Introduction: Tootsie Roll Launcher and Candy Cannon

I love launching things into the air, watching things fly, and building things. I also love candy. But not so much love for Tootsie Rolls, and it seems that Tootsie Rolls are a primary giveaway candy. With the number of Tootsie Rolls we accumulated at the house and with Halloween around the corner, I thought I would make a Tootsie Roll "delivery system" so I could 'deliver' them to the trick-or-treat kids without them ever having to reach my door. I thought it would be genius to be able to launch the candy at the kids.... and then my wife talked me down from this position... Very wise wife. But, the concept of launching the excess candy still sounded like fun! In this project we will make candy fly using compressed air, a candy pistol of sorts. As an extension of the initial build, I also created a 'candy cannon' for birthday parties using a big tube to launch pounds of candy so it would 'rain' candy rather than the mundane whack-a-pinata. The system works very well, is reusable, is relatively easy to build and is fairly inexpensive (if you already have an air compressor).

** Disclaimer - Compressed air can be dangerous. The compressed air, can release a lot of energy instantly (think small explosion). So, be careful, and use this instructable at your own risk.

Step 1: Supplies

For both configurations you will need:

For the first (Tootsie Roll) simpler configuration I also used:

For the second candy cannon/pinata configuration:

Step 2: Setting Up the Sprinkler Valve

The sprinkler valve is the central/critical piece in this setup. We are using a 1 inch valve to get lots of airflow quickly as opposed to a standard 3/4 inch valve. The side from the air source (compressor in my setup) to the valve is the high-pressure side. All joints on this side need to be leak-tight. Don your safety glasses and lets get building!

Wrap the threads on the I/M Male coupler plug, 3/4 to 1/4 threaded metal bushing, and 1 inch to 3/4 inch PVC bushing with Teflon tape. Assemble the Male coupler plug into the metal bushing, and then assemble into the PVC bushing. Once complete, screw this into the high-pressure side of the sprinkler valve (will likely have an arrow going 'into' the valve).

The sprinkler valve is a 24VAC valve, but it will function perfectly for this application with a 9 volt battery. With an alligator clip, connect one wire from the valve to one terminal on the battery (Note: you could also use a more finished 9V battery connector and holder for this). Using an alligator clip and a longer piece of wire, connect the other terminal from the battery to one lug on the momentary switch. (Note: the longer piece of wire is for safety, allowing you to be away from the valve while all the pressure is released and projectile is launched.) Connect the remaining lug on the momentary switch to the remaining wire on the sprinkler valve. Wire to wire connections can be made by twisting the wires together and wrapping with electrical tape (and you can solder them when you have your final configuration set). Connect the battery. To test the setup, press the momentary switch, and you should hear a click in the valve.

You can perform a further check by connecting your air supply to the I/M Male coupler and pressing the momentary switch. Before pressing the momentary switch, make sure there is nothing blocking or in the way of the exit side of the valve (i.e. don't stand in the way or have objects in the way that will become projectiles!).

Once the system is working, I recommend two 'finishing' steps. (1) Mount the battery and/or battery holder to the assembly by wrapping the two together with electrical tape. Remember to disconnect the battery when not in use.(2) Mount the switch to something you can easily hold. I mounted the switch in a piece of 3/4 inch PVC pipe using a friction mount, i.e. no screws. I achieved this by wrapping the switch with tubing and electrical tape to get a diameter on the switch to make a snug fit in the PVC pipe. To make it more fun, I painted the stick dynamite red and call it the 'Boom Stick.'

Step 3: The Tootsie Roll Launcher Setup

The Launch tube is on the side of the valve that does not have to hold pressure. Here you have the option to cement the pieces together or not. The downside to not cementing is that the pieces could come apart during launch.

Cut a 3 inch long piece of 1 inch diameter PVC. Use the PVC primer and cement to secure the 3 inch piece of PVC to the 1 inch x 1/2 inch Schedule 40 PVC 90-Degree Reducing Elbow. Secure the other end of the 3 inch PVC to the 1 inch threaded male to 1 inch unthreaded female PVC coupler.

Screw the PVC coupler end of the assembly into the open port on the sprinkler valve. Teflon tape is not recommended here since we are not worried about the air leaking through the threads.

Screw the 18 inch long 1/2 inch PVC riser into the remaining open 1/2 inch side of the 90 degree coupler.

Step 4: Tootsie Test Launch

Time for a test launch!! (Still wearing the safety glasses, right?)

Ready your compressed air. I recommend less than 80 PSI for safety, starting around 50 PSI. Connect your air supply to the I/M coupler plug. Press the switch briefly. If everything worked as expected, its time to load a Tootsie Roll!

Secure the launch switch or disconnect the battery. Place the Tootsie Roll in the launch tube. It may be snug or it may be loose. If snug, then use a long dowel or stick to push the Tootsie Roll to near the bottom of the launch tube. (Note - if it is too snug, it will not launch.) Point in a safe direction. Reconnect the battery if you disconnected it. Give a countdown and let it fly!!

Smarties make another excellent launch candidate. Both Smarties and Tootsie Rolls have a wadding (the wrapper) built in to facilitate capturing the air flow and launching the candy. Sometimes the candy will be reusable and sometimes the wrapper will blow off during the launch. We have also found it fun to make a game out of trying to catch the candy before it hits the ground. If the Tootsie Rolls are too wide or not round, roll them a little between your hands like play dough to reshape them a little.

I believe my highest Tootsie Roll launch was 70 feet!! I have not attempted to go above about 80 PSI.

Step 5: Bonus: Assembling the Candy Cannon Attachment

After building the Tootsie Roll launcher and having fun with it, I started thinking about other adaptations. What would be the largest object I could launch? Lets replace the Tootsie Roll barrel with a wide barrel.... a candy cannon barrel so to speak.

This is the low pressure side, so cement and Teflon tape are not required. Cement will help keep things in place, but I recommend to fire it a few times to decide which piece you want to cement before cementing everything.

Attach the 1 inch threaded male to 1 inch unthreaded female PVC coupler to a 5 inch long piece of 1 inch PVC

Add the 1 inch 90 degree elbow

Add the remaining 5 inch long 1 inch diameter PVC pipe

Slip on the 1-1/2 inch to 1 inch PVC bushing

This will then fit into the 3 inch to 1-1/2 inch DWV coupler

Finally add the 2 foot section of 3 inch piece of PVC pipe

Remove the entire Tootsie Roll barrel assembly from the output of the sprinkler valve. Attach/screw the new Candy Cannon barrel assemble into the sprinkler valve. (You may actually need to remove the 2 foot barrel while attaching the assembly to the sprinkler valve.) Prop this up, stand back, check your safety glasses, connect your compressed air source, and give it a test fire with an empty tube.

To make the payload pusher to get the candy out of the cannon, I used a red Dixie cup. Drop the cup into the cannon barrel so it is close to level/straight. Draw a line around the cup with a sharpie type marker. Use this line as a reference and cut the Dixie cup so it will fit inside the cannon barrel.

For your candy shower, disconnect the battery or place positive control on the momentary switch (Boom Stick). Drop the modified red Dixie cup into the cannon barrel, bottom side down. Pour a pound or two of candy into the barrel. Prop the barrel up as you did in the test run. Make sure safety glasses are on. Reconnect battery if it was disconnected. (You may want to hold an umbrella over your head at this point.) Make sure everyone is clear of the barrel. Press the button and launch your candy. Much better than a birthday pinata!!!

Step 6: Final Notes and Concluding Thoughts

This project was a lot of fun and I have used it for a lot of things, even launching baseballs. The kids love it: Tootsie Rolls, candy cannon, baseballs, whatever. It even makes a cool sound when anything is launched.

You can extend this fun toy for some math and physics lessons, such as using a stopwatch to time the the duration of the Tootsie Roll flight to calculate how high it went. You could also do a quick study of air flow dynamics, i.e. examining the role length and diameter of the air hose from the compressor to the valve has on air flow as measured by how high the Tootsie Roll will launch. (As an aside, I eventually made 3 inch diameter PVC air pressure tanks as a base for the cannon to increase air flow.)

Some safety notes to keep in mind:

  • Always use safety glasses
  • This is a pressurized system, things can go wrong
  • If any piping in the system is cracked, gets dropped, or is damaged, replace those parts before using the system
  • PVC pipe is made for water pressure, not air pressure, so don't over do it on the pressure
  • Always supervise children around this fun toy. It is fun and they will want to take it from you.

I hope you enjoy this project as much as I have. It really is quite spectacular! It is a fun and simple build and even more fun to use!!

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