Introduction: End-Around Pneumatic Cannon

Picture of End-Around Pneumatic Cannon

While not particularly new or creative, here are my plans for a simple pneumatic (compressed-air powered) potato cannon. It can also be used for other projectiles, as long as they fit down one of the interchangeable barrels. It uses an electrically operated valve, originally made for in-ground irrigation systems.

This project is also documented on my website at:

Step 1: Safety Warning!

Picture of Safety Warning!

Safety Warning: Please be careful with this project. From what I've heard, PVC is not meant for holding compressed gasses. Gasses compress much easier than liquids, so be careful. The sprinkler valve used is designed for cold water, so be careful. The pressure gauge is designed for cold water applications, so be careful. Almost nothing in this project is used in its intended purpose, so please be extra careful. If you explode one of your PVC pipes, you will have essentially detonated a pipe bomb, and you are going to be in a world of hurt. You might want to take an old pair of jeans, cut off one leg, and wrap it around your pressure chamber. You can also use an old towel, or some metal screening. It probably wont help in the event of a pipe rupture, as one user has suggested. He also reminds us that some PVC is not actual PVC through the entire wall of the pipe. He says that 'cellular core' pipe, which is not rated for pressure, has a lightweight foam core, surrounded by thin layers of actual PVC. Please double check your pipe before purchasing, to ensure that you are not purchasing cellular foam core pipe. Another user has written that fiberglass mesh tape, used in construction for drywall joining, might be a stronger pressure chamber coating. Another user suggested taking coupling, sanding off the inner stops, and gluing them to the outside of your pressure chamber.

If you only remember one thing from all my safety warnings, remember this: PVC shrapnel will not show up on an X-Ray. The doctors will have an extremely hard time picking all the plastic shards out of your body if something goes wrong. You have been warned.

organicengines adds a helpful reminder to keep your PVC out of direct sunlight, because the light will degrade the plastic and make it brittle. Be careful!

Yes, this could be a dangerous project. I'm not a lawyer, but I'd like to say that I'm absolving myself of all responsibility for your actions. If you decided to build one of these cannons, by all means have fun, but please be safe. I'm not responsible for anything except for fun. If any of the Instructables administrators or moderators feel this project is too dangerous for this website, I will gladly remove it as soon as possible.

Another safety point: This is a cannon, which is a type of gun. Guns are meant to be dangerous, they would be pointless if they weren't. If you have no experience handling guns, please be very careful with this project, and do yourself a favor and take a firearms safety course. It will be a good experience even if you never shoot a gun again. If you have experience with guns, please be careful regardless. When I went through hunter's safety, they taught us three important rules of firearms safety:
1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded, so always point it in a safe direction. This means not at you, your dog, or anybody standing around. Point it up in the air, or down at the ground.
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger (valve switch) until ready to fire. Enough said.
3. Know your target and what's beyond. Plywood, fences, and garage walls are not strong enough to stop some of the things you can shoot with this cannon. I've put clean holes through both walls of an empty 55 gallon steel drum, so know what's behind your target. Try to not shoot this cannon in residential areas, or use really low pressures and soft projectiles. Soft projectiles include rolled-up, wet socks (more on this later), water, and loose snow.

That being said, this cannon can provide hours of entertainment, as well as a bit of education, in projectile physics and the ideal gas law.

Step 2: Planning

Picture of Planning

General Theory: For those of you who remember shooting spitballs out a straw, this pneumatic cannon operates on essentially the same principles. High pressure air in a tube will force any obstructions out the end at high velocities. The larger diameter pipe, here I've used 3" PVC, is used as a pressure chamber, holding compressed air. The valve holds this air in until manually or electrically opened. The pressure gauge is used to ensure you don't exceed the safe pressure limit of 100 psi. The tire valve stem is used to fill the pressure chamber. All details will be explained in more detail further down this page.

As is customary for my projects, I've included a diagram of the project. Hopefully it helps you to understand what I've done. Here, I've included both the 1.5" and 0.5" barrels. They are interchangeable, by unscrewing them from the valve, and attaching another barrel. It is important to note that while I have placed specific couplings and bushings in the diagram, the important thing is to find what works for you. If you can find an easier/cheaper way to convert a 1.5" pipe to 1" male threads, by all means go for it. I built with what I had, or could get from the local home improvement store. Some home improvement stores won't carry all the pieces you need, so you might have to search elsewhere. I personally have had good experiences with for finding exotic parts.

Safety Alert!!! An astute reader ( bigbob12345 ) pointed out that most bell-reducer couplers are NOT PRESSURE RATED. Please go read this page on the spudfile wiki. It is suggested that instead of using the bell reducer, that you simply use a series of regular pressure-rated bushings to connect the 3" pipe to the 1" pipe.

A note about length of pipes: The lengths of the main pressure chamber and barrels are up to you. The first cannon I ever built I used 4' pipes for both, which worked quite well, but was a bit heavy and a bit long. That cannon was broken years ago, so when I rebuilt this new cannon (that I am documenting here), I've chosen to use shorter pipes. I used a 2' pressure chamber, and cut the barrels to be about 4" longer than the end of the pressure chamber, when both are connected to the valve.

About the Valve: The brand of in-ground sprinkler system at my local hardware store was Orbit. The specific valve I used is an Orbit WaterMaster 1" Automatic Anti-Siphon Valve, with standard 1" threaded fittings, 24 Volt solenoid, and 125 psi maximum pressure. Product Webpage The anti-siphon aspect doesn't matter to me, but I happen to like the U-shape of the valve, which allows for a compact, easy to carry/hold/shoot cannon.

About the tire valve stem: I picked up a two-pack of replacement tire valve stems from the local auto parts store. Be sure to get generic valve stems, not anything specific to a particular brand of tire. You want to be able to drill a hole in the endcap, slide the valve stem through, and tighten it down airtight. The particular tire valve stems I purchased had rubber gaskets on the inside, which really help make a good seal. Another advantage to the standard tire valve stem, is that nearly every air compressor has an attachment to fill tires, so you shouldn't need any additional hardware for your compressor.

About the pipe: The pipe should be regular Schedule 40. My 3" pipe is rated for 260 PSI, the 1.5" pipe is rated for 330 PSI, and the 0.5" is rated for 600 PSI. The valve can only handle up to 125 PSI, and since I want at least a small safety margin, I'm only going to run this cannon at up to 100 PSI. This gives me a comfortable safety rating on all the PVC involved, and I have never had one of these valves fail on me, regardless of pressure.

The first image is my plan for the cannon. I hope you can understand what i'm trying to indicate. The drawings took me way too much time.

The second image is a picture of the sprinkler valve's box.

The third image is a blown-apart view of the actual fittings for the pressure chamber side of the cannon.

The fourth image is a blown-apart view of the adapters for the 1.5" barrel.

Step 3: Cutting and Sanding

Picture of Cutting and Sanding

To cut the PVC pipe, I've always used a hacksaw. I don't know much about hacksaw blades, so I have probably been using a metal blade for PVC. It works just as well. Try to make a straight cut, it makes fittings easier. Clean off the plastic burrs, but don't get any slivers.

I heard somewhere that you should rough-up the bonding surfaces with sandpaper to help increase bond strength. I used regular sandpaper to rough-up both sides of the bond. You'll want to get a wet paper towel to clean up the PVC dust, which probably causes lung cancer, so don't breathe it in. Then get a dry paper towel to dry off the fittings.

Step 4: Gluing the PVC

Picture of Gluing the PVC

This step is really nasty. I mean it, it really smells bad. To glue PVC pipes to fittings, you need special glue. This glue really rocks, because I've heard that it melts the plastic a little, and then chemically bonds the plastic together into one piece. If anybody knows anything about how it works, please leave a comment, and I'll update this step. The glue I used is a two-part process, of priming and then gluing. At my local hardware store, I purchased a can of purple primer, and a can of PVC glue. Good brands that I have seen are Harvey and Oatey. The cans I have have a brush attached to the inside of the lid.

The glue really stinks, is very flammable, and will cause numerous health defects and possibly death merely by working with it. Not really, but its nasty stuff. As you can see in the first image, I'm working outside, because the glue causes headaches and cancer (not really), on my dad's planting bench. I've put down an old piece of plywood, which I covered with about 10 sheets of newspaper. You're going to spill the primer and glue, and you don't want to mess up something important.

You will probably also want to have a large grip pliers, such as the channel-lock pliers I have here. They will help you grip pipes and fittings, and it's much easier to wipe glue off the pliers than your fingers. I'll point out that when you are test fitting your fittings together, they will feel really tight, like you can't get them in all the way. When you get the primer and glue on the pieces, they will slide together like butter. Don't worry about that, but be sure not to cut your pipe too short, as you'll be able to slide it in further with the glue on it than you could while it was dry.

You might not want to glue all the fittings, as someday you might want to get them apart. In the case of breakage, you'll appreciate having a modular design, so you can replace just the broken parts. My first cannon fell off a table at a science fair, breaking the connections to the valve, which was glued on. The valve is perfectly fine, sitting in the corner of my room on the floor, but with broken off connections glued into it, it's pretty much worthless to me now.

As to the actual gluing process, here's what I do. I've received no formal training on PVC gluing, but this is what seemed to work. Don't forget to sand your connections as per the previous step. I take the purple primer brush and wipe it all around the connection area, where the bond will be made. Do this on both parts to be glued. Wait a few seconds, then take the actual glue. Spread it over the same area as the primer, and quickly set the brush back in the can. Take both pieces, and slide them together. It's pretty cool how easily they fit together when properly lubricated. Take your paper towel or rag and wipe off any excess you see, be sure to check inside, too.

As for the drying / curing time, I have always left the pieces for at least overnight, sometimes 24 hours. For this particular project, I left the pieces on the bench (they smelled bad) overnight until about 12:00 the next morning.

Step 5: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

After gluing and taping all the necessary pieces, you need to assemble everything together. Depending on which parts you glued and which you taped, the parts you need to assemble here will be different. Simply connect the pressure chamber to the inlet side of the sprinkler valve, and connect one of the barrels to the output side of the valve.

Step 6: Pressure Test

Picture of Pressure Test

Before firing anything, I carefully and slowly filled my pressure chamber. I started at 10 psi, and gradually increased the pressure with short bursts from my compressor. I charged the chamber to about 65 psi, and left it alone for a while. When I returned 15 minutes later and took this picture, the pressure has dropped to about 50 psi. Since I almost never wait 15 minutes between pressurizing and firing, this shouldn't be too much of a problem. I think the largest leakage is from the junction between the pressure gauge and the dark-gray nipple. I'm not too sure that they have compatible threads. During the pressure test, I laid a heavy coat over the pressure chamber, just in case. Be careful.

Step 7: Firing Circuit

Picture of Firing Circuit

The solenoid valve says it requires 24 volts to open, if I remember correctly. Three 9v batteries in series will definitely open the valve. Connect them i series with a switch as shown in the image below.

Some people like to have a rocker switch as a safety, and then use a pushbutton switch for firing. What you do is up to you.

Step 8: Ammo, Firing, and Results

Picture of Ammo, Firing, and Results

For ammo, my favorite City Ammo is a wet sock. I take a calf-high, white cotton athletic sock, roll it up tight, and bind it together with zip-ties. Take this sock and soak it in water until saturated. This will produce a good projectile that won't do too much damage to fences, houses, people, etc. The water gives it enough weight to travel a fair distance, and everybody has lots of 'lost' socks at home. Of course, wet ammo is much more fun in the summer, as they sometimes spray water around at your friends.

Filling your barrel with water right from the garden hose is also quite fun, good in squirt-gun fights. Of course, try to keep the barrel mostly upright.

In the first picture, you can see my brother preparing to ram a wet sock projectile down the 1.5" barrel. We used the other barrel, the 0.5" barrel, as a ram-rod, although nearly anything long and thin will work.

Video One: Here, my brother and I are shooting one of the aforementioned wet socks using the 1.5" barrel. We are standing behind our garage and shooting into the neighbors yard. The sock landed by the small shrub that you can see in the video. The cannon was pressurized to about 40 psi.

Video Two: Here, my brother and I are shooting small plastic beads with the 0.5" barrel. Since the beads were smaller than the inside diameter of the barrel, and didn't form an air-tight fit, we used a small piece of paper towel as wadding. You can see the paper towel floating down to the ground, a few feet past the barrel. The beads all landed near the same shrub the sock landed by.

Bolts: My brother discovered that a small bolt fit nicely in the 0.5" barrel. He shot it into a piece of plywood. The bolt drove through the wood about 0.25 inches. Please don't shoot bolts at people or houses.


Masher007 (author)2014-04-28

This is not spam, but a warning. PVC will fail suddenly after a while. This was band member that hurt badly by a T-Shirt launcher explosion.

DanTDM (author)2014-02-23

They do not have compatible threads. Buy a pressure gauge with a 1/4 inch thread and use a bushing reducer. It will also be easier to read. Yours is for garden hoses, not pipes.

cnc routers (author)2013-01-17

I do find the pneumatic vale

freeza36 (author)2012-10-16

I would love to see an ible of yours.

TurboFusion (author)2012-08-29

What would happen if instead of a PVC pipe for a air tank, you used a copper pipe? I suppose the increased strength of the tank would lower the risk of rupturing and allow you to put more pressure into it.

I suppose you could use higher pressure and have less chance of a rupture. Also pieces of copper embedded in your body will show up on the x-ray so the doctors can pull out all the pieces, if the worst comes to worst. Honestly I think the pressure limitation comes from the valve primarily, so if you switched to a ball valve or other value instead of the electric diaphragm value, you could use higher pressures with the same PVC. Perhaps the best option would be an all-metal design with a piston valve (info here ?

Football viking boy (author)2012-05-06

url for your website doesn't work

Thanks for the heads-up, I just fixed it!

epierce (author)2012-05-06

Have you ever considered building a "P" trap tipe loop to contain the water before it is fired?

matthewbeckler (author)epierce2012-05-07

Huh, that's a good idea, I might have to try that sometime. Sort of like a mini reservoir for the water. I wonder if you could use something larger too...good idea!

de0509 (author)2012-05-06

hello bro. This is one idea i did for kinda safe projectiles, didnt document it anywhere but the idea is simple. I mashed newspaper and inserted into PVC pipes, then compress to squeeze the water out. make them real dry and then remove from mould and dry under the sun or other means for drying. Its ready now but i prefer to coat them with a clear cellophane tape for more durability. Can be substituted with foam things, but the density of paper makes the hardness and inertia feel just right. i dont know why, but it feels just right. And its cheap

kayu (author)2012-05-06

how can i make littel one of it anyone no ?

knuckel (author)2010-02-08

mine is like yours but HUGE

kayu (author)knuckel2012-05-06

mine has an oxigen tank lol :)

urtlesquirt (author)2012-05-06

never knew guns can kurt you.

Dashadower (author)2012-05-06

Is the ideal gas law Pv=nRt?

You are correct!

TDWay (author)2012-03-18

I could not help but notice the snow, just another word of caution, cold temperatures drastically slows down the curing time and the PVC Cement should never be applied or used below 32 degrees, always read the labels for working temperatures. I'm some what surprised that some of the last joints haven't failed.

al_packer (author)2012-03-15

Wrapping the PVC with a couple of layers of 3M Filament tape (the stuff used for packaging) will reduce the danger of shrapnel

Pizzapie500 (author)2010-11-27

What if your solenoid runs on AC? (author)Pizzapie5002011-02-14

It should still work, just fine, I can imagine how it could anyway. Hook it to a 9v battery and see what it does. (It can't hurt it)

Pizzapie500 (author)jj.inc2011-02-15

Dang it! The solenoid blew up! JK! Yeah it works, it makes that clicky noise. (author)Pizzapie5002011-02-16

Good, you actually got me there. Yea, do you have a sprinkler system that uses these which plugs into your outdoor AC, if so then that control box actually adapts the power to lower voltage DC. That may lead to the belief that it is an AC valve, or I don't know what I'm talking about.

kve23 (author)2011-02-02

some kinds of pvc are not for pressure but others are designed for pressure

ghoru (author)2009-05-10

Coolest sound ever! lol cant wait to build one...or 2...ah hell go for 3 how big are paint balls... :D

seltzer10 (author)ghoru2010-09-26

paintballs come in different sizes but the best to easily fit is the .50" paintballs

tomtortoise (author)ghoru2009-12-30

3/4 inch pvc barrel

ghoru (author)ghoru2009-05-10

hmm... wonder how a 3 barrel separate trigger system would go....?

paul1256 (author)2010-06-28

dose the size of the air chamber matter

imthatguy1125 (author)2010-02-20

YOu used a dwv reduser, this means its not pressure rated a can explode 

Thank you for your comment. This is a very real and serious concern, and has been mentioned at least once in my writeup above. I have never had problems with my DWV reducer, but in future designs I will only use pressure-rated fittings as I mentioned in step 2. Thanks for your concern.

 ok sorry I just noticed it in the intro, also you may not want to shoot it in the snow because pvc becomes brittle, for more info you can check

lew0004 (author)2008-11-09

I was wondering if you should make a picture of a End-Around Pneumatic Cannon except with a 3 barrl

matthewbeckler (author)lew00042008-11-09

Part of the design restrictions that come with using the U-shaped valve is that the barrel can't be too large, otherwise it would collide with the pressure chamber. The 1.5" barrel is probably the largest diameter that would work alright with this valve.

lew0004 (author)matthewbeckler2008-11-10

what size wood a tennisball need.

matthewbeckler (author)lew00042009-03-13

Spudtech sells 2.5" Schedule 40 PVC that fits tennis balls. I have never purchased any pipe this size, but I've heard of people getting good results.

mettaurlover (author)2009-07-22

i'd use shooter marbles as ammo. lots of them. you ever seen what happens when a marble hits a wall at 300 FPS? it explodes. loudly.

The 4th Doctor (author)2009-03-11

You should use some disposable cameras for your firing circuit i bet you could get a pretty good power increase if you try it tell me how it goes

covey12 (author)The 4th Doctor2009-06-14

why do you even use nine volts? it has so much less power than operating the valves when pneumatically modded. you should look up on how to mod a sprinkler valve, it uses a blow gun as a filot so you have an actual trigger on the gun

4th Doctor, Thanks for the comment. I don't think that the current firing circuit of 3 - 9v batteries and a switch impacts the power of the cannon. I could certainly get a more powerful cannon by modifying the sprinkler valve, but I haven't done that yet.

the 330volt pulse capacitor in disposable cameras should open the valve faster which should increase the power of the cannon, maybe a small pointless increase maybe a pretty decent increase or maybe something entirely unexpected too

Certainly, a quicker-opening valve would increase the amount and rate of airflow through the barrel, but I don't think the limitation is from the electronics or the solenoid, but rather the diaphram action of the sprinkler valve. In addition, the huge voltage spike would probably damage the solenoid coil, as they are really only designed for up to 30v operation. A quick google search can help you find videos and instructions about moding a sprinkler valve:

ive used solenoids alike to the solenoids in sprinkeler valves the capaciters give a pulse that they put up with fine and give a quick strong pull which should open the valve faster it could be a pretty pitful or a pretty impressive increase it should help itleast somewhat and its simpler then modifying valve all you need is a disposable camera if anyone trys this post results

qballcat (author)2009-03-18

urs looks cool :D check out mine plz

diablo735 (author)2008-12-15

Out of curiosity (this lack of curiosity may kill the cat. :P), anyways, I am not sure whether you should or must drill the hole for the tire valve stem where the pipe and end cap meet or it does not matter? Thanks for the reply(-ies) in advance.

matthewbeckler (author)diablo7352008-12-16

I've never had a problem with putting the tire value stem in the middle of the the end cap, but some people suggest drilling the hole where the end cap overlaps with the pipe.

imthatguy1125 (author)2008-11-19

I would not use it in snow cold weather weakens pipe

Dr. Explosion (author)2008-07-23

The valve you used makes the coolest noise! You should try modding it to be manual for more power, if you don't know what i'm talking about, search "mod a sprinkler valve" on youtube. I don't know if it would work on your type of valve though.

DYLEGO (author)Dr. Explosion2008-11-10

actually, with 27volts it has more power than manually, also you press a button and it fires!

About This Instructable




Bio: If you need to get in touch, please email me instead of sending an instructables message. matthew dot beckler at gmail dot com
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