How to make match rockets


Steve Hoefer created a fun video that shows you how to make Match Rockets.

This is one of my favorite projects. It’s fun, cheap, hands on, and educational. My brothers taught me how to make them when I was about nine years old, but I suspect it originally dates to a time when young boys carried everything they needed in their pockets: Matches, a bit of wire, and a foil gum wrapper. Over time bits of wire gave way to paper clips and pins, and gum apparently doesn’t come in foil wrappers any more, so we’ll make do with regular aluminum foil. Here’s the full how-to with a about two dozen rocket launches included because I was having too much fun.
Project: Match Rockets

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  1. These are so cool.  I used surprise people when I told them I could make a rocket out of a book of matches, a paperclip, some foil and a needle.

  2. This is very cool.   However, being that I live in the SouthWest, and pretty much everything is either on fire, or incredibly good at catching on fire.

    PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS IF YOU LIVE SOUTH OF THE CANADIAN BORDER AND WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI.

    I’m looking your way 30 and under demographic.

    Thanks.

    1.  “So don’t try this at home, we what you call experts.”

      These little rockets do like to zip off in various directions and set the scenery on fire.  Large expanses  of concrete is recommended.

  3. The foil captures the rapid expansion of the match head as it combusts.  The tube in the foil created by the pin acts as a channel to divert the expanding gas in a straight line, which creates thrust.   Once the thrust exceeds the weight of the match stick, you have a rocket.

  4. I remember these from the Great International Paper Airplane Book, a 70’s classic.  Though I could never actually get one to fly.

    1.  Yes! That’s where I first learned about match rockets as well.

      I kind of got them to fly, but that wasn’t the most important science lesson my 10-year-old self learned that day — it was more along the lines of “don’t put used (hot) matches into a plastic wastebasket.”

    2. That’s where I learned, too! With some experimentation, I determined that two match heads provided extra oomph without too much extra weight.

      Once in 8th grade I was demonstrating them for a teacher and a few classmates when a suspicious sulfur-sniffing janitor poked his nose in. My teacher covered for me, which went a long way toward teaching me that teachers could be cool too.

  5. Back in the mid 1960’s when I was a kid, we actually learned how to do this on an educational TV show we watched as part of our science class. It was the beginning of a pyrotechnic youth that included powdered sugar bombs, model rockets, and a life-long love of science.

    1. Heh… “pyrotechnic youth”. We didn’t do anything fancy like you, just tried to make as big boom as possible out of the the firecrackers we had. Can’t believe we all made it into adulthood without any injuries, we sure did some stupid stuff… but oh, did we have fun!

  6. and with this, our little von Brauns are just a couple of minutes from the legendary full-pack-of-matches-scraped-into-one-foil rocket !

    good times.

    1. Try the Titan 5 version first – One match head with four other decapitated match heads arranged around it inside the foil for additional thrust.

  7. Am I the only one imagining an overly-concerned citizen finding dozens of spent rockets, assuming that they must be part of a dastardly plot, calling in police who will have no idea what the rockets are but will be glad to help incite further panic by bringing in bomb squads, drug sniffing dogs, haz-mat teams, NSA, etc?

    I’m so damn tired of being an American and these being my first thoughts.

      1.  The minority of people who buy into the Endless Fear propaganda and ruining this country for those of us who do not.

  8. Used to make these AND tape them to little toy cars (Hot Wheels were too heavy but other cheap-o brands worked fine). 

  9. An oldie but a goodie. There is a much more exciting similar project that is likely to become extinct because of the scarcity of materials. I give you the Film Canister Cannon:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Film-Canister-Cannon/

    It’s not that easy to find a film canister in these days of digital cameras, nor a piezoelectric disposable lighter, but trust me this one is worth the scavenger hunt. It’s a corker!

    1. Great project! Even more simple than a potato gun, and vastly safer.

      The long-nose grill/fire lighters have piezo igniters in them and can be had for a buck or so. You can also get a grill ignitor for a couple bucks at the hardware store. (Or scavenge it out of your potato cannon.)As recently as last year I went to my local film developer and asked if I could buy some film canisters and they told me I could have as many as I could carry. (I walked out with a grocery bag full, barely making a dent in their stock.)

  10. A couple of years ago I noticed that the heavily tiled kitchen in my then apartment was a suitable test site for some extensive match rocket development. Eventually I got rid of the traditional design and came up with a launch tube that would fire wooden match heads anywhere from 2″-6′.

      1. The tube itself was just made out of foil with one end closed off. The diameter was big enough for the match head to slide or be gently pushed down. It was mounted on a paper clip base (the one I’d been using to launch rockets).

        Cut the head off a strike anywhere match and insert it with the tip down first into the tube. Then use another match to heat the end of the tube until the “round” ignites. The white substance (often erroneously called phosphorus) ignites first and burns more quickly that the main part of the head meaning the gasses are building up rapidly behind it. So it’s basically a tiny gun. Because the rest of the head burns more slowly, it usually launched like a flare and I had to chase it down and snuff it out :). 

        As a kid, I made a tiny pistol that fired rockets made from match head material scraped and packed into a plastic tube (I think I got the tubes from Flintstones Push-Ups). I made percussion caps with aluminum foil and paper cap-gun caps. I think I only got ignition about 1/6 of the time and the range was only 5-10 feet. Plus, it took a long time to make the rockets but I was happy with the proof of concept.

        My mother was convinced I was going to grow up to work for the Military Industrial Complex.

  11. I have a vague recollection of matchstick rockets. IIRC, I had a nutty science teacher who showed us how to make them at some point. Fun little things, but as was mentioned earlier in the thread, be careful not to set anymore of the US on fire. We’re having enough trouble with raging wildfires as it is.

  12. We (me and kid peers) took it to the next level and filled small empty CO2 cartridges with match heads launching them through cardboard tubes.  Still have both eyes and all my fingers.  The last one didn’t launch, it exploded.  Thankfully we made a long fuse and ran prior to it’s detonation.  That ended our experiments.  We were aware of what metal shrapnel could do and considered ourselves lucky.

  13. I played with those thing for days on end when I was a kid(30 year ago). I used to make all kinds of elaborate plans to buy more matches and steal another piece of foil from my mom. I’ll be teaching my kids this tonight, amazing how one forget such simple things.

  14. I used to make these too, all the time!  We’d get a book of matches for a penny from any store that sold cigarettes, and a little foil goes a long way.

    You don’t need a pin, just wrap the match head in foil.  The gasses escape past the cardboard just fine without the extra channel.

    You also don’t need a paperclip, just tear the cover off the matchbook and fold it in half for the launch stand.  If you want to get fancy you can curl over the bottom bit to keep the heavier foil-wrapped top of the match from toppling over.

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