Duct Tape Rockets

How to put duct tape into orbit for a dollar a day.

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Step 1: Build Your Launcher

The launcher is made out of PVC. I used what I had around. It has 2 parts: an air tank, and a launch pipe.
The air tank is used because most valve stems don't let a large volume of air through at a time. The valve stem let the air in, but not out (duh!). The first time I made this, I cut apart i bike inner tube for the stem, drilled a hole in the end cap, and hot melt glued it together. That lasted all of 10 launches. Then I found car tire valve stems at the local hardware store, so use those. Just follow the instructions on the package to drill the right size hole.
The launch pipe carries the air from the air tank into the rocket. Mine is way longer than it needed to be, but then again, I planed on make some much bigger rockets latter :) (don't, unless you have somewhere far from any cars that can be damaged. the big one I made with a Nerf ball nose but a big dent I the neighbor's car, luckily he was a good sport.) It does help you not have your ear next to the end of the pipe, and thats very good considering how loud this is. The launch pipe is 1/2" water pipe. The rockets should fit snug on it, and are fed completely onto it before launch.
I later added a threaded fitting below the valve so I could take the launcher apart for storage. If you do, use Teflon tape so that it doesn't leak.

Step 2: Make a Rocket Tube

You will need:
card stock of paper
Duct Tape
a piece of pipe the same diameter as you launch pipe.

roll the card stock on the pipe as tight as you can.
You can glue the edges of the card stock to itself if you want, but I don't. The rocket don't survive to many landings anyway, so why waste the time. Plus they are cheap to replace, and I can make one in less than a minute. Don't glue the paper to the pipe.
When you have it rolled, use a small piece of DT to hold it tight. If you can get some else to help, it is easier to keep it tight.
After that, cover the whole tube, but not the pipe, with a couple of layers of DT.

Step 3: Make a Nose Cone (sorta)

Slide the rocket tube to one end of your pipe. Slide it an inch or two (2-5 cm) past the end of the pipe.
Crimp the end flat, and fold a piece of DT over it. the reinforce the crap out of it. It will almost always land nose first, and some of these hit fast enough to spat flat when they hit. extra DT here is always worth it. Plus, extra weight at the nose help it to go higher.

Step 4: Make Some Nifty DT Fins

To make the fins, tear off a piece of DT about half the length of your rocket.
Fold it in half lengthwise, but don't let the outside edges touch. Push those edges against the bottom of the rocket. It will take practice, but once your get your own trick to it, they go a lot easier.
don't worry if it isn't perfect, as the fins don't make that much of a difference on the smaller rockets.
Trim your fins to shape, whatever you think looks good.
note: I drew some lines on the pipe to help me space my fins out.

Step 5: Launch That Puppy

To launch, simply close the quarter turn valve, fill the air tank with compressed air, put your rocket on, open the valve and, POW! there goes the rocket.
I use an air compressor to fill the air tank, but a bike pump would work. Slowly.
With the smaller rockets, it doesn't help to put more than 80 psi in the air tank. And at 60 psi, you get 90% of the hight.
Some thing to note:
Don't stand over the rocket when air is in the tank. These thing move. this is similar to a spud gun, and it will hurt to get hit at point blank. Bad.
It is loud. Keep your head away from the end of the launch pipe. It may piss off you neighbors. Don't blame me.
DO NOT try and catch a rocket on the way down. They are going almost as fast as they went up. It stings if you do catch it, and you really don't want to catch one on the head.

In spite of those warning, the small ones really aren't that dangerous, and won't damage anything. I make them with my Webelos, and so far the only harm happened when one of them tried to catch "The Big One" I made out of a full sheet of poster board, a Nerf ball and some coroplast (Corrugated plastic, like cardboard but made from sheet plastic. Think political lawn signs). And all the happened to him was a scrape from the coroplast.
They will bounce when they hit the ground.

Other than that, have fun. I look forward to your comments.

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    20 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    These are really quite cool!  I remember when I was a little younger, my friends and I would make stuff like this and shoot it off for the 4th of July.  Drove our neighbors mad with poorly constructed rocket tubes and rockets that we'd launch, of course, down the street.  One of them threatened to call the cops if we did it again, so we 'accidentally' shot his car with one.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    For what its worth - we discovered today that lighter/smaller rockets go better with lower pressures (20-40 lbs). Our larger efforts would go best from 50-80 pounds. Unless the rocket is solidly wrapped in duct tape, pressures over about 90 psi often resulted in exploded rockets.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I pointed that out to the kids I was doing this with, next thing you know we've got one kid make a rocket with only one wrap of tape, just to see it blow up. make a dang good confetti cannon.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yep - it doesn't take them long to try everything, does it? It also makes a heck of a POP! when you have 80-100 lbs air loaded in. We had one blow into two sections, and both still launched successfully (momentum, I guess.)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Amazing! For $18 worth of pvc, connectors and a valve it works perfectly! Built it in less than 2 hours, including the trip to the hardware store. Used my portable air compressor. This was unquestionably our most popular Tech Club meeting of the year. THANK YOU!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Glad it worked so well for you. If you want any other ideas, I could tell you some. i just haven't had the chance to make them into instructables.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the ideas!

    launch 2Launch 1Love the rocket. We have built two. First was all 1/2 inch pipe with a manual release valve. works good up to 115 PSI. Decided to give it away.

    Second is 3/4" PVC with two launch tubes, an installed pressure gauge (safety for the kids) since we use a bicycle pump to fill, and a yard sprinkler electric launch valve. It has two launch pipes. 1/2" and 1". we have only used this one a few times and only up to 110 PSI. works great with the electric launch control as the hand valve some kids turned too slow.

    launch height has been agreed by several was about 5 stories high.

    Masking tape rocket with waxy magazine pages as the paper and a little duct tape on the nost seem to work the best so far.

    We shot one that ended up 2 blocks away. The best part is that once you have the launcher, you can keep shooting them off for free. Ream of cardstock $3.00 Roll of DT $1.50 PVC and glue and other parts for launcher $20.00 Per unit cost for 100 Rockets $0.24 And you can get more than 10 launches. Most of the estes rockets I've made failed after 3 launches And I don't have to buy motors for them

    If you want it more 'splody then look up how to make spud guns. replace ye olde air tank with combustion chamber of spud gun and there you go. I work with youth in scouting, and as such have been instructed by said scouting higherups that i am NOT to teach said young people about such 'splodiness. I am however allowed other way of uping the coolness factor. such as duct tape glowsticks to the rockets and launching at night. most impresive, but sadly, the pics didn't turn out.

    thats cool. my boyscout leader had one like it. these must be better. sorry about the down talk. his go MAYBE 50 ft up. we had to pump a bike pump untill it killed our arms to get it that high. it sucked! we all hated it after a while so we drilled holes all thru it and put gas in it.we lit a match and started pumpin. 3 seconds later it would shoot fire out the little holes. :D

    The normal 1 sheet of paper ones go about 80-100 feet up. the uber ones that can dent cars on the way down can land 3 blocks away, but we have ever really measured how high they went.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Ive been makeing these things for years, Ive discovered that the tighter the rocket is the higher it goes. The only problem is they can only be use once cause i cant put the back on the launcher (the inside is screwed up). So i make them with the blue painters tape and only one sheet of paper.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I just roll up old papers from school, 6-7 sheets makes a pretty nice rocket.

    I added some videos of a launch. The pressure is at 40 psi cause my air compressor was turned down. I also added some pics of the bigger rockets that go Lost higher. At 120 psi the little one explode, but the big ones can seriously damage vehicles. Don't launch bigs near anything that isn't completely expendable.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    A nice enhancement of the "Straw rockets" I've seen elsewhere (OMSI?)