Boom!
February 28, 2005 11:42 AM   Subscribe

This guy I work with told me that if one were to put steel wool inside a microwave and turn it on, it would cause a large explosion. Normally I would call his bluff, but the dude was in Nam and has an extensive understanding of improvised explosives. I'm tempted to drive out into the middle of nowhere (one of the perks of living in the West) with a long extension cord and a generator (or car engine adaptor) and giving it a shot. My question is, have I been had? Is this guy telling me the truth?

And how far back should I be?!
posted by punkbitch to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total)
 
They did this on Mythbusters. It did not cause an explosion, but the steel wool did spark, pop and create an impressive-looking fire. I wouldn't try it at home unless you feel like replacing your microwave.
posted by headspace at 11:53 AM on February 28, 2005


A guy I worked with once had a brain cramp, and put a stainless steel gravy boat in a commercial microwave. It put on quite a light show for about 10 seconds... then died. The only explosion came from the owner, who almost fired the poor bastard. I don't know about steel wool, but I would hope that there is some sort of protection circuitry involved to prevent a tragic outcome.
posted by lobstah at 12:00 PM on February 28, 2005


According to headspace, it just starts a fire. Perhaps your colleague meant it would be used as a "primer charge" to ignite some fuel vapor also placed inside the microwave? That would make a big explosion, but I don't know if the fuel would go up before the steel wool ignited. I remember reading somewhere that a cup of gasoline in vapor form inside an cubic foot of closed space has the explosive power of a stick of dynamite.

We should ask Steven Seagal, he made a microwave bomb in Under Siege.
posted by beaverd at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2005


If they can't answer yer question on this site, I don't know who can.
Hours of sciencey fun!
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:20 PM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


You can take a piece of steel wool and touch a 9 volt battery to it in order to start a fire. Works best if you unroll the steel wool.

Great for those times when you're stranded in the woods without lighter, matches, flint & steel, or fire by friction kit (you know, bow, spindle, fireboard, thunderhead, and some goober dust) and you really need a fire.
posted by J-Garr at 12:20 PM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


You can find other interesting things you should put in your microwave and the consequence of doing so here.

As for steal wool... Metal itslf is not necessarily dangerous in the microwave. What is dangerous is metal with edges/points because edges lead to arc-ing. Since steel wool is pretty much entirely edges, I would say don't put it in the microwave. I can't imagine why it would explode, but it would certainly make a giant ball of sparks. But unless you've put some paper or something flammable in there, I don't know what would catch fire and unless you've put something explosive in there, I don't see why it would explode*.

* On writing this, it occurs to me that SOS-type pads contain some pretty powerful chemicals, and though I don't know anything about those chemicals, it seems conceivable that they could be explosive if heated and exposed to sparks.
posted by duck at 12:21 PM on February 28, 2005


Great minds think and post alike, duck.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:27 PM on February 28, 2005


I'm really disappointed that the site Dr. Wu and duck linked to doesn't have pictures.
posted by casu marzu at 1:01 PM on February 28, 2005


It looks kinda like this.
posted by esch at 1:30 PM on February 28, 2005


Saturate the steel wool with gasoline first, then cover the vents in the microwave. The gasoline will vaporize and get trapped in the microwave and then when the steel wool starts arcing - BOOM. Don't try this at home kids.
posted by caddis at 1:33 PM on February 28, 2005


(In a related "let's set things on fire" note, if you light up a ping pong ball, it will make a little mini blowtorch. Until it comes perilously close to burning your fingers off.)
posted by onlyconnect at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2005


Other fun (and non-lethal) stuff to put in a microwave: grapes.
posted by blag at 1:55 PM on February 28, 2005


Hey, the guy was in Vietnam! The last time I checked they didn't have too many microwaves over there during this time period. The VC wasn't nuking its rice balls out in the bush.

As a former GI I can tell you that the guy was yanking your chain. As anyone who's been in the service can tell you its real easy to pass off any BS as truth when your talking to non-military types.

CD's, especially those annoying AOL ones, put on a good show in the nuker.
posted by berek at 2:07 PM on February 28, 2005


Aha, I knew this link would come in handy some day:

YOU CAN USE METAL IN A MICROWAVE OVEN by Seth Levinson
posted by mrbill at 2:31 PM on February 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


Berek, punkbitch only said the guy knew about explosives from his career in Viet Nam. -- not that he put steel wool in a microwave oven in Viet Nam. And though they didn't have microwave ovens in Viet Nam, they did have microwave communications technology: see Army Specialties 26L, 26T, and 26V.

A lot of ex-military guys do try to BS civilians, which is a pretty laughable process to watch, and maybe they even succeed sometimes. I don't know that he was intentionally bullshitting here, though -- maybe just repeating something he heard. The fact that he's a veteran probably doesn't make him an authority on domestic microwave abuse.
posted by Miko at 2:43 PM on February 28, 2005


A lot of ex-military guys do try to BS civilians,

A lot of active duty military types try to BS civilians, see it all the time at work.

25 years ago when I was working in a 7-11, two kids came in the store. They grabbed a bunch of tinfoil from the hot dog prep area, crumpled it up in a ball, put it in the microwave and bolted out the door. It smoked out the whole store, stinking of burning insulation. If I ever catch those little pricks....
posted by fixedgear at 3:43 PM on February 28, 2005


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