ANTAGONISTIC BOOKS: Danger - How to Make a Book That Sets Itself on Fire




This is an instructable on how to make the first book in my Antagonistic Books set (the one that sets itself on fire when you open it). This process turned out to be a lot more complicated and nuanced than I thought it would be, so this instructable is only for those willing to spend a lot of time trying and failing (and burning up their project when they fail.... or succeed)

Step 1: Laser Cut the Cover and Mechanism Out of Masonite.

Materials you will need:
Laser Cutter
3 Staples
Spring (Clicky-pen springs work great)
Nut, Bolt, and Washer
Length of String
A whole lot of newsprint for the pages.
Spray Fixatif
Magicians Flashpaper
Fireplace Matches (The brand I picked in the photo is the best of the ones I have tried)
Binding thread / needle
Exacto Knife
Duct Tape.
Breathable Cloth book cover

Download the File that I've attached and modify it as you need to for whatever type of laser-cutter you have. Basically you want to cut out all of these pieces from masonite. Masonite is a good choice because it's cheap, solid, and it burns up. You should note that if the staples you have are not the same width as the holes in my diagram or the tracks on the match slider you'll need to adjust the plans.

Step 2: Assemble the Rig

After you have your pieces laser cut, you'll have to assemble the rig.

Be sure that you are assembling on the correct side of the book. As the match rig is going on the outside of the back cover, you'll want to make sure that the tiny hole for the string to go through is on the right side when you are looking at that side. This is the hole that the string will come out of and across the outside of the book (inside of the jacket). The string is what allows the device to spring when the book is opened... more on that later.

First you will want to remove the spring from your clicky pen and bend the top end of it into the hole at the top of the slider with some pliers. bend the other end of the spring into the top hole on the back of the book.

The next thing that you will want to do is push staples through the track and holes and to the other side. Close the springs well, but they shouldn't be tight. The slider must be able to move up and down easily. 

I used only 3 staples even though there are holes for 4 because the spring provides some friction against the slider, and if you use 4 staples, the friction can jam it.

At this point you should be able to pull the slider up and it should come back down quickly due to the spring.

next you will want to mount the catch. This is easy enough to do, just put the nut and washer through it and add the bolt to the other side. Again, tighten a little bit, but keep it lose so that it can move easily. This is a good point to test that everything is going ok, by pulling up the slider, rotating the catch so that the short end is blocking the slider. releasing the long end with the whole on it should send the slider careening towards the bottom of the book.

Step 3: Get Used to Attaching the Match

You're going to be doing this a lot, since getting a match to light is a delicate process. Lay the match flat (in later designs, I put a splint -basically a small piece of matchwood- where I labeled on the image to angle the match downward. This led to more reliable lighting)

Push the slider up. The match should go nearly to the top of the book. Your goal here is to have maximum striking distance for the match while it's encased in the striking paper, but you also need to make sure that the match head is eventually pulled clear of the striking paper.

After you have that layed out, tape the match down. Cut your striking paper out of the match box, and with some cardboard under it, fold it in half. To test light the match (or later really light it), push it into the striking paper, tape the paper down, hold the catch, and then let go. The match should be pulled out of the striking paper and light on fire like in the video.

Step 4: Assemble the Book

Suddenly, I realize I have no good photos of this. What you want to do here is lay the book pages out like [front cover] [binding] [back cover] and place strips of duct tape over the spaces between the binding and the front cover, and then the binding and the back cover. You will want the binding width to be about 3/4". It's the binding with that lets the string move when you open the book, so having more binding width is better.

You can see in the photo that the way to attach the string is to tie one end to the catch at close to the position you want it to have where it is holding the slider in place. Thread the string through the hole nearest the catch, and then out the hole near the binding. The string should go outside the binding, into the first hole on the front cover, and then tied in the second hole. Tie the string while the book is closed so that when the book opens the string becomes lose and releases the catch. This is pretty easy to figure out, especially now since you have the spring installed and can test it easily.

The next thing you'll probably want to do is glue or tape larger pieces of cardboard to the back. This will make the back extra thick, but it will also make sure that the fabric you cover the book with doesn't interfere with the match lighting. I have the cardboard cut how it is so that there will be airflow to the match lighting area. This is important to keep the match from not lighting or going out immediately

Step 5: Making the Pages Burn Easier

At this point you'll probably want to cut out a ton of pages from your newsprint. Fold them in half into 6 or so booklets. This will allow the pages to all fold easily. At this point you're going to want to spray your pages with copious amounts of spray fixatif. This stuff is really flammable. Take care to especially spray the back binding a lot. I sprayed the back of the books, the middle of the books, and then two other spreads each half way between the middle of the pages and the front and back covers of the pages

Step 6: Bind Those Pages

Place all your booklets on top of eachother with your flash paper between them.

On the back cover side, cut into the pages with an exacto knife. You'll want to create kind of a crater in the book and a tunnel to the binding side for airflow. Spray a ridiculous amount of spray fixatif in this crater. This will insure lighting.

Bind the pages with a coptic binding. I'm not going to go into how to do a coptic binding here, but i'm sure theres a tutorial on it somewhere on instructables. It will be a little difficult to bind because the flash paper is very thin, but do what you can do. 

Step 7: Cover the Book

Ok time for the really hard stuff.

Take your breathable book fabric (this can be any kind of fabric, it just CANNOT have paper on the back. If you can't breathe through it when you put it up to your nose, then the match will not start). Wrap it around the book and, starting with the front cover, affix the fabric. Make sure that the fabric isn't too tight for the string to stop moving. Turn the book over, rig the match, and then VERY CAREFULLY affix the back cover. Close the book, and you're ready to burn!

Step 8: Open the Book

Ideally in a place that is safe for a big fire.
once I get the other books done, I'll post videos of all of them at my website:



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      14 Discussions

      This is epically cool. If I were to build one, I'd probably use an electric match ignition because I'm too impatient to use a mechanical system. That said, your match rig is an excellent piece of work, as is the rest of the book. Well done.

      4 replies

      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      I thought about using electric ignition since that would be nicer, but I wanted to have a piece that burned entirely, and was worried about having batteries in a fire.


      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      Good point. Might make more sense to use a capacitor or a piezo-based solution than batteries, for safety. Or just use your nifty mechanical striker. Either way, the effect is what matters most, and the effect is stunning.

      Also digging your ratchet book, BTW. Can't wait to see what's next.


      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      oh smart. I hadn't thought about using a capacitor or piezo. My physical computing experience is limited. That would have made this much simpler haha. But I guess the mechanical nature of it is maybe a nice aspect.

      anyway, thanks for the compliments!


      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      Actually you really just need some sodium and a couple of small, flammable waterproof containers. Make it so that one holds the sodium metal and the other water, then tape them together and have opening the book smash them open. Sure, uses a highly unstable element that reacts violently with water, but it's more efficient as the entire thing can burn with minimal toxic fumes. You really can build a mech to do that entirely from wood, no other parts required.


      9 years ago on Introduction

      I just might make one of these and use it as a prank. Maybe have fake money sticking out of the top and have that set it off when it's pulled or something.


      9 years ago on Introduction

      Lovely work.  Are you writing in these books or are you leaving them blank?

      (My books are only antagonistic before they're published... well, some are antagonistic after, but at that point, it's the reader's problem, isn't it?  :)  )


      9 years ago on Introduction

      I can't wait to see "stfj" on The Colbert Report :-)
      He'll probably put your picture on his mantle of something.
      And you would deserve it, too; your Antagonistic Book series is too effing awesome!! 


      9 years ago on Introduction

      Why do you hate books so much?  Did the school librarian scorn you after you revealed your secret crush?

      Just kidding.  Very cool ideas, cleverly thought through.


      9 years ago on Introduction

      You could fill a small very thin (Like tesco plastic bags but thinner) PTFE sachet with Manganese(VII) oxide, and glue each end to 2 hollows or pages. So when it is closed the glue dries and when it is opened you get an incredibly powerful fire spurting painful and damaging liquids at your face.
      I have no idea wheather or not you could get a really thin PTFE bag though. or you could get the Sulphuric acid or Potassium permanganate to make it XD