Making Thermite- A Step-by-Step Guide

Thermite, often used for welding, metal refining, disabling munitions, is a pyrotechnic composition of metal powder and metal oxide. You can make thermite by yourself but considering its hazardous nature, you must take all the safety precautions before. 

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This guide will take you through the steps to make Thermite at home, the ingredients required, and if it is legal to own or make Thermite.

What is Thermite?

Thermite is a mixture of metallic aluminum, iron oxide where aluminum is a more reactive metal than iron and together they produce molten iron through a redox reaction. The reaction is powerful but safe if all the precautions are taken exactly. The reaction is also known as the Goldschmidt process and is mainly used for welding such as to join railway tracks. 

Thermites have diverse compositions; however, aluminum is common as it has a high boiling point and low cost.

How Safe Is It To Make Thermite?

There have been incidences of accidents where the experiment was performed outdoors and the powders blew into flame, causing fire and burns.  So make sure you follow all the safety precautions mentioned here and don’t miss a single instruction.

Safety Precautions

  1. There should be nothing within a 4-meter radius of the reaction that is flammable including metals with low melting points. 
  2. Make sure the area is free from the dry bush and flammable items.
  3. Avoid doing it indoors if you are inexperienced and once you get the experience, you can carry out the reaction in an industrial space as well. 
  4. If you are doing it in a science lab, make sure to wear the protective gear and use a heat resistant mat. 
  5. As thermite can burn through a lot of substances such as metals, it is recommended to use ceramic containers with a high heating point.
  6. Thermite also emits UV radiation that can damage your eyes, so wearing a welding mask is mandatory. Wearing a sunglass with UV protection will also help but it will offer complete protection; it is not advisable to look at the thermite flames directly. 
  7. In addition to welding mask, wear a pair of heatproof gloves and a fireproof apron. Also, wear thick clothes and make sure to not expose your skin. 

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How to Make Thermite?

Ingredients

  • Welder’s mask or sunglasses
  • Fireproof apron
  • Sturdy, heatproof gloves
  • Thick clothing
  • Powdered aluminum
  • Powdered iron oxide/ferric oxide
  • Magnesium strip or sparkler
  • 2 ceramic dishes or clay pots
  • Sand
  • Close-toed shoes
  • Oven or Bunsen burner
  • Evaporating dish (optional)
  • Heatproof mat (optional)

Procedure

Here is the recipe to make thermite all by yourself:

Step-1: For a basic thermite experiment, take 9 grams of finely powdered iron oxide (rust), 3 grams of aluminum powder that will react to form thermite, and a thin strip of magnesium as the ignition material. You can buy them in jars from any company but don’t grind them on your own as it is risky. Instead of using magnesium strips to ignite the materials, a combination of potassium permanganate and glycerin will also work; both of which can be purchased from retail stores or online.

Step-2: Dry out the iron oxide in a Bunsen burner or oven by setting the temperature at medium and heat it for one hour. If you are using the burner, keep the iron on an evaporating dish for 60 minutes. Let the iron oxide cool completely before proceeding.

Step-3: On a sheet of paper, mix the 3 grams of aluminum powder and 9 grams of iron oxide; blend until they are mixed. You can increase the quantity but keep it in the 1:3 ratio of aluminum to iron oxide. However, it is not recommended to increase the amount of metal until you are experienced and under no circumstances mix them in a metal container, as this can lead to an unwanted reaction.

Step-4: Take the mixture in a ceramic container such as a clay flower pot as they will not respond much to the heat of the thermite. Still, to be extra careful, keep the ceramic container into another one in case the first one collapses due to extreme heat. Do not put the lighting thermite on an ice block to control the heat as it can lead to severe consequences.

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Step-5: Use the magnesium strip to light and make sure it is long enough so that you get the time to move away. In case you are using potassium permanganate and glycerin, use a good size pile of potassium permanganate and then drop glycerin onto it. However, it is always recommended to use a magnesium strip.

Step-6: From a distance, light the magnesium strip or you can also use a long lighter and move away to watch the reaction from a distance. Make sure you are wearing the welding mask at all times. 

Step-7: Do not use water to extinguish thermite and let it burn out or you can use ample amounts of dry sand to blow out the fire. Also, remember a thermite reaction cannot be reversed once it has started.

FAQs

Q-1 How Hot Does Thermite Burn?

Thermite is known as the hottest burning man-made substance that burns at more than 2200C and can melt through most of the metals. 

Q-2 Is Making Thermite Illegal?

It is not illegal to buy or make Thermite as it is not an explosive; however, due to its hazardous nature, it can be risky to make it especially when you are inexperienced. So as far as you are not putting someone’s life in danger, it is legal, however, in some places it is still illegal.

Q-3 Can you purchase Thermite?

Yes, you can buy thermite online from Skylighter or e-Bay; however, from e-Bay, you can buy it as a kit but from Skylighter, you have to individually buy the chemicals. 

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Q-4 Can Thermite Burn Through Steel?

Thermite is the hottest burning man-made substance in the world and with temperature of more than 2200C, it holds the power to burn through steel.

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