DIY rockets. Made of paper matches and tinfoil
July 2, 2012 1:08 PM   Subscribe

"Governor Romney, Newt Gingrich has suggested establishing a moon colony should he be chosen as the Republican nominee for President. What, if any, plans or suggestions would you offer to NASA should you be elected?"
posted by leotrotsky at 1:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh the memories! My parents bought me The Great International Paper Airplane Book when I was growing up in the 1980s. The back of the book gave instructions on making rockets exactly this way. So much fun.
posted by talkingmuffin at 1:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

So in the day (70s) it was wise-asses in tenth grade doing this to scare / piss off the teacher. Now it's DIY life hacking lab on the internets. We sure have learned to fetishize certain kinds of activities. Also, get off my lawn, millennials who think you discovered everything cool. ;-)

Up next on Grathio Labs blog, how to make a bong out of an apple and a bic pen.
posted by aught at 1:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

We used to salvage old ball point pens, the kind that unscrewed into two parts. We would remove the ink tube, stuff both ends with match heads, screw the two pieces back together and use a whole match as a fuse. We used to get 50 yards sometimes with those.

We would hoard non-functioning pens for a couple of months to spend a day doing this. When we ran out of non-functioning pens we would steal working pens from parents and siblings.
posted by HuronBob at 1:36 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

that must have been a later edition of the The Great International Paper Airplane Book. The one that was on continuous rotation from my elementary school library had no such directions.
posted by lodurr at 1:36 PM on July 2, 2012

Dear god, please tell me there is not a Kickstarter project to fund the production of custom-printed matchbooks containing a paperclip, a pin, some sheets of aluminum foil, and a fold-out instruction book for how to make match rockets.

I mean, match rockets are fun and all, but do we really need to simplify things to quite that degree? Maybe the Kickstarter package should include safety glasses and a matchstick rocket safety engineer to come over and demonstrate for you? Or an HD camera to record video proof for uploading to YouTube?
posted by spacewrench at 1:39 PM on July 2, 2012

Matchstick rockets are the new planking?
posted by lodurr at 1:41 PM on July 2, 2012

My eye! My eye!
posted by mosk at 1:43 PM on July 2, 2012

Oh good heavens. Me and my brothers launched pack after pack of matches in the basement of my house growing up.

Let me tell you what it led to. I had a Cox control line airplane that I wanted to fly, but I could never the damn thing to start. I followed the instructions and all I got was repeated whoom-bu-bu-bu-bub. One day after firing off some match rockets, me and my older brother and his friend Eddie decided that we were going to get that damn engine to run. We mounted the plane in the vise on the workbench and went at it. After a half hour, we got the damn glow plug to start the engine and it ran! Backwards! That's OK, that was in the instructions - all you had to do was very literally throw in the towel. A towel to the prop stops the engine quickly and doesn't break the prop. We tried again and again, but no luck.

Frustration turned to boredom, so we took the can of airplane fuel and wrote our names on the basement floor and lit it up. It was cool to see our names in blue flames tinged with yellow. Then Eddie and my brother decided that they could put a little bit of fuel in the palm of one hand then light it because the fuel would burn and not their flesh. Turns out they were right - to a degree. When things got too hot, they would shake the flames out, which in turn sprayed burning droplets onto the basement floor. Stomp, stomp, stomp! Flames begone.

I finally told my dad about this when I was in my 30's. He blanched. I don't think I ever saw him so shocked in my entire life. Maybe I didn't wait long enough. Me and both my brothers and most of our friends were pyromaniacs to the core and he knew it. There was a reason why our boy scout troop always won the fire-starting competition at summer boy scout camp: fire was natural to us. Dad spent a lot of his life as a parent terrified that he would come home from work to a smoking hole in the ground.

Then dad reciprocated. The house we lived in had a huge basement. It was an old, late Victorian with a substantial footprint. The workbench was near the exit to the outside and it had a couple gas jets that the previous owner had installed. At the far opposite corner, near no means of egress, was the gas meter and shut-off valve. Dad decided that he wanted to disconnect the gas jets at the workbench (pryomaniacs, remember), so he opened one jet a hair and lit it so there was a little flame going that he could use as feedback from across the basement and which would consume most of the gas in the pipes. He went to the shut off valve and as he turned it it came apart in his hands. Gas was now coming out of the shut off valve and the small flame across the basement had turned into a giant flame that was setting the workbench on fire. Dad said he had a few seconds to make a very important choice: either repair the valve or bail and wait for the house to explode. He chose putting the valve back together, which he did in record time. Then he called the gas company, which he should have done in the first place.

So yeah, match rockets.
posted by plinth at 1:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [19 favorites]

This brings back memories. Wow. Old. Yeah...old..feel...etc...

Anyone remember making pen guns, by putting the spring in the top art with that little white thingy as the bullet. AWESOME!!
posted by Skygazer at 1:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can weaponize it by sticking the pin into the aluminum foil for a nose cone.
posted by goethean at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2012

I love impractical science!! Like firecrackers in mailboxes? weeee!
posted by Mojojojo at 1:52 PM on July 2, 2012

Me and both my brothers and most of our friends were pyromaniacs to the core...

Great story and yeah..pyromaniac to the core is right. Oh the tween fun, me, my brother and friends could have with lighter fluid, or a mountain of dud firecrackers we unwrapped to make a fantastic white hot "genie" of fast burning gunpowder making an incredible cloud of smoke....

Oh, and Lysol. Spray cans of Lysol and lighters being employed as DIY flamethrowers. wars...and lighting roman candles and bottle rockets and aiming them at each other.

God, that was fun. Stupid, but fun.
posted by Skygazer at 1:58 PM on July 2, 2012

Oh and frogs and empty coffee cans..and packs of firecrackers.

I know, so terrible.

But the frog parts did smell just like chicken afterwards...
posted by Skygazer at 2:00 PM on July 2, 2012

Fire and fireworks was almost a religion for us, in a Lord of the Flies kind of way...
posted by Skygazer at 2:02 PM on July 2, 2012

This reminded me of the old Estes Model Rocket catalogs. They all had several pages about kids trying to make rocket engines by stuffing empty CO2 cartridges with match heads. And then blowing their fingers off and losing eyes. Because compressed match heads are not stable. This of course led me to see if Estes is still around.

Indeed they are!
posted by Splunge at 2:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, bottle rocket wars... It was 'Nam out there in the woods at night. Madness. And yeah, childhood was all about figuring out what burnt & what didn't. I mean, who among us didn't cause at least one minor structure fire?

& if you're wondering where my parents were, my dad & his friends showed me how to launch tin cans with black cats.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dry ice bombs in mailboxes go boom.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:08 PM on July 2, 2012

First reaction: Ooh, that sounds like such fun. Second reaction: It's a guy thing. Third reaction and sobering thought :I am a grown up who pays for fire insurance.
posted by Cranberry at 2:12 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

First reaction: Ooh, that sounds like such fun. Second reaction: It's a guy thing. Third reaction and sobering thought :I am a grown up who pays for fire insurance.

Fun impractical science that won't burn your house down.
posted by Mojojojo at 2:25 PM on July 2, 2012

When I think of all the stunts I pulled as a kid, many of which have been described upthread, it amazes me that enough boys survive to adulthood to keep the human race going.
posted by azpenguin at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

So kids who torture animals turn out OK? Of course, I didn't, and I'm not sure OK is the right word for me, so, hm.

How did I never know about match rockets as a kid? I mean, none of my friends knew this trick.
posted by maxwelton at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2012

Dry ice bombs in mailboxes go boom.

Finished with that 32 oz plastic bottle of pepsi? Still just a little bit of liquid in there? Drop 3 or 4 carbide rocks in there, cap tightly, shake, toss & wait.



posted by Devils Rancher at 3:16 PM on July 2, 2012

it amazes me that enough boys survive to adulthood to keep the human race going.

Well, there's evolution for you: The boys that didn't survive didn't make any babies to carry their DNA, did they?
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:19 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Great International Paper Airplane Book

OMG, I loved this book when I was a little boy. And I made hundreds of those rocket planes.
posted by spitbull at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2012

Remember the numbness and ear-ringin shock of a short-fused firecracker exploding in the hand?


You'd never fuck around with short fuses like that with a cherry bomb or M-80 or blockbuster, cos those bad boys would and could blow off fingers... about the thrill of lighting off a whole "mat" of firecrackers...

If you had a stash of fireworks, the Fourth, was as keenly awaited, insomnia inducing and exciting as xmas morning...
posted by Skygazer at 3:36 PM on July 2, 2012

Oh man, I used to do this when I worked in a Fotomat back in the late 80's. (I also would kill flies with a rubber band while working there. I was SO bored sometimes.)
posted by not_on_display at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2012

When I was in third grade in (cough cough) in about 1961 I read a sci-fi book in from the school library about kids and rockets.
In the book were directions for making this rocket.
They spec'd foil from chewing gum wrapper.

We made them in class and they worked!

Everything old is new again.
posted by cccorlew at 4:41 PM on July 2, 2012

Not only is Estes still around, but so is Apogee. Tho I mostly launched Estes rockets. The cool thing that Apogee has now is RockSim, a rocket design and simulation software package. Living in the city I can't run out to the park and launch rockets anymore, but this might help me deal with the urge even on a windy day. :)
posted by MrBobaFett at 4:43 PM on July 2, 2012

The last time I set off fireworks was 20 some odd years ago. Some friends and I got drunk. Bought $200 worth of various stuff and set it off on the corner by the bodega. When we ran out of the cool stuff we ended the night by setting off firecrackers. While holding them. It seems that if you hold a basic firecracker lightly between the thumb and index finger, it hardly hurts at all.

Please don't try this. We were just lucky that night. Really stupid lucky.
posted by Splunge at 5:12 PM on July 2, 2012

older brother and his friend Eddie

Eddie??? Eddie Haskell?
posted by HuronBob at 5:35 PM on July 2, 2012

Ahhh.. Stupid memories.

If you use large wooden kitchen matches, the rockets go a *long* ways.

If you hit a whole roll of caps with a hammer it makes a *very* loud noise.

If you hit two whole rolls of caps with a hammer, it also makes a *very* loud noise and then attempts to hit you in the forehead with the hammer.
posted by jgaiser at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

One firecracker is fun. Harvesting the gunpowder from dozens of firecrackers results in new levels of fun.
posted by davebush at 6:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here I was, thinking that book was something unique and rare, instead of a CULTURAL TOUCHSTONE of an ENTIRE COMMUNITY.

(it was still a defining influence in my childhood, and "getting" those weird triangular pocket-folds for the first time was such an exciting moment for me)
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:41 PM on July 2, 2012

Heh. Just launched off a couple off my balcony. Then I got bored and felt a little guilty about the trash on the street I just created.

Never did this particular as a kid. My single claim to fame was "inventing" peashooters in the 4th grade; hollow bodies of bic pens as the barrel, the cartridge as a plunger, rubber band(s), and tape. Popcorn was the missile.

Even made semi-automatic variants with magazines and re-discovered part of the recurve idea while making hidden variants that looked like cassette tape boxes or hid in the spines of textbooks.

I was otherwise a "good kid" then (I even got to keep bringing and using my own "mini-boxcutter," the small snapoff type where you can break small pieces of the blade off when the tip gets dull. A full blade could be up to 6cm long and scalpel sharp, if brittle.) but eventually the teacher got me to stop disseminating them to all of the other kids in the class.

It wasn't until grade 5 when it was fire-in-the-woods, and trying to be alone with a girls. Grade 6 was about not being able to stop pining for the girl who's family moved to Nelson who I got to be spend alone time with in grade 5. Grade 7, that's when everything went downhill.
posted by porpoise at 6:55 PM on July 2, 2012

If you hit two whole rolls of caps with a hammer, it also makes a *very* loud noise and then attempts to hit you in the forehead with the hammer.

This is how we learned "Street Physics" as well.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:34 PM on July 2, 2012

You can launch 20 oz plastic soda bottles with butane:
1) Drill a 1/4 inch hole in the cap to make a nozzle.
2) Squirt a small amount of butane in.
3) Hold a match up to the hole, then slightly squeeze and release the bottle, sucking the flame into the hole.

This also works with 6-gallon lexan water carboys. Do it outside and use a larger nozzle hole. There is a chance the bottle may burst.
posted by ryanrs at 2:56 AM on July 3, 2012

You know one of the benefits of having a dad who's a retired electrical engineer and tech savvy? He reads your facebook posts and follows links to metafilter and then emails the correct and no less harrowing chronicle (addresses redacted):
Here's the painfully accurate story of the near disaster at [the house].

It was August, 1972 approaching your 6th birthday.
It was boiling hot.
We had closed on [the new house] but had arranged a month overlap with moving out of [the old house] to allow time for the kitchen to be remodeled. To save a few bucks (very few as it turned out), I volunteered to do the demolition work on the old kitchen and butler's pantry. This was a mistake in many ways.

One of the tasks was to remove the old gas stove. There was no shutoff valve at the stove. I had to shut off the gas in the basement. The gas meter and valve were at the southeast corner of the 30 X 40 foot basement. In the middle of the north wall were the stairs leading up to the kitchen. The electricity had been turned off and I hadn't arranged for it to be turned on in our name yet. Despite a small window in the east wall near the meter, it was pretty dark down there.

I took a pliers to the valve and with some effort it yielded and was turned 90 degrees to the off position.
I climbed the stairs to check the pilot light on the stove. It was still lit. I returned to the gas valve, turned it on and off again and climbed back up the stairs. The pilot light was still burning. I repeated this exercise two more times before deciding that the precise position of the valve must be critical to turning off the gas. The house was 62 years old and I think it was the original valve that came with the house when it was lit with gas lights.

I was sweating profusely. There had to be a better way. That's when I remembered the nipple for a Bunsen burner in the northwest corner of the room, 50 feet away. I opened that valve just a hair and lit the escaping gas. The flame was about 1 in length, easily visible through the gloom.

I then returned to the main valve and started wiggling it with the pliers. That's when it fell apart in my hand. The gas rushed out of the hole left behind by the valve with amazing force straight into my face. I remembered the tiny open flame across the room. I looked with panic when I saw a 5 foot long flame lapping at the joists in the basement ceiling. Let's see now--gas rushing out where I was and flame lashing out 50 feet away. No time to calculate how long I had to live. I somehow reassembled the valve in about .3 seconds. I turned off the little Bunsen burner flame and left, a shaken do it yourselfer. I went home and called the gas company. They came the next day and installed a new meter and valve.

Did you know that a house in [the adjacent town] a few blocks away was completely destroyed by a gas explosion a few years later?

That's the story in its entirety for posterity.


posted by plinth at 6:36 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

We had a ton of these tricks growing up, including...

• Cutting off the heads of dozens (maybe hundreds!) of packs of matches, then putting the match heads into an empty toilet paper roll that had one end closed off with foil. Set it upright, drop in a lit match and FROOM! A homemade roman candle.

•Tossing golf balls into a bon fire. After the Surlyn cover melted through, you'd get hundreds of flying specks of flaming rubber from the wound rubber core.

• Filling our mouths with butane from Bic lighters, then breathing out flames in front of a lit lighter.

• Filling old galvanized pipes with black powder and wadding, then inserting and old timey model rocket fuse, capping both ends and sealing with wax.

• And finally, filling an old Coke can with gas while my friend was holding it in his hand. When we lit it, flames jumped up the sleeve of his denim jacket as he panicked and whipped the can against the garage wall.

Good times. Good, stupid, stupid, good times.
posted by slogger at 10:36 AM on July 3, 2012

And I almost forgot: filling the bottom of a two-liter soda bottle with Drano, then dropping in some crumpled up aluminum foil and sealing it quickly. The bottle will inflate several times its normal size before letting off a lovely explosion.
posted by slogger at 10:41 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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