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Real Life Lightsaber: EMPI TEC Torch

Walking the aisles at the Border Tech Expo something immediately caught my eye. I don't know if it was due to the shiny surface, sharp spikes on the end or maybe even its phallic shape (okay, not the last one). As I approached the table, I was expecting a BudK-esque flashlight or other such nonsense. But no, it wasn't one of those at all.

It was much better.

What's not to like about directed thermite?


What you're looking at is the TEC (Thermal Erosion Cutter) Torch by EMPI (Energetic Materials & Products Incorporated). It's a breaching tool, and one that can make quick work in some situations where other tools fall flat. As you probably deduced from the name (and well, the first picture showing a saber of fire) it uses heat to cut. A lot of heat. Using heat to breach isn't exactly brand new but it's usually a cumbersome process. When space and time is limited, the TEC Torch is an easy button. Simply put, it's a handheld directional thermite device that can scorch its way through a lot of material in a short period of time.

There were two different cartridges on display. One was for cutting through commonly found items like padlocks and rebar, and the other is for hole punching. Here's a closer look at the business ends:

On the left is the cutter, and on the right is what I'll call the, ‘helluva hole puncher'. The spikes aren't just there for show either, they ensure proper alignment with whatever the hell you're about to melt with 4,000 degrees of fury. Also on display was a number of items they've cut with the TEC Torch, just to give you some ideas
You might be thinking, just as I did, ‘Well okay, why not just use bolt cutters on the locks?' Bolt cutters can be awkward to use in confined spaces, have to be carried, and can take quite a bit of force. Furthermore, some padlock configurations make it all but impossible to suitably reach the shackle. As you can see from the pictures, the TEC Torch is about the size of an old school D-Cell Maglite (1.5″ diameter and ~1ft long) when fully assembled and can be transported broken down.

To use the TEC Torch, you first select the appropriate cartridge and insert it into the handle. Place the spikes on what you're going to obliterate. There is a safety on the bottom of the handle that needs to be disengaged, and then you push forward on the flashlight-type slider switch. Pushing forward to fire is important so you don't inadvertently pull it off the target. Each handle can be used up to 100 times before it needs to be replaced. But there's more. Each cartridge can also be wired for remote detonation. That way the breacher can configure multiple charges all to fire at the same time.


Now, we couldn't just leave without seeing it in action, right? EMPI was on hand during the range portion with rebar and steel plate to slash fire though.


When it goes off, it sounds like a rocket motor–because it virtually is. It was interesting to see the fiery output start wide as it begins the cut, only to narrow and finally join as the rebar is worked through.


It cut, and it cut fast. It has to, as the complete charge only lasts about a second. Punching a hole through a plate was of similar speed.


After about a second, a 3/8″ hole appears through plates up to 1/2″ thick. While you aren't going to be able to make a constant cut like a plasma torch, you will have the ability to scoot through a bore camera.

While it can't be used universally EMPI does list several roles the TEC Torch can hold:

​​​Rescue – facility entry
EOD – UXO Neutralization
Deepwater Diver exploration or EOD
System or Device Thermal Destruction
Tactical Operations

Personally, I want to see what it would do when stabbed into a bad guy and set off (hey, director of Expendables III–take notes!).

For more information, visit EMPI's webpage here. For fun, here's one more picture where I caught the cut rebar as it was falling:

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