The Mother of All Potato Cannons

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers.)

My friend Christian Ristow was at Maker Faire with his giant pneumatically powered sculpture called Hand of Man. It's great. It's a highly interactive piece in which one puts on a glove with sensors and controls a multi-ton pneumatic hand capable of picking up and crushing a refrigerator.

hand of man laughing squid.jpg
Photo - Scott Beale at Laughing Squid

About a year or so ago, I worked on a TV pilot for Discovery Channel starring Christian. He is perhaps the most gifted mechanical artist I've ever met.

Ristow designed a machine gun potato cannon which was a true machine gun spud gun. It had a gravity fed magazine that fed spuds into the firing chamber. I've built a lot of spud guns in my time, mostly like those in Backyard Ballistics. This was a magnitude more powerful and complex. There were four high pressure air tanks that could shoot potatoes continually and at high velocity until the magazine was emptied. I dubbed it "the Quadra-tater."

IMG_1097 bill and quad.JPG

The airtanks were massive. I calculated the muzzle velocity to be well in excess of 85 mph. The rate of fire depended on the speed with which you turned a crank. The crank controlled five pneumatic solenoid valves, one for the magazine loader and one for each of the air tanks.

quad and gattling gun resized for boingboing.jpg

It worked absolutely great. We could get 20 or potatoes in the magazine and could empty the thing in much less than a minute. For the finale, the Quadratater, along with a gatling gun that Dave Mathews built, destroyed a car.

destroyed car sized for boingboing.jpg

more Quadra-Tator images on my blog at Notes From the Technology Underground


  1. in college some physics friends had a potato gun challenge

    the losing team shot their gun 1/2 a mile and damaged some bricks on a dorm wall

    the winning team shot their gun 1/2 a mile and completely disintegrated the bricks

  2. I need a video of this! – both the hand crushing a fridge and the potato gun. I needs it I tell ya!

  3. Was the show picked up for the discovery channel? I did 3D animation of those two guns for the pilot and would love to see how it all turned out.

  4. Check out the videos from Sarcos corporation. The “Large Dextrous Arm” (lower left) is shown holding an anvil as easily as a beer mug! What’s more, there’s haptic force-feedback to the user! The user can feel the heft and weight of what he/she’s holding. Just what you’d need if you’re holding a sword, say.

  5. Someone stole Optimal Optimus’ hand! How on Earth will the Maximals win the Beast Wars now???

  6. I guess I’m kind of a dick for thinking about how all those potatoes you shot our of your machine-gun potato cannon could have gone to, like, a homeless shelter or something, huh? Does my thinking this is a sinful waste of food make me a humorless jerk?

    If so, guilty as charged.

  7. just need a grid of blades over the muzzle and and a large military surplus radar downrange. Not sure how to do the fish though.

  8. That hand is called a “waldo”, kids. Heinlein dreamed it up in the story of the same name back in the 40’s.

  9. has anyone ever read mona lisa overdrive by w. gibson?

    next thing you know this guy will be building something called the judge

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