it the prime that made them that sensitive? I realize this may be a dumb question that will be answered when I begin studying about star making... forgive me for my ignorance.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing that and giving me yet another reason to be VERY careful. I don't ever plan on making batches the size that you were making, but I realize that may be a very naive statement that all beginning pyros make, before they get the "fever" to do more and more.

Cheers to the group, I have had a lot of fun and learned much from reading and lurking here thus far. Thank you all for sharing.

#58 Yankie

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 05:45 PM

*SNIP*

May I ask, what were the stars made of? Was it the prime that made them that sensitive? I realize this may be a dumb question that will be answered when I begin studying about star making... forgive me for my ignorance.

*SNIP*


Welcome to the forum Juderunner, it is good to know that you are safety concious.

The star I beleive was chlorate based, which can be quite sensetive. If you stick to KNO3 based stars and KClO4 (not as safe as KNO3 but safer than chlorate) Then you should be right. You could hit a TT star (basic KNO3 based charcoal streamer) with a hammer and 9/10 times nothing would happen.

I don't ever plan on making batches the size that you were making, but I realize that may be a very naive statement that all beginning pyros make, before they get the "fever" to do more and more.


Haha you are right about that being naive, I said I would never make anything bigger than a 4", now I am planning to make some 6" shells this year :P

EDIT: I could have sworn I read it was a chlorate star somewhere, I may be thinking of a different article. But as tentacles describes below it was more than likely one of the chlorate or AP compositions.

Edited by Yankie, 12 March 2009 - 06:15 PM.

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#59 tentacles

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 06:10 PM

I'm pretty sure that fellow never mentioned what formula or components were in that star. My suspicion it was a sensitive mix to start with - chlorate/sulfur, chlorate/trisulfide, an AP based strobe. Regardless, keep your explosives clear of the floor! It helps to have a CLEAN floor, as well, dirt = sand, and sand is a great friction sensitizer. Another great suggestion is to store your stuff properly, garbage bags on the floor of your shop is obviously a particularly poor choice. Buckets, heavy plastic tubs, metal boxes, etc. If you've got room, one of those steel "JOBOX" type toolboxes is a good place to use as a temporary storage or an indoor 'magazine'.

Edited by tentacles, 12 March 2009 - 06:13 PM.


#60 FloraNuno

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 03:32 AM

Be careful whit what you all do ! I have hurt my self many times and never liked to go to the hospital.




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