Introduction: Blue Flaming Pinecones

Picture of Blue Flaming Pinecones

Are you a pyromaniac? Do you enjoy setting things on fire, yet feel artistically confined by the boring yellow color of ordinary flames? Thanks to the marvels of modern science you can easily diversify your palette. By marinating pinecones in the right chemicals you can make them burn blue, green, all the colors of the rainbow. So grab your blowtorch and let's start cooking!

Step 1: Get Some Metal Salts

Picture of Get Some Metal Salts

You can change the color of fire by adding metal salts to a burning object. The easiest way to accomplish this is to make a solution of the metal salt in water or alcohol, marinate whatever you want to burn, then let it dry. Pinecones are a good medium because they have a lot of surface area and act as a sponge. But you can use sawdust, twigs, you name it.

Different metals will burn different colors. Your homework assignment is to provide a detailed explanation why this occurs, based on first principals of quantum chemistry. For now please accept the following conversion chart:

blue = copper chloride (CuCl2)
green = copper sulfate (CuSO4)
red = strontium chloride (SrCl2)
purple = potassium sulfate (K2SO4)
white = magnesium sulfate (MgSO4)

In my experience copper chloride works the best by far, giving bright blue flaming pinecones that are sure to impress even the most discerning pyromaniac. The green and red from CuSO4 and SrCl2 are also attractive. Magnesium sulfate (white) and potassium sulfate (purple) didn't do much of anything to the color of the fire for me, so I'd say skip those two. My sources tell me there are other combinations you can try.

Of all the chemicals listed above, only MgSO4 can be purchased at the drugstore (in the form of epsom salts; magnesium sulfate heptahydrate). For the rest you'll have to do a little hunting. Strontium salts are commonly found in road flares, for example. Suppliers for pyrotechnics, photography and rocketry are also a good source. Google product search turns up a surprising number of results for copper chloride. You may find these salts in their anhydrous or hydrated forms, which doesn't matter since you're going to dissolve them in water anyway.

Note that all of these things are bad for you if ingested, so be careful to wash your hands after handling, and try not to spill the CuSO4 in your coffee. Gloves might be smart.

Step 2: Prepare Coloring Solutions

Picture of Prepare Coloring Solutions

Make solutions of the different colorants for soaking your pinecones. Place a bunch of the metal salt in the bottom of the glass jar (the actual amount doesn't really matter) and enough water to dissolve it all. For strontium chloride and copper chloride you can use 70% isopropyl alcohol instead, which I prefer because it dries a lot quicker.

Add the pinecones and let them soak for at least 2-3 hours, preferably overnight.

Step 3: Dry the Pinecones

Picture of Dry the Pinecones

Use a pair of tongs to remove the pinecones (don't get the salt solutions on your skin) and place them on a towel out in the sun. The towel will become soaked in chemicals, so don't ever use it again.

Once the pinecones are good and dry you are ready for action.

Step 4: Set Them on Fire

Picture of Set Them on Fire
Grab a blowtorch and set those pinecones on fire! In my opinion the blue ones look the best, with red and green tied for second. The purple (potassium sulfate) and white (magnesium sulfate) pinecones were a dud, and looked the same as my "control" group. But your mileage may vary. You can mix and match to make a myriad rainbow of fiery goodness.

A final safety note: It's always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher on hand when you're burning things. And don't breath the fumes from the colored flames.


Venemot (author)2015-07-28

We did this stuff in chemistry class. We used a platinum wire loop to scoop up a bit of soaked salt and held it above a flame. We got a beautiful purple since there was nothing else to burn with it. You could also do this by sprinkling the salt directly over a fire.

Denero (author)2009-03-21

Do you need a blowtorch or can you just throw them in a fire>?

zytyxx (author)Denero2011-03-22

doesn't matter, but blowtorch is better. Its hard to get a big fire that is easyu to control.

zytyxx (author)2011-03-22

thanks. this was helpful information. turns out i'm doing a science project on this too. How did you get the cupric chloride and the strontium? epsom salts don't work for me too, but the salt substitute did.

ol987986 (author)2011-03-19

needs more dynamite :)

knektek (author)2010-01-11

add more oxygerns to help it burn

flammable (author)2009-08-21

hey guys for those of you living in australia there's a fantastic website called auschems unfortunately they only ship in australia but there good quality at a reasonable price

Shadowfury (author)2009-07-29

Well... All I can say is that it hurts. A lot. And at higher purities it melts your skin.

sharlston (author)Shadowfury2009-07-29

ye it soaks into your skin hits your bone and rotts it from the inside out

Rocoti (author)2009-02-26

The flames are beautiful, the blue being the most! I would love to know how I could get my hands on some of the Copper Chloride. Does anyone know where it could be purchased?

Berkin (author)Rocoti2009-06-09

This place sells a lot of different chemicals, including copper chloride. $9.00 for 4 ounces isn't too bad...

I_am_Canadian (author)2009-02-18

Which one of those are epsom salts?

Shadowfury (author)I_am_Canadian2009-02-19

Magnesium Sulfate.

I_am_Canadian (author)Shadowfury2009-02-20


acecombat (author)2008-04-15

You can buy Copper Suplhate (CuSO4) from Bunnings in the fertiliser section (It's in a pringles style tube) but not sure about the rest, I wouldn't mind knowing where to get some Copper Chloride (CuCl2) though!

Shadowfury (author)acecombat2009-02-19

Go buy some Hydrochloric acid, then put some copper wire in it and let it soak for a few days, until the solution turns green and all the copper is gone. Then heat it up to boil off the acid (OUTSIDE) and wait for it to crystallize.

fwjs28 (author)2008-05-25

*cough* sugar+gas=napalm
*snezze* cotton+gas=napalm
*achooo* mix gas with anything to thicken=napalm

Shadowfury (author)fwjs282009-02-19

No, not really. Cotton wouldn't stick very well. Use either motor oil (traditional) or styrofoam (cheap).

schimmi (author)fwjs282008-05-31

dissolve styrofoam in gasoline, then thicken it with something, and you have better napalm just plain gas isn't very good napalm.

angelofdeathtu (author)fwjs282008-05-30

You can also create napalm with human blood, just human blood

szechuan53 (author)2008-10-16

can some sciencey person tell me how to put my very fine magnesium powder into liquid suspension? i am working on "natures flashbangs"

Shadowfury (author)szechuan532009-02-19

What kind of liquid?

it is not a liquid , but try vaseline

microman171 (author)2007-07-06

even tho the red turned yello that is pretty awsome.. also the blue is kool aswell

BOXHARD (author)microman1712008-01-18

Hey man, I don't know how much pyro you do, but those are commonly used in artillery shells to make the stars burn different colors.... well not sure about magnesium sulfate... never played with that much. Anyway, the point of this reply is.....

If you REALLY want your "pine cones" to burn cool, mix a solution of Potassium Nitrate and Refined sugar into alcohol and then dissolve your metal salts into that. The result will be similar to self-lighting charcoal... but with king of a glitter effect....

Potassium Nitrate (KNO3) is also known as Saltpeter, and can be commonly found in 95-98% pure form in "Stump-out" and other forms of stump rot products.

The aprox mix ratio would be in the ball park of - 60% KNO3 + 40%

IT IS AN OXIDIZER... so do not store it mixed with or in combination with metals or metal salts for any length of time (couple days) because theoretically, being an oxidizer, it can spontaneously combust if oxidation develops enough residual heat.... never actually seen it happen... but all the same...

Have fun with that... BOXHARD

BOXHARD (author)BOXHARD2008-01-23

Let me also add that KNO3 and sugar make pretty good rocket fuel. It works better when you cook it, almost like making candy, and pour it into a tube then fit it with a nozle and let it cool. Clay makes a good nozle too by the way.... I guess I should do an Instructable about rockets or basic pyrotechnics sometime? Tell me what you think... which ever there is more request for I will do... If anyone tries cooking the mixture above... be very careful and use some common sense.... ALLWAYS, ALLWAYS, ALLWAYS!!!!!! - eye protection. And be sure to cook it on as low as your ELECTRIC stove can go...

lighterkid19 (author)BOXHARD2008-05-21

What ratio do you use to make fuel out of saltpeter and sugar? because i've heard a lot of different things about that. First of all, doesn't saltpeter and sugar by themselves just make a smoke bomb? and to make fuel, dont you need a third ingredient, like sulfur or charcoal powder or sumthing? Or is that just to make gunpowder?

BOXHARD (author)lighterkid192008-05-21

It all depends upon the type of rocket and nozzle shape. If you have a heavy rocket and need a lot of thrust, you need a wider nozzle and therefore a faster burning mixture... similarly if you have a lighter rocket, you want a smaller nozzle with a slower burn mix in order to achieve maximum climb height. So to answer you question, you are just gonna have to play around with it. The basic ratio for the most effecient burn is 60% KNO3 40% Sugar. As for a third ingredient, if this mixture burns to fast (adjust your nozzle first) but if you must slow it down charcoal would work. Not much will speed it up though. Sulfer is not a good idea with KNO3 and Sugar, makes it burn slower and it stinks. If you need a faster burning mixture, go with black powder... start by adding about 20% extra charcoal (airfloat charcoal, made from willow branches leaves a nice fluffy smoke behind) and keep adding more charcoal until your rockets no longer blow up mid-flight. lol And geez... as i'm writing this I see the link below... try that. Thishis in no way directed at you Lighterkid you sound like you are genuine, i'm just venting... ...But I need to add... Most of my knowledge on pyro / explosives has been hands on... there is no better way to answer a question than just trying it. Freak'n try it. I welcome the questions, but I get the sense sometimes that a large majority of these questions are asked by people who are never actualy gonna try this stuff. If your just curious... GOOGLE IT.. if you start experimenting and run into problems or you hit a wall... Please ask me... I will help you any any way possible - I have hit those problems before and did the same thing and found the answers. But there is no point in me typing stuff over and over again when a simple visit to google will return 5,000 sights with the information right there waiting for you ~ ok, I'm done venting ~ Boxhard

lighterkid19 (author)BOXHARD2008-05-24

arrite thanks. and also what kind of material should the rocket tube be made out of? i tried aluminum foil and it just melted and fused to the pavement. as for why im asking and not experimenting, i have a pretty low budget and cant afford to screw up and have to buy new stuff over and over. also, i live in sum paranoid old people town so i dont get to try this stuff too often, so when i do get a chance, i like it to work right.

BOXHARD (author)lighterkid192008-05-25

Well, firstly and obviously don't use anything that might throw shrapnel in the event of your rocket blowing. Fight the urge to use pvc pipe... I had more than enough pvc pieces flying past my bast shield at high velocity that I can say with certainty... not good idea. Same goes for metal, etc... What I found to be the best, and pretty cheap, are heavy wall cardboard tubes. once you get up to about 1" tubes though the walls have to be pretty thick to hold in the pressure. Second you are going to need a good nozzle. You can either machine one out of metal or use bentonite clay packed very tightly into a nozzle. When I was doing that I had a brass and aluminum frame / mold that you combressed fuel and a clay nozzle into a carboard tube to make a finished rocket. I want to say I paid like 20 - 30 bucks for it... but that was about 15 years ago. The KNO3 and Sugar mixture burns at a pretty high temp and a lot of people underestimate it's power. I have had several pyro guys stare blankly after a "smoke bomb" went KABOOM after they said it couldnt be done with KNO3 and Sugar. Try a model / rocket hobby shop... you may find what ya need there. The electronic squibs come in real handy too but you can also make your own... Good luck, hope the old folks keep their heads down. lol ps. I lived in a suburban area like that when I was a kid but that didn't stop me... there were still holes (!HOLES!) in our once new concrete driveway when I moved out. lol

fireraisr (author)BOXHARD2009-01-22

a 60/40 mixture of saltpeter and sugar willl produce smoke bombs that have the appearance of caramels when cooked. That mixture is by weight. Just don't overcook or you house may look like its on fire :)

Shadowfury (author)fireraisr2009-02-19

70/30 works as well, but burns faster.

mowie (author)lighterkid192009-01-25

look up r candy on youtube that might help

kibbler (author)BOXHARD2008-02-08

You seem like you know a lot about pyromaniacs. Make an instructable please!

BOXHARD (author)kibbler2008-02-09

I will!... trying to decide what would be a good project... I need to look a little more at what's on here so I don't repeat anyone though.... I think I might with one on making grocery store "Black Powder" for all you peeps that live in control freak countries...

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-04

yes please do that, my country doesn't even sell stump remover as a precausian(spelling?) please oh please tell us how to make blackpowder so our lives get interesting :P Dunnos

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-04

Wha? Where you live? I'm having second thoughts about all of this... being the good American country minded man that I am... I don't know about telling peeps how to blow up things... :)

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-05

i live in holland its almost freaky previously you sayd that saltpeter is an oxidizer i knew where you can get it and filter it but its frikkin expensive that way is it possible to use another oxidizer like Fe2O3? and if not is there a way to make rust spontaniously combust? that'd be cool then my last question: if i use a 12v adapter for electrolysis wont i short it out? im scared it will blow up in my face thanks in advance Dunnos

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-05

Sigh... Fe203 is not an oxidizer... it's an OXIDE! it is the result of an ozidizer (O2 or O3) reacting with Iron. ""then my last question: if i use a 12v adapter for electrolysis wont I short it out? im scared it will blow up in my face"" Huh? lol What are you talking about? What are you trying to do with electrolysis?

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-19

that actually still doesn't answer my question will i be able to replace potassium nitrate with like potassium permanganate? they are both oxidizers how's they ible going by the way?

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-19

Taken from Wikipedia... my fall back for information on compounds I don't use often... and just as accessable for you as me...

"Aqueous solutions of KMnO4 have been used together with T-Stoff (i.e. 80% hydrogen peroxide) as propellant for the rocket plane Messerschmitt Me 163. In this application, it was known as Z-Stoff. This combination of propellants is sometimes still used in torpedoes."

"KMnO4 is often included in survival kits along with polyols as a fire starter. For example, a mixture of potassium permanganate and glycerine or pulverized glucose ignites readily."

"Early photographers used it as a component of flash powder. It is now replaced with other oxidizers, due to the instability of permanganate mixtures."

"Solid KMnO4 is a strong oxidizer and in general it should be kept separated from oxidizable substances. Dilute aqueous solutions of KMnO4 are not dangerous. KMnO4 forms dangerous products upon contact with concentrated acids. "

"As an oxidizer, potassium permanganate stains the hand and clothing as it is reduced to MnO2. Clothing stains may be washed away using acetic acid. Skin stains, which are typically brown, disappear within 48 hours."

The long and the short of it... if you have some availbale, you could mix it with sugar and I suspect you would get a compound similar to the smoke bomb recipe calling for KNO3 and sugar. I have never played with this before though, so use extreme caution and always wear protective gear... GLASSES are always a must. and be sure to ignite it from a distance, ie canon fuse.

Also, given the molecular structure of it, KMnO4, I would start with a 50-50 wix with white sugar and try a few different ratios to see what burns most effectively. I don't think this wixture will "boom" but under pressure it may.

As wikipedia says, and me not being familiar with the composition, do not store it for any length of time. Sugar is readily oxidizable...

Let me know how it goes, if I don't hear anything back about it, I'll assume it killed you... and then I guess I'll have to go out and buy some to play with.


dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-19

ok thank you, im goin to ask if i can do this in the chem lab they always like me if i dont have questions to much only this: KMnO4 is often included in survival kits along with polyols as a fire starter. For example, a mixture of potassium permanganate and glycerine or pulverized glucose ignites readily." if i mix it with sugar wont it explode after, like, a few seconds? cya then

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-20

No, it shouldn't... it should be stable enough. Also... it won't be hot enough to "explode"..

Good luck...

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-06

hydrogen ;) it gives a satisfying plop i heard but nvm electrolysis my mom wont let me

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-05

You know... I'm sitting here with my giant cup of coffee, black and thick enough to stand a spoon upright in the middle of it, and I'm wondering to myself... WHAT ARE YA'LL TRYING TO DO!?!?!?! Tell me what kind of reaction you want... Sizzle, KABOOM, sparkle... etc... and WHY!?... what you intend to do with it. THEN, I can help ya... and this isn't directed at you Dunnos... If you got more questions, keep 'em coming... but I can't sugest things if I don't know what kind of reaction you are looking for. I have been promising it, so when I get home from work today I'm going to work on a first explosives instructables. I think I'm going to do it in series... starting with the basics of the chem behind "reactions" otherwise known as explosives.

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-06

wow finally somebody who is willing to answer, all chem teachers walk away when they see me coming ;) both kaboom and sparkle seem very promising and id love to know how to do that and i intend to do it just for fun and showing off at friends :] also in movies they pour a liquid into a flask and then they pour another liquidand it turns green and starts fizzling and bubbling, thats my dream since i was a kid(actually still a kid so...) here comes another one: what kind of job do you have? just interested cant wait to see your ibles on explosives Dunnos

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-06

First off, if your "momy" won't let you play with electrolysis... what the hell are you doing asking about explosives? dunnos, I got to ask, how old are you? The "liquids changing colors and fizzing"... does it have to turn green? cause a reaction came to mind right away that would be just that... but trying to think of anything that would turn green as opossed to other colors I can actiualy think of. You would need a ph indicator that would turn green in a neutral solution. I started working on the instructable yesterday... it's going to be the first of a series... and it's named explosive safety... about being careful with explosives... the following ones will be more interesting... So, Chem profs run when they see you coming huh? I know the feeling... especialy after I blew all of the windows out of the third floor chem building while in lab. Luckily no one was hurt. But the profs are dreading the day I have kids... My grandfather caught the lab on fire there, my father caught a different college lab on fire, and my brother caught the lab work bench on fire at a different school... So I had a legacy to live up to... but I think I out did them all with the explosion rather than fire. As for the job I have... don't worry about it... If I told ya, then I'd have to kill ya. Just kidding, I uhm... well, I have a job that's kinda more like a lot of different jobs rolled into one... chemistry and explosives is only a slice of it ~ but I do enjoy that part, well then again I guess I enjoy all of it. Jean ~

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-06

hey boxhard nice to see you again my mom is pretty scared about electricity bcuz my dad got electrocuted once and is scared for electricity now, im 13 but i know how to be safe unlike everybody else i know i know about a ph indicator but i thought it wouldn't start fizzling? as for the chem profs... well only in 2 years i get chemistry, im just annoying with ALL my questions :P BUT i am probably also gonna set the lab on fire or something. seems like a cool job to me something secret agenty?? (remember 13) looking forward to your next message 13 year old dennis

BOXHARD (author)dunnos2008-05-06


The ph indicator won't fizzle... but backing soda and viniger would be an easy way to get the fizzle as it forms a salt and releases CO2... if the ph indicator turned green upon reaching a ph of 7 (neutral) then it would turn green as the reaction completed.

You sound very eager to learn, that's realy good! Don't let anyone discorage that. But also remember, you have to learn to crawl before you walk. So don't get to worried about trying greater and greater things. It's best to learn everything there is to learn from even the simple experiments because they are the building blocks to the world. It's kind of like when you do advanced maths... calculus etc... you have to know that 2+2=4 and most importantly - WHY!

So keep learning! And good luck to you in school.

As for te secret angent thing... it's not that cool.

Oh, and as far as the electricity thing... I have been bitten by high voltage a few times myself and it's not fun...

If you want to play with electrolysis you can easily use a battery! Even just a AA battery will work... but just slower... Electron flow from the positive side of the battery to the negative side... hook a wire to each side of a battary... put a coin on the positive side and a spoon or somthing on the negative... you will see it in action... it will rob metal ions from one and deposit it on the other...

Have fun with it.

dunnos (author)BOXHARD2008-05-07

thats a great idea with the ph indicator, i never thought of combining them Will i throw them in like viniger then baking soda then the ph indicator? sounds sweet also where can i get a ph indicator??? i know what high voltage is, actually i work with thousands of volts every now and then partially because i own a wimshurst machine ;P now for that you have to be safe and for electrolysis my mom wont let me short out batterys because its a waste of money aint that uncool thanks i actually will have fun with it :) another question; would it be hard for me to get some alkaline metals? im gonna throw them in water ... >:)

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