'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

12 October 2011

Is It Bulletproof?

I'm finally feeling better. Enough so to do the post I've been putting off for a couple of weeks now. Is it bulletproof?

You may recall that Lu and I have been doing a pretty thorough remodel of the house. We finished the bathroom some time ago. During that bathroom upgrade I took off the old tile which was backed with cement and steel mesh. This is the post where I talked about it and posted a few pictures. I decided to save some of the larger pieces for a penetration test. Yeah, that's it. Not an excuse to shoot up stuff that shatters into pretty pieces but sciency stuff.

We headed out to the Super Secret Range with a few guns, some ammo and a burning desire to explore the limits of bathroom tile bullet resistance.

The pistols. Two Sig 226's. The all black one is 9mm and the nickel slide is my old duty gun in .40. My friends at the department pitched in and bought it for me when I retired. Better than a watch. Yes, the 9mm is missing both grip screws. The 226 is infamous for backing them out if they're not loctited in. I bought that gun from Lu's brother and just never did it. That'll teach me. Now I have to buy 2 new screws. This picture was taken after the shooting was done.

The shotgun. My Remington 870, 18 inch barrel, cylinder bore.

We started the day shooting a silhouette just to get warmed up and go over some drills. We both needed the practice and I wanted Lu to get more comfortable and faster doing double taps and controlled pairs. An interesting thing happened during this shoot. If you've read Brigid or Tam you know their very informed  thoughts on guns and calibers for women and small handed shooters. I bought the 9mm specifically for Lu. After shooting it and my .40 she quickly decided the .40 was more to her liking. Virtually identical guns but the .40 just felt better to her. Nothing we could specifically pinpoint, she just liked it better. So much of shooting is about comfort. If the gun feels right chances are you'll shoot it better. Such was the case here. She shot the .40 better and the caliber increase was a complete non-factor. It is now her gun. I've traded for the 9mm because to my rough hands they feel identical.

Here's a shot of Lu girded with duty belt and holster, learning that loading the .40 magazines was a different beast than the 9mm. You can see the look on her face. That's the smile of a woman who's having a ball shooting her new pistol.

Ok. Practice is over, it's time to see If It's Bulletproof. First target. That's standard 4 inch ceramic bathroom tile on about an inch of cement with a steel mesh backer. The cement is troweled on and is twice the thickness of standard cement backer board With an additional steel mesh layer. If it'll go through this stuff it'll go through any backer board I am familiar with.
Range for all shots, both pistol and shotgun, was 21 feet. A quick word on safety. The area we were shooting in is out on the Ariznoa Strip, many miles from the nearest dwelling or business. We wore all safety gear. I did all the shooting with Lu standing behind the truck or behind me.

I shot this with the 9mm. Ammunition is Winchester SXT 147 HP. Holy crap. No penetration! I was shocked. I expected the round to go through with no problem. This test just got a little more interesting.

Next up was the .40. Winchester SXT 165 HP. I re-set with a slightly larger target. I was concerned that the smaller piece was giving too much and skewing the results. The .40 went right through.

A second shot yielded the same result with the addition of flying tile shards.

I decided the 9mm test may have been a fluke so I shot it again. Yep. Through and through on the second attempt.

Here's a shot of the back. You can see three clear bullet holes through the tile, cement and steel mesh.

It's a small sampling but clearly cement and steel mesh backed ceramic tile is not bullet proof. At least at 9mm and larger performance levels. I think what happened with the first 9mm was what I had first surmised. The piece was small, not firmly anchored and tilted back slightly. It was just a fluke that the first shot didn't penetrate.

On to the shotgun. By this time I was certain that double ought was a non-starter. If 9mm was enough then 12 gauge 00 Buck was going to make a mess. I did have one thing I wanted to try. Steel shot. Here's a link to a chart that shows the pellet diameter of the different shot sizes as well as the number of pellets per ounce.
I had some of this on hand and yeah, it's a shoulder breaker. The factory claims 1350 fps but that's almost certainly out of a 28 inch barrel. From my 18 inch figure no more than 1150 or so. The load is for the taking of large ducks and geese at ranges out to about 35 yards. That's a very shaky distance. It all has to do with temperature, wind conditions, load, etc. and the 600 fps rule. Suffice it to say it's fairly speedy and hits pretty hard at reasonable ranges but it's still bird shot.

Here it is side by side with a 2 3/4 00 Buck shell.

First shot with the 3 inch magnum T shot. It shattered the tile but didn't penetrate the cement backer.

A second attempt, same results. A lot of exterior damage but no through and through penetration.

Let's try a round of 00, just for giggles. Pretty much as expected, a fist sized hole through everything.

Interesting. The steel shot, which I can attest through personal experience is plenty powerful enough to cleanly kill large geese at pretty significant ranges, does a lot of surface damage but has limited hard target penetration. Draw your own conclusions but I'm beginning to look more favorably on high speed, large steel shot as a potential self defense load in homes where wall penetration is a concern. I need to do a test with Sheetrock and ballistic gelatin or equivalent.

Still, how relevant is all this? I mean, how likely is it that you'll have an adversary trapped in a room with the tile facing you or find yourself trapped in a room with the tile facing the bad guy?  No too was as far as I got. I needed to flip the tile and try a shot from the back. There was no sense in repeating the test with all calibers. The 9mm, ,40 and 00 had demonstrated clearly that they had the oomph to defeat the barrier from the hard side. Starting from the soft side wasn't going to be any more of a problem for them. That left the steel. How would it do?

Here's yours truly firing two rounds of the steel at the back of the target. Now, in the interests of scientific honesty, I must point out that this is the very same tile target that had so far absorbed Two rounds of .40, One round of 9mm, One 00 buck 12 ga. and Two 3 inch magnum steel T 12ga. Still, it was the only tile target I had left and I felt there was enough physical integrity left for the test to be valid. YMMV so take it for what it's worth.

Do the puffs of dust behind the target give it away? If it's not clear what happened please allow me to elaborate. This is what's left of the front of the target. The two rounds managed to do a very good job of stripping most of the tile and cement from the steel mesh.

The steel shattered the tile and cement and scattered it in an arc behind the target that was 21 feet long and 16 feet wide. If you look closely you can see many, many small and very sharp shards of tile.

For perspective, that's Lu standing at the furthest shard we could find, 21 feet away from the target. Now imagine being in a small room with that kind of shrapnel flying around.

My conclusions are that 00 will go through tile and cement like a hot knife through warm butter. Big surprise. Steel shot not so much. It's interesting. Lots of power in the larger shot sizes and 3 inch or better loadings but no excessive penetration. If you're on the back side of the tile wall and he's shooting bird shot you might be Ok. If you're on the hard side duck, surrender or charge out guns blazing because the results of shooting into that will be ugly. If the bad guy is in there and you're loaded with anything from T size steel and up start shooting and don't let up until you hear him scream for mercy and a medic.

My over all impressions are that cement backed tile isn't bulletproof, from either side. The steel mesh had no discernible impact that I could detect. The one 9mm deflection I had can be chalked up to a fluke and I won't trust my life to something I can't control. My view is that it won't stop or deflect any of the calibers you're likely to be up against (steel shot in limited situations not withstanding) in the event you find yourself in a shooting scenario in your home or a public place with such construction. I've watched Myth Busters so I know that you can construct a wall with ceramic tile that is bullet resistant but it's also clumsy and subject to multiple hit failure. Ceramic tile breaks when struck by hard objects. When it goes you're left hiding behind whatever it was stuck to. If that's concrete or Kevlar you're golden. If it's cement backer board you're screwed. Find better cover.

Sometime in the future, when I get a few of my more pressing house remodel chores done, I'll do more testing on the steel. Until then here's an article on steel versus lead. Pay particular attention to the very end of the article where it closes with this little tidbit;

A fact revealed by this study: A steel pellet, with an energy level equivalent to that of a lead pellet, provides 5% to 10% deeper penetration.

They're talking about soft tissue penetration, ducks and geese, but it's very interesting.
Duck Hunting Chat has gone further and produced a ballistics gel penetration chart for the various shot sizes. Bear in mind that this chart only shows penetration at 600 fps, what is generally considered the minimum velocity at which bird shot is lethal to waterfowl.

It doesn't necessarily directly relate but it is interesting enough to warrant further inquiry. I'll post anything more that I learn here and if anyone out there has more info please leave us a comment. I will give my opinion on what I saw. The steel shot is made in larger sizes than lead to make up for the steel being lighter, less dense, than commesurate lead shot would be. It's also harder so it's penetration in soft material is actually slightly better than lead. When the steel hits something hard that's backed by something else that's stiff it sheds most of it's energy shattering the hard surface. Enough so that it can do no more than embed itself into the cement backer. When it first encounters that softer strata it has enough energy to penetrate to the harder layer and blow it off. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So, Is it bulletproof? The short answer is absolutely not. Do not trust your life or your loved ones lives to cement board backed ceramic tile. And if the bad guy heads into the bathroom to shoot it out with you? You get to teach him a valuable lesson in the difference between Cover and Concealment with a side trip into Painful Shrapnel Wounds. I don't think he'll enjoy the experience.



Borepatch said...


Six said...

Thanks BP. I tried to be all sciency and stuff but really, I'm just a dumb redneck with a gun with some stuff to shoot.

DirtCrashr said...

Nice work, and re-doing bathrooms is a pain! What is it they call it when it happens inside a tank: spalling. Ugh!

Six said...

Spalling! That's the word I was mentally searching for unsuccessfully when I wrote that post. Thanks DirtCrashr. That was driving me absolutely nuts.

Keads said...

Nicely done!

Six said...

Thanks Keads. I'm reading up on home made ballistics gelatin right now.

Evyl Robot Michael said...

Good write up! It was entertaining and enlightening.

Six said...

Thanks Michael. I'm tickled that so many you gunnies out there have responded positively.