The Defensive Value of Sand

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

I was recently reminded, once again, of the importance of the KISS principle. In case you never heard of it. the KISS principle states, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” While I don’t normally go around calling people stupid, or even calling myself stupid, there have been many times when I thought I must have been stupid, to have missed a simple answer to a problem.

Take sand, for example. I have been asked many times about body armor and armoring one’s home. In the specific situation where I forgot the KISS principle, I was asked about armoring a room, to make it into a safe room for the family. The tricky part was, I was asked how to do it affordably, which normally isn’t a consideration when building a safe room. Generally speaking, the only people who build them are wealthy enough that they aren’t all that concerned about what they cost.

Normally, building a safe room is a very expensive proposition. That’s because the materials used in building the room are extremely expensive materials. When you start specifying ballistic grade fiberglass panels, or even worse, Spectra-shield panels, the costs are something you don’t want to hear.

But those aren’t the only materials which can be used effectively for building such a room, especially if you are building it over a cement slab. There is one material, which is quite inexpensive, that will work just about as good as those costly ballistic materials. It’s been in use for at least a century, is plentiful, doesn’t require special equipment to install and is plentiful. That’s sand.

Yes, you read that correctly, I said “sand.” Sandbags have been used to create fortified positions at least as far back as the American Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the rebels who were using it, it was the loyalists. Nevertheless, they were Americans, even if they were a bit misguided in their loyalties.

As best as I can see, sandbags played an important part in every war since that time. They were used extensively during both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. From what I can tell, they were also used in both Gulf wars, although I get the impression that they were not used as much, simply because the war was over so quickly, there really wasn’t time to construct much in the way of defensive positions. Even so, sandbags were used to make fortified positions at all American military camps used in the occupation.

What makes sandbags so effective is the weight of the sand itself pushes it down, compressing the sand into an almost solid mass. When a bullet is fired into that mass, it has to deal with pushing aside each individual grain of sand, in order to move forward. That transfers a lot of the kinetic energy from the bullet into the sand, where it dissipates.

At the same time, a huge amount of friction is generated, allowing the sand to literally grind the soft lead of the bullet to pieces. Remnants of bullets which have been fired into sandbags are often no more than the distorted copper jacket. There is nothing left of the lead bullet itself.

Please note that for this to happen the sand must be compressed. I’ve seen YouTube videos of people test firing into sandbags, which did not have this effect and where the bullet passed all the way through the sandbag. But in each and every one of those cases, it was individual sandbags, either standing up or lined up in a way so that there was no weight from above to compress the sand. Without that weight, the sandbag is ineffective.

In my own testing, 3 ½” of compressed sand was enough to stop every common pistol bullet, including 9mm, .357 magnum and .44 magnum, the calibers which are most often used for testing of ballistic armor. I can’t say how well it would do against rifle rounds, because I haven’t tested it.

By the way, stainless steel is pretty good for ballistic armor as well. Last year I was asked to test 24 gauge 304 stainless steel (.204” thick), essentially a thin plate of cheap grade stainless. The stainless steel plate was combined with a ceramic tile in front of it and backed by fiberglass. When I fired at it with a 9mm round, traveling at 1400 fpm, the ceramic plate pretty much disintegrated and the stainless steel stopped the round.

However, stainless steel, even cheap stainless steel like this, is much more expensive than sand. Based upon the results of my testing, I would say that an effective safe room could be made of walls filled with sand, as long as the sand was compressed.

To do this, the normal drywall used in making the walls would have to be replaced with plywood. Drywall just isn’t strong enough to support the weight of all that sand. The plywood would have to be installed with screws, rather than nails, to keep them from pulling out. Once the wall was constructed, the sand could be poured into it, through holes at the top.

The weight alone of the sand would work to compact it somewhat, but you could do a much better job of compacting it by vibrating the walls. For this, you might need your teenage kids and some big speakers. Just point the speakers right at the walls, from a close distance, and get the kids to play loud music through them. Believe it or not, that will vibrate the walls enough to get the sand to settle and compact.

The only other tricky part to this is coming up with a door that will work. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think a normal steel door, covered with a layer of that stainless steel I was talking about, would work. At least, it would work against pistol rounds. But then, I didn’t say the walls would work against rifle rounds either. So, if you feel the need for a safe room, or even a safe wall that you can use as a defensive position, there you go. You can add a sand-filled wall to your defenses, along with keeping your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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