Fire Toys

Here’s some photos of propane burning fire toys I have built. While I’d love to make a step by step tutorial, the nature of these systems prevents me from doing so. They aren’t inherently dangerous, quite the opposite actually. Rather, the construction and operation of them by individuals unfamiliar with building systems like these may lead to accidents that can be prevented by a little bit of knowledge. I built this “fire poofer” based on seeing photos and diagrams elsewhere on the net. The first two photos show the construction details of poofers. These are from The Department Of Spontaneous Combustion. The concept is simple. The poofer consists of an accumulator tank that also serves as a base. Rising from the accumulator is a manifold consisting of an inlet for the propane gas, a safety valve to shut off flow to the solenoid valve (or hand operated whistle valve), a solenoid valve (or whistle valve – a quick opening and closing valve typically used on steam whistles and air horns), a vertical ‘stack’ or pipe leading upwards, and a pilot light to ignite the released propane as it emerges from the top of the stack. My manifold is truly overbuilt. It is made up of stainless steel and 5,000 PSI hydraulic fittings (propane gas pressures seldom exceed 150-160 PSI). It’s what I had laying about in my workshop. It can easily be built from plumbing fittings available at most home improvement stores for less that $100.

Poofer fired by electric solenoid valve. It allows multiple poofers to be fired individually or simultaneously by remote control or programmable controllers. Of course, it can run a single fire poofer using a button like I do with mine.

A manually operated poofer. I’d recommend stepping up to a whistle valve for smoother operation.

The rest of the pictures are of my fire poofer.

Yes, yes I can!

Overall view

A closeup shot of the manifold

The pilot light

A wide open blast. It sounds like a jet engine. Has a deep throaty whistle / roar.

At Burning Man. Running it with short bursts or ‘poofs’

Controlling the solenoid valve with a signal generator

My “Auto-Fire” control

A finished view of the “Auto-Fire” controller box. The 10-turn pot allows fine control of the firing rate. It ranges from around 1 shot per second to 17 per second. On and off periods are identical, i.e. 1 second open, one second closed. Future iterations will allow adjustable periods independent of each other.
The timer circuit is based on a 555 timer IC and a solid state relay. It’s a 4 channel relay so it has expansion possibilities.

A video of the poofer running in Auto-Fire mode:

In manual burst operation it will produce fire rings in still air

I don’t know what this one came from but it’s from something of ours and looks cool

One of our propane flamethrowers (modified Manchester Power Jet commercial weed / brush burner)…

The Manchester Power Jet hand burner puts out 750,000 BTUs. See details at Manchester’s website. They’re not cheap. Expect to spend around $200. Here’s one for $130. That’s just the burner, no hose or regulator. They have a package deal including them which costs $220. I don’t use a regulator with mine, never have, not needed. I want wide open, right now, burn it all kind of flames. You can get a 10 foot hose online or at a propane dealer. The valve that it uses is what’s referred to as a whistle valve. It allows nearly instant full opening as well as infinitely variable flame adjustment.

A whistle valve available online from McMaster-Carr.

Here I’m running two Power Jets and the fire poofer at the same time. I’m using a foot switch to run the solenoid valve on the poofer.


A manually operated poofer:

The manually operated poofers can use a whistle valve (best due to the speed of operation) or a ball valve (less expensive). Electrically operated (using a solenoid valve) poofers cost the most to build and require a power source to operate the valve. I like them due to their adaptability to automation and remote operation. Manual ones are quite safe to operate but you are so close that you can’t appreciate the look of the fireballs and flares.

Be careful and have fun. Wear all cotton, wool, denim or aramid clothing when operating any fire toy. Synthetic fabrics melted onto skin are decidedly un-fun…

Update, May 5th, 2017. Nick Poole, another flame effects and electronics enthusiast, has a poofer build at Sparkfun you should check out. He listed this page as reference used in his research, AND, he’s still alive! If you’d like to improve your chances of survival and integrate a microcontroller into your project, go and learn how here.

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34 thoughts on “Fire Toys

  1. where would you buy a solenoid valve for lpg. I am having a hard time finding one at Homedepot/lowes. that’s rated w.o.g. The only thing that I found was a solenoid valve for water.

    • has viton sealed solenoid valves from 1/4″ up to 1″, 12 Volts DC AND 120 Volts AC and from $25 – $60. I scored 2 Granzow half-inchers for $10 & $6 S&H from eBay. You’ll need UL LP rated valves for installations @ the burn. Since mine wasn’t considered an installation and I just played in the street with it (in Terminal City), it wasn’t an issue. Mine are viton sealed just not UL rated.

  2. Hi,
    I’m in the process of designing a system very similar to this one. I’m having a hard time finding schedule 80 4 way tee’s and quarter turn valves for propane. I would use something else of I could but I don’t want anyone to get hurt due to my negligence. Do you know where I can locate them?

    • Ahh yes, it truly is needed. Especially for a 1 1/4″ setup. The accumulator gives you a large quantity of propane on demand. If you hooked it up to your supply with just a supply hose you could never get the volume needed to make GREAT BIG fireballs. I’d suggest an accumulator of at least 20 gallon capacity. This is equivalent to 4 BBQ size (5 gallon) tanks. You’ll have to weld a larger utlet fitting into the tank to handle that valve. Be sure to use a tall stack on that. You *are* flammable…

  3. Beautiful! I teach HS welding and we are building a “life size” dragon (about 12′ tall). This is just what the shop teacher ordered to make it really breath fire. We’ll use teh pilot light to have a few whisps of flame from the nostrils and to light up the glass eyes I picked up a wireless remote and receiver for a switch and am trying to decide between a 1/4″ or 1/2″ solenoid for the release of the low pressure propane. We are planning on using 1/2″ copper for the nozzle (I liked the louder / farther comment) Any thoughts? (I’m leaning towards the 1/2″ valve)

  4. Hey Steve, this is Gordy aka Chickenbutt ( Thank you again for my Fire Safety Name ). Awesome tutorial. It gives a mechanical moron like myself a better understanding of what all them bells and whistles and thingamajiggys do. I’m trying to pass it on to my camp , but can’t get it to post. I am obviously as inept with electron flow as I am with moving parts. But I am fun at parties , and a nifty dancer. And Fire digs me. Any suggestions on how to get this info to the folks that can make use of it ?

  5. I’d like to build these for a haunted house setup! Where did you find the Regulators? I’ll be using air values for the control mixed with a 12v programable control I will also be putting a Emergancy power cut off in. Thanks for all the desgin specs. A shopping list and where you found it might be a great help to folks for there own building projects!

    • I got the solenoids on eBay ($7 each) and the rest of the stuff (electronics & plumbing) were laying around in my shop.
      Get creative, you can find parts in many places, Poofer Supply, McMaster-Carr, or Grainger
      As to the air valves, are we talking small pneumatic valves? I don’t recommend them but I have seen them used. Don’t use any hose or tubing that isn’t rated for LP gas or NG. And leak check everything. Twice. Just one bubble means tear it down and reseal the joints, even if they’re three levels in. Either do it or pay the hospital bills and liability lawsuits. Seriously.

  6. Thanks for sharing! I’m working on some flame balls to use this fall. What size is the propane tank you use as a vapor collector? And what size tank do you use as your propane source? How many fireballs approximately can you get from that setup? We’re planning to build our setup inside of a 55 gallon barrel so the flameballs come out of the top of the barrel. Just trying to size all the tanks etc right. Thanks!

    • Hi Cody!
      Sorry for the late reply.
      My current accumulator is a standard 5 gallon / 20 pound propane tank.
      A propane distributor should have a few out of date cylinders around the yard and typically will let you have one free. Have them remove the vale (You cannot DIY this without a special wrench).
      They have standard 3/4″NPT threads.

  7. Did you change your accumulator tank from what is in the pictures? Is the one in the picture smaller or larger that produced the fire rings?
    It does not look like you have the supply tank hooked to the accumulator while firing it? Is that correct? Any arc suppressors in the system?
    Have you experimented with different length output tubes? Wonder if length makes a difference in the effect, duration or height of flame.
    I assume the exit end is just the end of the pipe. Any experiments with different ends like something screwed onto the pipe to get different flame effects?
    Why does pilot look so complicated? Is this required to keep it from blowing out when running it?

    • Hi Ross!
      Yep, I did indeed change it from the 2.5 gallon cylinder to an empty propane tank (this NOT the supply tank), one that has has its valve removed.
      The rings were produced with the smaller accum. The poofs and rings on the bigger one are about the same, a touch better even.
      The supply tank is always attached to the manifold when firing. The accum holds enough gas for a shot or three before losing the volume in it.
      It recharges fully in a few seconds when your supply tank is first hooked up.
      The longer you draw gas, the colder the supply tank gets (evaporating liquid makes things cold), and the lower the pressure gets.
      I’ve tried different length, different exit adapters (1/2 to 3/4″ and 1/2 to 1/4″NPT bell reducers, brass hose barbs, etc.
      Each produces different effects. 1/2 to 3/4″ reducers (obviously used here as an expander) make fluffier billows and rings.
      Necking down to a 1/4″ exit orifice gives a LOUD and tall fire jet but doesn’t give floating and rolling ‘clouds’.
      Arc suppressors? Nope. Do you mean used as snubbers across the coil?
      The pilot was a prototype nitrogen sparging wand I built for a semiconductor wafer process. The customer ended up not using them all so I made a pilot out of it.
      It will stay lit through 50MPH gusts!

      Have fun and be sort of safe 🙂

  8. Hi there, i’m a little confused from your diagram about the accumulator tank. I thought it was the pipe that let’s out the propane, but your diagram suggests extra propane bottles as the accumulator, what exactly is it? I thought i understood, but then looking at your photos of your set up I couldn’t see them. Also what size schedule 80 do you use? Thanks

    • sorry, i just read my question and it’s not that clear. What I meant to say was how important is an accumulator feed? I see from your pictures you haven’t used one in your set up. thanks

      • Hi Sarah!
        The accumulator is absolutely essential. It provides a volume of gas under pressure right where you need it.
        The flow rate of your column (accumulator exit to the discharge end of the poofer) is
        far above that of the 1/4 – 3/8 inch diameter hose that feeds your accumulator.
        As to extra tanks, there are none. There’s the supply tank and the accumulator tank.

        Oh yeah, My accumulator is the aluminum cylinder at the base of the column.
        I’ve since changed it to an empty propane tank (this NOT the supply tank), one that has has its valve removed.

        Let me know if I’ve not answered to your satisfaction. The more questions the better.
        It not only helps you to understand, it helps others who read the questions and could possibly bring new people into the fire arts community.

    • Hi Mike!
      Wow, that’s one of the hardest questions of all.
      There are just so many variables; ambient temperature, Cv (flow rate) of your plumbing, the decreasing temperature of the supply tank as it discharges,
      even the amount of gas the pilot uses.
      When I bring mine to summer festivals I let anyone who wants to make fire use it.
      I’ve had a tank last for 4 hours with 50+ people having used it. I’ve also used up a tank in 2 hours with 5 – 6 participants.
      People’s poofing styles differ. Some like the quick and concussive poofs, others like long, billowy poofs.

  9. I,m having a good day; I,ve found your site !! My comment is, you don,t show Poofers ( more ) than one controlled by electric valves with a jet of air . I,ll explain, I have built a custom Cadillac ELD. 1985,in the hood their is 8 stacks, right now just 8 holes I want to build a unit to automaticly poof a small burst of flame, they will fire much like an 8 cylinder engine. THIS IS FOR SHOW ONLY, your site has help me to do the start up and befor i order my valves N/Closed 1/4″ propane and air valves how closed can the valve be to the discharge bottom of 1″ up to 2″ sch 80, 14″ tall or taller, all this is to be run by a controller, tanks in trunk, safty valves will be a must. This dose,nt sound like a comment, More like a cry for HELP, but what I,v have read and seen your set up it all helps. If this comment is posted here I am 76 years old still playing with cars My dream is to have flames shooting or puffing out of these stacks, this car has been 3 years in the making the engine is a 350 chevy, 871 blower on top thats sticks out of the hood rear wheel drive 10 ” air lift , Thank you for your posting and drawing. Mickey

  10. Really great info thanks for putting all the info together and sharing! I am putting together an arduino controlled effect together and am part of the camp that prefers concussive hits rather than rolling flames. Do you notice an impact of accumulator cycle/refill time with your fuel having to travel past two 90 degree legs to get to the vessel?

  11. Nice, thx for the pointers. I’m building giant flaming banjo bluegrass stage for burning man, my poofers dont get that pop, probly cause I have regulator on the tank. Using 130 cu ft scuba tank as accumulator.

  12. How small pilot tubing have you successfully used? I want to make a pair of tiki torches for a luau party – the idea is that they have constant, normal tiki torch size flames and then poof when guests arrive and cross a beam in the driveway. Time is short, so any advice for pilot and barrel sizes are welcome.

  13. I have the exact same request. I have been thinking about this for years. I want poofing tiki torches for a tiki party and wizard of oz flames for a halloween display. I was thinking of using 2 BBQ Grill tanks each with 6′ of tubing height for twin puffers. Not sure if I need an accumulator and if so, what. Another empty BBQ tank? A smaller propane tank like used for welding pipe? I need it solenoid activated and need to know what diameter pipe to use to get the effect I want. I want the two units a few feet from each other. I want to be able to have a standard 8 to 10″ pilot flame that mimics a tiki torch. When triggered quickly, I want fireballs around 2 or 3 feet in diameter that can puff between 1 to 5 puffs per second. I also want to be able to have a tall (5′ or more) constant jet that can last between 1 to 5 seconds. I can handle all the electronics and the microcontroller/programming. Torch or standby mode will just use the pilot light. It will have a “show mode” where every 30 seconds to a minute both units puff a few times in unison, rest, then puff alternately, rest again, and then let out the 1 to 5 second roar and go back into torch mode. I might have it do all this in sequence or have it randomly do 1 of the 3 effects every so often. I have to see how much gas it will use and see what plays the best. My fireplace uses a 100 pound/ 25gal LP tank and I have 2 or 3 20 pound/5gal tanks for my grill. I hope to just use the 5gal ones, but I could hide the 100 in the bushes and feed the two 5gal tanks with rubber tubing. Thanks!

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