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The Physics of Shot Towers

### Abstract

In the late 18th and throughout the 19th century,lead shot for muskets was prepared by use of a shot tower. Molten lead was poured from the top of a tower and, during its fall, the drops became spherical under the action of surface tension. In this article, we ask and answer the question: *How does the size of the lead shot depend on the height of the tower?* In the process, we explain the basic technology underlying an important historical invention (the shot tower) and use simple physics(Newtonian mechanics and the thermodynamic laws of cooling) to model its operation.

© 2012 American Association of Physics Teachers

Published online 19 March 2012

Article outline:

Introduction
Theoretical model
Conclusion

/content/aapt/journal/tpt/50/4/10.1119/1.3694072

1.

1.G. V. Sanders, “Gravity molds shot in a modern tower,” Pop. Sci. 145, 123–127 (Oct. 1944), available online by searching on the title of the article.

2.

2.P. A. Tipler and G. Mosca, Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 6th ed. (W.H. Freeman, New York, 2008).

3.

3.An exact calculation proceeds as follows. First compute the fall distance X required for a molten drop to solidify (during which time the temperature of the lead remains constant at its melting point, ) by solving (with the positive y-axis pointing downward). Given a formula for v(y) —e.g., in free fall or at terminal speed— this integral can be computed to determine X(R). Next find the distance Y over which the solid sphere cools. The convectional cooling power equals the rate of decrease of the internal energy U of a pellet, so that using the chain rule. Note that dy/dt equals the speed v of the shot, while . Hence the right-hand side of Eq. (4) can be equated to −vmc dT/dy. Again given a formula for v (y), a separable differential equation is obtained that can be solved for Y(R). Finally, add to relate the height of the tower to the maximum radius R of the shot that can be produced. For example, if one uses for both parts of the motion, then one obtains Eq. (6) with , essentially the same result that was found above by approximating the averages. (Incidentally, in this case Y/X ≈ 2 independent of R, indicating that it takes about one-third of the height of the tower for the sphere to solidify and the remaining two-thirds for it to cool down.)

4.

4.F. Kreith and M. S. Bohn, Principles of Heat Transfer, 6th ed. (Brooks/Cole, Pacific Grove, CA, 2001), p. 437.

5.

5.Usingthe numbers cited after Eq. (10), the average Reynolds number is , which is large enough to justify modeling the air resistance as being quadratic rather than linear in the speed of a drop.

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2012-03-19

2016-09-26

### Abstract

In the late 18th and throughout the 19th century,lead shot for muskets was prepared by use of a shot tower. Molten lead was poured from the top of a tower and, during its fall, the drops became spherical under the action of surface tension. In this article, we ask and answer the question: *How does the size of the lead shot depend on the height of the tower?* In the process, we explain the basic technology underlying an important historical invention (the shot tower) and use simple physics(Newtonian mechanics and the thermodynamic laws of cooling) to model its operation.

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