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Project Nitro

Nitromethane is reputed to be a great sensitizer for NH4NO3.  This page chronicles my efforts (mostly successful) to make reactive targets with NH4NO3 and various 'flavors' of nitromethane.  The best recipe we found using nitromethane for reactive targets is the last one listed on this page.

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July 4, 2000

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July 9, 2000 update

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October 15, 2000 update

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January 7, 2001 update

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March 3, 2001 update

bulletMarch 11, 2001 update
bulletApril 1, 2001 update
bulletDecember 2001 update 

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July 4, 2000

After the April 2000 Boomershoot I decided I needed to make the mixture more sensitive.  There was just too many solid hits without the corresponding boom.  I had been adding naphthalene in place of some of the diesel in an effort to get a gaseous fuel in the carton that would not need the heat of vaporization in order to get up to ignition temperature.  I decided to try reducing the diesel even further and see if that would help.  The day was kind of cool for July 4.  About 60 F with the targets in the shade.

The following ingredients were used: 1 C NH4NO3, 1 C KClO3, 0.25 C naphthalene, 1T diesel, 0.5 tsp Baking soda.

All cartridges were chronographed at about eight feet and then target velocities estimated:
1500 fps .22LR HP (CCI Stinger at 25 yards): No boom
1125 fps .454 Casull semi-wad cutters (light loads): No boom.
2600 fps .223 FMJ: No boom.
2725 fps VMAX: Small boom, and with another target, big boom.

Wrong direction in the sensitivity.

So, on to the racing fuel with 45% nitromethane.  The following ingredients were used: 1 C NH4NO3, 1 C KClO3, 0.25 C racing fuel, 0.5 tsp Baking soda.

Results:
1500 fps .22LR HP (CCI Stinger at 25 yards): BOOM!
1165 fps .22LR (CCI Blazer at 25 yards): No boom.

I made up another batch (three targets) and tried them.  They all detonated with the CCI Stingers.  Although it appeared that it took more than one shot sometimes.  My conclusion is that 1500 fps is right at the threshold of what will detonate this mixture.  This is much better.  However!  I have not done all the usual safety tests on this mixture.  Please don't use it until you have done them!  And then, of course, if you blow yourself to smithereens it is your own fault -- as usual. The chemical material cost for one of these targets is about $1.20. 

I have another batch of racing fuel that I want to try.  It is 60% nitromethane.  The mixture using it will be: 2.5 C NH4NO3, 2.5 C KClO3, 0.75 C racing fuel (60% Nitro),  1T MnO2, 1T Baking soda.  I expect it will be better still, but some safety checks will have be done with small quantities first.  Friction and spark/fire will be the first.  The down side is that it is more expensive.  About $1.30/target.

July 9, 2000 update:

I tested the 60% nitro mix.  It passed the friction and spark/fire tests without problem.  In fact it seemed rather insensitive.  When I finally tried detonating it, it was a disappointment.  It would not detonate with the CCI Stinger .22LR.  It was a very hot day and I let the targets "cook" in the sun for a couple hours before I shot them.  They did go off just fine with the 2600 fps .223 FMJ's.  I also left a couple targets in the cooler under ice for several hours and then packed them in ice for detonation test.  They detonated with the 2600 fps FMJ's without problems.

At this point I don't really know what caused the difference.  I changed three variables at once.  1) the fuel,  2) Addition of MnO2, and 3) Time between mixing and detonation.

My next test will probably be the 45% nitro with the MnO2 with and without time spent in the sun.

October 15, 2000 update:

I tried using Coleman fuel and then acetone instead of the diesel or other fuel.  The resultant mixtures were not as sensitive as the 45% nitro racing fuel mix.  They would detonate with .223, but not the .22 LR.  Without MnO2 the racing fuel mix would detonate with .22 LR (CCI Mini-Mag +V).  With MnO2 it would not! I even tried mixing the KClO3 without grinding it and without grinding the prilled NH4NH3.  1/2 C of the 45% Nitro racing fuel, 2 C KClO3, and 2 C of NH4NH3 in 1/2 pint milk cartons would detonate with a velocity at the target of about 1350 fps -- 4 out of 5 times.  See the video (Four out of Five ain't bad) of the reactive target tests.

January 7, 2001 update:

Based on a tip from an Internet discussion group I revisited the 60% nitromethane racing fuel.  In fact I did it without any KClO3!  I mixed two quarts of NH4NH3 with 1/2 Cup fuel.  I put half of the mixture in a one quart milk carton, then mixed in one tablespoon of 200 mesh Al powder in the remaining mixture and put that in a different one quart milk carton.  About 90 minutes later with an outdoor temperature of about 35F I shot each of them with a .30 caliber, 125 grain, Speer TNT bullet with a target velocity of about 3470 fps.  The first one exploded, the second one was inconclusive.  It made a mild pop sound, but it could have just been the sound of the carton disintegrating from the overdriven (Speer says max velocity is about 3100 fps) varmint bullet.  More tests are needed.

The key item here is that the NH4NH3 is more sensitive when the mixture is not in complete oxygen balance.  In fact it is oxygen rich.  This was the "nugget" I picked up off the discussion board.  The "correct" amount of fuel should have been about 0.8 C instead of the 0.5 C that I used.  When I added more fuel, the Al, the mixture apparently was not as sensitive.  And of extreme interest to me is that no KClO3 was used.  The KClO3 is the most expensive and dangerous item in the usual mixture.  But I hit this mixture with more than anyone could reasonably be expected to hit with at the Boomershoot.  How sensitive is it?  Can I get the sensitivity down to .22 LR levels?  More tests are needed.  

March 3, 2001 update: 

I obtained some pure nitromethane and tried it.  I mixed 2 C of prilled NH4NO3 with 0.4 C nitromethane, and 1 C of KClO3.  They were put into 1/2 pint milk cartons and sealed.  The ambient temperature was about 35 F.  .22LR (CCI Mini-Mag +V were the fastest tried) would not detonate it, but 7.62 x 39 Russian HP would.

Next I mixed 1 C prilled NH4NO3, 1/4 C methanol and 1 C KClO3.  Again it was put in 1/2 pint milk cartons and sealed.  Again the .22LR ammo would not detonate it, but the 7.62 x 39 Russian HP would.

 Next I mixed 1 C prilled NH4NO3, 0.4 C methanol and 1 C KClO3 (close to a stoichiometric mixture).  Again it was put in 1/2 pint milk cartons and sealed.  Again the .22LR ammo would not detonate it and the scope mount (that is being generous) on my SKS came loose and I was unable to get a hit.

Next I mixed 2 C prilled NH4NO3, 1/2 C 40% nitromethane racing fuel (I was unable to find more of the 45% fuel I had used in previous experiments), and 2 C KClO3, and about 1 tsp baking soda, and sealed it in 1/2 pint milk cartons.  This detonated with .22LR (CCI Mini-Mag +V) from my Ruger 10/22.

This is very interesting to me.  The racing fuel is composed primarily of methanol and nitromethane and works great for a fuel for the reactive target mixtures.  Yet individually those components do not work as well.  Oh, well.  I have something that I'm happy with for the next Boomershoot.  After that I will probably test out some suggestion from people that have read this page and have done their own experiments.

March 11, 2001 update: 

I mixed up four cups of NH4NO3 with 1/2 cup 45% nitromethane racing fuel and put it in a 1 quart milk carton.  I put this carton in a two quart carton.  I then mixed up two cups NH4NO3 with two cups KClO3 and 1/2 cup 45% nitromethane model racing fuel and filled the remainder of the two quart container with this.  This was shot with a .22 LR (CCI Mini-Mag+V) from the Ruger 10/22.  BOOM!  We looked for left over prills of NH4NO3, but it appears that it all detonated, there was a fair amount of shredded paper left, but no prills.  This is great info, it allows me to reduce the cost of these size (two quart) targets by nearly a factor of two.

April 1, 2001 update:

I had put two 1/2 pint targets built on March 2, 2001 (see March 3 update) with the 40% racing fuel in my explosives magazine for storage tests.  Today I carefully removed them from the magazine and tested them for safe handling and then for ease of detonation.  Both appeared stable for handling (CB Longs failed to detonate them) and both detonated on the first shot with American Eagle 36 grain HP .22LR ammo fired from a Ruger 10/22.  

This is the mixture to be used for the 2001 Boomershoot.  You may wish to cut it in half or even by a factor of four when you are first trying this:

4 C    Prilled NH4NO3
4 C    KClO3
1 C    Racing fuel (40 to 45% nitromethane)
2 T    Baking soda
8        1/2 pint clean dry milk cartons.

In a well ventilated area protected from direct sunlight, put the KClO3 and baking soda in a blender.  'Grind' on the highest speed while tipping the blender from side to side until the chemicals are a fine powder and thoroughly mixed.  DO NOT PUT ANY FUEL OF ANY TYPE IN THE BLENDER WITH THE KClO3!

Mix the NH4NO3 and fuel in a large mixing bowl or bucket with a nylon or other plastic mixing spoon.  Do not use wood of any type with any of the chemicals.  Do not use acrylic tools with the racing fuel.  HDPE is fine.

Gently stir the KClO3/baking-soda mix into the NH4NO3/fuel mixture. After it is thoroughly mixed gently fill your clean dry milk cartons.  It will look very much like mixed curd size cottage cheese.  Do not allow the mixture prolonged contact with the air.  Do not pack! The mixture must be slightly fluffy to detonate easily. Seal the cartons with polyurethane glue and masking tape.  Handle gently.

There are probably more cautions to be made that I can possibly remember.  The risks are many.  I wear a flak jacket, face mask, gloves, and hearing protection while mixing the materials.  Here are just a few of the other things I can think of off the top of my head that should be a concern to you:

bulletJust a 1/2 cup of this mixture is way more than lethal.
bulletSpontaneous combustion has been known to occur (see the July '99 pictures).  
bulletIn many jurisdictions making explosives is illegal without a license.  
bulletStorage of explosives is covered by Federal (and probably local) law and requires ATF approved storage magazines.   
bulletSparks from static electricity, fire, smoking, impact of iron/steel tools, and probably a dozen other things can cause the highly flammable mixture to ignite and possibly explode.  
bulletIf ignited, the mixture can not be put out by smothering.  It supplies it's own oxygen.  In fact, it releases more oxygen than it consumes while burning.  
bulletDuring the mixing process dust from the various components collects on your table, tools, the ground, and your clothes.  This must be washed off frequently.  Not only is it a fire/explosive hazard but it can 'rot' your clothes and shoes.  Water with dishwashing detergent works well.
bulletBreathing the dust and vapors can be harmful.
bulletSkin contact with many of the chemicals can be harmful.
bulletUV light from the sun can cause spontaneous combustion (and possibly explosions) of KClO3 and many types of fuels (wood, paper, oil, dry grass, metal powders).
bulletSome of the chemicals are very corrosive to metals and rubber.
bulletI will nominate you for a Darwin award if you kill yourself.
bulletI will nominate your dead friends for a Darwin award for hanging out with you.

December 2001 update

With the help of my friend Ry we did some more tests   We found that we could cut down the amount of KClO3 and still get reliable detonation with a high velocity .22 LR.  We (Ry came up with the names actually) call the mixture above 441 and the new one 631.  Six cups of NH4NO3, three cups of KClO3, 1 cup of model racing fuel (40% nitromethane), plus the baking soda as above.  Since the KClO3 and racing fuel are the most expensive components this cuts down the cost some.  

The 631 mixture was used for the 2002 Boomershoot.

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Email: Joe Huffman
Last updated: February 06, 2006