Tag Archives: fire projects

Instant Fire Demonstration

Instant Fire Chemical Reaction (deradrian)

Instant Fire Chemical Reaction (deradrian)

Make instant fire using sugar, potassium chlorate, and sulfuric acid. No matches or flame is needed for this exciting chemistry demonstration!

Instant Fire Materials

You only need three chemicals for this reaction:

  • potassium chlorate
  • granulated table sugar – sucrose
  • sulfuric acid

Perform the Instant Fire Demonstration

You can do this demonstration in a test tube or on a heat-safe dish. Goggles, gloves, and a lab coat are recommended. Don’t use glassware you value too highly, since there is a good chance the highly exothermic reaction will shatter it.

  1. Mix together roughly equal amounts of potassium chlorate and sugar.
  2. Add a drop or two of sulfuric acid to the mixture to start the reaction. That’s it! Expect purple flames, smoke, and heat.

How It Works

The chemical reaction for this demonstration is:

2KClO3(s) + heat —> 2KCl(s) + 3O2(g)

This is a decomposition reaction in which potassium chlorate breaks down in potassium chloride and oxygen. Potassium chlorate is a powerful oxidizer. Adding sulfuric acid provides enough heat to accelerate the reaction. Once there is sufficient heat, the oxygen from the reaction burns, using sugar as the fuel.

Dancing Gummy Bear Variation

Another way to do this demonstration is to make a candy, such as a gummy bear, appear to dance in the flames.

  1. Secure a large test tube to a ring stand to hold it in place and so you’ll be able to distance yourself from it.
  2. Heat a small amount of potassium chlorate in a large test tube.
  3. Once the potassium chlorate has melted, add a gummy bear candy.

See the Instant Fire Reaction in Action

Here’s a quick video of this chemical reaction, so you can see what to expect. There are two things you’ll notice here. First, the potassium compound produces a bright purple flame, just as you would expect from a potassium flame test or bead test. Second, it’s important to use a heat-safe container and surface and proper safety gear when performing this reaction, because once it takes off, it gets exciting quickly!


More Fire Science

How To Make a Homemade Sparkler – 2 Simple Recipes

It's easy to make a homemade sparkler. (Amanda Bowman)

It’s easy to make a homemade sparkler. (Amanda Bowman)

Sparklers are small fireworks you hold in your hand. They produce sparks, but they don’t explode. I’ve had a basic homemade sparkler recipe on my About.com Chemistry site for many years that you’ll see copied around the internet. It’s a fine sparkler recipe, but I wanted to give you a couple of other options, so you can make a homemade sparkler even if you have different materials. In particular, potassium chlorate may be hard to find. No need for it here:

Homemade Sparkler Recipe #1

This is the easiest sparkler recipe and requires the fewest ingredients. The resulting sparkler won’t have quite the same effect as the kind you buy in stores, but you can dress it up a bit, if you like. Oh… and did I mention the sparks are purple? Yes, that is cool.

  • 60 milliliters hot water
  • 36 grams potassium nitrate (KNO3) – I use stump remover
  • 24 grams sugar or sucrose – ordinary granulated table sugar is fine
  • cotton yarn (not yarn made from a synthetic, like acrylic)
  • clothespins, alligator clips, or tongs to hold the sparkler (or you can dip the ends in wax)
  1. Mix together the water, potassium nitrate, and sugar to dissolve the dry chemicals.
  2. Soak around 3 meters of yarn in the mixture.
  3. Arrange the yarn on a cookie sheet to make lines. You’ll be drying the mixture and then cutting the yarn to make straight stick shapes, so don’t worry about u-turns.
  4. Now you have two choices. You can either let the yarn dry on its own or you can use a relatively cool oven to dry the sparklers. If you have a bad habit of forgetting about frozen pizzas and turning them into cinders, just leave the cookie sheet in a dry place until the sticks are solid. If you are capable of attending an oven, dry the homemade sparklers in a cool 300 °F (150 °C) for about 20 minutes, pulling them away from the pan after 5-10 minutes so they don’t stick too badly. If you dry the sparklers in the oven, but forget about them, eventually they will smoke (a lot) and catch fire!
  5. Once the string is dry and cool, use scissors to cut it into straight pieces. These are your sparklers. You can hold them in a gloved hand to light or use a clip, clothespin, or other device to keep from burning your fingers.

This recipe is based on my smoke bomb tutorial. The sparkler produces a fair amount of smoke, but the sparks are decent in the dark. If you want more glowing sparks, you can add aluminum or titanium flakes to the recipe.

Homemade Sparkler Recipe #2

Handheld Sparkler (Adam, Flickr)

Handheld Sparkler (Adam, Flickr)

These homemade sparklers are like regular sparklers you buy. This recipe is distinctive in that it does not call for any potassium chlorate (an oxidizer which is hard to get shipped sometimes).  Most of these chemicals you’ll need to order online. The sparks are reddish from the strontium salt in the mixture.

  • 200 grams strontium nitrate
  • 120 grams steel powder
  • 32 grams aluminum flakes
  • 6 grams boric acid
  • 2 grams charcoal
  • ~100 milliliters rubbing alcohol or a mixture of 25% alcohol in water
  • 40 grams dextrin
  • wires or sticks
  1. Mix together all of the solid materials, except the dextrin.
  2. In a separate container, stir about 25 ml of alcohol solution into the dextrin to make a slurry or paste. Discard any lumps you can’t break up.
  3. Mix the dextrin paste in with your solid ingredients.
  4. You can add between 50 and 75 milliliters of alcohol to make a smooth mixture.
  5. Now you will coat your sparkler sticks or wires with the mixture. You have a couple of ways to do this. You can dip them into the mixture, leaving a few inches at the end of the stick to leave a place to hold the sparkler. Let the sparkler dry and then dip it again. Allow the sparkler to completely dry before use.
  6. Another method of coating the sticks is to pour the mixture into thin tubes (seal the bottom with tape or glue or whatever). You could roll paper tubes, use plastic tubing, etc. Insert the sticks into the mixture and remove them when dry (or not, if the tubes are paper).
  7. These sparklers take a bit to light. I recommend using a small butane torch or using a lit sparkler. Enjoy!

Learn More

How To Make Your Own Homemade Firecracker

Learn how to make a homemade firecracker. (Rob Cruickshank)

Learn how to make a homemade firecracker. (Rob Cruickshank)

It’s easy to make homemade firecrackers, plus it’s fun and offers a way to learn the science behind how fireworks work. You only need a few simple ingredients to make homemade firecrackers:

Homemade Firecracker Materials

  • Black Powder
    75% Potassium Nitrate
    15% Charcoal
    10% Sulfur

or

  • Nitrocellulose (flash paper) – make it
    Cotton
    Nitric Acid
    Sulfuric Acid

and

  • Kitty Litter
  • Fuse – buy or make your own
  • Cardboard or Paper
  • Tape
  • Pencil

Assemble a Homemade Firecracker

  1. Roll a strip of cardboard or paper around a pencil to make a hollow tube. Tape the paper to hold the shape in place and remove the pencil.
  2. Cut the tube into 1″ or 2″ sections.
  3. Tape the bottom of each tube to seal it.
  4. Add a small amount of kitty litter (clay) to a tube and use the pencil to press it down to the bottom. Use the erase end to pack down the clay to make a plug.
  5. Add black powder or nitrocellulose to the tube. Insert a piece of fuse and continue adding powder around it until you are near the top of the tube. Don’t be stingy with the fuse. You want to get it into the gunpowder and make sure there is enough exposed fuse outside the firecracker that you can light it and get away from it before the fuse burns down to the gunpowder.
  6. You have a few options for sealing the tube. If you’re working with paper and plan to light the firecracker immediately, you can firmly twist the paper around the fuse to seal the firecracker. Another option is to top off the gunpowder with a small amount of kitty litter. Tape the top of the cylinder, leaving fuse exposed. Finally, you can just tape the top of the firecracker, leaving exposed fuse. Experiment to see which design works best for you.

Firecracker Safety Information

  • Gunpowder or nitrocellulose are flammable and will explode if they are compressed when they burn. This, of course, if how firecrackers work! Make sure the materials only explode when you’re ready by keeping your work space away from heat and flame.
  • It’s a firecracker, so it should be made by and lit by an adult.

If you enjoyed this homemade firecracker project, you may also enjoy:

 

Rainbow Flames Halloween Jack o’ Lantern

Rainbow Fire Pumpkin

Rainbow Fire Pumpkin (Anne Helmenstine)

Looking for an over-the-top science-y Halloween jack o’ lantern? Here’s my favorite… a carved pumpkin that’s both covered in colored flames and shoots fire from every orifice. The colors work much like the analytical chemistry flame test in which heated ions release a characteristic spectrum of light.

Materials

  • Real Pumpkin (fake probably would melt, which might be something to try, I guess)
  • Colorant
  • Fuel

You have a few household chemical options for the colorant. My personal favorite is boric acid, which is sold as a roach killer powder or as a disinfectant powder. It emits a green light when heated. Borax, sold as a laundry booster, also burns green. Another choice is copper sulfate, which I have found in granular form as a root killer. Any or all of these work well.

The best fuel for the exterior of the pumpkin is hand sanitizer gel, which is 60-65% alcohol. You can use just hand sanitizer, but for big interior flames, it’s nice to have rubbing alcohol, kerosene, or methyl alcohol (Heet fuel treatment). My favorite combo is methanol (Heet) inside the pumpkin and hand sanitizer on the outside of the pumpkin.

Alcohol and hand sanitizer burn with a blue flame. Natural salts in the pumpkin produce yellow and orange, while incandescence covers the other colors of the spectrum.

This is a carved Halloween jack o' lantern sprinkled with copper sulfate and coated with hand sanitizer. (Anne Helmenstine)

This is a carved Halloween jack o’ lantern sprinkled with copper sulfate and coated with hand sanitizer. (Anne Helmenstine)

Make a Rainbow of Colored Fire

  1. Prepare your pumpkin. Carve it. Don’t carve it. Whatever floats your boat.
  2. Either go outdoors or else place your jack o’ lantern on a heat-safe surface, such as a cookie sheet on top of a potholder. Unless you get crazy, it should be easy to extinguish the flames by blowing them out, but it’s never a bad idea to have a source of water or a fire extinguisher at hand,
  3. Smear hand sanitizer all over the outside of the pumpkin. One nice feature of the product is that you’re left with water when the alcohol burns off, which puts out the fire.
  4. Sprinkle your colorant inside and outside the pumpkin.
  5. Pour a small amount (couple of ounces) of fuel into the jack o’ lantern.
  6. Use a long-handled lighter to ignite the fuel.
  7. You can re-charge the fire after the flames go out. Don’t add fuel to a burning pumpkin! There is no need to add more colorant chemical, as it is not consumed.

The carving is up to you. It’s not even critical to clean out the seeds and other pumpkin guts, since you don’t need to reach your hand inside the jack o’ lantern to place a candle. Anyway, the interior get immolated if you do it right, so it’s sort of a self-cleaning pumpkin.

Ready to see it in action? Here’s my video…

Safety Info

It’s a FIRE project. It makes an excellent Halloween chemistry demonstration or holiday display, but should only be under the control of a responsible adult. Have fun, but please be careful. Also, don’t use the pumpkin for pie or otherwise ingest it following this project. The colorant chemicals are more harmful to invertebrates (copper) and plants (too much boron) than to people, but they aren’t food. The fuels range from bad-tasting (ethanol) to downright toxic (methanol or kerosene). Read the warning labels on the products you use.

Pyrography – Draw Pictures With a Sparkler

Sparkler (Anne Helmenstine)

Sparkler (Anne Helmenstine)

Okay pyros, I know you’re out there… I’ve got a project right up your alley (and mine). Obtain or make a sparkler and use it to draw pictures on paper. Are you a little unclear about what I mean? It’s an art form called pyrographie (or pyrography) and it involves burning images into paper using fire. In this case, the fire comes from a sparkler. Think of it as a burning pencil, if you like. Artists Tobias Kipp and Timo Pitkamo have a wonderful website that showcases some of what you can do. (It’s in German, but it’s easy to navigate even if you don’t understand the language). My drawing skills begin and end with stick figures, so I’m not sure I’ll produce any pictures worth hanging on the living room wall, but if they are bad enough to burn… well, that’s fine too. If you make any nice art, send me a pic and I’ll post it so others can admire your skill.

Burning Bouquet of Dandelions

Burning Dandelions

Burning Dandelions (Anne Helmenstine)

I continued my experimentation into the colors of flames produced by dandelions with a bouquet of ‘wishes’ or seed heads. In Nebraska, dandelions are used for dandelion wine, but mainly are a weed. No one objected to getting the flowers cleared out their yard. Actually, I suspect they were glad the seed heads were going to be burned. The bouquet is pretty, burns instantly, and leaves little residue.

Fire Projects | Make a Glowing Flower

Make a Tabletop Fire Tornado: Red and Blue Flames

Red & Blue Fire Vortex

Red & Blue Fire Vortex (Anne Helmenstine)

It’s fun and educational to make a tabletop fire tornado or fire vortex. Why not experiment with color, too? The easiest variation is the green fire tornado, but you can use other chemicals and a similar technique to get other colors or even multiple colors. This fire tornado showcases red and blue flames.

Materials

  • mesh waste basket
  • lazy susan or turntable
  • strontium nitrate (emergency flare)
  • methanol (Heet fuel treatment)
  • heat-safe plate (Pyrex or stoneware are good choices)

If you don’t have methanol, a different alcohol or lighter fluid will burn with a comparable blue flame. I used strontium nitrate for red, which I got by cutting open an emergency flare and collecting the powder. You could also order pure strontium nitrate online or use another metal salt that burns red, such as a lithium salt.

Red & Blue Fire Tornado

Red & Blue Fire Tornado (Anne Helmenstine)

Instructions

  1. Set the waste basket on the turntable.
  2. Sprinkle a small amount of strontium nitrate (flare powder) in the middle of your plate.
  3. Set the plate inside the waste basket.
  4. Place the waste basket on the turntable.
  5. Dampen the strontium nitrate with the methanol and pour a small amount around it. Don’t get crazy with the fuel, at least until you know what to expect.
  6. Light the fuel and spin the turntable.
  7. You can let it go out on its own, blow it out, cover it with a pan, or douse it with water. The methanol burns quickly, so putting it out is not generally an issue. However, for the pyros out there who will get carried away, it’s good to know all the various ways you can safely extinguish the flames.

I tried this project a few different ways. It’s possible to completely isolate the two colors from each other by placing the fuel (methanol) in two small metal cups and adding a pinch of strontium nitrate to one of them. You set the cups inside the waste basket, ignite the fuel, and slowly spin the turntable. It’s a spectacular effect, but it’s not the safest activity, since physics will pull the cups outward as you spin the basket. I think you’d get good results sticking the cups to a base using a hot glue gun, but I have not tried it yet.

Make It Red, White & Blue

You can add aluminum or titanium flakes to get white sparkles. Burning a separate pile of Epsom salts with methanol can give you white flames, though in my experience most products have enough sodium contamination to give you more yellow than white. There’s magnesium metal, which would certainly liven things up… not recommending, just saying.

So, of course I had to make a video of this project: