Scene in The Terminator: Inicendiary Device Made of Common Household Items

There’s a scene in the original The Terminator where a character makes an incendiary device with some common household items. To wit: ammonia, moth balls, and corn syrup.

This wikipedia article says that moth balls are now made with 1, 4-dichlorobenzene instead of naphthalene, due to naphthalene’s flammability. This information suggests to me that such a bomb is no longer possible, but was at one time.

Is this correct interpretation? Would such a combination of ingredients, made with naphthalene-containing mothballs instead of modern ones, have made a bomb?

Please note: I am not asking HOW to do this. I’m only asking if it was possible. Obviously the ingredients would have to be mixed in precise porportions, and I’m not asking about those porportions. And, one of the key ingredients isn’t even available today.

Sure sure, but if you WERE a time-traveling assassin/soldier, this might not exactly stop you, would it? :stuck_out_tongue:

I was strolling through Wikipedia looking seeing if I could figure out the answer, and I learned that corn syrup is both gay and made from “the jiblets of a baby turkey fetus”. Now, that is one fact I never would have thought to be true.

Making very dangerous things from household chemicals has always been possible and still is. It’s true that chemicals that created any sort of a predictable or controllable danger are long gone from underneath your sink, but there’s still plenty of things that can kill you. I’m not a chemist, but the likelihood of corn syrup, ammonia and naphtalene creating something flammable with explosive vapors is pretty high but I won’t believe it’s stable or can be fashioned into any sort of a device until a chemist comes along and tells us so.

The thing that struck me as odd about that scene was that Kyle Reese might know how to make improvised explosives, but why would he know how to make them out of items you can buy at the supermarket?

I doubt there were…I mean “will be”…many mothballs on the shelves of supermarkets once SkyNet herds all the humans into concentration camps. Or supermarkets, for that matter. So Reese should know how to make explosives from common items from a SkyNet automated factory, not from a supermarket.

Unless John Connors told him a specific recipe he could make from common items in 1984. But I seem to recall that Reese says something like that everyone knows these recipes in the future.

I know of a couple things you might find in a home that could be added to make something quite spectacular. If you add something from the drugstore, you can even make it self-igniting. I wonder, though, if we are on the edge of violating the rules of the message board, not to mention attracting the attention of the guys from Homeboy Security.

As distinct, of course, from the jiblets of an adult turkey fetus.

I wouldn’t think so, unless we started giving actual instructions.

Which, of course, are not at all gay.


All three items are reasonably chemically stable on their own, so they could be found by scavengers. In addition, they’re pretty useful in their own right (at least corn syrup and ammonia are), so it stands to reason that, if there’s any industrial machinery still set up and in the hands of the humans (which there has to be, for them to even still be alive and armed after decades of the war), they might be still around in sufficient quantities that it makes sense to know about using them for improvised explosives.

Simple, after seeing Reese use the recipe in 1984, Sarah Conner researches it herself when she goes all crazy-commando. She teaches this to her son John, along with lots of other various stuff we see him knowing how to do (such as hacking into an ATM with a portable computer). During the war between the humans and machines, John Conner teachers many of his soldiers various tricks he learned from his mother, Reese among his students (Reese I think mentions that John taught them all sorts of things useful on a battlefield).

Hmm… I need to get the Terminator movies on DVD. The first two of them, anyhow.

I have seen a few that were quite happy.


FWIW, after the Oklahoma City bombing, I checked out quite a few books on home-made explosives, &c. and there’s no way Reese could have come up with an explosive up to the task of taking out the terminator: if he needed a plasma rifle to bring the thing down, there ain’t no way, he could expect to make an explosive that would kill it without a superior delivery method.

I can recall two mixes that used sugar, and those were for a low-grade attempt at black powder; the others were either unreliable—from what I’ve read, the Oklahoma City bombers were “lucky” that the bomb actually went off—or had somewhat difficult-to-obtain ingredients, and none of them reached the explosive power of military-type material. For a really effective home made explosive, he’d be doing quite dangerous work and would need a kitchen with stuff like a good supply of ice and an electric stove.

On top of that, he’d have to make a detonator, and those use primary explosives, which are really dangerous things to mix up; the recipies may have been known by everybody, but he didn’t mention how many people blow themselves to smithereens trying to mix the stuff up.

On top of all that, he needs a delivery system. A shaped charge would be ideal, I imagine, however he’d have to get the terminator to stand still while he strapped it to the power plant or CPU. Plus, he’d need the material for making the shaped charge. (I’m not saying what that is.) An RPG would have been ideal.

It was a nice convenience to have a pipe bomb to insert into the chassis when the time was ripe; however, I can’t imagine Reese would have even bothered. He would have been much better off getting himself a .460 Weatherby Magnum and hoping for the best.

The exact details of the movie’s time-travel scenario escape me, but I think it’s implausable to suggest that the rebels could scavenge a stash of mothballs that’s, say, twenty years-old, especially if the product is stored in simple consumer-quality cardboad boxes. Mothballs sublimate at room temperature – that is, they “dissolve” from their solid form to gas. That’s what makes them work as a moth repellant. They sort of fumigate the closet as they change phase. Anyone who has actually used mothballs knows that a box will only last for a few seasons.

The same may be true for the ammonia, which, if my fading chemistry knowledge is correct, is just NH3 gas dissolved in water. I think such a solution loses potency over time, especially if it’s not stored in very tight containers and/or it’s exposed to light.

I could be wrong about any or all of the above, but I throw it out there for your consideration…

Household ammonia is watered down quite a bit, which might make it less effective as an oxidizer. A gardener’s house, though, would have a box of concentrated fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro or Hyponex. There’s your oxidizer. The OP already wrote of cooking oil and sugar. If the homeowner is a smoker, you have a time delay igniter’s ingredients.