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Anvil Firing (wikipedia.org)
174 points by lelf on April 6, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 89 comments

> "Anvils were also traditionally fired on St. Clement's Day, honoring Pope Clement I, the patron saint of blacksmiths and metalworkers."

Hm. Obscure. Intriguing. Okay. Then briefly down a rabbit hole I learn that Saint Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of "the Internet, computer users, computer technicians, programmers, students"[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isidore_of_Seville

from reddit [1]:

* Saint Bartholomew was skinned alive - he is the patron saint of butcher, tanners, book binders etc.

* John the Apostle was boiled alive - he is the patron saint of burn victims

* Simon the Zealot was sawed in half - he is the patron saint of sawyers, lumberjacks and curriers (leather tanners who specialize in shaping and stretching leather)

* St Sebastian was shot full of arrows, recovered, an beaten to death by a bunch of clubs by the emperor's soldiers - he's the saint of archers and soldiers

* St Barbara was tortured and then beheaded, when they were carting her body off, the cart was struck by lighting, catching fire - she's the patron saint of firefighters, artillerymen, and those who work with explosives

* St Lawrence got cooked to death over hot coals. After being roasted for a while, he told his executioner "I'm done on this side, turn me over" - patron saint of cooks and barbeque and comedians

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/b9u3d8/statue_of_sain...

This seems like Polytheism to me.

I find it deeply amusing how much Mankind loves polytheism and yet most of today's major religions are monotheistic.

That's the essential genius of Catholicism - it is monotheistic in doctrine, but polytheistic in practice. It absorbed and adopted the most compelling aspects of pagan practice. If the people want talismans and relics and patron saints a midwinter feast, let them have it.

The idea is that saints, or for what it's worth Mary, cannot really do anything on their own, but they have a direct channel to God to relay your prayers. So it's still monotheistic, the trinity is where things get weird, but it still gives people something they feel "closer to them" than a single omnipotent divinity.

It's not much different from many polytheistic religions though - the idea that there's some kind of supreme proto-deity, from which other more specialized gods derive their powers (or even of which they're facets), is quite common.

And I don't think it's a stretch to assume that this is where the Christian cult of the saints derives from. Especially when you look at some of those saints, and see how they have effectively overlapped with some pagan deity from older times. For example:


Right? Patron saints are such an interesting and weird compromise to polytheism.

Catholics believe that all mankind is made in the image of God. The saints are just the ones who turned out best and we authoritatively know made it to heaven, and thus have achieved the perfection we all had before the Fall. Veneration is not worship, it's more like asking an experienced mentor with access to excellent resources for help.

This all is true as a matter of Church doctrine, but the actual practice among worshippers is rather different (not just in Catholicism - same thing among the Orthodox).

> Catholics believe that all mankind is made in the image of God. The saints are just the ones who turned out best and we authoritatively know made it to heaven

There's a number of problems with that explanation, the three most obvious of which are Ss. Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel.

I was speaking of mankind.

But the cults of saints aren't limited to those saints that were ever part of mankind, so a theological rationalization of such cults that only applies to human saints doesn't address the issue.

There seems to be a deep human desire to seek an ethereal, perfect source of physical reality, human consciousness, and moral order - a non-human sort of Ultimate Truth, be it God or Tao or Buddha or Brahma.

And at the same time, there is something in humanity that recoils from such a thing, so we personify this impersonal vastness and power with a pantheon that gives. . . a more comfortable and familiar user experience.

And of course it's not limited to Christianity. Buddhism is non-theistic (in the Western sense), and yet there's a pantheon of Buddhas of past and future eras, tantric meditation deities, emanations, incarnations, benevolent devas, etc. Tibetan Buddhism in particular innovates deeply into this territory.

> most of today's major religions are monotheistic.

While certainly most people are monotheistic, it's really just two religions, and they worship the same god.

Polytheism seems deeply default.

Looking at wikipedia it seems to be 57% mono, 20% poly, 23% null (secular or buddhist).

Sure, but that monotheisic number isn't a large number of religions. It's completely dominated by what are all offshoots of the same religion.

Almost every culture that develops religion independently develops a polytheistic religion. Those almost never morph into monotheistic religions.

The numbers of adherents are just dominated by Christianity and Islam, which are by no coincidence the principle proselytising religions in history. In fact proselytism was historically rarely observed outside of those two religions.

I guess it's easier to proselytise for the one true God than for an assortment.

So what did Saint Isidore suffer to become the patron saint of the Internet? Get trolled?

He seems to have pioneered an early version of Wikipedia

>His fame after his death was based on his Etymologiae, an etymological encyclopedia which assembled extracts of many books from classical antiquity that would have otherwise been lost.

It became so popular that the originals weren’t though highly enough to be copied, and were lost. Wonder if there’s any parallels here.

That time as Christianity was forming itself is so interesting to look at if you were raised in a particular sect - the idea that there is any truly singular deity-preferred way to live seems laughable given how many differences of opinion there was even in the earliest church - frequently the only justification is that because a set of ideas succeeded it must be right, in a sort of might makes right sense.

56k dial-up connection falling back to 9.6kbps due to line noise.

St Sebastian is also the gay saint, boyfriend of Maximian or Diocletian or both. And while I imagine this is not the canonical myth, it is certainly more fabulous.

Saint Nicolas (the historical Turkish man, not Santa) gave money to poor families that would have otherwise been forced to sell their daughters into prostitution. He is thus the patron saint of prostitutes.

'Jesus Evil Green' aka Jesús Malverde, the narco-saint. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jes%C3%BAs_Malverde

Here's the Wikipedia on St. Lawrence: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lawrence

it was the result of a mistaken transcription, the accidental omission of the letter "p" – "by which the customary and solemn formula for announcing the death of a martyr – passus est ["he suffered," that is, was martyred] – was made to read assus est [he was roasted]."

The real roast is always in the comments. I like to imagine that it wasn't so much a transcription error as it was a bored monk looking for some variety.

>St Lawrence

According to Wikipedia his story is apocryphal.

My favourite resource for patron saints is https://www.catholic.org/saints/patron.php

Does this mean that some hundred years from now, we’ll be blowing MacBooks up to the sky?

Sure, pre 2016 MPBs anyway! ;)

But they are the best ones lol why blow up something that actually has a better keyboard than the newer ones ;)

I mean we’re kinda there already - https://youtu.be/Tv1EVfENcjs

Since we're apparently all posting vids, here's what happened when the Finnish hydraulic press guy learned about anvil firing: https://youtube.com/watch?v=S8HbhiRlgM0

I love that YouTube channel..."and here we go!"

“Lets.... deal with it.”

UK: This is a great way to test anvil quality.

US: This is a great way to shoot heavy shit really high.

UK: let’s shoot heavy shit really high but pretend we aren’t at all amused by it

This is serious business chaps, I don’t know why you’re grinning so much.

"Dangers: Individuals may be crushed by a falling anvil. The black powder can also prematurely ignite when the top anvil is placed. As in any case where an explosive is confined on all sides by metal, shrapnel presents a hazard. If a damaged or structurally weak anvil is used, the anvil base may shatter upon ignition."

If there's one thing anyone that plays with explosives should know is the lethality of flying shrapnel. A simple mix of KNO3 with sugar, when ignited inside a metal pipe, is a very effective killing device. Please take hard cover (hill, thick wall; with distance) when exploding anything that's not paper.

Hi! I enjoyed reading your comment, but please be careful before posting working explosive recipes on the internet nowadays. It's sad that we have to think about it, but we do.

(Unless you deliberately posted one that doesn't work, in which case, you got me :) )

Potassium nitrate and sugar has been a very well known mixture for - what? Hundreds of years at least.

We need a culture of rational and critical thought, not one that sequesters away knowledge.

"Rocket candy" is very widely known already, and HN is probably the last place terrorists will look. And terrorists won't use rocket candy. Hey, did you know you can react nitric acid with glycerin to get nitroglycerin?

You can even react nitric acid with all sort of oily things such as benzene and toluene and get various explosive. Isn't that common knowledge? I remember being taught that in chemistry back in high school (nothing lights up interest of pupils in chemistry like things that go boom).

Right, because if we hide the information then bad people won't have access to it. One of the first uses of the public Internet was to distribute text files with bomb recipes. That and porn. Cat pictures came later.

The world's libraries and archive.org have already curated the classic texts on the production of explosives and fireworks, from benchtop scale all the way up to industrial. No casual internet commentator need fear that they're exposing dangerous secrets. It is all out in the open already.

The Chemistry Of Powder And Explosives by Tenney L. Davis


Pyrotechnics by George Weingart


Military and Civilian Pyrotechnics by Herbert Ellern


Chemistry and Technology of Explosives by Tadeusz Urbanski

Volume 1: https://archive.org/details/Chemistry_and_Technology_of_Expl...

Volume 2: https://archive.org/details/Chemistry_and_Technology_of_Expl...

Volume 3: https://archive.org/details/Chemistry_and_Technology_of_Expl...

Volume 4: https://archive.org/details/ChemistryAndTechnologyOfExplosiv...

I'm not going to link all 10 volumes of Fedoroff's Encyclopedia of Explosives and Related Items, but they're online too. They are sitting on the shelves of university libraries around the world and have been for decades. So are books about the production and use of chemical warfare agents! These books are also much higher quality than information circulating in text files or printed "cookbooks" selling the allure of forbidden knowledge.

Generally speaking, people don't abuse this knowledge to violent ends because

1) Most people never seriously intend to commit violence in the first place.

2) Of the few people with premeditated intent to commit violent crime, most will not or even can not manage to make effective poisons and explosives from accessible materials, even given a curated reading list of relevant books. Technical aptitude and diligent study do not intersect with violent criminality very often.

Ha ha, nice try. People in the UK get arrested for reading about those things. It does seem that those charged are usually guilty of some other crime, however.


I'm not sure what the actions of one particular repressive regime has to do with it?

it's probably alright as long as he doesn't tell ISIS the secret recipe for "red iodine" (aka "nuclear nitroglycerin")

I've heard 'red iodine' is a long running troll the intelligence community plays on terrorist groups. They say it works; extremists say it works & you can't fool them out of looking for it!

One of my favorite videos of anvil firing: https://youtu.be/lKjpgCraVGk

The series of videos from Scott & Nate Wadsworth, aka "Essential Craftsman" with several featuring Cy Swan, are good example of some of the best YouTube has to offer: great content for makers and DIY folks, well produced, well shot and edited, and they have very little extraneous framing - don't start them with the sound muted, because whatever they are talking about starts right at the top. That they (probably Nate) time-lapse/fast-forward through most anything repetitive shows just how to save the viewers' time while still showing the work.

The "Spec House" series is incredibly valuable if you're even remotely interested in building your own home. I'm incredibly excited to see how that series continues!

I consider Essential Craftsman to be one of the best YouTube channels out there. If you're interested in tools, construction or history in heavy industry, definitely give it a look.

If you are even remotely into tools, construction work or DIY you need to binge-watch "Essential Craftsman"! It's one of the best channels for that kind of stuff.

Everybody needs a Cy in their life.

Try to lift an anvil by hand, then watch it get rapidly thrust dozens of feet into the air by a really small quantity of explosive. Demonstrations like this really put the power density involved into perspective.

“Individuals may be crushed by a falling anvil.“

Life imitating art once again, I see.

Also known as anvil shooting. Some great vids on youtube.



The sound! It's like Thor's hammer cracking a frost giant's skull. I wanna see it in irl.

Ah, yes, a sound we are all of course much more familiar with.

It's nice that the 'Dangers' section of the article tells you exactly what hazards to avoid if you're going to do it.

I wonder: they mention that the powder can ignite prematurely when you place the top anvil. Could you prevent that by putting a piece of paper between the anvils? It seems to me that the paper should prevent sparks by preventing direct contact between the anvils, but be weak enough that it shouldn't affect the deflagration too much.

Then again, I'm not an expert in this kind of thing. Would this somehow make things way more dangerous in a different way?

I’m not an expert either but I would have guessed that the force from the top anvil acts like a hammer and detonates the gunpowder that way instead of with sparks.

They mention using a playing card between the anvils in the article, and in at least one [1] video they seem to use paper between the anvils as well, so it seems probable it would work - or at least not hurt.

[1] https://youtube.com/watch?v=S8HbhiRlgM0

yeah that persuaded me to not try it.

“On September 5, 2011, The Science Channel premiered Flying Anvils, a reality television series about anvil firing.[6]”

They really seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Seems like a legitimate and interesting scientific and cultural topic. Probably fun to watch - bigger than life, noisy and exciting.

Sometimes the most interesting programs go into depth about some esoteric topic and can end up revealing a lot.

What’s your problem with it?

Is there really enough there to support an entire reality television _series_?

It is once you start including all of the personal details and daily lives of everyone involved. That's what separates reality TV from documentaries.

This is essentially my problem. Every reality TV show is the same. Every esoteric subcommunity has the exact same pattern of drama, competition, cliques. Take it from someone that did everything from competitive yo-yo to ham radio. I just don't want to see the same reality tv show again, but about anvils. I want to see something that focuses on the science.

Would rather watch this than 99% of the garbage that qualifies for programming - might actually learn something about physics, chemistry, engineering, etc

I hope if aliens size us up, it's by a random sample of Wikipedia pages. That would be a lot of fun.

A similar experiment, called a plate test, is used to evaluate explosives. A small charge is detonated under a very heavy steel plate, often 100mm thick. The height the plate is blasted gives a comparitive measure of power, and the size of the dent tells you about brisance, related to the speed of detonation.


My high school chemistry teacher told our class that in the very-old times at the county rodeo the trick was to coat the top of one anvil with nitroglycerine then VERY carefully place another anvil on top... then a sharp-shooter would shoot the anvil stack, igniting the nitro and shooting the upper anvil "at least 150 feet into the air."

The dude seemed old enough to have seen this done in antebellum days so we believed him.

"The private citizen who carried out the order to fire the anvil was seriously injured."

I love that “Dangers” gets its own subheading, though it probably could fill its own dedicated page

[Roadrunner citation missing]

I honestly thought this was going to be a new business slang for reducing workforce numbers.

You're not the only one.

Science(-like) projects with little regards (but not too little as to become dangerous) for safety regulations are a great way of bonding between father and son.

(Though I never did such things with my father or alone, as I did not have access to the needed equipment)

My father demonstrated the combustion of a mixture of potassium nitrate and sugar to me when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I was instantly hooked. The effect is spectacular: thick white smoke, hissing pink flames, a huge charred mass of fluffy carbon, and the smell of burnt sugar in the air. My interest in chemistry up to that point had centered around growing crystals. After that first smoky demonstration I wanted to make fireworks.

It's still possible to have that bonding experience today if you have some open space where there is nothing flammable. I see that Amazon has multiple sellers of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), the key ingredient. As recently as last year I have also seen it sold as stump remover in the gardening section of Fred Meyer (Kroger).

Potassium nitrate plus various fuels like charcoal and/or dusting sulfur, sugar, and iron filings is great fun and relatively benign. Do any grinding by hand in a porcelain mortar and pestle and there's really no risk of mechanical ignition. The mixtures don't burn fast enough to risk explosive effects unless ground very finely or strongly confined [1]. I had to photocopy the black powder and pyrotechnics sections of The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives from the library, but today you can find a full scan of that book (and much more) online.

[1] You can also make more vigorous mixtures with potassium nitrate by using powdered metal fuels, but you're not going to find those fuels just sitting on the shelves of ordinary retailers.

Yes, yes, though the potassium salt is restricted in some places, the sodium salt not so much (and it works almost as well, though it's hygroscopic as F)

Those were cool experiments :) though I never got much bang for the buck (more like a schwoooooo)

I am suddenly reminded of the one Animaniacs skit - "Let the anvils ring!"

Anvil firing clip from Sweet Home Alabama movie: https://youtu.be/WqAo_AJHnf4

I have been living in Alabama for 12 years and I still haven't seen any any anvil launches. I am beginning to wonder if the rumors about this state are false.

This is done (or was done) every year at the Falling Leaf BMW Motorcycle rally in Potosi Missouri. It's pretty impressive to see how high the anvvil goes.

Why doesn't th eycombinator link actually take you to wikipedia?

Wile E. Coyote approves.

I thought this was a joke. Seems to be real though.

That explains the cartoon gag.

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