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Low Tech Battering Rams

Written by Peter Ortuso

In the past, the Union County, NJ Police used a battering ram that presented some problems in field use. The battering ram was made from a 42-inch length of 5-inch galvanized pipe. Grab handles had been welded on opposite sides of it to allow for two-man operation. This ram was excessively heavy and its most glaring defect was the striking face.

The striking face had been made from a 10-inch round section of steel plate that was 2 inches thick. Although two men could swing this ram, much of their strength was required to keep it on a level plane when attacking a door. Using it in the field had several drawbacks which came to a head one evening when the Warrant Squad set out to arrest a drug dealer and conduct a search of his apartment.

The apartment was located on the third floor of an older home that had been converted to a three-family dwelling. Access to the suspect’s apartment was at the top of a narrow stairway, which had no landing. The squad members entered the house without arousing the suspect’s suspicion, but when they saw the stairway, they realized there was not enough room for two men to use the ram.

A quick conference was called, and it was decided that the strongest man in the group would hit the door with the ram and be first to enter the apartment. This officer did not have a level footing on the stairway, and the ram’s 50-plus pounds added to his difficulty in making an accurate swing. At the team leader’s signal, he swung the ram, but instead of forcing the door open, the officer lost control of the ram, and it went through the bottom panel of the wooden door and disappeared into the darkened room.

Speed of entry dictated that the officers had to go through the small portal, left by the broken-out panel, one at a time. Fortunately for the Warrant Squad, the suspect was passed out in bed, and despite the commotion, the officers had to wake him up before putting the cuffs on him. The ram was replaced by a lighter and more easily maneuverable model.

Over time, I have fabricated battering rams for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, the County Sheriff’s Office, the County Police, and for some of the local Municipal Police Departments within Union County. The designs of these rams have gone through several changes in that time, based on field-use reports from the affected officers. From their consensus the following points have been taken.

First, rams weighing 20 to 30 pounds are preferable. They are easier to hand-carry to the entry point, and provide more striking-power than a heavier ram. Hitting a door with a ram is a question of ballistics as striking-power is relative to the weight and speed of the projectile. A lighter ram can be swung faster and much more accurately than a heavy one. And as many of you know from firearms training, increasing the speed of a projectile adds much more force than increasing its weight.

Second, the striking face should be square or oblong, and offset toward the top of the ram. This allows the ram to be swung in a lower plane when striking above the doorknob.

Third, a broad striking-face of at least 6-inch x 6-inch is preferable to a smaller one. Opening a door with a battering ram requires a blunt-force strike. The task here is to force the door open, not to punch a hole in it.

Fourth, a single, long, U-shaped handle should be mounted to the top of the ram body. This allows for the differences in the physical sizes of the officers, and for two-man use. The handle should provide enough clearance for a gloved hand to release the ram without impedance.

The latest version of the ram was made from a 27-inch length of 4-inch, schedule 40, black pipe. The striking-face is 1/2-inch mild-steel plate cut to a 6-inch x 6-inch square. The handles are of 3/4-inch round, hot-rolled, mild-steel. The ram’s total weight is 26.5 pounds, and the overall length is 32 inches.

Prior to welding the striking-face to the pipe end, the corners were rounded off with a grinder. The plate was offset from the center of the pipe by an inch and a half toward the top of the ram. It was welded on-center in the horizontal plane, and square to the pipe end.

The top handle is 18 inches long and has 3 inches tangs to allow clearance for a gloved hand. The rear handle was made for one-or two-man operation. The grip portion of the rear handle is 8 inches wide and is set back 4 inches from the pipe end. The rear handle is offset toward the top of the ram. This allows for a long, level swing when using the ram.

The ram was welded using the SMAW (electric arc-stick) process. All welds were made with 6010 welding electrodes. However, 7014 or 7018 electrodes are more than satisfactory for this job. MIG welding is also a viable option for welding the assembly, provided that adequate amperage and proper joint preparation is done beforehand.

Peter J. Ortuso is a supervisor with the Union County, NJ Division of Motor Vehicles. His job duties cover metal-fabrication requirements for 4 police agencies, a SWAT team, and an Emergency Response Team. He can be reached via regular mail at UCDMV, 79 W. Grand St, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2006

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