Introduction: Steam Powered Potato Pistol 1.0

Picture of Steam Powered Potato Pistol 1.0
I thought this up after watching the Mythbusters make a steam powered machine gun. This is a fun little project that lets you shoot potato across the room with a nice pop. It costs about $10 to $15 to make depending on copper prices and parts already in your garage.

A grill lighter is disassembled and used as the heat source for the steam production along with some copper plumbing parts and 1/2" copper pipe. Some water is placed inside the barrel, a potato plug is inserted as an air seal and projectile, and a cork is used as a sudden pressure release. The flame from the lighter heats water to steam and the pressure increases in the barrel until the cork and potato can't hold anymore, then it pops and launches the potato to wherever it's pointed.

This is a prototype steam potato pistol and can be taken a lot further, but I'm just sticking to functioning basics here. Someday I would like to make one with a pressure gauge, quick release valve, and a better handle with the fuel stored inside the handle. I'm calling this version the SPPP1.

It is a little dangerous to build and use because of the flame and hot surfaces, flying objects, and steam; be careful. Playing with fire, pressure, and projectiles is always risky, even on this small scale. Don't shoot an eye out, I'm not liable for any injuries you incur with this. ;( What happened to that "not liable" category of Instructables anyway?

Soldering torch
Pipe cuter

  • Various short wood screws
  • Some leather strips from an old belt to hold the fuel bottle
  • Some scrap wood for a handle
  • Lead free plumbing solder and flux
  • 4" length of 1/2 inch copper pipe
(1) 1/2 inch copper pipe cap
(3) 1/2 inch copper ST 90 degree elbows
(1) bag of copper plumbing pipe brackets
(1) candle/grill lighter
(1) Potato
(1) Cork

Step 1: Start Plumbing the Boiler and Barrel

Picture of Start Plumbing the Boiler and Barrel

Cut about 3.5 to 4 inches of 1/2 copper pipe for the barrel. After cutting the pipe make sure to file down the lip on the inside of the pipe formed from the pipe cutter.

Attach the three elbows together at the end of the barrel to form a curl and put a cap on the last elbow.

Dry fit all the parts as shown in the photo. Make the elbows form off to the side so a flame can heat water inside the cap.

Step 2: Sweat Those Pipes

Picture of Sweat Those Pipes

Sweating pipes is soldering. Sweat the whole assembly together. This part took the longest for me because I have limited plumbing skills. One of my fittings took eight tries before I finally got an air tight seal. The key here is to make the joints completely air/water tight like real plumbing. After soldering, cool the barrel and blow into it with your mouth; there should be should be absolutely no air hissing sounds.

Gdawg at Instructables has a nice tutorial on How to Sweat (solder) Copper Pipe

Step 3: Make a Handle

Picture of Make a Handle

This is a quickie handle that I'm showing in the pics. There are so many cool possibilities with this. Just cut some wood at angles and use the plumbing brackets to hold things together. Notch the top of the handle for the barrel to rest into. You will have to custom bend the brackets to make things fit nice. Also pre-drill the holes before inserting the screws.

Step 4: Attach the Fuel System

Picture of Attach the Fuel System

Get one of those long lighters and open it up. Pull out the trigger parts, wires, butane bottle, and hose with the metal tip. Not all lighters are same; in mine I had to keep a plastic slide switch that opens the fuel valve. You may have to make yours a little differently to function.

Bend a pipe bracket and attach it to the side of the handle so that the flame will burn just under the copper cap or boiler.

Insert the piezo clicker into the handle to make a trigger; this is what makes the spark to ignite things. Ground the black wire to the barrel and the long white wire gets routed to the ignition point under the boiler.

Screw a piece of leather to the handle and wrap it around the back to the other side. Fit the butane bottle in there and attach the leather again with a screw. This should hold the tank snuggly, but also let it slide a little. The slide switch to open the fuel valve hangs nicely on the leather strap. To turn on the gas you just push the butane bottle down a little until you hear the hissing; to turn it off you slide the tank up.

Now route the fuel hose and metal tip to the newly attached bracket under the boiler. Wrap the white spark wire around the base of the metal tip. Attach it in the hole with a twisty tie or something and use pliers to bend it so the flame base will be 1/4" under the boiler. The spark should jump from the metal tip to the bottom of the boiler, if it doesn't adjust the bracket until it happens.

See the pictures on all the above stuff.

Step 5: Add Water, Plug, and Shoot.

Picture of Add Water, Plug, and Shoot.

Add 1/8 teaspoon (about ten drops with eyedropper) of water into the barrel and rotate the whole thing upside down to route the water into the boiler.

Cut out a potato plug using an extra piece of scrap pipe and insert the plug into the barrel. This should have an airtight seal and want to push back out, it should not go far into the barrel.

Wedge the cork into the barrel; don't overdo it.

Move the butane bottle down to open the fuel valve.

Click the piezo clicker to ignite the flame.

Point and wait about 1 to 2 minutes.

POP! The spud should fly; mine has a range of about 25 to 35 feet.

If it takes much more than 2 minutes to pop, then turn off the flame and let it cool off for a while; either the air leaked around the potato and cork or the cork was in too tight.


RaminT (author)2015-03-07

Interesting! But if I were you, I would place the gas pipe and the wire into the big pipe. Doing so when you press the lighter there will be a small explosion and ... Boom!

robbtoberfest (author)RaminT2015-03-07

I like that idea! I'll take it up a step and would maybe even do electrolysis inside a compression chamber with a grill ignition. I like keeping water in the equation.

astral_mage (author)2013-09-19

or stuff the end of the offending tuber in to said gun. there yr seal.

astral_mage (author)2013-09-19

too many problem with it . mee thinks?

kylekosan23 (author)2011-09-02

hey where did you get all that coppor

I built one with the pipes out of my neighbors crawl space. Just kidding. But If you want to find copper pipes check Home Depot or Lowes, or what ever home improvement store you like best.

mase2150 (author)2012-09-26

really cool i am making 1 2

nilved (author)2012-07-17

did u make it up?

nilved (author)2012-07-17

dude this is amazing im blown away :O
steam punk is awesome

|3AZ1L (author)2011-07-10

hey, i was just wondering what the reason for the barrel bend being over the top like that is? does it serve a proper purpose or would you be able to achieve the same thing with just a 90 degree downwards bend? thanks

robbtoberfest (author)|3AZ1L2011-07-18

Both for looks and some function; but I think your idea would work too.

dfuller1 (author)2011-07-10

Nice Instructible! I love this kind of project and may have to try this with my son.
One tip for sweat soldering: (I certainly don't do this every day, but several times a year for the last 20 years or so). I finally gave up on using the tiny brushes for the flux and just use my finger to spread it onto the joint before soldering. I seem to get a lot more consistent results that way.

matwyatt (author)2011-07-10

one follow up to that would also be instead of soldering or perhaps as well as using some form of epoxy putty or perhaps 'gungum' the exhaust putty' that should hold up under extreme temps =]

matwyatt (author)2011-07-10

Hey nice ible but wouldn't it be easier although more gas consuming to use one of the jet type lighters that way you would also negate the wind effects if your outside and make ur steam much faster just a thought =]

carpespasm (author)2008-12-29

A few questions I thought of while reading: Where did you get the measurement of water? Does anyone know the pressure rating on copper? Did you avoid using a valve to prevent a boiler explosion? Maybe a water-heater pressure releif valve would be beneficial in a later version? I really like the idea of using the grill lighter for a flame source. I might make one based on yours with a pressure gauge, valve, and some shielding around the flame to keep it more reliably lit outdoors. I'll have to wait 'til I get some play money saved though I think.

robbtoberfest (author)carpespasm2008-12-29

I guesstimated the water amount, I haven't played with different amounts. I'm going to try less water yet for possibly faster steam production and shots.
I haven't calculated the pressure rating, but I will soon for the next one. This site has some cool info on bursting pressure:
I assume the cork should blow before the copper.
Definitely the next one will need safety features such as that water-heater pressure relief valve...good idea.

carpespasm (author)robbtoberfest2008-12-29

As long as there isn't too much water in it I would imagine the solder joint would have to melt before a setup with a valve would blow. I don't think with just a stopper you could plug this sort of gun enough to blow. If you wanted to really go all out making the next one from black iron with one of those jet style lighters to heat in a more rifle shaped form would be the most out there shape I could see this project taking. I might just draw up a plan for such a thing.

carpespasm (author)carpespasm2008-12-29

Excuse the crude diagram, but this seems like it would be a nice set of refinements to your idea. It should be safe and more informative as well. You don't have to turn around to load the water where it needs to be as well. Brass ball valves are pretty cheap and should hold up to the heat pretty well too.

wiggins8472 (author)carpespasm2011-07-05

I had a thought while at Home Depot looking through their brass valves and such. Would the pressure gauge really be necessary if you had the safety release valve? You would just always know the chamber pressure was less than the pressure of the valve unless steam was coming out of it.

carpespasm (author)wiggins84722011-07-05

it wouldn't be needed for safety, but it might be nice to have so you know when it's ready to fire off or for experimentation uses.

wiggins8472 (author)carpespasm2011-07-04

I think this diagram is pretty neat. However, with more volume in the chamber pre-valve I think you would need more water and more heat to get up to pressure.

thebluemartyr (author)carpespasm2009-01-04

His design is already quite safe, copper is more than capable of holding the pressure, all he needs really is 2 ball valves, one for water input, and another for steam release. Pressure gauges would not really be needed, you could probably just time it instead of monitoring the pressure.

carpespasm (author)thebluemartyr2009-01-04

All good to know. I guess the pressure gauge would be more for scientific purposes and the steampunk look.

robbtoberfest (author)carpespasm2008-12-29

Very nice!!! I'll definitely use some of this idea. Just need a trigger release for perfection.

robbtoberfest (author)carpespasm2008-12-29

Awesome! You could build that one and we could start a steam gun group.

thebluemartyr (author)carpespasm2009-01-04

Copper can hold several hundred PSI, which means that this is completely safe, and not a chance in hell this will ever generate enough pressure to put any strain on it.

wiggins8472 (author)2011-07-04

I have made an instructable defining how to make the device with a "Zippo(tm)" brand lighter as the heat source. What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

That is AWESOME! Thanks for the credit.

Thank you! I really appreciate your comment.

blinkyblinky (author)2011-06-28

You could use hairspray or perfume instead of steam to launch your cork and potato cutout by using the igniter to ignite it.

Sowee (author)blinkyblinky2011-06-28

But, there are a lot of ibles like that! This one is unique, dont you think?

blinkyblinky (author)Sowee2011-06-28

But it takes forever, even had to time lapse! If this were a weapon for on the go, then it would not be practical because it wouldn't launch int time.

nanosec12 (author)blinkyblinky2011-06-29

I think the basic point you need to realize here is that it is not intended as a 'weapon' just an interesting experiment.

germanfist (author)blinkyblinky2011-06-28

its the novelty of it. its not necessarily cool because you can shoot it fast or in a practical manner. Its a STEAM powered gun, not just a pile of copper and solder to be filled with whatever fuel.

seanthesheep101 (author)2011-06-29

This is fanTASTICAL

Sowee (author)2011-06-28

Very nice project, my friend!

ilpug (author)2011-06-28

I admit, i have been lazy. Ive been on the site for years, and have seen this project a bunch, but i never got around to clicking on it. now that i have, i am amazed. this is very original, and a great build. it could use a slightly more visually appealing design, but this is a great proof-of-concept. I might make one of thee, but with an on-demand system like a ball valve.

tictaclad (author)2010-02-08

 i love the idea but i think it takes to long to fire. and while your making it why not make a normal potato cannon?

sharlston (author)tictaclad2010-04-02

normal potato cannons are lame and arent portable

bowmaster (author)sharlston2010-05-09

But you can take out cars with them. And a small (~4 feet) potato cannon is very easy to carry.

sharlston (author)bowmaster2010-05-10

but thats under 4 foot what about the really long ones

bowmaster (author)sharlston2010-05-10

In terms of weight, up to +10 feet isn't that heavy. It's just the length that gets in the way.

ilpug (author)bowmaster2011-06-28

you could always make one that breaks down into sections

zack247 (author)sharlston2011-06-28

whats easier to carry is a mini potato cannon, at 1 foot.
even those small things can pack quite the punch.

A torch lighter might decrease fire time by a bit.

javajunkie1976 (author)2011-06-28

This. Is. So. Freakin. Awesome!!! I love it.

Kinnishian (author)2010-05-09

 Have you considered updating it with blue flame butane burners? They're very hot, but placed correctly shouldnt melt the copper. 

snowluck2345 (author)Kinnishian2010-11-16

they wouldn't melt the copper. How would you place them wrongly to get them to melt copper?

Kinnishian (author)snowluck23452010-11-16

Ok, I guess they will never melt the copper. But they can get thinner copper soft enough to damage things (E.G, you can melt the thin shell of a penny enough for it to collapse under the molten zinc, I don't know enough to know when a copper is thick enough that it doesn't matter how much butane flame is touching it.

snowluck2345 (author)Kinnishian2010-11-16

It wouldn't damage the copper, howevver it could melt the solder which could let the built up steam escape, unless the steam absorbed the heat.

About This Instructable




Bio: Dad and hubby, good food enthusiast, solar energy, boating, making stuff, melting stuff, and raising chickens.
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