Experiment 35: Ball Mill & Aluminum Powder for Thermite

Years and years ago, I decided I wanted to make thermite, so I tried to make a ball mill for producing aluminum powder, a key ingredient of most thermites.  A ball mill powderizes materials by crushing them with the continual falling action of hard milling balls (in my case steel ball bearings).  My first attempts to build a ball mill failed horribly.  They were slow, finnicky, and didn't work at all.  A couple months and a few YouTube videos later, I built one using a corded drill and some castor wheels, along with a metal container.  The attachment of the drill to the container lid was so stressful that I ripped a perfect circle out of the container lid.  I then switched to a plastic container with small bars on the inside to lift the balls up and send them crashing down on the aluminum foil inside.  This worked... until the drill melted.  No joke, the plastic on the drill melted and that was the end of the drill.  Oops.

A few more months went by, and then I got a free dryer off Craigslist.  The motor worked well, even though the first attempts to use it didn't.  One time the motor spun so fast the ball mill container flew off toward the ceiling!  I finally figured out a way to harness the speed of the motor with some belts and wheels to tame its ferocity.  However, the ball mill still had the small bars on the inside.  Most ball mills don't have these, for good reasons - they are loud and hard to clean (especially when attached with duct tape!).  So, I took them off, and the balls in the mill proceeded to slide, rather than tumble.  After a few more months of apathetically looking at the years-long failed project, I finally got the motivation to finish it and found a container that I hoped was the right size - the balls filled it approximately halfway up.  To my extreme surprise, the ball mill worked!  After years of dissapointment and failed prototypes, the mill jar finally opened to reveal ultra-fine aluminum powder!  This is how many things in the inventing/experimenting business go. They take perseverance and dedication to finish and might not be immediately rewarding, but they will pay off if you finish strong and pull through until the end.
This has been the too-long story of how I built the ball mill to finally fulfill my dream of thermite.  It takes about a week for it to turn foil shreds into fine powder.  The aluminum powder produced has been confirmed to work in thermite.  To sum up the mill's actual operation, I made the above video explaining how it works for milling aluminum... or anything else highly flammable.  :)

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
― Thomas A. Edison