Big Bang® Carbide Cannons,
The vintage artillery toy that really works and is safe!
Now and again there comes a time when you've just gotta make a big
bang. For some people it's New Years at midnight, for others a birthday
isn't complete without some noise. In America, the 4th of July is a classic big
bang kind of a night. I like em all and also usually invent a few other
excuses during the course of a year ta boot. There's just something deeply
satisfying about being personally responsible for a REALLY LOUD EXPLOSION of
When I lived in San Diego it was easy enough to
satisfy this craving. I'd just slip across the border into TJ, purchase a
supply of M-80's, Quarter-sticks, or those mega cherry bombs they call Grandotes,
stash them discreetly under the spare tire and keep a straight face at the
border crossing on the way home. Here on Cape
Cod, it's a little more difficult to satisfy my pyrotechnic cravings. The
fireworks laws here have completely emasculated the industry,
so that anything you can purchase legally is limp and wheezy: a few colored
sparks and, if you are lucky, maybe a little whistle. Boring and annoying
So, I was really pleased to happen upon Big-Bang Carbide Cannons1 made by the
Conestoga Company in Bethlehem, PA. Carbide cannons are a safe and satisfyingly
noisy substitute for fireworks that come in the form of a miniature artillery
field piece. Prices range from about $50 U.S. for the Light Field
over $400 U.S. for the 23 inch solid red brass breech loader (a true work of
Big Bang cannons have a long history, beginning back in 1907 when a patent
for the gas cannon was issued to James Hunter Wily, an assistant professor of
physics at Lehigh University. Wily founded the Big Bang company in 1912
and it has been in operation ever since. There are about a dozen models of Big
Bang cannon, ranging from small Continental Army field pieces to WWII 155MM
replicas that are painted army green and have rubber wheels.
I own the Major Field Cannon, which I blast every chance I get. In fact
if it wasn't snowing outside right now... Carbide cannons work by dropping a
little carbide powder into water then igniting the resulting acetylene gas.
If you do it in the right proportions, you get a nice big bang and a foot long
flash of fire. Not much smoke, but you can't have everything.The only supplies needed to operate a
Big Bang cannon are Bangsite (carbide powder) that costs $5 U.S. per tube and
water. You get about a hundred shots per tube of Bangsite, so it's cheaper
The firing ritual goes like this:
- To get ready, put a couple of ounces of fresh water in the cannon
and fill the charger with Bangsite powder.
- Look around for a kid who "needs" to make a big bang.
Usually the little one in the back who really wants to do it, but is too shy
- Press the brass plunger button on the charger to drop a wad of Bangsite
into the water.
- Get a countdown going, 5...4...3...2...1
- Give the kid the nod to press the firing button.
1 The Big Bang Cannon website has online ordering and
some really duffy videos: http://www.bigbangcannons.com/