Old West Detonator Prop




Introduction: Old West Detonator Prop

About: Been tearing stuff down and putting it back together my whole life. "To Invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." -Thomas Alva Edison
I have always had a fascination with the Old West. While I was watching a show on the subject, they displayed a detonator used in a mine from the time period. I thought that it would be simple to build one as a prop for Halloween or a Movie.  This Instructable shows how I made a Non-working version.

  • 1 in x 6 in x 6 ft  Pine Board
  • 5/8 in x 4 ft   Poplar/Pine Square Dowel
  • 2 in x 6 in Poplar Dowel
  • 2 Bolts, Washers, and Wing Nuts
  • Wood Screws
  • Metallic Paint
  • Small Section Of Bell Wire
  • Small Piece Of Brass
  • Brass Nails
  • Painters Tape
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Propane Torch
  • Lathe 
  • Jig Saw
  • Wood Glue
  • Circular Saw
  • Square
  • Tape Measure
  • Letter Punches
  • Hammer
  • Anvil

Step 1: Constructing the Box

The box was constructed from a 6 foot piece of pine. Using a circular saw,  four 1 foot sections were cut  for the sides of the box. Instead of making the box a square, the boards were positioned as a rectangle so that I can use the rest of the pine for the top and bottom. If it was positioned as a square, the top and bottom would have to be cut from a larger piece of wood.

Once the sides were cut, a line was marked on the face of two boards to show where I need to drill for the screws that secure the sides together. I lined up the pieces as best I could and drilled for the screws.

After securing the sides together with some wood screws, I marked and cut the pieces of wood that became the top and bottom.
They were then attached.

I looked up some photos of real ones to see the layout of the terminals and plunger. Using a square, I measured and marked their respective locations. The holes for the terminals were then drill the exact size of the bolts and a bigger drill bit was used to drill the location of where the 5/8 in square dowel will slip in and out of the box. A jig saw squared off the hole for that dowel.

Step 2: Turning the Handle

I used a 5 inch piece of 2 inch poplar dowel to create the handle. The handle was turned between centers on the lathe using an 1/8" parting tool and a 1/2" skew chisel. To make sure the handle was as symmetrical as possible, a center line was marked where the square dowel will go. I measured out from each side of that line and marked lines where I want the slope to be. The slope is the transition from the center to the hand grips.

A parting tool was used to remove the bulk material from the grip parts first. A skew chisel and caliper were used to make sure the surface was the same diameter and straight. After the handles were turned, the center portion was also turned down to it's final size. Once I was happy with the look, it was sanded with 120 and 220 grit sand paper.

The area where the square dowel will attach was marked on the handle and a drill press was used to remove the bulk of the material. To remove the remaining material, a chisel was used to chip carve a square hole.

The square dowel was then glued into the handle.

Step 3: Finishing Touches

The handle was taped and the shaft of the plunger was primed and painted with metallic looking paint I had left over from a previous project. 

Old Looking  Finish- 
To make the box look worn, a blow torch with a fan attachment was used to scorch the wood. The handle was also lightly burned with the blowtorch in order to make it look old too.

Name Plate-
As I was looking at photos of real ones, I found that each had a nameplate on the front of it. Using a scrap piece of brass and some punches, I created my own. The edges of the brass were ground down with a grinding wheel and I drilled holes for the brass nails that would hold the plate on the front of the box. I then eyeballed the placement of the lettering and punched  "Old West Detonator    Calif. 1881" into the brass. After cleaning it up a little bit, I eyeballed the placement of the plate on the front of the box and attached it using some brass nails.

After finishing the box with a blow torch, the bolts, wing nuts, and plunger were installed. Some scrap bell wire was also attached in order to finish off the look. 

Halloween Props Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Props Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Game Design: Student Design Challenge

      Game Design: Student Design Challenge
    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest
    • Baking Contest

      Baking Contest



    8 years ago on Introduction

    looks great. Maybe the wires a bit too modern. use some installation wire that you run through an old shoelace.


    8 years ago

    Making this into a light switch. Thanks for the ible!


    Great project!

    some thoughts:

    1- add a simple channel inside th box to guide the plunger as it goes up and down, so it doesn't jam.

    2- a contact switch at the bottom on the plunger could be used to activate a display and/or sound effect (flashing strobe with a loud bang)

    3- give the outside some age character: some heavy (50 - 60 grit) sandpaper rubbed on the edges, corners and on normal wear surfaces will help make it look used.

    4- the the big finish - lightly rub some old grease (brown or black shoe polish might work) and then rub some thick mud into the surface. Let it dry then give it some light work with a stiff brush. Optional - Coat with some flat or satin clear spray paint.

    5- use a section of old leather belt to make a handle.

    I'm using yor idea as inspiration for a prop I'll build for a friend who does a traveling medicine show on weekends.



    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I thought about the channel for the plunger and the switch in the bottom of the box, but figured I can add it later.

    Your other ideas are great too. Never thought about using grease to age the wood.
    Have fun building your version.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I used to do some community theater set construction and a LOT of model railroading - getting a realistic oily, dirty, grungy, used look (called DISTRESSING) was important.

    In theater work, prop reliability was also important = 2nd thotz on the plunger guide:

    A length of PVC pipe, probably something with an inside diameter of 3/4", would work nicely with a matching 3/4" dowel. A slot cut in the side of the PVC pipe would allow you to insert a wood screw into the dowel as a guide and travel limiter. If a section of the side of the PVC pipe is cut away, maybe 3" or 4" long by 1/2" or 1/4" wide, some rubber bands or bungee cord wraped over the cut-out would give some nice friction against the dowel. To carry it further, some ridges cut along the side of the plunger material, with a ratchet rod of some type, would make a nice sound as the plunger is moved up and down. The ratchet rod could transfer vibrations to the box wall, using the wall as a soundboard, which would amplify the sound

    Replacing the dowel with aluminum tubing might add some realism to the look... or just paint the dowel with some aluminum spray paint.
    Put some bicycle handlebar grips on the plunger cross piece.

    that's enough for this - Over-thinking can be a bad thing... it's time for me to warm up the Dremel! I SHOULD take pictures...

    Have FUN!