Fun With Thermite

At work, a major project for the last year or so has been extracting dead drives from machines leaving campus, with the intent of finding a way to render them unreadable. Degaussing was impractical, so we settled on running a drill bit through the platters in a couple of locations.

Effective, but it left us with about 200 nonfunctional drives leaking shards of aluminum. To make a long story short, I've seen one too many episodes of Mythbusters, so I asked the Director of IT if some of us couldn't have the drives for what, because we're an academic institution, I'll call an "experiment." The purpose of the experiment? To make a big boom and set stuff on fire. We're guys...this should go without saying.

I ordered several tens of pounds of unmixed thermite from a guy on the Web (just google "thermite mix" and it'll be pretty clear). Raymond drilled the drives, and Barth provided the camera. Long story short, we set up a stack of 100 drives and burned them out using molten iron.

The results were pretty cool, though I have to say that unless you got a real bulk rate on thermite, it would be a pretty cost-ineffective (though completely destructive) way to ensure your data didn't get out of your hands. Also, if we do this again, we'll remove all plastics and PCBs from the drives. We pulled off the drive rails, but the PCBs and connectors burned out, leaving a pretty noxious soot. Live and learn.

Anyway, you can see a gallery of images or watch a shortened video of the goings on.

Words for the wise: As really dangerous chemical reactions go, thermite isn't a big deal. It's just very hot, and very energetic. As the video shows, it drips molten iron and throws burning iron powder for quite a distance. It's also kind of a pain to light. I'm not going to say don't play with it, but use common sense if you do, and don't do anything really stupid.

Once a thermite reaction starts, you cannot stop it. It will laugh at your pitiful fire extinguisher. Water will create an explosion, and burning metal shrugs off dry chemical. I repeat: Don't be stupid, stupid. I can do this because I'm an adult with insurance and a healthy sense of self-preservation. If you do this and burn down something important, give yourself third-degree burns, or set the back lot on fire, it's your own fault.