I thought of this while reading the following question:

Can thermite be lit while mixed into butane? If not is there a flammable liquid that would work?

Using a thermite flamethrower seems like a terrible idea, and I don't believe we should provide guidance on how this should be done. For many amateur chemists, this type of curiosity comes with a serious risk of bodily harm, and we also want to avoid legal liabilities that might result from providing feedback.


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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I think that closing is more likely to lead to other, perhaps less careful sources like sciencemadness forums or numerous YouTube videos. I think it is a better to answer such questions in a way that lays out a the safety concerns, as well as attempts to answer the question. In addition, this kind of reasoning could become a bit subjective, as something may be asked in the theoretical sense or the idea could be safe by one person's standards but not as much by another's. $\endgroup$
    – ChemBird
    Jun 15, 2017 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Related chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2874/… $\endgroup$
    – chipbuster
    Jun 15, 2017 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Interestingly, the title of that question is different from the body. The answer to the title is "no, because thermite is a two-part solid reaction and any liquid just gets in the way. It's not like gunpowder or beeswax." The answer to the body of the question is "this is a really bad idea and also not a question about chemistry." $\endgroup$
    – chipbuster
    Jun 15, 2017 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ The initial question might forgotten the low boiling, and the even lower flash point of n-butane. The former were "just" a practical concern if, say the thermite is brought from a barn and poured into a basket containing the (liquified?) butane, and simply would evaporate the hydrocarbon. The second indeed is risky, even at a low of a nor'easter, especially as ChemSE is unable to check if the OP has training / uses adequate safety gear. Maybe indicating both in word and by a warning sign "risky" may rise awareness. $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Jun 15, 2017 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ Downvote this thing, +4 for such question... $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jun 16, 2017 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithoron It's a legitimate concern. We don't just down vote personal medical questions. We close them and refuse to answer. There is a parallel here. $\endgroup$
    – Zhe
    Jun 16, 2017 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ In this case it still should be closed as unclear/too broad (homework reason is used now xD ) $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jun 16, 2017 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron the question is still open when I checked right now. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2017 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


This issue has likely been raised before, either on meta or in chat, but I'm on a bus now so am lazy to look for it.

Our stance on this is that, it is much better to have a clear answer saying DO NOT DO THIS and explaining why, rather than simply closing it. Echoing chipbuster's comment, this may simply lead to people getting advice from less scrupulous websites or people.

e.g. "Can I acidify and warm some sodium cyanide outside a fumehood?" should not be closed because it's obvious that that doesn't end well. Better to give an answer debunking whichever source said that it might be a good idea, so that future people can also see it, instead of forcing people to get some other answer on the Internet saying stuff like "it's perfectly OK! Just make sure to smoke a cigarette while you're at it so that you can detect the HCN gas".

I am not a lawyer and therefore am not sure about legal ramifications, which probably vary with jurisdiction anyway. However, if you see anybody offering unsound advice, please flag it for moderator attention, we generally do take such things very seriously.

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    $\begingroup$ Personal medical questions are off-topic though, the cancer thing would have been closed :p $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2017 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ I should probably have thought of a better example... $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2017 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think the point comes across anyway. (I'm also on a bus.) $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2017 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ From the liability perspective, I think we should feel free to post answers warning of unsafe things. The thing we should avoid is anything asserting that any given thing a home experimenter might do is safe. IANAL, but I figure there's no liability problem in telling someone not to do whatever damn fool thing they're dreaming of. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Jun 16, 2017 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @orthocresol While I agree, there's always a possibility of an incorrect answer in this case. And that could be a serious trouble. In a way, refusing to answer is better than a possibility of an incorrect one. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2017 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ All of chem.SE mods on a bus rn. Coincidence? I think not! $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Jun 16, 2017 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ You wrote this thorough answer while on a bus? Wow, I guess I underestimated your true power. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2017 at 13:45

@Zhe compared the issue with medical questions. The reason medical questions are closed is because it is illegal to practice medicine without a licence in most places and people fear litigation.

Not because self diagnosis or self medication is inherently dangerous if one has the skills and knowledge. The issue is that the medical fraternity and increasingly homeland defence (or equivalent), with society tagging happily along, are happy to have the general population predominantly ignorant of medical and chemical minutiae lest they make mistakes or successes that cost lives.

There is no general law that prohibits discussion of chemistry or we could no longer prepare food or raise a cake. However there are various laws and restrictions on discussing various chemical processes in various locales. Nobody can know all the laws in all the locales and common sense suggests that SE is not the place to promote risky or antisocial behaviour but also not the place to police knowledge in favour of an incumbent nanny-state. Adding restrictions (and never removing them) will eventually lead to societal collapse because all personal freedoms have been lost. Mixing vinegar with baking soda outside of designated and licensed baking premises will otherwise eventually become illegal due to the danger of generating enough carbon dioxide to asphyxiate a cat, this road is not the one we should follow on SE as this road will also close down SE for good.

However as I wrote in another thread recently I am not in favour of eliminating questions that can be answered without other serious misgivings. SE is about preserving knowledge and a warning is better than prohibition. Prohibition has been tried before and found wanting.

Those who don't like the question can down vote teh question, answer with dire warnings and down vote any bad answers. They can even edit the question to make is less scary or dangerous sounding, to the limit of the collective censoring tolerance, but there is still little case for removing the question unless it is a direct call to illegal activity or impossible to improve. Chemistry follows impartial laws and not the political climate of human society.

  • $\begingroup$ The first half of this answer contains some unbased (or do you have sources) ramblings that don’t really belong here. The remainder is basically a rehash of the policy outlined in the other post. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Jun 22, 2017 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan, how is my answer ramblings but your comment about bus timetables not? What is going on here? What are you hoping to have written here on Meta if not thoughs on solutions to the perrenial problem of when Qs should be closed? $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Jun 25, 2017 at 17:17

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