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Kirby: Shooting cannons is always a blast

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Feb 18 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 18 2014 01:01 am

Spring is in the air. I can practically smell it — a hint of pollen, a sniff of warm earth and a whiff of black powder smoke. That and Sonny called.

He is back from his annual research trip to Puerto Rico. He spent more than two weeks on a beach attempting to prove that rum, when used in sufficient quantities, is an effective sunblock.

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Findings: It’s not. However, a lot of it will make being broiled alive a considerably less pressing matter.

Sonny asked if I was ready to further scientific advancement at the expense of our eardrums. As soon as the weather clears, it will be time for another physics experiment involving ordinary objects and high speed.

Recently added to our collective idiot arsenal is a 60mm cannon capable of shooting a regulation billiard ball 850 feet per second.

The question before us is whether it’s possible to play a game of billiards or pool at such speed. The answer theoretically is "yes" but we haven’t proved it yet. Actual testing is required.

What we know for certain is that a game of eight ball played at such speed not only makes a pool cue obsolete, there’s no real need for a hole or a pocket. The ball will make its own when it gets wherever it’s going.

Sonny found the new gun online at Coaches Club Cannons. Go look for yourself. All kinds of heavy-caliber guns are featured, including a bowling ball mortar with which you can shoot a frozen turkey into a near orbit.

Possible projectiles for the new gun are not limited to billiard balls. A host of other things can be fired, including 200 marbles, soda cans filled with concrete, a length of chain or a large, dead rodent. Hey, you’d be surprised how far one of those will go.

But enough about hard science. Let’s talk about simple fun.

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Say what you will about "normal" firearms, there is more enjoyment per shot in a well-designed black powder cannon than in any assault rifle.

It’s also cheaper to shoot. All you need is a couple ounces of black powder, whatever will fit in the barrel and nobody else within half a mile. Boom.

But simple-minded fun doesn’t automatically equate to safe fun. Some genuine thought has to go into it. For most guys, this is the difficult part to understand because fun almost always trumps common sense.

From still troubling experience I can testify to the importance of safety. For example, you should never use substandard material when fabricating amateur artillery.

Do NOT use lead or aluminum pipe for a cannon. The tolerances in these metals are low enough to give you a surprise that you’ll wear for the rest of your life.

Similarly, never use anything other than black powder in proper steel cannons. That’s because not all gunpowder is created equal.

Being industrious enough to pull the bullets out of a dozen 30.06 cartridges doesn’t mean you have enough powder for a cannon. Even a little bit of the wrong stuff can be too much.

Important note: Do not make bombs out of anything. Not only are they illegal, they’re also highly unpredictable. Getting arrested could well be the least of your worries. Provided, of course, that you’re still around to do the worrying.

All of this supposes that you’re willing to listen to me. If not, maybe you’ll listen to science. Remember this simple rule: The entire point of having fun is to be around to have more of it.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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