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Blasting Fundamentals

Dr. B. C. Paul 2000

Note The slides that follow present the authors summary of knowledge commonly
held by people well studied in the field. While information found here-in can be
found in a variety of published sources this material does not by design or intention
follow any one source of information.

The Role of Fragmentation in

Rock masses must generally be reduced into
small discrete pieces to enable materials
handling and processing
Reduction is usually accomplished
mechanically by ripping or scraping if
softness permits
By blasting using explosives to accomplish
size reduction

Explosive Types
Low Explosives - progress of the reaction
front through the explosive chemical
mixture is slower than the speed of sound
Example - Black Powder

High Explosives - reaction front is faster

than speed of sound
Example - TNT and Dynamite

Blasting Agents
Popular explosive formulation today
Made of combinations of chemicals that are
themselves not explosive
Advantage in transportation
Taking high explosives over public highways is
a major permitting issue
May provide for storage of non-explosives
(explosives require special powder magazines)

Blasting Agents Continued

Most common example is ANFO
Combination of prilled Ammonium Nitrate (a
fertilizer) about 96%
Diesel Fuel about 4%

1930s put ANFO mix in cans and used as

cheap dynamite
Late 1940s early 50s rediscovered as a bulk
explosive - Texas City, Texas

Formulation of an Explosive
Combination of a Fuel and an Oxidizer
Fuel that is prone to fast reaction and
usually produces large number of fumes and
a high energy yield
Oxidizer provides for fuel to burn without
kinetic limitations of atmospheric exchange
Can blast under water

Elements of an Explosive
Initiation energy

usually in form of heat

or shock (example - Nitroglycerine)

most high explosives build it in

Confinement and Pressure

heat, confinement, and pressure are needed to boost
reaction kinetics and make fuel burn with a reaction front
faster than sound

Can you see what happened at Texas City

Initiation of a Blasting Agent

Meant to be safe - go off only when very
specific design conditions are met
Cap Sensitivity
Deals with amount of shock energy to initiate
Charge in a blasting cap is not enough shock energy

generally heat alone will not provide energy

Drilling into charge or getting caught in a fire generally
not enough

Classic Blasting Initiation System

Series of electric blasting caps
Burst of electricity through the circuit initiates
blasting caps
Each blasting cap contains a bridge wire similar to
the element of a light bulb
The electric burst causes the bridge wire to become very

Below the bridge wire is a column of black powder

- ignited by hot bridge wire

Classic Initiation
Black Powder Column functions as a delay.
Variable powder column lengths allow one
pulse of electricity to cause caps to go off at
different pre-designed times
At base of powder column is a heat sensitive
high explosive charge called a base charge
When the black powder column burns down
the cap explodes

Initiation from a Cap

Cap is about the size of an overgrown 22 shell
- could blow fingers off your hand - not blow
up rock
Cap is inserted in a small hole (called a cap
well) in a booster
Booster is a chunk of high explosive such as
is shock sensitive but limited heat sensitivity

Cap Initiation Continued

Booster with a Cap inserted is called a primer
The primer is cap sensitive
When handled - can play Frisbee and Baseball
with it and it wont go off
When the cap goes off about 5 or 10 lbs of high
explosive detonates

Enough energy to shatter a person or a small

amount of rock

Blowing Things Up
The primer sits in a column of blasting
Shock from 5 lbs of TNT is enough to
initiate the blasting agent
Main explosive charge goes off shattering
the rock mass (and any stupid sucker
standing in the blast area)

Strengths of the Modern

Very limited amounts of highly explosive
material used
Staged initiation ensures that main
explosive charge is almost impossible to set
off without design and intent
Maximizes performance of large amounts of
powerful explosives

Initiation Alternatives
Problem of electric blasting caps is electrical surge
Lighting strike can cause full detonation with people in
large loops of wire act as antennas and can induce current
from radio waves
(Remember radio silence requirements around building
demolition sites)

Detonating chord - cord filled with high explosive

set off by single cap

Detonating Chord
Cap is not eliminated but one person hooks up
at the edge of the shot area after the shot is
wired - greatly reduced vulnerability
Produces a surface high explosive blast deafening sound - disturbs neighbors
Can bury the chord but still noisy and could break

High speed reaction through chord eliminates

most opportunities for controlled delays

Non- El
Hollow plastic tube with an explosive
coating inside
Can build delay elements into circuit
Similar to det chord but slower reaction
Limited explosive reduces noise
Still initiate with a single cap