Find all your DIY electronics in the MakerShed. 3D Printing, Kits, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Books & more!


Image by Dave Howells for Esquire

Congrats to Bill Gurstelle for his Esquire article, “We Are All Pyromaniacs.” As you know, Bill is guest authoring on the blog, in celebration of the 4th and the release of his new book, The Practical Pyromaniac. In the Esquire piece, Bill says:

Fire is the most important human-controllable chemical reaction on Earth. For hundreds of thousands of years, we and our proto-human ancestors have loved and feared fire. And on the whole, there is more to love than to fear. But when people ask me whether I’m a pyromaniac, the answer has become: no more (well, maybe a little more) than the next guy. Yes, I do like fire. But not in the pathological, over-the-top way that scares people. The reason I write about the subject I do is that — from Tesla coils and potato cannons to homemade gunpowder and fire kites — I figured out that, deep down, we are all pyromaniacs.

Does that ring true for you? Are you fascinated by fire and ‘splody things (in a not “pathological, over-the-top way that scares people”)? Talk to us in the comments. Bill has agreed to give away three copies of his book in a drawing. So tell us some of your favorite pyro adventures. We’ll close the eligible entries by Thursday at midnight Pacific. And we’ll announce the winners HERE on Friday (so check back). Good luck!

We Are All Pyromaniacs

You can find out more about Bill’s book on the companion Facebook page.

More:
Bill’s posts here on MAKE

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


Related

Comments

  1. One of my favorite things I built was a miniature of an ancient weapon called a Hwacha. I built it to where it shot 24 bottle rockets!

  2. One of my favorite Pyro memories was making Nitrogen Triiodide in AP Chem class in high school; that and watching the explosion from sodium and potassium reacting with water

  3. Carl Nelson says:

    My enjoyment of building and creating fires was fueled by being in Boy Scouts.  Nothing compares with the feeling of creating a fire, especially without matches or modern science assisting.  The first time I built a fire with the bow-and-stick friction method came with a victorious feeling; I had summoned fire with my own hands and sweat!

    My favorite fire memory is when in 5th or 6th grade the principle of my school was trying to start a fire.  He wasn’t terribly good at it, and I assisted him in collecting the proper firestarting materials and getting the blaze going.  My mother pulled up to pick me up after school and I wasn’t in the car rider area.  One of the teachers told her that I was helping the principle start a fire.  When I got to the car, my mother just rolled her eyes and said that she didn’t even want to know the details! :-)

    1. Kaz says:

      I completely agree that scouting is a great way to get lured in to the world of fire and flames. It sure ignited my passion.

      Just staring at the dancing flames of a campfire seems magical to a little kid. (It still does.)  And when you’re a bit older you’ll put 1+1 together and soon you’re competing with friends about who can make the biggest fireball with a can, some molten lighted butter and little water. Of course, some things are better left untold when mother asks what you did at the camp. :D

  4. Adam K says:

    Favorite pyro moment was discovering thermite for the first time in high school chemistry…Redox reactions are fun :)

  5. Anonymous says:

    My Favorite to date is my potato cannon.  I have it using a stun gun for the igniter, but I have found that spud juice makes the firing dicey.  I plan to experiment some more until I either get a consistent fire with stun gun, or find another surefire ignition system.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My Favorite to date is my potato cannon.  I have it using a stun gun for the igniter, but I have found that spud juice makes the firing dicey.  I plan to experiment some more until I either get a consistent fire with stun gun, or find another surefire ignition system.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My Favorite to date is my potato cannon.  I have it using a stun gun for the igniter, but I have found that spud juice makes the firing dicey.  I plan to experiment some more until I either get a consistent fire with stun gun, or find another surefire ignition system.

  8. Andrew H says:

    My chem teacher burned something every Friday.

  9. Andrew H says:

    My chem teacher burned something every Friday.

  10. Andrew H says:

    My chem teacher burned something every Friday.

  11. Anonymous says:

    In high school chem lab we made peanut brittle from seemingly random chemicals (love that experiment).  Ours ended up in flames and the entire school was evacuated until the fire department checked everything out.

    We were applauded by the rest of the students because our little fiasco gave everyone the equivalent of an hour long break from class.  *Sigh* Good times.

  12. Lola Bang says:

    Pallet fires are my favorite but adding things to make fire change colors is a close second.

  13. My favorite pyro story came from my dad (he’s where I got my love of fire from!).  He found an old lead ball in a field when he was really young (12, I think).  What’s his first thought?  It’s big enough to be a cannon ball!  So what does any enterprising 12 year old with a cannon ball do?  He builds a cannon out of a hollowed out log.  He leaned the log on a rock, blocked off the back end with another rock, cut up a brick of firecrackers, poured the gunpowder into the log, dropped in his cannon ball (with some old rags behind it to get a good fit), lit the sparkler fuse and ran… the explosion caught his ‘cannon’ on fire, and the cannon ball almost struck some construction workers across the street. 

    He told me this story with a gleam in his eye while teaching me to light an acetylene torch.  Why were we lighting the torch?  Well, it was the fourth of July… how else were we going to launch the shells from our mortars?

    Fire was the one thing my dad, brother, and I had completely in common, and the 4th of July was our favorite holiday together.

    My own story?  Well, lets just say 8 bottle rockets with their stems clipped, strapped onto the back of a pinewood derby car makes for an awesome show… and who knew roman candles didn’t hurt so bad when they strike you on the chest?  Best game of tag ever.

  14. My favorite pyro story came from my dad (he’s where I got my love of fire from!).  He found an old lead ball in a field when he was really young (12, I think).  What’s his first thought?  It’s big enough to be a cannon ball!  So what does any enterprising 12 year old with a cannon ball do?  He builds a cannon out of a hollowed out log.  He leaned the log on a rock, blocked off the back end with another rock, cut up a brick of firecrackers, poured the gunpowder into the log, dropped in his cannon ball (with some old rags behind it to get a good fit), lit the sparkler fuse and ran… the explosion caught his ‘cannon’ on fire, and the cannon ball almost struck some construction workers across the street. 

    He told me this story with a gleam in his eye while teaching me to light an acetylene torch.  Why were we lighting the torch?  Well, it was the fourth of July… how else were we going to launch the shells from our mortars?

    Fire was the one thing my dad, brother, and I had completely in common, and the 4th of July was our favorite holiday together.

    My own story?  Well, lets just say 8 bottle rockets with their stems clipped, strapped onto the back of a pinewood derby car makes for an awesome show… and who knew roman candles didn’t hurt so bad when they strike you on the chest?  Best game of tag ever.

  15. Rob Richards says:

    Pizza boxes + lighter fluid on the fire escape…not the brightest move..but a heck of a study break.

  16. No real good stories,  most of the chem labs I did were small reactions in little test tubes.  I’ll have to make sure and read the book.

  17. No real good stories,  most of the chem labs I did were small reactions in little test tubes.  I’ll have to make sure and read the book.

  18. I almost set my kitchen on fire when trying to flambé for the first time. Hot frying pan with proto-food, a glass of tequila and one match. You could actually hear the “Fwoom” of the flame. Turns out a glass of tequila in a hot pan can hold a flame about a meter tall for what feels like an eternity (olive oil also seems to burn quite well after a while). Also, moving anything in the pan only makes it worse. I ended up with some surprisingly edible (and crispy) food.

  19. I almost set my kitchen on fire when trying to flambé for the first time. Hot frying pan with proto-food, a glass of tequila and one match. You could actually hear the “Fwoom” of the flame. Turns out a glass of tequila in a hot pan can hold a flame about a meter tall for what feels like an eternity (olive oil also seems to burn quite well after a while). Also, moving anything in the pan only makes it worse. I ended up with some surprisingly edible (and crispy) food.

  20. Chris Smith says:

    One of my funniest experiences with fireworks occurred when a friend and I were having a few beers and throwing old firecrackers which had lost their fuses into an indoor fireplace while my roommate was out for the night.  A few days later, she said she made a fire in the fireplace and there were several bangs.  Did I know anything about that?  Nope, not a thing.

  21. Ninety Nein says:

    My favorite pyro moment was when I was in Grade 6.  One of the ‘less loved’ teachers was helping us build a diorama of various cloud formations.  The clouds were made with cotton baton.  When it came time for the storm clouds, she decided she would ‘grey’ them a bit by passing a flame under them.  While the cotton didn’t really ignite in a dramatic fashion, it did burn fast enough so she dropped it, and in the process managed to set the back of her dress on fire.  Being children, we didn’t really recognize the seriousness of the situation, and when the teach failed to notice the small flame burning up her backside, we were all laughing too hard to tell her.  Luckily she figured it out before any serious damage was done.

    On another note, the Disaster Area folks (http://disasterarea.tempco.org) were a huge hit here at the Mini Maker Faire in Vancouver.  I’m even tempted to try out a few fire sculptures of my own.   

  22. After reading the link to Mr. Gurstelle’s article, I have to say that I agree with him when he says, “Once you roll your own, there’s no going back to store-bought.”  Now I realize this quote is a bit ambiguous, so I’ll clarify that we’re still speaking about FIREWORKS, and nothing else.  Anyways, when I was a kid, my brother and I got the bright idea to make my dad a firework as a present.  Both my brother and I were obsessed with fire at the time, and we made our own smoke bombs, flash paper, et cetera.  We had no idea where to start when it came to bigger explosions, so we went to our next door neighbor, who gladly helped us out.  Shortly after talking to him, we had our firework in hand: finely ground gunpowder packed inside a toilet paper tube, wrapped in a half-inch thick layer of electrical tape with a foot-and-a-half long fuse sticking out the end.  My dad didn’t have  a reason to set off the lone firework immediately when we gave it to him (I don’t remember if it was for his birthday or father’s day), so we kept it until we went to the beach for the following 4th of July.  I’ll openly admit that watching the firework explode was nothing special, because we had buried it under a foot of sand for fear of how big the explosion would be.  It was, however, the LOUDEST explosion of the night, easily beating out all of the expensive show fireworks that people had been setting off hour after hour.  My brother was the one who actually lit off the firework (because he was the fastest runner of the three of us), but we all stood in a line waiting for it to go off.  We had never lit anything with a fuse that long before, and after a minute or so of waiting, we had almost given up on it as a dud.  As such, we were in the middle of deciding whether to leave or wait a few more minutes then go back and get it so it didn’t go off as someone walked by.  In the middle of this, there was a large flash lighting up the entire beach, then it felt like a giant swung a club at us, simultaneously hitting everyone in the chest.  This is a cherished childhood memory, and every time I replay this memory, I am reminded of the awesome power of fire, and the feeling of satisfaction that such an event was entirely created by my own hands (with the help of my brother and neighbor).  I haven’t made any fireworks worth mentioning since that one, but this article inspired me, and I may just go out and ready some for the next New Years or 4th celebration.

  23. After reading the link to Mr. Gurstelle’s article, I have to say that I agree with him when he says, “Once you roll your own, there’s no going back to store-bought.”  Now I realize this quote is a bit ambiguous, so I’ll clarify that we’re still speaking about FIREWORKS, and nothing else.  Anyways, when I was a kid, my brother and I got the bright idea to make my dad a firework as a present.  Both my brother and I were obsessed with fire at the time, and we made our own smoke bombs, flash paper, et cetera.  We had no idea where to start when it came to bigger explosions, so we went to our next door neighbor, who gladly helped us out.  Shortly after talking to him, we had our firework in hand: finely ground gunpowder packed inside a toilet paper tube, wrapped in a half-inch thick layer of electrical tape with a foot-and-a-half long fuse sticking out the end.  My dad didn’t have  a reason to set off the lone firework immediately when we gave it to him (I don’t remember if it was for his birthday or father’s day), so we kept it until we went to the beach for the following 4th of July.  I’ll openly admit that watching the firework explode was nothing special, because we had buried it under a foot of sand for fear of how big the explosion would be.  It was, however, the LOUDEST explosion of the night, easily beating out all of the expensive show fireworks that people had been setting off hour after hour.  My brother was the one who actually lit off the firework (because he was the fastest runner of the three of us), but we all stood in a line waiting for it to go off.  We had never lit anything with a fuse that long before, and after a minute or so of waiting, we had almost given up on it as a dud.  As such, we were in the middle of deciding whether to leave or wait a few more minutes then go back and get it so it didn’t go off as someone walked by.  In the middle of this, there was a large flash lighting up the entire beach, then it felt like a giant swung a club at us, simultaneously hitting everyone in the chest.  This is a cherished childhood memory, and every time I replay this memory, I am reminded of the awesome power of fire, and the feeling of satisfaction that such an event was entirely created by my own hands (with the help of my brother and neighbor).  I haven’t made any fireworks worth mentioning since that one, but this article inspired me, and I may just go out and ready some for the next New Years or 4th celebration.

  24. After reading the link to Mr. Gurstelle’s article, I have to say that I agree with him when he says, “Once you roll your own, there’s no going back to store-bought.”  Now I realize this quote is a bit ambiguous, so I’ll clarify that we’re still speaking about FIREWORKS, and nothing else.  Anyways, when I was a kid, my brother and I got the bright idea to make my dad a firework as a present.  Both my brother and I were obsessed with fire at the time, and we made our own smoke bombs, flash paper, et cetera.  We had no idea where to start when it came to bigger explosions, so we went to our next door neighbor, who gladly helped us out.  Shortly after talking to him, we had our firework in hand: finely ground gunpowder packed inside a toilet paper tube, wrapped in a half-inch thick layer of electrical tape with a foot-and-a-half long fuse sticking out the end.  My dad didn’t have  a reason to set off the lone firework immediately when we gave it to him (I don’t remember if it was for his birthday or father’s day), so we kept it until we went to the beach for the following 4th of July.  I’ll openly admit that watching the firework explode was nothing special, because we had buried it under a foot of sand for fear of how big the explosion would be.  It was, however, the LOUDEST explosion of the night, easily beating out all of the expensive show fireworks that people had been setting off hour after hour.  My brother was the one who actually lit off the firework (because he was the fastest runner of the three of us), but we all stood in a line waiting for it to go off.  We had never lit anything with a fuse that long before, and after a minute or so of waiting, we had almost given up on it as a dud.  As such, we were in the middle of deciding whether to leave or wait a few more minutes then go back and get it so it didn’t go off as someone walked by.  In the middle of this, there was a large flash lighting up the entire beach, then it felt like a giant swung a club at us, simultaneously hitting everyone in the chest.  This is a cherished childhood memory, and every time I replay this memory, I am reminded of the awesome power of fire, and the feeling of satisfaction that such an event was entirely created by my own hands (with the help of my brother and neighbor).  I haven’t made any fireworks worth mentioning since that one, but this article inspired me, and I may just go out and ready some for the next New Years or 4th celebration.

  25. After reading the link to Mr. Gurstelle’s article, I have to say that I agree with him when he says, “Once you roll your own, there’s no going back to store-bought.”  Now I realize this quote is a bit ambiguous, so I’ll clarify that we’re still speaking about FIREWORKS, and nothing else.  Anyways, when I was a kid, my brother and I got the bright idea to make my dad a firework as a present.  Both my brother and I were obsessed with fire at the time, and we made our own smoke bombs, flash paper, et cetera.  We had no idea where to start when it came to bigger explosions, so we went to our next door neighbor, who gladly helped us out.  Shortly after talking to him, we had our firework in hand: finely ground gunpowder packed inside a toilet paper tube, wrapped in a half-inch thick layer of electrical tape with a foot-and-a-half long fuse sticking out the end.  My dad didn’t have  a reason to set off the lone firework immediately when we gave it to him (I don’t remember if it was for his birthday or father’s day), so we kept it until we went to the beach for the following 4th of July.  I’ll openly admit that watching the firework explode was nothing special, because we had buried it under a foot of sand for fear of how big the explosion would be.  It was, however, the LOUDEST explosion of the night, easily beating out all of the expensive show fireworks that people had been setting off hour after hour.  My brother was the one who actually lit off the firework (because he was the fastest runner of the three of us), but we all stood in a line waiting for it to go off.  We had never lit anything with a fuse that long before, and after a minute or so of waiting, we had almost given up on it as a dud.  As such, we were in the middle of deciding whether to leave or wait a few more minutes then go back and get it so it didn’t go off as someone walked by.  In the middle of this, there was a large flash lighting up the entire beach, then it felt like a giant swung a club at us, simultaneously hitting everyone in the chest.  This is a cherished childhood memory, and every time I replay this memory, I am reminded of the awesome power of fire, and the feeling of satisfaction that such an event was entirely created by my own hands (with the help of my brother and neighbor).  I haven’t made any fireworks worth mentioning since that one, but this article inspired me, and I may just go out and ready some for the next New Years or 4th celebration.

  26. After reading the link to Mr. Gurstelle’s article, I have to say that I agree with him when he says, “Once you roll your own, there’s no going back to store-bought.”  Now I realize this quote is a bit ambiguous, so I’ll clarify that we’re still speaking about FIREWORKS, and nothing else.  Anyways, when I was a kid, my brother and I got the bright idea to make my dad a firework as a present.  Both my brother and I were obsessed with fire at the time, and we made our own smoke bombs, flash paper, et cetera.  We had no idea where to start when it came to bigger explosions, so we went to our next door neighbor, who gladly helped us out.  Shortly after talking to him, we had our firework in hand: finely ground gunpowder packed inside a toilet paper tube, wrapped in a half-inch thick layer of electrical tape with a foot-and-a-half long fuse sticking out the end.  My dad didn’t have  a reason to set off the lone firework immediately when we gave it to him (I don’t remember if it was for his birthday or father’s day), so we kept it until we went to the beach for the following 4th of July.  I’ll openly admit that watching the firework explode was nothing special, because we had buried it under a foot of sand for fear of how big the explosion would be.  It was, however, the LOUDEST explosion of the night, easily beating out all of the expensive show fireworks that people had been setting off hour after hour.  My brother was the one who actually lit off the firework (because he was the fastest runner of the three of us), but we all stood in a line waiting for it to go off.  We had never lit anything with a fuse that long before, and after a minute or so of waiting, we had almost given up on it as a dud.  As such, we were in the middle of deciding whether to leave or wait a few more minutes then go back and get it so it didn’t go off as someone walked by.  In the middle of this, there was a large flash lighting up the entire beach, then it felt like a giant swung a club at us, simultaneously hitting everyone in the chest.  This is a cherished childhood memory, and every time I replay this memory, I am reminded of the awesome power of fire, and the feeling of satisfaction that such an event was entirely created by my own hands (with the help of my brother and neighbor).  I haven’t made any fireworks worth mentioning since that one, but this article inspired me, and I may just go out and ready some for the next New Years or 4th celebration.

  27. Anonymous says:

    We have a semi-annual (okay once so far) gathering, in a far-off, discreet location where we do all manner of pyro activities. We call ourselves the MLA (Mennonite Liberation Army – see Youtube) and at our first meeting the highlight was a 45 gallon steel barrel filled with oxy-acetelyne. Video shows some debris flying about 200 feet in the air, very satisfying. This year I plan to split open a propane tank and light the escaping ball of gas in a giant fireball. My resources say that the tank is specifically manufactured so that it will not split open no matter what size of firearm but I think I can do it with a few pounds of thermite. We’ll see. Just over the weekend I was disassembling some cherry bombs and discovered that the BANG component looks and feels very similar to the compound pressed into the little paper caps that I used to take apart. Hmm… a bunch of cherry bomb charges in a glass jar, encased in concrete, sounds promising. I love the feeling of a shock-wave propagating through the ground under my feet. My favorite story…I was having some fun with my two boys when they were very young and we managed to make some kind of loud noise in the front yard that caused my wife to poke her head out the door. She asked what we were up to and my son turned around with his hands on his hips and replied, “Mom, you don’t want to know.” We just split a gut laughing.

  28. Anonymous says:

    As a “practical joke” we built a decently large smoke bomb in our high school physics class (the chem class had too many non-geeks to effectively pull this off). On the morning of the next fire drill, we lit it off in the fume hood.

    By the time everyone was gathered outside, a nice blue-grey column of smoke was rising from the middle of the campus.

    We thought it was hilarious. The administration, sadly, didn’t see the humor in it. That fiasco ended our “fun” during physics.

  29. In highschool chemistry on one of the last days our teacher took some soapy water and with a hose hooked up to the gas with funnel on the end made a bunch of bubbles, lit the bubbles, and made a fireball that went up to the ceiling. 

  30. Joshua Sommerman says:

    Back in the eighth grade, our science teacher made a little bet with the class that he could ignite a paper towel without burning the towel up.  We took him up on the bet, and had to spend a little time scrubbing down the lab tables due to our loss. Little did we know that a paper towel soaked in denatured alcohol will allow the alcohol to burn without setting fire to the paper itself.  After that, we never got taken in by a “wager” again.

  31. When I was a kid I used to live in Mexico. The lady who lived next door had a traditional thach roof (about 2 feet thick). Anytime she cooked smoke would rise through the thach and we always wondered why it didnt burn down. So being the idiot kids we were we threw a lit match on it. Needles to say after a few seconds of burning the whole neighborhood came out with buckets of water and put it out. Like I said being IDIOTS we did this the following week also. This time we were corporally punished (they even made us cut our own switches). Needless to say we got it through our heads that yes it does still burn and no its not a good idea to try it a third time. She still lives in that same house and when i go down there on vacation she still sells me snacks from her store. :)

  32. whan i was 13 after the  day before chrismas me and a friend playing with pyrotecnic bombs an stuff like that in the park trying to blow some trash cans and  some old toys and when we finish the pyrotecnics we usualy try tu burn the box were the matches where .. 

  33. whan i was 13 after the  day before chrismas me and a friend playing with pyrotecnic bombs an stuff like that in the park trying to blow some trash cans and  some old toys and when we finish the pyrotecnics we usualy try tu burn the box were the matches where .. 

  34. whan i was 13 after the  day before chrismas me and a friend playing with pyrotecnic bombs an stuff like that in the park trying to blow some trash cans and  some old toys and when we finish the pyrotecnics we usualy try tu burn the box were the matches where .. 

  35. whan i was 13 after the  day before chrismas me and a friend playing with pyrotecnic bombs an stuff like that in the park trying to blow some trash cans and  some old toys and when we finish the pyrotecnics we usualy try tu burn the box were the matches where .. 

  36. whan i was 13 after the  day before chrismas me and a friend playing with pyrotecnic bombs an stuff like that in the park trying to blow some trash cans and  some old toys and when we finish the pyrotecnics we usualy try tu burn the box were the matches where .. 

  37. Jeff says:

    For the love of Black powder.  My dad had black powder, and I had a long hot summer day.
    That was the day I discovered that a cotton string moistened charcoal lighter fluid and powdered with BP will make a decent fuse.
    Shortly after that I discovered a pound of BP poured out on the ground and ignited with said fuse will make a pretty acceptable mushroom cloud.
    Fortunately the HUGE smoke ring had drifted away shortly before my folks pulled into the drive way.

    Also found that a few cups of white flour in a cardboard box, one person to shake the bejeebers out of it (then throw it and RUN-AWAY) with another person off the the side with a bow and flaming arrow is absolutely OUTSTANDING way to get rid of weeds, and grass, on the lawn.  Dad apparently was not as understanding of this plan of action.

    I still have all my fingers and hair, at least that which has not gone away naturally.

  38. Jeff says:

    For the love of Black powder.  My dad had black powder, and I had a long hot summer day.
    That was the day I discovered that a cotton string moistened charcoal lighter fluid and powdered with BP will make a decent fuse.
    Shortly after that I discovered a pound of BP poured out on the ground and ignited with said fuse will make a pretty acceptable mushroom cloud.
    Fortunately the HUGE smoke ring had drifted away shortly before my folks pulled into the drive way.

    Also found that a few cups of white flour in a cardboard box, one person to shake the bejeebers out of it (then throw it and RUN-AWAY) with another person off the the side with a bow and flaming arrow is absolutely OUTSTANDING way to get rid of weeds, and grass, on the lawn.  Dad apparently was not as understanding of this plan of action.

    I still have all my fingers and hair, at least that which has not gone away naturally.

  39. I just don’t know anyone that did not do at least one thing in their childhood that You write about. We made a cannon out of steel pipe, firecracker and apple ( the bad and rotten ones ;) ) and they flew like 10m. Throwing wood shredings on top of fire (warning: not too much at once) was also nice experience (You seen “mushroom”  like from atom bomb ?). And I live, still  have all 10 fingers (few scares extra) and will let my children do the same if they ask. 

  40. Nathan says:

    Lots of people figure out simple modifications to regular fireworks to make them more fun, like hammering a piccolo pete (screamer) before you light it.
    My attempts had irregular results.

    Later I saw a program on public television about fireworks. It explained that powder lit, trapped in a container makes a bang.  Pack the powder tightly into a tube, and you have a fountain.  Make a hole down the center of the tube of powder, and you’ve got a screamer.

    With this new knowlege, I re-evaluated what hammering a piccolo pete does.  take the packed powder and crush it, it will either become a fountain (if still tight) or a firecracker (if loose)   So now when I want a bang, I’ll hammer one way to crush up the powder, then turn it a quarter turn and hammer it back to un-flatten the tube, and make sure the powder is loose.   now I get “SCREEEEE–BANG!!!”  every time.

  41. David Walker says:

    I always preferred the term “Pyromantic” – it sounds less scary by losing the “maniac” and expresses a love for fire-y things :o)

  42. Adam Eyring says:

    I haven’t been a major pyromaniac, but I did enjoy small fires. I am concious of the amount of garbage I produce and when I got some paperboard that couldn’t be recycled, I attempted to burn it, but had to quit to avoid setting home on fire. I also showed my son how to put out a flame with his fingers to the chagrin of my wife. I also love looking at the flames in chem lab and in my research (flame atomic absorption spectroscopy is cool!).

  43. Marc Seguin says:

    Personally I have been excited and inspired by Bill’s videos… fire tornado,etc but the one that is on my build list is his Ruben’s Tube experiment… sound, gas, fire… what fun! what excitement! Definitely looking forward to this build.

  44. RJ Cantrell says:

    This is not my most grandiose fire story, but it’s the most emotionally damaging. When I was 5 or so, I was so fascinated with fire that in addition to the normal experiments with fireworks (for years thereafter, we had competitions to see who could make the biggest single-fuse explosion by combining them in Rube Goldberg Machines… Of Fire), I would even just stare at the stove burners and carry lit matches around. The problem with all of this is that my inseparable security-blanket best friend was a big flammable Teddy Ruxpin doll. (you remember those, right? the animatronic teddy bear who would “read” stories via a cassette player in its back?)

    So, Teddy and I were using Mom’s Aqua-net and a butane lighter to burn lines of ants when that fool bear let his leg get in the line of fire. After I put out the ensuing blaze, he was a vastly changed bear, with a melted eye, mouth shriveled into a snarl, and large blackened crusty swaths around his body and dentist’s x-ray vest attire. My parents found out, and tried to cure my pyromania by guilt. “RJ!” they’d say, “You burned up your best friend! He’s all disfigured and it’s YOUR FAULT! How could you?!” These were the words I would hear in my nightmares, along with the distorted and stretched cries from one-eyed Zombie Ruxpin… “Llllllleeeeeeet’ssss beeee frieeeeeenndssssss!”

    Being an emotionally sensitive child, I was caught between the horror of living with my mistake and the horror of losing my best friend. I think I had my first tiny little child-size neurotic breakdown as I threw Teddy into the dumpster in advance of the oncoming garbage truck. It felt as emotionally heavy as if I were throwing away my little brother into that dumpster, and I bolted to hide under a fir tree so the garbage men wouldn’t see my shame. I cried under that tree for two hours.

  45. Ken Junkins says:

    Some fourty years ago, I began experimenting with DIY in my father’s basement workshop/train room. One experiment I remember, and am amazed didn’t turn into disaster, involved fire and a small motor.

    I had clamped the battery powered motor in a vise, and had attached a “propeller” of balsa wood to the gear end. It was cool to watch the thing whirl around, and I would draw lines on the wood to make POV spirals and patterns.

    Then I got this brilliant idea: put a little bit of model glue on the balsa, and light it, and see what would happen when I ran the motor. With the right amount of glue I got a “ring of fire”, with the wrong amount (i.e. too much) I got spewing blobs of fire in all directions, including some landing on the train layout across the room. That I tracked them all and put them out before a major incident is pretty much a miracle of fate. But that afternoon, and several more, were spent doing these mini pyrotechnic experiments.

    I don’t think Dad ever knew.

  46. Marco Tedaldi says:

    My family went camping a lot when I was a kid. Less than half a mile from the camping site at a lake there was a place where they where digging sand and stones out of the lake. Huge mountains out of sand stood there. A friend and me loved to go there and set up fires out of the wood the workers had removed from the lake (remember: you can’t get better fire wood than what has been in a river or lake for quite some time). Once in a one week holiday we set up a big fire and stayed there until late in the evening. As soon as we were up next moring, we went to the site again and still found some parts of the fire glowing under the ashes. So we used this to start a new fire on top and had a new big fire in no time. We kept the fire burning the whole week. We did some other stuff during the week as well, but the fire was always kept burning.
    I know: in ancient times it was normal practice to keep a fire burning over extended periods of time. but for us it was something quite exciting to do.

  47. Chad Smith says:

    My favorites are thermite and a spud gun (obviously not at the same time).

  48. My first pyro act was when I was 12 years old
    growing up in England. I meant a boy at grammar school (high school first year equivalent)
    who could already pass the college entry exam for chemistry. He taught us all
    sorts of things in the playground. One of them was mixing sugar and sodium chlorate
    (weed killer) to make fireworks. So I went to the  local garden shop and bought a few ounces of sodium
    chlorate. I probably couldn’t do that today. I gathered a few friends and we went
    into the shed to mix the components and then light it up. Luckily I didn’t mix
    enough materials to build a major firework, this was a “let’s mix a small
    portion and see what it does” experiment. We were treated to a small volcano type
    plume of readdish smoke as I remember (it’s over 40 years ago!). So plans were
    made for bigger fireworks and thoughts of rockets. Unfortunately one of my
    friends was so excited he told his mum. Who obviously told my mum who obviously
    grounded me and that was the end of my pyrotechnics for that summer.

  49. My first pyro act was when I was 12 years old
    growing up in England. I meant a boy at grammar school (high school first year equivalent)
    who could already pass the college entry exam for chemistry. He taught us all
    sorts of things in the playground. One of them was mixing sugar and sodium chlorate
    (weed killer) to make fireworks. So I went to the  local garden shop and bought a few ounces of sodium
    chlorate. I probably couldn’t do that today. I gathered a few friends and we went
    into the shed to mix the components and then light it up. Luckily I didn’t mix
    enough materials to build a major firework, this was a “let’s mix a small
    portion and see what it does” experiment. We were treated to a small volcano type
    plume of readdish smoke as I remember (it’s over 40 years ago!). So plans were
    made for bigger fireworks and thoughts of rockets. Unfortunately one of my
    friends was so excited he told his mum. Who obviously told my mum who obviously
    grounded me and that was the end of my pyrotechnics for that summer.

  50. Roy Kneale says:

    When I was younger, about 50 years ago, a friend and I built a black powder bomb. We set it of in his back yard. Not a smart act. This was in the 1950′s and the Atomic Energy arm of the government was conducting tests in the Nevada desert. Of course we could see the mushroom clouds herein California.
    You know what happened next. The police switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree as the public thought we had been invaded. (City of Alhambra 1956) Did I catch hell on that one. Now I am in my 70′s and building a “real” rocket for the grandson. Older, smarter and wiser. knealere@dslextreme.com

  51. Anonymous says:

    I think there was barely a summer in middle school where I didn’t have the hair on the back of my hand burnt off. And when it gets your moderately long hair that hangs down when bending over something to be lit gets singed, it takes a lot of shampoo to get that smell out.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I think there was barely a summer in middle school where I didn’t have the hair on the back of my hand burnt off. And when it gets your moderately long hair that hangs down when bending over something to be lit gets singed, it takes a lot of shampoo to get that smell out.

  53. Philip Lexow says:

    Since making ‘smoke bombs’ from strike anywhere match-heads as a boy scout (to keep the bears away of course!) to the many campfires I’ve had and a fascination with controlled explosions in building demoliton I can proudly say “Yes, I am a pyromaniac!”

  54. Nick Taylor says:

    The first-born-son in my family always burns his eyebrows off at some point. I’ve lost mine twice.

    44-Gallon drum used as an incinerator – back-yard.

    I was about 12… trying to burn these agapanthus stalks… which were a bit wet. So I splashed a bit of kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So I splashed a bit more kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So I splashed a bit more kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So I splashed a bit more kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So I splashed a bit more kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So I splashed a bit more kerosene on, but they still wouldn’t light.  

    So then I splashed some petrol on…. column of fire about 40 ft high. Eyebrows gone.

  55. Andrew Lewis says:

    This could be e very long list of adventures, but I’ll restrict myself to a couple.

    I was once involved in a demonstration of Thermite, which is mostly a mixture of aluminium and iron oxide. I remember standing at the side of the room and watching the lecturer mix the two ingredients together, and thinking “That seems to be quite a lot of thermite for a demo.”  - but I assumed the lecturer knew what he was doing and stayed quiet.

    So the lecturer caps of the thermite with a magnesium fuse, and takes a step backwards. There then proceeded an explosion of near versuvian proportions. I was standing several feet from the crucible, and I had to take a step back because of the heat blast. The perspex shield used to protect the audience started to sag. The lecturer took a leap backwards and pinned himself against the wall.

    Once the initial shock of the unexpected 5 foot high thermite plume had worn off, the lecturer stepped forward, and said in a slightly dazed voice “Wow….” – Then he took off his goggles, and the room collapsed into laughter. It seems that the blast had given him a light toasting, and when he removed the goggles, he looked like a negative photograph of a panda. His face was bright red, except for the area where his goggles had been, which was pasty white.

    I later discovered that instead of using 5.0 grammes of aluminium, he’d mixed 50 grammes. His face was red for more than one reason, that day.

  56. Andrew Lewis says:

    Another humorous episode happened while we were condensing alcohol out of a mixture for reasons that we do not need to explore further for the purposes of this story (*cough*). The alcohol was being condensed into a beaker next to a burner, and some over zealous heating resulted in an alcohol vapour explosion. Not a huge problem, except that the fire dipped down and the raw alcohol caught fire in the beaker.

    Rather than do the sensible thing, which was smother the fire with a mat, a colleague decided that the most prudent course of action was to get the beaker outside, to avoid any risk to the building. Unfortunately, my colleague was not familiar with the principles of heat transfer through conduction and radiation, and he decided that the best way to transport the flaming beaker was to pick it up with his bare hands.

    Needless to say, the higher moral process was overcome by the primeval base instinct that “fire = hot” and the beaker of flaming liquid was dropped almost immediately. I say ‘almost’ immediately, because my colleague managed to get the beaker into the middle of the room before he dropped it, and smashed the beaker into a thousand tiny shards.

    The liquid, no longer confined within the walls of the beaker, spread across the floor, table, chair, and nearby stacks of books. At that moment, a lab technician walked into the room, took one look at the damage, sighed, picked up the fire extinguisher, put out the fire, filled his kettle from the sink, and walked back out again without saying a word.

    At that point, I realized that the fire extinguisher had also put out the burner we were using, and I decided that I should reignite it. I remembered at the last second that the gas had been running out for a while, so I took the sensible precaution of getting a long splint and using that to ignite the gas.

    If I had been more attentive, I might have noticed that the colleague who caused the original fire was making a note of the fire in the lab book next to the remaining apparatus. As it happens, I didn’t notice him until his figure was illuminated (and partially engulfed) by the 4 foot fireball that my reignition caused.

    Thankfully nobody was hurt that day, but my ribs ached from laughing for too long.

  57. Simon Clark says:

    My crowning glory / worst failure was a homemade firework. I’d built smaller ones before, but never one this big, or with this many stages. On the ride up to the cottage, I regaled my friends with tales of how high it would go and what colours it would produce in each stage. By launch time there were 24 people watching as I lit the fuse and ran back. 24 people watching as the rocket fell over on the launch pad and promptly exploded. 24 people enveloped in one of the largest ground bursts Muskoka has ever seen. Those not blinded by the 3 differently-coloured stages going off at once could watch as the remains of the rocket went skittering off across the lake.

    Remember kids, safety first.

  58. Simon Clark says:

    My crowning glory / worst failure was a homemade firework. I’d built smaller ones before, but never one this big, or with this many stages. On the ride up to the cottage, I regaled my friends with tales of how high it would go and what colours it would produce in each stage. By launch time there were 24 people watching as I lit the fuse and ran back. 24 people watching as the rocket fell over on the launch pad and promptly exploded. 24 people enveloped in one of the largest ground bursts Muskoka has ever seen. Those not blinded by the 3 differently-coloured stages going off at once could watch as the remains of the rocket went skittering off across the lake.

    Remember kids, safety first.

  59. Simon Clark says:

    My crowning glory / worst failure was a homemade firework. I’d built smaller ones before, but never one this big, or with this many stages. On the ride up to the cottage, I regaled my friends with tales of how high it would go and what colours it would produce in each stage. By launch time there were 24 people watching as I lit the fuse and ran back. 24 people watching as the rocket fell over on the launch pad and promptly exploded. 24 people enveloped in one of the largest ground bursts Muskoka has ever seen. Those not blinded by the 3 differently-coloured stages going off at once could watch as the remains of the rocket went skittering off across the lake.

    Remember kids, safety first.

  60. Anonymous says:

    My Pyro career started with book reports on fireworks I the 5th grade. Moved on to week long 4th of July’s. Got serious about it and became an apprentice at 18. Got my first pyrotechnic license at 21. Shot fireworks professionally for 15 years for rock and roll tours, super bowl halftime shows, Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, and culminated 2 days ago at the Playboy Mansion shooting the fireworks for Mr. Heffner and tons of bunnies for the 4th of July. I’m a pyro and proud of it.

  61. Miss TK says:

    I never had any cool pyro moments, but I really want to learn how to make fireworks though!

  62. i’ve always had a fascination with fire (mostly of the scientific nature, but i’ll admit that i like watching things blow up, in a legal, controlled environment of course!) when i go to big fireworks displays, i’m just as interested in the setup as the actual display: sometimes i’ll ask if i can see the display area, and occasionally one of the pyro techs will show it to me (although many of them are understandably protective and don’t want a liability issue, so sometimes its from couple dozen yards away. still close enough to see how it’s setup though). the way they choreograph music with the fireworks is pretty cool, and they use all sorts of high-tech software to do it!

    one of my favorite experiences though was learning to breathe fire. it’s something i’d always wanted to learn, so when i was about 19, i spent a LOT of time tracking down and talking to others that did it for performances (this was at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of info about it on the internet, so i had to actually talk to and learn from real people…i still think that’s the safest way to learn ANY fire performance art!) but i eventually began firebreathing and fire eating and concerts, parties and all sorts of places and i’m proud of the fact that, aside from singing a bit of my hair once, i’ve never been injured or burned. obviously prep is crucial, and if there’s any wind, i wouldn’t perform. though i rarely do it anymore, i’m still impressed by watching a good fire performer, even though i know how it’s done…20-foot fireballs coming out of a person’s mouth are ALWAYS impressive!

    once i learned firebreathing, i also experimented with basic stage pyrotechnics, although mostly just because i wanted to figure out how they worked. i never used them indoors, because i was always keenly aware of the risks and the processes one needs to go through with the local Fire Marshal licensing and all that. one rather basic flame pot i built basically consisted of a small steel container that would be filled loosely with flash paper. i rigged up an electrical ignition that used model rocket igniters as an ignition for the flash pot. the first time i tested it, i didn’t realise how close the end of the wiring (complete with igniter) was to the the BRAND NEW stack of flash paper i’d just paid $25 dollars for. i was seeing if i’d wired the battery correctly and was only supposed to be testing the rocket igniters, when the end of the wiring got too close to the pile of flash paper…it was the fasted i’d ever accidentally wasted $25, but at least it LOOKED really cool!! ;)

    i eventually moved up to using propane (after learning about piping, fittings, regulators, etc), and have helped a friend of mine build a few neat projects (he also has a propane flame thrower on top of his hearse, which he uses for music videos, parades and other stuff, although i didn’t have anything to do with that). he’s a film maker and we’ve built quite a few props, and i’m one of the first people he calls for help cos i have so much fun working on that type of thing. if i had the opportunity, i’d love to get into the pyro business for concerts and events like that…that would be my absolute dream job!

  63. i’ve always had a fascination with fire (mostly of the scientific nature, but i’ll admit that i like watching things blow up, in a legal, controlled environment of course!) when i go to big fireworks displays, i’m just as interested in the setup as the actual display: sometimes i’ll ask if i can see the display area, and occasionally one of the pyro techs will show it to me (although many of them are understandably protective and don’t want a liability issue, so sometimes its from couple dozen yards away. still close enough to see how it’s setup though). the way they choreograph music with the fireworks is pretty cool, and they use all sorts of high-tech software to do it!

    one of my favorite experiences though was learning to breathe fire. it’s something i’d always wanted to learn, so when i was about 19, i spent a LOT of time tracking down and talking to others that did it for performances (this was at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of info about it on the internet, so i had to actually talk to and learn from real people…i still think that’s the safest way to learn ANY fire performance art!) but i eventually began firebreathing and fire eating and concerts, parties and all sorts of places and i’m proud of the fact that, aside from singing a bit of my hair once, i’ve never been injured or burned. obviously prep is crucial, and if there’s any wind, i wouldn’t perform. though i rarely do it anymore, i’m still impressed by watching a good fire performer, even though i know how it’s done…20-foot fireballs coming out of a person’s mouth are ALWAYS impressive!

    once i learned firebreathing, i also experimented with basic stage pyrotechnics, although mostly just because i wanted to figure out how they worked. i never used them indoors, because i was always keenly aware of the risks and the processes one needs to go through with the local Fire Marshal licensing and all that. one rather basic flame pot i built basically consisted of a small steel container that would be filled loosely with flash paper. i rigged up an electrical ignition that used model rocket igniters as an ignition for the flash pot. the first time i tested it, i didn’t realise how close the end of the wiring (complete with igniter) was to the the BRAND NEW stack of flash paper i’d just paid $25 dollars for. i was seeing if i’d wired the battery correctly and was only supposed to be testing the rocket igniters, when the end of the wiring got too close to the pile of flash paper…it was the fasted i’d ever accidentally wasted $25, but at least it LOOKED really cool!! ;)

    i eventually moved up to using propane (after learning about piping, fittings, regulators, etc), and have helped a friend of mine build a few neat projects (he also has a propane flame thrower on top of his hearse, which he uses for music videos, parades and other stuff, although i didn’t have anything to do with that). he’s a film maker and we’ve built quite a few props, and i’m one of the first people he calls for help cos i have so much fun working on that type of thing. if i had the opportunity, i’d love to get into the pyro business for concerts and events like that…that would be my absolute dream job!

  64. Patrick Arneson says:

    So far my best experiences with fire have been related to rocketry.  I started making my own sugar propellant but have never gotten past the joy of igniting a big lump and reveling in the fire and smoke.  A potato cannon is on my short list and I just started looking at what it would take to make a flame thrower.  Would love a copy of Bill’s new book.

  65. Rob Banks says:

    Lets see…i would love to read this book!!!!

    I have light a charcoal grill with an old fresnel screen from a projection television….i have also lit asphalt on fire with that same lens too…..mmm…is it still pyro if i did not light it with a match?
    r

  66. Kelly Jones says:

    I was a pyromaniac as a boy, and that love of fire – and the chemical reactions involved – launched me towards a degree in Chemical Engineering and a career as an engineer.  As an adult, I recently became a born-again pyro, and am active as a fireworks hobbyist. 

  67. Kelly Jones says:

    I was a pyromaniac as a boy, and that love of fire – and the chemical reactions involved – launched me towards a degree in Chemical Engineering and a career as an engineer.  As an adult, I recently became a born-again pyro, and am active as a fireworks hobbyist. 

  68. GEL Feed says:

    My life isn’t full of too many explosions, but my friends have always been involved in the best/worst of them. A few of them back in high school would fill a potato cannon up with DOG FOOD and find a target in their little town of 2000 people. Another story is waking up in the middle of the night in my basement room to exploding bottles that were used to brew beer. They were bottled too early and made a crazy mess.

  69. GEL Feed says:

    My life isn’t full of too many explosions, but my friends have always been involved in the best/worst of them. A few of them back in high school would fill a potato cannon up with DOG FOOD and find a target in their little town of 2000 people. Another story is waking up in the middle of the night in my basement room to exploding bottles that were used to brew beer. They were bottled too early and made a crazy mess.

  70. GEL Feed says:

    My life isn’t full of too many explosions, but my friends have always been involved in the best/worst of them. A few of them back in high school would fill a potato cannon up with DOG FOOD and find a target in their little town of 2000 people. Another story is waking up in the middle of the night in my basement room to exploding bottles that were used to brew beer. They were bottled too early and made a crazy mess.

  71. Results here @ Friday? 

  72. Patrick Auld says:

    The first time I ever lost all of the hair on one of my arms was at the end of a 50 mile hike I did in Boy Scouts.  At the end of the trip we had an extra bottle of white gas, (Boy Scout water), so we took it down to the beach and gathered all the wood we could find.  There’s a saying that a Boy Scout only needs one match to light a fire; this is true.  And in this instance it only took one match to light 7 or 8 fires.  After gracefully splashing the white gas on the wood we decided the best way to light it was use a piece of tube seaweed cut in half so we could light the end and it could then safely travel over to the fire.  

    In the end I, the sea weed, and several pieces of wood as well as a large area around the wood were in flames.  The adults in our group came down too find out why no one was at camp and why explosion noises were coming from the beach. Lucky I was no longer on fire when they got there and they didn’t want to leave the fire unattended but couldn’t put it out if they wanted to so we still got to enjoy our bonfire. 

  73. Patrick Auld says:

    The first time I ever lost all of the hair on one of my arms was at the end of a 50 mile hike I did in Boy Scouts.  At the end of the trip we had an extra bottle of white gas, (Boy Scout water), so we took it down to the beach and gathered all the wood we could find.  There’s a saying that a Boy Scout only needs one match to light a fire; this is true.  And in this instance it only took one match to light 7 or 8 fires.  After gracefully splashing the white gas on the wood we decided the best way to light it was use a piece of tube seaweed cut in half so we could light the end and it could then safely travel over to the fire.  

    In the end I, the sea weed, and several pieces of wood as well as a large area around the wood were in flames.  The adults in our group came down too find out why no one was at camp and why explosion noises were coming from the beach. Lucky I was no longer on fire when they got there and they didn’t want to leave the fire unattended but couldn’t put it out if they wanted to so we still got to enjoy our bonfire. 

  74. Patrick Auld says:

    The first time I ever lost all of the hair on one of my arms was at the end of a 50 mile hike I did in Boy Scouts.  At the end of the trip we had an extra bottle of white gas, (Boy Scout water), so we took it down to the beach and gathered all the wood we could find.  There’s a saying that a Boy Scout only needs one match to light a fire; this is true.  And in this instance it only took one match to light 7 or 8 fires.  After gracefully splashing the white gas on the wood we decided the best way to light it was use a piece of tube seaweed cut in half so we could light the end and it could then safely travel over to the fire.  

    In the end I, the sea weed, and several pieces of wood as well as a large area around the wood were in flames.  The adults in our group came down too find out why no one was at camp and why explosion noises were coming from the beach. Lucky I was no longer on fire when they got there and they didn’t want to leave the fire unattended but couldn’t put it out if they wanted to so we still got to enjoy our bonfire. 

  75. Anonymous says:

    So who was the lucky winner?