Caution: This project is all about fire. Make the proper precautions to keep your fire from spreading. If you are in an area experiencing drought, you shouldn’t be making fires at all. Contact your local fire department for help with controlled fire experiments. 

Fire, on its own, can be beautiful. It is beautiful, intangible, and seemingly alive. When we can add a bit of control to that fire, it becomes mesmerizing and entrancing. I’m going to show you how to harness this beautiful and dangerous phenomenon called a fire tornado on your own.

Start Small


To build the tiny fire tornado, you’ll need the following:

  • A “lazy susan” of some kind to spin everything
  • Wire mesh trash can
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Cotton swabs
  • Small fire proof container

Place cotton swabs in your small container and add some denatured alcohol. The cotton swabs keep the alcohol from splashing out as you rotate everything. This container goes inside your wire mesh trash can, which is sitting on top of the lazy susan.

Once you light the alcohol on fire, give the assembly a gentle spin. In a moment you’ll see your flame climb upwards in a beautiful little fire tornado.


  • Turn the whole thing very slowly and gently. It does not need to go fast to make the tornado.
  • Make sure your fire is as close to the center as possible. Having it off center will cause the fire tornado to fail.

Safety Note: Suffocate this flame with something that fits over your fire container. Do not blow this out or pour water on it.

Go Big


To go big, you’ll need the following:

  • 12 box fans
  • A metal container for the fire
  • Denatured alcohol

Building the big fire is pretty easy. Place your box fans in a circle around a metal container. Slightly angle them all in the same direction so that they are not facing directly toward the fire. Light your fire and turn on your fans. Go around your circle and adjust the fans as necessary.


  • Turning the fans on too strong of a setting can kill the fire tornado. Try weaker settings first.
  • The angle of the fans should be barely off center. Turning them too far will kill the fire tornado.

Safety Note: do not throw anything into the fire container. Your fuel will splash out and spread fire. A damp piece of plywood can be used to suffocate this flame if needed. The entire metal container and contents will be extremely hot. Let it sit and cool before anyone touches it.

Special thanks to the folks at Unallocated Space for inspiring this build with their fire tornado video.

Caleb Kraft

Caleb Kraft

Senior Editor for Make: I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity of the masses! My favorite thing in the world is sharing the hard work of a maker.

I'd always love to hear about what you're making, so send me an email any time at [email protected]


  • Greg Larsen

    What if you put the big fire on a spinning platform

  • Jim

    If you take this to school, just say it’s a clock… Make: will give you prizes…

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  • giseburt

    Not quite a fire tornado platform, but at a camping trip one of the guys brought a drum from a (clothes) washing machine for the fire pit.

    It resembles the trash can you used in the small version, with relatively tall walls and holes along the outside.

    Perhaps that or something similar could be used …

  • Steve

    I suspect the bonfire didn’t work because all the leaves and twigs caused turbulent air flow. You need a laminar flow (smooth air) for the box fans to move the air in a spiral. You may be able to get the bon fire to work with faster moving air since KE= 1/2mv^2. If you increase the velocity you exponentially increase the energy in the air which means the twigs will likely not affect the direction of the fluid as much. i.e…. Leaf blowers instead of box fans. But… leaf blowers are designed to move leaves meaning it would exponentially increase the danger of your project.

  • Steve

    Here’s another idea for your bonfire…. Tesla Disks. Google “Tesla Turbine” if you’ve never seen one, it’s an area of research I’ve been working on for years, if you have questions ask away.

    Anyway, this might work… take a bunch of sheets of plywood, cut them into 4′ x 4′ circles with a hole in the center the size of your bonfire. Stack the plywood with thin spacers in between each circular sheet. then position your fans the same way you have them aimed on angles.

    The plywood disks will help create a laminar flow. Although… they may (by Tesla’s design) absorb the energy of the air, so it may not work as it might slow down the air too much.

    It would still be fun to try. It should work on a smaller scale.

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