This is a pretty basic but nonetheless awesome demo. Glycerine (Glycerol, 1,2,3-propantriol) is mixed with potassium permanganate (KMnO4), and within about 30 seconds, the pile starts to smoke, then burns with a very hot lavender colored flame.
-This is a hot-burning reduction/oxidation reaction. It doesn't spark as a thermite reaction would, but still, don't do something dumb like put it on a wood table.
-KMnO4 likes to stain stuff. If it comes into contact with moisture it will form a purple solution that will render anything purple permanently (your skin will turn brown but that comes off in a few days)
-Non-science types don't understand chemistry. People fear things they don't understand. In other words, many ignorant people think chemistry is evil/terrorism/just plain bad, so don't do this around people if you know they are going to flip.
-I am not liable in the event of fire, explosion, injury, disability, death, act of God/Goddess, rabid squirrel attacks, subpoena, lawsuits, or any other dumb situation you might manage to get yourself in. Use your brain and use basic common sense
Warning: Science content!
If you want to figure out how to get a stoichiometric reaction (basically molecule for molecule reaction, most efficient burn) you can start with this equation:
14 KMnO4 + 4 C3H5(OH)3 --> 7 K2CO3 + 7 Mn2O3 + 5 CO2 + 16 H2O + HEAT
That calculates out to be 6 g KMnO4 for 1 g glycerin. Honestly, there isn't any point to weighting it out, it works just as well mixing approximate amounts.
Step 1: Prepare your materials
You will definitely need:
-Potassium permanganate - this is sold at small hardware stores like Ace as filter cleaner - $5
-Glycerine - sold at RiteAid - $3
-Additionally, you can use antifreeze or windshield washer fluid if it contains the ingredient ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is C2H4(OH)2 whereas glycerin is C3H5(OH)3. It's the multiple alcohol group that makes it work. Also, make sure it is of the highest concentration possible. Water typically does not help with fire-making processes.
Stuff that's a good idea to have
-Burn plate - I used a granite tile I got as a sample from a countertop store
-Goggles - this isn't a super dangerous reaction, use your own discretion
-Sand - if for some reason you have to put it out - water will make a HUGE mess because it forms KMnO4 solution which stains anything and everything purple