A bucket is one of those tools that we would find in every house. Fire buckets are much rarer, but you can still see them in some garages, warehouses, streets of old houses or other places where there is no one to maintain modern fire extinguishers. Why a lot of fire buckets do not have a flat bottom?

Nodum.org loves explaining why things look and function the way they do. For example, do you know why hot air balloons still use wicker baskets?

Fire buckets are so rare these days that some readers of this article may not have even seen one. They are still hanging in some less often used warehouses and they can also be seen in the old streets of historic houses. Not all fire buckets have the shape of an inverted cone, but these are very common in former Eastern Bloc countries:

Soviet fire shield. That cone-shaped thing is a fire bucket. (Sergeev Pavel, Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

That cone in the picture is a real fire bucket. Just putting it on the ground obviously wouldn’t work so it really does look a very impractical design. Especially considering that there are so many simple flat-bottomed buckets kicking around.

Flat bottom – not required

It is very important for a normal bucket to be able to stand on the ground without spilling its contents. However, fire buckets are not designed to just stand on the ground – they need to hang in place until a fire breaks out. And then they are actively used to pour water on burning stuff. There is simply no need for such a tool to stand on the ground. Although the oldest fire buckets had a regular cylindrical shape – in the 19th century they were often made of dyed leather.

Fire buckets are designed for a quick scoop-and-dump operation with water or sand. You can probably imagine how you would try to put out a fire using a bucket – one hand would hold the handle, while the other would grab the bottom of the bucket to throw water towards the fire. A narrow, pointed bottom of a cone-shaped bucket is easier to grab even with thick gloves.

Old English fire buckets. (Obscurasky, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Some fire buckets, especially in the United Kingdom, have a handle attached to its bottom. These buckets also cannot stand, even though they are not cone-shaped. However, that additional handle helps operate the fire bucked even with tich gloves.

People also say that water comes out of a bucket with a convex bottom in a stronger stream, but this is probably not true. Many fire buckets actually did have a flat bottom. Granted, they often have a wider lip around the bottom, which still helps people with gloves.

These buckets do have flat bottoms, but they have taller bottom edges. (Rob Mitchell, Wikimedia)

It should also be mentioned that simple practical tools have a tendency to walk away from their designated places. Why would you look for a bucket at the other end of the shop when there’s a red bucket hanging on the wall? The lack of everyday practicality helps ensure that fire buckets will stay put. Although it sounds like a joke, this is actually the reason why fire buckets often do not have a flat bottom – it is to prevent them from being used somewhere else.

Pictured below are old American fire buckets with convex bottoms. They have neither handles on the bottom nor a cone shape. However, they do have convex bottoms and it is clear that this design is only necessary to prevent theft. Or borrowing.

Old American fire buckets. (HarshLight, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

The fire bucket with a convex bottom is an invention of the 19-20th century. In many places, fire buckets are painted red but do not have any other special features. In the West – especially in England and the USA – fire buckets usually have a convex but not pointed bottom. And in the former Eastern Bloc countries, inverted cone-shaped fire buckets are still quite common.

A typical tin pail is made of at least three different parts (bottom, sides and a handle). Meanwhile, a cone can be twisted from a single sheet of metal. You just need to attach a handle and you get a fire bucket. This makes production easier and cheaper, which is important for rarely used tools.

A fire bucket in Ukraine. You can see how simple its construction is. (Хрампукл, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Finally, that pointy bottom of the fire bucket can be put to use. For example, it can be used to break through ice, to smash car windows or to stir up a pile of wet sand.

Of course, fire buckets are rare these days, but they are still used. Especially where there is no one to track the expiration date of fire extinguishers.


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