Episode 141: Bottle Bash

Air Date: April 14, 2010

Being hit in the head with an empty beer bottle will cause more damage than being hit in the head with a full beer bottle.

busted

The Mythbusters started by striking a fake human head with both full and empty bottles. The results showed that the full bottle struck with an average G-force of 28.1, while the empty bottle struck with an average of 22.7 Gs. However, to get more consistent results, Adam built a machine to simulate a swinging arm. In their second test, the Mythbusters used the robot arm to strike a container with gelatin representing the human brain. Analyzing the results, they found that full bottle still delivered more force to the brain than the empty bottle, making an injury like a concussion more likely. However, the Mythbusters decided to factor in other injuries such as skull fractures and lacerations. They built a container to more closely simulate a human skull. The full bottles were able to smash the skull, while the empty bottle could not even crack it. They then used artificial skin and blood to test for lacerations. However, the full and empty bottles caused the same amount of lacerations. The full bottle was clearly more capable of causing damage than the empty bottle.

Ancient armies may have built fully functional cannons completely out of leather.

busted

For comparison, the Build Team fired a Civil War parrot gun of similar size to the cannons described in the myth to measure its muzzle velocity, which was 389 miles per hour. Because there are two separate versions of the myth, originating from Sweden and Ireland, the Build Team decided to test both designs. The Swedish cannon consisted of a copper core wrapped in leather and iron bands, while the Irish cannon was built completely out of leather. The Swedish cannon managed to fire its cannonball at a speed of 450 miles per hour, but blew out its breech in the process. The Irish cannon failed spectacularly, with the breech blowing out, the cannonball moving only two feet, and the barrel completely unravelling, making a second shot impossible. They then built a third leather cannon and reinforced it with significantly more leather. They also lubricated the barrel to make it easier for the cannonball to fire. The cannon managed to fire successfully, but the cannonball could only achieve a speed of 52 miles per hour. While the cannon was still structurally intact, the barrel was too damaged for a second shot.

19 Comments

  1. JooJ says:

    I was just thinking, the way Adam and Jamie approached the bottle myth was all well and good, but one detail may have made their results more dramatic than reality.

    there was not analog for the movement of the human neck, or the whole human body for that matter. the tests they performed are almost as if the head is being held against a wall when struck. a person would move more than a head on a pole, and much of the shock would be absorbed, POSSIBLY absorbed so much that the impact would do considerably less damage than the cuts from the glass itself?

    Back to work?

    • jaronb says:

      Interesting point. They did use a spring for the neck in some of the tests, which may not be an adequate analog. I have a different theory they should consider:

      Kinetic energy = m * v^2 / 2. In the case of an empty bottle, the mass is less than the full bottle making it easier to swing and subsequently increasing the max achievable speed, making the empty collision more lethal b/c there’s more energy (v^2 >> m). The Mythbusters did not consider this.

  2. spike says:

    If a person was to be get hit with a botttle,the person would brace for the impact which would cause the musles to stiffing up .But that will only happen if the person sees the bottle coming and all that was showing were impacts to the front of the face and head

  3. Bill says:

    I would like to dispute the results of the leather cannon test. The Swedish leather cannon is not a myth but a well documented historical reality. There is a historical record of several ordered by the Court of the Massachusettes Bay Colony. The advantage was light weight which made them much more mobile, especially under rough or wilderness conditions. The fact that they are known to have been used without blowing the breech out indicates faulty construction.

    • occam says:

      Or more likely, it was a muzzle loader rather than breach

  4. Arch says:

    ok this wont be personal but who thought of hte idea that an empty beer bottle would hurt more then one that is filled??? The one that is filled has more weight and mass to it so it would be harder to break.

  5. Laird says:

    They did my Myth! Yay! I was one of the small handful of people to suggest the leather cannon.

    Bill, unfortunately, you are severly incorrect in regards to the Swedish origin. Gustavus Adolphus did NOT go galavanting through Thuringia with leather cannon. He DID experiment with them, and found, much as the MythBusters did, that they were far more dangerous to the gun crew than they were to the enemy. You’ve fallen for one of the myths of Carl Gustav. The Massachusetts Bay Company may or may not have ordered leather guns, but they didn’t come out of Sweden’s armories!

    In reality, Gustavus Adolphus went about with more conventional lightweight cannon of small bore – His guns were small but numerous, and they could keep up with his forces, providing support that other armies could not match.

  6. elliot cook says:

    look i was thinking, maybe the damage from the bottle is less ‘drain bamaging’ and more from the glass ripping apart the face. i noticed in the initial tests with the red head and gforce meters. when jamie was smacking the head with empty bottles, the face was getting cut far worse than with the full bottles.

    further more, i know for a fact that bottles with lids fastened break nowhere near as easily as bottles without a lid.
    perhaps retest taking into account the skin tissue damage, and also taking the lids off all the bottles. cheers guys keep up the awesome mythbusting

  7. mal johnston says:

    Hi Guys,
    What you did not consider is that you can swing an empty bottle a lot faster than a full one.
    Cheers,
    Mal in sydney.

  8. PaulMalley says:

    Leather Canon

    From the look of it you were using Chrome leather
    to make the canon.
    That is soft and pliable suitable for instance
    for ladies underware.
    If you had used rawhide or had used untanned
    boiled hide,as used in medieval armor,you might
    have had a different result

  9. mark wroe says:

    Build a better mouse trap ? Is it true that if you build a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door. Ps i doubt it.

  10. Max Kennedy says:

    With respect to the cannon,could the originals used boiled leather such as long used in leather armor? it would have been harder and less likely to deform. It is also a well known technology of the time.

    • Masato says:

      Agreed, boiled leather is much more hardy, and also can have a more polished hardened finish. They should revisit using boiled leather. I’m surprised they didn’t try that to begin with.

  11. Timby says:

    The leather canon experiment missed one important factor. Wet leather has very different properties than dry leather. Wet leather is more elastic and when it dries it contracts considerably, tightening and contracting as it dries. Look at how original leather golf balls were made.

  12. Ana says:

    The leather cannon was also not built or used properly…they used a tube inside the cannon and a cartridge with .80 caliber balls so they didn’t even use powder… so until they build the cannon according to historical fact, I don’t accept it as being busted.

  13. Jacek says:

    There is an actual Leather Cannon which has proff of being fired (burned powder residuals) in one of the Polish Military Museums (Warsaw i believe).

    Apart from the damage which age has done to it, there is no indication of damage from shots although they are sure that it has in fact been fired.

    The given cannon was confiscated from a Swedich garrison during the Polish-Swedish war between 1640-1660

  14. Kylee says:

    Someone mentioned in regards to the bottle bashing episode how it is not likely for someone to get hit with a beer bottle with the cap still on. But I just wanted to inform you all that my brother got hit in the face with a full beer bottle ( with the cap ) by a drunk guy at a gas station who was trying to steal beer. So, it isn’t THAT unlikely! =D

  15. Mark says:

    The myth is probably busted but I don’t think you can use a cannon from the 1860s as a benchmark to judge the performance of cannons from the 1700s and 1600s! And then describe it as a period cannon!

  16. andy says:

    i got hit with a bottle in a bar cant tell ya if it was full or not but i can still feel it slightly years on so i would say it hurts more than a punch

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