Introduction: Simple Cheap Pyro Igniters

Picture of Simple Cheap Pyro Igniters

These are extremely easy to make, very cheap and very effective. They work with any voltage battery and are easy to mass produce.

Step 1: Get the Stuff

Picture of Get the Stuff

You will need:
-Nichrome Wire - see note
-Some sort of flammable glue (I don't use CA glue because it's too good; can stick ya fingers together)
-Wire cutters
-Random bits of (something) to rest them on while the glue dries

Note: Nichrome wire can be expensive if bought as nichrome wire. I get it as heating element. These are for old kettles and can be found at hardware stores. I got two for $0.50 at a garage sale.
Each element should give you 30-50 igniters.

Step 2: Nichrome Wire

Picture of Nichrome Wire

You need to get the wire off the roll and straight.
First, obviously, open the bag. Then take the legs off the ceramic plate. This just makes handling it easier. (You may need a screwdriver and or pliers to undo the mounting bolts)
Then, straighten one end of the wire, to thread it back through the hole it's coming through.
You should end up with something like the fourth picture.
DON'T take all the wire off the ceramic thing. It gets VERY tangled.
After this, stretch out about one length of the wire. By this I mean one of the lengths between each side of the ceramic thing, half a wrap. See the fourth and fifth images.
Now cut pieces of the straight wire, about 7~10 cm. I can make do with 7 cm but 10 is easier to work with, and gives more room for attaching wires (from the battery) to the ends of the nichrome wire. Do this for as many igniters as you want to make.

Step 3: Match Preparation

Picture of Match Preparation

Using the wire cutters, cut each match about 2~3 mm down from the head. If you cut it closer the head material can fall off. This is obviously no use.
Do this for as many igniters as you want to make.

Step 4: Wrapping the Match Heads

Picture of Wrapping the Match Heads

OK, here's where it all comes together.
Take a piece of nichrome wire and a match head.
First, position the match head about a third of the way down the wire. Wrap the wire around the match tightly, just below the match material. This makes sure the match can't fall out the bottom.
Then, wrap the wire two more times (the same way) around the match material. I like to do the last one a lot smaller and at the top of the match head, so it can't fall out there either.
Repeat for as many as you want to make.

Step 5: Glue Them

Picture of Glue Them

This is one thing that wasn't part of my original design. I added it to add rigidity and make the igniters stronger, and less likely to fall apart.
This can be done without getting glue on your fingers, but it's rather hard.
Apply a SMALL amount of glue, using the glue's nozzle. You want a blob a little smaller than the match head, then pick it up by the wires and move it around to get the glue to cover the entire wire wrapped match head. You don't need to cover the little bit of stick that is there.
My glue moves lethargically slowly so I find it easier to pick it up in my fingers and use them to spread the glue. This is why I don't use a CA glue.

Step 6: Dry Them & You're Done!

Picture of Dry Them & You're Done!

That's just about it. Once you get to here, you can set the one you just made up to dry and start mass producing! It does get faster and easier.
I leave them overnight to dry, usually, but don't feel you have to. About an hour is sufficient, depending on your glue. Just don't use them while the glue is wet or you'll have burning glue dripping everywhere.
Go and enjoy your pyro!

Step 7: Delay

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Nichrome igniters have a reputation for having an annoying delay. I will admit that they do, but mine are very predictable, and many pyro substances have a delay of their own.
The delay is also dependant on the battery you use to ignite them. Using a couple of AA's or even an 9 volt will not be as fast as my 12 volt battery, because it doesn't heat up as fast. Higher voltage means the wire gets hotter faster, and that sets the match head off sooner.
Don't go using a capacitor or something, to get like 350 volts, though. It needs to be on for more than the fraction of a second capacitor discharge to heat up the wire.
I really recommend using a 12 volt battery. If you can afford two to make 24 volts, even better. Pro pyros use 24 volts like this.
Here's a video to show you.
By the way, the second click from the switch is when the contacts close, so it's only about 0.6 second delay.

Please don't complain about delays with these igniters. They are very safe. If you have to wait more than 5 seconds I'd say it's time to pull the plug or you might fry your wiring.
Remember to always take safety precautions and keep a fire extinguisher handy!


techno guy (author)2011-04-13

For the nicrome wire, could you use the heating coil of an old hair dryer? Or could you use one of those space heater things?

Yes you can, but the thicker the nichrome, the more it takes to heat up

techno guy (author)2011-04-13

Could you use the filament of a dead light bulb as the heating part?

jgeating (author)2009-11-03

Nice instructable.  It sounds a lot easier and safer than the alternate Christmas light igniters.  
p.s., it might not be a bad idea to invest in a camera with macro settings, at least if you plan on doing more instructables.  

Jaycub (author)2009-10-11

You could replace the nichrome with a bit of steel wool.

BlueFusion (author)Jaycub2009-10-11

This has been discussed. It works, sometimes, and not as well. :)
However i'm going to completely re-make this 'ible in a few weeks with a new design.

Xenel (author)2009-09-04

I counted 9 match heads... yep your ready to go into mass production

BlueFusion (author)Xenel2009-09-05

What? I simply produced a small run for the instructable as I did not need any more... Comments like yours boggle me. Just because they can be mass produced, does not mean I have to, or anybody does.

Xenel (author)BlueFusion2009-09-12

Sorry im just joking around

zipzapper859 (author)2009-07-06

can u use a single wire from speaker wire?

PKTraceur (author)2009-03-23

Nice work! Id work on the pictures though, use your Macro setting. -PKT

BlueFusion (author)PKTraceur2009-03-23

Hah. That was ages ago - only had a crappy phone camera. I'll re-do this sometime with better pictures and more detail, but I'm working on a new 'ible at the moment.

cooblades (author)2007-07-03

Interesting article. I'm a little upset regarding how you speak of increasing the voltage to create a hotter wire. Unfortunately that is not completely true. My background is electrical engineering and I just can't let this one go. You see electricity is two parts, both voltage potential and current flow. The heat produced by any electrical device is due to a current flow. End of story. The relation is V=IR so if you use a wire with a higher resistance such as nichrome wire the I = V/R your current is actually less than if you used something such as copper. So in order to improve that and have a higher current flow you either have to buy a less resistive nichrome wire or step up the voltage.

The reason you would not get very good results from a small 9V battery is because it is current limited. Not because it is not enough voltage. Those small 9Vs are actually many 1.5 cells stacked together. The current you can draw from it is very small do to a limitation in the design and it is usually just 630 or so mAh. That is why when people try to test the battery by short circuiting it with their tongue they feel a tingle and don't die. However if you tried to lick the battery terminals of a 6V lantern battery you will feel it. The battery has a much higher mAh rating and it can sink a lot more current, so don't start licking it. Car batteries also provide a high current and that is why they are great as a rocket igniter.

You're article and comments makes a few bold claims and statements. I think that is the reason why there are so many flames. Unfortunately the anarchist cookbook is about as reliable as wikipedia for a source of validity. Otherwise its not too bad.

BlueFusion (author)cooblades2007-07-03

Bah. You just contradicted your own reason for writing this. I appreciate it when ppl take the time to write something this in-depth, though. You say: "I'm a little upset regarding how you speak of increasing the voltage to create a hotter wire. Unfortunately that is not completely true." then later, "So in order to improve that and have a higher current flow you either have to buy a less resistive nichrome wire or step up the voltage." Step up the voltage. Exactly. And I never said the anarchist cookbook was reliable. I am aware of the difference in the amperage available from different batteries, and the current I can get from my 12v deep cycle is over 20 amps, ideally. However it takes some significant load to do this. I haven't tested the current it puts through nichrome wire, yet. Also I do try simply to be accurate and helpful to the best of my knowledge.

airsoftlife (author)BlueFusion2007-07-03

20 amps? you do realize that a half of an ampere is enough to kill a man?

PKTraceur (author)airsoftlife2009-03-23

Actually, It's 15 amps...

BlueFusion (author)airsoftlife2007-07-03

It can produce way more than that. A car battery produces around 300 amps to start the engine. However, I can hold the terminals of my battery and not feel a thing, as it is only at most, 14 volts.

airsoftlife (author)BlueFusion2007-10-18

it's not the voltage that kills you. it is the amperage.

BlueFusion (author)airsoftlife2007-10-18

Well i know that. A handful of milliamps through the heart is enough to kill someone. I think it's something in the order of 6 mA, but I may be wrong. My point is, it' the voltage that makes your skin conduct. skin is not a very good conductor so below a certain voltage you can hold both terminals and not feel a thing. And I have no idea what that threshold voltage is, it probably varies. Moisture makes a difference. That's why licking a 9V battery makes a tingle. disclaimer: Don't do that. You can certainly touch a 12v battery but dont go blaming me if you're dumb enough to try with mains voltage. :P

the_mad_man (author)BlueFusion2008-11-08

i liked a 9 volt battery awhile ago. not doing that again. why did I do it? lets just say I was very, VERY bored.

liam552 (author)airsoftlife2008-08-22

yeah, first you need enough voltage to actually zap you, then the amps kil you

cooblades (author)BlueFusion2007-07-03

First off, 3:13am you gotta be kidding me. Secondly I did not contradict myself because there has been a misunderstanding my intention. Note that the comment used the words "not completely true" to show my distaste for directly correlating voltage with heat. I would have preferred that you wrote increasing current increases heat. So I wasn't saying you were wrong, I was just saying you were not precise since voltage is an indirect factor. If you were to state indirect factors you could have mentioned using a shorter piece of large gauge nichrome wire (aka thinner) which would also increase the current flow while still using a lower voltage of lets say 6V. In any case apples and oranges. If you wish to discuss this E-mail me.

BlueFusion (author)cooblades2007-07-04

First off, I live in Australia. 3 AM american is like 5 PM for me. Second, I appreciate your meaning now. I do understand all that but it is easier, for the ppl reading this, not to go through it all.

imkwl12345 (author)BlueFusion2008-12-25

woooo go aussies! aussie! aussie! aussie! oi! oi! oi!

eviloverlord (author)cooblades2007-07-10

Regarding 9V battery current limitations - the problem is the internal resistance of the batteries.
You could go down the lead-acid route or simply use rechargables. I'm not sure about NiMH batteries but I know that 9V NiCads allowed far more current flow than 9V alkalines - I used a single 9V NiCad to trigger the diode igniters I mention in another comment.
Also, you seem to confuse mA with mAH. mA refers to milliamps which is the current flow at a single point in time. This is limited not only by the resistance of the system but by the internal resistance of the battery. mAH on the other hand stands for milliamp-hours and refers to the total capacity of the battery (a 2400mAH battery could theoretically provide 2.4 amps for 1 hour). This is less relevant as what matters here is not how much total capacity the battery has but how much current you can draw from it over a small period of time (long enough to heat the wire).
Think of the battery as a leaking bucket - the mAH rating refers to the amount in the bucket. The mA rating refers to how much water is leaking at any given time. Even if you take your finger off the hole in the bucket the maximum water flow is limited mainly by the size of the hole (the internal resistance) rather than how much water is left in the bucket.
Anyway, to increase the heating of the wire in this igniter, you could:
1. Apply more voltage to the same length of wire by placing 2 or more cells in series. The current would be the same but the voltage will be increased. Since power=voltage*current this would increase the power dissipated in the wire.
2. Place more cells in parallel. The voltage here would remain constant but the maximum current flow would be increased. You may need to reduce the length of the wire to draw extra current.
3. Use a battery with lower internal resistance such as a NiCad. Once again you may need to lower the wire resistance to draw more current. You should certainly also cover the battery securely in case you short-circuit it and it explodes.
4. Use a shorter length of thinner wire. Thinner wire has a higher resistance per unit length but if you shorten it too then you can acheive the same resistance but the power will be dissipated over a smaller surface area meaning the wire will get hotter. Don't go too thin or it'll burn out like a fuse before glowing long enough to ignite the match.

BlueFusion (author)eviloverlord2007-07-10

I wish people would read the rest of the comments before adding one like this. I have said, I am aware of the problem being internal resistance of 9v batteries. However, a NiCd 9v still only has about 650mAh because the cells are small enough to fit enough in to get the 9 volts. ANY 9v battery simply WILL NOT provide anything comparable to the current a 12v lead acid battery can. I have said at least once, professional pyrotechnicians either use 24v from 2 12v lead acid batteries, or I have heard of it being done with an arc welder, to get about 80v at a helluva lotta amps. This is why I use a 12v lead acid battery. Simply put, it provides far more current than anything else can. Please don't bring this issue up again.

eviloverlord (author)BlueFusion2007-07-11

Actaully, if you look again you will see I was replying to coolblades, not any of your comments, referring to his/her confusion between mA and mAH.
I agree that a lead-acid has the lowest resistance and will provide the most power at any time AND best capacity overall but not everyone wants to lug one of those around and if you're igniting only a few things (not an entire pyrotechnics display), a 9V NiCad battery is perfectly adequete as long as you use the right length of wire.
I know you don't want me to bring it up but one of you comments I simply can't let lie - Nicads may be old technology but they have better internal resistance properties for short-term high-current applications like this than NiMH batteries do. Look at this page and you can see in the graphs at the bottom that the nicads have lower internal resistance and thus provide a higher voltage over the same time period for higher current drains (the 3C line where they draw approx 1.5A current).
If you read my comment again you'll see I did suggest taking precautions against short circuiting NiCads - there's a difference between short circuiting and drawing a high current load and you only need to draw the current until the igniter fires.

cooblades (author)eviloverlord2007-07-11

its cooblades not coolblades

imkwl12345 (author)cooblades2008-12-25

big whoop

BlueFusion (author)eviloverlord2007-07-11

Eh, whatever. I got an email from the server saying you replied to a comment... dunno why it does that if it isnt one of my comments. Anyway, fine. I see what you're getting at. However even though NiCds are better (as you say) their tendency towards memory effect would be worsened by their use for firing igniters, as it is a type of short circuit. It may not do much but it would certainly add to it.

duct tape (author)BlueFusion2007-07-17


cooblades (author)eviloverlord2007-07-11

Yea you got me it isn't correct, not sure why I wrote it that way. I guess I was trying to correlate that many higher capacity batteries have a lower internal resistance, I wish I could edit that post and add that one liner.

I'm afraid you confused current in your first suggestion. Saying if you apply more voltage "The current would be the same but the voltage will be increased." is incorrect.

If lets say I use a length of 2.5 Ohm resistive wire and connect it to a 12 Volt source I would ideally get 4.8 amperes and a total of 58 watts. (V/R = I) If I take two of those batteries and link them in series and connect it to the same piece of 2.5 Ohm wire I would get 9.6 amperes and 230 watts.

airsoftlife (author)cooblades2007-10-18

you can get more voltage while having the amps remain the same. all you need to do is connect your batteries serially, instead of using parallel connection.

cooblades (author)airsoftlife2007-10-18

Depends on your load, if you are using a purely resistive load, by increasing the voltage you will increase the amount current flowing through it. Voltage is proportionally related with current.

V = I R

eviloverlord (author)cooblades2007-07-11

You're quite right - my brain must have disengaged at that point. I somehow assumed that the load resistance would be dwarfed by the internal resistance when drawing that much current so only a small percentage of the voltage would reach the load to produce useful power. In this case the voltage over the load resistor would be almost identical when you add an extra battery as you also double the internal resistance and the majority of the combined voltage would be dropped across that higher internal resistance. In fact the opposite is quite obviously true - the load resistance will be in the order fo a few ohms and the internal resistance a fraction of an ohm hence the vast majority of the voltage would be applied across the load thus adding another battery would almost double the voltage across the load and therefore almost double the current flow. I have no idea put such a daft idea into my head - there must have been some strange mushrooms in my fried breakfast this morning I reckon.

BlueFusion (author)eviloverlord2007-07-10

And by the way, the problem is most certainly not the current I get from my battery. I have found that the current one nichrome igniter draws is far less than what I have been able to achieve with a simple 12v motor with some drain. And, NiCd's are somewhat outdated, for two very good reasons: they suffer from memory effect, and they have significantly less capacity than physically identical NiMh's. Plus, NiCd's REALLY don't like being short circuited.

liam552 (author)cooblades2008-08-22


the mechanical engineer (author)2009-01-10

dude. this is amazing. 5 stars man. i just got one question. is there any way to stop or control the burn? im gonna use this for airsoft and dont wanna start any fires.

the mechanical engineer (author)2008-12-28

cool. very interisting. i no this seems stupid, but, could you wrap a fuse for a firecracker or something next to the match head with the nichrome?? and if not, could you tell me some other way to attach it??

andy60 (author)2007-08-02

this probably seems a stupid question but can you re-use the nichrome wire? thanks in advance ; )

BlueFusion (author)andy602007-08-02

I've found it is possible, but tricky. After using the nichrome wire, the surface oxidizes or something, and turns dull and, nonconductive. It is possible to reuse it, the problem is getting contact with the wires you attach to it. Other thing is, sometimes it doesn't survive. Some of my more potent fireworks simply vaporise the wire. I've found if I leave the coil of nichrome in place, when using it for a spud cannon, I can just insert a match into it and it works again. It really depends if a) you can get the nichrome back and b) if it's still attached to your detonation wires.

Tobita (author)BlueFusion2007-09-29

wouldn't smothering the wire with a bit of flux get rid of the oxidization?

imkwl12345 (author)Tobita2008-12-25

or cleanig it with a knife should work

Tobita (author)imkwl123452008-12-25

i suppose but i think it would be too wasteful for prolonged use

imkwl12345 (author)Tobita2008-12-25

how would it be wastefull? its recyclying

Tobita (author)imkwl123452008-12-25

using a knife to whittle away the oxidized material would carry more risk of cutting off clean material. Merry ___________ by the way (fill in as applicable)

imkwl12345 (author)Tobita2008-12-25

u dont clean the whole thing just the part you connect. merry_______ to you too!

Tobita (author)imkwl123452008-12-25

Thanks! That oughta work, but I'd personally prefer chemically removing oxidization because it's tough to get my hands on some nichrome wire, so if i DO get some i want it to last as long as possible. But to each his own!

imkwl12345 (author)Tobita2008-12-25

thats ok np but i dont know why everyone wants nichrome anyway. i just tested this: get a 9v battery and some ov the THICK steel wool the thin stuff just breaks. pull out a strand and pull it over the metal parts of the battery and it will instantly glow red hot!!

Tobita (author)imkwl123452008-12-26

even the thick stuff i find is too flimsy and hard to hold in place without tape and makes it look unprofessional xD

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