How to break a bottle menacingly?
December 7, 2012 3:44 AM   Subscribe

What is the correct technique for smashing a beer bottle to ready it for use as an improvised stabbing weapon?

I was reading Pratchett's Night Watch and came across a scene where Pratchett makes it sound a lot more difficult to menacingly break a bottle than I would have thought. Apparently, if the bottle hits at the wrong angle or in the wrong way you end up with a hand full of broken glass. Vimes gives a besotted amateur only a one in five chance of ending up with the weapon he's trying to create, an intact neck with some pointy bits on the end. So, how's it done?

I'm aware that brandishing broken glass would be a criminal offence and that using a broken bottle as a weapon would constitute assault with a deadly weapon. This is a very hypothetical question, information useful to me only if time travel takes me to a wild west saloon. I'm just curious about how it's done.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard from multiple sources - though I cannot envision its working any better - that one should do it opposite from what is always seen in movies. That is, hold the bottom of the bottle and strike the neck against a solid object.

The great likelihood is that these sources had exactly the same first-hand knowledge I do - nil. It seems an awkward way to hold it, and I think the most breakable part of the bottle, the thinnest glass, is now in your hand. Huh?
posted by wjm at 4:32 AM on December 7, 2012

The best people to answer this question are probably those who practice martial arts which make use of available weapons - like Krav Maga. I suspect that a real life bar-room brawler would soon learn that it is never a good idea of "break a bottle menacingly" for several reasons:
1. It makes a noise which will alert both the victim and potential witnesses.
2. It may not work right - leaving the attacker with a cut hand or a stubbornly intact bottle.
3. Having a broken bottle in ones hand looks rather incriminating.

The only time I have seen people getting attacked with bottles has been where the attacker approached the victim from behind end hit them over the head with the intact bottle. This page on how to create weapons from improvised articles places bottles in the "club" category for this reason. If you want a stabbing weapon then you could start with an umbrella, fork or ball point pen. If there happens to already be a broken bottle on the floor then, and only then, you could use that.
posted by rongorongo at 4:33 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The weakest thinest part of the bottle is in fact not the neck. The thinnest part is the very bottom of the side. The weakest part is where the bottom meets the side as that is either pressed in or actually a separate peice of glass... best way in my mind is to hit the bottle exactly on that edge. I'm out of town today but watch this thread tomorrow. I have a space conducive to this test... and plenty of empties...
posted by chasles at 4:44 AM on December 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

So, how's it done?

It isn't. That only happens in movies.
posted by mhoye at 4:44 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never seen a broken neck from a beer bottle.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:47 AM on December 7, 2012

Were I in a situation where I required a broken bottle as a weapon, I'd risk invoking the ire of another bar patron by grabbing a full bottle and striking the top, using the water hammer effect to blow out the bottom. But I'm an xkcd style villain. YMMV.
posted by bfranklin at 5:01 AM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: So, how's it done?

It isn't. That only happens in movies.
posted by mhoye at 12:44 PM on December 7

Glassing, however, is very real. I have seen someone glassed in the face a mere three feet away from me, and it was deeply messy and unpleasant. When I frequented the sort of places where this was not uncommon it was back in the seventies and eighties, in England, and people did not tend to drink beer out of bottles. That could account for it.

On the specific question, it is largely true that whacking the fat end of a beer bottle against a table edge can leave you with either a mess of shards or a not-ideal remnant left in the hand. I have seen it done "correctly" and as far as I recall the individual in question rapped the bottle very smartly against a table edge, striking just above the base. Of course, he may have just got lucky. Some testing would seem to be in order. Wear goggles.
posted by Decani at 5:06 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

chasles, please wear gloves. And please report back!

I think the problem will be that even similar bottles (say, the same brand of beer bottle) will break differently. One might break across the bottle, while another seemingly identical bottle will break long-ways, even if you strike it against a table (or whatever) at exactly the same spot and with the exact same angle.
posted by Houstonian at 5:13 AM on December 7, 2012

Yup, bottling/glassing is real.

One thing I'd add: British pubs used to have bar mats, and wrapping something around your hand when you break the bottle saves your hand.

Also: from having seen people taking tops off wine bottles with swords, you really want the thinnest edge to break your bottle on - i.e. hit against - that you can. You're looking for a lot of pressure in a small area so as not to smash the length of the bottle.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:42 AM on December 7, 2012

Just for the record I don't think the broken bottle would be good for stabbing. It is more for slicing or cutting and would only be really effective on the face. It is more of weapon of fear than actual damage. I wouldn't even use a bottle in a knife fight.
posted by JJ86 at 5:57 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been in the vicinity of a few bar fights where a bottle was used. In every instance the only attempt to break the bottle was over the other guy's head so I am thinking it's more useful when used in that manner than as an improvised stabbing weapon. I've never seen anyone try to break a bottle for use as an immediate weapon.
posted by three blind mice at 5:59 AM on December 7, 2012

It happens in real life and happened to a family member, blinding him in one eye and mangling his face. I wouldn't discount the value of adrenaline/drunkenness in the glass breaker which would probably make them a little more forceful and swift in their glass breaking move.
posted by saltwater at 6:19 AM on December 7, 2012

In every instance the only attempt to break the bottle was over the other guy's head so I am thinking it's more useful when used in that manner than as an improvised stabbing weapon.

I have been hit in the head with a beer bottle, hard enough to knock me down and see stars (plus need stitches). It didn't break the bottle. I've seen the same thing happen to other people a fair number of times, and also never saw the bottle break. So a sideways answer to the question is that unbroken bottles make pretty good weapons on their own, and they are used that way in real life bar fights all the time.
posted by Forktine at 6:45 AM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: Personal experience, not science: the bottle will break easier if it has some fluid in it. Hit the lower third of the bottle against something with an edge.
posted by dubold at 7:12 AM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: Here is a bottle I just broke.

"Kirin" imported beer bottle, I would say on the thinner side compared to the average beer bottle. Struck on the top corner of a brick wall, hit the side of the bottle close to the bottom, at about a 45 degree angle. Took about 4 strikes to gauge the force needed. Ended up needing to raise the bottle about 30cms and bring it down fast. Reckon given a couple of bottles to practice with and a hard edge, could break first try most times. Given a pub setting, and the obvious place to smash a bottle, the wooden bar, I think the slightly softer material would make it harder to do consistently, but still very doable. I think a thicker beer bottle would actually make it easier, as the necks on solid beer bottles seem much stronger comparatively.

The edges on the bottle are very nasty and jagged, but look quite fragile, with multiple cracks throughout the main part of the remaining bottle (but none in the neck). I would still not want it near my face/arms/legs/torso.
posted by lrobertjones at 7:13 AM on December 7, 2012 [12 favorites]

Wow, this thread is violent.

Anyhow, I think it would make more sense for one to hold the bottle in a fixed manner, and then to break the bottle with some nearby blunt object such as a napkin dispenser. This would take the angular uncertainty element out of the picture.

I think I need to buy a 6 pack and test out my hypothesis.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2012

It is more for slicing or cutting and would only be really effective on the face. It is more of weapon of fear than actual damage.

I'm afraid being glassed or bottled in the face causes a hell of a lot of actual damage, including blinding and death from a sliced carotid artery. The instinct is to turn the face away from the thrust, and that's why the latter disastrous result occurs so often in such attacks. Ever seen "The Long Good Friday"? Case in point.
posted by Decani at 8:58 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remind me not to go any MeFi meet-ups with the lot of you.

With that said, the only experience I have with using bottles as weapons was when a drunken guy at a local bar tried to break the bottle over the bouncer's head. The bottle did not break and the only result I could see was the assailant being thrown through the air by the bouncer, and the inevitable multi-bouncer beating he sustained. Not sure what this says about bottles, but certainly it makes you think about picking your targets.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:56 AM on December 7, 2012

Once I got to smash upwards of 50 beer and wine bottles for a magician friend of mine who needed them for his glass walking act. It was trickier than we thought to create a weaponised bottle, but after a couple of goes we could routinely smash the bottles effectively (using a concrete substrate).

Glassing happens relatively frequently here in Australia - there was one at our local pub just recently.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 3:48 PM on December 7, 2012

Best answer: Firstly, Night Watch is such an amazing book, and I have thought about this exact question because of it. When Vimes is cautioning a drunk about holding the bottle in the wrong way, I think you need to picture what sort of bottle would be in the pocket of your typical Anhk-Morpork combatitive drinker. We picture it being the typical mass-produced long necked beer bottle that is common today - see how it's darker at the shoulder and neck? it's made to withstand internal pressure and shipping, so that part is made of particularly thick glass which then is the obvious place to us to grip the bottle for smashing. But, a fifth of Bearhugger's Old Persnickety? the glass of the neck is likely to be just as thin and breakable as the main body of the bottle, and the join of the thin neck to the wider body of the bottle would be a weak spot. if you had your fingers pressed against that join when it broke, yea, you'd have some bloody fingers.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:07 AM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Happy Gilmore makes it look easy (:47 is the exact break)
posted by chela at 6:07 PM on December 8, 2012

Home brewer here. I wash (and break) a lot of beer bottles. A lot. chasles has it; by far the weakest part of the bottle is the "heel", where the side joins the bottom. Bottles all break irregularly, but by far the strongest part of the bottle is the neck and shoulder.

The water hammer effect bfranklin illustrates is very real; in college, we used to fill empty bottles nearly full with water, hold the neck in our fist making an "O" with thumb and index finger around the top of the bottle, and give it a good whack on top with our other hand. It'd blow the bottom off, fairly cleanly and predictably, right at the heel. Especially on bottles with a visible band around the heel.
posted by xedrik at 7:26 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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