How to Tear a Phone Book in Half

by Brett on February 20, 2013 · 46 comments

in Just For Fun, Manly Skills

Phone Book Header 500

Like most people, I’ve long stopped using the phone book to look up phone numbers and use Google instead. But like most people, I still get a giant phone book delivered to my door every single year. I typically just toss it into the recycling bin as soon as I get it, but this year I didn’t.

Instead I tore my phone book in half with my bare hands. And then I recycled it.

Tearing a phone book in half is a classic strongman feat of strength. Old-time strongmen like George F. Jowett amazed spectators in the 1920s and 30s with phone book tearing demonstrations. As a kid, I remember watching the Power Team rip through thick phone books during school assemblies while simultaneously warning us kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

While tearing a phone book in half does require strength, there’s also a trick to it (though some strongmen can tear phone books without using it). Below, our very own Mr. Know Your Lifts — who enjoys ripping things up when he’s not pumping iron — demonstrates how to tear a phone book in half with your bare hands in five simple steps.

Step 1: Grab Phone Book With Both Hands

Phone Book 1

Place your thumbs on top and your fingers underneath one of the edges of the phone book (excluding the edge that is the binding). You can either tear the phone book by its length or its width — either way it will be impressive.

Step 2: Make “V” With Phone Book

Phone Book 2

This is the “trick” part of tearing a phone book in half. Make a deep “V” in the phone book by pressing the bottom edge up with your index fingers while pressing the middle of the top edge down with your thumbs. The “V” creates spaces between the pages which makes it easier to rip through, as opposed to ripping all the pages stuck together. I found the deeper “V” you make, the easier it is to tear.

Step 3: Begin Tearing Phone Book

Phone Book 3

Brace the phone book on your hip or thigh and hold it tightly in both hands. Keeping your thumbs on top of the V, begin bending the sides of the phone book down. Maintain your “V” shape as much as possible while you bend the sides down. The cover and the top few pages should begin to split apart. Keep bending until you tear all the way through to the other side. You’re doing it right if you feel like your pecs are getting a workout along with your hands and forearms. Letting out a manly yell at this point can help. The thicker the phone book you use, the harder this part is. I was able to tear through a two-inch phone book easily; a four-inch phone book was a beast, but still doable.

Step 4: Pull Halves Apart

Phone Book 4

Once you’ve torn through the edge, ripping the rest of the phone book in half is relatively easy. Just finish tearing through the book by pulling the two sides apart. You may need to readjust your hands on the book to get a better grip.

Step 5: Bask in the Fruits of Your Virile Feat of Strength

Phone Book 5

Congratulations! You just tore a phone book in half with your damn, bare manly hands. Time to impress your friends and make the ladies swoon with this virile feat of strength.

Illustrations by Ted Slampyak

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SteveC February 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Damnit! …I knew I should have kept that thing. Oh well, there’s always next year.

2 Ken February 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Awesome. I always wanted to know how people did this.

Next feat of strength, bending nails!!

3 Marcelo February 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Did it! Felt great

4 waykno February 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm

The way I learned was to grab the binding side and break it. Once you broke the binding, then tearing the book was still kinda hard but could be done. Usually always more than one way to skin a cat, to coin a phrase.

5 Pedro February 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm

This is just…epic.

6 Isaac February 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

You could just flip to the middle of the book and tear the spine.

7 Colin J February 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm

‘Preciate the cool trick. Now I can wow friends and demonstrate my hatred for numerical references in one go!

8 Don February 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Should post a video, Brett!

9 caleb February 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm

While quite an impressive feat of strength, I’d have to say I’d be more impressed (surprised, rather) by anyone who owns a spare phone book in the 21st Century.

10 gorckat February 20, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Or, just open it to the mid point and tear through the paper spine.

Works whenever snark beats muscle.

11 Nick P. February 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Awesome! I just got a phone book a couple of weeks ago. I know what to do with it now. Many thanks Brett! You have given me a new (and funny) way to impress my wonderful wife.

I have in the past used them as a level for the front tire of my bike when I use it with an indoor trainer in the winter months. It is cheaper than buying a block designed for that purpose and it is a way to recycle them.

12 kassie ritman February 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

what a fun blog. I’m going to go find a phone book and have my son practice it !

13 Paul February 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I am so pumped to do this next time I get a phone book.

14 Helen February 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I’d like to see you tear a phone book in half too!! I still like using a phone book. I think they are still a useful book of information.

15 Jim February 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm

A kid I went to high school with rolled a frying pan with his damn, bare manly hands. Needles to say, he was a pretty strong 18 year old kid.

16 Jacob February 20, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I remember seeing this trick when I was really young on Bill Nye the Science Guy. He had girl helper tear it with ease. Who knew you could learn so much from a man in a rat suit and two wise-crackin’ penguins?

17 Justin H February 21, 2013 at 6:51 am

They taught me how to do this in physics class. I immediately amazed all of my friends (who weren’t in the class). Such a good trick and a ton of fun.

18 cj February 21, 2013 at 7:47 am

I hope people saw the humor in posting this. Top-notch funny.

19 Swimmerman February 21, 2013 at 9:10 am

I think this should be included in testing for testosterone levels.

20 Chris C February 21, 2013 at 9:14 am

I’m with waykno – grab the book, like in the “Step 1″ drawing, but by the binding. Break the binding in the middle and the “back” of the pages automatically tear about an inch in. Then you just tear it in half – in the same motion as you would break a stick in half. You should definately grit your teeth and grunt to add effect! I used to do it in high school to impress the ladies and make the other guys feel like wimps – HAHAHAHA!!! -Sorry, I couldn’t resist!

21 David Schlachter February 21, 2013 at 9:23 am

I was hoping for a video too!

22 XDAYS February 21, 2013 at 9:29 am

‘Instead I tore my phone book in half with my bare hands. And then I recycled it.’

You, sir, are the real life equivalent of the overly manly man meme.

23 paul February 21, 2013 at 9:29 am

There was a football player from the early days of the game by the name of Butch Gibson, he could tear a book into 6 or more pieces. My Grandpa was a running buddy of his and saw him do this many times. No roids, just strong hands.

24 Zeb February 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

Just got a new (unsolicited—jeez, we don’t even HAVE a landline anymore…) phone book yesterday–really. When my son gets home today from high school–I’ll have to give him the challenge. Hmmm…maybe I can find a neighbor or two who won’t use this thing either(?)…(Be nice to give it a practice run, first!)

25 Evan February 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm

My friends and I are going to go to the post office and destroy all the phone books there… considering we are really manly men.

26 Zapato February 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Surprised you only get one phonebook a year. We get several some Federal ruling that if a company provides service in the area they must provide one. Other than this not much reason to have one anymore.

27 Andrew February 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Does it still count as manly if you tear the book a page at a time?

28 GDS February 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm

My favorite use for phone books is as a paper plate. When you’re done, just tear off the top pages until you get down to a clean one and toss them in the fire/compost/trash. Dishes are done!

29 Adam February 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Brett, were you aware that today is the 135th birthday of the phonebook? You’re usually pretty thorough, but if this is news to you, the date of this posting is quite an interesting coincidence…

30 Paul February 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm

For those commenters looking for a video:

31 Michael February 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Did it! Next!

32 Brett McKay February 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm


That is news to me! I had honestly not thought about the phone book having a “beginning,” and thus didn’t think to look. So it is indeed an interesting coincidence! It’s funny….I had had this post on my to-do list for years, and finally just decided to do it. So perhaps the ghost of the phone books’ creator was urging me on.

33 James February 24, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I followed the directions a little skeptically. I was surprised at how the thing practically burst in half. Did it.

34 sir blackmore February 25, 2013 at 10:32 am

I briefly read this article and thought to my self that this could never work but alas i tried it on one of my old collage books, which must have been a good inch and a half, if not 2 inches, and to my surprise i succeeded although it did take some doing. I am sure with a bit of practice i could do it extremely well

35 Patrick February 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm

This com[pletely worked! Now I’m addicted and have been ripping any thick paper cover book (that I don’t need) in half. Seems to work best lengthwise.

36 CJ March 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

I just did this. I am all that is man.
Thank you phone book company for providing me the target for which to vent my anger, and thank you Brett for everything else!

37 Ray March 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

The way I learned how to do this was when I was a kid, I can’t remember the source of it but here is how I learned. This works for the largest of phone books, or those giant parts catalogs 6 Inches in size. You need to dry them out in an oven at a very low temp. VERY LOW. the pages will become super brittle and you can rip though giant books so easily it crazy

38 Corey March 6, 2013 at 3:09 am

I cant believe I just ripped a phone book! damn that felt amazing!

39 Benjamin March 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Read the article, did it successfully. Feel like a best.

40 Fuddulous March 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

Has anyone ever done this with one hand? That would be godlike.

41 Patrick March 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I’ll traied tomorrow with my yelow book :)

42 Charles Rozell March 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I damaged my hands from trying to tearing through some phone books that were just too large. Or just stacks of papers.

43 A March 10, 2013 at 10:34 pm

In school, they always used to used to rip a phone book in half as a way of telling us not to give up…now I know it was all a LIE.

44 A March 21, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Sweet! Video of how to do it is also on Youtube:

45 Matt April 9, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Now I know this I’m going to use it to my advantage to hustle money off my friends! “I bet you £5 I can tear this in half easy!”. Hahaha.

46 Manish Sahu April 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I Love You

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