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Wood cannon (or kids, don't try this at home)

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by 4v50 Gary, Nov 8, 2006.

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  1. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 19, 2002
    Definitely do not try this at home. Taken from the History of Muhlenberg County (pages 295-296). Muhlenberg County is in Kentucky. Some background first. Earlier some (pro-Union) youngsters staged several fake raids as if they were members of (Confederate) Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. They chased "shot" down or captured the fleeing Unionists (their buddies) who previously warned the locals of Forrest's approach. This caused much alarm and left many timid folks shivering. So, along that line, another group of enterprising youths decided to have their share of fun:

  2. highlander 5

    highlander 5 Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Mythbusters did a segment on the same thing but in a different era. IIRC the story a village was in need os a cannon in to repel invaders but they had like a day to make it. Using what they thought for cutting a "bore"was a tool that looked like giant spoon which cut poorly. Adam and Jamie used a power drill and a bit to cut the bore then re enforced it with iron straps.
    Jamie made a cannon ball from stone which was quite round considering he used hammer and chisel to make it.
    They took this "cannon" out to fire it don't remember
    how much BP they used but it did fire without bursting and they never found the cannon ball.
    Personally I thought it would explode on the first try.
  3. riddleofsteel

    riddleofsteel Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    In the history of my clan is an oral tradition about the Great Cannon of Fircall. Appearently someof my clan members decided to build one in olden days. I wrote this short story based on the actuall flow of events as passed on by oral saga.



    There was a steady cold wind blowing across the hilltop. Aedh Org struggled to pull his heavy wool cloak tighter around himself. He and his small band of clansmen sat on their horses gazing down at the stone tower in the valley below them. Their shaggy ponies shifted nervously as the men discussed their problem. This was a well-fortified site surrounded by a wide moat of bogy marsh. The only access was a dirt causeway leading directly to the front gate. Aedh Org knew it well; the tower had belonged to his clan for generations. Rathleen castle had been a family stronghold since the time of Malmudha. Under English rulers the clan's name had been anglicized to O'Molloy but the tower was still called Rathleen of Malmudha and all the clans accepted that it belonged to the O'Molloys. The tower controlled the western access road into Fircall and the English knew it. They would try to hold the position at all costs. Aedh Org on the other hand wanted it back.
    The English garrison had taken the tower from a part of the clan by treachery last fall. During the winter Aedh Org and his clansmen had discussed plans to retake the tower and avenge the deaths of the those killed in the takeover. Now that spring was greening the Irish hills it was time to act. From their prior experience they knew that a direct frontal assault was out of the question. Many other clans had tried to attack Rathleen castle in the past unsuccessfully. "We need more men." said Colon. "More men? An army with swords and pikes could not take that tower." said Aedh Org. "What we need is a siege engine or a ram for the gate." Colon urged his horse to the front of the group and spoke loudly "What we need is a cannon. I have seen them used in campaigns in France and Germany." Colon had traveled widely in his occupation as a mercenary soldier. Many Irish hired out their skills this way. Colon was well versed in the ways of war and his opinion was respected by the clan. Aedh Org knew a little of gunpowder but he also knew that there was not a single cannon in all of central Ireland. Even the English garrison at Rosecommon had only muskets, no cannon. "And where do you plan on getting such a beaste?" Aedh said. "We could build one." said Colon "How hard can it be?" As he spoke the clansman's reddish mustache bobbed up and down and that comic effect plus the picture of the clan building a cannon made them all break out in hearty laughter.
    On the ride home Aedh Org's mind reeled. The mental picture of blowing the heavy oak door to splinters was attractive to say the least. Later in the day he sat talking quietly with the village blacksmith. He told him he wanted to build a long hollow tube of iron. It would be closed at one end and needed to be strong enough to hold in a gunpowder explosion. The blacksmith had never even heard of gunpowder much less a cannon. Extremely perplexed he asked several questions as to just how strong the tube had to be and how large. Now Aedh Org knew next to nothing about cannons. Based on his limited knowledge he envisioned the largest cannon it would be possible for the clan to build. He quickly figured the area of the door and took a stick and drew a large circle on the ground. The blacksmith told him an iron tube that big would need more oxen to pull it than the clan had ever owned. Unsure of the power of such a weapon Aedh Org insisted on as large a cannon as possible. The blacksmith reached up and pulled down the iron rim of a wagon wheel. After some basic engineering discussion it was decided that the new cannon would be constructed of seasoned oak wood bound with iron bands in the fashion of a long straight whiskey barrel. After all that was the type of barrel the blacksmith had the most experience with. The cannon balls would be custom cast after the cannon was finished and the bore could be measured.
    Aedh Org sent out a raiding party to bring back a couple of kegs of black powder from the English garrison at Rosecommon. During the days that followed the sounds of forges and hammers sounded well into the night. Slowly the tree shaped cannon took shape. Carpenters built a carriage and wheels to support the weight of the massive weapon. No one in Fircall or Ireland for that matter had ever seen anything like it. Guards had to be posted to prevent the curious from tampering with the iron clad marvel. Children were found playing in its barrel several times. When the cannon and balls were finished there was nothing to do but wait for the raiding party to bring back the powder.
    The metal shod wide wheels of the cannon's carriage popped and ground the clods and small stones of the dirt road to dust as they carried the cannon along. The teams of oxen balled and snorted protesting the weight attached to them. Skin clad clansmen applied whips to the teams to force them up and down the shallow grades. After topping the first big hill Aedh Org and his men began to wonder about the downgrade. He put all his men and their horses on ropes attached to the weapon. When they started down the hill the cannon started to gain speed despite all they could do to hold it back. Soon the mass of iron, complaining oxen, frightened horses and bruised men was careening down the hillside. Luckily there were only a few such grades on the road to the tower and they soon learned to chock the wheels with logs to slow such breakneck descents. After days of sweat and toil the great cannon stood on the road before castle Rathleen with its iron bands gleaming in the Irish sun. For all the world it looked as if a giant iron tree had fallen in the road.
    Aedh Org leaped into the saddle and rode toward the tower. His red hair blowing in the wind looked like a halo of flame around his head. Drawing his sword he sung it overhead while bellowing the Keltic war cry. "Come out and fight! Face me, men without balls! " The men of the English garrison stood laughing on the castle battlements. Their leader called out to Aedh Org "Why would I leave a perfectly good castle to fight a pagan savage? " Aedh Org rode closer to the gate. Pointing the blade of his sword toward the cannon he said " You see that cannon you English pig? We will blow you out of Rathleen castle this day." The English grew quiet as Aedh Org rode back to his men. At the cannon, some of the men were arguing about how adjust the aim. It seemed that in their haste to construct the behemoth they had neglected to include a system of adjustment for elevation. Over the next few hours they carefully rolled the cannon forward onto a series of planks and rocks until they were satisfied the barrel was aligned with the great oaken door of the tower.
    By this time the English had grown tired of the whole affair and were standing on the battlements laughing and pointing at the clansmen like children at a circus. Aedh Org sighted down the barrel and pronounced the cannon to be aimed properly. He jumped back on his horse and rode to the top of the hill overlooking the tower. From that vantage point he raised his sword and lowered it as a signal to light the powder in the cannon's touch hole. When the cannon was touched off there was a massive explosion. The fifty plus pounds of black powder that the clansmen had shoveled down the barrel of their massive cannon had produced an explosion no wooden barrel could contain. Terrible splinters of oak and shards of iron bands ripped thru the air killing over a dozen men. Unfortunately all of them were Irish. The door of the tower stood unscathed, cannon ball still in the ruined barrel.
    The English garrison in Rathleen castle gave up a mighty cheer followed by roars of laughter. The garrison commander called out again to Aedh Org "A fine cannon you have built and deadly to. The only problem is how to figure out how to get the enemy to stand next it instead of your own men." Aedh Org and two of his men rode down past the smoking cannon to within an arrow shot of the gate. The garrison commander came down to the main gate and opened a small porthole built in the door. Thru it he said "You and your men have provide us this day with such great sport that we hold you no grudge for this attack. Take my hand Aedh Org." Aedh Org stepped down from his horse and approached the gate. He reached out and grabbed the English commander's hand. Gripping it firmly he drew his sword and cut it off at the elbow. "I accept your hand in friendship." he said. "But you still have my clan's castle. We will be back." Aedh Org remounted and rode away in a hail of English arrows.
    The clan collected its dead and began the slow march home. At the top of the hill above Rathleen, they paused and looked back at the tower and the still smoking cannon. As they rode away Aedh Org was heard to say "You know I really think our mistake was building it far to big. Next year we will build one out of all iron, half the size, and it will have a better way to aim it."

    This story is based on an actual event recorded in my clans history. It was passed down by word of mouth until being finally written down here for the first time.

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