The Ring of Fire: a Cheap Steel Wool Pyrotechnic Display





Introduction: The Ring of Fire: a Cheap Steel Wool Pyrotechnic Display

Have you ever wanted to create showers of sparks flying in all directions? Have you ever wanted to create an amazing pyrotechnic display, but were unable to due to the high price of fireworks? Well now you can! In this instructable, I will show you how to build an apparatus that when swung in a circle, will produce huge showers of fire. The best part is, you can build this for under 5 dollars! It can also be utilized to create amazing long exposure photography. The video below will show you some amazing demonstrations of the Ring Of Fire in action.

Lets Get Started

Step 1: Materials

This project only requires a few very cheap materials.

It only requires:

  1. 0000 Grade Steel Wool(Can be found for about 4 dollars at any local hardware store)
  2. A Metal Coat Hanger (You can find it in your closet)
  3. Rope

This is all you need, only 3 materials. With these three materials, you can make an incredible light show. If you want to take pictures of your Ring of Fire though, then you will need:

  1. A DSLR Camera
  2. A tripod

Step 2: Tools

This project only requires three tools:

  1. Needle-nose Pliers
  2. Wire Cutters
  3. Lighter of 9 Volt Battery

Step 3: How It Works

The ring of fire is basically a cage filled with steel wool attached to a rope. When you light it, it starts a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction is one that you will most likely see everyday: Rust, the formation of iron oxide from iron and oxygen. Now, you may not picture rust as a violent exothermic reaction that showers sparks everywhere, but that is because the rust you see in daily life is on items with a low surface area. Steel wool, on the other hand, has a very high surface area. It is made with many tiny fibers that creates a very large surface that is exposed to air. When you initially light the steel wool on fire, it will just smolder, this is because there is not much oxygen getting to the steel wool. After you start swinging it in circles though, air flows which accelerates the reaction, like when you blow into a fire and it gets hotter. While it is swinging around, the centripetal force of the rotation causes small burning pieces of steel wool to fly in all directions. These are the sparks you see. This whole process is just extreme rusting.

Step 4: Adding a Loop to Your Coat Hanger

For this step, you will need to take your pliers, and bend a loop on top of the coat hanger. This is where your rope will attach to. Make sure to add a small lip to the end of your loop so it will not slip off.

Step 5: Separate the Two Parts of the Coat Hanger

To do this, use a pair of wire cutters to cut the bottom of the coat hanger in half. Then, twist out one of the wires of the coat hanger. You can then straighten the wire. You should be left with a straight wire with a loop on one end.

Step 6: Making the Cage

This part will be used to hold the steel wool. It will allow the steel wool to be held in place, yet release sparks nad have a good airflow. To make the cage, use pliers to start making a spiral starting at the opposite end of the loop. Make the spiral go outward, then back inward. This step is a little tricky, but when it is done, you should have a fairly solid looking spiral with a loop on one end.

Step 7: Tying the Rope

After the cage is done, you will need to tie it to a rope. To do this, take the rope, and tie a double half hitch. This is the specific knot that I used, but it can be replaced by many other knots. All it needs to do is hold the cage to the rope.

Step 8: Loading the Steel Wool

To load the steel wool, take a chunk, and pull it apart to so that way it takes up a bigger volume. This will allow more airflow and therefore more sparks. You can then insert it into the cage until it held securely in place by the wire. You will now be ready to test it!

Step 9: Testing!!

To test the Ring of Fire, light it on fire with either a 9 volt battery or a lighter. Then, swing it around on a rope. Now, before you test it, you need to choose a proper location. This device creates a stream of sparks, which can catch anything on fire. You will need to choose someplace where the sparks will not catch anything on fire. I chose the beach because there is no flammable material. There are many other places that will work for this experiment too, just make sure there will be no fire hazard. So, have fun!

Step 10: Taking Pictures

To take pictures of your awesome light show, just set your SLR camera on a tripod. Then set it to manual exposure, set shutter speed to 3.2 seconds, the ISO to 200, and the Fstop to 7. You will then need to set the camera to a 2 second timer to prevent shaking in the camera. You will then need to focus the camera on the subject. To do this, have the person who will be spinning the steel wool hold a flashlight. Then, use the manual focus to focus on that light, with that, you should be able to take your picture. Be creative with this. These pictures will turn out amazing!

Step 11: Cool Photos

Here are some awesome pictures of the Ring of Fire in action. There is not much to be said, these pictures are just spectacular.

Step 12: Be Creative!

You can use this Ring of Fire to take awesome pictures. I find it cool looking to spin the steel wool while walking forward. It makes it look like a spring. I also find it cool to stand in the sparks. Now, this does hurt a bit, but it is worth the cool picture! I also took some pictures sitting behind a boogie board in the sparks. It seems like there is a rain of fire that I am trying to hide from. You can be creative as you want with these pictures. They are fun to take.

Good luck with building your Ring of Fire and taking pictures!

Disclaimer: This project deals with fire and can be dangerous without the proper safety precautions. Exercise common sense when using.



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59 Discussions

I did this many times. The safest place is where the persongiving the show is assuming it's done on an angle as seen in the first picture.
Having said that, it's up to you to ensure viewers are not behind you or on either side.

The instant sparks start flying you need to watch that nobody wanders into the hot zones. I say this because the urban park where I did this was relatively small.

It is relatively safe, no one ever got burned.


6 months ago

Buy a wisk at the dollar store. Works the same. My friend and I did it and we found a relly cool spot.

Photo property of Chad Lander Photography.

untitled-11 (Large).jpg

When I was a kid, you could not purchase fireworks in Massachusetts, so we always made due with steel wool and a coat hanger. I would imagine people would have a stroke if they saw kids doing this without massive amounts of overprotective clothing, but back in the day we did this quite a bit without any undue injuries. Thanks for posting this up.

I've been showing people how to do this since I first learned how to do it over 40 years ago. It never ceases to amaze people what a simple piece of steel wool can do for "fireworks" on Independence Day or for their New Year celebration.

Good job buddy. I've been a round for 58 years and I've never seen this, very cool.

Tanner_tech no matter what the science (even though interesting ) this is really cool. Thank you for sharing:)

One correction: it should be centrifugal force, not centripetal force as swinging it sends the sparks away from the center, not toward it.

I'd also add a pair of goggles to the list of necessary items as any breeze may send those red hot pieces of metal into your eyes. A bucket of water would be good too.

12 replies

Sorry Ron , but there in no such thing as centrifugal force. Newton's first Law of Motion says that the entire burning mass of steel wool would fly off in a path tangent to the circle if it were not for the centripetal (center seeking) force of the rope. Once small pieces of burning steel wool become separated from the rest, they follow the law (as they must) and fly off tangent to the path. You can clearly see the tangent paths in the photos.

please take a close look a the display, to observe both forces at work. particles flying off at a tangent are the result of centrifugal force, the arcing is caused by centripetal force. centrifugal dynamic force is the result in inertia, centripetal static force is the result of gravity mass.

Sorry Jimmie, There is no such thing as centrifugal force, period. Nor is there such a thing as a dynamic centrifugal force. Centrifugal force is a pseudo (false) force that people not familiar with Newton's Laws of Motion created and (still) use to describe what they observe in situations like this. Here is a link, about the fallacy of centrifugal forces written by some physics teachers.

Your concepts of a "centripetal static force" and "gravity mass" suggest that you have never taken a physics course. "Static" means not moving, so associating it with objects in uniform circular motion makes no sense and the interaction of gravity on mass is called weight.

You need to contact Webster and other dictionary sources as well as publishers of many physics books.

While I agree centripetal motion restrains the object from flying out tangentially if the cord holding it broke it will fly. That so called 'tendency' , interesting new app there could be called potential energy just waiting to become kinetic. Perhaps Kinetic is not a word like centrifugal??

A force indeed is a vector, an object or particle like light aimed at a specific direction. In physics design of lets say a bridge there are stress vectors/forces calculated in the design so that it can handle the load proposed and can remain standing and strong. Force is the most basic in design parameters for physical things. Though it can handle the stress if something flew apart it would have a lot of momentum probably - force at a speed.

The design of a bridge is to handle centripetal forces together -restrained from collapsing or breaking apart, but the same bridge has great centrifugal force when it does. Force still is potential energy and force released is kinetic energy.

To me as per education I was taught centrifugal force - restrained by centripetal force or in motion as a force with momentum makes perfect sense theoretically and practically.

Since science has eliminated the word centrifugal it needs to replace it with inertial and centrifuges need to be called inertiafuges?

This is reminescent of 'hole flow' for semiconductors vs 'electron flow'. Such did confuse things in the 60's. Though I understood both approaches I also understood that the movement of a proton is much less than that of an electron attracted to it (1870 times smaller if I remember right). The same thing could have been identified in realistic electron flow more easily though some pressed the point on hole flow.


Thanks, liptackj, after visiting the website, I'm a convert. It caused me to flash back to my 1966 college physics class where the prof "dodged" the question by saying "Just concentrate on centripetal force, and forget about centrifugal force". Even though it does not exist, it (fugue, outward flight in this case) appears real to the brain's intuition.

Correct about the tangential force but:

Centrifugal force (Latin for "center fleeing") describes the
tendency of an object following a curved path to fly outwards, away from
the center of the curve. It's not really a force; it results from
inertia — the tendency of an object to resist any change in its state of
rest or motion. Centripetal force is a real force that
counteracts the centrifugal force and prevents the object from "flying
out," keeping it moving instead with a uniform speed along a circular

In other words if you have a kid on a roller coaster going through a loop centripetal force restrains the person from flying tangentially away from the center of the loop compressing the body of the person with much higher than normal gravitational pull making the person feel very heavy. No restraint the person would fly out of the centrifuge away from the center.


In the most basic terms, a force is a push or a pull. A tendency is not a force. One cannot simply call a 'tendency' a 'force' to support a the myth of a centrifugal force.

The "tendency of an object following a curved path" is to fly tangential to the path, not away from the center of rotation. This phenomenon is described by Newton's 1st Law of motion, also known as the law of inertia.

On a roller coaster, if the car/passenger are on the inside of the top of a loop, a combination of gravity and normal forces act together as the centripetal force causing the car/passenger to change direction and experience a higher than normal feeling of weight. In this situation, no seat restraint is required to keep the passenger in the car. If the car/passenger are on the outside of such a loop or hill, the combination of gravity and seat restraint act as the centripetal force. Without the seat restraint, gravity alone cannot provide enough of a centripetal force (at the speeds roller coaster operate at) so the passenger would leave the seat tangentially to the path of the car, not because any "force" is pushing them out, but because their velocity and thus their momentum (both vector quatities) along the path is tangent to that path.