Gurjap
Gurjap
Branch Unspecified
11 Mar 2012

Investigation: How to weld small pieces of metal in a prison (Escape From Alcatraz)

You see, it was a cool movie I saw on TV when I was a little kid (Escape From Alcatraz). It had a really interesting scene in it: Frank (Clint Eastwood) pinches a nailcutter from the warden, and takes out the pen knife in it to chisel through the concrete in his cell. However, it is without a grip and hence cannot be handled properly, so Frank does some improvised engineering (jugaad) and decides to weld it to the handle of a spoon he pinched from the mess.

So, he files a nickel on the nailcutter's filer, gathers the filings on a paper.... these are to be used as a filler for the weld. He puts the pen knife on the handle of the spoon, liberally sprinkles on the "filler" and lights a whole bunch of matchsticks under it, all matchsticks neatly clamped together. This is the heat source.

The welding (technically brazing) is apparently a success, because we see Frank using this "chisel" later in the film, to complete his chiseling out of the concrete.

I remember being stunned as a kid at the brilliance of the whole technique: no fancy stuff involved at all.

Anyway I saw the movie this weekend, and decided to try this for myself. If it worked, it would be a great technique to have for a hobbyist- simple and inexpensive.

So I filed an old brass door handle: the stuff would have a better chance of working than what a nickel is made of, it has a lower melting and recrystallization temperature. Then I found an old razor blade and a spoon, and wrung off the spoon handle. I did exactly what Frank did: I put the razor on the spoon handle (I was careful to clean both surfaces), sprinkled on the brass filings, and I was ready.

Then I clamped together a bunch of matchsticks, put the whole spoon+razor+filings thingy on top of it, and lit the pyre. After it had sputtered off, I found that it hadn't worked. So I tried it once more with fresh filings and cleaned surfaces, this time with soldering flux....I know, not the optimal flux for this kind of thing. And it didn't work, once again. So I got a little pissed, and used a men's perfume with a burning paper to blast the damn thing with fireballs. Guess what, didn't work either.

I am really let-down by that. Does anyone have any suggestions?
12 Mar 2012
Gurjap
I remember being stunned as a kid at the brilliance of the whole technique: no fancy stuff involved at all. I am really let-down by that. Does anyone have any suggestions?
You will be even more disappointed if you try to repeat what Rajnikanth is supposed to do in his movies. Thankfully I have stopped seeing movies very long back.
Gurjap

Gurjap

Branch Unspecified
12 Mar 2012
What can I say? It seemed legit 😔 engineering can be so disillusioning
zaveri

zaveri

Branch Unspecified
21 Apr 2012
Gurjap

i cant believe that you took those scenes in the movie for real ! i have watched that movie too , and i noticed something else which appeared to be completely fantastic:

frank also pinches a small table fan, removes its cage and blades, and uses it as a makeshift drill machine !
what was even surprising was that the "drill machine" worked successfully by just its naked motor spindle . no kind of cutting tool was attached to it.

that movie was a kind of engineering fiction movie, frank used a number of engineering methods to escape and it appeared as if he was an engineer himself.

but practically thinking, sometimes we are not able to achieve the results even in a well equiped lab, how do you think frank achieved everything in a high-security prison cell, in the very first attempt ? !!!
Gurjap

Gurjap

Branch Unspecified
21 Apr 2012
I have a feeling he was mighty friendly with some guards. A little bribing goes a long way.

Then again, he didn't need to weld the spoon handle to make a chisel, he could have just filed the flat end of the spoon to make one.

Maybe he filed the spindle on the motor too?
zaveri

zaveri

Branch Unspecified
28 May 2012
Gurjap
Maybe he filed the spindle on the motor too?
even if he did that the motor would stall, since it wasn't designed to deliver that much torque.

it was a very small fan
mateo

mateo

Branch Unspecified
22 Dec 2013
zaveri
Gurjap

fantastic:

frank also pinches a small table fan, removes its cage and blades, and uses it as a makeshift drill machine !
what was even surprising was that the "drill machine" worked successfully by just its naked motor spindle . no kind of cutting tool was attached to it.
it worked because he had a drill bit he attached to the spindle after removing the blades.... he had 'al capone' get him an extension cord AND the drill bit in exchange for ..."from now on your dessert goes on MY tray"..... so there is absolutely nothing surprising about this.
mateo

mateo

Branch Unspecified
22 Dec 2013
zaveri
even if he did that the motor would stall, since it wasn't designed to deliver that much torque.

it was a very small fan
the fan was small, but had a heavy duty motor, I've had fans just like this... unless you had the blades to hold on to stop the spindle, the spindle would be VERY difficult to stop, especially with a drill bit on the end!
mateo

mateo

Branch Unspecified
22 Dec 2013
Gurjap
So, he files a nickel on the nailcutter's filer, gathers the filings on a paper.... these are to be used as a filler for the weld. He puts the pen knife on the handle of the spoon, liberally sprinkles on the "filler" and lights a whole bunch of matchsticks under it, all matchsticks neatly clamped together. This is the heat source.

.....

So I filed an old brass door handle: the stuff would have a better chance of working than what a nickel is made of, it has a lower melting and recrystallization temperature.
did you really watch this? it was a dime.
Gurjap

Gurjap

Branch Unspecified
23 Dec 2013
mateo
did you really watch this? it was a dime.
I did watch it. Been a year or so now, though, if you would check the posting date.

Dimes around 1962 (when the escape happened) in the States were made out of a 90/10 Ag/Cu alloy. This prompted me to check out a phase diagram of said alloy, which informed me that its liquidus temperature was around 800 degrees Celsius, meaning, again, that a couple of matchsticks would not generate enough heat for a brazing operation.

And I have already commented that it would be a pointless thing to do anyway. Frank could have filed the spoon handle into a chisel and used that.

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