HOWTO Make a magic fireball (flaming oily rag) -- UPDATED

This little Metacafe video shows how to make a "Magic Fireball" -- a lighter-fluid-soaked rag-ball that's bound tight with thread -- that you can roll around in your hand without getting burned (because the hot part of the flame is on top and you hold it by the bottom). Unless, of course, you screw up and burn yourself horribly.

Update: Speaking of burning yourself horribly: the commenters in the Metacafe thread (and here) say it's a composited hoax and report burning themselves. Astonishingly, rolling a burning oily rag around in your hand isn't a good idea.

Update 2: Well, maybe it's not a hoax. Other commenters make a good case for the video being real. Mind, you're still rolling a flaming, oily rag around in your bare hand, but at least you know that someone, somewhere did this without being horribly burned.

Link (via Neatorama)


  1. This is a terrible hoax. The temperature of the flame at the base is easily hot enough to give you serious burns. But worse, the lighter fluid will certainly stick to your fingers and burn them.

    This video was made with compositing, as you can, see, for example, as the flame shows no lateral perturbation as it is tossed from hand to hand. Or, at 2:00, where after squirting a stream of fluid which is all magically absorbed without excess drips, the presenter squirts his thumb.

    Note the commenters have been burning themselves.

  2. NOT a hoax!

    I used to do something similiar where we used to play volleyball with this huge flaming fireball. The point seemed to be to soak it in the right flammable. Lighter fluid would probably work. Something like gas would not work (it would stick to your fingers and burn you).


    i went straight home last thurs after seeing this and made a ball to the same spec, works perfectly. gets a bit hot like holding your hand on a hot radiator, but if you keep it moving or cool your hands down before you can keep it going for longer. made mk2 at the pub on friday, golf ball core to increase size, made 3, juggled with them :-D. mk3 will have a snooker ball core and be wrapped up with kevlar thread. basically anything that frays beyond a nice sphere is likely to catch light and burning cotton will burn you, the lighter fluid won’t if done as shown. also, if you don’t have enough fuel on it or you leave it alight for too long and the fuel burns off the cotton may ignite.

  4. @ #4
    You get in there! You get tight in there & Stay there! Don’t you budge or I’ll tear you apart!!!

  5. Just a warning: I followed the metacafe link and after a few minutes got sent to some ridiculous site that just about had me downloading an executable file. Not big and not clever.

  6. I’m all for freedom of information but..

    This story is at best irresponsible and stupid. If someone burns doing this your opening yourselves up for a lawsuit. What if some 12 year old kid tries this out? I give a rats ass about an adult.

  7. I’ve done a similar thing using kerosene soaked ball (of tightly would thread) without burning myself. Kerosene burns relatively coldly, and its only the gas that burns – the liquid itself needs to evaporate (by the heat of the flame) before it burns. The trick to avoid burning yourself is to keep it moving. You could make juggling balls of this fashion and juggle flaming balls if you wanted.

  8. If this is done through compositing, someone get the editor a job in Hollywood!

    I don’t disagree that doing this is probably stupid, but as a video professional, I seriously doubt that it was done via compositing.

    The way the flame moves through and around the guy’s fingers is pretty complex, and no matter what angle the camera is at, the flame appears to be shot at the correct angle. Throw in how the light from the flame reacts with the camera’s automatic gain control, and you have a hell of a lot of complicated compositing to do.

    As for the lighter fluid not sticking to his fingers, at about 8 seconds in, he pulls his thumb back and a tiny flame remains briefly on his thumb. Something similar happens at about 2:15, and again at 3:21.

    The segment where the lighter fluid is being squirted onto the ball does look suspicious, but after watching it about 20 times, I think our eyes are being fooled by the angle and the fact that the lighter fluid is clear.

  9. Wanted to chime in with Thomas Brown above, hoax or stupid idea or whatever, if that was done with video compositing its pretty amazing. Having the shadows and light expose the parts of their hand accurately every time would take some pretty sophisticated 3d modeling, and if the person is good enough to do that… then why the hell are they posting hoax videos of oily rags to metacafe in the first place?

  10. Its not really an oily rag.

    I cant speak for this specifically, but i used to light my entire hand on fire all the time by dipping it in rubbing alcohol. I just had a bowl of water at the ready. Never burned myself.

  11. Also, I bet the guy plays with fire a lot and has calloused hands from it. Notice how he holds his hand around the flame for a second here and there, without a flinch/reflex/whatever. If you’re exposed to heat a lot, you get calloused and used to it.

  12. Like CPT. TIM, I often used to use rubbing alcohol to set my hand on fire. The only time I burned myself: after using my burning hand to light a propane balloon that I held with my other hand, I got distracted by audience reaction and forgot my hand was still on fire.

    I’m not sure if my hands are insensitive to heat because I do lots of things like that, or I do lots of things like that because my hands are insensitive to heat.

    There have been times I’ve burned myself, and the first indication was the sound or the smell. I have learned to recognize the ‘slippery’ feeling of very hot metal, and this has saved me from a burn many times.

    (And in case you’re wondering, the only scar visible on my hands was from a cut, not a burn.)

    Can’t wait to make some of these balls and play with them.

  13. The plural of annecdote is not evidence but…

    In my art school days I’d often draw a streak of Zippo fluid from the cuff of my jeans up and over my crotch and down the other side for the purposes of super funk dancing.

    While warm, it was not too hot to handle. However! You do experience something akin to sunburn if done too much. A subtle redding and irritation, but not what I’d call a “burn”.

    Furthermore – using the art school bent again, if thats compositing… that dude has SUPER super kung fu.

  14. I don’t think that lighter fluid will burn the palm of your hand. When I was a teen, we’d sometimes amuse ourselves by making one hand into a loose fist and holding down the lever on a cheap plastic lighter without flicking the flint wheel to fill the hand with lighter fluid (gaseous), and after a few seconds flick the wheel and quickly open the hand to show, for about a fraction of a second, a handful of blue flame.

    Hey, don’t look at me like that. At least we didn’t light our farts. (Well, I didn’t, anyway.)

  15. I am a fire performer (fire eating, juggling torches, etc.) and have done this in the past (it is in fact my myspace picture I would highly discourage people from trying this, while it is definitely possible to do it without burning yourself, it is not easy, and working on your own with directions from the internet won’t help. If you want to learn and try fire tricks you should find a fire perfromance troop in your area (most major cities have them, just do a google search). Most troops are very friendly and willing to teach and also have excellent safety protocols.

  16. It reminds me of the story Richard Feynman tells in a recording to Ralph Leighton about how he used to dip his hands in alcohol at the end of a magic show to scare all the kiddies in the neighborhood– that it didn’t hurt him at all.
    When he is called on it later in life, and does it again, to prove that it doesn’t hurt him, it hurts like hell– because since then, he has grown hair on his hands that wicks up the alcohol and sets them on fire…

    I think everyone should realize that when playing with fire, your mileage may vary and you might get get burned.

    P.S. The Feynman tapes are here, if anyone else wants to grab the cool stories. Well worth

  17. There are several variables at play (composition & shape of ball, type of flammable liquid and how much) Get them right and you don’t get burned; Get them wrong, get burned.
    Fire-eating circus performers extinguish flames in their mouth without serious damage. That random surfers doing something they saw on the interweb got burned does not surprise me.

  18. Please fix the update.

    I am also a video professional and can confirm that whatever the wisdom of this trick might be, the video is not a trick of compositing and anyone who thinks it is doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    Thank you.

  19. “because since then, he has grown hair on his hands that wicks up the alcohol and sets them on fire…”

    I actually thought about this when typing that i used to do that. I can see that happening pretty easily.

  20. It’s no hoax. It’s an old Southern tradition called fireballing. I grew up doing this at every family get-together.

    The catch is it has to be kerosene, which burns at a low temperature. You knot cotton rags and/or socks together in ball shapes, and soak them for several days in kerosene. Everyone goes outside after dark, stands in a circle, light them, and pitch them around. You can hold them up to a couple of seconds and feel nothing more than warmth.

    View more about the history here.

  21. As a teenager I spilled lighter fluid (of this type) all over my hand when messing with a hand warmer. It did not burn and was fascinating and scary to watch it burn off with no problem.

  22. This is NOT a hoax ffs. The video is obviously not faked. The people who are getting burned shouldnt be doing this in the first place.

  23. There’s a traditional ball game in mexico that uses a fire ball.

    Youtube link: “”

  24. This is not a HOAX you muppets!

    Its NOT a “Flaming oily rag” – that would be ouchy.

    Its the magic lighter fluid what does the trick.
    I remember doing this sort of thing as a Teenager.
    You can pour lighter fluid on your palm and set light to it OK.
    Likewise the back of your hand – though the burning hairs smell a bit rank.

    Good idea – squirt lighter fluid on your mate’s parka in the bus queue. Light match. Hilarity ensues.

    Bad idea – squirt lighter fluid on your mate’s nylon rally jacket in the bus queue. Light match. Tragedy ensues.

    Brilliant idea – squirt lighter fluid on your mate’s tennis ball and play “Flaming-Comet Night-Tennis”. History beckons.

  25. Anne Marie wrote: “Regarding holding these in your hand or doing tricks with them… I’m about as likely to hold one of these for an extended length of time as I am to walk barefoot across burning coals (not going to happen).”

    I really enjoyed walking barefoot across burning coals.

  26. I chime in for real as part of the burning-alcohol-on-hand-party. When I was a tyke playing with my wonderfully dangerous chemistry set in the basement one day, I chanced to spill some burning alcohol on my hand from the burner (ah, the good-ol’ days), and was at first shocked, then relieved, and of course… finally, fascinated with the fact that the alcohol did not burn one as long you did not touch the top or body of the flame. The video looks very much like I remember it, though I don’t recommend experimenting. Fire. Dangerous.

  27. Dangerous? Probably? A composite? Unlikely.

    The photo realistic flames, interactive lighting of the fire on the hands and the tracking and masking required is fairly complex. It could be done, but it would be rather challenging. And contrary to assertions earlier in this thread, the flames to react to being moved side to side–which would be true even if a particle system was being used to simulate fire.

    Also, while agree with the “video professionals” that the video is probably real, “video professional” isn’t usually how efx artists describe themselves.

  28. Not a hoax. Absolutely not.

    From a technical standpoint, simulating the constantly-changing lighting conditions on the subject holding the fireballs would be an incredible nightmare. If someone had those kinds of chops and wanted to perpetrate a hoax, I can think of a lot more interesting things to fake than a guy handling fire.

  29. You know that jellied alcohol that gets sold as a hand cleaner and disinfectant? Don’t light it on your skin. It sticks and burns.

  30. It may also depends on whose hand it is, and how big a sissy you are. Me, I couldn’t do it. :) But I’m sure the hawker lady across the road from my office can do it. She cooks with two rows of pots, and when she reaches for the pot in the far row, her hand is in the flame of the fire in the first row. Did I mention that she picks up the pots with her bare hands? :)

  31. my kids love to pass their fingers through flames…and that’s a trick I’ll let them do. that being said, I almost lost a house to fire caused by linseed oil on old rags, so I’m in no hurry to try this at home.

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