“Don’t play with matches!” is a parental refrain many of us heard as kids. Don’t play with matches, don’t play with fire, don’t make your own rocket motors — of course, we did all of these! And we did it in secret, without adult supervision, making it even more dangerous.
Playing with fire isn’t dangerous, playing with fire when you don’t know what you’re doing, when you don’t know the chemical reactions and physics involved, and when you don’t know what the proper safety precautions are — THAT is what is truly dangerous. Playing with fire, rockets, and other pyrotechnics with your kids is actually a very good thing. It teaches them about the science behind what they’re dealing with and how to have a healthy respect for the energies involved.
A great gateway to pyro education and entertainment is the matchstick rocket. They are easy to make, fun to fly, and relatively safe. We covered the basics on this years ago with a video by Steve Hoefer.
On the YouTube channel BrainfooTV, they do a really thorough job of showing you slightly more elaborate match-head rocket builds. They spent a lot of time experimenting with different rocket designs, rocket mass, materials, etc. and came up with an optimized design that can fly up to 60′. It uses a template cut from foil and a cut match head. They even have a way of making simple fins for your tiny rockets, although they are unnecessary.
They also came up with a cool design for a launcher that uses a block magnet, a candle, and a metal skewer. It even has a little recoil when the rocket fires!
In this Brainfoo video, they show you a much simpler “mini matchstick mortar,” which is simply a foil “hat” twisted over a wooden match.
And finally, in this video, slow-motion clips of matchstick rocket launches and launch fails are featured. These little babies really do pack a pretty powerful punch.
Teaching your kids about fire and combustion is a really great way to demonstrate to them that by understanding the science behind a potentially dangerous process, they can gain a certain degree of mastery over that process and safely manipulate it. In this case, to have some really simple, safe, and satisfying rocket-launching fun.