The(long) Story of a Homemade Cannon

Discussion in 'Cannon' started by glw, Jun 18, 2013.

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  1. Jun 18, 2013 #1

    glw

    glw

    glw

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    My Dad once made a cannon ”“ from scratch. When you’re a kid of about 12 years old, that’s the coolest thing that’s ever going to happen to you.

    It all started when he got his Atlas metal lathe. He taught himself how to turn down all sort of metal things and was generally looking around for a project to test his skills. As it happens, I had just been looking at a book that had pictures of old British warships from the late 1700’s and thought it would be cool to make a cannon. I showed him a diagram of an old deck gun and he was off. He already had a pretty impressive workshop in the back yard and his job was such that he got home about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoons so he had lots of time in the evenings to work on things.

    I was not around for all of this but I helped whenever I could. He began by looking around for material that he could machine into the proper size and shape. We decided on a desktop sized one with a barrel of about six inches in length and about 1.25” in diameter at the base. This was all totally arbitrary but it looked good on paper. He didn’t have any metal that he could machine that was of that size so he decided to melt some and cast a blank into the right size. He could only melt low temperature stuff so it was either aluminum or brass; he chose brass. He had recently also gotten a small propane-powered forge and so he made up a mold, gathered up a handful of old plumbing parts and other brass detritus and cast himself a blank.

    We also had a lot of walnut lumber laying around. He delivered the mail out in the country and noticed a walnut tree that had died or gotten knocked down in a storm. He got the permission of the owner to take it out with help from his buddies; they hauled it to a sawmill, had it cut into lumber, and divided it up amongst themselves. He built things from that stockpile for years. For this project he build the gun carriage out of some of this walnut.

    He slowly turned down the blank and drilled it out to make the barrel. In the end, it was a very nice looking model. I was extremely proud of it and him. It was definitely the coolest thing around in my estimation. Nobody else’s Dad ever did anything other than go fishing occasionally or, in rare instances, kill a deer. This was way outside anybody else’s league. Then I asked:

    “Do you think it would really shoot?”

    At that point, he was off again. In retrospect, this is probably the last thing anybody should ever do. But we did it.

    Another thing we did together was skeet shooting. To save a bit of money, we reloaded our shells and so we had a small tin of shotgun shell gunpowder. He used some of this to experiment with shooting our cannon.

    As I recall (and this is obscured by about 40 years of time so my memories may not be completely accurate), he first put in a small charge (roughly half a standard shotgun shell load) and stuffed a piece of rag into the muzzle on top of it. He then pulled the bullet out of a .22 shell and poured that smaller-grained powder into the touchhole. He then put a long fireplace match on a stick and lit it from a distance. I seem to recall that he put the cannon just outside his shop door and we got inside behind the wall while he lit it and he then ducked back inside until we heard something happen.

    The first couple of shots just fizzled ”“ the powder went off but just kind of tossed the wadding a foot or so. He slowly ramped the situation up by tamping it harder and harder until it went off with a POP and tossed the wadding 10 feet or so. Finally, he rolled a ball bearing down the muzzle on top of the wadding. We had moved it out into the yard by that time and aimed the cannon at an oak tree just in case. He lit the touch hole and sprinted for the shop door where I was hiding behind the wall. It took about three seconds for the touchhole powder to burn down to the main charge.

    It went off with a huge BOOM much like a shotgun would. We looked out and saw nothing. The cannon had disappeared. At first, he was worried that the entire thing had exploded like a pipe bomb but we went outside and saw it about 15 feet back. The carriage was on little wooden wheels and the recoil had rolled it back and up the hill a bit. Everything was intact.

    I was thrilled. I jumped up and down with the enormous coolness of it all.

    He walked downrange and inspected the tree. There was a hole there and with his pocketknife, he plumbed the depths and discovered that the ball had imbedded itself about an inch into the old oak tree.

    Again, I will write this down and be official: we should never have done this. It was a potential pipe bomb. But that’s all behind us now and we achieved a shining success. Well, HE did. I was basically a spectator but the reader can imagine how awesome it was to be a part of this at your father’s elbow like that.

    In the subsequent couple of years, we fired it maybe three more times ”“ just to show it to my older brothers when they came home for a visit. The cannon was retired as only marginally safe to the bookshelf. Before Dad passed away I asked him for it and he gave it to me. It sits in my house now as one of my most treasured possessions.

    Life is not a competition ”“ or if it is, then the competition is only with yourself. But I still don’t feel that I’ve done anything in my life that measures up to this even though I have a Ph.D. in physics and have done my own share of building things and doing projects with my kids. If Dad were here, he’d probably tell a different story and would claim that this little project was no more impressive than any of my own accomplishments. I guess it’s all about the impressions you make or the experiences you share or something like that.

    But he built a cannon. From raw materials: a tree and some scrap metal. That is just astronomically awesome.
     
  2. Jun 18, 2013 #2

    Col. Batguano

    Col. Batguano

    Col. Batguano

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  3. Jun 18, 2013 #3

    KABAR2

    KABAR2

    KABAR2

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    Good memories... :thumbsup: if you can post a photo of your Dad's creation....
    I am glad it held up to shooting and am also glad the shooting stopped as it should never have been tried with smokeless powder...your are right it could have been turned into a pipe bomb...
     
  4. Jun 18, 2013 #4

    Rifleman1776

    Rifleman1776

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    Great story.
    But............. :photoSmile:
     
  5. Jun 19, 2013 #5

    trent/OH

    trent/OH

    trent/OH

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    1. Is the oak tree still alive?

    2. Is the ball bearing still in it?

    That slice of tree with the ball showing would be a GREAT family treasure displayed alongside the cannon. And the tree rings could help tell the story!
     
  6. Jun 19, 2013 #6

    glw

    glw

    glw

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    According to Google street view, the tree is still there. Presumably, the ball is still embedded; he never bothered to dig it out.

    I'll post a photo soon - my home PC crashed. I have all my photos on an external backup so it will take awhile to rebuild my files.
     
  7. Jun 20, 2013 #7

    warhawk77

    warhawk77

    warhawk77

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    Great story. It sounds a lot like my dad too. I might call him tonight and share the story. :idunno: Only thing is he would be one to try it at home. :grin:
     
  8. Jun 27, 2013 #8

    glw

    glw

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    Here's a photo.

    [​IMG]
     
  9. Jun 27, 2013 #9

    rmagill

    rmagill

    rmagill

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    That's a great story, really cool that you still have the cannon
     
  10. Jun 28, 2013 #10

    TheDoubleD

    TheDoubleD

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    You need to write this story up and fold up and put it in a small envelope and attach it to the bottom of the gun carriage...the provenance will be priceless to some one in your family in the future.

    Thanks for sharing.
     
  11. Jun 29, 2013 #11

    Old Creek

    Old Creek

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    that is a great story, thank you so much for sharing it. one look at the cannon and it is plain to see your dad was a very skilled craftsman and it sounds like he was a greay dad to have raise you.
    brings back lots of memorys of my own daddy.

    creek
     
  12. Jul 5, 2013 #12

    MSW

    MSW

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    great story - thanks for the post, by the way, I agree with DD - you should write this out longhand and paste it under the cannon's carriage.

    make good smoke (but probably not with the cannon)!
     
  13. Aug 27, 2013 #13

    satx78247

    satx78247

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    curious newbie,

    GREAT STORY & I'm sure that it is a treasured family memory, that will last for generations.

    yours, satx
     
  14. Aug 27, 2013 #14

    mazo kid

    mazo kid

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    Truly...great story. I'm glad you still have the cannon. You know, it looks a lot like my first one except your dad turned the barrel to be more decorative. I made my barrel out of steel and fired it with black powder, mostly on the 4th of July and the kids loved to touch it off!
     
  15. Oct 12, 2013 #15

    matt denison

    matt denison

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    "But he built a cannon. From raw materials: a tree and some scrap metal. That is just astronomically awesome."


    That is awsome and so is your story. Thanks for sharing it.

    :bow:
     

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