Back in the Maker Shed: Compressed Air Rocket Kit


Hundreds of makers all over the world have built compressed air rockets since we published the project in MAKE, Volume 15 (included in the kit). Now all the parts for making your own launcher and rockets are available in the Maker Shed! Just add a bicycle pump, masking tape, and two standard 9v batteries and you are ready to blast these paper and tape rockets hundreds of feet in the air!

20 thoughts on “Back in the Maker Shed: Compressed Air Rocket Kit

  1. RocketGuy says:

    It’s actually a projectile rather than a rocket, unless you count the very, very, small push from hi pressure air leaving the “rocket” body tube for an infinitesimal moment after launch.

    But: Who cares, it’s cool/fun.

    Also: I know of some high power rocketry guys who are doing a fairly big air rocket to test recovery electronics. They’re pushing it up about 400 to 1000ft last I heard. Big air bottle…

    And one could also do an air-start conventional rocket motor second stage with the rocket already underway via an air boost, so to speak. I wouldn’t advise trying that unless you’ve already done staging and air-starts with regular rockets first… It can be tricky, and you really, really don’t want a late start (Land shark!).

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      Any more info on the air rockets used for testing? Sounds cool!

  2. misterx says:

    What is the intended operating pressure of this device? PVC is very dangerous when used in compressed gas applications since it can rupture. When PVC pipe ruptures undre pressure from compressed gas, it shatters throwing razor sharp shrapnel. There have been many injuries from this including a fatality. According to PVC pipe manufacturers, OSHA, and others, the product is not to be used in compressed air applications. I am aware that hobbyists have been using PVC with compressed air for quite some time, and many may not be aware of the dangers. PVC is a strange animal when used with compressed air -it can be fine for years then one day something bumps it and it explodes.

    Perhaps Make can consider redesigning the kit to use ABS pipe which has a safer failure mode (it splits open instead of shattering), especially considering the inevitability users will use the kit with an air compressor as opposed to a bicycle pump. (Hopefully you guys carry product liability insurance)

    Users: Make sure you wear eye protection!

    1. Wilson! says:

      Don’t forget this fun aspect of PVC shrapnel – it won’t show up on X-Rays!

    2. Rick Schertle says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. I’m the project designer. I wrote the original article for MAKE issue 15. This has been brought up a couple of times over the years. I can say with full confidence that if done according the to the directions, this project is quite safe. There are a number of warnings in the article stating the dangers of exploding PVC with wrapping the PVC in duct tape as an added precaution.

      Working pressure for this design is 75 psi. Regular Schedule 40 PVC has 600 psi stamped on it. I realize air is different than water, but this is a very wide margin. I’ve ready up that ACTUAL SCH 40 PVC bursting pressure is more like 1500 psi. 75 psi it totally safe.

      Yes, I absolutely recommend eye protections, always. The biggest danger with the project is getting shot in the eye with a rocket. That’s why I recommend putting the launcher up so the launch tube is ABOVE eye level. Also adult supervision is a must. I’ve launched thousands of these rockets and they are a total blast! Check out the kit, you won’t regret it. We’ll be at the Maker Faire as well where you can build and launch rockets and kits will be for sale.

      1. Marc de Vinck says:

        Thanks for the information Rick. I’ll be the first in line at Maker Faire!

      2. misterx says:

        I appreciate your response to my comment. While the pressure rating of the pipe is 600psi, that pressure rating is for water where there is (almost) no stored energy. Compressed air is another story -there is quite a bit of stored energy and when the pipe fractures while filled with compressed air it explodes. Caution warnings aside, I would still be concerned about potential liability from claiming such a device as “totally safe”.

        On a sidenote, here is a tip for joining PVC pipe to metal (such as the brass nipple shown in the article): Always put male PVC threads into female metal threads. When tightening male metal into female pvc, especially with a liberal application of teflon tape, the female pvc fitting can crack (I learned this the hard way).

        I believe we as a community need to be a bit more safety conscious (not just the PVC with air, I am seeing people using lasers powerful enough to cause permanent eye damage, 120vac powered devices with dangerous wiring and such, etc). All it is going to take is one kid losing an eye with something like this and it will set us all back ten years. The Maker Movement has been making great strides and has gained public acceptance -we need to make sure it continues forward in a positive light.

  3. SJU87 says:

    I am making this right now and one of the modifications I am making is to install it in a $10 plastic toolbox. This provides an enclosure to protect in the case of rupture. It also provides a handy way of carrying the launcher and storing the cord, tubes, rockets, assembly stand, etc. I’ll drill a hole through the top and the internal carry box to run the launch tube through. Duct tape is cheap, so I will also wrap the launcher prior to installing it in the toolbox.

    I’m also working on a way to mount it on a removable PVC stand (also stored in toolbox?) that would allow it to be angled for directional flight. I’ll mount a plastic protractor on the side to assist in making adjustments. I’m trying to work out how to install an inline pressure gauge so that I can use a small (about 7″) bike pump which doesn’t have a built-in gauge. This pump could be stored in the box as well.

    Another thought I had was mounting inside a plywood box. I would then cut five-inch circles out of each side and mount the launcher between them, which would allow rotation. I would then attach larger circles to the outside of the cut-out circles to hold everything in place in the box. I could then mark the degrees on the outside of the box with zero at the top and have an arrow on the larger plywood circles indicating the angle. Since the launcher would turn within the box, it would require cutting a firing slit in the top for the launch tube to ride along. If anybody tries this, please post so we can see the results.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      That sounds really interesting…..make sure to take pictures and send me a link so I can share it with everyone on makezine (and Rick Schertle)

  4. dontaskmeimnoexpert says:

    Air powered rockets are just a good thing!

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