Introduction: The Accidental Cannon

Picture of The Accidental Cannon

On and off, I've been working on an all-metal (and hence non-shattering) version of the Jam Jar Jet. My latest version was supposed to be adjustable, but it turned out to be ballistic.

Step 1: Do It Outdoors!

When I first made this, I made it inside my shed, expecting a vertical jet of flame at most.

Instead, I had a can of burning meths ricocheting around my ears.


(Note to self - buy fire extinguisher!)

Step 2: Materials and Tools.

Picture of Materials and Tools.
I used five things:
  • An empty tin of tomatoes (ring-pull kind).
  • An empty can of coke. I only ever drink the full-sugar caffein-riddled version, but I don't think it's vital to the efficiency of the projectile...
  • My Instructables Leatherman. It's a well-used tool already. I even use it to open the shed since the door handle disintegrated (I really must get round to fixing that).
  • Matches. Long ones. You'll see why.

Step 3: Make It.

Picture of Make It.

Use one of the pointy bits to poke a hole in the bottom of the coke can, then enlarge it to around a quarter of an inch across.

Use the pliers to rip the top out of the can. No need to be pretty, but try and avoid too many sharp ragged edges, and don't bend the can, otherwise it won't fit smoothly into the tin.

Step 4: Fuelling and Firing

Picture of Fuelling and Firing
Put a splash of meths in the bottom of the tin. Just a splash, it's the fumes we're after.

Drop the can into the tin - if the fit is right, the can should take a moment to slide down as air forces its way around the sides and through the small hole.

Put a finger over the hole and give it a shake to generate plenty of vapour. Watch for spills from between can and tin.

Stand the can somewhere clear and firm.

Touch a flame to the hole.


Step 5: The Aftermath

Picture of The Aftermath

Be careful!

It will be almost invisible in daylight, but the meths will still be burning in the tin. Look for heat-haze over it, and hold your hand well above the tin to feel for rising heat. Extinguish any flame by placing any handy flat thing over the tin to exclude oxygen.

If you used too much meths, there will be some left in the coke can as well. If it landed somewhere non-flammable, use the remains of the match to stand it up and extinguish it like the tin.

If it landed somewhere flammable, pick it up by poking the match into the small hole and lifting at an angle (see, I told you to use long matches), but watch for more flames as leftover meths continues to burn.

If the can is dented, it won't fit in the can well enough to fire again, but dents can be pushed out fairly easily by hand, just watch the jagged edges.

Repeat until bored.


Logan Hanssen (author)2014-08-22

instead of tearing the top off, use a can opener no jagged edges at all!

Kiteman (author)Logan Hanssen2014-08-22

True, but, since I was hacking in my shed, I didn't have any kitchen equipment handy...

Kason_McDougald (author)2014-04-23

Is there any alternative fuels to use other than the meths

Kiteman (author)Kason_McDougald2014-04-23

Any highly-flammable fuel will do it.

Try an aerosol deodorant, or lighter fuel.

Nightkilla (author)2013-02-14

Try ethanol alcohol or a bit of propane.

boom man56 (author)2012-05-27

how do you put a hole in the coke can?

Kiteman (author)boom man562012-05-27

See step three.

boom man56 (author)boom man562012-05-27

how do you put a holes in the coke can?

Aron313 (author)2011-12-16

Put a firecracker in the hole and replace the can with 5 gallon bucket and fill bucket 1 or 2 inches with water place can in light cracker and run!!!!!!! It shoots very high you should try it.

Dream Dragon (author)2011-10-22

Mortar or Cannon?

As a Pyrotechnician with some Medieval reenactment experience, my answer is that it's a mortar.

A Cannon is actually only one of a variety of types of gun (see also Culverin, and Bombard), and they all fire predominantly horizontally to attack walls, gates or vertical structures. It generally has a longer barrel, we call it a barrel because the very earliest ones were made in a similar way to the wooden casks that were used to transport all kinds of loose goods, including Gun powder.

A mortar fires mainly Vertically and is used to attack Horizontal area targets, like smashing through the roofs of buildings. Named after the "bowl" part of an early form of food processor called a Mortar and Pestle, a mortar usually has a very short barrel for it's bore.

As a Pyrotechnician I use mortar tubes (sometimes called Guns, in the US) regularly and you definitely wouldn't want one of THOSE to auto ignite.

Kiteman (author)Dream Dragon2011-10-22

Thanks for that - I never knew the difference before.

I'll leave the title as "cannon", though, as I think that is a more popular search-term... ;-)

Dream Dragon (author)Kiteman2011-10-25

No argument from me on that, it's all cool.

Schober (author)2011-07-18

I'm assuming the reason it launches is that the thrust of the first ignition is too much for the can to hold back. Why couldn't you JB weld the can and the tin together? Would it explode? Or are you worried about excess alcohols burning in places where they shouldn't be? I've read some of the other comments below and it seems like you could just make the hole a little bigger and avert explosion.

Kiteman (author)Schober2011-07-19

I was experimenting.

The pressure inside a normal jam jar jet is very low, and the most I expected the soda can to do was jiggle about a bit. I was going to try a variety of lengths of jam jar jet by wedging the soda can at various heights, but the first go caught me out.

Schober (author)Kiteman2011-10-20

Sorry, I didn't realize how frenetic that sounded until you made that comment.

Involved Observer (author)2011-05-04

Kiteman, you rock! I can't wait to give this a try!

Matt21497 (author)2009-09-03

What if you hot glued the can in the can?

ilpug (author)Matt214972011-03-19

That would make a bomb, which, if detonated with the proper safety measures, would be cool, but in this application, DONT DO IT.

backyardmunitionist (author)2009-09-20

Cool idea man some of the best inventions were discovered by accident. One observation though, it's more of a mortar than a cannon really.

Mortars have the propellant contained within the shell, and it is ignited by impact with the bottom of the barrel. Cannons have to be ignited.

Correct, that is how modern mortar shells work. However the manner of firing prior to self igniting shells was different. The difference I was referring to was that a cannon generally has a longer barrel for longer range and flatter trajectory as opposed to a mortar using a short barrel for high angle short range and more of a lob type trajectory. Either way keep up the good work man.

Kiteman does know everything. You know why? Because he's Mike Rowe!

do u know everthing?

Yes.  He's a teacher.

do his students know hes kiteman or is it like a secret alter ego??

At least one of his students is also an I'bles member.

what their user name?

Kiteman (author)kelseymh2009-11-04


Dumchicken (author)2011-01-18

why did your door handle desintigrate?

Kiteman (author)Dumchicken2011-01-19

Thirty year old bakelite tends to do that.

It's fixed now, BTW.

whoelsebutaelx (author)2010-12-01

To take the top off the coke can a can opener works great. ive taken the top of coke cans with can openers before and it works quite well.

Kiteman (author)whoelsebutaelx2010-12-01

Oh, he tells me now...


tfrost1980 (author)2010-08-06

My Uncle taught me to make this same cannon except we used multiple cans and lighter fluid, not a new design its been made since at least the 60's.

Rokko8652 (author)2010-07-15

Would denatured Alcohol work? Don't want to have another container of stuff for homemade... Artillery... lying around incase friends don't brush up on local laws and call the police.

Kiteman (author)Rokko86522010-07-17

"Methylated spirits" is exactly the same thing. Yes, it will work very well.

stefannasehi (author)2009-04-02

can i use other stuff besides meth spirits: alcohol, laquer thinner, turpentine (etc) ?

Kiteman (author)stefannasehi2009-04-02

Any highly flammable liquid should work.

Mathias Re'eh (author)Kiteman2009-06-29

so charcoal starter?

That stuff is barely flammable!

just get it burning :o

Trust me. A acetylene torch won't get that stuff going. I think it only works with charcoal. Even if you light it, It burns slower then wood! If you don't have access to any alchoholic drinks, use isopryl rubbing alchohol.

magickaldan (author)2009-11-04

I do something similar except for a fuel I use firecrackers, just make a hole big enough for a firecracker to be snug stick it in as far as it will go and have a 1/2" to 1" of water in the bottom of the bigger can.  Then light and get to safe distance and enjoy.  You can use any size of pot or can for the outer container because the water does all the sealing. 

grt57 (author)magickaldan2009-11-05

I grew up doing this as well... be careful though it can lead to taping estes model rocket engines to the tops of old style model cars, and launching them off of ramps into nearby lakes... LOL

rvmirror (author)2009-11-04

Instead of using pliers or a dremel to open the can, use an ordinary can opener it leaves a nice clean edge.

RHSeabrook (author)2009-11-04

Methylated Spirits is the same thing as HEET in the yellow can (the red can is ethyl alcohol, not methyl alcohol and is the only difference).  You can find this in most any auto parts store or section of your favorite walmart like watering hole in the chemicals section.  Its used in cars to remove water from gasoline.

Koil_1 (author)2008-11-17

Using a Dremel to cut out the top of the soda can would probably be a better idea. That is if you can afford one. On that same note, I don't know a single self respecting mod meister that doesn't have one of these wonderful tools.

Derin (author)Koil_12009-03-15


The Red Button (author)Derin2009-09-10

i got a black and decker one for 30 bucks its the best

JCO72 (author)Derin2009-09-03

try Harbor Freight, cheapo 'rotary tool' with attachments for under ten bucks on sale.

Fenris The bbw (author)Koil_12008-12-07

I do stuff like this all the time, and have discovered something shocking; can openers work on coke cans!

About This Instructable




Bio: The answer is "lasers", now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Project previews on Tumblr & Twitter: @KitemanX
More by Kiteman:Fallen Astronaut 2Custom laser cut metal business cardsDashboard Phone Stand
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