Introduction: Potent Pirate Smoke Ring Cannon

Picture of Potent Pirate Smoke Ring Cannon
Halloween is ALL about the accessories, that extra little detail is the key to get the reaction you are looking for. We chose a Pirate theme this year and needed a little something to give the decor that extra punch. I created a smoke cannon using a classic design and dressed it up to resemble a ship's cannon. The result is a lightweight and fun accessory for kids and parents alike.

A smoke (or vortex) cannon is basically a vessel with a hole at one end (usually close to half the diameter of the side) and a diaphragm at the other end. When the diaphragm is punched, air shoots out of the hole; but due to the circular lip the air forms a toroid (doughnut) of air which travels great distances before petering out. Add a little smoke or fog and you get a very cool effect. There are a few great instructables out there on how to make one of these cannons; the business end of my cannon is basically a copy of Steve Spangler's design as seen on Ellen.


Picture of ITEMS and EQUIPMENT
For this instructable you will need the following:
  1. Plastic Garbage can. In my case it is a "Rubbermaid Animal Stopper" which is complete misnomer because squirrels chewed through the lid in the first week. This made it a perfect candidate for this project!
  2. Plastic sheeting, shower curtain, garbage bag, piece of nylon. Really, anything that will hold air.
  3. Box tape, I used hockey sock tape as well.
  4. 2 Black poster boards (aka bristol board in Canada).
  5. 4 times 3 foot lengths of 3/8" foam pipe insulation.
  6. ≈ 4 foot by 4 foot of scrap plywood or strandboard.
  7. 3 foot length of 2x4 or 2x6.
  8. Fog maker, I bought mine specifically for this project for 40$.
  9. 6 times 1.5 inch screws
  10. Matte Black spray paint
You will also need these tools:
  1. Hand drill
  2. Jig saw
  3. Glue gun

Step 2: HOLE CUT

Picture of HOLE CUT

From my research the typical hole is about half the diameter of the front face of the cylinder (or box). In hindsight I should have made my opening a little bigger because I have seen some examples at 2/3 the diameter working very well. I used some glass bowls and a pencil to trace the circle to guide the cut. I tried using the utility knife to make the hole, but plastic was (surprisingly) too thick. I then drilled a pilot hole and made quick work of it with a jigsaw. 


Picture of DIAPHRAGM

Not THAT diaphragm, I looked for another term , and was definitely no help. I don't know a more appropriate name for it; it's a flexible air-proof barrier which allows you to increase the pressure in the vessel (like the diaphragm in your rib cage that forces air in and out of your lungs).

First, drape the plastic over the opening of the garbage can, and trim the excess all the way around to leave a few inches. Then take strips of tape and fasten it down along the edge; I used hockey sock tape which has a little elasticity in it. After I had pulled the plastic relatively taught, I put a strip around the top edge. Alternatively you can use a bungee cord around the circumference (don't cut the plastic as short in that case).  

If your goal is to make a Vortex or Smoke Cannon, congratulations it's complete! Just fill with smoke and slap the plastic to get the rings to fly across the room.



The garbage can alone is a little stumpy as ship's cannon go; so we need to give it some stretch. I used two pieces of black poster board wrapped around the snout. An extra set of hands is recommended for this step, I didn't bother and ended up with a slightly turned up snout... I used box tape to make a shallow angled cone and then taped it into place.

Step 5: THE BASE

Picture of THE BASE

To keep the cannon off the ground and provide some flexibility in aiming I built a very simple stand. The shape of the end pieces were already cut in the pie shape from a failed project (GIANT smoke ring cannon). These were the perfect size and the geometry provides an easy height adjustment by rocking the cannon forward or backward. To assemble the base I merely put two 1.5 inch screws in through the strand board (aspenite) and into the end of the 2 foot long 2" x 6". Make sure to test different position of the canon so that it is well balanced before securing it. I taped the cannon into place by forming a figure eight around the garbage can and the 2" by 6", and I added a screw on each side (at the top of the peak through the strand board and garbage can) to secure it into place.



To give the cannon that authentic look I needed to add some ribbing; particularly around the mouth. After considering many options I settled on foam pipe insulating sleeves. These are very inexpensive (0.80$ for a 3 foot length) and easy to work with. They are already split longitudinally along one side. Sticking a utility knife into the gap and cutting the other side to make two equal halves was easier than expected. I used a glue gun to fasten the ribbing to the cannon; use a lower temperature setting if you have the option because the glue was melting and sinking into the foam after it got warmed up.

I used up an entire can of the matte black paint, and I could have used a bit more for touch ups. Matte (as opposed to glossy) is best in this case because it hides imperfections and hides the fact that you have many different textures (foam, textured plastic, glossy tape, strand board). 

Step 7: FIRE AT WILL!!!!

Picture of FIRE AT WILL!!!!

That's it! Fill the hole with smoke or fog and tap the back. Softer taps create longer lasting slow moving rings. Hard punches will give a bigger puff at the receiving end.

My kids love it when we take out the cannon to fire a few rounds. If you have two cannons you could play a game of knock over the opposing "ship's" stack of cups.


bmiller91 (author)2017-07-04

Feed in propane and have ring pass over open flame ?

Renard_Bleu (author)bmiller912017-07-05

That seems like a bad idea at first... but given yhat yhe flame is some distance from the source. I might have to give it a try! Propane is denser than air: i wonder how that will affect the physics of the toroid.

Thanks for the comment.

bmiller91 (author)Renard_Bleu2017-07-06

Spoken like a man who still has his eyebrows un-singed

bpark1000 (author)2016-10-21

I made the cannon from aluminum sheet, scaled up some from "Airzooka" toy, and put a large long-throw subwoofer driver. I found the optimum pulse shape to be complicated by experiment (involving a back movement followed by front movement, followed by back).

Renard_Bleu (author)bpark10002016-10-28

Sounds cool. I am curious about what it looks like! Thanks for the comment.

redmarkonthewall (author)2015-10-23

I wonder if you could use a bass drum and its pedal... Hmmmm

great idea, the ideal amount of force is about the same. my kit tilts to aim so this would be difficult to implement. Thanks for the comment!

KristinaAwesome (author)2014-10-21

monterreymachito (author)2013-10-02

Simple and fun, I like it.

Thanks man.

robbtoberfest (author)2013-09-29

Thank you! I'm making this with my kids this week.

Cool, I hope it rocked. I really like you projects.

Yoshinok (author)2013-09-29

This is absolutely brilliant. Excellent video. Also, I really love that you dressed the part.

I too made an "air cannon" for a children's science show a few years back. It might be time to paint it and deck out a pirate ship!

I was short on money at the time and couldn't afford a smoke machine so I ended up burning small smoke bombs on the pavement. As soon as they were lit i put the can over the top to capture the colored smoke.

Renard_Bleu (author)Yoshinok2013-09-29

Thanks; I figured that without the costume it wasn't very Halloweeny. Some passerby's were perplexed because it wasn't quite the season yet... great idea for the colored smoke!

KaydeeKrunk (author)2013-09-26

This is fantastic! I have one of those little air guns and this is like a huge version of it! Just awesome!

Renard_Bleu (author)KaydeeKrunk2013-09-26

Thanks, I like your one eyed felines!

chaitanya.vedak (author)2013-09-23

nice idea of Toppling the Oppositions Fort of Infallible Plastic Cups.. it will be a Definite Hit in the Kids Camp... I wonder what would happen if two smoke rings collide mid air..
Also instead of a Smoke Machine, you could use incense sticks.. just practice some safety precautions like placing them on a metal disc, and let them fill the cannon with scented smoke..

There are many videos on you tube with people making trick smoke rings with their mouths (ring in a ring, or heart shaped by making a slow ring and clipping it with a faster ring near the top). You could test out some tricks and challenge the kids to make them. Using incense for the smoke should work to some extent, you could setup a solid incense holder inside the garbage can. Let me know how it goes (Patchouli WAR!!!).

Well in India (where i am), we get some really thick and slightly wet (from Hydrogenated Oil / ghee) which manage to make some really thick smoke in a small time.. it is usually used during ceremonies, or even daily prayers. I was suggesting that.. Also i wonder, what you said could be true.. that varied shaped smoke rings can be made?!?! Will try and make a smaller version for personal entertainment.. from a plastic bottle perhaps.. :D

Let me know if the incense works, because it might be a practical replacement of the Fog Machine! Thanks for the comment.

karlpinturr (author)2013-09-22

Very nice indeed - I particularly like the 'cannon' detailing, with another use for pipe insulation - you have my vote!

Earlier this week, Dave (the TV channel) repeated an episode of QI fom October 2012. If you want to see some absolutely brilliant comedy with a vortex cannon, check this clip: on the BBC's website, or this same one: on YouTube.

If you can't get either one, you may be able to find something on BBC America - a search for QI, series {10 or J}, Journalism, Vortex cannon (or similar) should turn up anything they have.

Renard_Bleu (author)karlpinturr2013-09-22

Cool thanks, I had not seen that one.

snoopindaweb (author)2013-09-22

Outstanding Cannon, Great Idea - the Pipe Insulation Cannon Rings, "Cannon Ball" Cool. Capitol Cool. I'm Voted. Thanks.

Renard_Bleu (author)snoopindaweb2013-09-22

Well, thank you! It was my first time using the tubing, likely not the last; so cheap.

rimar2000 (author)2013-09-20

Awesome results!

Renard_Bleu (author)rimar20002013-09-21

Thanks, I was surprised myself by the longevity of the rings, some of them will just hang around for 30 seconds.

nottingham atlatl (author)2013-09-21

Absolutely awesome!! Can't wait for my little man to be old enough to appreciate that!! In the mean time, looks like the dad's are going to war!! Got my vote!!

My girls are just old enough to appreciate the physics, and not too old to think I'm a dork. Gotta make the most of it while it lasts!!!

Kevanesoso (author)2013-09-21

You are such a genius! This Cannon looks so fun!

Renard_Bleu (author)Kevanesoso2013-09-21

Thanks the for the compliment, even though I just tweeked an existing genius invention. It IS fun, and so easy to make.

yellowcatt (author)2013-09-21

I remember hearing that one of the great Victorian physicists, I think it was Michael Faraday or Humphrey Davy made a smoke ring canon and amused themselves by filling it with hydrogen sulphide and aiming the device at unsuspecting people in the street below who would suddenly be enveloped by the smell of rotten eggs.
Here is another video of such a device:

Renard_Bleu (author)yellowcatt2013-09-21

Hmmm, you could really mess with those poor poor unsuspecters...
I hope the kids at Halloween are half as excited as the kids in that classroom!!!
Thanks for the comment

monty324 (author)2013-09-21

Finally, an excuse to get a smoke machine. I will be making this.

Renard_Bleu (author)monty3242013-09-21

It was cheaper than I thought. You can tell your "Family Council" that I said it was OK.

About This Instructable




Bio: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.
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