Pyro School: Special FX Fireworks & Mobile Flamethrowers


I attended another pyrotechnics course at the same place as I took my general operator’s courses. The class was focused on proximate fireworks: fireworks designed to be used quite close to audiences and performers in theater, movie, television, concert, and sporting venues.

Flashpots, strobes, comets, crossettes, mines, gerbs, lances, airbursts, etc. Lotsa stuff to choose from. I’ve made and used many of these over the years and had a great time with them. You’d be amazed to see how close you can be to a properly designed and constructed pyrotechnic device…

The special FX pyrotechnics demo set up outside the classroom.

Comets and crossettes.

A concussion mortar. Loaded with an ounce of flash powder and ignited by an electric match, it sounds like a cannon…

Here’s my video of the live fire demonstration given today:

Also demonstrated was a commercial flame projector. Though nothing like the ones that I build, it’s still impressive for the simplicity of the device.

A commercial flame projector (“poofer”).

A view of the projector’s gas orifice and hot surface ignitor.

A video of Ken explaining and demonstrating:

Another highlight at today’s class was my friend Espressodude whom I build stuff with and camp with at Burning man. He has built “The God of Hellfire”, a motorized flame effect platform that traverses a full 360 degrees and elevates from 0 to 90 degrees (horizontal to vertical). With twin “flamethrowers” and an all electric firing system, it is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen anyone build in their garage. He brought the flamethrowers out to my property a few weeks back for testing after the fire department asked him not to do it at his house anymore… Today was the first full system test. He had a custom trailer built to carry the self mobile platform that allows operation without unloading.

GoH in action.

His “Field Artillery Tractor” which is the tow vehicle. He built this during the winter of 2010.

Rear view of GoH.

A video of the God of Hellfire in action today:

I’ll share more on this particular project in weeks to come…

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Flammable People


For some time now I’ve been playing with a phrase in my mind. Flammable People. It popped into my brain last year and I had nothing to do with it other than giggle when I think about it. I’ve decided that it will be the name of a flame effects collective that I’d like to assemble. It would consist of people who build and operate both propane and liquid fueled (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, alcohol) flame effects devices.

I was messing around with MSpaint and came up with some concept graphics to use for the collective. I pulled an image of a DOT flammable placard from a safety supply website. In the second version I added a pedestrian icon from iconpedia.com. I’d like to find someone with the capability to print some prototype (small run, 5 – 10 pieces) placards and / or vinyl decals.

Flammable People Rev 1

 

Flammable People Rev 3

I’ve also thought of using Flammable People as a Burning Man camp name. It wouldn’t necessarily mean that everyone who would be part of it would have to build or operate flame effects. Fire admirers, junkies, and groupies would be 100% welcome. The next graphic might just become a gift sticker at the burn in 2012. Depending on the length of the name of 2012’s theme, it may be included as well.

Flammable People Rev 3 Burning Man 2012 Gift Sticker

 

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.

Feel free to leave a question or comment below. I’ll try to answer your questions. Be sure to click “Notify me of responses” or whatever it says so you’ll know when I answer it. You’ll have to enter your email address to use this option but don’t worry, you won’t get any spam from me.

My summer vacation: What I did at Burning Man


Burning Man 2011 was my first burn. I’ve been meaning to go for 15 years but work and caring for sweetpea had kept me away until this year. I retired a year and a half ago and Sweetpea said to just go and do it.

The desert is one of my favorite places to be. I was sent to many deserts while serving in the US Army, but the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada is unique among them. No sand for starters. Just talcum powder fine alkali dust. No plants, no animals, no washes or dry streambeds. Just flat wide open expanses that stretch for 30 to 70 miles with only mere feet in elevation difference. It is truly one of the most beautiful environments that I have ever had the privelege to visit. I was there in late July, long before 55,00 other people were there to share it at the burn. It was quieter than anywhere else I’d ever been and totally empty of everything. Nothing but lots of nothing. That all changed in early August when advance crews began to build the world’s largest temporary city.

What I did at Burning Man…

I played with my fireball generator, AKA “Fire Poofer”. I design and build propane flame effects and built this one, “Grizelda MK IV”, to bring out to the desert.

Elder Wrong, Burning Man’s own PBR guzzling Mormon missionary, manifesting his own “burning bush” through the miracle of the fireball generator. You can follow Elder Wrong and his mission at: http://ElderWrong.wordpress.com

Directing traffic on ‘A’ street. DO NOT fuck with a man with a sign, a gun, and orange hair. It’s just not a good idea…

 

Hanging out with the pretty ladies of Burning Man. This is Piney. She is one of the founders of the Booby Bar, a bar featuring two giant domes with huge pink nipples on top. Sadly, 2011 was their last year of exsitence as supporting the boobies was just too tiring and didn’t allow enough time for the supporters to experience the burn. Piney is also a member of Reno’s “Controlled Burn”, a fire conclave that features fire spinners and very large flame effects including two liquid shooters firing 20 gallons of gasoline into columns of fire reaching altitudes of 100 feet into the night sky.

Firing sunset salutes with FOGBANK, the propane & oxygen fueled sound cannon built and operated by Espressodude. The sound of the cannon reaches 180 decibels, twice as loud as an F-16 with afterburners engaged. Espressodude also served up over 50 pounds worth of Starbucks coffee beans in the form of espresso to the citizens of Black Rock City. His espresso, made with one of his two commercial espresso machines, was provided free of charge to the citizenry. His name comes from the fact that he uses his machines at home to consume up to a dozen shots of espresso per day. He is a VERY high energy individual and I can’t even begin to keep up with him…

Brushing my teeth and having it documented by Ben tang of Ben Tang Photography.

Roasting and eating midgets in Terminal City. Here I have shrunken Elder Wrong and thrown him on the barbee. We ate of his flesh but, of course, he was raised from the dead with no complications. We saved some leftovers for him which he greatly enjoyed…

Hanging out with more of the beautiful ladies of Burning Man. Here is the exquisite Miss Savannah. She handmade a wonderful pendant for Sweetpea who was unable to attend. I am honored to count her as a friend and was privleged to be able to wrap my arms around her for hugs and photos.

The pendant Savannah made for Sweetpea. So many of my friends know and love Sweetpea from my frequent mentions of her. Notice the map cast under the resin and the words “Black Rock Desert”. Thank you so much Sav. The Sweet One and I love you very much!

Dressing up for nighttime adventure. I’ll let you use your imaginations… The skirt made from a pair of US Army paratroopers trousers was graciously given to me by Quick, the beautiful Chief Warrant Officer of MASH 4207, “The Best Care On The Playa”, a medical relief camp providing comfort to the afflicted of BRC.  The gold helmet is my genuine kevlar helmet brought home from my gig in the US Army.

Cooking Spam with my 1.5 million BTU liquid propane fueled flamethrower. Knowmad provided the heat while I held my meat. Nom nom nom…

Sunset over the Flaming Lotus Girls 2011 fire art installation, Tympani Lambada.

Burning Man, something to do before you die.