The Box O’ Truth #7 – The Sands O’ Truth

Sand, in the form of sandbags, has been used by the military for many years. There are probably many reasons it is used, including the fact that sand is available and cheap (free), but it wouldn’t be used unless it worked.

So, how well does it work?

I could have just shot sand bags, but sand bags come in many forms and sizes. And, it would matter how they were stacked, end-wise, sideways, etc.

But the main problem would be that there would be no way for me to accurately measure exactly how many inches of sand had been penetrated.


I determined that I would build some boxes with drywall on each side to hold the sand.

We had learned in past tests that drywall doesn’t do a very good job of stopping bullets, so it shouldn’t overly affect the tests. This would allow me to exactly measure how much sand each round penetrated.

The boxes were each made from 2 X 6 lumber, so there was 5 1/2 inches of depth of sand in each box. Both sides of the boxes were covered with a 1/2 inch piece of drywall.

I wasn’t sure how much sand it would take to stop a bullet, so I built 4 boxes. Turns out I “over-built”.


Okay, enough talking, let’s start shooting.

First, a .22 LR from a .22 revolver.

Didn’t expect much penetration, but it went about 5 inches into the sand.

7-3Then 9mm Ball.


The 9mm Ball went all the way through the first box and stopped before entering the second box.

It dimpled the back of the drywall, but did not exit.


Then .45ACP Ball.


The .45 ACP penetrated the same as the 9 mm, about 6 inches.

You could just see the nose of the bullet just starting to exit the first box.


As a side note, it is always a matter of luck to catch a really neat photo while shooting, and we got one today.

I blew this one up a little. The 1911 is just opening up after firing and you can still see burning powder coming out the barrel.

Neat pic.

Neat pic.

Time for rifles.

First, Tman shooting a 5.56mm XM-193 Ball out of a 20″ AR15.

To our surprise, it completely disintegrated and we only found very small pieces of jacket.

It did not even reach the back of the box.


Then a 7.62 X 51 from a FAL.


It did not reach the back of the first box.

These are the biggest pieces we could recover of the .308.

These are the biggest pieces we could recover of the .308.

Will a 12 gauge slug penetrate this medium? Let’s see.

The slug did not exit the first box.

Tman caught me in full recoil.

Tman caught me in full recoil.

This is the slug as recovered.

This is the slug as recovered.

And, as a lark, the .45-70.


The hard-cast 510 grain, gas-checked round nose was stopped in the first box.

You can see that it still has the gas check on the base of the bullet.

This is it.

This is it.

I had read the some rounds actually penetrate better at longer ranges, so, we backed up 100 yards from the boxes and tried some rifle rounds again.

We tried both the .223 and the .308.

Both rounds still did not exit the first box.

We recovered the 7.62 X 51, and this is the biggest piece.

We recovered the 7.62 X 51, and this is the biggest piece.

You could almost reload the pistol bullets and shoot them again

For comparison, these are the 9mm and .45 ACP.

For comparison, these are the 9mm and .45 ACP.

Lessons learned:
  1. It’s still fun to shoot stuff.
  2. Sand is a very good barrier. Nothing we shot penetrated more than 6 inches into the sand. Does that mean I would hide behind 6 inches of sand and let someone shoot at me? No way!! I’d rather have 60 feet of sand in front of me.
    But 6 inches seems to work pretty well for the rounds tested.
  3. To our surprise, the pistol rounds penetrated deeper than the rifle rounds. Why?
    The pistol rounds held together better as they were ball and didn’t have enough velocity to break them apart. Therefore, they held together and penetrated better.
    The rifle rounds were traveling at such a high velocity that they broke up into pieces and this stopped their penetration quicker.
  4. The 12 gauge slug finally met it’s match with sand. The soft lead slug was flattened out and stopped quickly.
  5. The .45-70 hard-cast bullet penetrated a little better than the soft lead slug, but not a lot. And the sand tore it up pretty quickly.
  6. And lastly, sand is a good barricade material.

Thanks to Tman for the photo help.


10 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #7 – The Sands O’ Truth

  1. Upon seeing your great post…I filled normal 5 gallon plastic paint bucket with sand. I laid it on its side and aimed through the lid. I fired a 9mm carbine rifle and there was no exit hole. Next I moved up to a 45 acp, 223 rem, a 7.62×39 ‘sks’ and lastly a 7.62×51 ‘mosin nagant’. All fired from rifles at a distance of 50 feet in my basement range.

  2. Dave 7.62×51 mosin ? I assume you meant 7.62x54r? Anyway I’m guessing that in your bucket test that nothing penetrated the sand filled bucket, I made a bullet trap for my reloading station in a similar manner, sand is good.

  3. And that is why we use sandbags in the military for bunkers and overhead protection. They just work. We stack them to withstand .50 cal fire. Fighting positions are as deep as your armpits and the remaining area above this is sandbagged. It is great to see articles such as this that reinforce the value of sand as very effective barrier material. I am thinking that sand in a rectangular container that fits between drywall may be a good choice for a safe room to defend from that all family members fall back to if evil comes to visit. Much cheaper than AR500 plate and will eliminate spall.

  4. Edwin L. Grillot // May 2, 2016 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been trying to figure our an effective lead trap on the cheap and this is much better than all that iron working etc. A 24x24x10″ thick box filled with masonry sand with replaceable front backed by a rubber self healing stall mat section. Cheap and easy. I like uncomplicated.

  5. Larry Ash // May 6, 2016 at 8:48 am // Reply

    Having spent some time on the receiving end of small arms ordinance in a nasty little conflict, let me say that no material gives you a lot of confidence, but sand, if you can contain it, seems to offer an effective barrier and dampen the effects of impact and explosion. Your tests bear out a phenomenon where there is stoppage with minimal thickness and zero chance of deflective ricochet. Even higher velocity doesn’t seem to overcome the stopping power of good old sandbags.

  6. YouTube’s have had luck with 00 buckshot penetrating sandbags. Link goes to demolition ranch, sanbag torture test.

  7. GREAT article and experiment.

    Any interest in a repeat experiment with identical sand, but WET/damp this time? I’d be curious to know if wetting the sand helps or hinders its stopping power?

    A third experiment that might be interesting is with “flooded” sand (such that the sand was completely saturated with water ’til water puddled at the top of the boxes).

    I wish I had a place to shoot like this; I’d do these experiments myself and report back!

    Thanks for a great article, though!

  8. In a rapidly emerging SHTF scenario, I might not have time to order sand or go to Lowes for bags of it. You do so much already, but is it possible you could re-do this experiment with the boxes filled with the dirt you’re standing on in the photos? I’m thinking about ordering 500 bags from eSandbags, but I suspect I’ll be filling them with dirt.

  9. Great exercise. Thanks for going through all this trouble and posting it for us. Is there a “pack” factor with the stopping power of sand? As in loosely packed vs. dense, densely packed? Thanks

  10. Saw a test in water. Same results the higher velocity rounds fragmented quickly and traveled less distance then the lower velocity.

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