Gasoline light bulbs

The other night, I was watching the TV news out of Austin, and they had one of those “Sweeps Week” investigative reports on. They were dicussing the resurgence of methamphetamines.

Anyway, I local drug officer said that often they would find meth-labs booby-trapped. One trap he cited was filling light-bulbs with gasoline. When an unsuspecting officer flips the light-switch, well, ka-blooey.

My question: How big a bang could one really get from this? I can imagine its being startling., but would it really be damaging? Do people get hurt by this?

So, anyone blown up any light-bulbs, lately?

WAG - Meth labs would not comply with OSHA and would have lots of chemicals around. The light bulb would ignite the vapor from those chemicals.

I agree that the bulb and the little gasoline it had in it would not do much. Too much gasoline and it probably would not ignite.

I come from the methamphetamine capital of the world (well, not really, but it seems that way). starfish is correct on both counts; it takes very little to casue a meth lab to catch fire and/or explode. It is a menace out in riverside.

A light buld completely filled with gasoline will not explode. You would need to fill the light bulb enough so that the element was out of the gasoline. That limits to explosion to a small one, but more than enough to ignite the vapours that fill the average lab.

On an interesting side note (at least to me) it turns out that people who haven’t slept in several days really shouldn’t be working with explosive chemicals. Here is a list of the chemicals that may be used in meth labs. It comes from a public health site, so I don’t think I’m violating any policies. Note that a bunch of these are explosive.

Alcohol,Ether,Benzene,Toluene/Paint Thinner,Freon,Acetone,
Chloroform, Starting Fluid, Anhydrous Ammonia, “Heet”,White Gasoline,Phenyl-2-Propane,Phenylacetone, Phenylpropanolamine
Iodine Crystals, Red Phosphorous, Black Iodine,Lye (Red Devil Lye), Drano, Muriatic/Hydrochloric Acid, Battery Acid/Sulfuric Acid, Epsom Salts, Batteries/Lithium, Sodium Metal.

Also note that meth labs smell bad. Very bad. “Cat Urine” is the usual description. So they get closed up tight, in the desert. The flash point of many of the above chemicals is well below the 90-110 degrees that meth labs operate in.

Sorry, I have no way of describing how large the explosion generated by the light bulb is. Hope this helps answer your question, though.

It just seemed like filling a light bulb with gasoline would be an unnecessary hassle for the neighborhood chemist. His lab is already ready to explode. I didn’t see why he/she would need gasoline to get it started.

Yeah, the chemicals sound great. They listed such things as Coleman fuel in the drugs. Sounds yummy. :rolleyes:

To add to the wonders of a fire in a meth lab, one of the chemicals used in the cheap process (one of the solvents) produces phosgene gas in the presence of open flame. Phosgene is an old-school “choking agent” chemical weapon–IIRC, it reacts with water in the throat and lungs to produce hydrochloric acid. Nasty stuff.

Of course, the fire could produce lots of other nasty stuff as well with that ingredient mix…

I’m a bit uncomfortable discussing ways to hurt people (and cops especially), but I think everyone’s overlooking one of the ways this boobytrap could work.

If the bulb is close to the switch, it would spatter burning gasoline on the person who turned it on. Even if it didn’t blow up the lab (it probably would), it would cause trouble for any single person who walked in and hit the lights.

You only put a few drops of gasoline in the bulb, then swirl it around until it vaporizes. Vapor is the key word here. Liquid gas burns. Vaporized gas EXPLODES. A light bulb full of gasoline vapor will completely flatten a good-sized room. Really, really, big bang. It will (and does) kill people. It was a favored trick of the US Army Special Forces (aka Green Berets) in 'Nam. My dad’s done it. It’s not a nice thing to do. :eek:

This was, of course, during his tour in Vietnam as a Green Beret.

I guess that answers my question. Please understand that I do not advocate hurting anyone, especially law-enforcement officers. I was questioning the validity of what I saw on TV. A gasoline-filled light-bulb just didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, but Gunslinger here says that it is. Now I understand.

Even if you filled the bulb completely, I think you would still have some nasty effects.[list=1][li]Light switch goes on.[/li][li]Filament heats gasoline.[/li][li]Gasoline begins to boil.[/li][li]Pressure rises inside bulb.[/li][li]Bulb breaks due to pressure rise.[/li][li]Now-exposed filament ignites gasoline.[/li][li]Flaming gasoline spills everywhere.[/list=1]Of course, I have no idea how you’d put the gas in the bulb in the first place. In The Longest Yard (the movie, just in case there was a book version) someone did in Burt Reynold’s friend by injecting a flammable liquid (presumably gasoline) into the lightbulb in his cell. I don’t see how a hypodermic needle could penetrate a glass bulb without breaking it, but what the heck, it was a movie.[/li]

I’m sorry, Gunny, I disagree completely. I know just how much energy is in a few drops of gasoline, even a pound or so, fully vaporized. I do not believe at all a light bulb with a few drops will do more than about a weak M-80’s worth of damage. Do you have some sort of other cite to lend - I’m happy to say I’m wrong, if you have some goos info. I just don’t believe it, I’m afraid.

That should read “good info”. I’m not looking for more info on DDG:wink:

      • I’d guess that a light-bulb so rigged would spatter some burning fuel on you. Gasoline itself isn’t very explosive. Meth labs are full of other explosive stuff though- maybe they think the gasoline will light off the rest of their supplies.
  • One of the main possible ingredients to use for meth production is methanol fuel. There are more than a few recipes for high-power explosives that call for it. Buying it used to arouse much less suspicion before meth became so popular. - MC

I have to agree with Anthracite - the quantities of gasoline you could fit as vapour in a lightbulb wouldn’t have the sort of energy necessary to “completely flatten a good-sized room” as Gunslinger reckons, unless it sets off other reactions in the lab.

However, why would people rely on such a chain when they’ve got access to a lab. Picric acid or similar would make a much nastier booby trap.

I can’t speak for anyone else around here, but I was reading this thinking the purpose of a gas filled bulb is to destroy the evidence, not to take out the officer’s doing the raid. Why would killing a couple people in the raid be beneficial to the dealers?

The fact that a g-man gets off’ed in the process, while nasty, probably isn’t their main objective.

Maybe the true intention of the bulb is to torch the place and make prosecution harder?

WARNING: The following is provided for informational purposes only…I’m not entirely comfortable posting it and if the mods see fit to edit this out, I’ll understand completely.

During my misspent youth, my friends and I got a few books of the type “Sabotage Devices, Improvised. Field Manual SPC-XXX” etc. I cannot attest to the military authenticity of the manuals, but they did illustrate lots of VERY ugly but effective booby-trap fuses, explosives, ways to disable rail lines, how to knock out utilities, and other special forces-type things. Being idiots, we constructed and tested lots of these devices. We never destroyed or damaged any property or hurt or scared anyone, of course, just burned a few patches of grass in our secluded back yards.

The light-bulb bomb can and will work.

[instructions for building such a device removed]

The result, when the light was switched on, was a small explosion of flaming glass/gasoline/sticky incendiary. The affected area was about a 4 foot radius sphere. It would be greater if the light bulb were in a ceiling fixture, I’d imagine, but ours were always on or near the ground.

Yes, it can be done. Please don’t do it.

Thank you, and goodnight.
[Edited by Chronos on 02-06-2001 at 01:40 PM]

Meth labs have all the necessary equipment to make nitro, methyl nitrate, and all sorts of other explosives, nevermind phosgene. The average homeowner can construct a cheap and easy chlorine gas device as well. You don’t need a meth lab to blow shit up, that much is certain.

The particularly resourceful meth lab can be a death trap for unwary visitors, though I don’t know that most meth labs actually do make such horrible booby traps. I expect the gasoline lightbulb is about as small as one would care to go, but then again, I don’t run a meth lab so my destructive impulses, or my assessment of others’, is not necessarily to be taken for granted.

Indeed, the light-bulb bomb needs to rely on the explosion to stick afterwards. I’ve heard soap in gas will work just as well, and of course there’s the Fight Club “orange juice concentrate,” though I can’t claim to have actually tried any of these in action.

Myself, I would construct a much better bomb simply out of model rocket engines. Used to do it all the time as a kid. Properly cap the pipe bomb and it will blow pennies through garbage cans. If that were aimed at, say, a nice stockpile of chemicals then no worries.


However, construction of explosives is damn illegal, and indeed giving knowledge of how to make them is also punishable if the person you gave the information to had intent to use it.

Thus, the internet is not a suitable place for this discussion since it has relatively free access and there’s no way to know who gets the info.

For those disappointed at my removal of Jingo’s instructions, I offer the following alternative method of producing an explosive device:

1: Obtain on ordinary latex party balloon.
2: Place nozzle of balloon in mouth, and empty contents of lungs into it.
3: Temorarily pinch nozzle shut with fingers, and inhale.
4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 until explosion occurs.

Kids, never, ever follow the instructions in one of those “little black books”. At the best, they’re intended for use by military specialists trained in the use of high explosives and other dangerous materials, and who are fully aware of the risks they take. At the worst, they’re written by idiots who either think they’re immortal or don’t care that they’re not, and contain things that even a Green Beret would refuse to attempt.

Thank you, Chronos, for your quick editing of my previous post as per my e-mail request. In retrospect it contained way too much information and you’re right—somebody could get hurt.

And, as noted before, I freely admit the idiocy of my having dabbled with such things as a child. I’m lucky to be here.

…well…really, we’re ALL lucky I’m here.

Thanks everyone for your very very educational posts. This light-bulb trick was simply something I had never heard of. I guess I’ve lived a sheltered life. Now I know better.